Can we create a consensus list of the TONALITY of different amps/preamps/brands?

Greetings to any and all,

I am shopping for a new amp and preamp, but stuck abroad so unable to purchase anything right now. I have thus been reading lots and lots of reviews.
One thing that is very important to many of us is finding the right balance of Tonalities (warm versus cool, musical versus analytical, smooth versus detailed, etcetera).

Somewhere in all that research, I came upon a reviewer who started a comparative list of different brands, trying to get a handle of the general Tonality of various audio brands or individual products.  Since then I have been adding to that list, sometimes extrapolating from the adjectives used (e.g. clean, neutral, etched, sweet, etc.).

One thing I should admit right off the bat is that I have personally listened to very few of these products. (I am just the collector of comparative adjectives, just a compiler. In no way do I consider this present list to be definitive or perfectly correct.) Of course, all this is completely subjective.

So I wonder if there is a way we can created a consensus compilation of opinions of the general tonality of various audio products. I am obviously soliciting input and opinions. Please feel free to disagree or suggest changes or refinements. The model I started with was of a clock face: 12:00 midnight being perfectly neutral. Anything after 12:00 is more analytical or clinical; anything before 12:00 is smoother or warmer.
(Thanks for any responses or contributions.)


Here is that list:

Halcro: 1:30 (hyperdetailed solid-state)

Simaudio amplifiers: 1:00 (even more clinical, analytical)

Audio Research Ref10 pre: slightly less cool than Simaudio 850p; maybe 12:30

Esoteric integrated: 12:30 (slightly to the cold, clinical side)

Boulder 1160/1161/2060 amps: 12:00 dead neutral (adding or subtracting nothing, no added tonal saturation, "sterile")

Rotel Michi M8: 11:45 ("kiss of midband lush")

Simaudio pre: 11:45 ("closest sounding amp to the Luxman")

Luxman 900 series: 11:30 (very slightly warmish)

Plinius SA-103: 11:30 ("natural, neutral tonal balance")

Pass X150.5: 11:15

Accuphase: 11:00 (warmer than Luxman)

Pass X250.8: 11:00

Pass x 260.8: 10:45

Pass XA 60.8/200.8: 10:30 (warm or saturated side)

Pass XS Pre: 10:30

VAC i170 tube amp: 9:30 (warmish)

PrimaLuna EVO 400 tube amp: 9:00 (warmer still)


No.  There will never be consensus.   If this thread grows legs, it will be people disagreeing with each other.

Personally I recommend against publishing a rating on equipment you have never heard but that is common here.  I'd say most of the comments posted and even recommendations are people discussing equipment they have never heard.


Impossible to say because of the way they interact with preamps, and ultimately, speakers.

Alas! You could very well be right.
Just a hopeful idea--that I would not have to personally audition 25 amps and 15 preamps to find the right ones.

But rather I could utitlize the collective wisdom of the members on here to guide me to the preferred components.

Oh well.


Stop.. I understand what you are trying to do, but at the end of this thread you will be no better off. Perhaps a better question is what amp and preamp are you using and why? Hope that those posting also list their full system on their profile.

My answer to the above question is that my selection was limited by funds, laziness and a desire to retain some resale value. I like the hybrid tube/solid state approach to the McIntosh MA12000. Not by any means the best at anything.

that I would not have to personally audition 25 amps and 15 preamps to find the right ones.

No need to overthink it or make this complicated. Just stay with the basics: buy your amp/preamp combo from same manufacturer (i.e. Vanalstine Audio, Rogue Audio, etc), and concentrate on your speaker selection. Eventually, if you want a change-up, try a tubed, or solid state DAC

I’m not sure if consensus is possible because the system can be influenced drastically by speakers, cables and such  

This weekend I am listening to a Moon 860A v2 and it’s significantly more of everything than my Moon M400s. Detailed, dynamic, fast and able to produce delicate and dramatic sounds at a level I hadn’t heard. I don’t view it as analytical perhaps that’s because my speakers are Sonus fabers. 

I am sure it would be different with Focals or B&W 

The subjective range of the viewpoints, differences in the partnered components, speakers, and rooms, inconsistent use of adjectives, and scarcity of people who have both heard the amplifiers and who post on this forum, would likely result in unreliable and inaccurate results.

Narrow the field by reading professional reviews and forum posts from people who have owned the amps, and then try to arrange an opportunity to listen to those that your research indicates you might like.  

I have to disagree. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise and the people here can largely be trusted.  I think most of what you wrote @hoodjem is spot on. 

"Tonality" is relatively unspecific as it's in the ears of the listener, and except for tonal extremes due to bad design there's not much to hang your hat on that's useful. "Tube-like" without tubes is overused often (tubes are also claimed to be NOT tube-like here and there), and I've read reviews of items I'm personally familiar with that are dead wrong to my ears. 

I am not agreeing to or disagreeing to your evaluations of the components you mention. BUT the sound impact can be from the source and preamps that you also have paired them with. Not sure what the ultimate goals is but you also need to understand the design of the components and what parts make them sound they way they do. We can alter the sound of any component typically with changing the power supply capacitors, output capacitors, resistors in specific areas, adding filter chokes, etc. By doing this, people do not have to "chase" the sound they are looking for. We can tailor to a persons sound requirements. Plus you do not need to spend large dollars to achieve this.

Happy Evaluating!


While you’re abroad, check out Hegel. They are slightly to the warm side.

All the best with your list.

No.  Only if by tonality you mean how it sounds when struck by a mallet.  No such thing as tonality independent of the other elements in the chain.

I wouldn't mind seeing something like that but this is maybe 10% listed here! just like  one person said, Where is XXX Brand. And to those who say there can be no consensus. That might just be because there is NO Consensus on what constitutes personal feelings and not FACTS. If someone can come up with ;factual reliable definitions for the different qualities this could be done. You can define Volume or power or frequency response, but when you try to include factors that people can't even describe of at least have a consensus on what they mean, and these same people claiming that their feelings are important to the discussion, then you just threw any definable factor out the window. You are allowed to have your feelings and likes, but don't force them on the public until you can actually evaluate what a particular sound is and possibly even measure it.

+1 @pmm 

+1 @mitch2 

OP, do you have speakers that are revealing enough to discern the nuances of the electronics upstream? Buy the best speakers you can afford for your listening room and then match them with the best amp for those speakers.


As many have stated, there are way too many variables.

I read a review of a DAC once where the reviewer listed the components he used in the chain. I happened to have a lot of experience with the USB cable that was used. With that point of reference, the review lost a bit of creditability as I knew the shortcomings and sound signature and what one was gaining (bottom end) and losing (mid details) using that cable.

It can be a very delicate balance when you get into more revealing systems. Sometimes, it only takes one component or cable in the chain to color the entire soundstage.

I find even the limited info here somewhat useful. I also believe in objective reality- people know whether a piano sounds like a piano, and furthermore that long term satisfaction is achieved with more natural sounding components. The big problem I see is that the speaker - amp combination is critically important. I know from experience that none of the Pass Labs amps can properly drive Wilson Audio speakers, which are the only speakers I have heard which render a pianist n the room. Both Boulder and Spectral do, but the Spactral has a small edge in detail. 

There is a crap load of audio equipment for your enjoyment.  Regardless what anyone recommends  your ears are the biggest critic. 

@hoodjem If you want correlation, here's what needs to be done:

1) show the distortion spectra of each amp

2) show the frequency at which distortion rises.

Rising distortion with frequency usually isn't a good thing. Ideally it should be a straight line. THD doesn't tell you everything, because usually its measured at a frequency too low to show the rising distortion. As a result, distortion can be quite a lot higher at higher frequencies than the THD otherwise suggests.

Distortion spectra is important since it will show what harmonics are audible or not. For example, if there is a lot of the 2nd and 3rd they might be able to mask the higher ordered harmonics. If the higher ordered harmonics are not masked, they can contribute to harshness and brightness, two common complaints about solid state (which is why tubes are still around 60+ years after being declared 'obsolete').

These are engineering problems that are solvable and some do it better than others. So now you have something to look for in the measurements (if you can find them; these measurements are not always published).
"What…No McIntosh…conversation done!"


I would love for you to suggest a time-number (or position) for any McIntosh

amps or preamps, with which you are familiar.  That would be most helpful.

"hoodjem. Pls explain your numerical grading."

The numerical grading was based on a partial list started by a professional audio reviewer that I read somewhere along the way. He was the person who first suggested the notion of a clock face using 12:00 as absolute neutral tonality.

Since reading that review and list, I have tried to add to it whenever possible.  But only if the reviewer makes a specific comparative remark about a brand or component that is already on the list.  For example, if the author compares the reviewed unit to a Boulder 2060 amp--on the list at 12:00--and says the reviewed unit is "slightly warmer," then I might extrapolate that the reviewed unit should be at 11:45 or 11:30.