looking for truly transparent affordable amp s

I'm looking for recommendations for amps in the 100 + watt area that are highly transparent, coming in under $2500 on the used market. I have 3 systems that include Meadowlark Audio Hot Rod Herons, BG Corp 520DX, and custom speakers similar to Legacy Focus using Eton drivers. The custom speakers are paired with a JAS Array 2.1 SET amp using 805 and 300B tubes. This is my reference for transparent sound. Source has ranged from a Consonance Droplet 5.0, to Modwright and Upgrade Co modded Oppo players (83SE), and a Cambridge Audio 851C (which I hope to have modded as well) all driving the amp direct. I don't like preamps. I'm looking for a similarly transparent amp to drive the BG Corp speakers and the Meadowlarks. I recently acquired a gainclone built with premium parts and love the sound; it's quite a clear window on the original performance. But it just doesn't have the power to drive any of the speakers to the levels I like to listen at so I'm looking for an amp capable of this level of transparency and detail, with sharply defined images. Any recommendations? I have Gamut on my short list. And may I ad that in the last few years I've had the following amps and none come close to the level of transparency I'm looking for:

Theta Intrepid (used to biamp)
bridged Pathos Classic One MK III
Wyred 4 Sound ST-500
Sim Audio I-5 LE
Consonance Calaf (tubed version)

Amps that had promise but didn't quite make it:

VAS Citation II EL34 monoblocks
Audio Zone integrated gainclone
Cambridge Audio 840W

Thanks in advance for your input
In your price range I would consider the Merrill Audio Taranis Stereo Power Amplifier at $2,500.00 new...direct from Merrill. You can demo it in your own system and see how it works out for you. I have not heard it myself, but if it is cut from the same cloth as Merrills Veritas mono block amps,then it could be an amp that should meet all of your requirements.Good luck with your search.
the First Watt amps are VERY transparent but may not have enough power ... hard to say for sure without actually trying. sometimes WEIRD combos that look terrible on "paper" actually work quite well in practice

if you are avoiding preamps altogether you may want a digital source with a higher than normal variable output - I believe there are some that will output 8v or more (but usually only that high with XLR)

good luck!
The Pass XA-30.5 is an easy recommendation.

While it'll be slightly higher then your $2,500 limit, it will EASILY be worth the few extra hundred dollars.

We've used this amplifier with our moderately high end system (Meridian 800 Series Sources, MIT Top Tier Oracle Cables, Watt Puppy 5.1 and now Sasha I Speakers) for years until we finally upgraded to a pair of XA-200.5's.

We've integrated our home theater system with our stereo system (with a priority on stereo), and we use 3 X-250.5 amplifiers to drive our theater speakers. The X-250.5 is no match for the XA-30.5. The only thing the 30.5 gives up with percussive dynamics, otherwise it's no contest. Imaging and coherency were dramatically better, it provided a natural harmonic of the recorded venue few systems approach much less obtain.

When I was selling an X-250.5, the person came to our home and asked to listen to our XA-30.5 in comparison to our X-250.5. He purchased the 30.5 instead!

We've had many amplifiers in our system through the years; Bryston, Theta and Audio Research. Audio Research amplifiers were exceptional but we opted not to continue to use tubes because we integrated our theater system.

Hope this helps.
Aolmrd1241----thanks for the suggestion of the Taranis amp. The review sounded promising although the lack of RCA inputs seems odd

Jrinkerptdnet----all my sources have variable outputs (including a Revox tuner) and I seldom come close to turning any of the volume controls all the up so I'm happy where I am on sources (after I have the Cambridge modded that is). I've heard and read great things about the First Watt amps and demoed the Aleph 5 many years ago but have found that even my quite sensitive custom speakers devour lower powered solid state without mercy. On these speakers, I use a 45w SET amp presently and used 45w EL34 monoblocks a few years back with great results only very rarely running out of power but have had to listen at much lower levels to avoiding clipping the 2 gainclones I've had on these speakers (and the speakers are biamped so the amps haven't been asked to do low bass). I've thought about trying some of the high sensitivity speakers out there so as to be able to use the lower powered SET amps, and perhaps the First Watts as well, but I'm quite satisfied with the speakers I have but thanks for the recommendations.

Peter---the Liberty amps sounds very promising, pretty much what I'm looking for and the reviews speak volumes but no one tried the amps as monoblocks so would you please comment on the sound of the bridged B2b-100. I know that a single Pathos Classic MK III sounded significantly less involving that a bridged pair. Thanks!

I suggest you look at one of these three Hypex NCore Class D amplifiers:

1) Stereo powered by Hypex SMPS1200A400, 600W @ 2 Ohm, 1-Ohm minimum, $1,490/each, 1200W Hypex power supply for 600Wpc, dimensions 2.8″ x 9.8″ x 12″ (70 x 250 x 308mm), 8.5 lbs (3.9 Kg), specify faceplate finish: black or natural aluminum.

2) Bridged Mono Bloc powered by SMPS1200A400, 1200W @ 2 Ohms, 1-Ohm minimum, $2,980/pair, 1200W Hypex power supply, dimensions 2.8″ x 9.8″ x 12″ (70 x 250 x 308mm), 8.5 lbs (3.9 Kg), specify faceplate finish: black or natural aluminum.

3) Regular Mono Block powered by Hypex SMPS600, $1,900/pair, 600W power supply, specify faceplate finish: plain black, black with NCore logo, plain natural aluminum.

"Hypex NCore is among the most popular and successful amplifier technology. NCore arrived December 2011. The first two NCore batches sold out in hours. There are several thousand Internet pages referencing NCore.

Hypex market NC400 strictly for so-called “DIY” or hobbyist. Hypex does not solicit OEM and offer no quantity pricing. James Romeyn Music and Audio, LLC professionally builds NCore amplifiers for music and audio lovers who lack skill, time, tools, and/or work space to properly assemble their own NCore NC400 amplifiers.

Hypex NCore NC400 drives any speaker and is among the best values in audio. Your amplifier ships twelve days after payment and arrives soon thereafter. Compact, lightweight runs cool, affordable, reliable, draws little current, and superb performance for power hungry applications".



I borrowed the Hypex NCore NC400 Power Amplifier Mono Blocks (from a friend) and connected my Bricasti M1 DAC direct (no pre-amplifier) to the Hypex Ncore NC400 and listened. After many days of listening, I decided that, for me, going direct from the Bricasti M1 DAC to the Hypex NCore power amplifier sounds great to my ears. My system sounds much better because the music was clearer, more detailed and more open. For me, the Hypex NCore NC400 power amplifier mono blocks sound more natural and open. It seems another layer of sound is presented without the pre-amplifier in the system (my opinion, everyone has a different opinion on this).

As a result, I ordered the Hypex NCore NC400 Bridged mono blocks from James Romeyn Music and Audio, LLC (James). He was very helpful in answering my many questions about the Hypex NCore units. I hope to get delivery in about 2 weeks. I suggest you give him a call. See:

James Romeyn Music and Audio, LLC
James Romeyn
Hypex Ncore NC400 Professional Build Service
435 213 3953
I've seen several Krell KAV 250's come through for quite a bit less than $2500. I used to have one. Its not perfect, but its pretty much exactly what you are asking for. Its made in the US and built like a tank. Be careful not to drop it on your foot.
Krell KAV250 is as "transparent" as anything I have heard in recent years. I've almost "jumped on" one on a few occasions.

I've heard it with both Martin Logan and Focal speakers and similar results with both.
Since you've already got an SET amp, consider looking at a number of P-P amp from Decware. I think you might mat need a little more power to than a SET to drive a multi-driver speaker.
For $430, you can build a Class D Audio kit amp, 125 Wpc. Very transparent, with great punch and detail. I replaced my First Watt M2 amp with it, quite happily.

Since then, I have made the amp into two bridged modules for 500 Wpc (though the modules share the same power supply). I also converted another Class D Audio CDA 254 amp into a three channel amp.

Cheap to try, great to listen to and enjoy. Not affiliated with Class D Audio, I'm just happy with my purchases.


The B2B-100 IMO sounds better if used as a mono block, not only do you get about 400WPC resulting in better MACRO Dynamics. Also, get more speed resulting in better micro dynamics. The good part is that you can always start with one settle in with that one, then get the second one later to step it up a notch. Going from Stereo to Mono is simply a matter of flicking a switch on the back and reconfigure the speaker wires.

Please note that if you want to use the B2B-100 as a mono bock it requires both nodes of the amp driven, i.e. a fully balanced preamplifier. Your OPPO have balanced outputs so it could be used for this application.

Good Listening

Beavis---my SET amp is 45w into an 8 ohm load and it drives the custom speakers to perfection unlike the similarly powered gainclones I've tried. I have been interested in the Decware amps but, aside from the more pricey monoblocks, find them all under powered for my speakers. And I've read that SET is more transparent than PP. Any experience comparing the two? I was told OTL also compares favorably to SET but know nothing about OTL amps.

And a few have mentioned the Class D amps. I did have a Wyred 4 Sound ST-500 a couple of years ago, living with it as my primary amp for about 6 months going from a 45w SET using 805 & 300B tubes to the Wyred ST-500 to a pair of bridged Pathos Classic One MKIII and can say that the Wyred amp was considerably less transparent/detailed than either. The ST-500 was compared to the Bel Canto monoblocks favorably and these were held up as Class D champs a few back so I'm not to keen on the Class D options. Does anyone know if the newer Class D amps are better?

Tjassoc---I'd love to try the mentioned Pass amp but it's just not powerful enough, at least that would be my expectation and $3000 is a lot for me to spend on something not likely to do the job. Still, I'd love to hear it in my system. Makes me wonder if I shouldn't pursue a high efficiency speaker...... thanks for the recommendation

And regarding the Krell KAV250---many good comments about this amp. I haven't heard the KAV250 but did have a KSA 100S several years ago. Great sounding amp though too upfront for my taste but ,compared to an Alternate Audio CA 100 (similar to the Pass Aleph amps), it fell flat on its face with regards to transparency and the most subtle of inner detail. Any idea how the KAV250 compares to the KSA 100S or even to the Aleph series of Pass amps?

Many thanks to all who have taken the time to offer advice and recommendations.
Second the Liberty B2B-100. I've had the likes of Bryston and McCormack amps among others in my system that were very good, but the Liberty was the most clear and transparent amp I've had in my system. Also, it's imaging and 3D soundstage capabilities are outstanding I think in large part due to the amps overall clarity and complete absence of veils. I bet it could paint some remarkable soundscapes with your time/phase coherent Herons. Given what you say you're looking for I can't see you going wrong, and I think Liberty offers a two week trial period so there's little risk in trying one at home. The only other amp I've had that rivaled the Liberty in these areas was the Rogue Medusa -- in fact the two sounded eerily similar in my system, but it's also more expensive. Best of luck.
Decware owner Steve Deckert is very accessible, good to talk to & is unlikely to give bad advice & they offer a lifetime warranty to original purchaser. Unique qualities in my experience.

Not trying to sway you one way or the other but your comment regarding the Pass XA30.5 and power is a common misconception. Not sure why Pass doesn't try harder to set this straight. The following is from the measurements section of the Stereophile review.

"Fig.4 shows how the THD+noise percentage in the amplifier's output varies with output power into 8, 4, and 2 ohms. While the XA30.5 may give 30Wpc into 8 ohms in class-A (14.8dBW), the distortion at this power level is low, at 0.015%. The amplifier doesn't actually clip (defined as the THD reaching 1%) until a much higher power level: 130Wpc into 8 ohms (21.14dBW). Even higher powers were available into lower impedances before clipping: 195Wpc into 4 ohms with both channels driven (19.9dBW), and 332W into 2 ohms with one channel driven (19.2dBW)."

Dick--thank you for illustrating the Pass Labs XA30.5 info. That changes things a bit. I'll look further into that option. Much appreciated!
"11-12-15: Djohnson54

Not trying to sway you one way or the other but your comment regarding the Pass XA30.5 and power is a common misconception. Not sure why Pass doesn't try harder to set this straight. The following is from the measurements section of the Stereophile review."

I've had the same experience with Pass. I used to own the 0's. They were higher up in the Aleph line and the power was just incredible for what it was rated for. It was hard to tell the difference between that and the Krell I mentioned earlier. You almost never see them used, so I didn't bother to mention it.
Of course, transparency is not an actual audio parameter, at least not the last time I looked. Perhaps distortion or even THD or Signal to Noise Ratio or Channel Separation might be more appropriate, at least more uh measurable. I'm not even sure everyone actually agrees on the definition of the word transparency.
Zd542---putting the KAV 250 in the same league as the Aleph 0's intrigues me. I demoed, in home for a week, an Alternative Audio CA100, which I was told by the dealer, was a similar design to the Alephs and of similar sound (he said the AA CA100 was better but that's what he was selling so MMV). That amp killed the Threshold T-200 I had at the time, which had just replaced a Threshold SA-4e which replaced a Krell KSA-100S, making the T-200 sound quite opaque.

May I inquire as to the system you had the KAV-250 in where you found it to sound as transparent as the Aleph 0? Thank you!
"May I inquire as to the system you had the KAV-250 in where you found it to sound as transparent as the Aleph 0? Thank you!"

When I was making the comparison, I was talking about power. Even though the Krell was rated for much power, you wouldn't know it listening to both units side by side.

As to which amp was more transparent, I have no clue. If you can define transparent, I'll do my best to give you an answer.