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Ten Integrated Amps Compared

Integrated Amp

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#1 Cafad

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 06:15 PM

Integrated Amp Comparison.
Last year, I went a bit nuts, I was interested in finding out if the amps that were freely available over the net, and from ebay, for a fairly reasonable price were actually a worthwhile buy. Could these little bargain basement pieces of gear play in the big leagues? Or at least in the same league as the mainstream brands? The results were pretty surprising, price is in no way directly proportional to quality in the audio field. The contestants are a pretty mixed bunch, I just bought whatever I could get my hands on provided it was available at a steep discount to RRP. I am going to start with the amps I liked the least and work up to my favorites.

Tonewinner AD-3.
A massive amp that is so heavy you would swear it was made from recycled battleships. No extras on it, with one exception, it just has inputs for 3 sources plus balanced in. One massive 700VA toroidal transformer and a not-very-well-put-together remote to control volume and input selection. One thing this amp does have going for it is the ability to switch from class A (40W) to class AB (150W), however it always starts in A, you have to change it to AB. In class A it puts out a lot of heat (not much of a surprise) in AB it is not too bad for heat. Available via china for $1200-1300 AUD plus postage. Tonewinner are the OEM for Emotiva, though I am not sure that means anything when talking about their own models.
Sound.
Very deep, though not very clean, bass and lots of it. A great home theatre amp in either A or AB but not that good with music. It has a very deep and dark sound stage that only just allows the high and mid frequencies to escape from it. I had high hopes for this amp but it did not meet any of them. All of the other amps I listened to sounded so much better than this amp I am forced to conclude that this is a substandard piece.

Consonance C1.
My standard listening amp for about 5 years, a nice simple integrated that garnered several good reviews when it came out, 3 models old now but about $1500 AUD when new. A 120W rated amp though many people feel it is actually closer to 150W.
Sound.
The C1 is head and shoulders above the Tonewinner, it still has a deep and dark sound stage but it actually lets the high and mid frequencies out to play. Very nice bass performance but lacking in the mids and highs when compared to most of the other amps on offer. Does not let the edge of electric guitar come through well enough imo but in most aspects it is a well made amp that will play rock and metal fairly well but is not going to be anyones choice for classical listening. I was surprised when it ranked so low on my list, I had really enjoyed listening to it for all these years. It is now up for sale.

Hlly T-90
A tripath amp available over the net from china for about $300 (plus postage). Rated at 90W into 4ohms (or 40W into 8 ohms, I would call this a 40W amp, but then I am not in marketing) it would seem to be a high output version of the amps that so many people have been raving about for the last decade or so. It only has one input and no remote but so what, at the price and with the reputation I am expecting a very nice audition.
Sound.
Nice highs, good mids and no bass whatsoever. I was very disappointed with this amp, it may be good for classical listening and female vocals but it will never work with rock, pop or metal. I found I just could not listen to a performance which completely left out the bass segment of any music (and I have never thought of myself as that much of a bass fan). Also up for sale.

Krell KAV 300IL
With the name and rep associated with Krell I expect this amp to kick the butt of everything I compared it to. With 200W on tap it is the most powerful of the entire group, and at circa $5000 new it jolly well should be too. Purchased over ebay for $2300 AUD.
Sound.
Almost bland, very cool and clear but it seems to underemphasize everything to the point where the music loses any character. The music just does not grab the listener at all. Bass is rather thin, heaps of power but it doesn’t seem to actually use it. Smoothes off the edge of electric guitars, no real enjoyment to be had from this amp. The sound does improve as the volume in increased but you just can’t run it that loud for everyday use. I have heard that some owners have changed the sound of this amp by replacing the fuses in the speaker lines, I have some on order to try. Currently up for sale, may change depending on the results of a fuse swap.

Onkyo A9555
This is the point where I really start enjoying myself. One thing I have to mention here is that the build quality on the Onkyo is pretty shocking, the bass and treble control knobs point to 11:30 rather than 12:00 when in neutral and the chassis just feels thin and weak compared to every other amp listed. Also the selection and volume knobs have a “loose” feel to their movement, none of this affects the sound but it really did stand out to me as proof that ‘made in Japan’ does not seem to mean all that it once did.
Sound.
The Onkyo puts on a very nice performance, it is engaging and pleasant to listen to. It has bass and mids that, while they are not quite as good as the Perreaux or the
Burson, are not exactly lacking. The highs are a little airy, maybe a bit too airy for some but not for me. The bass is a little underemphasized when compared to the highs and mids and the amp has a slightly warm and airy sound throughout (which I believe is the signature Onkyo sound). There is nothing in the Onkyo’s performance that offends, it just doesn’t sound quite as good as some others. Retails for about $1000 AUD, could be had for $700-800 over ebay.

Marantz KI Pearl Lite
I was expecting big things from the Marantz, and it only disappointed slightly. A very nice unit with as much connectivity as you would ever need (as do the Onkyo and the Krell). One thing that confuses me though is that the speaker binding posts do not seem to accept banana plugs, very annoying! I tried pulling out the centers of the speaker posts (as I had to on the Onkyo) but they simply would not move and I was not game to get too brutal with something that I had yet to turn on.
Sound.
A lighter touch than the Onkyo with just as engaging a soundstage. I listened to the Lite for a long time, over a week and as I listened I started to notice a warmth to the sound in the mids and highs. Far less obvious than the Onkyo and yet somehow far less pleasant. Once I had noticed this warm sound I could not ignore it and it started to drive me crazy. I have rated the Marantz better than the Onkyo due to its slightly better performance in the highs and mids but if I had to go back to one of them it would be the Onkyo. The bass was slightly better than the Onkyo. A RRP of $2400 AUD this amp can be had over ebay for $1300.

Dussun V6i
An amp that just oozes power. It may have 150W on tap but it sounds like 250W and that power is obvious right from about 0.2 on the volume dial. What’s that Spinal Tap, your amp goes to 11, well this one goes to 12! I’m not kidding either, the volume dial is marked from 0 to 12, I never took it above 3.5. Some may argue that this amp should not rate this well, to them I say, you need to experience the performance for yourself.
Sound.
I seem to have lost my notes on this amp, and I no longer have it on hand so I will just say that the performance is so grand that you do not have a soundstage in front of you, you have a soundstage that reaches out and envelopes you. It displays a fairly light touch when necessary but in general it just blasts the music out to you and makes you love every second of it. A great amp to test, tons of fun, but I’m not sure I could live with it full time. I would definitely give it a try though. Prices vary wildly but it can generally be had for under $1000 AUD over the net or ebay.

Hlly M1 Gainclone
This tiny little amp is a standout star, no remote and only one input but by far the cheapest amp I have ever owned at just $165 AUD. It is advertised as having 40W (into 4 ohms) but into 8 ohms it is 25W. And it sounds just brilliant, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Sound.
Just brilliant. Beautiful highs and mids and just a tiny bit lacking on the bass. The 25W on tap ran my floorstanders up to the point where the roof shook. This is the quality of sound I had hoped for from the tripath amp. However my floorstanders are 93db and a min of 5.8ohms, I have tried this amp on a pair of bookshelfs that were 88db and nominal 4ohms and it struggled hard. If you have high efficiency speakers then a cheap gainclone amp is simply something you must try.

Perreaux SX25i
A great little miniature integrated amp, beats out the Hlly on both looks and build quality but is also way ahead on price. $1200 RRP, it can be found on ebay (very rarely) for $600 to $800.
Sound.
Even better than the Hlly, but not by much. It took 2 days of on-again off-again comparison for me to reach a decision that the Perreaux was definitely better so there isn’t a lot in it but yes, it is better. I have heard that the NuForce Icons are meant to be better again, difficult to believe when the Perreaux is this good. I no longer have the Perreaux, I gave it to an old friend of mine as a birthday present.

Burson PI-160
The best integrated amp I have ever heard. By the time I had got hold of all these other amps I realized I had China and Japan heavily represented and the USA and New Zealand with one entry each but no Australian amp, I was also a bit short on cash. The 160 series is fairly new and so there are no second hand examples to be had but when I emailed the Burson fellows and asked if there were any demo amps available they kindly offered me one that had just returned from the Singapore Audio Show at a very reasonable discount. Thank you gents, your gear absolutely rocks! The Burson is a minimalist amp with only 3 inputs and a volume control so it will not suit everyones needs but it sounds just superb. 70W per channel and $2300 AUD.
Sound.
Clean extended highs with just the right amount of air, crisp mids and vocals and just the right amount of bass which is controlled with a velvet glove covering an iron fist. The bass control and the airy highs are the only distinct advantages it has over the Perreaux, that and the extra watts of course. I still have the Burson and it is not for sale.

So there you have it, the story of how I spent far too much money in search of an audio unicorn. There are also a Thule Spirit A100 and a Linx Nebula amp that I have not yet evaluated, but I will get to them in time. I would also dearly like to add Perreaux's Audiant to the mix, but I am not going to buy one (I did finally recover from my spending spree) and I don't know of anyone who would be willing to lend me one, maybe one day.

Cheers,
Cafad.

#2 myrantz

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 06:27 PM

That's a lot of amps... Nice review..


One thing that confuses me though is that the speaker binding posts do not seem to accept banana plugs, very annoying!

There is a tiny plastic plug deep in the binding post that you need to pry it out with a jewel screw driver.. Apparently this is to stop people from plugging in their power cables (Schuko)...

#3 Cafad

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 07:50 PM

I had a pretty fair go at removing them. They would not budge.

Power cables?!!! There must be some very talented people out there!

#4 myrantz

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 03:17 PM

I had a pretty fair go at removing them. They would not budge.

You need to unscrew the binding post to the max, then insert a tiny jewel screw driver through the "wire inset" and push the lug out.. It is annoying as the plug is tight... Worse if you try to force the banana plugs in with the plastic plug still in there, it will be even harder to pry it out.

But nowadays I use spade connectors and I just leave the plugs as is.

Power cables?!!! There must be some very talented people out there!

Apparently somebody in EU tried to power some of their CE via the speaker outs.. And that CE has plugs that look like one of the following (cant' remember which).

Posted ImagePosted Image
Apparently it fits :hyper: , hence the EU mandate. Always interested to know what happens when powered up :unsure: ....

Hope you like the Burson.. I have their opamps, and love it.. Their stuff should be good...

#5 Cafad

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 07:45 PM

Now that I think about it I do remember hearing something about banana plugs being a big no-no in the EU. Now I know why, it's due to the Darwin award candidates. I'll give your instructions a try later tonight, thanks myrantz.

On the subject of Burson gear I can highly recommend it, as I said above their integrated won my 10 way shootout and their DAC is extremely good as well. I can't say that I can hear the difference between their opamps and the standard IC's though, and not through lack of trying. Where in the hifi chain have you put them? I tried them in one of my cd players, and then later in an old integrated amp and both times I could not spot the difference.

#6 myrantz

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 12:17 PM

On the subject of Burson gear I can highly recommend it, as I said above their integrated won my 10 way shootout and their DAC is extremely good as well. I can't say that I can hear the difference between their opamps and the standard IC's though, and not through lack of trying. Where in the hifi chain have you put them? I tried them in one of my cd players, and then later in an old integrated amp and both times I could not spot the difference.

I used them in my sound card (Asus STX).. It's a no contest comparing them to the cheap stock OPAs that came with the card :P... After a few months the Bursons OPAs "open up" and the imaging in the front and sides are pretty good... Also made the STX sounds "less digital"..

Could be the card, could be the OPA, but combined they are pretty good for the money..

#7 Cafad

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 07:41 PM

My fuses arrived last week and last night I swapped out all three fuses in the KAV 300iL. Was there a sonic benefit? Yes, there was. Was it a big benefit? No, it was not, and certainly not enough to move it ahead of the Onkyo. I have been spending some time listening to the Thule Spirit A100 recently and it sounds very nice indeed, my initial impressions are that it will sit somewhere between the Onkyo and the Dussun. Next up the Linx Nebula. Still no sign of a cheap Audiant on the horizon but I continue to live in hope.

#8 Decky999

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 12:10 AM

Next time try Dayens Ampino - it is an absolute champion of the bagin class and an ultimate giant killer. Only 25W (A/ B) on te tap but boy it sounds good. Perfect for small rooms and relatively efficient speakers. Hard to get though ....price 230 Euros in Serbia but shippinmg might be a problem. A very important note - the original 220V transformer needs to be replaced with a 240V certified one.

Edited by Decky999, 11 February 2012 - 12:11 AM.


#9 Cafad

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 07:20 PM

Hi Decky, thanks for the info mate. I'm always interested in hearing about good gear. Unfortunately I have promised my bank account that I will sell some of the gear I already have before I buy any more.

When I do buy another test subject the Dayens Ampino will be at the top of my consideration list.

About the transformer though, I thought that 220V was close enough to 240V for everything to work just fine. I also understood that Oz was already running at 230V which was close enough to the 220V EU standard for electrical gear to be happy dealing with it. Is this not the case?????

#10 :)

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 08:55 PM

cafad unfortunately where 220v gear can come unstuck is where our voltage levels are well and above the 230V they are supposed to be. try around 260 V ! if gear is made for 230/240V tends to stand a better chance :)

good luck in your search. could also consider a few specialist stores that carry some integrated amps in your price range. many are happy enough to let you have a listen home borrow if want to see what like in your system and with your speakers. end up being a bit cheaper than the loss borne with buying and selling :)

#11 Cafad

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 10:46 AM

Hi :). Does the same effect occur if the mains voltage drops to its lower limit? ie gear made for 220V handling lower voltage better. Or does our mains voltage tend to stay at the upper end of its limits?

I'm afraid I live far from any specialist stores, (Bowen, North Queensland, where all the mangoes grow) so in home demos are difficult to arrange. And the specialty stores in Townsville and Mackay are not what they used to be now that ipods are all the rage. But I will continue to watch and wait on ebay and act on other info that anyone on this (or any other) forum is happy to provide. If you happen to know of a store that is happy to offer some sort of long distance in-home demo service I would love to hear of it but I don't think there would be very many places offering such a service.

I've moved on to comparing interconnects at the moment, which is a bit easier on the pocket. I'll probably post something on them in a week or so.

#12 :)

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 06:10 PM

Hi :). Does the same effect occur if the mains voltage drops to its lower limit? ie gear made for 220V handling lower voltage better. Or does our mains voltage tend to stay at the upper end of its limits?

I'm afraid I live far from any specialist stores, (Bowen, North Queensland, where all the mangoes grow) so in home demos are difficult to arrange. And the specialty stores in Townsville and Mackay are not what they used to be now that ipods are all the rage. But I will continue to watch and wait on ebay and act on other info that anyone on this (or any other) forum is happy to provide. If you happen to know of a store that is happy to offer some sort of long distance in-home demo service I would love to hear of it but I don't think there would be very many places offering such a service.

I've moved on to comparing interconnects at the moment, which is a bit easier on the pocket. I'll probably post something on them in a week or so.


hi cafad, all depends on the power supply of your gear. yes we mostly have power on the higher side and is whats most damaging to gear. in over voltage out of telerance they can handle. in my own system with my mf gear have had power dips and system just sail through oblivious to power drop so yeah probably something dependant on base design of gear. unfortunate thing but power supplies are possibly the most skimped thing by makers and what most impacked by the out of spec power we tend to have in this country.

yeah living where you are can imagine, what your doing probably only main means to experience different gear. bit of a buyers market too with a lot of gear just not moving much these days with people holding onto their cash. but yeah still doesnt stop the odd bit of nice gear to pop up.

ps just on the visual if do get a chance be sure to post the odd pic of the gear in question as a lot of it am sure most of us quite unawares about :)

#13 Cafad

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 10:53 PM

I'd love to :) but I have just failed to work out how to upload a pic several times. I'll try again tomorrow when I'm fresh.

#14 Cafad

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 05:56 PM

Nope, no luck.

Edited by Cafad, 13 February 2012 - 06:57 PM.


#15 :)

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 07:34 PM

theres a sticky on how to in the ht subforum. otherwise just upload in a thread here
http://www.dtvforum....p?showforum=145

then use the my media button here to link to anything uploaded :)

can also upload elsewhere and post links here.

#16 Cafad

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 05:52 PM

Thanks mate, I think I've got it.
P2090217.JPG
P2090215.JPG
P2090219.JPG
DSCF0015.JPG

One is a bit blurry but three out of four isn't bad.

The top pick has the Pearl Lite sitting on top of the tonewinner.
The second shows the C1 on top of a Sunfire TGR3 (not in the contest).
Pic 3 has, from top to bottom, gainclone, T-amp, Thule Spirit, Lynx Nebula (yet to be evaluated), Burson PI160 and the Krell on the bottom.
And lastly the Burson on the top, a consonance cd120, consonance cd120 linear, and the Dussun on the bottom with my speakers in the background (and a fake creeper that seemed like a good idea several years ago).

Edited by Cafad, 14 February 2012 - 05:58 PM.


#17 myrantz

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 11:42 AM

speakers in the background (and a fake creeper that seemed like a good idea several years ago).

I like the creepers! <3 <3 :lol:

Are the speakers Osborns? or something else?

#18 Cafad

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 09:25 PM

You know, I think you are the first person to actually like the creepers. I was trying for a lush green background but I ran out of money and motivation about half way through. I have a carved snake and a wooden parrot somewhere that were going to be added for effect as well, but it just didn't happen.

Yes, the speakers are Osborn Eclipses, I love them! The bookshelfs on top are Richter Merlins which I also have a very positive opinion of, well worth their current ebay asking price.

#19 myrantz

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 10:07 PM

You know, I think you are the first person to actually like the creepers. I was trying for a lush green background but I ran out of money and motivation about half way through. I have a carved snake and a wooden parrot somewhere that were going to be added for effect as well, but it just didn't happen.

I like 'em cause it's different, seriously... Maybe if you can paint the backwall to another colour for better contrast?

Yes, the speakers are Osborn Eclipses, I love them! The bookshelfs on top are Richter Merlins which I also have a very positive opinion of, well worth their current ebay asking price.

Ah, I recognise the wood cabinet... :P Have you tried moving the Osborns away from the corner? Or is that the best position so far?

#20 Cafad

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 10:29 AM

Hmmm, lush jungle green paint? That could work, but I think I'll look about for an actual jungle or rainforrest print. The backdrop is not real high on the agenda at the moment, but I'll keep it in mind and see what I can come up with.

As for the speaker position the picture is a bit deceiving, there is a good 12 to 18 inches between the speakers and the back wall. I can actually squeeze in there if I have to, although this pic is 4 months old, the TV now sits on two 4 tier glass shelves and the speakers have moved out slightly from the wall. I also have more foam squares behind and in front of the osborns, the foam did clean the sound up a little but I haven't moved the actual speakers about much.

#21 beejay76

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 10:37 AM

cafad unfortunately where 220v gear can come unstuck is where our voltage levels are well and above the 230V they are supposed to be. try around 260 V ! if gear is made for 230/240V tends to stand a better chance :)


Yes, in Perth high 250's is typical, although I haven't seen 260 yet.

#22 myrantz

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 11:37 AM

Hijack!

Yes, in Perth high 250's is typical, although I haven't seen 260 yet.

How's your PSAudio P5, fixed, or still unreliable? Any issues you're aware of?

#23 Cafad

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 09:29 PM

As an addition to this review I did not have much time with the Thule but it was pretty good, I would rate it somewhere in between the Onkyo and the Dussun, either just ahead or just behind the Pearl Lite.
Also I have borrowed the Dussun back in preparation for a shootout with a Cambridge 840A V2 (both being enhanced class A amps) and, just on a whim, I replaced the stock jumpers with standard interconnects (nothing expensive, Redgum Audio Pipelines for those who like to keep track). The character of the amp changed in a not so subtle way, an extremely forward amp changed into a slightly forward amp and that edge that it gave to everything calmed down to just an element of the sound from an overwhelming element of the sound. This allowed much more detail in the mids and highs to shine through. I would say the amp became more "listenable" by about 20%. It improved so much that I may have to have another comparo between it and the Burson.
I thought the Dussun was pretty good value for money before, but now I think it is excellent value for money.
Cheers!

#24 Chicken Man

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 07:02 PM

That was a good and enjoyable read Cafad. It just goes to show how subjective an influence different amplifiers have on any given loudspeaker's sound.

Oddly, there appears to be a subjective synergy between some components and yet not others, an elusive almost 'audible' compatibility that defies electrical testing to pinpoint.

That 'synergy' I think is a most desirable pursuit, which I would presume most of us are engaged in finding....... that beautiful, captivating sound.

C.M

Edited by Chicken Man, 19 April 2012 - 07:23 PM.


#25 Cafad

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 07:59 PM

Glad you enjoyed it CM.
That synergy is a strange thing isn't it? I was in the process of selling the dussun to a guy at work about a month ago and I recomended the dussun and a pair of accusound speakers I had. About a week later I realized that I had not tryed that combo out, so I did, and they sounded terrible (with the stock jumpers, haven't tried it since I swapped them out). He didn't come up with the money so it didn't matter in the end, but it underlines the importance of the whole synergy "factor" and how difficult it is to predict.

By the way mate, love your sig!





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