To Doug Schneider,
I am seeking advice from as many sources as possible on amplifiers so I can make a good decision. I hope you don’t mind the somewhat lengthy e-mail. SoundStage! Hi-Fi is one of the top places in my list for seeking advice, and so this letter.
First, let me be frank and honest: I am pretty sure I am looking to change amplification mostly just for the sake of change. I am not a trained listener and have not listened to gobs of different equipment. I can tell the difference between good and bad (at least for my ears), but maybe not if the differences are small.
My current equipment consists of: Magnepan 1.6 loudspeakers with Mye stands, DK Designs VS.1 Mk.II integrated amplifier, VPI Classic turntable, Simaudio Moon 310LP phono stage, Stello DA220 Mk.II DAC, and Cambridge Audio 640C V2 CD player.
On vinyl I listen mostly to jazz and classic rock. On digital I listen to the same but also like classical, including Indian classical. I don’t listen terribly loud, preferring 80-90dB peaks.
For many months now, I had my eyes on the Audio Research VSi60. Then recently I came across a local McIntosh MA2275 that got me quite interested and I started asking questions. After much research, I am still unsure of things. But I guess I’ve come to accept that for Maggies, the more power the better, so I’ve had to begrudgingly cross the ARC VSi60 and also the McIntosh MA2275 off my list.
I am willing to spend up to $8k and am considering the Bryston 4BSST2 and ARC LS17, a pair which was reviewed on your site. But if I can spend less money that would certainly be better.
But how dramatic a difference can one expect changing out amplification? Of course, I will listen for myself (to what I can) when I am ready, but I guess for now I was looking for some recommendations and just general advice from someone like you who listens to so many combinations of equipment on a regular basis.
Oftentimes, the differences in sound between well-designed solid-state amps powering easy-to-drive speakers are extremely small -- so small, in fact, that many would be hard-pressed to tell the amps apart, which is why some people believe that all solid-state amps sound the same. They don’t, and when speakers are much harder to drive, the differences between amplifiers can become quite profound.
Magnepan speakers are generally considered to be quite hard to drive, which is why they like more power than most speakers. As a result, the amplifier you choose can make quite a dramatic difference. Bryston’s amps seem to drive Magnepans quite well, so there’s good reason to consider a great amplifier like the 4BSST2, which delivers a walloping 300Wpc into 8 ohms. We’re big fans of Bryston’s products and classify the 4BSST2 as a Recommended Reference Component. If you buy it, you’ll have a great amplifier that will last for years. As you’re aware, though, the 4BSST2 costs a bit of money: $5000. Since you don’t listen at loud volume levels, you might want to consider the lower-powered, lower-priced 3BSST2 and 2BSST2 models. They might give you all the power you need and, obviously, will cost you less.
Another alternative is a brand you’re familiar with: Stello, which comes from April Music of Korea. April Music has matched their Stello Ai500 integrated amplifier with Magnepan speakers at the last two Consumer Electronics Shows and we’ve been astonished at how well that combination has worked. I’m not sure what the exact retail price of the Ai500 is today, but my hunch is that it’s about $4000. Buy that and you won’t even need a preamp, plus it has a built-in DAC. . . . Doug Schneider