How Do Amps Affect Soundstage?

I'm not that technically strong on audio yet, so please refrain from mockery on this....

My DAC, premamp, and amp combo (all tube) throw a nice soundstage.  If I substitute (at least some) solid state stereo amps, soundstage is constricted.  If the amp is basically just increasing the signal that it is receiving from the preamp, I don't get how the size and shape of the presentation is altered materially from what the preamp is delivering. (I get that the signal could get distorted, etc.).  How does the amp play such role?  And do monoblocks enjoy any design advantage in maintaining the soundstage received?  Thanks.

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It depends….

My experience is the amp can make a difference - transparency, definition and dynamic improvements can improve sound stage.  A good source is critical….


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Unfortunately, it all matters. All components including the amp. Speakers may be the biggest determinant.


I can comment on amps. For a year and a half I had both an Audio Research Reference 160 stereo and a pair of 160 monoblocks. So, identical amplifiers… just one spread into two boxes. The most notable difference was imaging. The soundstage was wider and much deeper with the monoblocks and hence the images presented more three dimensionally in a larger sound space.

What I heard was confirmed by a couple other folks that had an opportunity to experience it (different amps). I suspect a lot of it comes from a lower noise floor. More quiet allows you to hear more subtle cues in the sound.



amplifiers are part of the distortion equation. especially the amplifier<->speaker relationship. if the amplifiers have headroom in the ability to keep the speaker linear, then the subtle ambient clues and musical threads that occupy the soundstage can be fully rendered. obviously acoustics play their role too. it’s not just the amp<->speaker by themselves.

if the amplifier cannot fully control the speaker then the details of the music break down and the soundstage becomes a mess to one degree or another. you are suddenly hearing individual speakers as sound, individual drivers as sound, and not as a musical whole. it’s the distortion that is causing the music to turn to just sound. the distortion reminds us that it’s reproduced, and not real.

this is the biggest cause of the music sounding hard or flat, or the soundstage collapsing. lack of cohesion between the amps and the speakers.

when you hear a system that can do large scale music with ease, when the music breathes, and can keep together and rise and fall with the musical flow, the amplifier has to be right as part of the package. it’s the ’heart’ of what you are hearing. for a recording to be presented completely the amps have to be right.

mono blocks in and of themselves are not significant. there are stereo amplifiers at the highest levels of amplifiers. however; mono blocks can deliver more performance within some design approaches  as then you have each channel optimized. but mono blocks or stereo chassis does not tell you good, better, best by itself. too many degrees of good.

If only there was a way to measure soundstage, transparency, definition and dynamics.

The fact that there is no clear cut solution to matching an amp and speaker conundrum you can just skip the entire mess...just buy active speakers. The speaker designer can match the drivers to the amp, use an active crossover, and provide a tailored solution for that price point.


Thanks all.  Mike Lathat vigne's response is most interesting.  The recent comparison that brought this to light for me was swapping my ARC Ref75se for a First Watt F7, running into Harbeth 40.2.  (To be sure, I am talking about a decrease in the soundstage that WAS THERE in the source and system before just changing the amp). Technically the F7 (25-35W) is underpowered for the 86db sensitivity Harbeth's, but I was thinking no big deal - my ARC amp was rarely drawing more than 10-15W for the volumes I need.  I am not a bass maniac and am satisfied so long as long as the bass is not muddy (the F7 seemed to have plenty of bass control).  But perhaps the undergunning nature of the F7 affected SQ in other ways.

So many SS amps focus on 300 watts and don't give enough attention to the first watt.  A good SS amp will have a good soundstage, but don't assume all $5k ss amps do.

One amp I have verified and like it a lot because it mimics a tube amp is Kinki Studio Ex-M1+.   It is chinese but has been said to have a Swiss sound.

100 wpc.  It is an integrated.


The soundstage is there. Some combinations of Amp + Speakers get in the way - some do not. 

@zazouswing exactly the way to look at it.  All the goodness is in the recording and the question is, can your system reproduce it without degrading it.  A system doesn't add anything (good).


For example, if you put an amp in the middle of the soundstage you could trip over it. That is one way how an amp affects the soundstage.

Allow me to think out loud so to speak...

Lower frequencies have longer sound waves and higher frequencies have shorter sound waves.  This is why the location of tweeters is critical to the listening experience and subwoofers can be strategically places in the room.  It seems reasonable to me that there must be frequencies somewhere in the mid range where the there's a shift away from directionality.  Maybe an amplifiers (or any pieces of gear) ability to produce these frequencies is what impacts the sound stage.  The relative timing from the two speakers is what creates the stereo sound/soundstage.  I'm thinking that any degradation in these frequencies could negatively affect the timing leading to a more directional sound which would be expected to shrink the perceived soundstage.

"I'm not that technically strong on audio yet, so please refrain from mockery on this...."

I've been on Audiogon for just a few months.  This is one of the saddest comments I've read. 

This is an expensive hobby.  We are much more financially successful than most people.  And probably much better educated.  We should be better than this, welcoming new people not making them fell stupid. 


I've all tubes. I do find that they have a more pronounced three dimensional soundstage. It could be that they simply have a lower noise floor—allowing the tiny signals necessary for the most nuanced sound cues through. It could also be that the glass picks up sound waves which causes a slight reverberation giving the music a more echoic perception. 

Monoblocs sound better because there is no cross-modulation between channels. In other words, you get better stereo separation. 

I finally heard an amp paired with the 40.2 that actually made me want to sit and listen. The JFM. Sadly they don't give them away. 

It maktters , if you have a low budget amp say under $2k ,you will not get the budget soundstage and imaging that a good Solid state amp with bring 

which will have Mosfets, Fet, bipolors which as have some tube like traits .

IMO and many others a good SS amp , and Tube preamp is a classic combination 

a minimum of $10 k on average for a quality pre or amp ,

that would be -B class my audiophile standards. 

I agree with several of the above comments, and most seem to agree that the lower the distortion, the more accurately the source material, including the soundstage, can be reproduced.

Along those lines, I would say that vibration control, and especially of speakers, can also contribute to a better soundstage. Speaker vibration tends to produce distortion that is referred to as a "smearing" of the sound, and controlling it can reduce or eliminate the issue. Among other positives, I noticed a better defined soundstage after having employed Isoacoustic Gaia under my speakers.

There are numerous significant electrical and physical differences between a stereo amp and a pair of "identical circuitry" monoblocks. Here are four:

One electrical difference is crosstalk (L signal getting into R, and vice versa). Crosstalk is the result of inadvertent "leaking" of signal from one channel into the other. Two physically separate amplifiers are going to have less crosstalk if all other things are "equal".

Another difference is power supply loading. When electrical demands presented by output devices in one channel create fluctuations in available power, performance of the other channel will be degraded. Physically separate amplifiers have more electrical distance between their separate power supplies, and again, all other things being equal, the separate amps perform better.

High currents in the chassis of a two-channel amplifier will modulate the electrical grounding within the stereo amp. Disturbances to electrical ground are often discussed as problems in precise amplification. 

Even chassis vibration, propagating from one channel to another in a stereo amplifier, may cross-modulate signals and degrade performance. This is most often discussed with tubes -- microphonics. 

Amps are the heart of your system, the foundation from which soundstage is developed. A make it or break it kind of thing. An example of amazing soundstage can be heard in vintage quad amps like the 405-2. Among other qualities that may or may not be appealing to everyone, this trait is a product of the amplifier itself. 

I am not anaudiophile in knowledge, but have spent like one.

I have the ARC Ref 6 paired with a Bryston 4b cubed.

Recommended match.

I was finding I could not get the system to 'juice.

It was explained to me that the volume control on the 

Ref 6 is the limiting factor ( something to do with its design and gain ).

Piont is if you really want to ctabk the volume the amp

Is limited by the ref 6 pre.

On that note does anyone know if the volume control can be modified?



Lots of noise above. An eight watt amp can produce an amazing soundstage. "Can" when the loudspeakers are carefully chosen and properly positioned in the room. It is not about power or monoblocs. It is simply a matter of good design and implementation.

Standing waves and room reflection have the most impact on soundstaging and imaging (often confused but different qualities), speaker choice and positioning second, selection of electronics third, and choice of cabling is likely last. Within that third category, "electronics" is source which is admittedly a bit sloppy when the source is vinyl but certainly the cartridge and phono stage are essential and electronic.

@Mossy, that business of the Ref 6 Pre having a badly designed volume control is pure garbage. You have ten posts (Yes, my profile only shows 80 some but I had to change from Fsonicsmith to Fsonicsmith1 due to password problems and have hundreds and hundreds of posts). What is your basis and where did that allegation come from? No need to answer. I don’t particularly care to know.

Got that info from Chris at part connection- who created the sonic frontiers brand.

Oh and thanks for the very polite discourse.



If you have a recommendation for a better amp pairing with the Ref 6 I would be happy to hear it.


Mossy, I also have a 4B3 Bryston. I’ve been searching for a compatible Tube Pre that matches without blowing my load on an ARC Ref 6.  The pairing makes a ton of sense on paper.  Following with great vim and vigor. 

I used to have a hybrid pre with the Bryston that I could really crank, but was a combo that was very bright thru my Focal 1028be.

The mistake I have made is buying components piecemeal and not taking a system approach.

Good luck finding a fit

Tube amps change your frequency response. Heck ya that impacts sound stage. Some say distortion emphasizes some frequencies so my guess is that impacts sound stage too. Distortion I think impacts ambience which I used to confuse with sound stage. I think a lot of people confuse the two. In my own tests solid state amps all are similar for sound stage. I would assume ones meant to be like tubes would do the same as tube amps and sound different.  If I run tubes and solid state on the main system and let the Lyngdorf do it's thing they all sound similar. Not the same, but similar.

I highly recommend to anyone in this hobby that they commit part of their upgrade budget and go to an audio show (I've been to AXPONA, Florida, and Pacific Audio Fest). You will come away with many of your preconceptions broken or severely damaged. There are rooms with solid state amplification that have extraordinary imaging and rooms with tubes that have mediocre imaging. And vice-versa.

I'm a geezer who has subscribed to Stereophile and TAS for 40 some odd years and I have never seen the experts answer the OP's question. There are lots of theories, mainly from amp and speaker designers, who tout their unique assemblage of parts and circuit design. They each say that they know the secret of superior imaging but if any single approach was better it would have been largely adopted by the rest of the industry.

I have experienced what the OP has observed, except that in my case it was the difference between two SS amps. I'm driving Thiel CS6 speakers (86db with a brutal impedance curve) with a Krell KSA 300S amp. I took the amp in to get it recapped and I tried hooking up my Onkyo AV receiver up to my speakers for the interim. When I listened to the first cut I literally laughed out loud. Compared to my Krell the sound was like an AM radio. I realize that this is an extreme example but anyone who thinks all amplifiers sound the same hasn't heard a comparison like this.

I believe that imaging and soundstage are primarily impacted by the design and performance of the speakers,  their positioning within the room and relative to lhe listener, and the room acoustics. The contribution from the amplifier falls far down the list compared to these factors. As @othercrazycanuck  mentions, tube amps are more prone to variations in frequency response and higher distortion, which are more likely than SS amps to impact imaging and soundstage. I tend towards the school of trying to recreate the intent of the musicians and recording/mastering engineer, which suggests minimizing additions to the sound. There are as many opinions on this as there are audiophiles, however, and beauty (and soundstage) is literally in the ear (and brain) of the beholder. So if it sounds good to you...enjoy.

Many good responses above.

Anytime an electrical signal passes through an electrical component or circuit or device, it will affect the music.  Be it distortion adding, soundstage, etc.

The discussion regarding the amp (Audio Research REF 6) paired with the Bryston is a great example.

Each device has a manufacturer's recommendation regarding input impendence, output impedance, sensitivity, etc.

If you try to match a pre-amp to a particular amp without paying attention to the manufacturer's technical recommendations, you are asking for trouble.

this is like trying to pair a particular amp to a particular speaker without paying attention to the specifications and requirements.

The REF 6 is one of the best pre-amps made.  I bet it doesn't match well technically to the Bryston amp and the specs probably indicate a mismatch.

Assuming that amps are amps, or pre-amps are pre-amps is the problem.

Of course different amp will affect soundstage.  They have totally different circuitry. Not an apples to apples comparison.

And by-the-way, don't fall for the old solid state vs tube argument.  There are some outstanding solid state amps out there that are just excellent.  Just as there are some outstanding tube amps out there.

I have heard some crappy tube amps and some crappy solid state amps also. Totally depends on the design, construction, circuitry, power supply, etc.  each is different.

It's funny.  I'm a member of a Mopar car club.  You know, Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth.  I restore classic cars and currently have a restored 1970 in-violet, 340 four speed pistol grip Plymouth Barracuda ("Cuda").  Anyway,  People in my group always hype Mopar and with good reason and talk down about other cars.  I will step up and say loudly, you mean to tell me that if someone gave you the keys to a 1963 Split window corvette you wouldn't take it in a heartbeat?  They all laughed and said absolutely they would.

Tube or solid state.  What ever suits your needs and likes.


@mossyrocks I humbly apologize. Now I am going to offend you again :-) but it is Parts Connexion. I don't know Chris. If you told him the same thing that you said above, that

I was finding I could not get the system to 'juice.

Than perhaps what he meant is that the volume control design of the Ref 6 is such that it is the chief cause of a high-ish (footnote here) output impedance. Footnote-the output impedance of the Ref 6 is not, in relative terms for a tube pre, all that high.

The Ref 6 in balanced mode has output impedance of 600 ohms and the recommended load of the amp for the Ref 6 is 20k ohms or higher. In balanced mode the load of your amp is 30k ohm so you don't have a mismatch on paper but it the margin is not great. This would primarily affect frequency response though it also affects maximum power transfer.

So again, yes, the match is not great. But the OP was asking about soundstaging and you SEEM to be talking about power transfer with "I was finding I could not get the system to 'juice.

In my admittedly limited experience, amplifier soundstaging is most affected by channel separation/crosstalk (hence, all else being equal mono blocks better than true dual mono better than stereo), sufficient real power (voltage and current), and competent design. For a moderate power and price amplifier, see Stereophile and Audio Science Review test results of the Benchmark AHB2.

Amplifiers matter because of noise, white noise accumulated through signal conditioning and amplification stages. Dead quiet to loud matters. Tubes, like jfets, and mosfets do not have a lot of current input and therefore have almost zero current noise. Voltage noise can be mitigated relatively easily. The listening  experience that enlightened me is from a Counterpoint Solid 2, blown up, that I fixed and changed minutely to drive, any speaker or simply weld to music. I was completely blown away after getting it going.. I wanted to listen to this thing, testing forever with my elac 6.2 debut monitors. My friend Dave, the amps owner was blown away too. Preamps because of noise, and of course speakers the biggest deal.      

Nelson Pass uses a technique of adding an out of phase 2nd harmonic distortion to his designs. This will give you more spatial information and the feeling that the notes are in the air. 

If we think about it in it’s simplist terms, a deep, wide soundstage requires a stereo signal. The more "mono" the signal is, the more it will "move to the center" narrowing the soundstage assuming the channels are in phase.  If the channel interactions are out of phase, the soundstage gets more "nebulous" as separation is lost.

So, it would seem that an amp that has poor channel separation would not produce as nice and wide a soundstage as an amp that has better separation. And of course, anything (e.g., interchannel distortion) that affects both channels similarly is also in mono so hurts the soundstage presentation.

The pairing of the amp with the speakers matter more generally than the amp itself...For soundstage... ( for bad amp exist too )

But the main central factor is the pairing speakers/room if by soundstage we means not only differential imaging and the soundstaging measured apparent dimensions but also 3-D holographic volume for each instruments...

Also on par with the relation Speakers/room will be the recording itself... All recordings played on an audio system  did not give rise to a soundfield filling  all the room in front and behind the speakers and around the listener...Some recording lack lateral presence or in detph differentiation, some others put the sound more out of the speakers laterally and not in front of us too etc... i experienced all possible soundstage dimensions in my room... Thisc differ from recordings to recordings...

The choice of dac and the choice of the amp import less than the total synergy between them and with the speakers/ room acoustic... the  speakers/room acoustic pairing and coupling and the recording state of each album  being the two most impactful parameter after the synergy between amp and speakers  which is the less important factor but without it nothing will work well...

At the end not all factor impact the same but each one of them matter...Nothing impact so heavily than acoustic , but if the synergy between speakers and amp is not optimal, you will not be able to correct it with acoustic...



I have found that all things matter when it comes to soundstage. A better preamp, amp, integrated, speakers, room setup, and yes, even cables help. I have cheap source and middle of the road everything else and I have a huge soundstage. For me room setup and speaker setup made the biggest difference. Wife aloud me to put up some sound absorbing panels and move the speakers four feet (from the front) out into the room and bang, everything came together.

All the best.

I have heard very good sound staging with otherwise bad sound. Distortion will not always reduce the size, width, and depth of the sound stage, although it usually doesn't help. It might sometimes, for some people. I've had the soundstage pop into place with a little equalization, proper application of a house curve. For the sound stage of a 2 channel, 2 speaker system, there's abundant  interaural crosstalk that is unnatural and difficult for the ear/brain to interpret consistently. How that gets interpreted depends on a lot of factors and can make it tricky to get a good soundstage, which may happen for one person and not another listening to the same system in the same sweet spot.  Addressing interaural crosstalk means doing something beyond the orthodox 2 speaker listening triangle. My experience is that there's a hard upper limit to what can be done with just two speakers in terms of sound stage. You may find something that works really well for you. Some things that seem to always help are well matched speakers and amp channels - as close to identical as possible, perfectly level matched. Good off axis performance of the speaker can also help, and dealing with early reflections by carefully placing the speakers and judicious application of room acoustics. I think it generally helps to have a decent distance from the speaker to adjacent wall surface, which will provide some delay and attenuation of early reflections. The 2 speaker listening triangle is a delicate and fussy thing that presents the ear/brain with a signal that has inconsistencies in terms of soundstage and tone that can at best be mitigated.

Amps do affect the sound stage quite a bit.    I have found overall noise is a significant factor in soundstage width and depth.  Quieter your components usually contribute to a larger, more impressive sound stage. 

I have done my own listening test using up to 4 different Amps - using the exact same equipment, locations, music and just switching Amps.  Yes Amps can make a huge difference.  My Brystons 4BSST series produced the tightest most stable  imaging and sound stage.  They also had lightening fast response and slam thru my Maggie 3.7i.  My BAT 655SE produced deeper and better definted bass and seemed to have endless power.  In most ways the BAT are more pleasant to listen too, but they just don't hold imaging like the 4BSST.  I'm just guessing here and I'd love to know if lower frequencies maybe don't give us the same imaging clues as higher frequencies.  Maybe the BAT Amp's low frequencies emphasis drowns out the mids and highs that are more important for imaging.  

Yes some amps comes close to getting most right and they are generally more expensive. My final test would be how musical they sound and how enjoyable and involving they are