Recommended Components Fall 2022 Edition Two-Channel Power Amplifiers

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.

A (Solid-State)

Accustic Arts AMP V: $50,000
The 176lb Accustic Arts AMP V (pronounced Amp Five) was the heaviest, tallest, most powerful—specified power is 900Wpc into 8 ohms, 1360Wpc into 4 ohms, and 1500Wpc into 2 ohms—and most expensive stereo amplifier JVS has auditioned in his system. It requires two 15A power cables, one for each channel. The AMP V is a fully balanced class-AB design with 40 output MOSFETs heavily biased into class-A. The amplifier offers switchable "damping factor linearization," which, when turned on, linearizes its output impedance over a wide frequency range. JVS found that the highs were softer with damping factor linearization active. The AMP V sounded most transparent without it, he concluded. Listening to Patricia Barber's Clique, JVS commented that what immediately stood out "was the pristine silence between the notes. The AMP V is one of the quietest amps I've ever heard. . . . Equally notable was the impressive color saturation, with primary hues and infinite shades of pastel vying for attention with midrange warmth." The AMP V was not just a powerhouse; "it's a musical instrument that produces bright colors, huge images, and seat-shaking bass. Nor does it skimp on detail." JA found that measuring such a powerful stereo amplifier was problematic, as it blew 15A circuit breakers at high powers into low impedances. When he plugged it into a 20A circuit, the breaker didn't blow, but the droop in his AC supply voltage meant that the amplifier clipped at 665Wpc into 8 ohms and 890Wpc into 4 ohms. Distortion was extremely low and primarily consisted of low-order harmonics, he found. (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Bel Canto e1X: $6200
Trickled down from Bel Canto's premium Black line, this slimline, lightweight amplifier uses the well-regarded Ncore class-D modules and a low-noise switch-mode power supply. TG commented positively on the e1X's image specificity, low-frequency control, and extremely low background noise. "I didn't expect to be so completely gobsmacked by the level of clarity and musicality I'm hearing now from the e1X," he concluded. JA's measurements revealed that the Bel Canto easily exceeded its rated output powers of 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms, clipping at 340Wpc into 8 ohms and at 530Wpc into 4 ohms. Noise, harmonic distortion, and intermodulation distortion were all impressively low in level. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Benchmark AHB2: $2999 $$$ ★
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 described comparing 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. (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

CH Precision M1.1 Reference Power Amplifier: $104,000/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. (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Classé Delta Mono monoblock: $21,998/pair
The first fruits of the Canadian company's acquisition by Sound United, the Delta series products were in development for several years. Designed in Canada but made in SU's Japanese factory, where the high-end Denon and Marantz products are manufactured, the Delta Mono impressed JA not only with its sound quality but also with its impeccable construction. The front panel features an accurately calibrated VU meter. With its lateral-MOSFET output devices heavily biased into class-A, the Delta Mono's waste heat is expelled from its rear with a quiet-running, microprocessor-controlled fan. "The midrange transparency of the Classé amplifiers was impressive," wrote JA, adding that "the high frequencies were impressively clean and smooth" and that the Delta Mono exhibited tight low-frequency control and articulation. Compared with the Parasound Halo JC 1+s, the Delta Monos had a touch less bloom through the lower midrange. The Delta Mono exceeded its specified output power of 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms, clipping at 380W into 8 ohms and 610W into 4 ohms. Price includes high-quality DR Acoustics AC cables. (Vol.43 No.7 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: $61,000
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)

darTZeel NHB-468 monoblock: $230,000/pair
The darTZeel NHB-468 monoblock, which looks outwardly similar to its predecessor, the NHB-458, is claimed to be rather different on the inside, said changes including a technology called Constant Power to Current, or CP2C: a circuit that, according to darTZeel, "mimics a current source with the output impedance of a voltage source." The new amp retains the same massive power supply as the old, down to its enormous, spring-suspended mains transformer, yet most power specs are lower for the 468 than the 458 (eg, 475W into 8 ohms instead of 530W). The NHB-468 impressed NHB-458 owner MF with sound that was "more supple, more liquid, and noticeably more 'wraparound' three-dimensional, without turning soft." MF's verdict: "This amp does what the NHB-458 does—just better." Technical Editor JA noted that the new amp did not meet its power spec—he observed 398W into 8 ohms—but praised the fact that it does not exhibit increased distortion with rising frequency, saying the newest darTZeel is "an intriguing design." (Vol.42 No.11)

First Watt F8: $4000
Designer Nelson Pass describes the F8 as "a stereo, two-stage, single-ended class-A amplifier using the [new-old-stock] Toshiba 2SJ74 P-channel JFETs and SemiSouth R100 SiC power JFETs for signal gain, plus IRFP240 MOSFET mu-follower current sources, for a total of only three devices per channel." Specified voltage gain is a low 20dB, and specified power is 25Wpc into 8 ohms and "maybe" 13Wpc into 4 ohms. HR found the F8's midrange as densely detailed as the First Watt J2's "but clearer and more brightly lit." He described the F8's production of recorded piano's left-hand octaves as "firmer and better defined." However, he preferred the slightly more expensive but similarly power-rated Pass Labs XA25's well-focused lower octaves and what he described as "its inherent hyper-transparency." Nevertheless, with the F8 driving his fave Falcon LS3/5a minimonitors, HR wrote that this pairing revealed more of each recording's sonic and poetic essence than—possibly—any other system he'd used in his Bed-Stuy bunker. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Gryphon Essence Mono monoblock: $44,400/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)

Gryphon Apex Stereo: $99,000
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)

Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference monoblock: $34,990/pair ★
The 110W M1.2, with tubed front end, 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," he decided. "Highly recommended." In his Follow-Up, JCA observed that "the Lamms didn't bring out every tiny nuance . . . but, boy, are they musical! In that way, they deviate from the stereotype of a big-boy amp." (Vol.28 No.2, Vol.35 No.4, Vol.37 No.6, Vol.39 No.12, Vol.41 No.10, Vol.43 Nos.6 & 7 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)

LKV 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)

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)

Parasound A 21+: $3499
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: $18,998/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 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 BHK Signature 300 monoblock: $16,498/pair ★
Named for its designer, Bascom H. King, the BHK Signature 300 is a hybrid monoblock with a tubed input stage and a MOSFET power stage, and is specified to deliver 300W into 8 ohms. In a departure from the usual practice, all of those output transistors are N-channel devices, implementation of which requires cunning—and, according to King, a bit of global feedback. Both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs are provided on the rear panel, where one also finds a removable panel for access to the amp's two dual-triode tubes. In MF's words, "the BHK Signature 300 is a powerful, nimble-sounding amplifier that immediately drew me in with fast, punchy, tight bass; rich, liquid mids; and delicate, transparent highs—all effectively well integrated into a coherent whole." On JA's test bench, one of the BHK Signature 300 monoblocks became unstable, and while it didn't fall and break its hip, it stopped working. JA carried on with the other monoblock, describing it as "a well-designed, well-engineered powerhouse of an amplifier, though it will perform at its best with speakers having an impedance of 4 ohms and above." In 2017, JCA embarked on an interesting pairing—PS Audio's "big brute" amps with the sensitive, easy-to-drive DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 speakers—and discovered that while the DeVores didn't necessarily benefit from such a surplus of power, he "slightly preferred the BHKs' weight" to the "airier, spacier" sound heard with his Leben tubed integrated amp. (Vol.39 No.2, Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock: $6598/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: $14,999.98/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: $7499.99
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 Aegir: $899 $$$
The solid state Aegir amplifier uses a proprietary class of operation called Continuity, which gets around certain limitations of class-AB operation—particularly transconductance droop beyond the class-A power envelope—by means of a current-feedback topology. It's specified at 20Wpc into 8 ohms and 40Wpc into 4 ohms and runs a bit hot—but not as hot as one might expect from a pure class-A amp of the same output. HR described the "titillating physical pleasures" of the made-in-California Aegir driving Wharfedale Linton loudspeakers as something he could "live [with], satisfied, forever," and praised the pairing of Schiit Aegir and Harbeth P3ESRs as offering "80% of the . . . detail-rich humanity" he hears from his $4000 reference amplifier. In measuring the Aegir, JA found higher than specified output power—28Wpc into 8 ohms, 43Wpc into 4 ohms—and described the Schiit as "a well-engineered amplifier at an affordable price." Herb's conclusion: "a design that will withstand and even rejoice in the scrutiny of time." (Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

Vandersteen Audio M5 High Pass Amplifier M5-HPA: $16,800/pair
Class A rating applies to use with Vandersteen speakers or minimonitors. (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

A (Tube)

Air Tight ATM-300R: $19,500 with Electroharmonix 300B tubes ★
AD, who was on record as having "never heard a single-ended 300B amp that I disliked," was especially smitten by this compact yet remarkably heavy (54lb) stereo amplifier: a three-stage design in which 12AU7 and 12BH7 dual-triodes are used as voltage-gain stages and drivers, respectively. The output tubes are a single 300B per channel, specified to output 9W each. Distinctively, the ATM 300R uses global feedback, but tapped from the primary rather than secondary side of each channel's output transformer. AD heard from the Air Tight amp "startling . . . details of musical nuance," "lusciously textured and colorful" strings and woodwinds, "realistic force" in its reproduction of timpani, and the ability to sound surprisingly big. He also made special mention of the ATM 300R's way with orchestral double-basses, noting their "depth and power, and far greater clarity of pitch than I've heard through any other 300B amplifier, bar none." Re-auditioning the amp in his newly modified listening room, through vintage Altec Flamenco loudspeakers, confirmed those positive impressions, and then some. Writing from his test bench, JA described the Air Tight as "well engineered," praising in particular its apparently "excellent output-transformer design." (Vol.41 No.2, Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

Audio Research Reference 160 S: $22,000
Essentially a stereo version of ARC's Reference 160 M monoblock, the Reference 160 S uses four KT150 output tubes per channel to deliver 70Wpc into 8 ohms in triode mode or 140Wpc in Ultralinear, the two being switch-selectable. The user can also select between balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs, the latter a first for an ARC Reference-series amp, and speaker outputs are provided for 4, 8, and 16 ohms. JCA enjoyed his time with the Ref 160 S, particularly when assessing the differences between triode and Ultralinear: "In triode mode there was a fine velvet, burnished beauty. In Ultralinear . . . the music was more explicit—but the sound was just as lovely." Jim remarked, before the ARC amp left his home: "I didn't know that so much of the music in my collection possessed so much tonal beauty." JA felt the amp's very low feedback should compel users to exercise careful load matching. (Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

Doshi Audio EVO Monoblock: $43,995/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: $6699
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)

Music Reference RM-200 Mk.II: $7000 ★
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." Now comes with handwound output transformers; tube bias balance control, add $800. (Vol.34 No.12 WWW)

Octave Jubilee Mono SE monoblock: $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)

Shindo Cortese: $13,500 w/F2a output tubes
The current version of Shindo Laboratory's only stereo single-ended amplifier—there are at least four different earlier versions, possibly more—uses a single Telefunken ECL82 pentode-triode tube per channel to drive a single F2a tetrode per channel in an autobias circuit. (A 300B version, priced at $12,995, is also available but remains unauditioned.) Distinguishing characteristics include the use of a rectifier tube (5U4GB) instead of a solid state full-wave rectifier and the addition of an NOS Micromold Radio oil cap to the power supply's smoothing circuit—both of which have, at times, characterized earlier Corteses. Output power is specified as 10Wpc. AD noted generous gain—the Cortese is a three-stage amplifier—and, in general, the amp's ability to make music sound physically present, not to mention physically large, with sufficient bass extension and power that an orchestral bass drum on one recording "sent shivers down my spine." (Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

Shindo Montille 391: $7995 $$$
A somewhat more expensive variant of the company's entry-level amp, the Montille—which AD wrote about in the July 2007 Stereophile—the Montille CV 391 is a push-pull amp that coaxes 20Wpc from stereo pairs of the British CV 391 beam power tetrode. A true three-stage amp, thus blessed with generous gain, the Montille CV 301 uses 6AW8A triode-pentode tubes and 12AT7 dual-triodes as input tubes, as well as NOS Sprague coupling capacitors and Hammond output transformers. Shindo's second-least-expensive amp has a voice different from that of the company's more expensive offerings, but is no less musical—and in fact distinguished itself as one of the most vivid Shindos AD has heard, not to mention the one that is most comfortable driving 8 ohm rather than 16 ohm loads. (It sounded extraordinary through Art's DeVore O/93s.) Other Shindos may have more sophisticated or nuanced voices, but the Montille 391 is no less effective: Not only does this amp deserve Class A status, it offers conspicuously high value. (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

VAC Statement 452 IQ: $75,000 stereo; $150,000/pair as monoblocks
Reviewed as a pair of monoblocks, MF marveled at "the relaxed and fully immersive presentation" from this massive, high-powered, cool-running amplifier, which uses banks of horizontally situated output tubes operated in class-AB using VAC's patented iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System. Though he sometimes felt that these amps produced a picture that was too large for his room, the soundstage produced by a pair of these amplifiers on the Wilson Alexxes "was wider, taller, and especially deeper than anything I've ever experienced." MF also commented that "On the right recordings, the illusion of 'there' produced by this amp, thanks in part to the sensation of shimmering soundstage air, is extraordinary." Summing up, he wrote that the sound "was at all times coloration-free, exhibiting no frequency lumps or bumps and sounding refreshingly timbrally neutral, particularly from the midbass through the lower midrange, where I was expecting warmth and bloom. The bottom never sounded or felt sluggish or insufficiently extended, even on electrified rock, though its overall character was somewhat polite. The upper frequencies were addictively clean and pure, with faultless transient speed and clarity." The Statement 452 IQ is specified as delivering 225Wpc in two-channel mode or 450W in single-channel mode, both into 4 ohms. When he measured the amplifier as a monoblock, JA found that the VAC clipped at 235W into 8 ohms, but at 183W into 4 ohms unless he relaxed the definition of "clipping" from 1% THD+N to 10%, when the amplifier delivered 410W into 4 ohms. Fortunately, the VAC's distortion in the midrange and above was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic. Though he was bothered by what appeared to be modulation by the audio signal of the amplifier's noisefloor, JA noted the amplifier's very low distortion in the treble at low-to-moderate powers into high impedances. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

B

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 pre-assembled 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. Herb Reichert 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. (Vol.42 No.4, Vol.44 Nos.5 & 8 WWW)

First Watt SIT-3: $4000 ★
Designer Nelson Pass commissioned a now-defunct maker of semiconductors to produce for him an exclusive run of static induction transistors (SITs), and the limited-edition (250 units) SIT-3 may prove to be the last amplifier created to use them. The SIT-3 is a single-ended amp in which the input signal has its voltage gain boosted only by an onboard step-up transformer; the amp's single active stage provides only current gain. The product of all this simplicity is a decent enough 18Wpc, but with less gain (11.5dB) than most other amplifiers. HR tried the SIT-3 with a variety of loudspeakers and declared it "a modestly priced masterpiece" and "one of the two or three finest-sounding amplifiers I've heard anywhere, at any price." JA's measurements did nothing to dispel that notion: "Although [its] relatively high level of second harmonic distortion, which is a deliberate design choice, is controversial, the First Watt SIT-3 is a well-engineered amplifier." (Vol.42 No.2)

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)

Editor's Note: There are no amplifiers listed in Class C and D.

Deletions
BAT VK-56SE, discontinued. Verity Audio Monsalvat Amp-60, replaced by newer model not yet reviewed. Akitika GT-102, Audio Research Reference 160M, Cary Audio CAD-805RS, Constellation Centaur II 500, Luxman MQ-88uSE, Rogue Audio Stereo 100, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
Auditor's picture

The text under the J. Sikora Initial is the same as under the J. Sikora Reference, which is obviously a mistake.

John Atkinson's picture
Auditor wrote:
The text under the J. Sikora Initial is the same as under the J. Sikora Reference, which is obviously a mistake.

Fixed. Thank you.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

lesmarshall's picture

I was very surprised to read that the Benchmark DAC 3 is no longer a Recommended Component . In the earlier 2022 edition of Recommend Components , it was an A+ component . Your stated reason for the deletion was because it was not auditioned in a long while . Well why not audition it then ? Also, why is an audition necessary ? It measured as one of the best DACs ever . Why would its measurements change simply because you have not auditioned it recently ? I understand its your policy , but it seems rather unfair to Benchmark that you no longer recommend it for that reason . I believe a much fairer policy would be that a highly rated component should only fall off the recommended list if it is auditioned periodically and you determine that its current level of recommendation is no longer justified based on the factors that you use to include a component of the recommended list .

JRT's picture

Les, toward some light hearted amusement, consider a reductio ad absurdum.

The quoted material below was excerpted from the first version (published 01 May 1963) of Stereophile's recommended components, just the A,B,C rated amplifiers and preamplifiers:

Quote:

Preamplifier-Control Units
A: Marantz 7, McIntosh C-20
B, C: Dynaco PAS-2

Power Amplifiers
A: Marantz 8B, McIntosh MC-60 (footnote 5), Marantz 9A (footnote 5)
B, C: Dynaco Stereo 70

Footnote 5: mono amplifier.

Reductio ad Absurdum... Should the old gear listed above continue as currently recommended gear, or is it best left in its original context in the circa 1963 article? ...and why or why not? ...and is it a much too different set of cases for comparison? ...why? Would that old gear be good fodder for a listing of recommended vintage gear, and is that good subject matter for the current Stereophile readership? These are mostly rhetorical questions, but not all.

JRT's picture

Would you also include the essentially similar PAS-3, and then also the PAS-3X with updated tone controls, and then maybe also Frank van Alstine's improved Super PAS Three, etc.? The original short-list can grow large.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/recommended-components-1-0

https://www.stereophile.com/tubepreamps/1088vana/index.html

georgehifi's picture

It would be nice if the "title" of the piece recommended was clickable, so one could easily then read the full review of all these thousands of "recommended components" instead of searching like a ???

Just a thought??

Cheers George

liquidsun's picture

I must say I'm surprised to see Perlistens into Restricted Extreme LF category as I thought they were full range speakers.

Kal Rubinson's picture

For most, they will be full range but, as you can see from JA's Fig. 4, the FR is rolling off smoothly below 100HZ such that it will easily mate with a complementary subwoofer. I believe that was Perlisten's intent. That said, unless you are assessing the sound of low, low organ pedal tones, explosions or thunder, the bass from the s7t is clean, powerful and musically satisfying.

Robin Landseadel's picture

There's a lot of Dance Pop/Techno music that gives the lowest octave a workout. Managed to blow out the small bass driver from a Paradigm bookshelf speaker with a Sarah McLaughlan track---"I Love You" from the album "Surfacing"---a quiet ballad with a synth bottom without overtones, so there's pure, deep bass. Another good example would be the work of Bill Laswell, a producer/bass player.

Kal Rubinson's picture

OK but how is this relevant? On the one hand, I am not surprised that one can blow out the small bass driver in a bookshelf speaker. On the other, I doubt if it would do that to the Perlisten.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Blowing out the driver of a Paradigm Atom might not be meaningful save that I blew it out with a track that is low in level and undynamic. More to the point, it sounds like the speakers in question could use a sub. Of course, you pointed out that the speakers in question are designed to integrate well with subs. My Infinity 250 speakers, small floor-standing speakers, also requires a sub for deep bass.

What is meaningful is that there is more to the bottom octave than organ pedals and explosions. Lots of modern productions take advantage of digital recording/playback's ability to record/reproduce the lowest octaves of sound.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yes, there is a lot more to the bottom end than I cared to mention but the distinction between the small Paradigm Atom and the s7t is that the former needs a sub (or a LP filter) merely to survive wide-band signals while the latter does not.

Did you read my comments about the Garage Door test? I doubt that either your Paradigm or your Infinity could compete with the Perlisten, with or without a sub.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Doubtless. My point was more about program material and really deep bass. In any case, my Infinity Primus 250s are aided by my Sonance Son of Sub. As the system is in a small room, it's probably as much bass as the room can take.

Anton's picture

I like to hit this issue and pretend all my Hi Fi gear is gone and I have to start over with my budget and this list.

Glotz's picture

Droooooool.. and I'm done FOREVER.

Soulution, MBL... heaven.

KEFLS50W's picture

It will be interesting to see if Stereophile catches up to the focus on active, integrated designs. The relevance of separates seems to be waning in comparison to these sexy and modern designs (many of which are good value to boot) from KEF, B&W, Q Acoustic, ATC, Dali, and others. LS50WII for example gives me access to high quality, high current class a/b amplification I would not have been able to afford with separates. On another note, why are REL subs not listed - they would floor the competition listed in terms of sonics and build quality. Sorry but SVS is a home theater product and KEF KC62 is for kids.

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