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Any reason to upgrade amp from Denon X3600?

Walter

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Great, thanks to everyone for the inputs. I am going to go ahead with my own blind AB testing, and will also investigate audio measurements in this process and share the results. I think we really need a lot more audio data on amp differences, not just electrical data, which often goes way beyond audibility.
I look forward to reading your results. I hope you will be able to get someone to help you arrange blind testing, since sighted tests are nearly useless unless the difference is huge.
 
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chych7

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I look forward to reading your results. I hope you will be able to get someone to help you arrange blind testing, since sighted tests are nearly useless unless the difference is huge.
Yes I’m recruiting my wife to help with this. I probably won’t be able to do double blind, but single blind at least.
 

ryanosaur

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FWIW, as a fellow Philharmonic Audio Owner, I am using my Marantz SR6012 with external Amps. I didn't do this for any reason other than to have the Headroom available for multichannel usage (music).
Anyway, If you do not have a problem with your 3600, I would strongly recommend waiting until technology and the market has a chance to sort themselves all out and sit tight with what you have.
If you want to experiment with an Amp for your Mains or Front 3, just shop smart and get something meaningful in the neighborhood of something that can deliver clean power in spades.
I'm currently using Outlaw 2200s and am building my own Hypex NC400 Monoblocks.

Mind, I'm not suggesting you will hear "magic." As I said, my oal was to provide Headroom. ;)
 

alex-z

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I think we really need a lot more audio data on amp differences, not just electrical data, which often goes way beyond audibility.

What do you mean?

The entire function of an amplifier is electrical, you can accurately measure every performance metric without ever hooking them up to a pair of speakers. There is no hidden subjective component, if an amplifier measures flat with low distortion, it is good.

If you had speakers with too little treble, and intentionally paired them with an amp that had a treble rise, that is using two flawed pieces of equipment to fix each other, and could just as easily be resolved with an EQ filter.

The only logical upgrade path for you is even more room treatment, and another pair of subwoofers. Or perhaps altering the room itself for a lower noise floor. Your speakers and receiver have already reached the point of diminishing returns, the kind of gear I would never consider to need an upgrade.
 

Tom C

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Personally, I think you’re pretty much there, as long as your volume levels are adequate. You’re not going to get much more out of external amplifiers, other than more volume.
 
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chych7

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What do you mean?

The entire function of an amplifier is electrical, you can accurately measure every performance metric without ever hooking them up to a pair of speakers. There is no hidden subjective component, if an amplifier measures flat with low distortion, it is good.

I have read some people's experience indicating that one needs to measure an amp while connected to an actual speaker, to get the real-world response. A speaker is a non-ideal load with varying impedance, whereas in test conditions, a simple well-understood resistive load is used. I'm not enough of an expert to understand how much this matters, but it is a point of difference in the test vs. use-case.

If you had speakers with too little treble, and intentionally paired them with an amp that had a treble rise, that is using two flawed pieces of equipment to fix each other, and could just as easily be resolved with an EQ filter.

The only logical upgrade path for you is even more room treatment, and another pair of subwoofers. Or perhaps altering the room itself for a lower noise floor. Your speakers and receiver have already reached the point of diminishing returns, the kind of gear I would never consider to need an upgrade.

Yes I agree to your points and a lot of the other points here. I am very likely at a saturation point in my system, at least without going to a much higher-level budget.

Now that I think about this more, the points I am really thinking about are (and sorry if I'm rambling a bit):
- Why is there not a "preference rating" for amplifiers, like there is for speakers (one can argue on the validity of it, but it's based on real research/studies and is something that's trying to quantify the subjective nature of audio and does a reasonable job at it)? This would help the consumer decide better on what to buy and how much to spend. Or is it that most amps would just score 10/10, and this would be pointless?
- Does a $100 amp sound any different than a $1k amp? I, as a consumer, would like to know, so I can make an informed choice. Yes the electrical parameters are certainly better on the $1k amp, but can I hear it? What does the microphone say? Also note that measuring audio with measurement mics is very accessible to most people ($100), vs. a signal analyzer that runs many $ks and requires quite a bit of knowledge to use. Thus, using metrics based on sound can be done by many people... and if an amp does sounds different/better, it should be measurable by a microphone and the difference can be explained quantitively.
- How much power does one really need? I hear a lot of people wanting extra headroom/capability, but will it ever really be exercised? I was listening to music last night and used my phone to measure the SPL - it was barely 70 dB, and I felt it was getting too loud (I presume the phone is doing some time averaging though, and the peaks were higher). That should imply my speakers are drawing <1 W on average. Why in the world would I ever need >200 W that some amps advertise? I doubt any transients would ever require that much power draw at listening levels I feel are sane (which are also "safe" in terms of ear health and aging - this should be seriously considered by individuals).
- One analogous example I want to point to are speaker cables. It seems to be the general consensus on this forum that all you need is some plain ~12 AWG zip cord cable (preferably OFC?) and you're set; anything else is a waste of money. Well, if I look at a cable like Kimber 8TC (measured on audioholics), the electrical measurements point to it being a better cable than regular zip cord. But alas, it's doubtful one would hear any difference (even Gene on Audioholics says alludes to this in his video, and he does it for the "jewelry" aspect). So, why is there a disconnect in the thinking of amps, vs. cables?

For my own knowledge, I will plan on assessing various amps subjectively and objectively (based on audio sweeps and detailed time/frequency domain analyses that REW offers). I have my x3600 receiver as a baseline, various cheap class D amps ($30 to $100 models), and will look into trying out more expensive amps (perhaps the Topping PA5, and then a Hypex or Purifi amp). I think the average consumer should know whether a cheap $30-$100 amp is essentially the same as a >$1k amp in terms of perceived audio quality; or perhaps not, and how much difference there is if not - so an informed decision can be made on whether to spend money on something expensive. Of course my personal experiments with the limited hardware I have is not going to answer this universally, but it will answer it good enough for myself (and hopefully it will be useful information for others).
 
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alex-z

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I have read some people's experience indicating that one needs to measure an amp while connected to an actual speaker, to get the real-world response. A speaker is a non-ideal load with varying impedance, whereas in test conditions, a simple well-understood resistive load is used.



Yes I agree to your points and a lot of the other points here. I am very likely at a saturation point in my system, at least without going to a much higher-level budget.

- Why is there not a "preference rating" for amplifiers, like there is for speakers
- Does a $100 amp sound any different than a $1k amp? What does the microphone say?
- How much power does one really need?
- So, why is there a disconnect in the thinking of amps, vs. cables?

Needing to measure an amplifier with a speaker attached is absurd. Impedance is resistance at a given frequency. If testing was done with a variable resistance, you would not be able to accurately gauge how much power was available from the amplifier. Standardized 2, 4, and 8 Ohm testing is the most useful approach.

Someone could in theory do double blind A/B testing of amplifiers to establish preference rating. But nobody has, because virtually all amplifiers measure flat. The only real difference is noise floor and distortion, so unless an amp was genuinely terrible, they would indeed all get 10/10.

Measurement mics, especially in the $100 range are not sensitive enough to measure amplifiers. The microphone itself has inherent distortion, which can surpass 1% at high SPL levels. Not to mention the additional distortion added by the speakers and room.

You answered your own question on power. Most people are listening at relatively low volumes, with relatively efficient speakers. They are using under 10 watts average. You do want headroom for dynamic peaks, this amount would depend on the particular music, the difference between RMS and peak is called crest factor. But for the most part, individuals using typical AV receivers offering 70-100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms have sufficient power.

People argue over cables to this day, even when electrical engineers and speaker designers have rolled their eyes and busted out the math to dismiss the crazy talk. Even if you find something which measures better than plain 12 gauge OFC, the actual perceived difference once double blind tested is zero. People just have a hard time accepting that cheap products can outperform expensive products, especially when the internet is filled with grossly unqualified reviewers telling them otherwise.
 
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HarmonicTHD

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I have read some people's experience indicating that one needs to measure an amp while connected to an actual speaker, to get the real-world response. A speaker is a non-ideal load with varying impedance, whereas in test conditions, a simple well-understood resistive load is used. I'm not enough of an expert to understand how much this matters, but it is a point of difference in the test vs. use-case.



Yes I agree to your points and a lot of the other points here. I am very likely at a saturation point in my system, at least without going to a much higher-level budget.

Now that I think about this more, the points I am really thinking about are (and sorry if I'm rambling a bit):
- Why is there not a "preference rating" for amplifiers, like there is for speakers (one can argue on the validity of it, but it's based on real research/studies and is something that's trying to quantify the subjective nature of audio and does a reasonable job at it)? This would help the consumer decide better on what to buy and how much to spend. Or is it that most amps would just score 10/10, and this would be pointless?
- Does a $100 amp sound any different than a $1k amp? I, as a consumer, would like to know, so I can make an informed choice. Yes the electrical parameters are certainly better on the $1k amp, but can I hear it? What does the microphone say? Also note that measuring audio with measurement mics is very accessible to most people ($100), vs. a signal analyzer that runs many $ks and requires quite a bit of knowledge to use. Thus, using metrics based on sound can be done by many people... and if an amp does sounds different/better, it should be measurable by a microphone and the difference can be explained quantitively.
- How much power does one really need? I hear a lot of people wanting extra headroom/capability, but will it ever really be exercised? I was listening to music last night and used my phone to measure the SPL - it was barely 70 dB, and I felt it was getting too loud (I presume the phone is doing some time averaging though, and the peaks were higher). That should imply my speakers are drawing <1 W on average. Why in the world would I ever need >200 W that some amps advertise? I doubt any transients would ever require that much power draw at listening levels I feel are sane (which are also "safe" in terms of ear health and aging - this should be seriously considered by individuals).
- One analogous example I want to point to are speaker cables. It seems to be the general consensus on this forum that all you need is some plain ~12 AWG zip cord cable (preferably OFC?) and you're set; anything else is a waste of money. Well, if I look at a cable like Kimber 8TC (measured on audioholics), the electrical measurements point to it being a better cable than regular zip cord. But alas, it's doubtful one would hear any difference (even Gene on Audioholics says alludes to this in his video, and he does it for the "jewelry" aspect). So, why is there a disconnect in the thinking of amps, vs. cables?

For my own knowledge, I will plan on assessing various amps subjectively and objectively (based on audio sweeps and detailed time/frequency domain analyses that REW offers). I have my x3600 receiver as a baseline, various cheap class D amps ($30 to $100 models), and will look into trying out more expensive amps (perhaps the Topping PA5, and then a Hypex or Purifi amp). I think the average consumer should know whether a cheap $30-$100 amp is essentially the same as a >$1k amp in terms of perceived audio quality; or perhaps not, and how much difference there is if not - so an informed decision can be made on whether to spend money on something expensive. Of course my personal experiments with the limited hardware I have is not going to answer this universally, but it will answer it good enough for myself (and hopefully it will be useful information for others).

Just make sure you are setting the right priorities in your quest...

A very rough rule of sum and the influence of elements in your audio chain to sound quality:
room - spekaer - dac/amp - everything else ca. 10000 : 1000 : 1 : 0.01

To your points and my best knowledge on them:

a) Measuring amp on speaker: this has been debunked many times over in this forum, modern amps have a damping factor in the hundreds, where a bit over 10 is fully enough. Also there are plenty of measurements and spice models which can show if a certain amp might have problems and again modern and well engineered amps dont. Yes if you go on the internet you will find always one person who thinks differently, but that does not make it true.

b) Preference score: My personal opion: Useless for consumers making a purchasing decision, because inherently based on one persons personal preference, which might be (and most likely is) most different from someone elses. Secondly, the hifi preference statements one reads are in the very most cases done without ABX testing, so one gets an opinion which is even based on a false impression, even more useless.

c) Amp sound: (see rule of thumb above, and gzillion scienticfic threads on this forum and in the forum reference library). Modern, well engineered amps do not produce an audible difference and engineering quality is not correlated to price in the audio world. You would certainly not able to measure the differences with a mike, as its SNR is orders of magnitudes too bad (plus the speakers SINAD).

d) Power: Lets assume 85dB SPL are loud enough for you. Run a 0dBS pink noise or sine waves into your system and crank up the volume until 85dB either using your phone or your calibrated UMIK. It wont need any more power beyond that because the DAC simply wont put out more than 0dBS. Also, looking from another angle: Use any SPL calc, assuming a conservative 86db/W/m speaker and 9 ft listing distance), about 3W will get you ca. 85dB average SPL. So let's say your music has a dynamic range of 20dB (most music is in the order of 10dB) so your peaks should be around 95dB (and your low are about 75dB) than about 30W will get you there. So now let´s assume your speaker dips to 2ohms in some frequencies, than you would need 8ohms/2ohms x 30W = 120W and all under the assumption of quite conservative values. Yes if you want to reach 105dB in your peaks (because the music is more dynamik or you want to listen even louder) you need about 300W. No secrets here either which can not be derived by a bit of back of the envelope calc.

c) Speaker cable. Yes you might find a cable electrically better specced than lamp cord, so what - see the thump rule above, it has zero influence to audible sound quality by orders of magnitudes smaller than even amps. Sure buy that cable if it costs about the same as lamp cord, but dont spent hundreds on it - pure snake oil. Unfortunately, the hifi business is full of it, selling people beliefs (religion) at enourmous prices. (For detailed info see the many threads, scientifically proofing the above statement).

d) Amp testing: I have been down that rabbit whole. Sure do it, if you need it to proof it to yourself, but with a very big probabilty (assuming proper blind tests) you wont hear a difference in music reproduction between the mentioned amps. The focus on amps (again see thump rule above) is way overrated. Focus on room, speaker and room eq instead and you will much more likely improve sound quality and actually being able to hear any differences.

my humble 2 cents ....
 

HarmonicTHD

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Needing to measure an amplifier with a speaker attached is absurd. Impedance is resistance at a given frequency. If testing was done with a variable resistance, you would not be able to accurately gauge how much power was available from the amplifier. Standardized 2, 4, and 8 Ohm testing is the most useful approach.

Someone could in theory do double blind A/B testing of amplifiers to establish preference rating. But nobody has, because virtually all amplifier measure flat. The only real difference is noise floor and distortion, so unless an amp was genuinely terrible, they would indeed all get 10/10.

Measurement mics, especially in the $100 range are not sensitive enough to measure amplifiers. The microphone itself has inherent distortion, which can surpass 1% at high SPL levels. Not to mention the additional distortion added by the speakers and room.

You answered your own question on power. Most people are listening at relatively low volumes, with relatively efficient speakers. They are using under 10 watts average. You do want headroom for dynamic peaks, this amount would depend on the particular music, the difference between RMS and peak is called crest factor. But for the most part, individuals using typical AV receivers offering 70-100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms have sufficient power.

People argue over cables to this day, even when electrical engineers and speaker designers have rolled their eyes and busted out the math to dismiss the crazy talk. Even if you find something which measures better than plain 12 gauge OFC, the actual perceived difference once double blind tested is zero. People just have a hard time accepting that cheap products can outperform expensive products, especially when the internet is filled with grossly unqualified reviewers telling them otherwise.
100% agree..... you were a bit quicker than me. Sorry, did not read your post, as I was typing my response.
 

Lsc

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Needing to measure an amplifier with a speaker attached is absurd. Impedance is resistance at a given frequency. If testing was done with a variable resistance, you would not be able to accurately gauge how much power was available from the amplifier. Standardized 2, 4, and 8 Ohm testing is the most useful approach.

Someone could in theory do double blind A/B testing of amplifiers to establish preference rating. But nobody has, because virtually all amplifier measure flat. The only real difference is noise floor and distortion, so unless an amp was genuinely terrible, they would indeed all get 10/10.

Measurement mics, especially in the $100 range are not sensitive enough to measure amplifiers. The microphone itself has inherent distortion, which can surpass 1% at high SPL levels. Not to mention the additional distortion added by the speakers and room.

You answered your own question on power. Most people are listening at relatively low volumes, with relatively efficient speakers. They are using under 10 watts average. You do want headroom for dynamic peaks, this amount would depend on the particular music, the difference between RMS and peak is called crest factor. But for the most part, individuals using typical AV receivers offering 70-100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms have sufficient power.

People argue over cables to this day, even when electrical engineers and speaker designers have rolled their eyes and busted out the math to dismiss the crazy talk. Even if you find something which measures better than plain 12 gauge OFC, the actual perceived difference once double blind tested is zero. People just have a hard time accepting that cheap products can outperform expensive products, especially when the internet is filled with grossly unqualified reviewers telling them otherwise.
I have a pair of Revel Salon2 that’s about as inefficient as BMRs. Using my ATI6000 amp that’s 300w/450w 8/4ohms, with certain music or movies the red clipping warning light comes on when I am really cranking it. I don’t usually listen to stuff at low volumes though because the sound level has to be at a certain level for it to be realistic. So, I’m in the camp that says a separate power amplifier can improve your sound.
I do have a $400 Sony receiver that is in my kids video game room hooked up to my old Revel speakers- C12 & M12. They don’t play video games with sound turned very loud so it the receiver is perfectly fine there for video games. But when they want to watch a movie on Netflix, it’s not at the sound quality or volume that I like to watch movies at but they don’t really care…so the moral of the story is, if you don’t care, whatever you have is ok . Even a 3ch system for movies is ok (I haven’t had the chance to hook up the S12 yet).
 

HarmonicTHD

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I have a pair of Revel Salon2 that’s about as inefficient as BMRs. Using my ATI6000 amp that’s 300w/450w 8/4ohms, with certain music or movies the red clipping warning light comes on when I am really cranking it. I don’t usually listen to stuff at low volumes though because the sound level has to be at a certain level for it to be realistic. So, I’m in the camp that says a separate power amplifier can improve your sound.
I do have a $400 Sony receiver that is in my kids video game room hooked up to my old Revel speakers- C12 & M12. They don’t play video games with sound turned very loud so it the receiver is perfectly fine there for video games. But when they want to watch a movie on Netflix, it’s not at the sound quality or volume that I like to watch movies at but they don’t really care…so the moral of the story is, if you don’t care, whatever you have is ok . Even a 3ch system for movies is ok (I haven’t had the chance to hook up the S12 yet).
… and your SPL must have been over 100dB (Salon 2: 86dB/2.83V/1m with 8ohms and dip to ca. 4ohms at ca 90Hz). Assuming max 10ft listening distance.

The tools are there and easy to use, so we can avoid generalizing claims on power requirements.
 

Lsc

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… and your SPL must have been over 100dB (Salon 2: 86dB/2.83V/1m with 8ohms and dip to ca. 4ohms at ca 90Hz). Assuming max 10ft listening distance.

The tools are there and easy to use, so we can avoid generalizing claims on power requirements.
Again, I’m in the camp that says a power amp is beneficial. I don’t have anything against receivers nor do I have anything against sound bars.
And a good power amp not something that’s worse than a receiver (obviously). I stick to reasonable amps like the ATI4000 & ATI6000 amps or my old Sherbourn 7/2100 - ATI sounds much better but the Sherbourn is not bad either.
 
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chych7

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b) Preference score: My personal opion: Useless for consumers making a purchasing decision, because inherently based on one persons personal preference, which might be (and most likely is) most different from someone elses. Secondly, the hifi preference statements one reads are in the very most cases done without ABX testing, so one gets an opinion which is even based on a false impression, even more useless.

I thought the preference score was based on Harman studies, which would be based on many people's preferences. It's an average response, and doesn't capture individual's tastes, I can see that.

d) Amp testing: I have been down that rabbit whole. Sure do it, if you need it to proof it to yourself, but with a very big probabilty (assuming proper blind tests) you wont hear a difference in music reproduction between the mentioned amps. The focus on amps (again see thump rule above) is way overrated. Focus on room, speaker and room eq instead and you will much more likely improve sound quality and actually being able to hear any differences.

my humble 2 cents ....

Yes I agree, I've focused exactly in that order - my room, speakers/subwoofers, and room EQ. Now I'm at the end of the journey and am looking at things like amps, cables, etc. I'm going to do this exercise for myself and my own knowledge and to add more data points here, even though I'll probably find out that amps sound the same.
 
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chych7

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Well I’ve done it, built myself an AB switcher. Plugged in my cheap $30 nobsound mini amp into it (30wpc class D amp, and with a JDS lab atom behind it to boost the gain more so I can match levels) and am doing some first pass AB tests with it and the x3600 output. Every time I switch amps, it’s as if nothing changed… I cannot tell any difference. Will have to do some measurements and some blind tests. Then I’ll look into procuring a higher end amp like hypex, purifi, etc.

image.jpg
 
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AudioJester

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Are your surround speakers BMR as well?
Multichannel stereo may be a better way to go than higher power amps?
 
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chych7

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Are your surround speakers BMR as well?
Multichannel stereo may be a better way to go than higher power amps?

No they're not BMRs. I'm not a fan of upsampling stereo to multichannel stereo (nor are most "audiophiles" afaik, it messes up the sound imaging/sound stage/balance IMO). Atmos/DTS recorded music could be of interest. Doing any comparisons of more than two channels becomes complicated though, and is out of the scope of what I'm looking for. Someone else is welcome to look at that.
 

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In the spirit of all amps sound the same, I have two ATI amps with the exact same topology, ATI 4003 & 6003. These amps did sound the same given my speaker = Revel F228Be. However, when I changed out my speaker to Revel Salon2, the 4003 went in protection mode and shut down/recycled itself.
My point is that “sound quality” is not the only factor when buying a power amp.
 
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chych7

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In the spirit of all amps sound the same, I have two ATI amps with the exact same topology, ATI 4003 & 6003. These amps did sound the same given my speaker = Revel F228Be. However, when I changed out my speaker to Revel Salon2, the 4003 went in protection mode and shut down/recycled itself.
My point is that “sound quality” is not the only factor when buying a power amp.
True, an amp has to work reliably in the first place and pass some minimum criteria for the given speaker. That tends to be a more binary event (like amp shut down), or result in obvious sound quality differences (like severe clipping). I have such a case - my wife has a BT amp in her sauna's music system that sounded like utter garbage, I think the internal gain was too high or something resulting in a lot of obvious clipping. I replaced that with a cheap class D amp from Amazon and it fixed that issue.

Now for a good amp without any obvious issues, there are all sorts of "audiophile-speak" claims that certain amps are harsher/warmer/brighter/more transparent/etc., which I'm not that convinced (yet) on.
 

Lsc

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True, an amp has to work reliably in the first place and pass some minimum criteria for the given speaker. That tends to be a more binary event (like amp shut down), or result in obvious sound quality differences (like severe clipping). I have such a case - my wife has a BT amp in her sauna's music system that sounded like utter garbage, I think the internal gain was too high or something resulting in a lot of obvious clipping. I replaced that with a cheap class D amp from Amazon and it fixed that issue.

Now for a good amp without any obvious issues, there are all sorts of "audiophile-speak" claims that certain amps are harsher/warmer/brighter/more transparent/etc., which I'm not that convinced (yet) on.
I think “a good amp” means different things to different people. For example, if a first generation Emotiva XPA-5 is considered a good amp, comparing that to the ATI4005 or 6005…if someone told me that these amps all sound the same, I would not be able to agree.

Would my ATI6003 be just as good as a Boulder or Dan D’Agostino amp or Gryphon amp? I just have a hard time believing that there are no differences. My $5000 amp vs an amp in the high 5 figures… is snake oil this heavy in the high end arena?
 
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chych7

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I think “a good amp” means different things to different people. For example, if a first generation Emotiva XPA-5 is considered a good amp, comparing that to the ATI4005 or 6005…if someone told me that these amps all sound the same, I would not be able to agree.

Would my ATI6003 be just as good as a Boulder or Dan D’Agostino amp or Gryphon amp? I just have a hard time believing that there are no differences. My $5000 amp vs an amp in the high 5 figures… is snake oil this heavy in the high end arena?

Absolutely there is snake oil in the high end area, especially in audio products. This industry is notorious for snake oil, and is flooding in it. You see this on cables all the time; one can buy a power cable that costs more than said 5 figure amp, that makes no sonic changes whatsoever. Perhaps with an amp, there are some actual electrical characteristics that could be justified with the higher price tag, but whether they will be realized in typical home use and to within the resolution of human hearing, is very poorly understood.

You can agree or not agree or believe and not believe, but without any real data, experiments, measurements, science (i.e. it's in the name of this whole website), it all amounts to opinion. With regards to understanding amps, I don't think the science, especially including the observer, has been developed well.

You say the XPA-5 and ATI4005/6005 sound different - that's great, this could be a good test case for experimentation. Now, show me why they sound different, and not from just some subjective evaluation or anecdotal experience. This is where the science comes in, and "lifts the veil" over this doubt.
 
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