Price: $6950 per pair
Vade said: Atma-Sphere has improved the input circuit to reduce distortion, which has resulted in a sweeter, less mechanical sound. I like it a lot. If I didn’t already own Atma-Sphere’s S-30 Mk.3, I’d be sorely tempted to send in a check for the M-60 Mk.3.1s.
The gist: Nothing between you and the music -- not even a transformer.
Aron said: The Bel Canto e.One REF150S is the most musical amplifier I have heard south of $5000, with the exceptions of its bigger brothers, the REF500S and REF500M. If you’re in the market for a wonderfully musical two-channel amplifier that offers tremendous value and performance, rock-solid build quality, and uses a minimal amount of power, you owe it to yourself to audition Bel Canto’s e.One REF150S.
The gist: Clean, small, efficient -- should be a good fit for a compact system.
Jeff said: The Coda Technologies 15.0 is one heckuva piece of US-made hardware. I would confidently put the 15.0 in any system at any price and feel certain that it would hold its own. It’s that good. It has plenty of brute-force drive, as well as that golden tone that only class-A amps seem to deliver. It is ultra-resolving of fine detail, yet can handle huge dynamic swings without breaking a sweat. And it’s evenhanded across the audioband, but can also sound magical in specific areas, based on the recording.
The gist: The Coda 15.0 is a great amp. Period.
Jeff said: Describing the Gryphon Audio Designs Mirage and Colosseum as functional or industrial art, or some other such term, seems to minimize just how special they are. I prefer just art. They will grace a listening room with sculptural beauty, provide tactile pleasure in use, and make your music sound as real as reproduced music can. I simply adored them. If you have the money, seek them out for audition, even if you have to travel across land and sea to do so. You’ll be richly rewarded by the experience, in the ways that only great art can reward.
The gist: Simply reference-class in every way.
Michael said: It’s refreshing to come across a company that makes affordable gear that competes head-to-head with the expensive offerings from better-known names. I recommend it as highly as almost anything else I’ve ever reviewed.
The gist: One of the best amps to get under $6000.
Price: $11,999.98 per pair
Howard said: Being the offspring of Marantz’s classic Model 7 preamplifier and Model 9 amplifier, the Reference SC-7S2 and Reference MA-9S2 have some rather large shoes to fill. By my account they do just that, and the folks at Marantz appear to be worthy stewards of the historic company name. If you’re looking for a pair of amps and/or a preamp anywhere near or even above these models’ asking prices, you’ll want to head to your local Marantz Reference dealer to give them a listen.
The gist: The Model 9 improved.
Price: $7600 per pair
Tim said: To be sure, the Reference 18 has some worthy competitors at its not-insubstantial price level of $7600/pair, but they had better bring along their “A” game in any shoot-out with this outstanding class-D amp. Biases be damned.
The gist: Reference amps at a real-world price.
Price: $6500 per pair
Doug said: $6500 isn’t cheap, and the 400M’s looks aren’t exceptional -- but lurking beneath their plain surfaces is an outstanding-sounding, high-powered amplifier whose performance is something special. If you dream of owning Simaudio Moon Evolution components but, like most of us, can’t afford them, look to the Moon 400M -- it delivers Evolution-like sound at a reasonable price.
The gist: Nondescript but great-sounding mono amps.
Garrett said: Kevin Hayes has come up with something very special in the Phi 200: a tubed stereo amplifier with the speed, grip, and top-end extension of solid-state, yet with the flow, sparkle, and treble sweetness of tubes. At a retail price of $9990 it's a serious high-end investment, but it deserves to be considered by anyone who's interested in the cutting edge of audio engineering.
The gist: Stereo amp that seems to produce the best of both the tube and solid-state worlds.