Simaudio HT-5 Home-Theater Amplifier
There are few electronics manufacturers today making a splash like Canadas Simaudio. They are gaining a well-deserved reputation for producing high-quality products that deliver outstanding performance at reasonable prices. Even their Moon series, which the company touts as their statement-level products, are priced within the reach of many audiophiles wanting a sample of the best. Theyre not cheap, but theyre priced nowhere near the high prices of some of their competitors. In fact the Moon line is priced too low according to some supposedly serious audiophiles who will only touch a product with an exorbitant price tag. However, keen-eared audiophiles know better.
The HT-5 is part of Simaudios regular amplifier series. Unlike their Moon series, which shoots straight for the stars, these products are aimed at more cost-conscious audiophiles. Still, no one will mistake them for cheap electronics. These are substantial electronics built to a very high standard that would be considered very expensive when compared to mass-market merchandise. The price for the HT-5 is $3799 and it comes with a five-year warranty.
The HT-5 has features like single-ended and balanced inputs; a thick, 3/8" faceplate; and proprietary, dual toroidal transformers. With the huge transformers mounted near the front of the chassis, the weight of this 85 pound behemoth makes it front-heavy when lifting it around the room
Like many other multichannel designs, each of the five amplifier channels is on a card that starts at the back of the chassis and runs about two-thirds of the length to the front. Its a modular amplifier design and the chassis is the same one used for the companys HT-3 amplifier. That amp has three channels instead of five. As for features, consider the HT-5 a statement of audiophile simplicity: it only has a power switch on its front panel.
Simaudio rates the HT-5 as a "conservative" 120Wpc, which I can believe. In fact, I listened to this amplifier for more than a month without knowing the power rating and I simply assumed that it was rated at about 150Wpc, if not more. In my system the HT-5 had seemingly unlimited power and was capable of pushing speakers to the highest volume levels that I wanted without ever showing strain. It sounds like a powerhouse, likely due to its ability to deliver large amounts of peak power. Simaudio rates its dynamic headroom at up to 400Wpc. As a result, bass depth, tightness, and control are outstanding. Like the other Simaudio amplifiers, lower-impedance loads are not too much of a problem. Simaudio rates this unit at 230Wpc into 4 ohms. It doesnt quite double, but it does come close. I cant think of another speaker system that Ive had in for review that Id hesitate to drive with the HT-5.
Where Simaudio cuts corners in this amplifier line to bring them in at a more reasonable price is mainly in the cosmetics. This is particularly noticeable when comparing them to the attractive Moon series. In short, its built like a tank, but save for the unique heatsinks, is fairly utilitarian in its appearance. Its big, black and thats about it. But then again, what do you want to pay for, looks or sound? When one looks at pounds-for-the dollar they get a pretty good deal since it comes in at a backbreaking 85 pounds, which is more than many floorstanding speakers!
How many people really listen to their home-theater amplifiers? I mean really listen? Sure everyone hears them, but far too few listen to the fidelity of an amplifier. Of course there are those who believe that all amplifiers sound the same. These same people usually believe that by looking at the power rating one can tell enough about what it sounds like. However, the HT-5 is targeted towards those who listen and can hear and appreciate the sonic differences that amplifiers have. In the end I found that it is the quality of sound that sets the Simaudio HT-5 apart, not necessarily watts-for-the-dollar.
I had a chance to hear how the HT-5 really sounds when I listened to it at length in a stereo setup (just using two of the five channels) when I reviewed the Mirage MRM-1 loudspeakers. The components around the HT-5 were of high quality including my Theta Digital source components, Blue Circle BC3 Galatea preamplifier, and a complete set of interconnects and speaker wire from Nirvana Audio. The results of this listening experiment amazed me.
Although the MRM-1 speakers are tiny in appearance, their unassuming appearance hides their need for power. A really good 100 or 150Wpc amp with a robust power supply is whats needed to get them to really sing and, for a time, I didnt have one of those, at least not a two-channel version. So, while I waited for one to arrive I used two of the HT-5s channels to drive them. The HT-5 took hold of the MRM-1 with a strong grip and delivered the type of rock-solid power that speaker needs. But, thats not all. It sounded fantastic! Had that other stereo amplifier not arrived I would have not been unhappy since this combination worked splendidly together. What it did with the MRM-1s would make any music-loving audiophile proud.
The HT-5 can supply bass with almost infinite depth and extension, deliver pristine highs that sparkle with clarity, cast a soundstage with excellent width and depth, and project midrange frequencies with an almost golden glow that results in a touchy-feely palpability with vocals. Ive noticed that the companys Moon series products are a tad more revealing, perhaps a little more neutral, but it is this series that has a little more bloom and romance. Whether its Bruce Cockburn, Ani DiFranco or Fiona Apple, the presentation through the HT-5 was infinitely musical. In fact, I know that if I didnt tell people they were listening to a home-theater amplifier, theyd never know it.
There is more to what the HT-5 does too. Highs are not only exceedingly clear, they are well extended and never bright or edgy. Bass is not only deep, but is tight, refined and detailed with what I term grunt and growl. It can plumb the depths of a movie soundtrack or musical passage and add a rock-solid foundation to the soundtrack or music. Overall, there is texture and a wealth of detail in this amplifier that makes music and movie soundtrack listening far more involving than it would be without. Its not hard to hear that an audiophile company designed this amplifier.
I recently reviewed the outstanding $1399 Anthem MCA 5 amplifier. It delivers an extremely attractive combination of power, features, and sonic performance that few amplifiers can match. As good as the MCA 5 is though, it does fall a little short in a couple of areas when compared on an absolute-sound scale. This shouldnt come as a big surprise and is understandable and forgivable given the MCA 5s incredible price.
Both units are built very well and worked flawlessly throughout their review periods. However, the more expensive HT-5 is just that much more beefy in its build. One just has to compare the 30 pound weight difference to know there is a little more metal on the HT-5. Where do they put that metal? It has a slightly thicker front plate and a heavier, more dead-sounding chassis. Whether this translates to anything sonically is anyones guess and impossible to determine given that these are two different amplifier designs.
Sonically, both units are high-quality performers, but with subtle differences that careful ears will take note of. The MCA 5 exhibits excellent high-frequency extension, but is not quite as pristine sounding as the very best solid-state, home-theater amps, the HT-5 included. The HT-5 has a bell-like clarity that makes it sound a tad more refined playing cymbals and various other instruments that excite the upper registers. This is not a big difference, mind you, but is one of the nit-picky things with which audiophiles differentiate products.
The MCA 5 provides every bit the detail that the HT-5 does, but it does not quite "flesh out" the way the Simaudio can. This is an attribute that audiophiles like to call palpability. What this translates to in sound is most noticeable in the midrange frequencies. The HT-5 has what can be described as a more robust, meaty character that is easily discernible on vocals, piano, etc. There is more fullness to the sound, even down through the upper-bass, which adds a touch more presence to music and movies. This character also makes the amplifier sound almost tube-like and more powerful than it really is. Vocals seem to project from the HT-5 with improved dimensionality, and are a little more laid-back and dry through the MCA 5.
When it comes to power output, one just has to look to the specs to know the MCA 5 provides more juice, even at 4 ohms. However, I found the modest 120Wpc rating of the HT-5 to be more than sufficient driving the Audio Specialiste speaker system that I had in for review, as well as numerous other speakers. Source components included a Kenwood DV-S700 DVD player, and a Nakamichi AV-10 Audio/Video Receiver for surround-sound processing. Playing favorites like Desperado, The Fifth Element, Contact, etc., the HT-5 proved to have all the slam, weight, and ultimate power output of much more powerfully rated amplifiers. Trying to go head-to-head in an amplifier shoot-out for power, at least in my system, is a moot point. Even at ear-bleeding levels, both amplifiers retain their composure without a hint of strain, indicating that both are used within their limits.
A more telling comparison of power occurred when I pitted the internal amplifier section of the Nakamichi AV-10 (which is rated at 100Wpc) against the HT-5 and MCA 5. Granted, the all-in-one receiver offers plenty of bang-for-the-buck, but this test highlighted the sacrifices one makes in performance at the lower end of the price range, particularly with receivers. I found both the HT-5 and MCA 5 provided a night-and-day difference in terms of power output and refinement of sound. It isnt just a step up, its a few flights of stairs up! Not only could they drive the speakers to much higher listening levels, at almost all levels there was less grain and distortion and each amp seemed to control each speaker better. Detail, tightness and control were all improved. Its proof-positive that if someone wants to make a significant step up in performance in his or her receiver-based system, a high-quality separate amplifier may prove to be a good way to go.
Far too many home-theater enthusiasts go straight for the specs and fail to really listen to the electronics in their system. Forget the naysayers that will tell you amplifiers all sound the same -- they dont. Even if you dont listen to music on your home-theater system, youll appreciate high-quality sound for movies for the exact same reasons.
The HT-5 is a first-rate power amplifier that delivers sufficient power for most home-theater users. However, it really makes its mark through the sound quality it offers. Its audiophile heritage is unmistakable, and its family resemblance to the rest of the Simaudio amplifiers is easy to hear and thats where its value really lies. With strong competition in the sub-$2000 multichannel amplifier market the HT-5 wont necessarily come out a winner when features and specifications are placed side-by-side. Those looking for high power at a low price with whizzy features need not apply. However, those that value refined sound and superior sonic performance, particularly in a combination music and theater system, will want to audition this amplifier.
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