Best amplifier for low to moderate listening levels


My system consists of Martin Logan 11A's, Conrad Johnson Classic 62 (60 watt per channel), Rogue Preamp, Lumin U2 mini streamer, and a Chord Qutest DAC. I realize that a high sensitivity speaker in the mid 90's for example would allow the use of a lower powered amplifier. I just purchased the Martin Logans 11A's one year ago and am not looking to get rid of them so quickly, not to mention the financial loss. Is anybody from the school that more power will bring a speaker to life even at low to moderate listening levels. I typically listen at 65dbs with 70DB peaks. I have listened at low levels and do not get the dynamics until the volume is turned too high for my ears. Any amps recommended that will mate well with the Martin Logans and maximize their sound. I know the speaker is a tough load to drive as the impedance drops below 2 ohms. I was thinking a high current amplifier (where power doubles when you drop from 8 ohms to 4 ohms. This only applies to solid state. My budget would be up to $10,000.00, but I would have to have a home audition before to avoid another mistake. Would a better DAC help in this regard? In short, I am trying to get this right, but its almost like I am operating in a vacuum. Difficult to obtain unbiased advice.  Thank you. 

 

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I can’t say that it is strictly the amount of power. Two amps with same power rating often sound different. I have a recommendation for you that may seem too inexpensive. I recommend the Martin Logan Forte amp (with ARC room correction). I have used this amp and continue to be surprised how it can take speakers that are not ML and impart that huge, clean, electrostatic type soundstage you get from an ML speaker. I absolutely love this amp. Don’t let the low price fool you (on sale at 60% off), it should be a perfect match. ARC will dial that amp in for your listening room at any volume:

https://www.martinlogan.com/en/product/forte

Review:

https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/amplifier/power-amplifier/martinlogan-forte-amp-review/

 

I listen at similar levels on low sensitivity speakers and am currently auditioning new preamplifiers. I have noticed a difference between preamps in their ability to bring life to the music at lower levels. My point is, don’t focus solely on the power amp, maybe a different preamp could improve low volume performance. 

I am very happy with a PS Audio S300 amp (300W/ch/4 ohms, stable to 2 ohms) driving the mids and tweeters, and a pair of PS Audio M1200 monoblocks (1200W/4 ohms, stable to 2 ohms) driving the woofers of my B&W 803 D3.

I think you would be very happy with them.

 

For a preamp, I'm using the Topping Pre90. 130 dB S/N! Amazing clarity.

I think you would be happy with it too.

It may be time to experiment with speaker placement (closer to the front wall) and seating position (closer to the speakers).  Possibly increase the toe-in, also.

Voltage vs Current Paradigm. Here’s a white paper by Atma-Sphere.

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When I powered my electrostats with 50 watt/channel-push/pull tube monoblocks, they sounded really, really bad - at every volume level. Anemic and lifeless. When I powered them with a 250 watt/ch solid state amp (that doubled-down), it was a night & day improvement.

At an audio show, the best sounding electrostats I heard were driven by a Sanders Sound Systems Magtech Amp. Exceptional! He’s got several models that are designed specifically for ESL’s.

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Long ago, I visited a Martin Logan owner who used the speakers as giant headphones. The two speakers were placed just slightly outside of his ears - about 2 ft or so apart - at low volume. Much to my surprise, this set-up sounded amazing. Zero bass - but an incredibly deep & wide sound stage. Though, he did have a good amp.

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It’s always a good idea to get suggestions from the speaker manufacturer. They have years of first-hand experience in how to make their products sound best.

I found that a Nord Purifi Class D amp at 250wpc at 8ohms was a great match for my ML Vantage speakers, Funnily enough when I bought Sonus Faber Sonetto V speakers the Class D did not work as well as a Rogue ST90 with KT120 tubes. My guess is that the Conrad Johnson amp is too rolled off at the top end and is sucking the life out of the MLs.

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For a preamp, I'm using the Topping Pre90. 130 dB S/N! Amazing clarity. I think you would be happy with it too."
You might be happy until it stops functioning.

I drove Quads with CJ Premier 12xs with great success for many years. Not the same setup as you but very similar.  Pr12’s use EL34’s and have 60 watts per side just like your amp.  So I don’t believe the problem is your amp.  It should be driving those speakers just fine particularly since they have powered subs.  Make sure your speakers are at least 2-3 ft. off the wall.  Further is better.  Other than that sorry I really don’t have any other suggestions other than trying the CJ Owners Group.  Lots of CJ owners there that might be able to help.

I can’t help you with any specific experience with your set up but my objectives are similar - rich fulfilling sound with detail and dynamics with max 85dB peaks.

I’m there and very happy - good luck - what you are after makes sense and is achievable.

 

Why is no one talking about the equal loudness effect?  If the OP has separates or a monitor loop in their preamp, add a Schiit Lokius and dial in a contour that suits the desired listening level.  Easy to tweak and sonically neutral, especially at low volumes. 

Doesn't sound like an amplifier issue at all. If you are not getting all the dynamics you expect except at higher volumes that sounds like you need some EQ, speaker placement, etc. Someone with hearing issues, known or unknown, may need EQ tweaks and not power.

I think the reason it is hard to get an unambiguous answer is the dynamics are not strictly one component and different systems react differently. When I had solid state amps more power made a difference in impact… making them sound better at all volumes but they still sounded best in the high 70’s to 80’s.

 

If you like the character of the sound then I would not recommend switching to a solid state amp. The character will change too much. That is a really nice amp.

The volume at which my systems have sounded good over the last fifty years have continually dropped as my system has gotten better. My system now sounds the best it has at low levels (see my system).

 

If you were going to do one thing, I would definitely trade in and apply the $10K to new speakers. This will put you in a whole different category of speaker regardless of the actual choice. Secondly,I would recommend looking at dynamic… like Sonus Faber, or DyneAudio. These will give you solid bass and natural presentation at all volume. I have had various electrostatic and ribbon speakers over my life and while they haves strengths, they have many weaknesses. All my planar speakers required pretty high listening volumes.

The Pass Labs XA30.8 and other Class A amplifiers are distinctly a low volume sound quality leader- most likely because of the Class A topology.  Spectacular. 

The Parasound JC5 is also very good for low volume listening,  

Also depends on the quality and dynamics of your preamp.  

Which Rogue do you have?  

I recommend a very inexpensive add-on that may help you. The iFi Micro iTube 2.  It has a 2 level Xbass loudness switch and 3D Holograpghic matrix for designed for headphones and speakers. It's pre-amp that can be put in front of any amp or player.

Responding to a question from Avanti1960:

I  have the Rogue Audio RP-1 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier.

A little off track , but I’d like to make a suggestion. I have an RP-1 and it’s Rogues entry level pre. I tube rolled and settled on Tekefunken G73R 12AU7’s. I went with a nice aftermarket power cord and added isolation footers. I’ve also noticed that it takes 4-6 hours to sound its best. I have a tendency to leave it on 24-48 hours at a time. I’ve also inserted a Schiit Loki with good results. FWIW Ive tried 5 different brands of NOS 12AU7’s and THEY ALL bested the JJ’s. Look for a clean pair of standard Tekefunken smooth plates from a reputable dealer. If you’d like specific info PM me. This is a side note that would lend an improvement regardless of where you go with amp/speaker choice. Regards, Mike B. 

I know it’s considered all things evil to an audiophile, but have you considered:

https://www.schiit.com/products/lokius

OR

https://www.schiit.com/products/loki-max

I bit the bullet and purchased the Lokius,could not be more pleased.

$300 vs $10,000 for an amp that may not get me what I’m listening for

Give it a shot.. $300

If you look at my profile system,  you'll see it right on top of my streamer 

Sometimes more power is not enough.  My rebuilt upgraded TNT200'S are pumping out close to 900watts each.

Hegel H590 integrated amp!!!  The extremely high current, high damping factor, beastly, superb sounding, Hegel H590 drives my inefficient Revel Salon 2 speakers beautifully at low, quiet, midnight listening levels with authority.   

Hegel H590 integrated amp!!! The extremely high current, high damping factor, beastly, superb sounding, Hegel H590 drives my inefficient Revel Salon 2 speakers beautifully at low, quiet, midnight listening levels with authority.

to this comment above, the h590 is simply superb... and their relative value will increase (meaning their used prices on the used market will fall some) in the coming months as hegel is introducing its replacement, which they will call the h600... by what is reported, the improvements are very very incremental ...sonic differences should be minimal (but of course, tbd)

The H600 just won an EISA award with Hegel claiming a substantial improvement whilst potentially desecrating the 590 from an apparently not too bright marketing manager

https://www.lbtechreviews.com/news/hi-fi/hegel-h600-long-awaited-powerhouse

“The key word is sound quality. Personally, I think the H600 is a massive improvement over the H590. So much so that I no longer find the H590 particularly pleasant to listen to,” says Marketing Manager Anders Ertzeid confidently in a mail.

 

The right choice of amplifier will certainly deliver what the OP is seeking. Most electrostats and planars, including the ML 11A, have very low impedance in the high frequencies. When an amplifier is not powerful enough to control the speakers, the first thing that goes is detail and clarity. On the flip side, the bass is usually very high impedance, so less capable amplifiers will make the speaker sound muffled or boomy.

There is good advice above from steakster on the Voltage vs Power paradigm. But more than anything, you’ll want an amplifier that is stable down to 2 Ohm so that it can handle the wilder than typical impedance curves of the ML 11A. 

Class D amps could be a good direction to go performance-wise, but tonal balance may be a shocking difference coming from the OP’s CJ amp. The digital chain is also on the leaner/cleaner side, so most Class D may not be the perfect fit. Class A / AB amps may be a better fit. McIntosh has long been a good partner to Martin Logan. There are many other great options from other manufacturers as well. If space isn’t an issue, I would consider the Cambridge EDGE M monoblocks. They have a wonderfully natural tone, deliver great detail at low volumes, and can drive tougher loads like the ML 11A without breaking a sweat. I am an authorized Cambridge Audio dealer and am smitten for their EDGE line of electronics. In the right setting, the EDGE product line can be endgame. 

I just got a Sanders Sound System MagTech amp (used $4k from Sanders) for my Magnepan LRS+ panels. I have tried a few powerful amps with the LRS+, but the MagTech is the best. Low volume is great too. Not harsh or grainy, with the sound seemingly bigger in my room.

Not sure if the ML are similar to the hard to drive Magenpans in terms of power demands.

I have a CJ cav45 S2 60 watt and believe that is close to your amp. I had same problem. I had to turn the volume up to find the sweet spot on 6 ohm 87 db and 8 ohm 92 db speakers usually 11 or 12 o’clock on volume knob at those levels sounded great. It was not enjoyable at low levels at 8 to 10 o’clock. I thought it was the integrated being a control amp it may lack gain. Hearing you have a preamp with same issue makes me wonder about my CJ.

 

I did buy a 50 watt class A tube amp recently and on both speakers it sounds big and full at very minimal volume levels and just gets better as you go up in small increments. Even though it’s 10 watts less than the CJ it sounds much more powerful, dynamic and detailed but kept the same CJ musicality.