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Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

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audiokid's picture
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I'm looking for clarification further to recent threads on amplifiers, and their apparent 'lack of positive SQ effect' on easy to drive speakers. It has been picked up by many Harbeth fans in particular. 

I read that an easy load speaker like Harbeth will have no better SQ by 'feeding' it with a more expensive amplifier if it is played at the same, moderate volume from a decent source.

So does this mean that I can amplify a decent source with a very basic amplifier into some easy to drive (eg Harbeth) speakers, and it will sound as good as a very expensive amplifier if played it at moderate volumes? 

For example, will a basic amplifier such as a 85wpc Yamaha A-S500 at around £300 do the same job as a much more expensive amplifier such as a Luxman 505ux, Naim Supernait, Sugden etc? 

I realise build quality, reliability, service support etc are important factors, but other than these, are there any benefits to expensive amplifier upgrades if the cheaper one fullfills its duty to the same sonic standard? 

I might be able to save lots of money of this is the case! And get some tone controls to boot!

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference? 

Not necessarily. But better quality ones do Smile

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CnoEvil's picture
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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

IMO.

The difference a "really good" amp is very considerable.

If you want to hear this, you can try: Leema Pulse vs Tucana; MF M3i vs M6 500i, Sugden A21 vs Masterclass, or even Rega Brio vs  Elite R vs Osiris.

The different Classes of amp (A; AB; B and D) and types (Valve; Hybrid and Solid State) also sound quite different, so it's worth hearing the differences. Few people make the effort, which is a shame

I'm one of those who like to enocourage people to listen to lesser promoted brands like Luxman, VTL, Lavardin, Electrocompaniet, Accuphase, Pathos, Pure Sound, Icon Audio, Unison Research and Audio Note....to name a few.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

David makes a crucial point regarding quality - it doesn't  always correlate with cost. My experience tells me that amplifiers can make a big difference but all my speakers have been difficult loads where amplifiers are more likely to have an influence anyway.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

I would suggest that you read the appropriate threads on the "HUG" Harbeth User Group forum; if you haven't already done so. There you will find the reasons why amplifiers work (or not). It's really very simple, you need sufficient Watts to drive the speakers without clipping so you do need a good quality amp but that does not have to be expensive.

Contrary to what many claim, a Watt is, in fact, a Watt, a unit of measurement of power, as unchangeable as a metre or a litre and neither valve watts or Naim watts are any different to any other Watts.

However, some people seem to prefer the sound of amps clipping, especially valve amps, it's a nice, warm, analogue kind of sound that probably reminds middle aged men of their childhood. It's comforting but it's not high fidelity in the true sense of the phrase. Again, refer to HUG for more in depth information.

Psychology matters too. Are you the kind of person that would buy a Rolex or a Timex for instance? They both tell you the exact same time but one of them just seems like it should be more accurate.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

CnoEvil wrote:

IMO.

The difference a "really good" amp is very considerable.

If you want to hear this, you can try: Leema Pulse vs Tucana; MF M3i vs M6 500i, Sugden A21 vs Masterclass, or even Rega Brio vs  Elite R vs Osiris.

The different Classes of amp (A; AB; B and D) and types (Valve; Hybrid and Solid State) also sound quite different, so it's worth hearing the differences. Few people make the effort, which is a shame

I'm one of those who like to enocourage people to listen to lesser promoted brands like Luxman, VTL, Lavardin, Electrocompaniet, Accuphase, Pathos, Pure Sound, Icon Audio, Unison Research and Audio Note....to name a few.

So why did you never take up the Harbeth Challenge and win yourself 5 grands worth of speaker if it's so easy?

Oh, hang on, not one person took up the challenge. That speaks volumes to me.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

pauln wrote:
Oh, hang on, not one person took up the challenge. That speaks volumes to me.

I think that is more down to the fact that people can't be bothered. Either that, or they don't want Harbeth speakers...

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

Yes thanks, I have read the HUG with interest. Just wanting to get a less Harbeth specific view here on WHF.

Interetsing points so far. So assuming that the amplifier has adequate watts for the speakers, technically speaking it should sound the same as watts are watts, as mentioned? Surely the main (and perhaps only) aim is to get ample power with a decent quality amplifier with key features and service backup? Of course design is important, it has to be nice to look at and a joy to use.

Does power supply noise play a big part? Also, why do amps benefit from from separate pre power? 

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

David@FrankHarvey wrote:

pauln wrote:
Oh, hang on, not one person took up the challenge. That speaks volumes to me.

I think that is more down to the fact that people can't be bothered. Either that, or they don't want Harbeth speakers...

Poor attempt mate.

They are easily sold for close to new price, thought you'd know that, what with you being in the business. Not many would turn their nose up at even £4000 for a days work would they? And surely there must be a few audiophiles out there that would just want to prove Alan Shaw wrong?

To OP - research both sides of the argument and draw your own conclusions.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

pauln wrote:

So why did you never take up the Harbeth Challenge and win yourself 5 grands worth of speaker if it's so easy?

Oh, hang on, not one person took up the challenge. That speaks volumes to me.

You don't need a chalange to hear the difference between a Cyrus amp and a Unison Research Valve amp.

When I compared the AMS35i with a Moon i7, the difference was clear to all who were there......but you have to be there to hear it.

 

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

CnoEvil wrote:

pauln wrote:

So why did you never take up the Harbeth Challenge and win yourself 5 grands worth of speaker if it's so easy?

Oh, hang on, not one person took up the challenge. That speaks volumes to me.

You don't need a chalange to hear the difference between a Cyrus amp and an Unison Research Valve amp.

When I compared the AMS35i with a Moon i7, the difference was clear to all who were there......but you have to be there to hear it.

 

And it was blind testing, they were working within their design parameters with levels matched? If not, it's meaningless.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

I've read extensively posts on the Harbeth forum and I know it's Mr Shaw's belief that an amp is an amp and makes no difference to what one hears through his loudspeakers, but as much as I love the SHL5, for whatever reason, I can catagorically say changing from Sugden Masterclass to the E350

produced a great difference in SQ.

In the past I've had an old Sony tuner/amp and changed it for a Cyrus (forgive me can't remember models)

and the difference was obvious.  Similarly change from the Cyrus to an old Onyx through some B&WCM1 speakers, the step up in SQ was incredible.

 

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

pauln wrote:

Contrary to what many claim, a Watt is, in fact, a Watt, a unit of measurement of power, as unchangeable as a metre or a litre and neither valve watts or Naim watts are any different to any other Watts.

Hi Paul,

Sure there is more than Watts. Difficult speakers can challenge an amp with diving impedances and high phase angles (something I read about; I don't pretend I understand it  Smile). Can you comment?

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

What amp have you got, pauln?

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

pauln wrote:

And it was blind testing, they were working within their design parameters with levels matched? If not, it's meaningless.

IMO. What's meaningless is forming an opinion without hearing a variety of different amps......though I agree that people should make up their own mind.

Research is good, but listening is crucial.

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RE: Do more expensive amplifiers make a difference?

pauln wrote:

 research both sides of the argument and draw your own conclusions.

 

You can save some time on that here - pretty much every recorded blind test rounded up in one place:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/486598/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths

 

I want to believe there's differences (because it makes things interesting) but the evidence against is pretty compelling. When you think about all the amazing technology we have today, you have to think that amplifying two channels of sound without distoring it is a pretty basic task that should be easily achievable for not much money.

 

People try and pick holes in ABX tests but if the differences were as big as people claim then they would be passed rather than coming back as no better than random every single time. ABX tests seem to be just fine when it comes to picking the differences out between speakers. Harbeth wasn't the first to do this type of challenge either.

 

I am really waiting patiently for some decent evidence there is a difference so I can justify buying a new toy but my head tells me to stick with what I've got because it has all the functionality I need.