Recommended Components 2024 Edition Power Amplifiers

Power Amplifiers:


Accuphase A-300 monoblock: $51,900/pair
"The more I listened to the A-300 monoblocks, the more I wanted to listen," wrote JVS about his time with a pair of these powerful amplifiers. (It is specified as delivering 125W into 8 ohms, 250W into 4 ohms, 500W into 2 ohms, and 1000W into 1 ohm.) The MOSFET output operates in class-A up to 125W into 8 ohms, 62.5W into 4 ohms, and 31.25W into 2 ohms. The A-300 has both balanced and unbalanced inputs; the gain and XLR polarity can be adjusted; and an operation-mode switch facilitates bridging and biamping. "As revealing and full range as the sound was," wrote JVS, "these amplifiers emphasized midrange warmth over top-end brilliance." He summed up the A-300 by writing "as much as the Accuphase A-300 Monophonic Power Amplifier deserves a Class A rating on our Recommended Components list, that classification only begins to capture how wonderful it sounds." On the test bench, the A-300 exceeded its specified powers, clipping at 210W into 8 ohms, 385W into 4 ohms, and 610W into 2 ohms. JA's conclusion: "The Accuphase A-300's measured performance indicates that it has no problem driving low impedances, and it offers very low distortion, especially into 8 ohms. It is also a very quiet amplifier, even at the highest gain setting." (Vol.46 No.12 WWW)

Ayre VX-8: $6800
The modest-sized, solid state VX-8 is specified as delivering up to 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 170Wpc into 4 ohms; JA measured clipping powers of 110Wpc into 8 ohms and 176Wpc into 4 ohms. It offers both balanced and single-ended inputs; in addition to the usual speaker outputs, which use Cardas binding posts, there are balanced and unbalanced subwoofer outputs. KM liked what he heard from the Ayre amplifier: "The VX-8 made familiar records new again. It wasn't so much casting recordings in a new light as digging deeper to reveal more of a recording's sonic architecture; a different kind of light induces a different reflection. What's more, the VX-8 made all the vinyl records I played sound more listenable, regardless of era or genre." KM's conclusion was that the VX-8 "commendably reproduces music of all genres while asserting its singular, special sound, as unique today, under the guiding hand of Ariel Brown, as with its originator, Charley Hansen." He gave it a "heartfelt, shout-it-from-the-rooftops recommendation." Both KM and JA commented that the VX-8 ran hot; JA warned that the amplifier's heatsinks' thermal capacity was only just sufficient for its power capability. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

Benchmark AHB2: $3499 $$$ ★
Named for the late Allen H. Burdick, the engineer whose work formed the basis for its design, Benchmark's AHB2 makes use of THX Corporation's Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA) technology, in which a low-power feed-forward amplifier drives a low-bias class-AB output section. In his listening tests, KR discovered "much more apparent low-level detail in already-familiar recordings"—a characteristic he credited to the Benchmark's evident noiselessness—and a tonal balance that "sounded more 'right' than any of [the other amps on hand]." In measuring the AHB2 and attempting to confirm its specified (very) high signal/noise ratio, JA observed nonlinearities in his testing equipment that "haven't affected the measured performance of other amplifiers I've tested, but they were detectable with the AHB2's very low intrinsic distortion and noise." His conclusion: "an extraordinary amplifier." In his Follow-Up report, JCA compared the AHB2 to his reference amp: "Although I preferred the AHB2's denser presentation of certain details, it's not clear to me which is truer to the source." One of Kal Rubinson's reference amplifiers. JA compared the AHB2 with a pair of Schiit Tyr monoblocks, writing that the Benchmark sounded a tad lighter-balanced—"clean, clear, transparent, yes, with terrific soundstage depth, but lighter." He also found the AHB2 to be a synergistic partner for Benchmark's high-resolution DAC3 B. (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.41 No.10, Vol.46 Nos.1 & 3 WWW)

Burmester 216 stereo/monoblock: $35,000 each, $70,000/pair
This elegantly styled German amplifier uses internal heatpipes to optimize cooling and can be operated in conventional stereo mode or as a bridged monoblock. JCA found that as a two-channel amp the Burmester lacked any hint of "electrical" sonic character. "Piano notes sounded weighty, full, dense," he wrote, adding that the leading-edge transient "was fully there, to a degree I found quite natural, but the emphasis was on the rich core of the notes." But with two amplifiers in mono mode, the music "spread out more and seemed more relaxed. It didn't seem as loud. The difference wasn't subtle. Listening with two amplifiers was a more satisfying experience." JCA concluded that this may be the most self-effacing amplifier he's reviewed. "Its utter lack of electronic character is a huge plus. It's a musical chameleon." On the test bench, the 216 exceeded its specified power in stereo mode of 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 165Wpc into 4 ohms. In mono mode, the Burmester clipped at 330Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms. "The Burmester 216 offers very low distortion and noise and won't be fazed by having to drive low impedances," concluded JA. (Vol.47 No.1 WWW)

CH Precision M1.1 Reference: $54,000, including two input cards ($2000 each); $108,000/pair ★
The Swiss-made CH Precision M1.1 is a modular solid state amp—the user can configure the amp for stereo or mono use, as well as for a choice of output-power-delivery modes—with a JFET front end and a class-AB output stage. A robust power supply built around a massive 2200VA transformer helps account for the M1.1's extraordinary (165lb) weight. MF, who found the amp's timbral balance to be very slightly on the warm side of neutral, was taken with a pair of M1.1s configured for mono, noting that their richness did not come with the penalty of softened transients and praising the amps' combination of bass depth and bass kick. In measuring the M1.1, JA observed that its performance on the bench was dependent upon the amount of global negative feedback dialed in (MF preferred the sound at 20%) and noted the amp's preference for loads higher than 2 ohms. In his Follow-Up of a single amplifier in stereo mode, JCA agreed with MF that the M1.1 has "powerful bass grip and remarkable slam." However, while he settled at 10% negative feedback, he was equally happy with no feedback. In contrast to Mikey's experience, JCA didn't find the bass soggy even with feedback set to zero. He also noted a remarkable sense of openness with this amplifier. "Well-separated instruments were laid out in an otherwise empty, blank space," he wrote, adding that the M1.1 sounded "powerful, muscular, [with] plenty of grunt, clear, open, spacious, relaxed." JCA's conclusion? "Highly recommended if you've got the cash. I wish I did." (Vol.42 No.7 WWW; Vol.47 No.3 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Momentum M400 MxV monoblock: $79,500/pair
The M400 MxV Mono is the latest iteration of Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' debut amplifier of 2011, the Momentum Mono. Featuring circuitry and active devices trickled down from the company's cost-no-object and weight-no object Relentless amplifier, the MxV is specified as offering output powers of 400W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4 ohms, and 1600W into 2 ohms. (JA measured clipping powers of 442W into 8 ohms, 778W into 4 ohms, and 1050W into 2 ohms, though his wall voltage had dropped significantly at the latter two powers.) JVS exclaimed that with the monoblocks driving his Wilson Alexia V speakers "the strength and quality of bass with the M400 MxV blew me away." The MxV's magic, however, was not limited to its bass, he commented. "Above its fine, true midrange, treble sounded less bright and forward on the M400 MxV than with the Progression M550." Overall, he wrote that the clarity and ease with which the MxV handles even the most challenging recordings is remarkable. "It is one of the most musical, truthful, satisfying amplifiers I've ever heard in my system and one of the most striking aesthetically." (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Progression M550 monoblock: $47,500/pair
This massive monoblock has balanced inputs only and requires a power cord fitted with a 20A IEC connector. JVS was impressed: "In addition to their far blacker space between notes, greater resolution of small details, and natural-sounding illumination, the Progression M550s consistently wowed me with their dynamic mastery." The latter is what one should expect from such a powerful amplifier: The M550 is specified as offering maximum powers of 550W into 8 ohms, 1100W into 4 ohms, and 2200W into 2 ohms. JA found that the amplifier met its specified power into 8 ohms, though the inevitable droop in his AC wall voltage meant that the M550 offered less power than promised into the lower impedances. JA was concerned by higher levels of distortion than he was expecting at moderate powers, which he ascribed to underbiasing of the 48 output-stage devices in the sample he was sent. Nevertheless, JVS concluded of his samples, which had had their output stage bias currents checked, that "For anyone who values colorful and glowing amplification that brings natural timbre and the subtlest of details and dynamic shifts to the fore while supplying a breathtakingly full measure of big-picture dynamics, slam, and top-to-bottom frequency response, the Progression M550s must be heard." (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

darTZeel NHB-108 model two: $62,545
This dual-mono, solid state power amplifier offers balanced and single-ended inputs plus the Swiss manufacturer's impedance-matched Zeel inputs. Nominal output power is 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 225Wpc into 4 ohms, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. No global negative feedback means that the distortion level is a little high, at 0.1%, but not only is the distortion signature predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic, notably the level of the distortion doesn't change with frequency or power (up to actual waveform clipping). "Detail was remarkable," noted JVS, remarking, "Welcome to the rare amp that manages to reveal the smallest details without sounding etched, hyperdetailed, or unnatural. Ever." He felt that the only thing lacking was stronger and tighter bass compared to his reference D'Agostino monoblocks. Still, JVS wrote, the darTZeel was among the most satisfyingly musical amplifiers ever to sing in his system, concluding, "There is an inherently nonmechanical, organic flow to the NHB-108 model two's golden sound that will keep enticing many a music lover back for more." (Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

Electrocompaniet AW 800 M: $45,000/pair
The AW 800 M is a hefty class-AB design that can be operated as a conventional stereo amplifier or as a monoblock. Specified maximum power in stereo mode is 300Wpc into 8 ohms and 600Wpc into 4 ohms. In mono mode, it is 800W into 8 ohms, 1500W into 4 ohms, and 2200W into 2 ohms. The output stage bias is set so that approximately the first 10W into 8 ohms operates in class-A. JVS's notes after auditioning a pair as monoblocks mentioned "seductively veiled sound, midrange warmth, a sense of power and rock-solid and marvelously strong bass." In the test lab, the AW 800 M, in stereo mode with both channels driven, didn't quite meet its specified powers, clipping at 290Wpc into 8 ohms and 460Wpc into 4 ohms. In mono mode, however, the Electrocompaniet clipped at a massive 1kW into 8 ohms. "With its very low levels of noise and distortion and its very high powers, the Electrocompaniet AW 800 M is a veritable paradigm of modern solid state amplifier design," JA summed up. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

EMM Labs MTRS: $65,000
See Jason Victor Serinus's review in this issue. (Vol.47 No.4)

Esoteric Grandioso M1X: $71,000/pair
This massive Japanese class-AB solid state amplifier has single-ended, balanced, and Esoteric's proprietary ESL-A inputs and offers specified maximum powers of 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. It exceeded those powers in the test lab, JA measuring 340W into 8 ohms and 620W into 4 ohms. JVS found that the M1X requires a very long warm-up period but at the end of that time he commented that the sound was natural, relaxed, alive, and convincing. "Percussion had gratifying presence on a wide soundstage," he wrote, "and was correctly colored." Bass was "prodigiously powerful," the midrange "smooth, captivating," and fatigue free. "Its burnished sound flows effortlessly even through complex passages, and its somewhat laid-back presentation, from top to bottom, helps expose fine detail," he concluded. (Vol.46 No.4 WWW)

Gryphon Apex Stereo: $103,500
A massive (445lb), dual-mono solid state amplifier that has an output stage that can be biased into class-A operation up to high powers. MF found that with his Wilson XVX speakers, the Apex Stereo's ease of presentation was immediately obvious. He commented on the amplifier's overall, top-to-bottom speaker grip: "Everything in familiar music appeared better organized, timed, and settled, without restricting the musical flow. ... The Apex takes grip and musical flow to a higher level, particularly in the upper bass through the lower midrange." JA found that the Apex Stereo exceeded its specified powers of 210Wpc into 8 ohms and 420Wpc into 4 ohms, clipping at 240Wpc into 8 ohms and 450Wpc into 4 ohms. Even though the left channel was slightly noisier than the right and offered higher, though still low, levels of distortion, the Gryphon Apex "offers high power coupled with a wide bandwidth and primarily low levels of low-order distortion," he concluded. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)

Gryphon Essence Mono monoblock: $46,400/pair
This massive solid state amplifier from Denmark has an output stage that can be operated in class-A or class-AB. JVS very much preferred the sound in class-A, writing that with the Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Wigmore Hall recital album, "Words cannot describe the alchemical transformation wrought by the Gryphon Essences on this remarkably air-filled recording." Even so, he did use words to sum up his time with the Gryphon Monos: "Although fully capable of conveying the entire frequency range, even through speakers that bring some modestly powered amplifiers to their knees, they cannot convey the huge dynamic swings and minute details that some more powerful beasts command. But on music that touches the heart, they can transport to a realm where few components know to go." Specified maximum power is 55W into 8 ohms, 110W into 4 ohms, and 220W into 2 ohms. JA found a small shortfall in clipping power, but the Essence Mono's distortion was very low at typical output powers. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

JMF Audio HQS 7001 monoblock: $77,000/pair
After this powerful French amplifier—specified power is 300W into 8 ohms, 500W into 4 ohms, and 850W into 2 ohms—had warmed up, JVS found it offered "extremely colorful and neutral sound" that made him want to listen more and more. The JMF Audio HQS 7001 "is especially adept at putting music front and center without injecting commentary," he concluded, adding that the HQS 7001 "is a bit like the fine wine whose bouquet you can't describe other than to say that your meal was divine in part because you sipped it." In the test lab, the JMF amplifier slightly exceeded its specified powers and offered measured performance that was typical of a high-power, solid state design with a class-AB output stage. Distortion will be lowest into 8 ohms, noted JA, who also warned that this amplifier's heatsink only has just enough thermal capacity for its rated power. (Vol.47 No.2 WWW)

Karan Acoustics POWERa Mono monoblock: $106,000/pair
Weighing an extreme 231lb, each Serbian POWERa Mono contains two 2700VA toroidal transformers, a 210,000µF bank of custom capacitors, and requires two power cables. Though the amplifier is specified as outputting 2.1kW into 8 ohms, 3.6kW into 4 ohms, and 6kW into 2 ohms, this won't be achievable with US household power, even if each of the two power cords is on its own circuit. JA measured clipping powers of 1.85kW into 8 ohms and 2.5kW into 4 ohm, both powers lower than the specified figures as his wall voltage had dropped by several volts with the amplifier clipping. The Karan's output stages operate in sliding-bias class-A; as a result the amplifier runs relatively cool. The Karan Mono incorporates switchable DC power filtering—JVS preferred the performance with this engaged: "the sound was even smoother, the noisefloor lower, the top-to-bottom focus tighter. The POWERa's internal power conditioning allowed the inner glow of instruments and voices to emerge with no sense of dynamic constraint." Overall, JVS concluded that "For visceral impact, swiftness of attack, and sheer, apparent accuracy, the POWERa monoblocks top every other monoblock, stereo amp, or integrated I've reviewed. Ditto for color saturation, shading, dynamics, and the ability to portray the most complex passages without a hint of compression." (Vol.46 No.5 WWW)

Krell KMA-i800 monoblock: $73,000/pair
Specified as outputting 800W into 8 ohms, 1600W into 4 ohms, and 3200W into 2 ohms, the KMA-i800 uses a proprietary output stage bias technology, called iBias, which is said to provide class-A operation without the usual heat penalty. JVS found that the amplifiers ran cool and sounded noticeably warm, full, and well-controlled. While he doubted he used more than a fraction of the KMA-i800s' specified power into 4 ohms, they delivered sound "whose fullness, dynamic range, speed, clarity, and resolution rivaled that of the finest amplifiers I've been privileged to review. Without question, they are a top-rank product." JA found that the big Krell clipped at 930W into 8 ohms and 1500W into 4 ohms and that it offered very low levels both of noise and of primary third-harmonic distortion. (Krell's Sym-Max technology is applied throughout the amplifier to reduce second-order harmonic distortion at every stage.) (Vol.47 No.3 WWW)

LKV Research PWR-3: $3350 $$$
With a specified output of 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 360Wpc into 4 ohms, and 220Wpc into 2 ohms, this discreet-looking amplifier combines proprietary, zero-feedback voltage-gain circuitry with Purifi Audio's 1ET400A class-D output modules and a switching power supply. KM wrote that the PWR-3 produced "a spooky quiet, which can probably be attributed to low distortion and noise, in the audible range at least. (Both were confirmed by JA in the test lab.) The PWR-3 "presented a deep soundstage with luxurious spaciousness," found KM, adding that "a walloping, tight low end was balanced by clean mids and a clear, silken treble." His conclusion? "It's a sweet-sounding amplifier with a penchant for making instruments sing." JA noted that the LKV amplifier exceeded its specified powers. He concluded that the PWR-3 offer high power coupled with very low noise and primarily low-order distortion and that its linearity was independent of load impedance, commenting that this was both unusual and commendable. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)

LKV Research Veros PWR+: $10,000
This surprisingly massive, American-made amplifier powers its Purifi class-D output stage modules with a hefty linear power supply utilizing a hefty 1kVA toroidal transformer and two smaller transformers. Front-end and driver circuitry is based on paralleled discrete devices biased into class-A. HR wrote that "the class-D LKV amp played equally rich and atmosphere-soaked through the entire audio band. It did atmospheric dreamy like class-A does atmospheric dreamy." He found that every recording he played with the Veros PWR+ sounded "richer and wetter (atmospherically) than class-D is supposed to." In the test lab, the LKV amplifier exceeded its specified power of 200W into 8 ohms, clipping at 221Wpc with both channels driven, while it delivered the specified 400Wpc into 4 ohms. With one channel driven, the clipping power into 2 ohms was 505W. Noise and distortion levels were both very low, and the distortion signature was almost pure third-harmonic in nature. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Luxman M-10X: $19,995
JA found that this elegant-looking amplifier exceeded its specified power, clipping at 202Wpc into 8 ohms and at 350Wpc into 4 ohms. Noise, interchannel crosstalk, and all types of distortion were very low. He was also impressed by its sound quality, though he noted that he found it difficult to discern an identifiable character that the amplifier was imposing on the music. "With all types of music," he wrote, "the midrange was clean, uncolored, and detailed. The highs were also clean, with no emphasis or sibilance on the sound of cymbals. Low frequencies were articulate, and—I have to return to this word—clean." He summed up the month he spent with the M-10X by writing that it got very close to the late Peter Walker's definition of the role of a perfect power amplifier as being "a straight wire with gain," neither subtracting from the signal it was amplifying nor adding to it. (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

McIntosh MC462: $10,000
As of this writing the most powerful stereo amplifier in the McIntosh line, the solid state MC462 is rated at 450Wpc into 2, 4, or 8 ohms, and weighs a floorbending 115lb. The output section is class-AB, designed so that each individual phase of the signal waveform is amplified by a complete push-pull output section; there are two complete push-pull amps in each channel, their outputs combined–using autoformers–in what McIntosh refers to as a Quad Balanced architecture. SM praised the Mac for delivering, without strain, a piano sound faithful to the original, for portraying brass instruments, drums, and other instruments with appropriate force, impact, and, when called for, swing. As for value, SM opined that "$9000 is more than fair for the excellence delivered." Reporting from his lab, JA declared that the MC462 is "an extraordinarily well-engineered, exceptionally powerful amplifier." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

NAD C 298: $2399 $$$
An affordably priced, powerful—185Wpc into 8 ohms. 340Wpc into 4 ohms—utilitarian-looking, class-D stereo amplifier based on the Purifi-Eigentakt output modules used in NAD's more expensive M33 and M28. The C 298 features balanced and single-ended inputs, variable gain, and can also be operated in bridged-mono mode. KR found that a pair of bridged-mono NADs offered explosive dynamics without breaking a sweat—JA measured the clipping power into 8 ohms in this mode as 980W! "The NAD C 298 is a transparent, uncolored, powerful stereo power amplifier," concluded KR, adding that even in stereo mode it can easily drive most speakers "to levels that exceed domestic tranquility." Measuring man JA commented that the C 298 continues NAD's tradition for conservative and competent engineering but "sets a new standard for combining very high power with supremely low distortion." (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

Naim Classic 200 Series NAP 250: $8999
The latest version of the English manufacturer's ground-breaking power amplifier now has true balanced inputs as well as the older amplifier's unbalanced inputs and offers more power, at 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 190Wpc into 4 ohm, both with both channels driven. (JA measured clipping powers of 110Wpc into 8 ohms and 195Wpc into 4 ohms.) Compared with the older NAP 250 DR, MC was shocked and even confused by the latest iteration. "This was so obviously a new sound, fresh and open, clear and transparent, in the low bass and the upper frequencies," he wrote. "There was now an extra clarity to the soundstage, increased depth and width, but also a sense of enhanced spatiality. ... The virtual soundstage was significantly enlarged, with more stability and solidity and crisper focus than before. There were also obvious gains in ambience and image depth." MC concluded that the NAP 250 "is loudspeaker-load tolerant and offers unusually high electrical efficiency. It is undoubtedly a front-line performer." JA concluded that "Naim's NAP 250 offers relatively high power with low noise and very low, predominantly second-harmonic distortion in a modest-sized chassis. But it needs to be well ventilated." (Vol.46 No.11 WWW)

Parasound A 21+ Halo: $3999
The successor to the Parasound A 21, the new A 21+ offers 300Wpc into 8 ohms, compared with its predecessor's 250Wpc–and the new model, which operates in class-AB, can be bridged to serve as a 1000W monoblock. Other refinements include a gruntier power transformer, brawnier speaker connectors, an increase in power-supply filter capacitance, and other niceties. Balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs are both provided, as are dual-mono level controls. According to KR, "listening to the A 21+ was eminently delightful and satisfying from the first note," and he pointed to the new amp's "transparency without highlighting or emphasis" and the manner in which it handled dynamic challenges in orchestral music "without stress." Technical Editor JA found that the A 21+ exceeded its power specs, delivering a full 400Wpc into 8 ohms, and noted that the amp "isn't fazed by impedances as low as 2 ohms." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblock: $19,998/per pair
A replacement for the long-term "Recommended Components" resident, the original Halo JC 1, the 1+ represents designer John Curl's further thoughts on this powerful solid state monster. While more expensive in real terms than its predecessor, the Halo JC 1+ is 30% heavier, still heavily biased into class-A, and offers slightly more power than the original amplifier: 450W into 8 ohms, 850W into 4 ohms, and 1300W into 2 ohms. Bass guitar and kickdrum were reproduced with appropriate force and definition, felt JA, exclaiming, "Low-frequency power and delicacy!" JA was also impressed by the pair of monoblocks' ability to differentiate soundstage depth and described the Parasound's high frequencies as sounding "more like what I experience from a good tube amplifier." "This is a superb-sounding amplifier that will get the best from every loudspeaker with which it is partnered," JA concluded, adding "Well done, Mr. Curl." On the test bench, the Halo JC 1+ exceeded its specified power into 8 ohms, clipping at 500W. It didn't quite meet its specified power into lower impedances, clipping at 830W into 4 ohms and at 1200W into 2 ohms, though JA did note that the slight shortfall was due to him not holding the AC wall voltage constant in the testing. Commendably, the JC 1+'s distortion was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic, though at a very low level. (Vol.43 Nos.6 & 7; Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Pass Laboratories XA25: $5150
The lowest-priced amplifier in Pass Laboratories' XA series, the XA25 strips away all inessentials–front-panel meters, balanced inputs, excessive output power–and provides the listener with a three-stage amplifier in which output power is generated by a single pair of transistors per channel, operating in push-pull class-A. Output is specified as 25Wpc into 8 ohms or 50Wpc into 4 ohms. HR tried the Pass with a great variety of speakers, starting with a rebuilt pair of original Quad ESL electrostatics: "Through the Quads, the XA25 radically improved the tactile presence of music and musicians, their voices and instruments," he wrote. "It made the Quad's legendary midrange more solid, dynamic, and well defined than I'd ever thought possible." Another, very different panel speaker came next: "Driven by the Pass Labs XA25, the Magnepan .7s did real-life natural with ease and élan." Additionally, HR found, "bass weight and organ power were well reproduced by a speaker not famous for these traits." But even that pales in comparison to Herb's adventures using the Pass amp to drive his DeVore Orangutan O/93s: "I began to realize that the XA25 is the most transparent amplifier I've ever heard." His verdict: "reasonably priced, strong beyond its power rating, and positively revelatory." Writing from his laboratory, JA noted that the Pass far exceeded its rated power output, concluding that "the XA25 performed well on the test bench, as I've come to expect from Pass Labs." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblock: $14,250/pair ★
In reviewing Pass Laboratories' solid state XA60.8 monoblock amplifier, JCA echoed JA's earlier published response to the amp's predecessor, the XA.60.5: "the best amplifier I've heard." Each 88lb XA60.8 operates in pure class-A, made possible in part by the amp's massive aluminum heatsinks and no-less-massive steel mains transformers. (Indeed, the most obvious change from XA60.5 to XA60.8 is a weight increase of 22lb–per channel.) Output is specified as 60W into 8 ohms, doubling to 120W into 4 ohms. JCA thought the Passes sounded "sweeter, warmer, more delicate" than the more expensive monoblocks that preceded them in his system, but reserved his greatest praise for their spatial prowess: "I'd never heard an amplifier make such an obvious difference . . . . To walk into this room while a good recording was playing was to enter an immersive aural space." JA, now acting as measurer rather than reviewer, wrote from his test bench that the "well-engineered" XA60.8 "considerably exceeded" its rated output power, delivering 150W into 8 ohms at 1% THD, and he praised its A-weighted signal/noise ratio of 93.6dB: "This is a quiet amplifier." JCA's conclusion: "I am smitten." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Primare A35.2: $3900
This hefty Danish amplifier uses what Primare calls their "proprietary UFPD2 analogue class-D amplification technology" to deliver 200Wpc into 8 ohms. According to the manufacturer, UFPD2 integrates the class-D output stage and the necessary low-pass filter, "making control with feedback much more immediate and accurate." HR found that with his Magnepan .7 speakers, the A35.2 sounded very similar to the slightly more expensive Bel Canto Ref600M class-D monoblocks. He wrote that the A35.2 "gripped the Magnepans' diaphragms with greater control and force than either the class-A Pass Labs XA25 ($4900) or the $3495 all-tube, class-AB Rogue Stereo 100 (in Ultralinear mode). This control delivered a tauter, more rhythmic bass." With Harbeth M30.2 speakers, HR found that the Primare's high frequencies were "crisp and super-clear–but not luxuriant and engaging." On the test bench, the Primare exceeded its specified powers, clipping at 225Wpc into 8 ohms and at 460Wpc into 4 ohms. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock: $6998/pair
This slim, powerful amplifier–specified power is 600W into 8 ohms, 1200W into 4 ohms–combines a gain stage that uses a single Psvane 12AU7-TII tube with an output stage based on a class-D output module from ICEpower. MF was impressed by what he heard, writing, "It's no surprise that this superquiet class-D amplifier excels on bottom. Bass is what class-D was originally built for. . . . The M1200's ability to couple with, control, and drive the woofers of my Wilson Alexx loudspeakers matched that of any amplifier I've had here." The M1200 was as fast, precise, and clean from the mids on up as it was in the bottom octaves, he decided, adding that this "helps ensure a bottom-to-top rhythmic coherence and transparency that lets you 'see' into the farthest reaches of the soundstage." Compared with his cost-no-object reference darTZeel amplifiers, he noted a lack of microdynamic delicacy, and timbral verisimilitude was dependent on the recording being played. Summing up, MF wrote: "Maybe the M1200s were just too fast for their own good. After the superclean attack, they went right for the too-fast decay and missed the sustain. While that often leads to 'skeletal' sound, the M1200s never delivered bones, because the transients were never edgy or nasty. They were natural and just right." On the test bench, the M1200 offered low levels of primarily third-harmonic distortion and met its specified output power. (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Rotel Michi M8: $15,999.98/pair
The massive Michi M8 monoblock weighs 130.3lb. "I should have known that a class-AB amplifier said to deliver 1080W into 8 ohms and 1800W into 4 ohms would be heavy," wrote MF. Designed by an engineering team with members based both in Japan and in the UK, the superbly well-made M8 is manufactured in China. Mikey didn't just like it, Mikey loved it: "The M8 doesn't sacrifice transparency or well-articulated transients to achieve a sweet disposition." On the test bench, the M8 offered excellent measured performance, though both its balanced and unbalanced inputs inverted absolute polarity. Oh, and that enormous rated power? JA measured clipping powers of 1020W into 8 ohms and 1500W into 4 ohms, which should be more than enough for even the lowest-sensitivity speakers. (Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

Rotel Michi S5: $7999.99
A relatively affordable, fan-cooled, dual-mono, class-AB amplifier that weighs 132lb and is specified as offering a maximum continuous power output of 500Wpc into 8 ohms and 800Wpc into 4 ohms. JVS commented on the Michi S5's "absolute authority, natural timbres, and ability to convey acoustic space realistically." Compared with his six-times-the-price monoblocks, JVS decided that the S5's soundstage was narrower and slightly less deep, the bass was less strong and controlled, and the treble was less extended. However, the S5 sounded "more transparent, with blacker blacks." In sum, JVS wrote that the S5 deserves a Class A listing in Recommended Components with $$$ (for value) beside its $7499.99 price. "It's that good." In the test lab, the S5 exceeded its specified power, clipping at 570Wpc into 8 ohms and 940Wpc into 4 ohms. "The Rotel Michi S5 combines high power with a wide bandwidth, low noise, and very low, primarily even-order distortion," summed up JA. (Vol.45 No.7 WWW)

Schiit Audio Tyr: $3198/pair
Instead of the ubiquitous high-value capacitors, the US-made Tyr monoblock amplifier uses a hefty inductor or choke to smooth its power supply's rectified DC voltages. The Tyr's output stage features a constant-transconductance topology called "Continuity," which Schiit says offers the benefits of class-A biasing for the 24 bipolar output devices but with greater efficiency than class-A. JA found that the Tyr offered grain-free highs and an excellent sense of low-frequency drive and weight, if not quite up to the level of the much-more-expensive Parasound monoblocks. Compared with the Benchmark AHB2, the Schiit monoblocks had better low-frequency clarity, though he also noted that while the pair of Tyrs excelled at reproducing recorded space, they were slightly less transparent, with a little less soundstage depth. In the test lab, the Tyr exceeded its specified power, clipping at 252W into 8 ohms and 360W into 4 ohms. JA concluded that the Tyr is a perfect example of a thoroughly modern solid state amplifier: "It offers high power, is not fazed by low impedances, sounded superb with the three pairs of loudspeakers that I used for this review, and is competitively priced. Strongly recommended!" (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)


Doshi Audio EVO Monoblock: $44,999/pair
The EVO (for "Evolution") replaces Doshi's Monoblock V3.0 that JVS reviewed in Vol.41 No.11 and that had been in production for seven years. The amplifier still employs a pair of Tung-Sol KT150 output tubes for each channel, but changes include a machined-aluminum, constrained-layer top panel, a stiffer chassis, passive power correction, improved capacitor and resistor quality, and "slight" circuit changes to increase the amplifier's small-signal bandwidth. With a violin recording and at 170mV bias, the EVO monos driving Wilson Alexia 2 loudspeakers "beautifully conveyed the violin's intermingling of horsehair, resin, and steel," but the recommended bias of 190mV "rendered the sound too warm and pleasant." The class-AB EVO is specified as outputting up to 160Wpc into 4 ohms, the first 120Wpc in class-A. At the amplifier's recommended bias setting of 190mV, JA measured 107W into 8 ohms and 127W into 4 ohms from the single output transformer tap at 1% THD+N, though relaxing the clipping criterion to 3% THD+N increased the maximum power into 4 ohms to 153W. The output impedance was commendably low for a tube design—0.54 ohm at low and middle frequencies and still 0.67 ohm at the top of the audioband. "The Evolution Monoblock power amplifier's measured performance indicates conservative audio engineering, a superb output transformer, and the ability to deliver high powers into relatively low impedances," JA concluded. An NOS Tube Upgrade package, which JVS recommends, adds $500 to the price. (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Feliks Audio Arioso: $7495
When HR replaced his reference solid state amplifier, the high-power Parasound Halo A 21+, with the Feliks Arioso, which offers 8Wpc with its Electro-Harmonix EH Gold 300B output tubes, he shook his head in disbelief at how radically different a track from old-time country blues singer Turner Junior Johnson sounded. What really got him, with the Arioso's 8 ohm taps driving Falcon's 15 ohm "Gold Badge" LS3/5as, was how Turner appeared to be directly there in front of him "with a definite tangible humanness" that he had not noticed with the Parasound. "The Arioso appeared to recover some extra amount of low-level information," he felt, though he added that the Feliks did not sound warmer, fuzzier, blurrier, more distorted, or more euphonic than the Parasound. "It did not emphasize the midrange or roll off the frequency extremes. It was simply more transparent," he decided. With the 10 ohm DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93s driven by the Arioso's 8 ohm output taps, he felt that the sound was not as rich of timbre or as bitingly textured as he thought it should sound. But when he connected the DeVores to the Arioso's 4 ohm taps, "the sound displayed a more grain-free clarity. Colors became more saturated. The sound felt more correct." HR summed up this experience: "The lesson here is: If you have a tube amp that offers multiple output taps, never assume 8 ohms to be 8 ohms, or 4 ohms to be 4 ohms. Try them all and choose the one that pleases you most." Replacing the stock Electro-Harmonix 300Bs with the new Western Electric 300Bs, the Feliks Arioso's 50Hz–1kHz octaves were more brilliantly lit and refraction-free than with the stock tubes, and the bass with the WEs was more tightly damped than with other 300Bs. (Vol.44 No.8 WWW)

Manley Laboratories Mahi: $6599/pair
This unusually styled push-pull monoblock uses four EL84 tubes, which can be operated in pentode mode, offering 40W into 8 ohms, or triode mode, offering 20W into 8 ohms. AH noted that triode mode increased the clarity (though not the colorfulness) of the already very clear-sounding Mahi, but he kept returning to the pentode setting "for a little more grunt and, more importantly, fun." AH felt that the robustness and speed of the power supply harnesses the EL84's "perky, friendly, approachable sound" to create an amplifier with all the musical awesomeness of tubes but very little flavor of their own. Three levels of global negative feedback are available. With the pair of Mahis connected to Klipsch La Scalas, AH found that while increasing the amount of feedback firmed up the bass response and beefed up power output, this was at the expense of liveliness and color. He much preferred the minimum setting of 3dB of negative feedback, which allowed for the most vivid sound and explicit emotional connection while keeping a firm hand on the bass. He summed up the Mahis by writing "if your speakers and room can make a big noise with 40 watts, then these petite but never petite-sounding amplifiers will probably delight you, doing justice to all but the most ambitious systems." (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

Octave Jubilee Mono SE: $80,000/pair
The German manufacturer's flagship amplifier weighs 145.5lb. It uses three ECC82 small-signal tubes and eight KT-120 output tubes operated in pentode mode, each of which can be biased individually. The single output transformer tap is said to be optimized for loads averaging between 3 and 12 ohms. JVS found that with the output tube bias set to "1125," "the background was dead silent, an absolutely blank canvas from which colors blossomed forth like flowers in springtime. The sound had irresistible natural warmth—that thrilling, indefinable liquidity that makes audiophiles melt." Low frequencies sounded tight and convincing but not quite equal in impact with his challenging Wilson Alexia 2 speakers as with the solid state D'Agostino Progression M550s. With the bias set to "1250," the Jubilee Monos produced a huge soundstage. JVS concluded that "most music lovers will find its bass convincingly complete and natural, its midrange marvelously full and smooth, its highs heavenly. Unique among tube amplifiers in size, topology, stunning silence, and durability, the Mono SE will beckon to those who can afford it." On the test bench, the Octave amplifier's source impedance was a relatively high 2–4.5 ohms and the Jubilee Mono didn't quite meet its specified power of 400W into 4 ohms, clipping (3% THD+N) at 380W into that load. JA commended the Jubilee Mono for its low levels of distortion at moderate powers into higher impedances, coupled with its benign distortion signature and its low levels of noise. However, he doesn't recommend the Octave for use with loudspeakers whose impedance drops below 4 ohms. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)


ELAC Alchemy DPA-2: $1749.98
A skinny, 14lb device from the Americas division of ELAC Germany, the DPA-2 was designed by veteran engineer Peter Madnick. Its output stage uses Hypex UCD class-D modules, which Madnick prefers to the more recent Purifi-Eigentakt modules. Balanced and single-ended inputs are available, and the gain can be increased by 6dB. Although the Alchemy DPA-2 is a stereo amplifier, JVS auditioned it as a pair of bridged monoblocks, commenting that in this mode they were "the finest low-priced power amplifiers I've encountered." "What caught me off guard, and pleasantly, was the wide range of color I heard from these inherently musical amps," he added, concluding that "Peter Madnick has exceeded his goal 'to provide the kind of real-life transparency and clarity that you would not expect at this price point.'" Maximum power is specified as 325Wpc into 4 ohms in stereo mode—JA measured 339W into 4 ohms and 202W into 8 ohms at 1% THD+N. As a bridged monoblock, the "powerhouse" DPA-2 delivered 590W into 8 ohms and 550W into 4 ohms. (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

EleKit Tu-8600RS: $2080 as reviewed ($1695 basic version)
As the name suggests, the EleKit TU-8600R is a build-it-yourself power amp, a single-ended design that uses one 300B directly heated output tube per side for a specified output of 9.2Wpc at 10% THD. (A preassembled version is available at extra cost.) Prices start at $1185 without tubes and top out at a $2985 version that includes Lundahl output transformers and deluxe German-made Elrog 300B tubes. HR tried a variety of 300Bs in his Lundahl-equipped review sample and praised the EleKit for sounding not warm and soft but "fast and vigorous, as transparent as any amplifier, and extremely captivating," with a sonic character that's "clean, neutral, and precise." HR's conclusion: "This is what I call value for money." Other kits are available, but availability is sporadic. In his May and August 2021 Gramophone Dreams, HR used the Elekit TU-8600S as a platform for comparing different 12AX7s and 300Bs. He later compared the Elekit fitted with Linlai Cossor WE300B tubes to the EL34-fitted Lab12 Mighty with a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau LP. HR noted that the Mighty emphasized the immediacy and raw texture of the upper octaves, while the Elekit directed his attention to beauties in the baritone's mid and lower octaves. (Vol.42 No.4, Vol.44 Nos.5 & 8, Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Lab12 Mighty: $2290
This Greek amplifier uses just two tubes per channel: a 6N1P dual triode feeding a Russia-made Electro-Harmonix EL34 power tube operating at fixed bias. The Mighty's output transformer has separate taps for driving 8 or 4 ohm speakers, and the single EL34 can be operated in either triode or Ultralinear modes. Power is specified as 8–9W depending on tube, with 10%–15% more power available in Ultralinear mode. HR commented that the Ultralinear Mighty "played waltzes and reggae with Leica-lens focus and a thinner-than-water flow" and noted the sound's "surprising physicality." In triode mode, the presentation "became more pure by several notches—and also more color-saturated." Compared with the 300B-fitted Elekit TU-8600S, the EL34 Mighty in both UL and triode modes "played with crisper, more conspicuously detailed clarity, which distributed charged energy across a well-constructed, shallower sound matrix." "The Mighty is an exciting-to-use, paradigm-shifting treat," concluded HR. (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

LSA Discovery Warp 1: $1499
This small design features a class-D output stage based on Texas Instruments TPA3255 chip. An "over-specified" switch-mode supply supplies the power. Though both single-ended and balanced inputs are provided, balanced operation is preferred. Internal DIP switches allows the driver-stage gain to be optimized for a specific system. The switches are labeled "0dB," "6dB," 14dB," and "20dB," with "6dB" the default setting. TF ended up with "0dB," when the amplifier offers 20dB of voltage gain, because he likes to use his Benchmark LA4 preamplifier with less attenuation. Driving TF's big B&W 808 speakers, which don't need a ton of amplifier power, but do need an amplifier that can push the power through with speed and authority, the Warp 1 delivered the goods. "My favorite rock, soul, blues, and funk tunes took on full-bodied punch that made the beat stand out and got feet tapping," he wrote. In the test lab, though the Warp 1 offered respectable measured performance, it didn't quite meet its specified output power of 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 250W into 4 ohms. With both channels driven and with clipping defined as when THD+noise reaches 1%, JA measured clipping powers of 110Wpc into 8 ohms 165Wpc into 4 ohms. (Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

Mytek Brooklyn AMP+: $2495
A complete change in the facility that manufactures Mytek products led to the company's entire component lineup being revised. The Brooklyn AMP+ is the first of the new-generation products to be reviewed, replacing the AMP that KM reviewed in Vol.41 No.9. Compared with the original amplifier, the AMP+'s clarity "facilitated better microdynamics, those small dynamic shifts that make reproduced sound more lively and more live," noted KM, adding that the AMP+ dispenses with the AMP's overt midrange lushness. "The AMP+'s upper midrange and treble were decidedly cleaner while maintaining just a touch of richness." Compared with the Parasound Hint 6 Halo, the Parasound presented an even deeper and more layered soundstage than the Mytek. On the other hand, the AMP+ sounded more sensuous with more low-end force. The AMP+'s class-D output stage is based on modules from Danish company Pascal and offers specified maximum powers of 250Wpc into 8 ohms, 300Wpc into 4 ohms, and 400Wpc into 2 ohms. JA found that the clipping power with both channels driven was 265W into 8 ohms. However, the Mytek went into protection mode when he tried to measure the maximum power into lower impedances. Nevertheless, he concluded that, like its predecessor, "Mytek's Brooklyn AMP+ is indeed a tiny powerhouse." (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Plinius Reference A-150 stereo/monoblock: $14,995 each, $29,990/pair
This solid state amplifier from New Zealand can be operated in stereo mode, when it offers 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 250Wpc into 4 ohms, or in bridged-mono mode, when it offers 450Wpc into 8 ohms and 600Wpc into 4 ohms. A button on the front panel allows you to switch between "class-AB" and "class-A" output stage bias. In the test lab, JA found that class-A operation was optimal, where the A-150 offers high power (exceeding its specified powers) with low distortion, especially in bridged-mono mode. However, he also noted that this amplifier will perform best in both stereo and mono modes with loudspeakers whose impedance remains at or above 4 ohms. Nevertheless, JVS found that the stereo Plinius worked well with his low-impedance Wilson speakers. He much preferred class-A operation, which he wrote was "the path forward for focused listening that puts a premium on sparkle, life, and fine detail." And with two monoblocks the sound was even smoother, warmer in the midrange, and more alive. "A pair of RA-150s delivered abundant midrange warmth, fine bass, true timbres, and emotionally compelling sound," he wrote. (Vol.47 No.1 WWW)

Primare A35.8: $5500
This eight-channel colleague of the Swedish manufacturer's stereo A35.2 uses the reliable and powerful Hypex NC500 class-D module, with some modifications. The amplifier features a switch-mode power supply, with its two outputs each feeding four amplifier stages. Pairs of outputs can be run as bridged mono amplifiers. KR auditioned the Primare with three bridged pairs to run his Left-Center-Right speakers and the remaining two channels to run his two surround-channel speakers. While he did try the amplifier in eight-channel mode KR found that bridging transformed the A35.8 "into a much more exciting amplifier" with a better bass balance and superbly stable imaging, even in stereo. He noted that there was never any evidence of the "gray" treble he had experienced with earlier Ncore-based amplifiers: "In my preferred five-channel configuration, the A35.8 equaled other good amplifiers in the treble." Comparing the Primare with his reference Benchmark AHB2, he felt that the Primare sounded "more convincingly live" than the Benchmark. On the test bench, the A35.8 exceeded its specified power of 150Wpc with two channels driven into 8 ohms, clipping at 200Wpc, and met its 300Wpc specification with two channels driven into 4 ohms. JA's conclusion was that the Primare A35.8 offers high power, especially in bridged mode, with very low levels of distortion and audioband noise. KR suggests A–; too bad there's no such rating. (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Rogue Audio DragoN monoblock: $5995/pair
The DragoN uses a tubed input stage and Hypex's NCore MOSFET class-D module in the output stage. Rogue says that a global feedback circuit that includes the front-end's ECC802S tube forces the class-D output to behave (and sound) like a tube circuit. There are balanced and single-ended inputs. The specified power is 325W into 8 ohms and 525W into 4 ohms. JD used a pair of Rogue DragoNs to power his ESS hybrid-electrostatic loudspeakers and concluded that the monoblocks unveiled new takes on his favorite recordings. "The class-D power and dynamics spoke to the younger me, who craves those overwhelming sensations that result, above all, from loudness, and the today me who appreciates the DragoNs' excellence at bringing less dynamic music to life at lower volumes, offering me considerable pleasure within the constraints of everyday real life." On the test bench, the DragoN clipped at 127W into 8 ohms and 226W into 4 ohms, both powers lower than specified, though the amplifier exceeded the specified powers if the clipping definition was relaxed from 1% to 3%. Distortion was relatively high in level, even at moderate powers, but fortunately, the distortion signature was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic. JA concluded that the Rogue DragoN's measured performance is dominated by the use of a tube in the input stage. "This amplifier offers high power," he wrote, "but with high levels of second-harmonic distortion." (Vol.47 No.3 WWW)

Zesto Audio Bia 200 Select: $15,900
This elegant looking, zero-loop–feedback, tubed design from California comes fitted with push-pull pairs of KT150 output tubes operated in Ultralinear mode, but can also use K120s or KT88s. Output tube bias is adjustable on the fly for KT150s (three settings) and KT120s (two settings). There are balanced and single-ended inputs and 4, 8, and 16 ohm output transformer taps. KM used both KT150s and KT88s. With the latter tubes, KM noted that the Bia 200 Select sounded "laid-back, a bit slumber-toned, and easy on the ears. ... Smoothness and textural sweetness were its strongest points." With KT150s at the same low bias he had used for the KT88s, the Zesto sounded entirely different, "like a transparent membrane, now pulled tighter." Moving up to the middle bias setting, and then to the highest, KM commented that "music swelled with more intensity and force in the low end and better articulation and more immediacy, overall." He concluded that the Bia 200 "is transparent, powerful, resolving, fun. Maybe it's the top end that seems to go out for miles, or the sonorous bass, or how it steps out of the way of recordings and lets them shine on their own terms." On the test bench, the Zesto featured extremely high source impedances from all three of its output taps, conform to classic telecommunications practice in which making the source impedance the same as that of the load impedance maximizes power transfer. However, this means that the amplifier will sound different with every loudspeaker with which it is used. Of greater concern was that the Bia 200 only met its specified powers at relatively high levels of harmonic distortion, along with the fact that the distortion was higher at low frequencies than it was in the midrange and that the distortion and noise were different in the two channels. JA found that this behavior was due to mismatched output tubes—Zesto recommends that the tubes have at least 50 hours of use to sound their best, but the review sample's tubes had more than 500 hours of use, with corresponding deteriorations in their operating parameters. The paradox, therefore, is that the longer the tubes are used the better the amplifier will sound but the worse it will measure. (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Simaudio Moon 860A v2, discontinued. Bel Canto E1X, Classé Delta monos, PS Audio BHK 300, VAC Statement 452 IQ not reviewed in a long time.

Auditor's picture

The links to the various types of products seem to be missing.

Auditor's picture

They're there now!

Dorsia777's picture

Rotel & Michi nabbed some Class A recommendations. Nice!