Solid State Power Amp Reviews

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Rogier van Bakel  |  May 31, 2024  |  41 comments
There was a period in the 1970s when many pop ballads that should have had understated arrangements instead turned grandiose and even maudlin. Take Gilbert O'Sullivan's sensational single "Nothing Rhymed" (a track that went deep for a pop hit, referencing famine, duty, and morality). Soon after the start, O'Sullivan's piano is overshadowed by a loud, saccharine string section.

Another example is "Lotte," German singer Stephan Sulke's portrayal of a dying love affair. The devastatingly wistful chanson is burdened by a mawkish orchestral track—the equivalent of glitterbombing an Edward Hopper painting.

Contrast this with Roberta Flack's definitive version of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Apart from Flack's voice and her emotional delivery, the gently strummed guitar and quiet piano do all the heavy lifting. An unhurried double bass and a couple of minimally bowed string instruments leave swaths of negative space, helping to give her interpretation its hushed, reverent character.

I reflected on all this after spending several months with Balanced Audio Technology's REX 500 solid state power amplifier ($25,000), which has more in common with the Roberta Flack track than with the bombast of "Nothing Rhymed."

John Atkinson  |  May 23, 2024  |  8 comments
In December 2023, I took the train from New York to Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society's 30th annual Gala. I took the trip because it is both stimulating and satisfying to spend an afternoon in the company of more than 200 audiophiles and music lovers; I also wanted to see John Curl presented with the Society's fourth Innovation Award, by George and Carolyn Counnas of Zesto. John was given the award "for his groundbreaking contributions to the field of solid-state audio amplifiers, circuit innovation, mastering recorders and much more."

I first met John more than 40 years ago, at a Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, where I was blown away by John's intuitive and innovative approach to circuit design.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 06, 2024  |  22 comments
For reasons that have as much to do with why the creek does or doesn't rise as anything, almost all the UK-manufactured electronics I've reviewed over the years were from dCS of Cambridge. Through 2023, no electronics from Linn or a host of other UK-based companies have crossed the threshold of my music room.

That situation changed when, soon after New Year's, a pair of Linn's 60lb Klimax Solo 800 monoblock amplifiers ($90,000/pair) arrived from Scotland. Right away, they delighted me with their ease of maneuverability, handsome, uncluttered look, and relative compactness. Given their impressive power output—400W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4 ohms, and a whopping 1.2kW into 2 ohms—the Klimax Solo 800s set a record for highest price per watt and per pound among class-AB monoblocks I've reviewed.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 20, 2024  |  12 comments
Edmund (Ed) Manfred Meitner's name and reputation have long been synonymous with pioneering achievements in the fields of digital audio, especially DSD. In 1971, after designing the first fully automated studio console, Ed identified what he calls "the jitter problem." He worked with Sony and Philips to help create and refine SACD and subsequently designed the first complete six-channel DSD playback system for home use.

In 1998, while developing the eight-channel A/D and D/A DSD converters still used to create most SACDs, Ed founded EMM Labs and became head of design, with the goal of bringing DSD to the consumer realm...

Less widely discussed are Ed's amplifier circuit designs, which are the heart of the EMM Labs MTRX and MTRS amplifiers he designed collaboratively with Mariusz Pawlicki, EMM manager of R&D, and the late Zenon "Zanny" Muzyka.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 01, 2024  |  19 comments
Ever since I raved about Krell's K-300i integrated amplifier after it was released in early 2019, I've wanted to review other Krell products. After spending more than a year and a half (since its prerelease announcement) awaiting the opportunity to review Krell's new flagship mono power amplifier, the KMA-i800 ($73,000/pair), the time has come. Both Krell models utilize the company's proprietary iBias technology, albeit in different iterations, and both were designed by longtime Krell engineer Dave Goodman.
Jason Davis  |  Feb 14, 2024  |  8 comments
When Editor Jim Austin asked me to review the new Rogue Audio DragoN monoblock amplifier, my first thought was, "Isn't that Herb's beat?"

The DragoN monoblock is the latest amplifier from Rogue Audio's Mark O'Brien. The DragoN is a hybrid of tubes and class-D, using Hypex's class-D NCore module in the output stage. Hence the big N in the name of the product.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 07, 2024  |  7 comments
For some, it takes the likes of Scheherazade to seduce; for me, simple sound will suffice. But not just any sound. If I'm going to enter into a relationship with an audio component, I want it to last.

I don't know anyone who, having heard the JMF Audio system at AXPONA 2023—the HQS 6002 dual-mono power amplifier ($40,000; footnote 1) and PRS 1.5 dual-mono line stage preamplifier ($36,000) with Harbeth M40.3 XD speakers—did not rave about the sound. In my show report, I credited the system, assembled by Fidelis Distribution and Audio Skies, with delivering "some of the finestsounding music" I heard at the show. "This is the perfect sound for mellow music," I proclaimed. "Bliss."

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 05, 2024  |  5 comments
When Jim Austin offered the Plinius Reference A-150 stereo amplifier ($14,995) for review, it felt like a welcome blast from the past. Plinius has, lately, maintained a low profile in the US, likely due to several changes in US distributorship...Under the auspices of Ralph Abramo and California-based Plinius Audio Sales and Repair, Plinius's US profile seems to be rising again.
Jim Austin  |  Dec 15, 2023  |  16 comments
When I was offered the opportunity to review a Burmester product—the 216 stereo power amplifier—I accepted immediately, mainly out of curiosity. Berlin-based Burmester is an important hi-fi brand, but I knew very little about the company and their products. What better way to learn more than to review one of their products?
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 23, 2023  |  46 comments
One of the finest chamber music performances I have ever attended took place this past August under far from ideal circumstances. The venue was one-month-old Field Hall in Port Angeles, Washington, a city of fewer than 20,000 people known more for its port and proximity to the Olympic National Forest than for its rich culture. Perhaps that reputation will soon change, because the performers in the concluding concert of the Music on the Strait chamber music festival included its two local founders, violinist James Garlick of the Minnesota Orchestra and violist Richard O'Neill, the newest member of the Takács String Quartet. These excellent musicians, who have been friends since high school, were joined by the superb pianist Jeremy Denk and cellist Ani Aznavoorian. These are world-class musicians who attract eager audiences to New York's 92nd Street Y and Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and other prestigious venues. . .

What was true for that live performance in Field Hall is also true for performances reproduced on audio systems: A system can be less than technically perfect yet still transmit with eloquence every iota of care and feeling that artists and engineers put into recordings. Perfection is not an essential component of musical truth. Inspiration is.

Lest readers think this preamble is intended to suggest some shortcoming in the component under review, the Accuphase A-300 monophonic power amplifier ($51,900/pair), let me reassure you at the outset: Time and again, the A-300, like Jeremy Denk's artistry, inspired a state of wonder. The more I listened to the A-300 monoblocks, the more I wanted to listen. In my too-busy life, every occasion for listening was an occasion indeed, a special event.

Martin Colloms  |  Oct 12, 2023  |  10 comments
For this modular audio component set—a review of the matching NSC 222 streamer preamp with a matching NPX 300 power supply is forthcoming—we first cover the standalone NAP 250 100Wpc stereo power amplifier, a new version of Naim's 200-series amplifier, now so extensively revised that it must be regarded as a new model.

Naim Audio's enduring, compact 200-series stereo power amplifier has been relaunched as the NAP 250, a key component of their new 200 Series. It has been updated massively in its technology and the compatibility of its connections, yet the primary circuit concept, which dates to the mid-1970s, is essentially unchanged. Recent development work has focused on helping the amplifier match up well with the new NSC 222 streamer-preamp, the NAP 250's intended companion. The new 200-series power amplifier is now called, simply, NAP 250, dropping the "DR" of the previous model. But while the suffix is now omitted, the ultralow-noise DR technology has been retained in the active, fully regulated power supplies; indeed, it has been improved.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 05, 2023  |  50 comments
The finest soup I ever tasted was served in Kamakura City, Japan, in 1992. After climbing a mountain to a shrine that held a lock of Buddha's hair, I descended to Kamakura and walked to its Great Bronze Buddha. By the time I had taken my fill of the image's 730-year-old wonders and the countless picture-taking tourists at its base—a mild precursor to "the world is a backdrop for my ego" snappers of the smartphone age—I noticed that my stomach was growling.

Exhausted, I walked back into town and descended stairs into a conveniently located corner restaurant. I had to eat fast because my train back was departing soon. Looking for something quick, I ordered miso soup and eel over rice. Imagine my surprise when I found myself gazing into the most wondrous bowl of soup I'd ever seen. Floating on top of its clear, brown broth were various vegetables and herbs, each perfectly positioned in relationship to the other, as in a handcrafted textile. I felt as though I'd been granted private access to a great work of art.

What does this have to do with the Electrocompaniet AW 800 M Reference power amplifier ($22,500/each) that is the subject of this review? You'll have to read on to find out.

Ken Micallef  |  Sep 22, 2023  |  24 comments
Can an audio brand maintain a "house sound" if the original creator of that sound is no longer among the living? If the brand in question is Ayre Acoustics, the answer is a resounding Yes.

When Ayre founder Charley Hansen passed in late 2017, Ariel Brown, who is now Ayre's vice president and chief technology officer, was ready, waiting in the wings. Brown has worked for Ayre since he was a sophomore in college. As John Atkinson wrote in his February 2019 review of Ayre's EX-8 Integrated Hub, "Brown says that for better or worse, he was indoctrinated in Hansen's way of thinking and design. 'I only know the Charley way! Charley never wanted to introduce a product unless we had something new to offer with that product. 'New–Better–Different' was his philosophy; every product had to be a step up from before.'"

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 31, 2023  |  63 comments
I should have trusted my ears. When I first encountered Infigo (pronounced In-FEE'-go) electronics, paired with Alta Audio's Adam loudspeaker, at T.H.E. Show 2022 in Long Beach, California, I wrote, "Timbres were beautiful on bass and high-pitched percussion. The chimes and vibes sounded special and clean, colors were plentiful, and deep bass was all of one piece." Nor was I exaggerating. In that system, Infigo's Method 3 monoblocks ($55,000/pair) pleased my ears as much as their blue-illumined interiors delighted my eyes.

Rather quickly, Editor Jim Austin suggested I review the Method 3. Perhaps he'd already been tipped off by Ken Micallef's praise when he first encountered Infigo in November 2021 at the Capital Audio Fest, and by the ensuing buzz.

Tom Fine  |  Jul 07, 2023  |  16 comments
It takes a while for audio-related technologies to mature. Tubed amplifiers were invented by Lee de Forest in the nineteen-teens, but while there are still some adherents of early high-distortion triode designs, the age of mainstream high-fidelity amplification dawned with higher-power/lower-distortion amplifiers developed by Williamson and McIntosh followed by the Ultralinear take on the Williamson concept. That was 30+ years down the technology-evolution timeline after de Forest.

And when it comes to solid state amplifiers—the usual kind—does anyone prefer the state of the (germanium) art circa early 1960s to modern silicon class-AB designs? I doubt it.

Now, decades into its own development, class-D amplification seems to have sea legs, even in the audiophile world.

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