A listening test of two power amps


It's my first post here. I've been using two power amp setups for my main stereo and I've been curious to see if I can really discern any acoustic difference between the two. One setup involves a bi-wired high-powered stereo power amp and the other uses a pair of identical lower-powered amps with which the speakers, a pair of Tannoy System 12 DMT II monitors, are vertically bi-amped.

I decided to devise a listening test involving a mono acoustic recording made with a valve-condenser mic positioned at my usual listening position. I've used a relatively simple method to ensure that the recordings are level-matched. I've chosen a mono recording method since my goal is, principally, to evaluate the "tone" of the two recordings. I've been inspired to do this test after reading W. A. James' eBook "High end audio on a budget". The aim of the listening test is to try and discern which power amp setup provides the most realistic rendering of acoustic instruments. I thought that a mono recording might help the listener concentrate on the tone. After listening, I think it does. It's less distracting, especially on piano, where stereo or other multi-mic recording setups tend to splay out the notes across the stereo field.

I made two recordings for the test and will place links below so that the audio can be downloaded. I won't at this point give the make and model of the power amps involved, but this is the method used:


1. I created an audio file with white noise at -10dB RMS and put the file on a Logitech Media Server so that I could play it on my stereo using a Raspberry Pi 3 with Audio Injector Pro card and RCA interface (192kHz 24bit DAC).

2. I then put on an LP on a Pro-ject 1.2 and set the volume to my usual listening level on a Quad 34 preamp. Following this, I then played the white noise and used a decibel meter, positioned next to the mic, to measure the level. It measured 67.3 dB.

3. Still playing the noise, I set the record level on a portable Tascam digital recorder arbitrarily to somewhere above -15dB. The microphone used was a large diaphragm valve condenser mic. The Tascam was set to record at 192kHz 24bit.

4. I then recorded the first track of the LP on the Tascam.

5. After that, I wired up the other amp configuration. I played the white noise and adjusted the volume of the preamp such that the decibel meter again measured 67.3dB at the position of the mic. The volume control on the Quad 34 is stepped, so I was lucky it matched!

6. I then recorded the same track on the LP as before, leaving the Tascam record levels unchanged.

7. I tidied the two recordings in Ardour (trimming start and finish only) and exported each as a 192kHz 24bit Flac file. I did not adjust the gain on either recording.

8. I listened to the recordings on the computer with a pair of AKG K501 headphones and Focusrite Scarlett interface.


At first, I could distinguish a marked difference between the two. But now, I'm uncertain of the first qualitative difference that I'd noticed but I have noticed other more subtle differences (for the moment anyway). And that's why I'm here!

It would be wonderful if some people here could listen to the recordings and say which recording produces the most realistic rendering of the three instruments therein, and why. The instruments being piano, drums and string bass.

I've given the two files nondescript names: e.flac and t.flac. If anyone needs a different format or for me to down-sample, please let me know.

Finally, here are the files:





Sure seems like a lot of work to come to a subjective conclusion. Only thing that matters is which one sounds best to you. Admire your dedication and tenacity!

I was hoping (like the OP) to read some OPINIONS or IMPRESSIONS comparing the 2 recordings. I don't see ONE (maybe hidden in all the other non relevant comments). Neither my ears (listening skill) nor may system are good enough to make a judgement, so my "I can't hear a difference" verdict should not count. 

Just listen to music you are very familiar with and compare them directly. You will know pretty quickly. Good luck. 

It's like listening to music over the telephone.  You expect a valid comparison?

@surdo   Great post and listening exercise.  I listen with my ears and not my eyes or wallet.  That being said, there is no wrong answer because everyone hears differently and prefers a different sound profile.  I will listen this weekend on my main system.