Purifi, Pass Labs, or Hegel -- In Search of an Amplifier for Magico A5s

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review of the Purifi Audio 1ET400A amplifier and wanted to reach out to ask a question.

First of all, I am not an audiophile -- I have had to Google what a source, a DAC, an amplifier, and so on, are. I ended up investing in a pair of Magico A5 speakers, and my challenge now is to build a setup around the A5s while entering this (confusing) hi-fi world.

My first thought was to go with a high-end integrated amp, such as Hegel’s H590 or Pass Labs’ INT-250 -- both apparently used by Magico themselves. A more hi-fi–savvy friend of mine described these amps as “mustangs -- raw power but not very modern" and recommended looking into the latest Purifi amps and a decent source like Lumin.

As a technology person, I am attracted by the story of Purifi Audio and their goals, but I lack the reference point and experience to judge whether this is a good fit. Could a Purifi setup drive the A5s, and how would it differ from high-end integrated amps like Hegel and Pass Labs?

Best regards,

You certainly have a great set of speakers to partner with a fine amplifier! The trouble is obviously figuring out what to choose. In that regard, I agree with you that the world of hi-fi can be confusing -- mostly because there are so many choices, but also because everyone out there seems to have a different opinion. Obviously, this response reflects my own opinion on what you should do.

Because you’re new to hi-fi, I think the fewer components there are in your system, the better off you’ll be. Therefore, you’re on the right track considering an integrated amp for your speakers. An integrated amplifier has, at minimum, preamplifier and power amplifier sections all in one case. Going at it this way will give you great sound without a lot of complexity or fuss.

But before I get into what I’d recommend, please understand that the Purifi Audio amplifier that I’ve been writing about isn’t a commercial product -- it’s an engineering sample that uses their 1ET400A amplifier modules, which they supply to other companies to implement in their amplifiers. As a result, no one can buy this unit at a store. But even if you could, it’s only a power amplifier, so you’d need a source, such as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with a volume control, which is what your friend is recommending (a Lumin product), or you’d need to marry up the source with a preamplifier so you can adjust the volume. But I have some good news if you want to go the Purifi route . . .

The first company to license Purifi’s 1ET400A amp technology was NAD, with their Masters M33 integrated amplifier. Roger Kanno just reviewed the M33 for us and absolutely loved it, and he pointed out it has more features than most integrated amplifiers do. Not only does it have preamplifier and power amplifier sections, it also has a built-in DAC, a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage, Dirac Live room correction, and streaming capability based on the excellent BluOS software platform (developed by Lenbrook Industries, NAD’s parent company), among other functions. The M33 also puts out a decent amount of power -- it’s rated at up to 200Wpc into 8 ohms, which is plenty for typical setups.

The Pass Labs INT-250 and Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amps you mentioned are also good options, with both providing more power than the M33 -- the INT-250 is said to deliver 250Wpc into 8 ohms, while the H590 is claimed to output 301Wpc into 8 ohms. Magico speakers tend to like quite a bit of power, so the INT-250 and the H590 might be better options than the M33. However, that will depend a lot on the size of your room and the volume levels you listen at.

The main downside of the INT-250 is that it is a barebones integrated amplifier -- there are no additional features beyond its preamplifier and power amplifier sections. As a result, you’ll need an external DAC if you plan to play digital music (which is likely since that’s what most people listen to these days), as well as an external phono stage if you’re planning to use it with a turntable -- something you might want to get into later. Therefore, for you, the better choice between these two is probably the more powerful H590. In addition to being an integrated amplifier, the H590 has an excellent built-in DAC and provides streaming capability via UPnP, which isn’t as full-featured as BluOS but still gets the job done. The H590 doesn’t have a phono stage, mind you, or the other features of the M33 I mentioned, so you’ll have to determine what your exact needs are to know if it’s right for you. Chances are, it has enough features.

All told, for your situation, I’d go with the NAD Masters M33 or the Hegel Music Systems H590, with the latter having more power and a decent set of features and the former having a plethora of features and less power -- though the power it delivers is based on Purifi’s cutting-edge amplifier tech, which seemed to intrigue you. I have little doubt one of those products will fit your needs perfectly. You make the final call. . . . Doug Schneider