For SET and Tube lovers - What SS Power amps do you like?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Richard Austen, Dec 5, 2017.

  1. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    So for those of you who love the sound of SET amplifiers and HE systems the question is for you is to step back and play the thought experiment game -

    You have a low efficiency speaker that dips to 2 ohms maybe a bit under so what SS amp could you live with and hopefully enjoy. I tell you this is difficult for me because I can't think of too many - maybe 3 in 25 years.

    I'm somewhat in this camp in that there are speakers I like and would like to bring in to review but that force me to use a high power lower ohm capable amplifier.

    AND I also think that many of us who don't care for SS amps in particular need to remind ourselves if we often blamed the amplifier when in fact it could have been lousy speakers or even lousier CD players.

    Further we get brand biased that because we didn't like say Bryston paired with Paradigm back in 2001 that we will not like the current products.

    I bring this up because a few posters have noted that for example the Bryston cubed series of amplifiers sound much better than what they heard before from that company. The dealer here that sells it though carries a speaker I don't much care for. So the match wasn't great but IMO nothing would make those speakers exactly make me fall in love with them.

    Sure I can name some amplifiers that I like like the Sugden A21a and First Watt amps but these guys are still 20 watts and under. And sure I like Analog Domain but they are $400,000.

    The Bryston 4B(cubed) is under $6,000 and seems like a robust enough amplifier and being Canadian I like supporting my own market where I can - this is my starting point to try and get an audition.

    Note: It doesn't have to sound like a SET amplifier - it just has to sound believable and sound good over long periods of time. I've not been impressed by the sound of Krell, Levinson, Classe, Sim Audio, Odyssey, Soulution, Edge, Constellation, Naim, Momentum, Bel Canto, Arcam, Rotel, Linn, Adcom, B&K, Parasound.

    But like I say perhaps I need to revisit newer possibly better offerings with better electronics. Gotta keep the mind open and keep trying stuff.

    I require current model suggestions. Cheers,
  2. Jtycho

    Jtycho Forum Resident

    Fortunately (though not for my wallet) I’m not monogamous with amplification. I can find equal thrill in SS and valves. To answer your question I’ve been most enamored with Blue Circle. Some of Gilbert’s latest designs are just stunning. This comes at a price, some quirkiness and some serious lead times these days. I don’t find I lose anything important (to me) when moving from Tron or Audio Note to Blue Circle.
    recstar24 likes this.
  3. russk

    russk Forum Resident

    Syracuse NY
    I too like the Sugden A21 and the two First Watt amps that I've heard. For amps with more grunt the only ones that I can think of that I liked are the Pass Labs integrated amps and the Luxman 550 integrated amps (though they're only 50 watts of class power).
    Linto likes this.
  4. Lonson

    Lonson agnostic Disestablishmentarianismist

    I purchased a used Peacthree Grand Integrated X1 that I really do enjoy. It has an ICE class D amp section that does not sound like any other class D I have heard (in good ways) and the headphone section is also excellent. Surprised me. I'm using it in my second system now and replacing a tube preamp and headphone/speaker amp, and upgrading my DAC with it's internal one as well instead of using the very good DAC within my Denon flagship universal player..
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  5. stuwee

    stuwee Forum Resident

    Tucson AZ
    If this gets long sorry, I just woke up, literally. Those of you that know me, you know my feelings on this, to those who don't, I'll lay out my many feelings on the matter> :blah:

    I have always loved the sound of a well designed SS amplifier that can handle a stressful, low ohm load. Then saddled down with a highly reactive electrostatic speaker seems to bring out a sonic nirvana, sounds seem to fall into place, mostly the so called 'macro' dynamics, 'macro's still there with the right one. Near concert levels. With a semi effecient, low ohm, motorboating reactive load from the Martin Logan's drawing near full power from a high power amp designed right, there is magic. I've heard the big Jeff Rowlands and the Pass Labs. No strain, just effortless quality sound...alas, I don't have $15,000 for an amp like that. I've thought about selling some prized items and eat ramen noodles to get a big MagTech used for around $8,000.

    I've heard some nice sounds with the lower powered BAT VSE's around 50wpc amps, a few others of Chinese manufacture I don't recall, sounded much closer to the output of my baby SAE amp** more later...
    The tube sound on the Summit's is a mixed bag, the mid range is 'to die for' on most recordings that don't tax the amp with heavy bass. I love it for late night sessions at low volume, maybe using a 3rd of it's power. It's driving the panels, yep! Those panels don't suffer no fools tho, they can shut down the big SAE A1001 for a few seconds at about half it's output without a fan on the amp. Tubes, however, distort in a different plane/level, not as harsh.

    No, I've never pushed the big SS to it's full output, that would sound a bit much for the room.

    Yes, a nice SET in my mind would sound unreal if I moved the speakers like headphones next to me...:pineapple:
  6. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Washington, D.C.

    I, too, tend to like solid state amps that are low-powered and not that well-suited to difficult loads (First Watt, Lavardin). I have not been that impressed by Soulution, Constellation Diavelet and other highly touted solid state amps. Of the more commonly available solid state lines, I like Ayre; the sound is relaxed but not dynamically flat and lifeless (a common fault of solid state).

    I asked a friend who has heard MUCH more than I have (goes to the Munich show each year and travels extensively in Asia) and who owns a Gaku-On and the very top end AN-E speaker (a kindred spirit) this same question. He said that the only solid state amp he really likes is the Bridge Audio Lab (BAlabo) amp. That amp sells at a fraction of the price you mentioned for the Analog Domain (okay, not that small a fraction).
  7. I love my Bryston 4B3 paired w/ Shindo Masseto and Tannoy DMT 15 II.

    I had the 4BSST and still have a 4BSST2 that I use w/ my Harbeth P3ESRs. The Bryston amps have improved over each iteration.

    I tried a couple tube amps w/ the Tannoys (Shindo CC80 and borrowed a high powered Rogue Audio from a dealer) but they were poor matches for the Tannoys. I'm happy w/ my system now...
    Richard Austen and timind like this.
  8. tommylion

    tommylion Member

    Burlington, VT
    I haven't heard a Naim amp in years, but I once had a NAIT integrated that sounded very nice. If I HAD to go SS, I might look into their current stuff. Also, their is another UK company, Crimson Audio, whose amps are said to sound similar to the classic Naims. Bob Neill carries them, so he would have more info.

    Crimson Products Limited

    Crimson Audio | Amherst Audio
    Richard Austen likes this.
  9. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    Unfortunately you are right the Bridge Audio Amp is $90,000 so not much of a deal. Ayre amps are no feedback designs the problem is I've always auditioned them on speakers I don't particularly care for - I was going to ask Charles for an amp to try and was conversing with him over the last few weeks on AA and then he suddenly passed away. So I've put that on the back burner.
  10. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hong Kong
    Yes I have spoken to Bob but he didn't really direct me to Crimson so perhaps he doesn't feel it's a good match for my tastes or for the AN E. The E does prefer a SET but it's not like it has to be - I am currently using a push pull amp and I've run SS with my old AN J speakers - albeit Sugden.

    I happen to think Reviewers should try to own more mainstream gear that many people have access to auditioning. Part of the reason I bought the KEF LS-50 was that if I refer to something about the sound most people can actually hear what I am talking about. So certainly that gives the edge to amplifiers like Naim, Bryston and Ayre. It also helps that I can be sure all three will be around in 5 years. Further it helps if there is solid representation of the line in Hong Kong. The tiny companies in the US or England make warranty issues or repair issues an issue.
  11. Jtycho

    Jtycho Forum Resident

    I have Crimson amps. They’re wonderful with my Tocaro’s but I’m unsure how they do with other speakers. They’re VERY clean, clear and crisp.
  12. Jtycho

    Jtycho Forum Resident

    I think Bob is right. One day for fun I’ll hook up the Crimson gear to my E’s, you never know!
  13. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    East TN
    My favorite SS amp ever is my beloved McIntosh MC 2505-2. The closest to tube that SS got (also available in old style Stereo chassis as the MC 250 and monoblock at the MC 50). Non fatiguing, midrange magic, clear and detailed without effort.
    searing75 and Rolltide like this.
  14. murphythecat

    murphythecat Forum Resident

    since you use efficient speakers, you should definitely try pass lab SIT or ec designs cube se which are both single ended mosfet designs
  15. tyler8

    tyler8 Forum Resident

    Northern Cal
    I have very efficient speakers so have no need for the McIntosh 7900 200w power but it shares time with a tube amp. Also has tone control which I go back and forth with using and not using. Love the sound although the tube amp still gets ample playing time if not more.
  16. mds

    mds Forum Resident

    Buy a used Pass Labs amplifier and be done with it. My suggestion is a Pass Labs 250.8 or a pair of Pass Labs XA60.5 mono-block amplifiers.
    Subvet and timind like this.
  17. Helom

    Helom Forum Resident

    I would try to listen to the A-S1100 through A-S3000 Yamahas. IMO, they produce a slight tube-like bloom that I haven't heard in other designs. I also find their piano and string tones far more convincing than that of others.

    I'm currently driving a pair of LS50s in a rather large room and my A-S1100 doesn't break a sweat.
    bluemooze likes this.
  18. Slack

    Slack Well-Known Member

    The Bakoon amplifiers sound closer to a SET than any solid state amp I have heard.The lower powered 15 watt baby ones perhaps more so than the more powerful ones.They are wonderfully beguiling and lyrical sounding things.
    I have owned a First Watt F5 and although it was very refined sounding it was also very boring and lacked vibrancy and timbre.My Nelson Pass designed Usher Refererence 1.5 sounds much better to me and has 150 watts on tap.
  19. ZenMango

    ZenMango Forum Resident

    After living in denial for years, I just ordered a Van Alstine FET Valve 400R hybrid amp for my Apogee Stages. I love the romantic sound driving them with tubes, great palpable midrange, but after a friend lent me an older AVA amp..well, everything really tightened up, woke up the ribbons, and found bass! The Stages present a fairly consistent 3 ohm load. The hybrid AVA amp hopefully will check all the boxes.
    I love low power tubes with high efficiency speakers, but my love affair with Apogees is still strong.
    stuwee and 33na3rd like this.
  20. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Don't know if I can be called a SET and tube lover. I mean, I have the a21 and a tube amp, and I don't think I will go back to class A/B solid state, so maybe that qualifies. But calling someone that, I picture a person who has had those kind of amps over many years and has listened to a lot of different models. I'm pretty new to this kind of amp and I've only tried a couple of each.

    Over time I have sampled more SS amps. I generally don't think they sound as good but some were truly excellent. These are the ones I would consider if I was after a SS amp and didn't want to pay a ridiculous amount:

    Anthem 225 - I think it's around $1500, might be a bit more now. A behemoth of an amp that can probably drive almost any speaker. Sounds clear and warm. One of the better SS amps I tried. The only annoyance I found was the remote controlled volume, which took too large a step up or down with one tap of the button.

    Unison Research Unico Primo (or one of the models higher up the line) - hybrid design, think the power of these all double from 8 to 4 ohms. Solid and clean sounding, in my experience a thinner sound than the 225 but more vivid and lifelike.

    I really like Naim, but I think it depends on what Naim gear you listen to and system matching is also important. If you have some of their better pieces and match them up to the right speakers, with the right cables, it should sound very engaging. Excellent dynamics a lot of presence in the lower mids.
  21. Don Parkhurst

    Don Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Vancouver, BC

    I still have very fond memories of my Classe Audio DR-8 power amplifier and DR-5 preamplifier combination. The DR in the model designation stood for Dave Reich, who was the owner and designer of Classe for the first decade or two. He was forced out at one point by Glen Crue (or so I had heard) and immediately afterwards, Classe Audio had 'new and improved' models. Of course, it is difficult to sue for future earnings when they 'update' your designs the moment that you are out the door. Dave Reich designed the DR-2, DR-3, DR-3 VHC, DR-8, DR-9 power amplifiers and the DR-5, DR-6 and DR-7 preamplifiers. All of these were absolutely stellar in their day. I probably missed some models there, but I have heard and could easily live with any of them.

    As always, it is important to match equipment up for the 'big picture' or combined sound. I heard the DR-3 VHCs with early Avalon Eclipse speakers, in a well damped room. Gorgeous sound! The real test of how well my wife and I were impressed with the Dave Reich designed models, was that when offered a used pair of Levinson mono blocks or equivalent Audio Research tube amp/preamp combos, the Classe Audio combo, paired with Apogee Stage speakers were heads and shoulders above the competition in natural sound and with good dynamics and impact. Back in the day, TAS used the model up from ours, the DR-9 and DR-6 as one of their 3 reference systems. These amplifiers all doubled their power as they had the impedance halved. If you needed more power, you could flip a switch or two and run them as mono blocks. They even offered to alter the bias on the amps to run longer in Class A, to give a richer sound, if you desired. This required sending them back to the factory. Very good and resolving amps and preamps without the cold, analytical sound that some brands have. Almost tube like.

    Lastly, James Tanner was at the Vancouver Audio Show two years ago and he had the all Bryston system running the Cubed version of amps and preamps as well as their new speakers. I enjoyed that demo more than any music ever played through a Bryston system ever. Much more warm and natural than I had ever heard before from them. I think they had their transport and the BD-3 DAC.
  22. Slack

    Slack Well-Known Member

    Yes I have heard the AS 3000 sounding superb.That was driving the new NS5000 speakers and which is probably the best sounding system I have heard [at about a quarter of the cost of some of the other good ones].Those speakers sound truly wonderful .One those rarest of things that are both extremely detailed and yet extremely natural and musical.
    Which is also how Bakoon amps sound.
    Helom likes this.
  23. klonk

    klonk Forum Resident

    EAR Yoshino might be interesting. Apparently the designer claims that it makes no difference to him wether it is tube or solid state, the sound remains the same (similar?)
    Off course you have to like the EAR Yoshino sound.
  24. beowulf

    beowulf Forum Resident

    Chula Vista, CA
    Anybody ever heard or tried Spectral Audio? They use J-FET and MOSFET tech so I would expect a very smooth valve like sound to them. Their entry level amp the DMA-240 puts out 200 watts @ 8 Ohms and 360 watts @ 4 Ohms.

    Not cheap at 10K, but look to have that built like a tank old school McIntosh quality to them. They've been around for a fairly long time (40 years or so I think), but I've never heard their systems or known anybody who had an amp or preamp of theirs. In fact I think I may have only read one review that I can think of ... just seems so strange that a company that has been around and still doing business for 40 years, but there's scarcely any reviews of their gear and even less of any mention of them ~ yet they've been around since the 70's and nobody that I know of has any of their gear ...

    DM-240 Amplifier:

    DMC-30 SC Preamplifier:
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
    stuwee likes this.
  25. Mad shadows

    Mad shadows Forum Resident

    Karlskrona- Sweden
    Nelson Pass has ben mention earlier in this thread. I want to recommend his earlier company Threshold. Very well build (and sounding) amps that will drive almost anything.

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