Solid State Power Amp Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Oct 30, 2015 14 comments
I first saw Benchmark's AHB2 stereo power amplifier at the 2013 Convention of the Audio Engineering Society, in New York City. On silent display in Benchmark's booth on the convention floor, its compact size and comprehensive features made the amp immediately attractive, and the design was described as a departure from traditional analog and digital amplifiers. It was also explained to me that the AHB2 was based on designs by Benchmark's founder, Allen H. Burdick (whose initials it bears). By the time of Burdick's retirement, in 2006, Benchmark didn't yet offer a power amplifier, but the company used a prototype based on his work to evaluate their new digital products, and that amp was soon developed as a commercial product; Burdick died just weeks before the AHB2, now named in his honor, was shown at the 2013 AES convention.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 29, 2015 1 comments
I first met electronics engineer John Dawson in 1979, at a British audio show. The company he'd co-founded, A&R Cambridge, had just launched the A60, a slim, elegant-looking, 40Wpc integrated amplifier costing only £99 (then equivalent to $217).

By the time I reviewed the Mk.2 version, in the October 1984 issue of Hi-Fi News & Record Review, the A60's price had risen to £199 ($248), the company was now called Arcam, and more than 22,000 A60s had been sold, making it one of the best-selling amplifiers in England. While preparing that review I had visited Arcam's factory, near the English town of Ely, where Dawson had shown me filing cabinets containing a separate manufacturing report for each and every one of those A60s.

Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 29, 2015 0 comments
Class-A amplifiers have a well-deserved reputation for being power guzzlers that run hot enough to burn fingers. They're inherently inefficient because their output devices conduct full current at all times, and much of that current is dissipated as heat—requiring, in the case of class-A solid-state amplifiers, massive heatsinks. This is why class-A amps tend to produce relatively low power, and tend to be heavy and expensive to buy and run. And these days, energy inefficiency is out of fashion.
Fred Kaplan Posted: Jul 30, 2015 9 comments
In the May 2015 issue, I fairly raved about Simaudio's Moon Evolution 740P line-stage preamplifier, and now here I am confronting its Moon Evolution 860A power amp. The two are companion models of sorts, with prices of $9500 for the 740P, $15,000 for the 860A—and for much of the time I spent listening to the 740P it was hooked up to the 860A, so some of the descriptions of sound in this review will seem familiar. The two components are both products of the same design shop—Simaudio, Ltd., of Quebec, which has been a prominent brand in high-end audio for 35 years—and are often marketed as a pair, so it should be no surprise if they have a common sound.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 23, 2015 8 comments
Of the hundreds of product reviews I have written over the years, it is perhaps those of power amplifiers that present the hardest task in defining their worth. This is not because power amps are unimportant. As I wrote in my review of the MBL Corona C15 monoblock, in June 2014, "it is the power amplifier that is responsible for determining the character of the system's sound, because it is the amplifier that must directly interface with the loudspeakers. The relationship between amplifier and loudspeaker is complex, and the nature of that relationship literally sets the tone of the sound quality." But because the amplifier's role is so fundamental, it can at first be difficult to determine a given amp's balance of virtues and failings. A paradox.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 26, 2015 4 comments
Stereophile normally doesn't review audio systems. We review individual components. We've made an exception for the Bel Canto Black system because it deserves to be evaluated as such. It consists of three dense, almost identically sized cases of black-anodized aluminum. One, the ASC1 Asynchronous Stream Controller, is what in a conventional system would be called a "preamplifier." The other two, a pair of MPS1 Mono PowerStreams, would in a conventional system be called "monoblock power amplifiers."
Michael Fremer Posted: May 01, 2015 8 comments
Google Bricasti and all that comes up are sites relating to Bricasti Design products. The name must be fanciful—it sounds Italian, but cofounders Brian Zolner and Casey Dowdell most likely are not, and the company's headquarters are not in Milan or Turin but in Massachusetts.

While its name might be whimsical, nothing else about Bricasti is. As John Marks reported in his review of Bricasti's M1 DAC in the August 2011 issue, both founders previously worked at Lexicon: Dowdell as a DSP-software engineer, Zolner as international sales manager. Bricasti develops its products in conjunction with Aeyee Labs, formed by a group of ex-employees of Madrigal Audio Laboratories and based in New Haven, Connecticut.

Larry Greenhill Posted: Feb 26, 2015 12 comments
Several seconds after I began listening to it, I knew that Theta Digital's Prometheus monoblock amplifier ($12,000/pair) was different from other amplifiers. The violins and brass were more dynamic, and had more pace. The orchestra sounded more three-dimensional, depicted in relief by a degree of hall ambience I hadn't heard when I played the same recording through my reference solid-state stereo amplifier, a Mark Levinson No.334.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Sep 04, 2014 8 comments
Power amplifiers are unglamorous but essential. In theory, they have only one task. But, according to audio sage Yogi Berra, "in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not." Amplifiers must take a voltage input signal and provide an output of somewhat higher voltage but of substantially higher current, the product of which is power. The task is complex in that this output must be applied to electrical interfaces whose characteristics vary widely from speaker to speaker—across the audioband and, for some, even at different power levels. There are no control mechanisms or feedback signals to help. The power amp must just stand and deliver.
John Atkinson Posted: May 27, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 2014 6 comments
A year or so ago, in my review of the Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier, I wrote that the heart of an audio system is the preamplifier, in that it sets the overall quality of the system's sound. But it is the power amplifier that is responsible for determining the character of the system's sound, because it is the amplifier that must directly interface with the loudspeakers. The relationship between amplifier and loudspeaker is complex, and the nature of that relationship literally sets the tone of the sound quality.
John Atkinson Posted: Dec 30, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2014 12 comments
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.
John Marks Posted: Dec 12, 2013 5 comments
Lindell Audio, a Swedish professional-audio company, was founded in 2010 by recording engineer Tobias Lindell, and claims to offer equipment "by engineers, for engineers." Tobias Lindell specifies the features and functions that he wants each product to incorporate; the actual circuit designs are by others. Although Lindell's corporate headquarters are in Sweden, the products are manufactured in China, and are competitively priced.
Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 07, 2013 4 comments
High-performance audio has always been and will probably remain a cottage industry perpetuated by talented and visionary individuals whose products reflect their singular visions and whose companies often bear their names, though of course there are notable exceptions. One of them is Constellation Audio. No single star dominates the appropriately named Constellation Audio, which arrived on the scene at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show with a seemingly impossible debut roster of products: stereo and monoblock amplifiers, preamplifiers, digital file player/DACs, and phono preamplifiers, each category of component represented by members of two distinct lines: no compromise and some compromise.
Brian Damkroger Posted: Jun 14, 2013 17 comments
In the September 2005 issue (Vol.28 No.9), I reviewed Simaudio's first reference-quality power amplifier: the 1000W, 220-lb Moon Rock monoblock ($37,000/pair). At the time, the Rock was a dramatic departure for Simaudio, then primarily known as a maker of midpriced gear that was good for the money. I found a lot to like about the Rock, concluding that while it wasn't quite up to the standard of the best superamps of the time, it was very good—and, for Simaudio, an admirable first shot at the state of the art.
Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 04, 2013 24 comments
What better way to celebrate the expiration of a noncompetition clause than to debut a product that has no competition? That's what Dan D'Agostino appears to have done with his Momentum monoblock amplifier ($55,000/pair)—his first new product since leaving Krell, the company he cofounded more than 30 years ago.

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