2013 Recommended Components Power Amps

Two-Channel Power Amplifiers

Editor’s Note: Because of the disparity between typical tube and solid-state “sounds,” we have split Class A for separate power amplifiers into two subclasses. Nevertheless, even within each subclass, Class A amplifiers differ sufficiently in character that each will shine in an appropriate system. Careful auditioning with your own loudspeakers is therefore essential. Except where stated, output powers are not the specified powers but rather those we measured into an 8 ohm resistive load. All amplifiers are stereo models, except where designated.

Class A (Solid-State)

Aesthetix Atlas: $8000 ✩
Offering 200Wpc (318Wpc at clipping), the Atlas has a tubed input stage, a solid-state output stage, and a second pair of inputs with a 6dB/octave high-pass crossover that can be set to 16 different corner frequencies from 40 to 200Hz. Build quality is top-notch and rugged, with the amp's body wrapped in an aluminum enclosure that surrounds the circuits and heatsinks in a cage-in-cage construction. The Atlas was characterized by a control, ease, and dynamic command that allowed music to jump to life, said WP. Compared to the Parasound Halo JC 1, the Atlas offered a creamier midrange, but lacked a little top-end extension and bottom-end body. (Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)
Ayre Acoustics MX-R monoblock: $18,500/pair ✩
Relatively small (11" W by 18.75" D by 3.75" H) for a 300W monoblock, the MX-R is carved out of a 75-lb billet of aluminum, and uses a zero-feedback, discrete design with a dual-transformer power supply whose custom-made trannies are built to fit the MX-R's unique shape—a shape that provoked WP's audio lust: "a hunka hunka shiny, anodized audio presence," as he described it. "It's too physical to look cute and too sleek to look like a monster amp." Though the MX-R exhibited "a clangy opacity when cold" and required break-in to reach maximum performance, its unrivaled presentation then captured the clarity of individual instruments as well as the musical whole. "Second to none," said Wes. Comparing the MX-R with the Krell Evolution 600s, the sonic differences between the amplifiers were "extremely subtle," said WP. However, while the Krells drew Wes's attention, especially with superbly recorded material, the Ayres inspired him to deeply mine his entire music collection. (Vol.30 No.4 Read Review Online)
Bel Canto Ref1000M monoblock: $5990/pair ✩
Outwardly identical to the original Ref1000, the 500Wpc 1000M uses an updated version of B&O's ICEpower module, a more complex input board, and a new power-supply board. The new Bel Canto was "dead silent" and sounded "clean, powerful, and neutral," with a heftier bottom end and a more natural midrange. No longer marked by the shortcomings of other digital amps, the Bel Canto "can be compared with the cream of the other amps I've had in my system," enthused Kal. JA's measurements revealed the REF1000 Mk.2 to be very powerful, delivering 600W into 8 ohms or 1200W into 4 ohms. It will work best with higher-impedance loudspeakers, however, and at lower frequencies. (Vol.32 No.3, Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)
Classé CA-M600 monoblock: $14,000/pair
Classé CT-M600 monoblock: $13,000/pair
In a mundane-looking black box with a detachable rack-mount front panel that matches the styling of Classé's CT-SSP preamplifier-processor, the CT-M600 is rated to deliver 600W (700W at actual clipping) into 8 ohms. It employs Classé's Intelligent Cooling Tunnel, in which internal heatsinks are mated to a microcontroller to actively ensure a thermally stable environment. All the audio circuitry, including the 36 output devices, is carried on two six-layer boards, allowing signal paths to be very short and keeping the amplifier's noise floor very low. The CT-M600 was the "consummate chameleon," drawing the best from a wide variety of loudspeakers, providing enormous dynamic range, deathly quiet backgrounds, and intensely saturated colors. "They are the best-sounding amplifiers I have auditioned in my system," said JA. Compared to the massive Musical Fidelity AMS100, the CT-M600 offered better upper-bass definition and slightly more upper-frequency energy, but lacked the AMS100's sweet, forgiving treble, said JA. The CA-M600 is essentially the same amplifier, housed in Classé's traditional Delta-series enclosure, with its brushed-aluminum front panel curved around to form the side panels. (Vol.34 Nos.3 & 9 Read Review Online)
Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblock: $55,000/pair
Dan D'Agostino's statement product, the 300W (450W at actual clipping into 8 ohms) Momentum has a compact chassis (12.5" W by 5" H by 21" D) machined from a single aluminum billet. A large, round power meter dominates the front panel, while thick copper side panels act as heatsinks. The low-feedback, fully complementary, balanced design uses 1% metal-film resistors and two dozen 69MHz output transistors in a direct-coupled, discrete, bipolar output circuit with a claimed frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz, ±0.1dB. The Momentums produced a seamless overall sound, with slightly reserved highs, a tube-like midrange, and an authoritative bottom end, said MF. "With the darTZeel NHB-458, it's one of the two most satisfying power amplifiers I've ever heard," he concluded. "This is an amplifier that is as well engineered as it is beautiful to behold," said JA. (Vol.36 No.2 Read Review Online)
darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock: 145,000 CHF
Made in Geneva, Switzerland, the 450W (530W at actual clipping) NHB-458 measures 18" H by 11" W by 20" D, weighs 154 lbs, and has a deep-gold, brushed front panel and retro-industrial, red-anodized case. Tinted glass side panels allow magnetic fields to escape the chassis and reveal the amp's enormous cylindrical transformer. The large rear-panel heatsink has a cutout for connections that include RCA and XLR inputs, as well as a Zeel BNC 50 ohm input, for use with darTZeel's NHB-18NS preamplifier and Playback Designs" SACD player and DAC. It combined outstanding speed, precise high-frequency transients, and unlimited dynamic range with powerful bass and unsurpassed transparency, said MF. "The darTZeel NHB-458 is easily the finest power amplifier I have ever heard in my listening room," he concluded. At a price! (Vol.35 No.8 Read Review Online)
Electrocompaniet AW400 monoblock: $14,198/pair
Claimed to deliver 400W, the AW400 is a push-pull design optimized for true balanced operation. Its tall front panel is a nicely finished sheet of clear acrylic, backlit in blue, complementing the amp's fine overall construction. While it didn’t match the graceful, surefooted musical flow of AD's favorite low-powered amps, the AW400 offered a solid yet open sound marked by excellent clarity, impact, and scale. "The Electrocompaniet AW400 is a sweet, fun, and unabashedly powerful-sounding amp," concluded Art. JA was impressed by its low levels of noise and distortion. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)
Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference monoblock: $24,190/pair ✩
The 110W M1.2 with tube front end and MOSFET output stage, comprehensive short-circuit protection, and high/low impedance settings, offered "unflinching honesty in conveying the true nature of the music that passed through it," said PB. "Utterly continuous and coherent from top to bottom," the M1.2 combined resolution and transparency with harmonic completeness, timbral richness, and glow. JA concurs. Compared to the Classé CT-M600 and MBL 9007, the Lamm had a more robust, less delicate sound, but nevertheless impressed JA with its three-dimensional soundstaging and midrange richness. "This is a great amplifier," JA decided. "Highly recommended." (Vol.28 No.2, Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)
Luxman B-1000f monoblock: $55,000/pair
The heart of the 250W (310W at actual clipping) B-1000f is its transformer, wound with flat, 2mm-thick copper bar, insulated with paper, and meticulously hand-hammered around the core. Each section of the amp is isolated from all others by shielding and internal filtering, and Luxman's proprietary Only Distortion Negative Feedback topology is used to further isolate noise and distortion from the music signal at the input. The B-1000f exhibited a "palpably lifelike sound" marked by impressive solidity and jump factor, stable stereo imaging, and natural dynamic ease. "Possibly the finest amplifier I have ever auditioned," said WP. (Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)
Mark Levinson No.532H: $8000
Inside its modest-looking, no-nonsense black chassis, the 300Wpc (355Wpc at clipping) No.532H houses two 436VA toroidal transformers, independent power-supply components for each 16-output-device channel, curved PCB traces, and a fully differential circuit for the signal path. LG was impressed by the No.532H's 'superior bass slam, soundstaging, treble detailing, midrange pitch definition, and jaw-dropping dynamic range." JA noted "textbook measured performance," with high power output and very low levels of noise and distortion. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)
mbl 9011 Reference monoblock: $106,000/pair
The 440W (540W at actual clipping into 8 ohms) 9011 measures 19" W by 13" H by 34" D, weighs 223 lbs, is available in several high-gloss finishes with accents in chrome or gold plate, and can be used as a stereo amp or bridged monoblock. Though it lacked some speed and bass punch in absolute terms, the MBL produced a rich midrange and excelled in scale, atmosphere, ease of presentation, and sheer power, said MF. When used as a bridged monoblock, the 9011 must be driven by a balanced signal, cautioned JA, who noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)
mbl 9007 Noble Line monoblock: $42,800/pair ✩
The 440W Reference 9007 can be used as either a balanced monoblock or a single-ended stereo amplifier and has provisions for biwiring and biamping. It uses mbl's Direct Push/Pull circuitry design and Isolated Gain Cell technology, and its gleaming black exterior is decorated by a large, gold mbl logo. Sacrificing bloom and suppleness for crystalline transparency and offering tightly focused imaging, shimmering highs, and well-damped bass, the 9007 was one of the most exciting and engaging amplifiers in MF's experience. His recommendation only concerns the 9007 used as monoblock pairs, however. JA was thrilled by the mbl's superb measured performance. Compared to the humongous Musical Fidelity AMS100, the mbl monoblocks were a little more forward in the low treble and offered more ultimate slam, but lacked the AMS100's sweet, forgiving treble, said JA. (Vol.29 No.9; Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)
Musical Fidelity Titan: $30,000 ✩
The fully balanced, dual-mono, two-chassis Titan is rated to deliver 1kWpc into 8 ohms. Though only slightly more than 7" high, each box is 19" wide and more than 2' deep. The 150-lb power supply houses two 3kVA toroidal mains transformers and a pair of toroidal chokes, while the 100-lb amplifier section contains 40 output devices. Regardless of volume level or source material, "the Titan produced luxurious, velvety, enveloping warmth, along with precise imaging, a huge, stable soundstage, and a nimble rhythmic drive," said MF. Compared to the Bryston 7BSST2, the Titan offered far superior image focus, richer instrumental textures, and a greater sense of space, said MF. JA, too, was impressed: "Technically, this is an extraordinary amplifier." Production is limited to 40 units. (Vol.32 No.6, Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)
Musical Fidelity AMS100: $19,999
A massive beast: The 100Wpc, class-A AMS100 measures a staggering 19" W by 12.75" H by 34.67" D, weighs 220 lbs, and, even when not playing music, draws 10 amps from a typical 120V wall supply. Hot and cold speaker terminals for each channel are each driven by a complete mono amplifier. Additionally, each channel has a separate transformer and a bank of 16 supply capacitors, each bank fed rectified DC via a hefty, dual bifilar-wound choke designed to filter and cancel ripple on the two voltage rails. The AMS100 combined outstanding resolution with a seductively sweet midrange to create a relaxed, forgiving overall sound, said JA, and its excellent measured performance was marked by impressively low static distortion. "Musical Fidelity's AMS100 is magnificent. It is also silly," JA said plainly. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)
Musical Fidelity M6PRX: $3495 $$$
This dual-mono, class-A/B design is rated to deliver 260Wpc into 8 ohms from four pairs of bipolar output transistors per channel, using circuitry based on Musical Fidelity's flagship Titan. Much more modest in size and appearance than the massive Titan, the M6PRX measures 17.5" W by 5" H by 15.5" D, offers balanced and single-ended inputs, has choke-regulated power supplies, and comes in a choice of silver or black faceplate. "This is one of the sweetest-sounding, most fatigue-free solid-state amplifiers I have met up with," said Sam. His solid-state reference. (Vol.35 No.6)
Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblock: $9000/pair $$$ ✩
MF heard exactly what this high-power—400Wpc specified, 586W at clipping!—John Curl-designed amp's specs showed: "ultra-wide bandwidth, high-current capability, low, low noise, a high S/N ratio, and a fast slew rate, among many other indicators of outstanding amplifier performance....There was an honesty to the overall tonal and harmonic presentation that transcended technological stereotypes." MF found the overall sound to be powerful, refined, smooth, organized, dynamic, transparent, and rhythmically supple, if a little on the subtly warm and rich side of the sonic spectrum, but decided that this not at the expense of transient speed and resolution of detail. "Perhaps some listeners will find the JC 1 too refined and perhaps a tad polite, but I didn't." "Rocks for sure," says ST, adding that with the amp driving the Triangle Magellans, he found the "bass firmed up, the sound wasn't strained in any way, and there was an overall sense of ease. Dynamic ease. Listening ease. Just ease. Compared to the Halcros, the Parasound JC 1s brought the soundstage forward. Tonally, the Parasounds were magnificent"with no trace of solid-state hardness. And the amps weren't even broken in." "The Parasound JC 1 is one of the finest high-powered solid-state amps I've heard," said ST. "Think of it as a 25W class-A amp that does 400W class-A/B when pushed." Matched with the JC 2 preamp, the JC 1s presented even greater holographic detail and transparency. The Parasound Halo JC 1 traded the Moscode 402Au's snappy, vivid tonality and larger soundstage for "quiet precision," clarity, and focus, said WP. The Halo JC 1 traded the Aesthetix Atlas's creamy midrange for greater bottom-end heft and top-end extension, said WP. Compared to the Bryston 7B SST2, the Parasound had deeper bass, tighter images, faster transients, and greater low-level resolution and microdynamic delicacy, said MF. A favorite of JA's, who was equally impressed by how the JC 1 performed on the test bench: "This is excellent measured performance. The Halo JC 1 is not only the best amplifier to come from Parasound, it ranks up there with the best high-end heavyweights," though WP felt that while the Halo JC 1 exhibited grace and delicacy compared with the much more expensive Luxman B-1000f, it lacked some impact, drive, resolution, and detail. Stereophile's—and Sam Tellig's—“Joint Amplification Component” for 2003. (Vol.26 Nos.2, 6, & 12, Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.1, Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)
Pass Labs XA30.5: $5500 ✩
This solid-state stereo power amplifier from renowned engineer Nelson Pass is rated to deliver 30Wpc into 8 ohms, but actually delivered clipping-free peaks 6dB higher in power. Its strong yet elegant physical appearance is matched by a simple, symmetric internal design using Pass's Universal Gain Stage and 10 pairs of power MOSFETS along each side of the rugged chassis. Though it lacked the snap and energy of some larger, more powerful amplifiers, the XA30.5's "lifelike smoothness" and "effortless purity" brought forth the subtle microdynamic nuances of more intimate material. BD: "The XA30.5 is a superb-sounding amplifier. Absolutely, positively, and enthusiastically recommended!" Compared to his reference Pass Labs Aleph 3, the XA30.5 had a leaner midrange but provided a wider soundstage, greater resolution, and better dynamics, EL concluded. Compared to the tubed Rogue M-180 monoblock, the XA30.5 offered a slightly more forward sound that was "rounder, richer, less controlled but more sumptuous" overall, said EL. The XA30.5 traded the Pass INT-150's bass control and wide dynamics for greater purity and texture in the midrange, said EL. (Vol.32 Nos.5 & 8, Vol.33 No.1, Vol.34 No.1 Read Review Online)
Plinius SA-103: $10,150
The SA-103 delivers 125Wpc into 8 ohms and has an output stage that can be operated in class-A or class-A/B. Its large (19.75" W by 8.75" H by 18"D) chassis is dominated by generous heatsinks that unfurl from the amp's side panels like fronds of fern. EL was most impressed by the SA-103's accurate soundstaging and well-controlled, articulate bass performance. He summed up: "The Plinius SA-103 offers a natural, neutral tonal balance, just the right amount of musicality, superb bass performance, plenty of current to drive the most piggish speakers, [and] functional and tasteful design." In class-A/B mode, the Plinius suffered from insufficient output-stage bias current; class-A operation is to be preferred, decided JA. (Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)
Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7: $9500 ✩
Styled to match the Moon Evolution P-7 preamp, with a black front panel flanked by brushed-aluminum cheeks and with black heatsink fins along each side, the W-7 is a fully balanced, dual-mono design with JFETS used for the input stage and 12 bipolar transistors biased to run in class-AB for each channel's output. Rated to deliver 150Wpc into 8 ohms, the W-7 reached 200Wpc at actual clipping. JA noted silky highs, a smooth and clean midrange, a well-controlled bottom end, and huge dynamics. Measured performance was equally impressive. JA: "Powerful, with an iron hand on the loudspeakers, and superbly quiet, the W-7 excels without calling attention to itself." Compared to the tubed Audiopax Model 88, the W-7 offered greater clarity, definition, and dynamic swing, but sometimes sounded too aggressive and forward, said RD. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online; see also RD's Monitor Audio review in Vol.33 No.4; Vol.35 No.6)
Soulution 710: $50,000
The 130Wpc Soulution is a dual-mono, dual-differential design housed in a large (21" W by 10.9" H by 18.7" D), clean, matte-gray case. Two massive 1000VA toroidal transformers, solid copper bars carrying rectifiers and capacitors, and a thick, heat-dissipating aluminum baseplate contribute to the amp's 176 lbs. The Soulution offered unparalleled transparency, startling transient clarity, and impressive soundstaging, but lacked some harmonic richness and bass impact. "A technical and sonic achievement not to be denied," said Mikey. With impressive dynamic range and exceedingly low levels of noise, the Soulution proved one of the best-measuring amplifiers in JA's experience. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)
Ypsilon Aelius monoblock: $36,000/pair
See MF's review in the April 2013 issue (Vol.36 No.4 Read Review Online).

Class A (Tube)

Audio Research Reference 150: $13,000
The 150Wpc Reference 150 measures 19" W by 8.75" H by 19.5" D, weighs 75 lbs, offers output taps for 16, 8, and 4 ohm loads, and is available in silver or black. It uses eight matched pairs of KT120 output tubes and four 6H30 driver tubes; the output-stage coupling is a combination of the familiar ultralinear configuration and ARC's patented "partially cathode-coupled" topology. EL: "With its open soundstage, neutral tonal balance, finely textured musical presentation, wide dynamics, and supremely musical feel, the ARC Reference 150 connected me with my music better than almost every other amplifier I've heard." Compared to the Octave RE 290, the Ref 150 lacked some bass control but sounded significantly bigger, clearer, more colorful, and more natural, said EL. A JA favorite. (Vol.35 No.7 Read Review Online; Vol.36 No.1)
Balanced Audio Technology VK-55SE: $6995
Balanced Audio Technology VK-55: $4595 $$$ ✩
Like its preamp partner, the VK-3iX, the tubed, 55Wpc VK-55 features improved fit'n'finish and ergonomics over its predecessors. In combination with the VK-3iX, the VK-55 gave RD's system a vanishingly low noise level and produced music that was convincingly real. On its own, the VK-55 delivered firm, extended bass and presented high-level dynamics with ease. "The BAT VK-3iX and VK-55 are exemplars of the best that specialist home audio has to offer," said RD. The "unerringly musical" VK-55SE delivers 55Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms. Upgrades from the standard VK-55 include new capacitors, an improved power supply, and the use of two 6H30P tubes in the amp's gain stage. Fit’n’finish were superb, with substantial metalwork and flawless livery in textured black. Though it lacked the energy reserve of the 200Wpc Aesthetix Atlas, the BAT had a sound that was always "vivid, relaxed, and liquid," said WP. The BAT's grain-free, uncolored, and quiet sound worked to reproduce music in a way that came "dangerously close to the live experience." JA was bothered by the difference between the left and right channels" low-frequency linearity from the Low tap, and noted that the SE version measured no better than the standard VK-55. (Vol.28 No.11 Read Review Online; Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)
Conrad-Johnson LP125M monoblock: $10,000/pair
Like other C-J amps, the 125W LP125M has a 3/8"-thick, champagne-colored, anodized faceplate and a simple black tube cage for an elegant, utilitarian appearance. It uses one each 6922 and M8080 tube for the input stage, and two 6550 tubes in an ultralinear configuration for the output stage. Compared with Simaudio's Moon Evolution W-7, the LP125M was softer on top, less powerful on bottom, and had a more laid-back sound overall, but nevertheless offered excellent dynamics and a more natural midrange, said RD. "Conrad-Johnson's LP125 measures well for a traditional tube amplifier," said JA. (Vol.34 No.12 Read Review Online)
Conrad-Johnson Classic 60 SE: $5000 ✩
The Classic 60SE uses four Tung-Sol KT120 tubes to deliver 60Wpc into 4 or 8 ohms. Upgrades over the standard Classic 60 include Teflon capacitors in the power supply and main reservoir, Vishay resistors at key points, and Cardas binding posts. With its handsome tube cage in place, the Classic 60SE measures 17.4" W by 6.6" H by 13.4" D and weighs 41 lbs. It combined exceptional dimensionality, pinpoint imaging, and excellent low-level resolution for an overall sound that was "the antithesis of mechanical or contrived," said ST. (Vol.35 No.4)
Fi 421A: $4575
Designed and built by Don Garber in Brooklyn, New York, the Fi 421A is a single-ended, capacitor-coupled, 4Wpc stereo amplifier with a single 421A power tube. It measures just 10" W by 8" H by 10.5" D, weighs 20 lbs, and uses high-quality parts throughout. The Fi sounded "open, clear, compelling, and lovely," and had a knack for reproducing the human voice with outstanding presence and texture, said AD. Class A in special systems only, he cautions. Price increase since review due to new output transformers. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)
Lamm ML2.2 monoblock: $37,290/pair
See AD's review in in the April 2013 issue (Vol.36 No.4 Read Review Online).
Luxman MQ-88: $8000
The massively built, 40Wpc MQ-88 is a classic push-pull tetrode design based on the KT88 power tube. The amp is hand-wired, point-to-point, and all internal circuit components are suspended from its 15mm-thick top plate. While the MQ-88 lacked some bass control, it sounded much more powerful than the typical 40Wpc amplifier, producing surprising "oomph factor," said JM. Compared to Ayre's AX-7e, the Luxman lacked resolving power, bass extension, and soundstage clarity, but offered a "delectable midrange." (Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)
McIntosh MC275: $5500 $$$ ✩
The revived 75Wpc MC275, preserves the look of the original while adding modern innovations. Chimneys are used to cool the tubes by convection, and three circuit boards have been replaced by a single board on which are mounted all components, tube sockets, and power-supply parts. ST: "I heard all the dynamic quality, all that aliveness of the original, plus a level of transparency that brings the MC275 definitely into the 21st century." Sam bought the review sample. The fifth incarnation of the 75Wpc MC275, originally introduced in 1961, retains the first incarnation's classic appearance and its use of four KT88 power-output tubes, three 12AX7 input tubes, and four 12AT7 driver tubes. New are a stainless-steel chassis, balanced inputs, and gold-plated, five-way binding posts. While the MC275's two hefty transformers utilize the same "unity-coupled circuit" invented by McIntosh in 1947, the copper wiring is now insulated in a more durable synthetic material. Though dynamic expression was restricted and bass notes were "a bit muddy" in dense musical passages, the MC275 produced "stunning" soundstage depth and "spooky" intertransient silences, said FK. Meanwhile, the MC275's superb signal/noise ratios led JA to conclude that "Good audio engineering is timeless." Compared to its predecessor, the Limited Edition version of McIntosh's MC275 ($6500) has beefier binding posts, a more conveniently positioned power switch, and a gold-plated rather than stainless-steel chassis. In addition, a new output-transformer winding process has resulted in wider bandwidth, increased damping factor, and improved linearity. RD noted an ideal top-to-bottom tonal balance and an impressive sense of rhythmic drive, concluding, "The MC275LE is simply a wonderful-sounding amplifier, able to bring out the best from a wide range of loudspeakers." He bought the review sample. (Vol.27 No.7, Vol.33 No.10, Vol.35 No.10 Read Review Online)
Music Reference RM-200 Mk.II: $4900
Made in the US, the 100Wpc RM-200 Mk.II has the same basic physical and electrical architecture as the original, but uses better output transformers, adds a capacitor-forming function to extend tube life, and has a revised power supply. The fully balanced design features a high-power, bipolar, solid-state input stage and tubed driver and output stages. It uses two matched pairs of KT88 (standard) or 6550 (optional) output tubes, and a pair of 6BQ7 drivers. Though it lacked the slam and bass authority of more powerful solid-state amps, the RM-200 Mk.II produced airy highs, well-defined bass, and a lush midrange. "When the RM-200 Mk.II was in my system, I wanted for nothing," said MF. JA noted "superb measured performance for a tubed design." Hand-wound output transformers, add $1000; tube bias balance control, add $800. (Vol.34 No.12 Read Review Online)
Octave Audio RE 290: $10,000
Made in Germany, the beautifully built, 75Wpc RE 290 is a push-pull design with class-A/B output stage and adjustable bias for each tube. It uses KT88 or KT120 power tubes, provides a single set of binding posts optimized for a 4 ohm load, and has a switch-activated power-saving mode. The RE 290's well-balanced sound was marked by tight bass, clean mids and highs, and excellent dynamic range, said EL. JA noted impressive measured performance. Compared to the Audio Research Ref 150, the Octave had better-controlled bass but lacked soundstage size, transparency, and tonal color, said EL. The optional Black Box ($1200) and Super Black Box ($3500) hook up to the RE 290 via an umbilical cord and respectively increase the capacitance four- or tenfold. (Vol.36 No.1 Read Review Online)
Quicksilver Silver 88 monoblock: $4495/pair
Handmade and hardwired in the US, the Silver 88 is claimed to deliver 80W into 8 or 4 ohms. Refreshingly understated, with just a simple chrome chassis and carbide-black transformer cover, the Silver 88 uses a 12AX7 input tube, a 12BH7 driver, and two KT88 output tubes. Each amp has its own analog bias meter and a pair of trimpots behind each output tube for easy bias-current setting. ST noted tight, ample bass, stunning resolution, and lifelike harmonic presentation. "Instruments and vocalists had a realism that even the best solid-state amplifiers can’t seem to get right," he said. (Vol.33 No.4)
Rogue Audio M-180 monoblock: $5995/pair ✩
Built in the US, the rugged Rogue M-180 delivers 180W in ultralinear mode, and uses four Electro-Harmonix KT90 output tubes. Upgrades over the earlier M-150 include: increased power-supply storage; PRP resistors; Cardas binding posts, input wiring, and RCA jacks; improved input circuitry; HexFred high-speed diodes for the bias supply; and upgraded small-signal tubes. EL was most impressed by the Rogue's ability to maintain articulation and propulsion while providing bass extension and weight. Compared to the Pass Labs XA30.5, the Rogue offered greater low-bass control and had a drier tonal balance. "A great value," sums up EL. See also EL's Rogue Atlas Magnum review in Vol.35 No.4. (Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)
Shindo Cortese: $10,995 ✩
Like a sax player who can't make himself perform the same solo twice, Ken Shindo brings a certain artistic restlessness to the design of his hand-made tube amplifiers; the 10 Wpc Shindo Cortese —the least expensive of his single-ended amplifiers and the only one built on a stereo chassis—has now been recast, offering the same essence but with slightly different phrasing. The Cortese's input circuit now uses two 6AW8A pentode/triode tubes per channel instead of one, its bias-supply circuit is laid-out somewhat differently, and the Sprague Black Beauty coupling caps have given way to Orange Drops; Allen-Bradley carbon-comp resistors, Siemens F2a indirectly heated output tetrodes, a ginormous Denki power transformer, and Shindo-designed Lundahl output transformers, the single secondaries of which are tailored to high-impedance loads, remain. The sound is punchy and very vivid, with exceptional drive and a bit less gooshiness than its immediate predecessor, says AD, who found it a particularly good match with the DeVore O/96 loudspeaker. (Vol.30 No.7 Read Review Online)
Shindo Haut-Brion: $10,995
Like earlier models, the latest Haut-Brion uses two matched pairs of the rare 6L6GAY pentode tube to deliver 25Wpc. The output section is a fixed-bias design, with a regulated bias supply and individual adjustment pots for each of the four output tubes, while the output transformer is a C-core Lundahl model made exclusively for Shindo. Unlike earlier models, the new Haut-Brion has three 6AW8A triode/pentode tubes per channel, uses a pair of Alps 250k ohm potentiometers, and forgoes global feedback. Though it lacked some low-frequency tightness, the new Haut-Brion created an enormous soundstage and showed impressive force. "The amp was the pizzicato king," said AD. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)
VTL MB-450 Series III Signature monoblock: $18,000/pair
Rated to deliver 425W (tetrode) or 225W (triode) into a 5 ohm load, the MB-450 III uses eight 6550 output tubes, a 12AT7 input tube, and a 12BH7 driver. Revisions to the Series II include a redesigned, fully balanced differential input stage, a lower-impedance output stage, premium Mundorf capacitors, and a shorter, faster, fully balanced negative-feedback loop. While the VTL sounded soft and "tubey" in triode mode, its tetrode performance was marked by an expansive top end, unusually fast attacks, clean decays, and well-controlled bass. "A significant evolutionary advance" over its predecessor, said MF. Because it provides lower distortion into higher impedances, the MB-450 III will sound best with higher-impedance speakers, JA advised. (Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)

Class B

Allnic A-5000 DHT monoblock: $19,900/pair
Designed and made in South Korea by Kang Su Park, the Allnic A-5000 DHT, a 10Wpc single-ended monoblock, has three gain stages and an unusual combination of tubes: one Marconi CV1673, one 3A/110B, an Electro-Harmonix 300B, and a 5U4G full-wave rectifier. Construction quality was first-rate, with exceptionally clean solder joints and a solid, attractive case of aluminum alloy. Compared to AD's Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks, the Allnics had a slightly dark timbral balance with soft highs and short decays, but offered superb scale, drama, and impact. "Distinctive sounding and consistently musical," sums up AD. Along with the second-order distortion typical of single-ended designs, JA's measurements found an impressively wide frequency response, excellent squarewave reproduction, and low output impedances. Almost Class A in some respects. (Vol.35 No.6 Read Review Online)
Anthem Statement M1 monoblock: $6998/pair
Despite its relatively slim proportions (19.25" W by 2.25" H by 18.75" D; 20 lbs), the class-D Statement M1 is rated to deliver a whopping 1000W into 8 ohms. An internal heat-pipe cooling system allows multiple M1s to be stacked without the need for cooling fans or heatsink fins. The tidy rear panel holds balanced and single-ended inputs, a balanced-output gain switch, various trigger options, and a single pair of output terminals. The M1's detailed, extended highs were offset by its gritty, congested bass, which unnaturally colored almost every recording KR played. While the Anthem is extraordinarily powerful for its size, JA was very suspicious of the high level of ultrasonic noise in its output. "This will make the Anthem Statement M1's sound quality very system dependent," he cautioned. Be sure to audition with your own components and cables. (Vol.35 No.12 Read Review Online)
Bryston 7BSST2 monoblock: $10,200/pair ✩
The superbly built 7BSST2 offers 600W in fully balanced, class-A/B operation into 8 ohms, and features a dual-mono bridged circuitry in which the two amplifier modules in each monoblock chassis are wired in series and driven by opposite-polarity signals. Changes from the original 7BSST include a circuit innovation said to maintain unvarying amounts of distortion throughout the audioband, new output devices, increased power-supply capacitance, a new low-noise power transformer, new computer-modeled heatsinks, more direct connections with less point-to-point wiring, and new cosmetics. Though the 7BSST2's tonal balance was "essentially seamless and fully extended," it lacked spatial depth and image specificity. When equipped with a new type of transformer trickled down from Bryston's flagship 28BSST2 (serial number 001826 onward), the 7BSST2 produced tighter images, sharper transients, and improved bass definition. Nevertheless, when compared to the Class A Parasound Halo JC 1, the Bryston lacked bass control, low-level resolution, and microdynamic delicacy, said MF. (Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)
PrimaLuna DiaLogue Seven monoblock: $5495/pair ✩
Offering 40W in triode mode (70W in ultralinear), the solidly built DiaLogue Seven boasts point-to-point wiring and PrimaLuna's Adaptive AutoBias, the latter said to keep the output tubes operating within their best parameters at all times, for reductions in both distortion and tube wear. While the PrimaLuna's sound in ultralinear mode was "stunningly dramatic," "intensely involving," and "consistently moving," AD ultimately preferred listening in triode for its "less mechanical" sound. "An apparently reliable, obviously wonderful-sounding amp that offers higher-than-average value. . . . Very strongly recommended." (Vol.32 No.12 Read Review Online)
Rogue Atlas Magnum: $1995
Magnum upgrades over the basic Atlas (reviewed by Fred Kaplan in March 2007), include larger, quieter power supplies; polypropylene bypass capacitors; Dale-Vishay resistors in critical spots; sturdier binding posts; gold tube sockets; and the option of KT90 or KT120 output tubes, to increase the specified power rating to 90 or 120Wpc, respectively. EL preferred the fuller, more extended sound of the KT120 output tubes, and appreciated the Atlas Magnum's well-balanced character: "This amplifier had enough dynamic power, enough timbral accuracy, enough soundstage illusion, enough resolution, and enough musicality to turn off the analytical part of my brain and let me simply listen to music." JA was disappointed with the Rogue's lack of high-frequency linearity. Stock Atlas models can be upgraded to Magnum status for $650. (Original, Vol.30 No.3 Read Review Online; Magnum, Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)

Class C

Z-Infinity Z40: $2999
Made in the US, the 20Wpc Z40 is a parallel single-ended amp with two EL34 tubes per channel in a fixed-bias circuit. Signal capacitors are all AuriCap polypropylene-film types; the input and output sections are hand-wired, point to point, with only minimal use of terminal strips; and the power supply is built onto a PCB of moderate size. The review sample's construction quality was disappointing, with a number of messy solder joints, haphazard use of electrician's tape, and loose reservoir capacitors. Nevertheless, the Z40 offered good tone and texture, solid bass, and excellent spatial performance, said AD. "A high-value product from a US firm worth watching," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Editor’s Note: There are no amplifiers listed in Class D.

Class K

Simaudio Moon 880M, Shindo Corton-Charlemagne.

Class Deletions

Ayre Acoustics V-5xe, Shindo Montille, not auditioned in a long time.

guitarist9273's picture

The Beats Solo HD is now a Stereophile reccomended component... That sounds like a (funny) joke. They're certainly attractive looking & very stylish, but they sound very...well, bad. They're Class D...but I'm genuinely curious as to why they'd be included at all.

There are a lot of decent choices when it comes to headphones in the portable/sealed-on-ear-headphones-under-$300 category, now, that it's hard to see the B&W P3 and the Beats Solo HD making it onto the list. (Anyone interested in heaphones should check out Stereophile' sister online publication on personal-audio/headphones---InnerFidelity.)

Thanks for this awesome compilation, by the way! I sincerely enjoyed reading through such a wide sampling of great loudspeakers, amps & such. The balanced objectivity is always refreshing, considering other publication's purely subjective approach.

RobertSlavin's picture

Being able to see the photos of the components next to their descriptions, as found in this online version of recommended components, is nice.

However, Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

There's not a tremendous amount of money in magazine publishing. I'd prefer that the magazine make a reasonable amount of money from this section.

John Atkinson's picture

RobertSlavin wrote:
Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

Unless I am having a senior moment, we never used to charge for on-line access to Recommended Components. In fact, we have only been making it available in its entirety on-line since 2012, which is when we launched our free iPad app.

And regarding charging for it, my bottom-line policy is that the magazine's content should be available free on-line.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Poor Audiophile's picture

Thanks for that JA!

EU-USA Stereophile Fan's picture

Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

John Atkinson's picture

Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

"Recommended Components" exclusively concerns products that have been reviewed in the magazine. In turn, to be reviewed in Stereophile, a product needs to be available in the US; see  www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Glotz's picture

WOW, I love it!  

I think I have memorized the entire RC over the years, and seeing each component again (some for the first time) is wonderful!  

I wonder who went through the trouble of procuring all of those photos for RC online.  

I won't even pretend there will be photos (for the next RC) in the magazine.  I imagine it would be 500 pages long... 

Ariel Bitran's picture

photos were gathered by myself and reformatted by Jon Iverson.

Downforce's picture

Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?  And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.  Thanks for the lists.

John Atkinson's picture

Downforce wrote:
Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?

Not according to Emotiva. It's there in Class C of Disc Players.

Downforce wrote:
And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.

Fixed. Thanks.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

stereomag's picture

Wow! Here they (Stereophile) go again. Still no review of any Accuphase preamps. Why is that, Stereophile?

weitn's picture

M30.1 got impressive reviews from Stereophile and Absolute Sound and recommended by both. I have auditioned it and ordered a pair the other day. Out of curiosity, what happened to the M40.1? It was listed in the 2012 recommended list.

destroysall76's picture

Great recommendations, but I'm curious in the LS50 from KEF. Is it really that much better of a speaker to be a part of the Class A (Restricted LF) over the Harbeth P3ESR and the Proac Tablette?

Also, is the Rega RP1 the better table buy this year over the Project Debut Carbon?

mkrzych's picture

I've read here that Dali Zensor 1 are in class C (Exteme Restricted LF), so according to your judge those are considered not entry level speakers, am I right?
If so, do you have any suggestions for the speaker cable matching or positioning for these little babies to sound the best? Currently I have Marantz CD5004/PM6004 connected to them over the QED Strand 79 speaker cable. They are on Soundstage Z22 stands.
Is it anything I can do to improve this gear in your opinion?

Thanks for any suggestions.

MykhailoM's picture

Good audio cables are surely essential part to any serous audiophile as they deliver a very sensitive signal between your audio gear as it has been said in this page. I have listened to quite a few well known brands such as Russ Andrews cables QED Signature etc. and more often than not the price reflects its qualities. As anything else in audio gear, cables need auditioning on your system. If possible grub 4 or 5 pares from your local dealer in a price range £300 to £600 from different brands and at your own comfort have them checked, I'm pretty sure you will get different results and the better components you have the more evident it will be. In my auditioning experience I prefer small exotic brands, to me they deliver a very good sonic result. I can change components etc. but cable will stay as they are so revealing. Keep your options open and DO audition on your system or at your local Hi-Fi dealer.

MykhailoM's picture

Everything must be auditioned either interconnects cables or audio components, your ears will be your best judge.