Pass, C-J, Theta, or Belles amps w/ Vandersteen 3A Signatures: Feedback appreciated

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Alex F., Nov 15, 2001.

  1. Alex F.

    Alex F. Second Unit

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    Greetings:
    While our new home is under construction, and along with it a new home-theater room, I am about to begin looking at power amps. I have settled on a Vandersteen system built around the 3A Signatures. At least for the time being, until SACD and/or DVD-Audio get sorted out and multichannel digital connections become available, I will continue to use our Denon AVP-8000 preamp/processor. An amp's bottom-octave performance is not a concern, as I will be using our Velodyne FSR-18 subwoofer. Also note that the room will be 15 x 21 feet, and that we do not play the system at deafening levels.
    Based on past experience and/or published reviews, I have narrowed my power-amp choices to four brands: Pass, Conrad-Johnson, Theta, and Belles. I may not have the time to audition every power amplifier as I would prefer to, so any experiences with specific models (as outlined below) would be greatly appreciated. Comments could help narrow down choices even further.
    From Pass, either the X5 amp alone, or an X150 or X250 stereo amp for the mains along with an X3 to drive the center and surrounds. Do the stereo amps provide audibly better performance than the multichannel X5? For solid-state amps, I have generally preferred MOSFETs in the output stage, hence my interest in Nelson Pass' offerings. I currently use Adcom's GFA-5503 and 5400 amps, which are based on a Pass design. They've performed splendidly, but I am hoping for even further refinement.
    Conrad-Johnson has their MF-5600 multichannel amp. (I am a fan of and past owner of C-J's tube products--I use tube components in our music room. This gives a good idea of my sonic preferences.) Or I could utilize their MF-2500 or MF-2250 stereo amps for the mains and use an MF-5600 for the other channels (this would leave two unused channels, though they could be useful if 7.1 DVDs become the norm). Again, do the stereo amps provide audible benefits compared with the MF-5600?
    Theta's Dreadnaught or new Intrepid look intriguing. The former has received impressive reviews since its introduction. If either one is as smooth, open, grainless, and nonfatiguing as I've read, I am certainly interested.
    Finally, in a conversation with David Belles last week, he was rather excited about his new 350A stereo amp, suggesting it be combined with a three-channel 150A or 150A Hot Rod. Belles' use of MOSFETs, plus positive reviews I've read about his products, put these amps on my short list.
    I have long felt that if a component can do justice to music, reproducing film soundtracks generally will not be a problem. Thus, a description of an amp's performance on music would be very helpful.
    Thank you very much in advance!
     
  2. John Morris

    John Morris Guest

    Alex: What kind of pricing are you getting on the Vandy 3A's? I just listened to a pair last week, and they are very impressive, but the local dealer wouldn't budge off MSRP.
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  3. Alex F.

    Alex F. Second Unit

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    John:
    I haven't asked yet. I plan to discuss pricing when it comes time to make the purchase.
    Even at full retail, though, they're a bargain. I preferred the Vandersteens over other exceptional--and higher priced--speakers that I auditioned, including Dunlavy SC-IVs, Vienna Acoustic Mahlers, B&W Nautilus 803s, and KEF Reference 4.2s. The Vandersteens were auditioned after I thought I was finished shopping for loudspeakers. My wife and I were flip-flopping between the Dunlavys and Viennas--both are terrific yet quite different in their sonic signatures. Then I heard the Vandersteen's relaxed, smooth, clean, detailed, nonfatiguing nature, which, when combined with its nonboxy sound (reminiscent of planar loudspeakers), knocked me out.
    I asked my dealer about the Vandersteen 5s, which weren't available for auditioning on that particular day. He surprised me by saying that since I was utilizing my Velodyne subwoofer for the bottom octave, I should stick with the 3A Signatures, which use identical tweeter and midrange drivers, and essentially the same crossover (the crossover differs only in its bass circuitry). It's not very often a dealer suggests that a customer purchase a less-expensive product.
    I have enjoyed the Dahlquist Prelude system that we've used in our theater room for the past six years, but the Vandersteens are quite a bit better. I am eager to bring them home.
    Mark:
    Thank you for the comments. If possible, please describe in a bit of detail the sonic signatures that you heard from the Pass and Conrad-Johnson amps. Again, thanks!
     
  4. John Morris

    John Morris Guest

    Alex: I haven't listened to the VA Mahlers, but I liked the sound of the Beethovens. I also have not heard the Vandy 5s, but I really liked the transparency of the 3A's. One other speaker that you may want to audition is the Aerial 10T. Currently, that is my favorite in the sub $5K range. I've seen them on Audiogon advertised as new demos for as little as $3800 in black wood.
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    merc
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    God Bless America!!!
     
  5. Jack Gilvey

    Jack Gilvey Producer

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    I've heard the big Vandy's on some Quicksilver monos up the block at Audio Connection. Amazing, they just love toobs.
     
  6. chris c

    chris c Stunt Coordinator

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    Alex, I've heard the Vandersteen 5's with Theta Dreadnaught and BEL (Brown Electronic Labs) amps. Both were fantastic, with a slight edge to BEL. I own the Theta Intrepid and can vouch that it is the best amp I have ever heard in my system and I've heard a lot. The amps you mention are all first-rate. You should look into Ayre's new V-6 as well. Absolutely outstanding in every way. Actually, on second thought, I would ditch the Condrad Johnson - their specialty, as you know, is tube equipment and they are just not as good with SS as the other companies you mention.
     
  7. Darrel McBane

    Darrel McBane Second Unit

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    I've heard the 3A Signatures with VTL tube preamp and monoblock amps and it sounded fantastic. I was sold on the 3As till I heard the Revel Performa F-30 speakers. They are the same price as the Vandies but to my ears every bit the equal of the 3As but much more revealing in the midrange. If you have a Revel dealer available I'd suggest listening to a pair. Nothing against the 3As but, may give you another choice to consider?!
    I ended up purchasing the F-30s powering them with the Rotel 1090 two channel amp and bi-wiring with DHLabs speaker cables.
    Good Luck!
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  8. mctague

    mctague Stunt Coordinator

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    My local dealer drives the top-flite Vandy's (5?) with B.E.L. amps. They are awesome IMHO.
     
  9. Alex F.

    Alex F. Second Unit

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    Thanks, folks!
    Any other feedback about the Pass, Conrad-Johnson, Theta, or Belles amps is most welcome.
     

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