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2021 Editors’ Choice Awards: Power Amplifiers $1,000 – $3,000

NuForce STA200


Basic solid-state power amplifiers are not, due to their essential nature (boxes with parts inside), sexy objects that inspire a lot of audiophile lust. The STA200 will never be accused of looking sexy or especially stylish unless you’re into stark minimalism. But if sound quality and solid-state reliability are your primary purchasing criteria, the STA200 should be on your radar. You may not be blown away by the STA200’s looks, but its sound turns it into one sexy beast. 

Channel Islands C100S


For some audiophiles the highest praise that can be heaped upon a solid-state or switching amplifier is that is sounds “tube-like.” SS’s position is different. He prefers a power amplifier that attempts to sound as invisible as possible—a straight wire with gain, to repeat that old audio cliché. The C100S stereo power amplifier provided more than enough power to drive all the loudspeakers SS threw at it and did so in a way that allowed each loudspeaker’s unique personality to come to the foreground. If you need a harmonically neutral power amplifier that you can attach to a wide variety of loudspeakers, the C100S stereo would be an excellent choice. 


Wyred 4 Sound ST-500 mkII/ST-1000 mkII


These high-efficiency power amplifiers—delivering 250 and 500Wpc respectively—have got to be among the great bargains in audio. Although they were not accorded a formal review, PS used them to drive the Emerald Physics CS3.2 II speakers, and then for a good month auditioned them on his Quad 2805s. Throughout they performed flawlessly, delivering sound of exemplary clarity and control, perhaps fractionally on the cool side of neutral, but not excessively so and never compromising the reproduction of warmth. Pricing depends upon options (i.e., WBT binding posts, power, etc.). 

NuPrime ST-10


The NuPrime ST-10 amplifier is what NuPrime calls “near reference class.” Why only “near” reference? As far as reviewer SS can tell it’s because this stereo amplifier only puts out 150 watts per side into an eight-ohm load. The ST-10 is a very quiet, extremely low-noise power amplifier that, as long as it isn’t pushed into clipping, sounds exceedingly neutral and uncolored. The ST-10 did a superb job of driving a variety of speakers with authority and control.

Audio by Van Alstine Ultravalve


The 35Wpc Ultravalve is a thoroughly modern and rationally priced vacuum-tube amplifier. While its perspective is not as romantic as that of its “godmother,” the Dynaco Stereo 70, it is far better focused, clearly more dynamic, and in general a higher-resolution device. 

Coincident Speaker Technology Dynamo 34SE MKIII


The swanky Dynamo isn’t your typical 8Wpc single-ended triode (SET) design. There is no 300B in sight. A 6SL7 dual-triode drives a triode-connected EL34 output stage. There is no global feedback, and the power supply is tube rectified. Expect a sweet midrange, an exceptionally dimensional soundstage, and a dynamic presentation belying the amp’s miniscule power rating. Harmonic textures aren’t overly liquid, implying decent-bandwidth output transformers. Treble textures can be improved via judicious tube-rolling. Here is an amp that shouldn’t be defined on the basis of its cost. It captures much of the magic of SETs at an entry-level price. 

NAD C298


This feature-laden amp is built around a new Class D output-stage module, the Eigentakt, that brings unprecedented performance to switching designs. Rated at 185Wpc into 8 ohms, the C298 has generous dynamic headroom, and can easily be configured to operate as a 1000W monoblock. The bass is nothing short of spectacular—powerful, dynamic, tuneful, and tight. This bass prowess translates into a visceral feeling of rhythmic drive and flow. The mids and treble are clean and open, if a bit forward in perspective. A lot of amplifier for the money. 

Odyssey Audio Stratos


Even if you A/B’d these superb, high-resolution, 180Wpc monoblocks with super-amps on super-speakers (as JV did), you might still find yourself pondering whether the difference in sound justifies the difference in expenditure. That JV ultimately concluded it did is beside the point. The way he saw it, the fact that the Odyssey Stratos monoblocks could give even a picky listener like him pause made them super-amps in their own right. Yes, you can buy better. The question is: Do you really want to? 

Quad Artera Stereo


This 140-watt-per-channel amplifier—the latest refinement of Quad’s innovative, patented, award-winning “current dumping” technology—is, in PS’ opinion, the finest amplifier the company has ever made by a good margin, and unquestionably the most uncompromised implementation of Walker’s current-dumping circuit. 

Rogue Audio Hydra


Rogue Audio has got something with this hybrid, “tubeD” stereo amp. Not merely a tube circuit placed in front of a Class D output section, it creates a sound completely unlike those first Class D amps that bit your ears. Fast, powerful, and resolving, the Hydra reproduces instrumental tones and timbres with accuracy and texture, has good spectral balance, and creates a consistently broad and vivid soundstage. Though GH found an occasional lack of top-end smoothness in the sound of orchestral strings, he noted owners could tailor its presentation by rolling input tubes. 


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