Solid State Power Amp Reviews

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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.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Oct 30, 2015 15 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 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.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 15, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1979 0 comments
Imagine if you can a power amplifier with the bass richness, midrange liquidity, and high-end accuracy of the best tube amplifiers, and the inner detail, transient attack, and bass solidity and range of the best solid-state amplifiers. If you can imagine that, you can visualize what this amplifier sounds like.
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."
J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 14, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 1977 0 comments
We cannot recall when any new products have generated as much of a stir among perfectionists as the new solid-state equipment from Audio Research. Preceded by rumors of "a new kind of amplifying device—a cross between a tube and a transistor"—the announcement of ARC's new power amp and SP-4 preamplifier elicited very mixed reactions from loyal ARC customers, some of whom gleefully anticipated a virtual revolution in audio electronics, others of whom felt betrayed by the company which, having originally convinced them that "Tubes Are Better," suddenly seemed to be doing an about-face and espousing the views of the Enemy—the "Soiled-State"—forces.
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.
Sam Tellig Posted: Dec 24, 2014 Published: Nov 01, 2000 4 comments
Can an $18,000 power amplifier be a bargain?

Can an $18,000 wristwatch?

Kalman Rubinson Posted: Sep 04, 2014 9 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.

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