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The Ten Most Significant Amplifiers of All Time

The Ten Most Significant Amplifiers of All Time

Contributors include: Peter Breuninger, Neil Gader, Robert E. Greene, Robert Harley, Dick Olsher, Harry Pearson, Paul Seydor, and Jonathan Valin.

Peter Breuninger

Dynaco ST-70
Along with Avery Fisher’s 500c, David Hafler’s ST-70 put high performance audio in the American home. Introduced in 1959, the ST-70 is the world’s most prolific stand alone amplifier with over 300,000 units manufactured. Amazingly, its clear, three-dimensional sound is comparable to many amplifiers made today.

McIntosh MC3500
While the MC2505 put the signature big blue meters in the market, many people consider this the greatest amplifier ever made. Released in 1968 (as the MI350) for commercial applications, it eclipsed any amplifier of the day with an extraordinary 350 watts per channel. The consumer version, MC3500 established McIntosh as the premier audio company of the day.

Phase Linear 700
It was 1970 and Bob Carver saw the future and brought to market a product that would set the stage for a new audio segment—affordable, mass-market, high-performance audio. Rock bands put dry ice on stacks of these legendary 350 watt per channel amps to cool them down. The Series One is the one to have.

Krell KSA-100 
Arguably, the first high-end solid-state super-amp. The year was 1980 and who would know that the KSA 100, right out-of-the-box, would establish Krell as one of the greatest brands of all time. Dan D’Agostino proved to the world that solid-state output devices could actually reproduce music. To this day, Krell sets the benchmark for military build-quality and outstanding sonics.

Mark Levinson ML2
This John Curl designed amplifier established Mark Levinson, the man, as a driving force in the audiophile marketplace. The 25-watt ML2 monoblock, Levinson’s first power amp, was designed for wide-swing-impedance speakers such as the legendary HQD system (Hartley, stacked Quads, Decca Ribbon).

Audio Research Reference 610T
In the late 1960s, William Zane Johnson, began building and selling modified (Dynaco) ST-70s. Several solid-state designs emerged in the 70s but it was the all tube D70 in 1983 that established forever the hallmark “high definition” sound of an Audio Research amplifier. In 1995, Johnson designed his lifetime achievement product, the Reference 600. Refined into the 610T (tall), it’s 600 watts of breathtaking thermionic power that has no peer.

Conrad Johnson Premier One
Introduced in 1981, two years after CJ’s first amp, the MV75, the Premier One was the first super-output modern-day tube amp. It eclipsed Audio Research’s 50- and 75-watt tube amps of the 70s with an amazing 200 watts per channel. It’s still a reference for many collectors when recapped (including me).

Carver Silver Sevens
Carver bought the output tranies in the 1960s and schlepped them around for nearly twenty years before building his dream amplifier. The audacity of the “Carver challenge” still fresh in the public mind, he shocked the world with the most expensive ($17,000) and esoteric conventional tube amplifier ever (till then). Its 375 watts per channel, four gleaming chassis, and 15 KT88s per side (14 as outputs) were mind blowing. BTW, I have the very first pair ever made in for audition!

Audio Note Ongaku
It shocked the audio world. $60,000 for an amplifier! In 1988, Hiroyasu Kondo’s, minuscule-powered, 27Wpc SET integrated amplifier set the mark for luxury pricing of audio components. This was the first production amplifier to use handmade silver electronic components (transformers, caps, and wire).

Cary CAD-805
The poster child for single-ended triodes. Dennis Had’s Cary CAD-805 was the amplifier that put SETs on magazine covers. It had the build-quality of a McIntosh and established the phrase “SET midrange magic.” The CAD-805 has been in production since 1992.

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