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Offline mat  
#1 Posted : 06 October 2011 15:01:31(UTC)
mat


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For the last few years I have been using a borrowed, expensive amplifier at home. I have thought about buying an amp to replace it but cannot get excited about spending a lot of money for only a small reward.

Is there such a thing as an excellent sounding stereo amplifier that does not cost many thousands of £'s?

Most of the cost of an amplifier is in the chassis, and casework, and maybe the transformer. These parts have a high material cost, but a low labour cost. The parts on the PCB are low cost, and the labour cost is also very low as the process is automated.

There should not be a great difference in PCB part cost for a high performance amplifier and a low performance one, since most of the quality comes from circuit design and implementation.

So there should be no reason why someone does not make an excellent sounding budget amp.

But I don't know of one, looking to the Colloms listing there is nothing that scores highly that does not cost a fortune. For commercial reasons its hard to imagine a mainstream hifi magazine enthusing about a very cheap product sounding better than high end kit.

So does anyone know of an excellent sounding budget amp? not just good for the money, but truly world class.


mat.



Offline Shadders  
#2 Posted : 06 October 2011 16:39:21(UTC)
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What would be interesting is if Hifi Critic could review one of the amplifiers designed by Elektor Electronics.

If they were to review the design and perhaps suggest tweaks - specific resistors, capacitors, wiring change etc., this would allow people to build and hopefully have a lower cost unit that is a pleasure to build and listen to.

Regards,

Richard.

Edited by user 06 October 2011 16:47:56(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Offline Jan-Erik  
#3 Posted : 06 October 2011 20:52:24(UTC)
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mat wrote:
So does anyone know of an excellent sounding budget amp? not just good for the money, but truly world class.

Assuming that you are asking about an integrated amp : In a heartbeat, the new Rega Brio-R. I'm reviewing it for Son & Image magazine and I would say that it easily meets all of your criteria. It retails for 895 $ over here. Beautiful midrange, very detailed, and it does PRaT.

Jan

Edited by user 06 October 2011 20:57:22(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Offline mat  
#4 Posted : 07 October 2011 09:54:44(UTC)
mat


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Hi Jan,

Wow it looks great. But it's only 50W, this is really what i'm talking about, this may be a very good amp, but it cannot be considered world class if it doesn't drive all speakers.

I have inefficient stand mount speakers and i need power, 100-150W................................

mat.
Offline malteser  
#5 Posted : 07 October 2011 10:00:38(UTC)
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Mat,

The cost of an amplifier is not just the cost of the parts. That's like saying the price of art should be the paint and canvas.
Regards,
Frank.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinion of any organisations I work for, except where this is stated explicitly.
Offline mat  
#6 Posted : 07 October 2011 13:09:46(UTC)
mat


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frank, are you saying that designs that are 'too good' get automatically pushed up in price (and casework)?
Offline Pete_w  
#7 Posted : 07 October 2011 15:44:36(UTC)
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No, I think he's saying that the art takes a lot of human input to create. As does an amp. Any decent amp is going to cost a few hundred thousand pounds to develop, at least. People's wages, tooling, test equipment, a building to do it all in, international regulatory compliance testing, tooling for mass production, packaging, manuals, etc. And then you've got to promote and distribute it. Work out how many you're going to sell, then divide that development and sales cost by the number of sales, see how much you (the manufacturer) needs to make on each one. Then factor in the cost of warranty returns, then add something to cover shipment costs, then double the number you first thought of so that the dealer gets his margin (and if you're American selling into the UK, then double it again so that Absolute Sounds get their margin), then add the country-specific sales costs.
Offline malteser  
#8 Posted : 07 October 2011 16:39:26(UTC)
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Indeed, if it were so easy to produce these things (i.e. setup a production facility with the supply and backup to produce consistently good and reproducible product with little production variation), then everybody would make their own.

Edited by user 07 October 2011 16:44:50(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Regards,
Frank.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinion of any organisations I work for, except where this is stated explicitly.
Offline kengale  
#9 Posted : 07 October 2011 19:52:28(UTC)
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Pete_w wrote:
No, I think he's saying that the art takes a lot of human input to create. As does an amp. Any decent amp is going to cost a few hundred thousand pounds to develop, at least. People's wages, tooling, test equipment, a building to do it all in, international regulatory compliance testing, tooling for mass production, packaging, manuals, etc. And then you've got to promote and distribute it. Work out how many you're going to sell, then divide that development and sales cost by the number of sales, see how much you (the manufacturer) needs to make on each one. Then factor in the cost of warranty returns, then add something to cover shipment costs, then double the number you first thought of so that the dealer gets his margin (and if you're American selling into the UK, then double it again so that Absolute Sounds get their margin), then add the country-specific sales costs.


Although I agree with the general slant of your post, you are exaggerating some of the costs. With modern simulation packages it is possible to develop products almost entirely in the abstract on a computer, including the effects of component tolerances, temperature etc etc, and the resultant real product performing remarkably accurately to the predicted results. For a lot of my design output we use a local ISO9001-approved test and manufacturing sub-contractor, and we are lucky enough to have a local emc test house http://www.aqlemc.co.uk/ for testing to domestic standards and higher, because our products are used in a military or marine environment with far worse mains and RF than any domestic standard. I have worked with the founders of this company when we mutually worked for another company over 25 years ago, and their emc expertise has been invaluable. for A local manufacturer subcontracts its computerised fully-automated PC assembly normally used for its own products (again fully ISO9001 accredited), and indeed for most products we do not even produce a "prototype", but a fully engineered product straight off the assembly line. Even for one-offs this is still cost effective, because the inevitable errors for hand-assembled products are avoided and we can rest assured that production items will be as good (or as bad!) as the originals.
I know that other HiFi manufacturers subcontract their manufacturing, and have actually closed their own production lines.

Again with emc, if you obey good design rules and practice you can usually pass all the tests first time, though the odd product has proved recalcitrant, and rework and (expensive) retesting has been necessary.

But yes, previous posts from people claiming to be able to produce high-end products at incredibly competitive prices have been accompanied by hopelessly optimistic assessments of marketing, transport, retailer markup etc overheads.

Edited by user 07 October 2011 22:58:49(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Offline kengale  
#10 Posted : 08 October 2011 11:44:10(UTC)
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mat wrote:

For the last few years I have been using a borrowed, expensive amplifier at home. I have thought about buying an amp to replace it but cannot get excited about spending a lot of money for only a small reward.

Is there such a thing as an excellent sounding stereo amplifier that does not cost many thousands of £'s?

Most of the cost of an amplifier is in the chassis, and casework, and maybe the transformer. These parts have a high material cost, but a low labour cost. The parts on the PCB are low cost, and the labour cost is also very low as the process is automated.

There should not be a great difference in PCB part cost for a high performance amplifier and a low performance one, since most of the quality comes from circuit design and implementation.

So there should be no reason why someone does not make an excellent sounding budget amp.

But I don't know of one, looking to the Colloms listing there is nothing that scores highly that does not cost a fortune. For commercial reasons its hard to imagine a mainstream hifi magazine enthusing about a very cheap product sounding better than high end kit.

So does anyone know of an excellent sounding budget amp? not just good for the money, but truly world class.


mat.





I don't really know how you'd find out. HiFi mags mostly do non-blind non-randomised testing (most of them as a matter of principle) and their reported results are hopelessly compromised by expectation based on price, physical build, reputation and often the supposed design principles espoused by their designers. There are probably some truly excellent budget amplifiers made by the likes of Sony, Denon, etc, where the only compromises are in the bits that don't actually affect the sound - front panels, knobs, styling etc. But as a private individual it is very hard to do any true comparisons of sound without being affected by all the above factors, or even have access to competing products to find out. Or indeed have any way of knowing, even if blind listening does identify real differences, which are nearest to the original sound.
About all you can say is that if you have reasonably kindly speakers in terms of impedance and sensitivity then there are lots of good amps, some bearing "HiFi" names, others not, which are utterly indistinguishable from the top price articles in terms of sound. I except single-ended-triode amps from this of course, whose performance is so utterly dreadful that you would have to be truly cloth-eared not to distinguish them, though of course you may actually LIKE their deficiencies.
Offline tls  
#11 Posted : 08 October 2011 13:36:08(UTC)
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mat wrote:

frank, are you saying that designs that are 'too good' get automatically pushed up in price (and casework)?


That is exactly so. Some kind of diy-er will eventually come up by accident with an exceptionally good sounding device and everyone will start speculating about the price it could be sold...
IMO amplifiers from large Japanese companies still offer the best vfm. Try Yamaha A-S2000 or Marantz PM-15S2.
Offline Martin Colloms  
#12 Posted : 08 October 2011 17:22:02(UTC)
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Wonderfully prejudiced stuff, as usual from those that do not hear , do not wish to hear , or always know better even if they are far from expert in the field on which subject they are so free to give of their opinions ........

The Which series on hifi when the market was more important, routinely used DBT methods, as did much of the HI FI Choice A5 series multiple comparative test work that I undertook.

Of course there have many fine Japanese inexpensive amplifiers for which a consensus rapidly developed in the magazines , this when the Japanese companies took separates stereo audio seriously at every price level.

Classics such as the Rotel RA 820 series which were £150 and the like. Also the NAD 3020. There was also a lot of rubbish , and easily differentiated too.


Designers who understand and care about sound quality have had to struggle under the weight of EMC legislation which is mainly directed to thyristor controlled washing machines where the required counter measures readily degrade sound quality in audio electronics.

Such differences require additional costly parts and circuit revision to maintain sound quality, and not always with complete success.

I can hear the sound quality difference for a connected power amplifier between types of 1nf Y class mains suppression capacitors, eg PP and Paper on the mains input and there is a subtly different tone colour and clarity in the audio.

I wish it was not true , but there it is. I know which I prefer. Ferrite suppressors on power cables are easily heard in a compression of subjective dynamics , and have been for years from when TDK first introduced to the audio market.

Meeting EMC emission regs for CD players often requires compromised audio grounding , since a hierarchical ground may be too long for the RFI stoppers to work. You have to accept poorer sound to meet the specification or spend more money to make up the shortfall.

As I have said before double blind a single 4.7uf high quality PP cap into 20K at a power amp input. The die-hards say audibility of a single component , never mind any 'good' complete amplifier is impossible. I have done it and the capacitor was audible.


If you can hear one component how can the whole heap be rendered undetectable never mind the design and topology to boot?


Martin Colloms

Edited by user 10 October 2011 18:31:44(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Offline kengale  
#13 Posted : 08 October 2011 19:23:40(UTC)
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Martin Colloms wrote:
Wonderfully prejudiced stuff, as usual from those that do not hear , do not wish to hear , or always know better even if they are far from expert in the field on which subject they are so free to give of their opinions ........

The Which series on hifi when the market was more important, routinely used DBT methods, as did much of the HI FI Choice A5 series multiple comparative test work that I undertook.

Of course there have many fine Japanese inexpensive amplifiers for which a consensus rapidly developed in the magazines , this when the Japanese companies took separates stereo audio seriously at every price level.

Classics such as the Rotel RA 820 series which were £150 and the like. Also the NAD 3020. There was also a lot of rubbish , and easily differentiated too.


But where are the DBT comparisons now? Which was the point of the original posting - what inexpensive high quality amps are available?

Martin Colloms wrote:



Designers who understand and care about sound quality have had to struggle under the weight of EMC legislation which is mainly directed to thyristor controlled washing machines where the required counter measures readily degrade sound quality in audio electronics.

Such differences require additional costly parts and circuit revision to maintain sound quality, and not always with complete success.

I can hear the sound quality difference for a connected power amplifier between types of 1nf Y class mains suppression capacitors, eg PP and Paper on the mains input and there is a subtlety different tone colour and clarity in the audio.

I wish it was not true , but there it is. I know which I prefer. Ferrite suppressors on power cables are easily heard in a compression of subjective dynamics , and have been for years from when TDK first introduced to the audio market.


I find this attitude very strange. Emc legislation was brought in because so many products were so poor. As a designer myself I would feel ashamed if I had difficulty meeting domestic EMC standards, which are not very stringent. And if you can actually hear (DBT, randomised etc) the effect of a Y class mains suppresor on one particular amplifier then this is not a HiFi amplifier, and this defect should not then be ascribed to all other products. You can only hear the effects of such things as this and common-mode chokes on power leads if the amplifiers concerned are incompetently designed.

Martin Colloms wrote:


As I have said before double blind a single 4.7uf high quality PP cap into 20K at a power amp input. The die-hards say audibility of a single component , never mind any 'good' complete amplifier is impossible. I have done it and the capacitor was audible.


If you can hear one component how can the whole heap be rendered undetectable never mind the design and topology to boot?


Success in one DBT test does not validate non-blind tests.


Offline darkmatter  
#14 Posted : 08 October 2011 22:15:51(UTC)
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kengale wrote:

Success in one DBT test does not validate non-blind tests.


What is your success rate in DBTs Ken, and what is your current listening/reference system?

Edited by user 10 October 2011 10:57:37(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Offline mat  
#15 Posted : 10 October 2011 09:32:41(UTC)
mat


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Putting aside the validity of test methods....

I agree, the best place in theory to find an excellent but low cost amplifier should be the big Japanese companies, where economies of scale and lower cost casework and switches should make real value a possibility. However this is a two edged sword, and building many units at low margin inevitably means cutting costs back to the bone, there is no room for quality components and larger power supplies.

The mass market is not sensitive to sound quality, only specification.

This leaves us with small to mid sized companies, who need to make bigger margin and so bump prices up with flash casework, or DIY'ers who struggle to make a business.

How about the pro market?


mat.

Offline ashleym  
#16 Posted : 10 October 2011 11:58:48(UTC)
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The amps that come to mind are from middle sized companies; Rega Elicit, Creeks, Cyrus and Naim NAIT XS etc. They all make good sounding amps at the bottom of their ranges. In my yoof there was a greater range at the low end of the scale such as 3020, Sansui 217, Marantz's, Denons, Rotels etc (but then again I was more aware of every product in hi-fi back then and I had an opinion on everything....) in addition to Rega and Creek but now there isnt a world beater at £200 but more likely a musical amp at £1000.

I dont get too tied up with quality components, you need the right one in the right place. I remember reading an issue of Stereophile and they were raving about brand X mega amp having several Vishay metal film resistors in key places but a Rotel amp a few pages after being stuffed full of them but that wasnt being used as an indicator of quality.

The best way to get a world beating amp at real world prices is to buy second hand.

One trouble with DBT is you can always hear no difference "proving" there is no difference between, say, mains cables once you DBT. You dont have to listen very hard and your case is made. As often the cry from DBT enthusiasts is that once level matched and controlled most electronics sound the same this can give you the answer you wanted.
Offline Shadders  
#17 Posted : 10 October 2011 13:25:25(UTC)
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ashleym wrote:

One trouble with DBT is you can always hear no difference "proving" there is no difference between, say, mains cables once you DBT. You dont have to listen very hard and your case is made. As often the cry from DBT enthusiasts is that once level matched and controlled most electronics sound the same this can give you the answer you wanted.


This did make me laugh.

Are you stating that with DBT that you can hear no difference between cables etc ?.

Surely this then proves the process that :

1. You make a change.
2. You expect a change
3. You perceive a change

Regards,

Richard.
Offline darkmatter  
#18 Posted : 10 October 2011 17:56:16(UTC)
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ashleym wrote:
The amps that come to mind are from middle sized companies; Rega Elicit, Creeks, Cyrus and Naim NAIT XS etc. They all make good sounding amps at the bottom of their ranges. In my yoof there was a greater range at the low end of the scale such as 3020, Sansui 217, Marantz's, Denons, Rotels etc (but then again I was more aware of every product in hi-fi back then and I had an opinion on everything....) in addition to Rega and Creek but now there isnt a world beater at £200 but more likely a musical amp at £1000.


Good summary Smile
Offline ashleym  
#19 Posted : 10 October 2011 18:59:31(UTC)
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Shadders- Glad to be entertaining!!!

What I was trying to point out that often DBT advocates say that there are no differences between cables, amps or whatever. You ABX the cables or electronics, listen and you arent too sure if there was a real difference ergo all amps/cables sound the same. Not that the process makes everything sound the same, it makes it easy to confirm you arent hearing meaningful differences- you are trying to show there is no difference. The DBTs have as many biases as the sited listeners are told they have.... Hopefully big differences will be noted but a lot of us are getting to more subtle differences where you need time with each component and this wont always allow DBT.

If I am not making sense, dont worry and I appologise Blink
Offline Shadders  
#20 Posted : 10 October 2011 20:43:58(UTC)
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Hi,

I have had no involvement with DBT - i assume that the people listening do not know what they are listening too (equipment hidden ???), and the people conductiong the experiment do not know who is the real test subject.

Can a DBT be continued over a long period of time ?.

I do think that perception is biased - so extended DBT may be the only way of scientifically proving that changes in equipment - such as a mains lead, can definitely be heard.

I don' think i have the capability to determine the difference (hearing wise), so i would have to rely upon the experiment to resolve this aspect.
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