Home Theater Amplifier shootout in MN

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by Joe Hays, May 24, 2004.

  1. Joe Hays

    Joe Hays Agent

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  2. Yogi

    Yogi Screenwriter

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    We would all love to know what you find in your shootout comparing different amps. Please don't forget to post your findings here for the benefit of all others. I hope you also get some tube amps in the shootout.

    Best of luck.
     
  3. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Sounds like a lot of fun Joe. What kind of speakers will be used?
     
  4. Jerry Klawiter

    Jerry Klawiter Screenwriter

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    Chu,
    Since this thread looks a bit stalled, a similar thread
    is playing out on AVSand is far more active.
    Your speaker question seems to have been answered,
    Gallo ReferenceIII ($2500), DALI MS5 Euphonia's ($12K)
    Monitor Audio Silver S6 ($1K),
    Anyone from Minnesota that owns an Outlaw amp you’re invited and please bring your amp.
    Or anyone that has an easy means to get a hold of a Outlaw amp to participate in the shoot-out
    please reply back to this thread or the AVS thread.
    This should find to be very interesting.
     
  5. Joe Hays

    Joe Hays Agent

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    I think I found someone that can bring his Outlaw receiver. Hopefully this will not be THAT much different from the Outlaw amp.
     
  6. Wayne Ernst

    Wayne Ernst Cinematographer

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    I would suspect that there would be quite a bit of sound difference between the Outlaw 1050 receiver and the 950 pre-pro and a newer Outlaw amplifier.
     
  7. Joe Hays

    Joe Hays Agent

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    I am starting to acquire a love/hate relationship with these shootouts. This is the second serious shootout that we have done, the first was on projectors a year or two ago (whenever the Marantz and Sharp DLP’s came out). These are a lot of work to setup and conduct, but they are definitely worth all the effort.

    Steve and Jerry worked hard all day setting up the amplifiers and calibrating them with the SPL meter so they all were at the same level. They calibrated them at a low level and high level so we could compare how the amps performed at a low volume and also at a high volume.

    Next, they created a spreadsheet so we could all track our ratings of the amps. Here are the categories they used:
    Low Level Dynamics
    Bottom End Magnitude
    Bottom End Tightness
    Top End Air
    Sound Stage
    3D/Holographics

    Since hindsight is always 20/20, if we were to do this again, I would also add:
    Smoothness
    Sweetness of mid-range

    We were asked each amp on a scale of 1-10 (1 being really bad, 10 being really, really good). To try and get a good feeling for what type of sound we each preferred, we were asked:
    Do you prefer a warmer, brighter thinner sound?
    What do you own for a system?

    This information could then help explain so of the answers given. If someone is used to listening to ribbon speakers with a bright amp, they may not like the sound of a warmer amp paired with cone based speakers. Unfortunately, only a few of people filled out this section, so we couldn’t really correlate this information. Also, of the twenty people that attended, only thirteen completed their ranking sheet.

    For the listening test, Steve had a fantastic demo CD that had everything from a track with low level pipe organ, to a track with a baby giggling, from Stevie Ray Vaughn playing the blues, to full classical. We listened to the first amp at the regular listening levels (or slightly above, but not loud) and then listened to the ten same tracks at the lower listening levels. This way, we can judge the amp on both ends. We did this cycle for all of the amps, taking time in the middle to eat pizza and also to calibrate a few of the amps that showed up later.

    Now for the results. If you want to look at all the numbers, download the Excel spreadsheet that I have attached in a zipped up file. You can also view the pictures by clicking this link:
    http://community.webshots.com/user/jmhays


    After the first round of listening, we went back and listened to a few of them over again. Then we started to thin out the field. The first two to go were the ATI and the Carver. While both of these amps sounded good on their own, when compared to the rest of the group, it was easy to single these out.

    Next to go were the Theta, Bryston and Sherbourn amps. I personally liked the Sherbourn, but again when compared to the rest of the amps, it was not quiet up to par. I was really disappointed with the rankings that the Bryston received, I know this is a great company that makes great amps, but this was just not its day. I personally rated this one higher than most others, but alas, I was just one of twenty. Maybe it was the order that we listened to the amps. Maybe it could have been rated higher if we listened to them in order by MSRP.

    This left us with the Plinius, Lexicon and Gemstone. Honestly, I would be happy with any of these, but if I had won the lottery yesterday, my first pick would be the Plinius. However, since I haven’t won the lottery, and I can’t afford to part with $10,000 for an amp (Honey, I know you really wanted to buy a new car, but I got this really nifty amp instead!), I will be voting with my wallet and buying a Gemstone.

    Yes, I admit it, I DID have ulterior motives when I originally suggested this shootout. I was in the market for a new amp, and I was trying to think of an easy way to audition a whole bunch of amps at the same time AND get input from other like minded folks that could help direct me to the best value I could find.

    As people were making comments throughout the night, I tried to write a few of them down. These were taken from whoever was speaking at the time. I tried to capture a few words about all of the amps, hopefully, I did.

    Here are the comments in order of how they were listed on our ranking sheet:

    BrystonToo polite, sounds slow, couldn’t keep up.
    Theta Bottom end is not there, Have to Listen hard for the quiet passages
    GemstoneMuch more bottom end than the Theta, It’s all there, Great value for the money.
    PliniusLivelier, More bottom end, more top end air, Clearer, warmer than neutral.
    SherbournNot fatiguing, Low level was good, not great, It feel apart.
    ATIGood value, Smooth, not tiring, Fell apart at the low listening levels
    LexiconWarmer than neutral, warmer than the Plinius, Good match with the new Gallo Reference 380 speakers.
    CarverMore bottom end than the Theta, Airy, open top end.

    Those are what I captured, here are some of the comments that were written on the ranking sheets that people handed in:
    BrystonFat; Very balanced, good bass impact, clean;
    Theta A little warm, good detail, not real airy, horns not real textured; Life like, high over shadow; Smooth, nice low end; Forward, recessed highs, slightly rolled off, emphasized mids, missing bottom;
    GemstoneAmazing dynamics; Well rounded; Best value for your money by far; Very balanced;
    PliniusVery Life like; Not at low level; Very warm, powerful low end; Very balanced, very fast, good bottom, forward highs;
    SherbournAggressive; Good mid, missing detail in low level test; Less airy, bass somewhat muddy, compressed slightly at low level listening test;
    ATIMissing sound stage on some songs; Flat, not very dynamic, worst of the bunch by far; Forward mids and highs, recessed bass, cohereht at low levels, still lacking bass;
    LexiconClear & precise; Maybe a little bright; Low end dynamics; Solid state hardness; Good complete sound; Warm; Coherent at low level, great speed, balanced top to bottom, somewhat forward;
    CarverVery decent; Bad; Good bang for the buck; Compressed highs, less top end, good bass, good speed;

    Finally, here are my recollections from the evening. This was indeed a very informative meeting. After going through this exercise, it only emphasizes how extremely hard it is to judge one amp against another unless they are in the same room, at the same time, hooked up to the same equipment. If anyone can honestly say that they can listen to one amp at one store and then drive across town to another store to listen to another amp and remember all the nuances, I would like to know how they do it. It is hard enough when we had all eight right in front of us trying to remember what the first one sounded like after we had listened to the eighth one.

    What about the trade offs that we have to make in this hobby? Is it worth spending twice the money on an amplifier to achieve a 5-0% increase in sound quality? If you can afford it, sure go for it and never think twice about it.

    However, you very well may be better off buying the less expensive amp and taking the money you save and put it towards a quality speaker. There was a huge difference when we hooked up the Gallo speakers with the same amplifiers that we had used to listen through the Dali speakers. In fact, I would wager to say that this was the biggest difference that we experienced all night.

    We also noticed that different amps sounded better with different speakers. One of the amps (I can’t remember which right now) sounded much better with the Gallo speakers than it did with the Dali speakers.
     
  8. Joe Hays

    Joe Hays Agent

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    Pictures of the shootout can be found here
     
  9. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Why didn't you level match at the speaker terminals using a VOM to ensure greater accuracy and check for imbalance between the left/right channels? The evaluations were sighted?
     

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