2014 Recommended Components Power Amps

Two-Channel Power Amplifiers

Editor's Note: Because of the disparity between typical tube and solid-state "sounds," we have split Class A for separate power amplifiers into two subclasses. Nevertheless, even within each subclass, Class A amplifiers differ sufficiently in character that each will shine in an appropriate system. Careful auditioning with your own loudspeakers is therefore essential. Except where stated, output powers are not the specified powers but rather those we measured into an 8 ohm resistive load. All amplifiers are stereo models, except where designated.

A (Solid-State)

Classé CA-M600 monoblock: $14,000/pair
Classé CT-M600 monoblock: $13,000/pair ✩

In a mundane-looking black box with a detachable rack-mount front panel that matches the styling of Classé's CT-SSP preamplifier-processor, the CT-M600 is rated to deliver 600W (700W at actual clipping) into 8 ohms. It employs Classé's Intelligent Cooling Tunnel, in which internal heatsinks are mated to a microcontroller to actively ensure a thermally stable environment. All the audio circuitry, including the 36 output devices, is carried on two six-layer boards, allowing signal paths to be very short and keeping the amplifier's noise floor very low. The CT-M600 was the "consummate chameleon," drawing the best from a wide variety of loudspeakers, providing enormous dynamic range, deathly quiet backgrounds, and intensely saturated colors. "They are the best-sounding amplifiers I have auditioned in my system [as of 2013]," said JA. Compared to the massive Musical Fidelity AMS100, the CT-M600 offered better upper-bass definition and slightly more upper-frequency energy, but lacked the AMS100's sweet, forgiving treble, said JA. The CA-M600 is essentially the same amplifier, housed in Classé's traditional Delta-series enclosure, with its brushed-aluminum front panel curved around to form the side panels. (Vol.34 Nos.3 & 9 WWW)

Constellation Centaur monoblock: $54,000/pair
The 103-lb Performance Centaur Mono is rated to deliver 500W into 8 ohms, features minimalist industrial design by Alex Rasmussen, and offers conventional balanced and unbalanced inputs as well as a Direct XLR input for use with Constellation preamps. Utilizing Constellation's proprietary Balanced Bridge topology, each Centaur Mono includes a pair of carefully matched amplifiers, both using only N-channel MOSFETs. Though they lacked ultimate bass depth and definition, the Centaurs produced a fast, open, transparent sound that was ruthlessly revealing, but never unnaturally harsh or edgy, said MF. For best results, the Centaurs' open sound will require careful matching of associated gear, and especially careful choice of cables, he cautioned. "Constellation Audio's Performance Centaur Mono is a powerhouse of an amplifier capable of delivering very high power with very low distortion into 4 and 8 ohms," JA concluded. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Dan D"Agostino Momentum monoblock: $55,000/pair
Dan D"Agostino's statement product, the 300W (450W at actual clipping into 8 ohms) Momentum has a compact chassis (12.5" W by 5" H by 21" D) machined from a single aluminum billet. A large, round power meter dominates the front panel, while thick copper side panels act as heatsinks. The low-feedback, fully complementary, balanced design uses 1% metal-film resistors and two dozen 69MHz output transistors in a direct-coupled, discrete, bipolar output circuit with a claimed frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz, ±0.1dB. The Momentums produced a seamless overall sound, with slightly reserved highs, a tube-like midrange, and an authoritative bottom end, said MF. "With the darTZeel NHB-458, it's one of the two most satisfying power amplifiers I've ever heard," he concluded. "This is an amplifier that is as well engineered as it is beautiful to behold," said JA. Add $5000 for black finish. (Vol.36 No.2 WWW)

darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock: 151,000 CHF/pair
Made in Geneva, Switzerland, the 450W (530W at actual clipping) NHB-458 measures 18" H by 11" W by 20" D, weighs 154 lbs, and has a deep-gold, brushed front panel and retro-industrial, red-anodized case. Tinted glass side panels allow magnetic fields to escape the chassis and reveal the amp's enormous cylindrical transformer. The large rear-panel heatsink has a cutout for connections that include RCA and XLR inputs, as well as a Zeel BNC 50 ohm input, for use with darTZeel's NHB-18NS preamplifier and Playback Designs' SACD player and DAC. It combined outstanding speed, precise high-frequency transients, and unlimited dynamic range with powerful bass and unsurpassed transparency, said MF. "The darTZeel NHB-458 is easily the finest power amplifier I have ever heard in my listening room," he concluded. At a price! (Vol.35 No.8 WWW)

Electrocompaniet AW400 monoblock: $14,198/pair ✩
Claimed to deliver 400W, the AW400 is a push-pull design optimized for true balanced operation. Its tall front panel is a nicely finished sheet of clear acrylic, backlit in blue, complementing the amp's fine overall construction. While it didn't match the graceful, surefooted musical flow of AD's favorite low-powered amps, the AW400 offered a solid yet open sound marked by excellent clarity, impact, and scale. "The Electrocompaniet AW400 is a sweet, fun, and unabashedly powerful-sounding amp," concluded Art. JA was impressed by its low levels of noise and distortion. (Vol.33 No.9 WWW)

Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference monoblock: $26,990/pair ✩
The 110W M1.2 with tube front end and MOSFET output stage, comprehensive short-circuit protection, and high/low impedance settings, offered "unflinching honesty in conveying the true nature of the music that passed through it," said PB. "Utterly continuous and coherent from top to bottom," the M1.2 combined resolution and transparency with harmonic completeness, timbral richness, and glow. JA concurs. Compared to the Classé CT-M600 and MBL 9007, the Lamm had a more robust, less delicate sound, but nevertheless impressed JA with its three-dimensional soundstaging and midrange richness. "This is a great amplifier," JA decided. "Highly recommended." (Vol.28 No.2, Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Mark Levinson No.532H: $8000
Inside its modest-looking, no-nonsense black chassis, the 300Wpc (355Wpc at clipping) No.532H houses two 436VA toroidal transformers, independent power-supply components for each 16-output-device channel, curved PCB traces, and a fully differential circuit for the signal path. LG was impressed by the No.532H's "superior bass slam, soundstaging, treble detailing, midrange pitch definition, and jaw-dropping dynamic range." JA noted "textbook measured performance," with high power output and very low levels of noise and distortion. (Vol.34 No.8 WWW)

mbl 9011 Reference monoblock: $106,000/pair
The 440W (540W at actual clipping into 8 ohms) 9011 measures 19" W by 13" H by 34" D, weighs 223 lbs, is available in several high-gloss finishes with accents in chrome or gold plate, and can be used as a stereo amp or bridged monoblock. Though it lacked some speed and bass punch in absolute terms, the MBL produced a rich midrange and excelled in scale, atmosphere, ease of presentation, and sheer power, said MF. When used as a bridged monoblock, the 9011 must be driven by a balanced signal, cautioned JA, who noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.3 WWW)

mbl 9007 Noble Line monoblock: $42,800/pair ✩
The 440W Reference 9007 can be used as either a balanced monoblock or a single-ended stereo amplifier and has provisions for biwiring and biamping. It uses mbl's Direct Push/Pull circuitry design and Isolated Gain Cell technology, and its gleaming black exterior is decorated by a large, gold mbl logo. Sacrificing bloom and suppleness for crystalline transparency and offering tightly focused imaging, shimmering highs, and well-damped bass, the 9007 was one of the most exciting and engaging amplifiers in MF's experience. His recommendation only concerns the 9007 used as monoblock pairs, however. JA was thrilled by the mbl's superb measured performance. Compared to the humongous Musical Fidelity AMS100, the mbl monoblocks were a little more forward in the low treble and offered more ultimate slam, but lacked the AMS100's sweet, forgiving treble, said JA. (Vol.29 No.9; Vol.34 No.9 WWW)

Musical Fidelity M6PRX: $3495 $$$
This dual-mono, class-A/B design is rated to deliver 260Wpc into 8 ohms from four pairs of bipolar output transistors per channel, using circuitry based on Musical Fidelity's flagship Titan. Much more modest in size and appearance than the massive Titan, the M6PRX measures 17.5" W by 5" H by 15.5" D, offers balanced and single-ended inputs, has choke-regulated power supplies, and comes in a choice of silver or black faceplate. "This is one of the sweetest-sounding, most fatigue-free solid-state amplifiers I have met up with," said Sam. His solid-state reference. (Vol.35 No.6)

Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblock: $9000/pair $$$ ✩
MF heard exactly what this high-power—400Wpc specified, 586W at clipping!—John Curl-designed amp's specs showed: "ultra-wide bandwidth, high-current capability, low, low noise, a high S/N ratio, and a fast slew rate, among many other indicators of outstanding amplifier performance....There was an honesty to the overall tonal and harmonic presentation that transcended technological stereotypes." MF found the overall sound to be powerful, refined, smooth, organized, dynamic, transparent, and rhythmically supple, if a little on the subtly warm and rich side of the sonic spectrum, but decided that this not at the expense of transient speed and resolution of detail. "Perhaps some listeners will find the JC 1 too refined and perhaps a tad polite, but I didn't." "Rocks for sure," says ST, adding that with the amp driving the Triangle Magellans, he found the "bass firmed up, the sound wasn't strained in any way, and there was an overall sense of ease. Dynamic ease. Listening ease. Just ease. Compared to the Halcros, the Parasound JC 1s brought the soundstage forward. Tonally, the Parasounds were magnificent"with no trace of solid-state hardness. And the amps weren't even broken in." "The Parasound JC 1 is one of the finest high-powered solid-state amps I've heard," said ST. "Think of it as a 25W class-A amp that does 400W class-A/B when pushed." Matched with the JC 2 preamp, the JC 1s presented even greater holographic detail and transparency. The Parasound Halo JC 1 traded the Moscode 402Au's snappy, vivid tonality and larger soundstage for "quiet precision," clarity, and focus, said WP. The Halo JC 1 traded the Aesthetix Atlas's creamy midrange for greater bottom-end heft and top-end extension, said WP. Compared to the Bryston 7B SST2, the Parasound had deeper bass, tighter images, faster transients, and greater low-level resolution and microdynamic delicacy, said MF. A favorite of JA's, who was equally impressed by how the JC 1 performed on the test bench: "This is excellent measured performance. The Halo JC 1 is not only the best amplifier to come from Parasound, it ranks up there with the best high-end heavyweights," though WP felt that while the Halo JC 1 exhibited grace and delicacy compared with the much more expensive Luxman B-1000f, it lacked some impact, drive, resolution, and detail. Stereophile's—and Sam Tellig's—"Joint Amplification Component" for 2003. (Vol.26 Nos.2, 6, & 12, Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.1, Vol.34 No.2 WWW)

Pass Labs XA60.5 monoblock: $11,000/pair
Designed by Nelson Pass, the XA60.5 is rated to deliver 60W into 8 ohms (130W into 8 ohms at clipping) and uses Pass Labs' balanced, single-ended, class-A Supersymmetry circuit topology. Housed in the same case as the XA30.5 stereo amplifier, it has a gray-anodized aluminum front panel with a large, blue-illuminated meter that indicates the output stage's current draw. The interior is dominated by a large Plitron toroidal power transformer flanked by two circuit boards, each carrying 10 pairs of complementary power MOSFETs. Though it lacked some bottom-end authority, the XA60.5 produced a natural, transparent overall sound, with especially beautiful mids and highs, said JA. "It is the best-sounding amplifier I have ever used," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

Pass Labs XA30.5: $5500 ✩
This solid-state stereo power amplifier from renowned engineer Nelson Pass is rated to deliver 30Wpc into 8 ohms, but actually delivered clipping-free peaks 6dB higher in power. Its strong yet elegant physical appearance is matched by a simple, symmetric internal design using Pass's Universal Gain Stage and 10 pairs of power MOSFETS along each side of the rugged chassis. Though it lacked the snap and energy of some larger, more powerful amplifiers, the XA30.5's "lifelike smoothness" and "effortless purity" brought forth the subtle microdynamic nuances of more intimate material. BD: "The XA30.5 is a superb-sounding amplifier. Absolutely, positively, and enthusiastically recommended!" Compared to his reference Pass Labs Aleph 3, the XA30.5 had a leaner midrange but provided a wider soundstage, greater resolution, and better dynamics, EL concluded. Compared to the tubed Rogue M-180 monoblock, the XA30.5 offered a slightly more forward sound that was "rounder, richer, less controlled but more sumptuous" overall, said EL. The XA30.5 traded the Pass INT-150's bass control and wide dynamics for greater purity and texture in the midrange, said EL. (Vol.32 Nos.5 & 8, Vol.33 No.1, Vol.34 No.1 WWW)

Plinius SA-103: $10,150 ✩
The SA-103 delivers 125Wpc into 8 ohms and has an output stage that can be operated in class-A or class-A/B. Its large (19.75" W by 8.75" H by 18"D) chassis is dominated by generous heatsinks that unfurl from the amp's side panels like fronds of fern. EL was most impressed by the SA-103's accurate soundstaging and well-controlled, articulate bass performance. He summed up: "The Plinius SA-103 offers a natural, neutral tonal balance, just the right amount of musicality, superb bass performance, plenty of current to drive the most piggish speakers, [and] functional and tasteful design." In class-A/B mode, the Plinius suffered from insufficient output-stage bias current; class-A operation is to be preferred, decided JA. (Vol.34 No.4 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 880M monoblock: $45,000/pair
Rated to deliver 800W (1050W at actual clipping), the flagship of Simaudio's Evolution line is a DC-coupled, fully balanced differential design. Its massive power supply is built on two 1.3kVA toroidal transformers and two banks of large capacitors. With a chassis of black-anodized aluminum and a front panel comprising elegantly curved extrusions of brushed aluminum, the 880M measures 18.75" W by 7.5" H by 16.5" D and weighs 92 lbs. Though it wasn't as tonally rich as the VTL S-400 Reference, the Simaudio was extremely well balanced, exhibiting an effortless precision and iron-fisted control that extended from top to bottom, said BD. "The 880M is an excellent design superbly executed, with a professionalism and attention to detail that promise consistently outstanding performance and long, trouble-free life," he concluded. Must be auditioned fully warmed-up, notes JA. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Soulution 710: $50,000
The 130Wpc Soulution is a dual-mono, dual-differential design housed in a large (21" W by 10.9" H by 18.7" D), clean, matte-gray case. Two massive 1000VA toroidal transformers, solid copper bars carrying rectifiers and capacitors, and a thick, heat-dissipating aluminum baseplate contribute to the amp's 176 lbs. The Soulution offered unparalleled transparency, startling transient clarity, and impressive soundstaging, but lacked some harmonic richness and bass impact. "A technical and sonic achievement not to be denied," said Mikey. With impressive dynamic range and exceedingly low levels of noise, the Soulution proved one of the best-measuring amplifiers in JA's experience. (Vol.34 No.8 WWW)

Ypsilon Aelius monoblock: $36,000/pair
Made in Athens, Greece, the 200W Aelius monoblock power amp measures 16.6" W by 9" H by 16.6" D and weighs 99 lbs. Its audio circuit has only two gain stages and almost no passive components in the signal path. Its single-ended class-A input stage uses either a Siemens C3g or an Electro-Harmonix 6C45PiEH tube. With the C3g tubes in place, the Aeliuses produced a punchy, direct, and insistent sound with "hair-raising" transparency and three-dimensional imaging; with the 6C45PiEH tubes, the Aeliuses had a much warmer, darker, softer overall sound, said MF. On the test bench, the Aelius exhibited measured performance that was in many ways typical of a classic tube design, but with the ability to drive low impedances usually associated with solid-state designs. "Its sound quality will very much depend on the input tube fitted," said JA. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

A (Tube)

Audio Research Reference 150: $13,000
The 150Wpc Reference 150 measures 19" W by 8.75" H by 19.5" D, weighs 75 lbs, offers output taps for 16, 8, and 4 ohm loads, and is available in silver or black. It uses eight matched pairs of KT120 output tubes and four 6H30 driver tubes; the output-stage coupling is a combination of the familiar ultralinear configuration and ARC's patented "partially cathode-coupled" topology. EL: "With its open soundstage, neutral tonal balance, finely textured musical presentation, wide dynamics, and supremely musical feel, the ARC Reference 150 connected me with my music better than almost every other amplifier I've heard." Compared to the Octave RE 290, the Ref 150 lacked some bass control but sounded significantly bigger, clearer, more colorful, and more natural, said EL. A JA favorite. (Vol.35 No.7 WWW; Vol.36 No.1)

Audio Research Reference 75: $9000
A half-power version of ARC's Reference 150, the 75Wpc Reference 75 uses four KT120 and two 6H30 tubes. Two front-panel VU meters double as adjustment meters for biasing each of the four KT120s. A relatively simple, straightforward circuit design enables short signal paths; high-quality output transformers offer 4 and 8 ohm taps, with a common ground. BJR noted lightning-fast transient articulation, superb detail resolution, and exceptional bass slam and authority. He bought the review sample. JA noted good measured performance, but advised against using the amp with speakers whose impedance drops significantly below the nominal value of the output-transformer tap. (Vol.36 No.5 WWW)

Conrad-Johnson Classic 60 SE: $5000 ✩
The Classic 60SE uses four Tung-Sol KT120 tubes to deliver 60Wpc into 4 or 8 ohms. Upgrades over the standard Classic 60 include Teflon capacitors in the power supply and main reservoir, Vishay resistors at key points, and Cardas binding posts. With its handsome tube cage in place, the Classic 60SE measures 17.4" W by 6.6" H by 13.4" D and weighs 41 lbs. It combined exceptional dimensionality, pinpoint imaging, and excellent low-level resolution for an overall sound that was "the antithesis of mechanical or contrived," said ST. (Vol.35 No.4)

Fi 421A: $4575
Designed and built by Don Garber in Brooklyn, New York, the Fi 421A is a single-ended, capacitor-coupled, 4Wpc stereo amplifier with a single 421A power tube. It measures just 10" W by 8" H by 10.5" D, weighs 20 lbs, and uses high-quality parts throughout. The Fi sounded "open, clear, compelling, and lovely," and had a knack for reproducing the human voice with outstanding presence and texture, said AD. Class A in special systems only, he cautions. Price increase since review due to new output transformers. (Vol.35 No.1 WWW)

Lamm ML-3 monoblock: $139,490/pair
Rated to deliver 32W, Lamm's flagship design is a zero-global-feedback, class-A monoblock with a single-ended-triode output stage and an outboard power supply. It uses one 12AX7, four 6N30P-DRs, and one direct-heated GM70 triode transmitter tube, and its assortment of premium internal components include: military-grade Dale metal-film resistors, Caddock power-film resistors, Cornell-Dubilier and United Chemi-Con electrolytic capacitors, and Electrotube, Elcon, and Roederstein film caps. While the ML3 sounded "lusher and bloomier than life," it produced natural attacks and generous sustain, and had an airy, extended top end, said MF. "Cost and value for money aside, the Lamm Industries ML3 Signature is among a handful of the most pleasurable-sounding amplifiers I've ever heard," he concluded. JA noted good measured performance for an amplifier with a single-ended output stage. (Vol.36 No.9 WWW)

Lamm ML2.2 monoblock: $37,290/pair
Like its predecessor, the ML2.1, the 18W ML2.2 is a single-ended-triode monoblock power amplifier with a 6C33C indirectly heated power tube. Other tubes include two 6N6P, one 6AK5, one 5651, and one 12AX7. Refinements over the ML2.1 include a new input circuit, new power transformer, five power-supply filter chokes instead of two, revised printed-circuit boards, and upgrades of various parts. Measuring 16" W by 8.25" H by 20.375" D, weighing 81 lbs, and with 14 tubes total (all of which must be installed and adjusted by the user), the ML2.2s require careful setup. Though it lacked the Shindo Haut-Brion's knack for expressing musical force, the Lamm combined superb spatial and temporal performance with rich texture and tone color, said AD. "An extraordinary product," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Luxman MQ-88: $8000
The massively built, 40Wpc MQ-88 is a classic push-pull tetrode design based on the KT88 power tube. The amp is hand-wired, point-to-point, and all internal circuit components are suspended from its 15mm-thick top plate. While the MQ-88 lacked some bass control, it sounded much more powerful than the typical 40Wpc amplifier, producing surprising "oomph factor," said JM. Compared to Ayre's AX-7e, the Luxman lacked resolving power, bass extension, and soundstage clarity, but offered a "delectable midrange." (Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

McIntosh MC275: $5500 $$$ ✩
The revived 75Wpc MC275, preserves the look of the original while adding modern innovations. Chimneys are used to cool the tubes by convection, and three circuit boards have been replaced by a single board on which are mounted all components, tube sockets, and power-supply parts. ST: "I heard all the dynamic quality, all that aliveness of the original, plus a level of transparency that brings the MC275 definitely into the 21st century." Sam bought the review sample. The fifth incarnation of the 75Wpc MC275, originally introduced in 1961, retains the first incarnation's classic appearance and its use of four KT88 power-output tubes, three 12AX7 input tubes, and four 12AT7 driver tubes. New are a stainless-steel chassis, balanced inputs, and gold-plated, five-way binding posts. While the MC275's two hefty transformers utilize the same "unity-coupled circuit" invented by McIntosh in 1947, the copper wiring is now insulated in a more durable synthetic material. Though dynamic expression was restricted and bass notes were "a bit muddy" in dense musical passages, the MC275 produced "stunning" soundstage depth and "spooky" intertransient silences, said FK. Meanwhile, the MC275's superb signal/noise ratios led JA to conclude that "Good audio engineering is timeless." Compared to its predecessor, the Limited Edition version of McIntosh's MC275 ($6500) has beefier binding posts, a more conveniently positioned power switch, and a gold-plated rather than stainless-steel chassis. In addition, a new output-transformer winding process has resulted in wider bandwidth, increased damping factor, and improved linearity. RD noted an ideal top-to-bottom tonal balance and an impressive sense of rhythmic drive, concluding, "The MC275LE is simply a wonderful-sounding amplifier, able to bring out the best from a wide range of loudspeakers." He bought the review sample. (Vol.27 No.7, Vol.33 No.10, Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Music Reference RM-200 Mk.II: $4900
Made in the US, the 100Wpc RM-200 Mk.II has the same basic physical and electrical architecture as the original, but uses better output transformers, adds a capacitor-forming function to extend tube life, and has a revised power supply. The fully balanced design features a high-power, bipolar, solid-state input stage and tubed driver and output stages. It uses two matched pairs of KT88 (standard) or 6550 (optional) output tubes, and a pair of 6BQ7 drivers. Though it lacked the slam and bass authority of more powerful solid-state amps, the RM-200 Mk.II produced airy highs, well-defined bass, and a lush midrange. "When the RM-200 Mk.II was in my system, I wanted for nothing," said MF. JA noted "superb measured performance for a tubed design." Hand-wound output transformers, add $1000; tube bias balance control, add $800. (Vol.34 No.12 WWW)

Octave Audio RE 290: $10,000
Made in Germany, the beautifully built, 75Wpc RE 290 is a push-pull design with class-A/B output stage and adjustable bias for each tube. It uses KT88 or KT120 power tubes, provides a single set of binding posts optimized for a 4 ohm load, and has a switch-activated power-saving mode. The RE 290's well-balanced sound was marked by tight bass, clean mids and highs, and excellent dynamic range, said EL. JA noted impressive measured performance. Compared to the Audio Research Ref 150, the Octave had better-controlled bass but lacked soundstage size, transparency, and tonal color, said EL. The optional Black Box ($1200) and Super Black Box ($3500) hook up to the RE 290 via an umbilical cord and respectively increase the capacitance four- or tenfold. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Rogue Audio M-180 monoblock: $5995/pair ✩
Built in the US, the rugged Rogue M-180 delivers 180W in ultralinear mode, and uses four Electro-Harmonix KT90 output tubes. Upgrades over the earlier M-150 include: increased power-supply storage; PRP resistors; Cardas binding posts, input wiring, and RCA jacks; improved input circuitry; HexFred high-speed diodes for the bias supply; and upgraded small-signal tubes. EL was most impressed by the Rogue's ability to maintain articulation and propulsion while providing bass extension and weight. Compared to the Pass Labs XA30.5, the Rogue offered greater low-bass control and had a drier tonal balance. "A great value," sums up EL. See also EL's Rogue Atlas Magnum review in Vol.35 No.4. (Vol.33 No.1 WWW)

Shindo D'Yquem monoblock: $24,995/pair
" Shindo's newest mono amp produces up to 18W from a parallel pair of Russian-made Genelex 300B directly heated triode tubes, operated in single-ended, pure class-A mode. Like all Shindo designs, the D'Yquem is made from a careful mix of modern and vintage parts and has beautiful steel casework finished on all surfaces in the company's trademark shade of green. While the D'Yquem shared with other Shindo models an excellent ability to portray music's natural color, texture, impact, and momentum, it added an especially clean and colorful low end, said Art. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

Shindo Cortese: $10,995 ✩
Like a sax player who can't make himself perform the same solo twice, Ken Shindo brings a certain artistic restlessness to the design of his hand-made tube amplifiers; the 10 Wpc Shindo Cortese—the least expensive of his single-ended amplifiers and the only one built on a stereo chassis—has now been recast, offering the same essence but with slightly different phrasing. The Cortese's input circuit now uses two 6AW8A pentode/triode tubes per channel instead of one, its bias-supply circuit is laid-out somewhat differently, and the Sprague Black Beauty coupling caps have given way to Orange Drops; Allen-Bradley carbon-comp resistors, Siemens F2a indirectly heated output tetrodes, a ginormous Denki power transformer, and Shindo-designed Lundahl output transformers, the single secondaries of which are tailored to high-impedance loads, remain. The sound is punchy and very vivid, with exceptional drive and a bit less gooshiness than its immediate predecessor, says AD, who found it a particularly good match with the DeVore O/96 loudspeaker. (Vol.30 No.7 WWW)

Shindo Haut-Brion: $10,995
Like earlier models, the latest Haut-Brion uses two matched pairs of the rare 6L6GAY pentode tube to deliver 25Wpc. The output section is a fixed-bias design, with a regulated bias supply and individual adjustment pots for each of the four output tubes, while the output transformer is a C-core Lundahl model made exclusively for Shindo. Unlike earlier models, the new Haut-Brion has three 6AW8A triode/pentode tubes per channel, uses a pair of Alps 250k ohm potentiometers, and forgoes global feedback. Though it lacked some low-frequency tightness, the new Haut-Brion created an enormous soundstage and showed impressive force. "The amp was the pizzicato king," said AD. (Vol.35 No.2 WWW)

VTL MB-450 Series III Signature monoblock: $20,000/pair ✩
Rated to deliver 425W (tetrode) or 225W (triode) into a 5 ohm load, the MB-450 III uses eight 6550 output tubes, a 12AT7 input tube, and a 12BH7 driver. Revisions to the Series II include a redesigned, fully balanced differential input stage, a lower-impedance output stage, premium Mundorf capacitors, and a shorter, faster, fully balanced negative-feedback loop. While the VTL sounded soft and "tubey" in triode mode, its tetrode performance was marked by an expansive top end, unusually fast attacks, clean decays, and well-controlled bass. "A significant evolutionary advance" over its predecessor, said MF. Because it provides lower distortion into higher impedances, the MB-450 III will sound best with higher-impedance speakers, JA advised. (Vol.34 No.4 WWW)

B

Allnic A-5000 DHT monoblock: $19,900/pair
Designed and made in South Korea by Kang Su Park, the Allnic A-5000 DHT, a 10Wpc single-ended monoblock, has three gain stages and an unusual combination of tubes: one Marconi CV1673, one 3A/110B, an Electro-Harmonix 300B, and a 5U4G full-wave rectifier. Construction quality was first-rate, with exceptionally clean solder joints and a solid, attractive case of aluminum alloy. Compared to AD's Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks, the Allnics had a slightly dark timbral balance with soft highs and short decays, but offered superb scale, drama, and impact. "Distinctive sounding and consistently musical," sums up AD. Along with the second-order distortion typical of single-ended designs, JA's measurements found an impressively wide frequency response, excellent squarewave reproduction, and low output impedances. Almost Class A in some respects. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Anthem Statement M1 monoblock: $6998/pair
Despite its relatively slim proportions (19.25" W by 2.25" H by 18.75" D; 20 lbs), the class-D Statement M1 is rated to deliver a whopping 1000W into 8 ohms. An internal heat-pipe cooling system allows multiple M1s to be stacked without the need for cooling fans or heatsink fins. The tidy rear panel holds balanced and single-ended inputs, a balanced-output gain switch, various trigger options, and a single pair of output terminals. The M1's detailed, extended highs were offset by its gritty, congested bass, which unnaturally colored almost every recording KR played. While the Anthem is extraordinarily powerful for its size, JA was very suspicious of the high level of ultrasonic noise in its output. "This will make the Anthem Statement M1's sound quality very system dependent," he cautioned. Be sure to audition with your own components and cables. (Vol.35 No.12 WWW)

Bryston 7BSST2 monoblock: $10,200/pair ✩
The superbly built 7BSST2 offers 600W in fully balanced, class-A/B operation into 8 ohms, and features a dual-mono bridged circuitry in which the two amplifier modules in each monoblock chassis are wired in series and driven by opposite-polarity signals. Changes from the original 7BSST include a circuit innovation said to maintain unvarying amounts of distortion throughout the audioband, new output devices, increased power-supply capacitance, a new low-noise power transformer, new computer-modeled heatsinks, more direct connections with less point-to-point wiring, and new cosmetics. Though the 7BSST2's tonal balance was "essentially seamless and fully extended," it lacked spatial depth and image specificity. When equipped with a new type of transformer trickled down from Bryston's flagship 28BSST2 (serial number 001826 onward), the 7BSST2 produced tighter images, sharper transients, and improved bass definition. Nevertheless, when compared to the Class A Parasound Halo JC 1, the Bryston lacked bass control, low-level resolution, and microdynamic delicacy, said MF. (Vol.33 No.1 WWW)

Lindell AMPX: $1595 $$$
Made in Sweden, the 20Wpc AMPX is a single-ended, dual-mono, class-A power amplifier with balanced XLR inputs. Designed primarily for pro-audio applications, the AMPX measures 18.8" W by 3.5" H by 17.4" D, and its faceplate, machined for rack mounting, is dominated by two large, blue power meters, calibrated to show watts into 8 ohms. Driving Opera's Callas loudspeakers, the AMPX was lively, detailed, and "unfailingly musical, sounding both powerful and revealing," said JM. "A great amp and an amazing bargain," he concluded. As long as it isn't used to drive loudspeakers with impedances that drop significantly below 4 ohms, the Lindell should perform well, concluded JA. (Vol.36 No.12, Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium: $3199
Rated to deliver 25Wpc in Triode mode or 42Wpc in Ultralinear, the extremely versatile DiaLogue Premium is a push-pull design that uses six 12AU7 and four EL34, KT88, or KT120 power tubes. Like other PrimaLuna models, it offers: an LED-based Bad Tube Indicator system for the output tubes; a Power Transformer Protection circuit; an Output Transformer Protection circuit; an AC Offset Killer circuit intended to eliminate hum; and an Adaptive Autobias circuit. With every recording AD played, the DiaLogue Premium exhibited an open, clear, and dramatic overall sound, with good tonal balance, realistically weighty bass, and remarkable spatial depth. "A very strongly recommended amplifier and a hell of a good value," AD concluded. Due to the amp's high output impedance and its rising distortion when the load impedance drops below the nominal value of the output-transformer tap, careful matching with the user's loudspeakers is mandatory, cautioned JA. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

Rogue Atlas Magnum: $1995
Magnum upgrades over the basic Atlas (reviewed by Fred Kaplan in March 2007), include larger, quieter power supplies; polypropylene bypass capacitors; Dale-Vishay resistors in critical spots; sturdier binding posts; gold tube sockets; and the option of KT90 or KT120 output tubes, to increase the specified power rating to 90 or 120Wpc, respectively. EL preferred the fuller, more extended sound of the KT120 output tubes, and appreciated the Atlas Magnum's well-balanced character: "This amplifier had enough dynamic power, enough timbral accuracy, enough soundstage illusion, enough resolution, and enough musicality to turn off the analytical part of my brain and let me simply listen to music." JA was disappointed with the Rogue's lack of high-frequency linearity. Stock Atlas models can be upgraded to Magnum status for $650. (Original, Vol.30 No.3 WWW; Magnum, Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Sophia Electric 91-01 300B monoblock: $4999/pair
The 9W (3W at 1% THD) Sophia Electric 91-01 300B is a single-ended power amplifier designed around the 300B directly heated triode tube, operated without negative feedback. The input stage is capacitor-coupled to the signal grid of one of Sophia's own Princess Mesh Plate 300B tubes, and both the mains and output transformers are designed and made in-house. Inside, the Sophia exhibited haphazardly routed point-to-point wiring, some sloppy solder joins, and under-insulated capacitor leads. Though its overall sound was slightly dark and lacked some top-end sparkle and mid-treble openness, the Sophia provided decent color, very good texture, and acceptable senses of touch and force, said AD. JA was concerned about some idiosyncratic aspects of the design. (Vol.36 No.12, Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

C

Z-Infinity Z40: $2999
Made in the US, the 20Wpc Z40 is a parallel single-ended amp with two EL34 tubes per channel in a fixed-bias circuit. Signal capacitors are all AuriCap polypropylene-film types; the input and output sections are hand-wired, point to point, with only minimal use of terminal strips; and the power supply is built onto a PCB of moderate size. The review sample's construction quality was disappointing, with a number of messy solder joints, haphazard use of electrician's tape, and loose reservoir capacitors. Nevertheless, the Z40 offered good tone and texture, solid bass, and excellent spatial performance, said AD. "A high-value product from a US firm worth watching," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.3 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are no amplifiers listed in Class D.

K
Shindo Corton-Charlemagne, Pure Audio monoblock, MBL Corona C15, VTL Siegfried.

Deletions
Ayre Acoustics MX-R replaced by 20th Anniversary Edition not yet auditioned; Bel Canto Ref1000M, Luxman B-1000f, not auditioned in too long a time; Musical Fidelity AMS100 & Titan, Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7, discontinued.

COMMENTS
billt1nh's picture

Aesthetix Atlas Amplifier : $8000 ✩has been a Class A recommended component for a few years including 2013 but does not show up this year. It is not mentioned under deletions for 2014. Was this a mistake?
 

John Atkinson's picture

billt1nh wrote:
Aesthetix Atlas Amplifier...has been a Class A recommended component for a few years including 2013 but does not show up this year. It is not mentioned under deletions for 2014. Was this a mistake?

Not a mistake. The Atlas was last included in the April 2013 "Recommended Components" but was deleted from the October 2013 listing on the grounds that it had been almost 4 years since anyone on staff had auditioned it under familiar circumstances.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

MikeMercer's picture

I've pulled an all-nighter writing, so I gotta be burnt-out.

How to get to the next page in the headphones section.

Is it only this one page???

Kal Rubinson's picture

Just click on the Headphone picture or on the "Headphones" in the list. 

MikeMercer's picture

ThanX Kal!!

That's how I got there.

I think it's only one page - which is a shame.  There's SO much great stuff for John and Co. to cover! Schiit Audio, Cavalli Audio, ALO Audio, Aurelic, JH Audio, Mr. Speakers, and DNA for example. 

John! If you EVER want any help covering the VAST personal audio universe?!?!?

My Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab!!

BTW - we're havin a BLAST over at Audio360!!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Stereophile has an entire online sister publication dedicated to personal audio, innerfidelity.com. It also has another that covers computer audio, audiostream.com.

Azteca X's picture

ThanX Mike!!  I wonder if you've compared your writing style to Tyll at InnerFidelity and wondered why he has the gig?!?!?!  

In all seriousness, InnerFidelity is great and has covered just about every brand you mentioned, I think.  Tyll tends to shy away from the super-custom year-long-waitlist stuff but I find it a good thing compared to forums full of people who drop $4K on amps like it's nothing. 

I also don't think Tyll posts unboxing vids.

Currawong's picture

The Sony MA900 headphones have a 70mm driver, just for your information.

subbanerjee's picture

Dear Editor:

I read the review of the Musical Fidelity DAC. I am not sure how that qualifies as a "formal" review. Yet, that product is placed in the A+ category? I would think that something that goes into the A+ Category would be thoroughly vetted in order to qualify to be a member of the Best-of-the-best category.

Not buying this recommendation...

Thanks
Subroto Banerjee

John Atkinson's picture

subbanerjee wrote:
I read the review of the Musical Fidelity DAC. I am not sure how that qualifies as a "formal" review.

We include in "Recommended Components" products that have been reviewed in one of our regular columns. Although these reports don't include measurements, they are as rigorously prepared as any other "formal" review in the magazine.

subbanerjee wrote:
Yet, that product is placed in the A+ category?

You will note that there is the reference "See ST's review in this issue." With all reviews that are published in the same issue as "Recomemnded Components," the rating is provisional.

subbanerjee wrote:
I would think that something that goes into the A+ Category would be thoroughly vetted in order to qualify to be a member of the Best-of-the-best category.

I have a second sample of the Musical Fidelity V90-DAC and will be publishing a Follow-Up review, complete with measurements, before the next "Recommended Components" listing is compiled.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

subbanerjee's picture

in the magazine".

Reading through the review, here is the section that refers to the performance of the DAC...

"Compared to the V-DACII, the V90 DAC offers still greater low-level resolutions, superior dynamics, and fatigure-free listening. It does space and place particularly well, and really shines with brass, where lesser DACs tend to turn dull. The Brass Ear would love it."

That's it. And it made it as an A+ DAC?

Come on. As the Editor-in-Chief,  I assume that you question your reviewers when they submit this and want it included in A+. Should you not say, "I don't know Sam, but let's give it a more thorough going over before we put this $299 DAC in A+."?

As you can discern by now, I am not buying this review or your disclaimer that it is a "provisional" rating. I think that a product should have got a thorough going over before it is placed in the rarified air of an A+ rating.

John Atkinson's picture

subbanerjee wrote:
As you can discern by now, I am not buying this review or your disclaimer that it is a "provisional" rating.

It isn't a disclaimer, just a factual statement. The definitive rating will be published in our October issue listing, following my follow-up to Sam Tellig's review. In the meantime, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion on what we write.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

WishTree's picture

Actually I got this DAC based on recommendations else where. It is properly run in but I did not get the performance of this DAC. It is bright and possibly a tad cleaner but no reason to be A+ product. And yes, it is definetly fatigue-ing. I liked Rega DAC better and Audiolab M-DAC is brilliant though they are a bit different in price range. 

Genesis's picture

No estan mas las KEF 207/2 en la lista, fueron borradas por que tampoco las veo en esta lista

 

gracias

John Atkinson's picture

Genesis wrote:
The KEF 207/2 is no longer on the list...

The KEF was positively reviewed in February 2008; see www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/208kef/index.html. The R207/2 hasn't been auditioned by a Stereophile reviewer since that review, so, as is our policy, it was deleted a couple of years ago. That is why there is no mention its deleion in this listing. However, as we say in the introduction on the first page: "Where deletions are made, we endeavor to give reasons...But remember: Deletion of a component from this list does not invalidate a buying decision you have made."

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Genesis's picture

Gracias por vuestra respuesta, tengo un par de estas cajas gracias a Uds. vivo en Argentina y solo pude escuchar unas 203/2 y con vuestra review m'as esa escucha decidi la compra. Me gustan mucho, solo que las vi en la lista hasta 2013 y por curiosidad consulte

 

Gracias nuevamente

alexandrov's picture

hmm.. I can see PSB Imagine T2 but not their top model Synchrony One. Is it that worse?

John Atkinson's picture

alexandrov wrote:
I can see PSB Imagine T2 but not their top model Synchrony One. Is it that worse?

We used to highly recommend the Synchrony One, but as with the KEF speaker mentioned above, our review was six years ago - see www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/408psb/index.html - and the speaker was dropped from the listing a year or so back due to none of us having any continued experience with it since the review.

The complete Recommended Components from 2003-2013 can be purchased from our on-line store.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bodhisattva's picture

John, it's hard to take a "2014 Recommended Components" list seriously without any mention of Magico S5's, Vitus components, Jorma Prime or Statement cables or Stillpoints isolation devices. Is this the swisse cheese list?

John Atkinson's picture

Bodhisattva wrote:
it's hard to take a "2014 Recommended Components" list seriously without any mention of Magico S5's, Vitus components, Jorma Prime or Statement cables or Stillpoints isolation devices.

From the introduction to the listing: "Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile..."

Unlike some other recommended lists, we restrict "Recommended Components" to products that have already been reviewed in the magazine and thus subject to full scrutiny. And there are products from Magico and Vitus included.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bodhisattva's picture

That's fair enough John. I'm pleased to see Magico and Vitus make the list! Both outstanding manufacturers.

Cheers, Bodhi

low2midhifi's picture

I would love to read further on your initial article (Sam's Space, I believe) about the Dynaudio Focus 160.  I have heard good things about this product and would like to know of your sound basis for making this speaker a recommended component.

I have searched fruitlessly for this article and it has evaded every type of google search.  Dynaudio mentions the review on its site but, alas, they provided no link either.

Is Stereophile Vol. 35 No. 1 not avaliable online?

Can you send us any kind of html link through this discussion thread?

Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture

low2midhifi wrote:
I have searched fruitlessly for this article...

With the exception of products that I have subsequently measured, we don't routinely reprint Sam Tellig's column on the Stereophile website. For that, you still need to subscribe to the print magazine. Back issues are available from (888) 237-0955.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

swillyums's picture

Is there a reason that this iteration of the list doesn't include any product images? I initially thought that it might just be my tablet, but I get the same wall of text on my desktop and phone as well. 

John Atkinson's picture

swillyums wrote:
Is there a reason that this iteration of the list doesn't include any product images?

Last year we could include images because we had the time to prepare the Web reprint from the tablet app. Thus year we are both temporarily operating short-staffed and wanted to post the complete Web version as soon as possible after the appearance of the April issue on the newsstands/in subscribers' mailboxes. This meant discarding both images and review URLs, I am afraid.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

NewB's picture

I was just wondering why the PSB Image line was removed.  

John Atkinson's picture

NewB wrote:
I was just wondering why the PSB Image line was removed.

As I wrote above, we drop products from the listing when none of the reviewing team has had any continued experience with it for more than 3 years since the original review. The complete listing for the 10 years from 2003 to 2013 can be purchased from our on-line store: http://store-badz031c.mybigcommerce.com/recommended-components-collectors-edition/ .

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Dan Moroboshi's picture

We could see ubber, ultra and expensive cables on interconnects and speaker cables, but not on digital cables. Is there a reason?

Some cables calls attentions, e.g. Stereolab Master reference 818 BNC/SPDIF, Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB, Kimber KS2020/2120, etc.

Byrnie's picture

Shouldn't the Centrance DACMini CX be listed under this section also given the DacPort is also?

clasvi's picture

Next month,will be four years since I purchased new, my 5004 matching AV receiver and BDP. The AV receiver has died (processor) and the BD player still sounds great when you can finally get the disc to load (mechanical). On occassions, I have had to give up trying. I was very happy with my entry level setup until it died. I now will try a Fusion 8100 AV receiver as a preamp to a ATI AT2005 amp powering my PSB T6's

tigrenrike's picture

I don't see the GoldenEar Triton Seven, and the newer GoldenEar Triton ONE...!?!?!? I think the GE Triton ONE should be in the A Full Range Class. And the Triton Seven should be in the B restricted Class...!

John Atkinson's picture
tigrenrike wrote:
I don't see the GoldenEar Triton Seven, and the newer GoldenEar Triton ONE...!?!?!?

As it says in the introduction, "Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile..." Neither of these GoldenEar speakers had been reviewed when this listing was prepared (February 2014). However, the Triton One will be reviewed in the February 2015 issue of Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile