Extremely transparent and detailed amp that despite the magnifying-glass like detail has very silky highs and is absolutely not rough around the edges. On top of this it has a very high damping factor and can easily drive difficult speakers whilst remaining cold to the touch. Even Apogee Magnetostatics were driven without a sign of stress. Sounds incredible no? Downsides then? Well, it could do with a bit more colour and so called "flesh on the bones". An amp best suited to people who want the truth and nothing but the truth. These M's were older versions but had largely the same sound. I suspect that the latest M's sound very similar to the stereo "S".
Array Quartz S-1 Poweramp
Extremely transparent and detailed amp that despite the magnifying-glass like detail has very silky highs and is absolutely not rough around the edges. On top of this it has a very high damping factor and can easily drive difficult speakers whilst remaining cold to the touch. Even Apogee Magnetostatics were driven without a sign of stress. Sounds incredible no? Downsides then? Well, it could do with a bit more colour and so called "flesh on the bones". An amp best suited to people who want the truth and nothing but the truth.
Bryston 4B SST stereo poweramp
With the introduction of the SST series, Bryston made for an even more "musical" sound than before with the ST series. ST could under circumstances be slightly dry or too controlled where SST is now totally smooth and even relaxed. This gets to a point where I wouldn't say that the 4B SST is still neutral but is now tending to the warm and lush. It still has killer bass and now has better detailing but it has lost some of the speed and attack that made the ST series such an exiting ride.
Cyrus 6 integrated amp
Contrary to the early Cyrus amps there's no typical full and warm English sound here. The 6 has a clean, fast, detailed sound that is highly neutral if maybe a tad too controlled and lacking some fullness in the bass. A very honest amp that really is very, very detailed but it is less forgiving than the old Cyrus amps were.
Denon AVR-1705 surround receiver
Very user-friendly and high on features, especially for the money. The built in poweramps may be too lightweight for people who listen loudly or have difficult speakers but sound quality an sich is pretty good: never harsh or edgy and reasonably well detailed. It just lacks some power. If hifi use is important however I would not use it but go up in the Denon range or use a dedicated music amp and use the denon for surround only.
Denon AVR-2802 surround receiver
Full featured yet very userfriendly and affordable home cinema amp. In the Denon liga this is the one to start with. Go lower and you'll miss some power and features, go higher and it only gets better. But this review is about this amp. It's features are plenty and also is its soundquality. Really, for home cinema you won't need better. Its sound, even when using the built in amps, is free from any hardness but could do with slightly more slam. This is where the pre out terminals come in handy. Add a poweramp of your choice and you'll notice that the Denon's built in preamp is even better than you expected. At its price this is one of the best home cinema amps.
Not highend but good quality and pretty musical! This amp has a deep and full bass and a natural mid. Its highs are even very friendly and never abrasive. The amp doesn't put a foot wrong but, powering von Schweikert VR1's, is ultimately somewhat polite and dynamically a bit restrained.
Jadis DA-5 stereo tube poweramp
Musical and rich sounding but focus and soundstaging lag behind. Its bass was fat and full but lazy when it drove the B&W N804's. The matc with Sonus Faber Amators was much better, resulting in more speed and dynamics. No amp for power hungry speakers then.
Jadis JP-80 tube preamp
Very colourful, slightly warm and rich sounding preamp that is detailed and spacious but dynamically somewhat restrained. It is therefore best partnered with lively speakers. Comes with a separate, tube-power supply.
Jeff Rowland Consonance preamp
Very good preamp that is actually very affordable when bought second hand. Its detailing, soundstaging and focus are all very good, as is its treble which is extended, airy and fluid. A very musical preamp that is highly versatile and has a button for every function both on its fascia and on the remote. Compared to the newer and more expensive Synergy it is slightly rough in the highs and less subtle.
Jeff Rowland Synergy 1 preamp
Sublime preamp, my reference. It is extremely spaceous and detailed but in a nuanced way. It doesn't shout nor exaggerate transients. It just give pure music with immense microdetailing and lots of air. The notes never seem to stop as they fade into the black. Only small minor: its bass could be slightly more meaty.
Also a sublime preamp that in some respects is even better than the Synergy 1. In my setup however, the Synergy 1 is better liked for its faster bass and more dynamic livelyness. The Synergy 2i has both input and output transformers and it seems that this translates into the sound. It is still extremely finely detailed and it even has more air than the Synergy 1, but its bass is softer and has less power. Therefore, the Synergy 2i, although it is in many respects the best peamp I've heard, really has to match the system in which it is placed. Otherwise it can be too polite and lack enthusiasm.
The best Rowland amp I've heard and my personal reference. They easily beat the Bryston 7B ST poweramps for HF air, detail, refinement, microdetailing and even spaceousness. The 6's are both extremely quick and fluid at the same time. The typical Jeff Rowland sound makes them slightly less than absolutely neutral, but in my opinion, more musical for that. They do not however shout nor are they edgy which is why some people could find them too polite but trust me: well matched they perform to an extremely high standard.
Sounds similar to the Musical Fidelity A3CR but even warmer and more relaxed. Also even more natural. It lacks some speed and is therefore best partnered with communicative speakers. The match with a pair of B&W N804's was only succesful if you avoided playing uptempo or electronic music. The amp is fully class A and becomes quite hot. Can be bridged and has a lot of power, despite the seeminly low watt-rating and can drive difficult speakers.
Jeff Rowland Model 10 poweramp
The fastest Rowland yet, it is extremely spacious, has a well layered soundstage and is very refined yet has a polished feel. Transients are never entirely clear but slightly rounded, despite its otherwise clear detailing. This amps makes use of integrated amplification circuits instead of the more usual bipolar transistors which might explain this different approach. The model 6 still has bipolar transistors, is also very fast but doesn't have the model 10's woolyness. Then again, my model 10's switching power supply eventually broke down which might indicate that it was never entirely on spec.
Jeff Rowland Model 201 Class-T (IcePower) mono poweramp
Despite their innards being almost completely made by B&O except the input module (including the power supply), these amps still sound like Rowlands. In fact, they sound a lot like the model 10 but even faster and more tight and without the woolyness. But also less musical and sadly somewhat clinical and synthetic. The soundstage is also less intricately layered and ultimately for me they don't count as real Rowlands.
Fast, powerful and tight. It punches above its weight, altough it is far from lightweight. Still it is not perfect, lacking warmth, colour and spaciousness. It can also be grainy in the treble. Granted, it is cheap for a Krell, but it is a far cry from the real deal that is the fpb series.
van Medevoort PA230 poweramp
Extremely controlled and tight, it drives most speakers, including difficult ones but it lacks musicality and is rough in the treble. As an alternative I'd suggest Array for a comparable but way more refined sound.
Mark Levinson ML29 poweramp
Quite neutral with a tightly controlled bass. Dynamics are fine, both low and high level. Despite its low power rating it drives most speakers with ease. This Levinson also has PRAT but its one vice is that it is slightly sober and dark. Reviewed elsewhere, not in the reference system.
Mark Levinson ML320S preamp
A beautiful and versatile preamp. The reference no.32 always had an asymetrical face but the 320 looks like a symmetrical version of the no32. Its strong side is its mid which is colourful, creamy and well detailed. Highs are also pretty good, in my experience only giving way to Rowland preamps that are airier. The bass is full and deep but slightly slow. Overall, the amp a bit dark and moody. It lacks the airy, open highs and positive drive that a lot of other amps have. It was compared to Rowland Synergy and Jadis JP80 and both were felt to be more engaging, making the Levinson seem uninvolving and bland in comparison. Even the not so lively Jadis was more dynamic. Maybe the Levinson needed even more running in? That said, I'd bought it new and it had less than 200 hours of playing time which might be a contributing factor but I haven't kept it long enough to investigate further.
Musical Fidelity X-A100R integrated amp
A well-balanced sound that is neither too relaxed nor too electronical. It is full sounding but also doesn't lack detailing. Highs are smooth but miss that last nth of air and the bass, although deep and full, misses the last nth of tightness. Nevertheless very musical and enjoyable. Remote control of volume goes in large steps so you'll have to get up to get the inbetween values.
Musical Fidelity XAS100 poweramp
Unlike other MF gear: much tighter, more neutral and more forward and needs a long break in to get rid of some initial sharpness. I've never used the amp to be absolutely sure that it will not ever relax but I have strong suspicions that this is a different animal than the others.
Musical Fidelity A3CR poweramp
Very fluid, full and round sound with creamy mids and silky smooth highs but it lacks attack and speed. It's relaxed nature make it a bad partner for B&W N804's.
Primare 30.2 integrated amp
In principle very well behaved, detailed, tight and articulate yet never agressive. Speaking in audiophile terms it is actually very good. But if you switch your head off and listen with your heart, this amps is slightly too cold. Not that it lacks warmth but it is nevertheless somewhat clinical and restrained and altogether not really natural sounding. I find it ultimately too synthetic sounding.
Sony TA-E90ES preamp
It doesn't have the imaging or naturalness of a Jeff Rowland Consonance but neither does it carry latter's price tag. The Sony lacks some ultimate focus but is reasonably well detailed and has a relaxed and full sound that is the opposite of what you'd expect from the brand. Highs are very fluid and silky.
Sony TA-E80ES preamp
Better imaging, and more spacious than the cheaper E90ES but also less detailed and focused. If you like smoothness go for the 90ES, if you like focus, go for the 80ES. Both are extremely well executed given the price.
Sony TA-N80 ES poweramp
Even now second hand still a good buy. These amps are fast, open, detailed, spacious and reasonably powerful although not fit for very low impedance speakers. I managed to fry one that was setup in bridgemode while driving the (hybrid) Apogee Centaurs.
Yamaha RX-530 receiver
Powerful and enthusiastic sound but rough around the edges. The old Yamaha's have always been better with the tough jobs than with finer work.
Very powerful sounding amp. When used as a poweramp (bypassing the mediocre internal preamp) it is amazingly dynamic and spacious and even more brutal in force than a pair of Bryston 7BST's. Ultimately of course it has less power than the 7BST's, but when used within its limits it makes for the perfect home cinema poweramp with its thunderous bass and powerful slam. Very visceral and entertaining. In fact, I'd say that for cinema use, it outperformed the new Z7 in every way except fluididity and refinement. The new Yamaha sound is apparently more balanced: much more refined yet less bombastic and visceral.
Proceed BPA2 poweramp
Affordable but excellent poweramp by Madrigal that has a lot of Mark Levinson sound in it, be it more neutral/less colourful that the big Levinsons. Its sound is neutral, refined, clean, tight and fast. The highs are open and the bass is articulate and overal it has a high thrill factor. It is never dull. But it could sound cold when partnered wrongly. It likes heavy speakers and I'd avoid overly analytical partnering equipment. It is like a mix of van Medevoort, Bryston and Krell KAV300i, offering a very high damping factor that results in a vice like grip on loudspeakers.
Audiolab 8000PX Stereo Poweramp
Fairly detailed and friendly amp that has no rough edges but it is slightly too laidback and also somehow artificial sounding, like the Primare but this is difficult to pin down. In all fairness, B&W N804's are no super easy load so the amp may have been struggling to control them but nevertheless, the artificiality of the sound is a factor against it.
Bryston 7B ST Mono Poweramp
These amps really are much better than most people give them credit for. Sure, they are powerful enough to function as PA speakers and are often used for studio amplification. But they also have a subtle side to them and are absolutely not rough, cold or clinical sounding. I must stress this as their appearance suggests otherwise but these amps have velvety highs and a slightly warm and full midrange. And of course bass to die for, in fact the best bass I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy in my setup. Their bass is full, deep and visceral. Soundstaging is very wide and focus is pretty good. The sound is actually quite neutral, neither too relaxed nor too clinical but they do tend to present all music in a lively fashion while leaving microdetailing and subtle spatial soundstaging clues somewhat behind.
Cyrus 1 integrated amp
Definitely less analytical than their current models but also arguably more musical. The sound of the old Cyrus 1 is round, full, and very inviting while detailing isn't even bad, although not reaching the levels of transparency or control that are now on offer. I would say that this amp has the typical old English sound whereas the current Cyrus amps are way more neutral but also more clinical. In the eighties these amps were considered the starting point for audiophiles and not without reason.
Pass X-2 preamp
Voluptuous and round, especially colourful for a solid state preamp. Detailing isn't bad but lags considerably behind the Rowland Synergy, especially low level detailing. The Pass is also darkish but very natural and friendly. It is for a lack of a better word, tubey and very good with acoustical instruments and voices, but less established with elecronic music.
Jeff Rowland Model 2 poweramp
Comparable to the model 6 except it is stereo, not mono. Model 2 is also fully bananced and sounds very similar to the 6: highs, mids and imaging is almost identical but model 2 has less power but this will not be an issue unless you really push it. Ultimately the biggest difference is in the bass. It is slightly less powerful/direct than that of the model 6.
Bought as an upgrade from the Sony TAE80ES because I also had a Rega cd player at the time. Sadly the Cursa's sound was the opposite of that of the Jupiter cd player: very laidback, supersmooth and seriously lacking speed. It even has less detailing than the sony it was supposed to be replacing. A comparison with the Jeff Rowland Consonance confirmed this. The Cursa is a rich and velvety sounding preamp but it does not have Rega-PRAT. On another level, the combined volume- and input control looks neat but makes for an unresponsive volumecontrol, even when not using the remote control.
McIntosh MA6900 integrated amplifier
Very colourful, rich and fluid sound. Also relaxed but without being slow. In fact this amp is pretty dynamic and has plenty of slam. Especially non electronical music sounds very lifelike. Detailing is easily above average, being a lot better than you'd expect based on the presence of equaliser and meters of cable inside. It is in fact better detailed than the Bryston 7BST amps. Besides slightly lower resolution, the big Mac only has one real disadvantage: a lack of high frequency extension. It doesn't have the airy highs that for example Jeff Rowland does have.
Compared to the X-2 better resolution and also better pace. It's slightly more open but still the sound stays firmly in the warm and mellow direction. The highs are smooth and very fluid but not entirely open als not that airy compared to the Rowland Synergy. The midband is fabulous, sounding tubey and realistic, but the bass is very wooly and PRAT is also not its strong suit. Altogether perhaps a very good preamp for listeners of classical but not the best choice for fast-paced music.
Viva Verona XL Single Ended Triode mono Poweramplifiers
The Veronas are beautifully made amplifiers. A lust for the eye. They also have a natural, colourful and very friendly sound, never insulting. Emotionally they get right to the core. They make music and there's nothing electronic about it. Their midrange is simply magical, leaving even my beloved Rowlands in the cold. If it weren't for their lack of HF extension, I'd probably have taken their compressed dynamics for granted. Ultimately I think they just aren't powerful enough to drive demanding speakers. Partner them with smaller, more bright and more efficient speakers, and the story may be very different. Sadly I wasn't in the position to try this out. Worth noting is that this test was done with quite old tubes. When new tubes were placed, the sound became A LOT more dynamic and also more forward and a bit more agile. The highs were still not as open as Jeff Rowland but now the amps were performing very well, with some music styles even better than the Rowlands, for example with Jazz.
This is an immensely musical and engaging amp that has killer bass. The bass is both deep and full yet never slow or thick. Even my beloved Rowland model sixes have to bow to this amp's abilities in the bass department. Compared to the Rowlands, the Pass can be a bit shouty in the midrange and is also less silky and fluid in the highs. Imagery is spot on and detail is never lacking. A great amp that I could easily live with if I didn't have the Rowlands.
Hybrid with tubes in the preamp and mosfets in the powerstage. A very involving, fluid, liquid and warm amp. Immediately emotional, though not quite the perfect choice for fast-paced music as the Unico tends to stroll along at its own pace. PRAT is not very high so to say. For example, even the ancient Mission Cyrus 1 was more agile and rhythmic, though of course not as rich and colourful als the Unico.
Audio Physic Strada Mono switching poweramps
These amps do not have the lean sound that I heard in the other digi- I mean switching amps. The Audio Physics sound, well, physical. Theye have a full colour pallete, with great bass on par with my Rowlands. Also detailing is pretty good and they even have a warm and inviting character. The only things missing are the refined subtelty and air in the treble that the Rowlands are capable of. But I wanted to mention this nevertheless, since one or my greatest beefs with switching amps seems to have been overcome.
Pictured above, on top of the Synergy preamp. What the synergy and Cadence both do best is to sound utterly natural. It's not like they are without character because of that they have plenty. There is absolutely no artificiality, no hardness, no shouting, no coloration, no noise. Yet they're absolutely not bland sounding. There's an anormous soundstage with super-layering, so many small details have their own place in the soundfield and no matter how complex the passage, it is always clear. But never analytical of clinical. Microdynamics remain a Rowland strong suit. There's just this complete absence of any electronic signature. Maybe you could compare it best to a very good tube preamp except that the Synergy and Cadence are much more quiet.
This is HK's top of the line receiver. It is a massive and heavy amp that despite its heft manages to look very refined. I really like its subtle and understated looks. It operates like a dream and really has every conceivable feature that you could possibly wish for. Soundwise it is full, relaxed and colourful. It has plenty of bass but doesn't really sound powerful or dynamic. It is well-behaved to a point where it borders to dullness and as such I found it lacking excitement. Also, the built-in fan comes on pretty soon and when it does it is so loud that it overshadows the film you're watching.
It may be affordable, slim-line and unassuming, but this is in fact a very good sounding surround amp. It's got all features that you could possibly want and a lively, upbeat sound that makes many a rival sound slow or dull. It doesn't have incredible power but still it manages to drive my B&W Nautilus 804's without ever sounding out of control. If you want to clearly better it, you'll need to spend much more. Highly recommended.
Although it doesn't have the A1000's ultimate drive and slam, the Z7 is still hugely entertaining, especially when used in its main function as a surround amp. Here it is big, lively and smooth at the same time. It strikes just the right balance between drive and musicality making it also quite suitable for music replay although its real strength lies firmly in the home cinema camp.
Stunning to look at and a world reference until the new flagship Criterion came along. Many audiophiles still swear by the Coherence II though for its relaxed and fluid musicality. I have yet to hear a tube preamp that beats the Coherence II. The Coherence II, for all its lack of electronic signature and complete absence of aggression can be slightly unexciting if used in the wrong setup but users of magnetostatics/electrostatics simply cannot go wrong. The sound is at once completely free from fatigue as well as intricately detailed and the soundstage is extremely well-layered. The Coherence has more and better bass than either Synergy 1 or 2i and its soundstage is even more enveloping than the Synergy 2i. The treble is extremely fluid and airy, simply the best treble I have heard from a preamp.
A little gem of an amplifier. A cult classic almost. This small unit hides an enormously powerful user interface behind its simple facade. For example, inputs can be freely assigned and named or deleted, if desired. The amp can also be set as a poweramp, bypassing the volume control. But there are also stranger options, such as its display's ability to show (Meridian) cd player track information. Additionally there are many more functions that I have forgotten about since I write this review years after I last had a 551. But its sound is still lively in my head. It is characterised by an overall politeness and sweetness. It is never obtrusive, never aggressive. Its highs are sweet and fluid and quite airy while the midrange is natural and colourful. The bass is, well, satisfactory. It is slightly behind the rest of the amp because it lacks some power. It is not that the amp lacks bass per se or control or speed, it is just a little too polite and too restrained in the bass and lower mid as well. It sometimes lacks some attack and bite. This is true with all speakers I tried with it. But it makes almost all music listenable. Even badly recorded albums. Amusingly, it even drives Nautilus 804's much better than you'd expect given its 65 watt power output. All in all, it offers a tremendously enjoyable delivery. It just does almost nothing wrong. But if you play mostly rock and roll, this amp is probably not for you.