2013 TAS Editors' Choice Awards: Power Amps $3000-$6000

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers
2013 TAS Editors' Choice Awards: Power Amps $3000-$6000

Exposure 3010S2
$3195/pr.
bluebirdmusic.com
Based on the company’s top-end MCX Series monoblock, the 100-watt 3010S2 nicely balances brains with brawn, bringing a sense of “rightness” to music. Tonal balance is a tad toward the warm side, and don’t expect the finest detail or “bloom,” but Exposure puts its money into performance, not cosmetics, thus providing some of the best values in audio.

AVA FET Valve 600R
$3499
avahifi.com
What sets Frank Van Alstine’s 300Wpc tube/transistor hybrid amp apart from a host of other hybrid designs is its soulful midrange and ability to retrieve music’s drama and tension. Tack on decent spatial delineation, low distortion, superior speed, killer bass, and superb dynamics, and you have world-class power amplification at an affordable price.

Balanced Audio Technology VK-55
$4495
balanced.com
BAT’s 55-watt tube model may not be as revealing as some, but it offers a high degree of harmonic, textural, rhythmic, and ambient information. Tonally, it is a bit warm, with a gorgeous, well-balanced midrange, an easy, natural top end, and quite respectable weight in the bass. A 3-D soundstage and tight focus round out the virtues of this highly musical design.

Krell S-150m
$5000/pr.
krellonline.com
Krell’s compact, narrowprofile, cool-running 150W monoblock’s tight, musically convincing bass and superb treble openness place it on a par with Krell’s best. Further, it displays a dynamic liveliness and dexterity that verge on the uncanny. In the midrange, it is as grainless as any amp in SS’s experience, perhaps faltering just a bit in the way of threedimensionality and harmonic juiciness.

NuForce Reference 9 Special Edition (SE) V3
$5000/pr.
nuforce.com
NuForce’s best Class D amp yet, the Ref 9 SE V.2 monoblock delivers the expected virtues (articulate, well-defined mids and deep tightly controlled bass), plus noticeably sweeter, more grain-free highs than previous NuForce designs. The SE V.2’s clarity, definition, and control can bring certain speaker systems alive, but can also make some speakers sound slightly “clinical.”

Vincent Audio SP-T800
$5200/pr.
wsdistributing.com
This 200W hybrid monoblock is a remarkable performer. Its tube signature shines through clearly in the midrange, albeit slightly diluted by the solidstate output stage. Soundstage dimensionality is superior to that of conventional solid-state designs. It closely fulfils the promise of a hybrid design: Tube magic with plenty of bass crunch and drive.

PrimaLuna Dialogue Seven
$5500/pr.
primaluna-usa.com
The 70W (40W in triode mode) PrimaLuna Dialogue Seven monoblock employs a unique output stage—two discrete amplifier channels are paralleled at the loudspeaker terminals. This technique preserves the purity of a low-powered design while imbuing the amplifier with higher current capability. “No tube amplifier I’ve auditioned comes close to its performance for anywhere near its modest price,” said Jim Hannon.

Sanders Magtech
$5500
sanderssoundsystems.com
The Magtech “sounds as if it has infinite power into anything with total stability,” says REG. The fully regulated power supply is unusual. The rated power output of 500Wpc into 8 ohms and 900Wpc into 4, coupled with its stability driving capacitive loads, makes it the perfect choice for electrostatics.

Cary Audio CAD 120 S II
$5795
caryaudio.com
This 120Wpc Class AB tube amp offers a sound that emphasizes the natural warmth of the midrange and upper bass, and produces musically natural upper-octave energy without losing the highs you hear in live music. Detail is natural, centerfill is excellent, and imaging is realistic in size.

Bel Canto REF1000M
$5990/pr.
belcantodesign.com
If you’re looking for a component that is compact, efficient, powerful, transparent, musical, and extremely reliable, the Bel Canto REF1000M monoblock could be the last amplifier you’ll ever need. While it may not warm up an overly sterile-sounding system like a classic tube amplifier, it certainly won’t subtract any harmonic warmth.

Coincident Speaker Technology Frankenstein II
$5995
coincidentspeaker.com
One of the best-sounding 300B SET amps DO has auditioned, Israel Blume’s Frankenstein IIs deliver on the promise of SETs: a midrange to die for, wonderful tonal color saturation, and spectacular imaging. In short, a sensational first watt! Its combination of affordability and performance makes for a screaming buy recommendation with the right speakers.