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Editors’ Choice: Power Amplifiers $10,000 to $20,000

Editors’ Choice: Power Amplifiers $10,000 to $20,000

Aesthetix Atlas Stereo/Atlas Eclipse Mono

$10,000/$28,000 pr.

The Atlas is a hybrid (tube input, solid-state output) amplifier available in Standard, Signature, and Eclipse versions, and as a stereo amplifier or a monoblock. The circuits are identical in each version but realized with higher-grade parts in the Signature and Eclipse. The stereo amplifiers are rated at 200Wpc and the monoblocks at 300W, figures that double into 4 ohms. All varieties feature an integral adjustable high-pass crossover to roll off low frequencies in the signal driving the main loudspeaker. Whatever version you opt for, expect plenty of clean power coupled with a deep and convincing sense of space, lightning-fast transients, and high resolution without sounding analytical. Ultimately, the Atlas is a sheer joy—both sonically and musically—to listen to. A great value in high-powered amplification.

Audio Research VT80SE


A 75Wpc hybrid power amplifier using KT150 power output tubes, this latest addition to Audio Research’s Foundation Series, the lowest-priced products in the Audio Research lineup, shares a common styling theme with the rest of the series. It is the first-ever Audio Research amplifier with automatic bias setting, which lets the user choose 6550, KT88, KT90, or KT120 output tubes in addition to the stock KT150s. Output tubes are individually fused to protect the circuit against catastrophic tube failure. The VT80SE produces open, detailed sound with exquisite harmonic nuance and shading. Dynamics are very agile, realistically tracking changes in the music. 

Bel Canto Black EX DualMono


This powerhouse Class D amplifier (350Wpc into 8 ohms, 700Wpc into 8 ohms) sounds more like a Class A amplifier than Class D. The 25-pound unit has a very neutral sound, with a somewhat laid-back upper-midrange and lower treble that result in low listening fatigue. The bass is very well defined—quick and tight rather than warm and rich. The bottom end is also extremely dynamic, and coupled with the virtually unlimited power, will exploit the bass output and dynamic capabilities of just about any speaker. 

Air Tight ATM-1S


No matter what style of music played, no matter what speakers the ATM-1S is paired with, this amplifier delivered the sonic goods with naturalness, beauty, and ease, while also throwing a remarkably deep and wide soundstage. This 60Wpc stereo amp also proved to be more versatile than expected, driving a remarkable array of loudspeakers—from Air Tight’s Bonsai single-driver stand-mounts to Monitor Audio’s Gold 300 floorstanders and Platinum PL500 flagships (at reasonable SPLs)—to great effect. A creation from the celebrated Japanese master Miura-san of Air Tight, this rare gem of an amp is meticulously hand-crafted in Osaka. 

Cary Audio SA-500.1 ES 


This easy-to-like solid state amp combines dynamic stability, excellent frequency extension, and a wide soundstage—in a way that serves all kinds of music well. While it has a drop or two of Cary’s classic tube warmth, it is not ladled on excessively. You end up with a 500Wpc amp that fills out the frequency extremes better than most similarly priced tube amps can, while still delivering a touch of tube-like magic. It does not have the soundstage depth and 3-D image density of tubes, but it certainly comes through admirably in most other respects at this price level. 

Classé Delta Stereo


The Montréal company’s stereo amplifier is a brute, designed with difficult loads in mind. It’s rated at 250W into 8 ohms and 500W into 4 ohms, and it’s doubtful that too many loudspeakers will faze it. The first 12.5W are pure Class A, so significant heat is generated. A silent thermostatically activated fan pulls room air into the device through a louvered vent that’s expelled to the rear—the top of the amp barely gets warm. There are VU meters in front, two pairs of robust binding posts behind, and Navcom footers underneath. The amplifier provides plenty of muscle when needed but is also capable of subtle dynamic gradations. 

Gamut Audio D200i


This 200W solid-state amplifier has much of the liquidity, three-dimensionality, and image density of tubes as well as the expected virtues of solid-state: tonal consistency, frequency extension, and bass control. It runs relatively cool, is tonally neutral, and should be very reliable, producing a deep soundstage and enough power to drive most speakers well. 

Constellation Inspiration Stereo 1.0


The 200Wpc Inspiration Stereo 1.0 brings the same circuit design and some parts from Constellation’s $210k Hercules monoblocks to a more accessible price point. Constellation has done an amazing job of maintaining many of the qualities that made the Hercules such a standout, including a highly resolved treble that never crosses over into the analytical. Transparency and timbres are also first-rate. The icing on the cake is that the Stereo 1.0 incorporates circuit refinements that improve bass performance beyond that of its predecessors. 

Bryston 7B³ 


Bryston’s 600W 7B³ monoblock power amplifier is a wonderfully musical product. It offers feature-rich, real-world practicality and the ability to drive a wide range of speakers thanks to its very high power/current delivery. If you favor blockbuster solid-state amplification and would rather not spend more on audio gear, the Bryston 7B³ should be on your short list. 

VTL S-200 Signature


VTL’s Luke Manley and his team have made the 200Wpc S-200 relatively idiot-proof for listeners who enjoy the sound of vacuum tubes without the need to geek-out or otherwise futz around with them. The Signature range features fully balanced differential circuitry and zero global negative feedback, which not only ensures stability under a wide variety of load conditions but also brings greater musicality to a variety of source material. Beyond its outstanding sound and flexibility in both triode and tetrode modes, this KT88-based stereo amp presents music as a cohesive and engaging whole. 

Triode Corporation TRX-M300


Think of the M300 as a modern version of the Western Electric WE 91A, complete with a 274B rectifier, a pair of 310A receiving pentodes, and a Psvane WE300B. Image solidity, according to DO, can only be described as magical; solid-state amps would kill for it. Bandwidth and transient speed are impressive for an SET amplifier. Don’t expect bone-crushing bass slam but prepare to be surprised by its dynamic prowess and the breathtaking acceleration of an orchestral crescendo from soft to loud. Speakers of 96dB+ sensitivity are advisable. TAS’ 2013 Low-Powered SET of the Year. 

PS Audio BHK Signature 300


This 300W (into 8 ohms) hybrid (tube input stage/MOSFET output stage) monoblock is the distillation of all that celebrated electronics designer Bascom H. King has learned about amplifier circuits. The result is a component so rich, natural, and highly resolving that reviewer Anthony H. Cordesman bought the review samples. A genuine masterpiece from an old master. 

Parasound Halo JC 1+

Parasound JC 1+ 


Redesigned by legendary audio engineer John Curl (hence the JC designation), the 83-pound Parasound JC 1+ not only packs a wallop, but also offers a refined and elegant sound, particularly in the treble. A hefty power supply and power transformer ensure superb image stability and rock-solid bass. When it comes to a sense of hall space and dynamics, these monoblocks are difficult to surpass, especially when reproducing blockbuster orchestral works. For power-hungry loudspeakers that feature severe impedance curves, the JC 1+ will provide what amounts to a musical benediction. 

Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 625 S2


Jeff Rowland is at the top of his form with this solid-state beauty, which is, as near as HP can tell, devoid of a solid-state signature. This gorgeous 300Wpc (into 8 ohms, 550Wpc into 4 ohms) Class AB stereo amp has wideband response with very low distortion, and a purity and sweetness rare in electronics of any kind. 

Conrad-Johnson ART 150 amp


The ART 150 builds on the ART series as the most powerful stereo amp c-j has ever created. With 150Wpc and a power supply ten times the size of its predecessor, the ART 150 effortlessly handles any musical content with superb dynamic slam, grip, and control. Using simple circuits with highest-quality parts to achieve a vanishingly low noise floor, the ART 150 has outstanding transparency, decay, and resolution of micro-detail and dynamics. The presentation is quiet, clean, and uncolored, with exceptional freedom from grain and timbral accuracy and textural nuance that capture the beauty, heart, and soul of music. Blessed with c-j’s fabled reliability and durability, lucky owners will find that “it just sounds right” for decades.


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