2017 Buyer's Guide: Power Amplifiers $10,000-$15,000

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers
|
Products:
Air Tight ATM-1S,
AVM Ovation PA8 preamp and SA8.2 Power amp,
Constellation Inspiration,
Dan D'Agostino Classic Stereo,
GamuT D200i,
Hegel Music Systems H30,
PS Audio BHK Signature 300,
Triode Corporation TRX-M300,
Zesto Audio Bia 120
2017 Buyer's Guide: Power Amplifiers $10,000-$15,000

Air Tight ATM-1S
$10,450
JM has been delighted to have this stereo tube amp in her reference system. No matter what style of music she played, no matter what speakers she paired it with, the Air Tight ATM-1S delivered the sonic goods with naturalness, beauty, and ease, while also throwing a remarkably deep and wide soundstage. This 60Wpc stereo amp also proved to be more versatile than expected, driving a remarkable array of loudspeakers—from Air Tight’s Bonsai single-driver stand-mounts to Monitor Audio’s Gold 300 floorstanders and Platinum 500 flagships (at reasonable SPLs)—to great effect. It shined brightly every time with a golden sense of bloom, inviting detail, and unwavering musicality. Its classically elegant design features a quartet of 6CA7 valves and newly developed Hashimoto transformers. A creation from the celebrated Japanese master Miura-san of Air Tight, this rare gem of an amp is meticulously hand-crafted in Osaka, Japan, and manually point-to-point wired. A timeless classic. axissaudio.com

Constellation Inspiration Stereo/Mono
$11,000/$11,000 each
This 250Wpc stereo amplifier is based on the same circuit topology as Constellation’s $140k Hercules. The Inspiration even uses the same transistors in the input, driver, and output stages. Through the Inspiration offers a less expensive implementation of the Hercules’ topology, plainer metalwork, and less output power, Constellation has still managed to bring the big amp’s DNA to a more affordable price. Although not a budget component, a Constellation amplifier at $10k is something of a breakthrough. Like the Hercules, the Inspiration Stereo has a sense of lifelike illumination in the mids and treble, exquisite resolution of fine detail, and outstanding transparency. Surprisingly, the Inspiration’s bass may even be deeper and more powerful than that of the original Hercules. The mono version brings 500W to the party, along with the other virtues of a monoblock versus a stereo amplifier. Sonically, the two are very similar, sharing the Constellation hallmarks of transparency and resolution. Overall, both amplifiers are fantastic values. constellationaudio.com


Zesto Audio Bia 120
$12,500
Zesto’s new Bia 60Wpc Class-A all‑tube power amplifier, with styling to match the company’s Zeto linestage and Andros phonostage, brings the designers the trifecta. As with the preamps, Bia’s personality consists in a completely seductive musicality free from all the usual sorts of electronic colorations and artifacts, for a presentation that never, ever sounds electro‑mechanical, instead always wholly natural. Dynamic range is prodigious, the Bia even driving PS’s inefficient Quad ESL 2805s to clear, clean, unstrained levels (a magnificent combination, by the way). Broadly neutral but not completely accurate, the sound here is more beautiful than real. Luscious, velvety, silken, gorgeous, it’s the kind of sound around which audio cults develop, and it’s easy to imagine its owners years, even decades hence treasuring the Bia the way others do classic McIntoshes and Marantzes. zestoaudio.com


D’Agostino Classic Stereo
$13,500
The D’Agostino Classic Stereo represents a return to the venerable days when Dan D’Agostino was producing the stereo equivalent of muscle cars. There is nothing fancy about the casework to distract from the fact that this amp just wants to get down to business. It is a bruiser of an amplifier that will produce a gobsmackingly capacious soundstage, not to mention considerable prowess in the nether regions. This 108-pound beast doubles down to a whopping 1200 watts into 2 ohms, which means that it should have oodles of power to spare for just about any loudspeaker. Can you say overkill? None of this would amount to much, though, if the Classic Stereo sounded crude or clunky. But it doesn’t. Rather, the immense power reserves mean that it is never stressed, no matter how complex or demanding the sonic material. It conveys vocals with weight and authority. There is a kind of gleeful dynamic command with the Classic Stereo. Nevertheless, it lacks the last degree of purity in the treble region that much pricier amps, including D’Agostino’s flagship M400, provide. But for sheer drive and power, the Classic Stereo is not easy to top. dandagostino.com


Gamut Audio D200i
$13,990
This 200W solid-state amplifier has much of the liquidity, three-dimensionality, and image density typically associated with tubes as well as the expected virtues of solid-state—tonal consistency, frequency extension, and bass control. It runs relatively cool to the touch, is      tonally neutral, produces a deep soundstage, and should be very reliable. Capable of driving most speakers and resolving musical details well, the D200i gives music lovers a healthy portion of what Gamut’s even more powerful and highly resolving M250i mono amp sounds like at a much lower price. gamutaudio.com

Triode Corporation TRX-M300
$14,000/pr.
Think of the M300 as a modern version of the Western Electric WE 91A, complete with a 274B rectifier, a pair of 310A receiving pentodes, and a Psvane WE300B. The colossal gain of the original has been reduced to a reasonable sensitivity of 0.8V. The power supply has also increased in sophistication so that the M300 is exceptionally quiet for an SET amplifier. Image solidity, according to DO, can only be described as magical; solid-state amps would kill for it. Bandwidth and transient speed are pretty impressive for an SET. Don’t expect bone-crushing bass slam, but prepare to be surprised by its dynamic prowess and the breathtaking acceleration of an orchestral crescendo from soft to loud. The M300 offers a fitting testament to the potency of the first watt and showcases the beauty and dynamic potential of the much venerated 300B triode. Speakers of 96dB+ sensitivity are advisable. triode.co.jp


PS Audio BHK Signature 300
$14,998/pr.
This 300W (into 8 ohms) hybrid (tube input stage/MOSFET output stage) monoblock is the distillation of all that celebrated electronics designer Bascom H. King has learned about amplifier circuits. The result is a component so rich, natural, and highly resolving that reviewer Anthony H. Cordesman bought the review samples. A genuine masterpiece from an Old Master. psaudio.com


AVM Ovation SA8.2
$14,999
The SA8.2 does have a sonic character—every audio component does. But like some of the best power amplifiers around, that sonic character is exceptionally limited. In fact, almost all of the colorations you’ll hear through this amp will come from the other components. In neutrality and transparency the AVM SA8.2 comes close to delivering the sonic equivalent of the Golden Mean. Its power is rated, with extreme conservatism, at 220 watts into 8 ohms, 450 watts into 4 ohms, and 650 watts into 2 ohms, meaning it can drive any real-world speaker load, including nominal 1-ohm loads. It can also deliver an immense amount of current, delivering up to 60 volts at the speaker terminals, and enough amperage to deal with any current-demanding speaker. An exceptionally neutral and musical product. avm-audio.com


Hegel H30 Reference
$15,000
This Norwegian powerhouse of an amplifier (375Wpc into 8 ohms) combines the brute-force bass control and dynamic impact of a dreadnought design with a midrange and treble refinement that is reminiscent of a single-ended triode amplifier. The midrange, in particular, is highly vivid and present without sounding the least bit pushy or forward, infusing the presentation with a palpability and directness of expression previously unheard in any amplifier near the H30’s price. Perhaps the H30’s outstanding sonics and high value can be traced to Hegel’s SoundEngine technology, in which dynamic crossover distortion is greatly reduced through a patented circuit, coupled with a rigorous transistor-matching protocol. The H30 can be operated in bridged mode for 1000W, but some of the midrange magic disappears and resolution slightly diminishes. A great bargain in high-powered amplifiers. hegel.com


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