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Stereo Amplifiers - 2018 SOTA

Jorj

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#1
I think I understand that all responsibly designed and tested amplifiers capable of 50+ wpc output should sound identical. There just is not a lot that remains to be innovated as far as specifications go, it would seem. Given that knowledge, what should we be looking at for the State-Of-The-Art amplifier in 2018? I'm not talking audiophool nervosa stuff, like polished copper heatsinks and weight measured in tons, but how about power efficiency after having met the standard suite of measurement criteria? For that matter, does it make any difference at all if amplifiers exceed certain minimum values? What are those values?

I keep swinging by Stereophile and seeing the "absolutely undeniable" sonic improvements offered by round after round of amplifier. My poor old 25+ year old amp should be positively destroyed by the new stuff they keep talking about in such glowing terms. Given the march of progress they claim to hear, my system should just sound like hammered shit, comparatively, but you know what? It does not. And, as far as I can tell, the measurements of my gear still very often exceed those of the kilobuck gear they are reviewing. So, where does that leave us?

What makes a 2018 amplifier great (in comparison) to one from 3 decades ago?
 

tomelex

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#2
Newer stuff might have a thicker faceplate, will have newer electrolytic capacitors, may have components with incrementally better specs, but none of these advancements may be audible on music over speakers or headphones. These are generalizations, but in general, a good amp of old will sound just fine when audibly compared to one today as long as the old one is within spec (and that may need to require at a minimum new electrolytic caps and possibly new switches or input / output sockets which may have corroded over time. When it comes to state of the art vacuum tube electronics, there have been improvements from 30 years ago in specs of output transformers for example, and the same with electrolytic caps being newer and thus on correct value. You may still prefer the sound of the older vacuum tube amp though anyway.

In short, what makes a SOTA great today vs 30 years ago is really just some better spec'd components probably, and that again may not be audible. Generalizations of course.
 

restorer-john

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#3
What makes a 2018 amplifier great (in comparison) to one from 3 decades ago?
3 decades ago, power and vanishingly low levels of non-linearity came with a big price tag.

Power has been democratized, distortion numbers have largely stabilized at non-discernible levels and price tags (in the real-terms consumer space) have have dropped immensely.

What makes an amplifier great in 2018, are technical parameters and features that appeal to the widest cross-section of modern-day, value-driven audiophiles. After all, that is what it will take for any product to take on a 'legendary' status and survive more than one iteration in this short-attention-span world.

Universal appeal and a rich feature set has never been more important in my opinion, and yet, we see endless stripped-down miniature toy-like amplifiers in boring multicolored extruded aluminum tubes, replete with the de-rigueur blue LED that lights up half your house when in standby.
 

Jorj

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#4
After all, that is what it will take for any product to take on a 'legendary' status and survive more than one iteration in this short-attention-span world.
I'm with you on those damn blue LEDs, buddy. Ghastly.

Given the fickle, magical-thinking, fairy-dust worshiping set that quite literally owns the audio review space, is it possible for such a device as you mention to even be noticed, let alone achieve legendary status? Any contenders you're aware of for the crown?
 

JJB70

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#5
Do you really need SOTA? You can buy an amplifier for pretty modest cost from any number of manufacturers which will offer good functionality, as much power as you need, will last for years and offer excellent SQ. And you can increasingly find some really excellent powered speakers with onboard DACs so you can cut out the separate amp and DAC.
 

Blumlein 88

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#6
I hear you about the month after month of improvements. Could you reliably discern a general 1% improvement (whatever that might mean)? Would that generate the accolades you read about? That means a doubling of subjective sound quality every 8 years. Would a good 24 year old amp sound 1/8th as good as modern amps? Well I can tell you it doesn't hold up scrutiny. The emperor has no clothes.
 

Jorj

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#7
Oh, no, I don't need SOTA, but as Amir has mentioned so often, the tale of good engineering is told in the measurements. He is very clear that with the DAC measurements, most of it is well below the threshold of audibility, but nevertheless, we look to new designs to improve upon the past in some way.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still using an amp from 1992 that has linearity and THD+N measurements that trade punches with a very recently tested Centaur. My old black box sounds lovely and looks like what it is. I'm sure the Centaur sounds great. Is it SOTA? Cost-wise, boy, is it ever. Measurement-wise, I don't think so. I would like to know what amplifiers ARE raising the bar in some meaningful way.
 

LarsS

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#9
My so far unanswered wonder is why the Hypex nCore NC400 monoblocks I built sounded so anemic compared to my current integrated amp (Norma IPA-140) driving same speakers.

Speakers are a bit hard to drive and supposed to be current hungry, whatever that means. On shows the manufacturer drives them with darTZeel amps which are out of my budget.

The nCores according to specs delivers 17A cont. whereas my Norma is capable of 35A cont. and 150A peak. My amateur deduction tells me that a tolerable/acceptable THD+N is what to aim for and the all important spec for an amp is ability to deliver current.
 

LarsS

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#10
Waving hands a bit now ...
Let's assume a poweramp is similar to a cars engine. Both have the purpose of moving something as accurately as possible depending on input (gas pedal / preamp input), be it wheels or speaker drivers.
What's more important - reaching all targets in time (lots of torque/current) or reaching close to targets with as few bumps as possible (Low THD+N)?
 
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rajapruk

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#11
I do not know the answer to your question, but it seems that many Nord customers to nc500-amps states that another inputbuffer than hypex makes it sound less anemic. Buffer with class A opamps and stuff. And stated that nc500 with hypex bufffer sounds the same as nc400.

Might be some pleasant harmonic distortion added?

nc500 delivers 28A, test that one if you want to test your theory.
 

LarsS

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#12
I do not know the answer to your question, but it seems that many Nord customers to nc500-amps states that another inputbuffer than hypex makes it sound less anemic. Buffer with class A opamps and stuff. And stated that nc500 with hypex bufffer sounds the same as nc400.

Might be some pleasant harmonic distortion added?
If anything it should be down to the Red-Green Light speed measurements i.e torque/current. Not sure how the input buffer would make any difference except the all to common placebo/expectation bias affect ... ;-)
 

rajapruk

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#13
4pc of bridged AHB2:s would be nice in my system, judging by that graph above.
But, I have a feeling that Santa Clause will not drop that into my chimney.
 

Jorj

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#14
Nice graph, @rajapruk, thanks for digging that up and sharing.

The NC500 does indeed look good, from a THD+N standpoint.

I recall that Peter Aczel of the Audio Critic had an article by Dr. David Rich discussion power amp performance. Dr. Rich mentioned the use of The PowerCube as a visual metric for other factors in power amp performance that are equally important as THD. Perhaps the NC500 would do poorly in this testing scheme, thus illuminating cause of the oft-mentioned anemic sound.
 

Ron Texas

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#15
My so far unanswered wonder is why the Hypex nCore NC400 monoblocks I built sounded so anemic compared to my current integrated amp (Norma IPA-140) driving same speakers.

Speakers are a bit hard to drive and supposed to be current hungry, whatever that means. On shows the manufacturer drives them with darTZeel amps which are out of my budget.

The nCores according to specs delivers 17A cont. whereas my Norma is capable of 35A cont. and 150A peak. My amateur deduction tells me that a tolerable/acceptable THD+N is what to aim for and the all important spec for an amp is ability to deliver current.
You might be hearing a lack of coloration as compared to your Norma.
 

stunta

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#16
You might be hearing a lack of coloration as compared to your Norma.
+1. I don't remember the science behind it (I read it somewhere), but an underpowered amp can bloat up the bass and when you move to an amp that has better control, the initial impression can be misleading. That may not be the case for you, but something to keep in mind. Someone more technical will hopefully chime in.
 

andreasmaaan

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#17
I do not know the answer to your question, but it seems that many Nord customers to nc500-amps states that another inputbuffer than hypex makes it sound less anemic. Buffer with class A opamps and stuff. And stated that nc500 with hypex bufffer sounds the same as nc400.

Might be some pleasant harmonic distortion added?

nc500 delivers 28A, test that one if you want to test your theory.
According to the spec sheet, input impedance with the stock buffer is 104 kOhm. Can't imagine there could be any concerns there.
 

Jorj

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#19
I have to assume that is a PowerCube result for the NC500. If so, that is truly excellent. It handles reactive loads like a champ.
 

SIY

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#20
I have to assume that is a PowerCube result for the NC500. If so, that is truly excellent. It handles reactive loads like a champ.
Don't assume that. :D I was tossing it out in response to the original question of, "What should we be looking for in a state of the art amplifier in 2018?"
 

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