Solid State Power Amp Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Mar 02, 2017 10 comments
The power-amp saga continues. For months, I've been plowing through the market, searching for something to drive my three front speakers. (I use a two-channel amp for the surrounds.) It can be a three-channel amp or three monoblocks—it just has to sound great with my speakers, and be light enough that I can lift it by myself when I need to rearrange my system. I'd finally settled on Classé's Sigma Monos for their transparency, and because I can manage their weight, one at a time. At the CEDIA Expo in September 2016, I saw two more candidates worthy of consideration. Review samples of both arrived here almost simultaneously.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 24, 2017 19 comments
"I'm a recording engineer, so I value accuracy," said a panelist in a discussion—titled "How to Read Between the Lines of Audio Advertising"—at last October's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I, too, was on the panel, which was moderated by Brent Butterworth, a writer for the SoundStage! Network of online audio magazines.

"Accuracy is overrated," I interjected from the other end of the dais. "Accurate to what? To your sonic tastes? To what you hear on your preferred loudspeakers? Other than one's personal preferences, I'm not sure the term accuracy has much meaning."

Kalman Rubinson Posted: Sep 29, 2016 5 comments
Has it really been more than seven years since I reviewed Bel Canto's REF1000M monoblock? According to the Bel Canto website, that model, based on Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower class-D modules, is no longer available. But now, like so many manufacturers, Bel Canto has adopted for its new models the NCore class-D module from Hypex—although the REF600M monoblock ($4990/pair) is not Bel Canto's first product to use it . . .
Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 22, 2016 2 comments
In 1967, in Los Angeles, Morris Kessler, with Ted and Beth Winchester, founded Scientific Audio Electronics (SAE), which enjoyed a successful run of 21 years. In addition to Kessler, Sherwood Electronics cofounder Ed Miller, as well as the legendary James Bongiorno, contributed designs. (If you don't know Bongiorno's résumé, please do a web search.) Some SAE products, particularly their big-metered power amplifiers, became objects of desire for audiophiles on the West Coast and, especially, in Japan.
Herb Reichert Posted: Sep 20, 2016 7 comments
Every time a new audio technology enters the marketplace, a debate begins about its relative merit. That debate never ceases, even decades after the technology first came (and sometimes went). Turntable platters driven by belts vs rims vs idlers vs directly by their motors. Analog vs digital. Tubes vs solid-state. Triodes vs pentodes, Single-ended vs push-pull. Objectivism vs subjectivism. The power and seriousness of each of these debates has splintered our global hobby into diverse tribes, cults, and subcults—and therein lies one of the chief joys of being an audiophile: participating in cult rivalries.
Robert Deutsch Posted: Aug 30, 2016 7 comments
To those who were into audio in the late 1980s and early '90s, the name Audio Alchemy is a familiar one. I've owned DACs and jitter-reducing devices made by Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies (the first successor to the original AA) and found them to provide excellent performance at modest prices. Indeed, at the time, many in the industry felt that the Audio Alchemy products were underpriced, leaving too little room for profit, and that this led to the company's demise. The new Audio Alchemy—led by its original designer, Peter Madnick, and having on staff other employees from the old AA—is what Madnick describes as a "grown-up" version of the original company, maintaining "the brand's original ethos of superior technology and value." And the prices, while quite reasonable for the performance they seem to offer, appear high enough to allow the new AA to survive.
Kal Rubinson Posted: Mar 03, 2016 3 comments
In the January 2015 edition of "Music in the Round," I reviewed NAD's latest Masters Series preamplifier-processor and multichannel power amplifier, respectively the M17 ($5499) and M27 ($3999). I was taken with both, but the M27 made a special impression. In many ways, it personified what a modern power amp should be: quiet, transparent, cool running, and compact. Its neat package of seven 180W channels inspired me to consider that stereo or mono versions of such a thing could supplant the ungainly monster amps I was using in my main system. So I asked NAD to send me not just one but two samples of their new two-channel power amplifier, the Masters Series M22 ($2999): Although this is a review of a stereo amplifier, I did want to have my front three speakers identically voiced.
Ken Micallef Posted: Mar 01, 2016 5 comments
I'm a jazz lover. To be specific: I'm a lover of jazz on vinyl. I'm referring not to my sexual proclivities but to 331/3rpm LPs from such venerable labels as Blue Note, BYG Actuel, Contemporary, ECM, ESP-Disk, Impulse!, Prestige, and Riverside. Nothing hits the sweet soul spot of this former jazz drummer and devout jazz head harder than Tony Williams's riotous ride-cymbal beat, Hank Mobley's carefree tenor-saxophone shouts, Charles Mingus's gutbucket double-bass maneuvers, or Bill Evans's haunting piano explorations. Jazz and vinyl both may constitute narrow slivers of music sales, but millions of us around the globe are on a constant hunt for exceedingly rare, grail-like jazz LPs, which we spin on our turntables with an equally holy reverence for the musicians' achievements.
Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 03, 2016 1 comments
Was it more surprising that, in 2015, PS Audio would produce a monoblock class-AB power amplifier containing vacuum tubes, or that PS Audio would release a monoblock power amplifier at all? I'm not sure.

In 1974, Paul McGowan and Stan Warren founded the company to produce and market a standalone phono preamplifier, sold directly to consumers for $59.95. From there they naturally progressed to a series of line-level preamplifiers. Toward the end of the '70s, PS Audio produced the Model One, the company's first power amplifier. In the mid-1980s came the high-performance, moderately priced ($495) 4.5 and 4.6 preamplifiers. I reviewed—and bought—a 4.6 a few years after I began reviewing gear for The Abso!ute Sound; Tom Norton reviewed the 4.6 for the September 1988 issue of Stereophile.

Kalman Rubinson Posted: Oct 30, 2015 17 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 2 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 1 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 10 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."

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