PS Audio 200C power amplifier Page 2
Restoring My Perspective
It should now be clear why I consider the PS Audio 200C as important a breakthrough as the Adcom 555, albeit at a higher price. This may be due to the fact it weighs half a ton, has true direct coupling and less than 20 dB of feedback, uses massive copper bars to conduct current from the power supply to the output transistors, can pass over 60 amps of current, and has gold-plated fuses and sockets. It may even come from the fact that it's the first PS Audio product with really good styling (footnote 3).
The 200C is a superb piece of equipment, but not the ultimate amplifier, or the proper amplifier for every system. I do have some caveats:
• As amplifiers get better, we learn more and more about the variations in sound character caused by the amplifier-speaker interaction, something that was masked by past amplifier colorations. These interactions vary so greatly, and for reasons still not fully understood, that the ability of a given combination to suddenly "lock in" and provide truly outstanding sound is almost impossible to predict. No one should choose a top-priced amplifier without first listening to the practical result of combining it with a given speaker and speaker cable. Good as the 200C is, competing amps may "lock in" on a particular system, and sound better.
• Some audiophiles are still treble junkies, getting their "highs" off the illusion of sitting one foot from the orchestra. I can't stand their systems; no live performance has enough highs at any seat in the audience to justify such a treble balance. Treblophiliacs will prefer an amplifier that has more apparent highs, and many listeners used to less accurate transistor amplifiers will take a few hours to learn that amplifiers don't have to harden the upper midrange and highs.
• My praise of the 200C assumes that your preamp can drive the 200C's direct-coupled input without problems, that your 200C is perfectly biased, has been "run-in" with 15-20 hours of music or white noise, and warmed up for at least several hours. Don't expect the performance I've described from a new, "cold" sample. And don't buy the 200C if you have any DC coming out of your preamp (which is a rare problem with modern preamps). If DC is present (the amp has a built-in sensing circuit to tell you if there is before you hook up the speakers), you must use the the 200C's AC input. Beware; the coupling capacitor used after the 200C's AC inputs is as bad as Paul McGowan's sense of humor—which may well be the worst in the high-end audio industry. But then, at least Paul is part of the 3% minority in this industry that has a sense of humor!
• The 200C does not have the ability to reproduce low-level harmonics and transients with quite the resolution and dynamic naturalness of the very best tube designs. Audio Research, CJ, and NYAL/Counterpoint-OTL lovers will miss this.
• The Krells have better low-level resolution, and a rock-solid stability in their soundstaging at all musical levels that's slightly better than the 200C. If you love the Krell sound, the PS Audio will not replicate it.
• You can also get one hell of an amplifier in the Adcom 555, at about one-third the price of a 200C—but I feel the PS Audio 200C is well worth the added investment if you can afford it. Nevertheless, diminishing returns set in pretty rapidly in power amplifiers. I'd give priority to speakers, the cartridge or CD player, and phono gain stages, all of which are more likely than the amplifier to set the limits on overall system sound quality.
The PS Audio 200C is one of those few products that can suddenly give your system new life, and challenge your preconceptions about what is really on your records. It is certain to be a "killer" in terms of existing amplifier designs. I am virtually certain that top competitors like Mark Levinson and Threshold will have to rethink their product line; the 200C will even push Krell to upgrade its sound. Many audiophiles will have to rethink buying a tube amplifier. As for the flood of "me too" amplifiers, and virtually all Asian and European imports...
Let me repeat. The PS Audio 200C really is good enough to merit one-on- one comparison with any other power amplifier at any price. It is a major new entry to Stereophile's list of Class A amplifiers!—AHC
Footnote 3: I can only be sure that the 200C's sonic superiority does not come from what the manufacturer's brochure claims are "12 solid copper output transistors." Solid copper semi-conductors? A true (disc-shaped) wire with gain? What will Bell Laboratories think of next?—AHC