Parasound A21+ vs MF M8 500S vs Cary 200.2 ES vs Hegel H20

Whilst in COVID lockdown I've been considering the next step for my system. 

I've been running a Herron VTSP-3 tube pre-amp into a Rogue ST100 tube amp for a while and whilst it has beautiful tone, timbre, density and the performers appear in front of me, I feel like it is a little smoothed over and lacking in excitement and dynamics. It needs a touch more air, liveliness and punch.

I tried a CJ CA200 (185wpc) integrated and a Kinki EX-M1 (215wpc) integrated and they both brought excitement and dynamics to the presentation but the CJ was faulty and was returned to the seller and the Kinki sounded just a touch dry to me (I upgraded the opamps which helped but it somehow sounded harmonically incomplete or overdamped and I couldn't ignore this when listening). Surprisingly, I didn't miss the tubes although both my pre-amp and amp sound pretty neutral and not typically tubey.

Although my speakers, Silverline Sonata III's, are rated an easy 93db sensitivity and 8ohm (+/- 10%) impedance, the extra power of the two integrated amps I tried really seemed to bring them to life. So, I'm thinking that if I keep the tube pre-amp but replace the Rogue ST100 (60wpc in Triode mode and 100wpc in Ultralinear mode) with a solid state power amp that's around 200wpc+ into 8 ohms, it might get me to where I want to be.

Obviously taking the candidate power amps home for trial would be ideal but this would be very difficult logistically, plus I will probably want to buy used in order to be able to afford the quality I'm after. Buying, trying and selling a number of amps is not something that would be readily tolerated by my wife who, although tolerant of my audio obsession has her limits.

So, if anyone has compared these amps, especially directly against each other, I would really appreciate hearing your thoughts as to their relative strengths and weaknesses. 

So you feel the Rogue ST100 lacks "excitement"! Get a Crown XLS 1502. Plenty of power - and lots of Class D "excitement"! $449!
There’s a McCormack DNA 0.5 with Steve McCormack’s Ultra mods on US AudioMart for $2000.  Jump on it!  And you can have Steve do even further mods down the road if you want even more or ever get the itch.  Best of luck. 
So you feel the Rogue ST100 lacks "excitement"! Get a Crown XLS 1502. Plenty of power - and lots of Class D "excitement"! $449!

Thanks jasonbourne52, a bargain would be great but from my reading the Crown is great value for money but doesn't play at this level.

There’s a McCormack DNA 0.5 with Steve McCormack’s Ultra mods on US AudioMart for $2000.  Jump on it!  And you can have Steve do even further mods down the road if you want even more or ever get the itch. 

Thanks Soix. 

In order not to make the OP even longer, I didn't mention that I'm actually in Oz and am looking at the amps mentioned because they are more readily available here and I could probably get to hear one (though perhaps not in my system) before buying. Buying on Audiogon or US AudioMart is possible but would need to be 240v (or switchable).

Have you compared the DNA to any of the amps I shortlisted?

Your observations on  Silverline Sonata III's are a bit odd to me: I also own these speakers (though I listen to a different pair now) and I've paied with with a Cary SLI-80 integrated (85wpc in the UL mode, as claimed by the manufacturer), a 12wpc Chinese SE amplifier powered with EL-34 tubes, a vintage Sansui AU-517 integrated amp (65wpc), as well as restored vintage Eico HF-81 and ST-40 integrated amps, and each of them sounds great with Sonatas. My listening room is small (I don't remember its exact size),so the power is enough for it even if I listen late at night at low volumes. Does changing speaker placement, cables and other tweaks help? 
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Thanks guys,

My room is larger at about 19x22x8 and the corner behind the listener's right shoulder is open to a long hallway and an open staircase. Speakers are 9' apart and I sit 12' from each speaker. Speakers are toed in half way between straight-ahead and at-the-listener and over the years I've found this to be the best setup. Baffles are approx 4' from the wall behind and the wall is 4' behind my head. Room is acoustically treated and nicely balanced. I don't listen to metal or at ear bleed levels but like to listen at a volume that gives the impression of a live performance.

I should emphasize that I'm not looking for a paradigm shift in the sound, we are talking fine tuning here. The current setup sounds great and 3D and organic etc but the higher powered solid state integrated amps I mentioned brought the system "alive" with more zest and vigour. The current system sounds slightly polite in comparison.

I'm just seeking a little more zest, sparkle, punch and slam. Imaging is already fine but I feel like I'm "seeing" the live performers in the room in front of me (i.e. from speakers back) but I'm not quite feeling immersed in the live performance. Sorry, I'm not sure how to explain this better.

I'm not sure if it was the higher current provided by those higher powered SS amps that "woke the system up" or a more extended top end or both. It is almost like the system is too polished and needs a little edge or crisper leading edges.

Tvad - You may be right about the Pass amps as they may provide higher current than my Rogue and perhaps greater transparency. But, I don't want a physically big, industrial looking and hot amp (it is not a dedicated music room or man cave). Many years ago I had a Plinius SA100 mk3 amp, but not with these speakers. It would have been interesting to hear it with these speakers although it too was big, hot and ugly.

Unison77 - you have obviously used a range of tube amps with these speakers and apparently not suffered the "politeness" issue that I'm trying to address. This makes me wonder whether I should try to borrow another pre-amp to discount it as being the culprit (although I recently re-tubed it) as I've used it for about 10 years now.

I know the speakers are fine as they came alive with zing and punch with the higher powered SS amps. 

I appreciate your input, please keep it coming.

Just a quick thought because it sounds like you did like the Kinki.

My wife and I just got a Kinki EX-P7 & EX-M7 into our Focal Sopra 2s.

It sounds open, alive, and true.  Maybe revealing would be a good word too.  I am not sure what dry means.  (We tried a Pass XA-25 thinking it would be the choice and it sounded like someone had put pillows in front of the speakers. I wanted to love it but it drove me nuts.)

So, maybe consider Kinki separates.  I read in research and it seems odd, but something we might try in the future, that many people actually prefer a Denafrips preamp to a Kinki preamp with the EX-M7. 

Though our next step is to try a Decware amp! (in a year or so.)

Anyway, have fun with your search & keep auditioning at home!
oh boy, where to begin...
first off i have had the stereo 100, the cary 200.2 and now have the parasound a21+.  
the stereo 100 was an awesome performer and very dynamic, the a21+ sounds hesitant by comparison - but - you have to use the balanced connections on the stereo 100, ultralinear mode and 8 ohm tap.  anthying different will shoot dynamics in the foot.  
i used the rogue audio RH 5 tube headphone amp linestage (stereophile class A, 2500 retail) which is a balanced design.  what a driving dynamic sound, the most powerful 100 watt amp i have ever heard, tube or solid state, used with connections and settings as mentioned.  sounds just popped and i wish i did not sell it.  
try the high gain on your herron if you havent, maybe that will help.  
the cary 200.2 sounded more dynamic, actually too dynamic whether balanced or slightly tamed down using rca connections.  it was super midrange forward though, almost shouty.  i had to part with it.  
the a21+ has excellent tone and transparency but not the best dynamics. 
to get satisfactory dynamics i bought the cary slp 05 preamp and that did the trick.  the cary is an amazing sounding preamp, also balanced connections.  
try bumping the herron to high gain, possibly more dynamic tubes?
run the st100 ultralinear, 8 ohm taps.  report back.  
based on my experience a different preamp will definitely do the job with the st100
good luck.  

@desferous - Thanks for the suggestion re the Kinki separates. My concern is that Kinki describe the EX-M7 as "essentially a beefed up EX-M1" and I don't know whether the issue I heard with the EX-M1 was due to the pre-amp stage or power amp stage (most people don't seem to hear it).

@avanti1960 - Wow, awesome feedback from somebody lucky enough to have owned/heard a number of the options I’m looking at. Thanks for taking the time to detail your experience, very helpful indeed.

I have run the ST100 in both triode and ultralinear mode and always on 8ohm taps but only SE input as the Herron doesn’t have balanced outputs. I’ve briefly tried the high gain setting on the Herron but it didn’t seem to make much difference once volume matched.

Based on your feedback re the excellent dynamics of the ST100 (especially with balanced connection) and the feedback from @unison77 that several lower wattage power amps happily provided sufficient dynamics from the Sonata III speakers, I’m now even more convinced that I need to try a different pre-amp and preferably a balanced one to determine whether it is the Herron or the SE inputs of the ST100 (or both) that are causing the perceived lack of dynamics.

You mentioned when using the RH-5 and ST100 together with balanced connections, "the sounds just popped" and that is probably a good description of what I am missing. To be honest I hadn’t really thought that pre-amps would make that much of a difference to dynamics (versus power amps), especially when I’m using a pre-amp of the class of the VTSP-3. But now I need to investigate this.

You also mentioned that the A21+ "sounds hesitant" compared to the ST100. I was wondering what speakers (sensitivity/impedance) this was on and whether overall you prefer the ST100 or the A21+?

the hegel h20 is outstanding (and superior to the parasound) but even if you like extra power it may be overkill for your silverlines

if you want tube goodness but more 'excitement' i cannot recommend the linear tube audio ref zotl40 high enough... really the best of ss and tubes combined in many respects
the hegel h20 is outstanding (and superior to the parasound) ...
@jjss49 In what ways did you feel that the H20 sounded better than the A21+? 

...  but even if you like extra power it may be overkill for your silverlines
"Overkill" for the Silverlines in terms of power or cost? 

same speakers used for both amps, st 100 and a21+ , 86db harbeth shl5+.  
overall i liked the sound of the stereo100 better, more dynamic, more organic, ability to tube swap, i used amperex 12ax7 and rca 12au7.  
i bought the a21+ thinking it would improve bass response.  wrong.  
i never replace a new component with one i sold off, throwing good money after bad.  
the a21+ is an excellent solid state amp and it does sound very good and can play quite loud without fuss.  
ps i also demoed the hegel h20 and did not care for the sound of the system, thin, overly transparent amost surgical with ker r11 towers. 
the right preamp will meet your goals.  important to note is that the rogue RH 5 sounds much more dynamic than the RP 5 (no balanced connections either).  it even sounds better than the twice as expensinve RP 7 which i owned.  I was very disappointed in the lack of dynamics in the RP 7.  
another one to try is the Cary SLP 98.  even with rca connections it is very dynamic.  check cary direct for good prices.  
overkill in terms of the efficiency of your speakers

in my experience the hegel outperforms the parasound in terms of soundstaging (somewhat wider, a good bit deeper, more specific image outlines, more space between elements), timbre (acoustic instruments and voices sounded more correct and open) and transparency (parasound is more rounded off in upper midrange and treble, hegel sounded more open with more inner detail, without being overtly bright or hard)

speakers used were harbeth shl5+, spendor sp1/2e, proac d30r and vandersteen 3a sigs
@avanti1960  and @jjss49 
Thanks for your feedback and suggestions, good information for me to digest as I consider the next step.

I noticed that like me, Herb Reichert (Stereophile reviewer) was using both the Holo Spring DAC and Rogue ST100 power amp in his reference system. He was using the Rogue RH-5 as his linestage but later replaced  it with the Rogue RP-7 pre-amp. @avanti1960  aside from the  inferior dynamics, did you feel that the RP-7 was otherwise better than the RH-5 or did they sound pretty much the same?

We appear to only have one Rogue dealer in Oz, about 600 miles away, so I won't be able to try the RH-5 or RP-7 without buying and there's also no Rogues on the "used" market here. I haven't got the $$$ for a new RP-7 at the moment but I could possibly grab the RH-5 if the dealer here has it. 

The Cary SLP98 suggestion is interesting but if we suspect the use of the Rogue ST100's SE inputs is the cause of the lack of dynamics, I hesitate to buy another SE only pre-amp. 

I've always run my Rythmik sealed subwoofer (30k Zin) off the second pair of SE outputs on the Herron VTSP-3. It shouldn't be an issue as the ST100 is an easy 200k Zin for SE and the Herron's Zout is quite low at 100 ohms from memory. However, in the next few days I'll change the connection over to the sub's high level inputs running off the ST100's speaker outputs to ease the loading on the Herron and see if it makes any difference to dynamics. I had the sub connected that way when I was trying out the Kinki EX-M1 as it didn't have a pre-out output for the sub. 

the RH 5 sounded more neutral and transparent than the RP 7.  The RP 7 sounded soft and overly polidhed, rounded off on top despite trying the best tubes to fix it.  
i could easily have lived with the RH 5, I traded the RP 7.  
The Cary SLP 98 has extreme drive and dynamics despite the RCA connections.  
My preference would still be the RH 5 though.  
when i had the cary slp98p i felt the unit was very euphonic, rather rolled off on both freq extremes, a very caramel type of sound... moreso than counterparts from cj, arc, modwright...  ymmv
... important to note is that the rogue RH 5 sounds much more dynamic than the RP 5 (no balanced connections either). it even sounds better than the twice as expensinve RP 7 which i owned. I was very disappointed in the lack of dynamics in the RP 7.

I noticed on another forum that you said ...

never heard the 9 but the rp 7 is possibly the most transparent and dynamic piece i have heard. incredibly clear with no loss in smoothness.

Did you change your mind later on the dynamics of the RP-7 after listening to it for longer, or did you still have the RH-5 and later pop it back into the system to compare?
my thoughts on the RP 7 became less favorable after the honeymoon phase, possibly additional burn in.  guilty as charged.  I should have kept the RH 5, I only traded it because I had the opportunity.  
the RH 5 is a smaller modest unit with incredible sound.  


This morning I moved the active subwoofer off the pre-amp’s second SE output and onto the Stereo 100’s speaker outputs. At the same time I flicked the Stereo 100 back to Triode mode. From my audio spares box I’d retrieved a pair of Harmonic Technology Pro Silway II interconnects that I used many years ago before moving to pairs of Audience Au24e, thinking that the silver Silways might provide a little more air and crisper leading edges. However, I decided not to put these cables in before I’d listened to the system with the subwoofer moved to high level connections.

I let the system warm up for about 20 minutes and then sat down to listen. WOW! This is easily the best sound I’ve ever had.

All of the minor niggles I mentioned in my opening post are gone. Leading edges are clean, quick, crisp and pure, dynamics are now excellent, there is additional delicacy and delicious-ness, presence is improved and everything just sounds more real, musical and emotional. These observations hold true across all genres. Listening to Rossini overtures revealed improved dynamics, a larger soundstage with better focus and minor details float up more effortlessly (eg. triangles during heavy passages) rather than being buried.

I really didn’t expect any of this as I’d put down the extra dynamics and "life" revealed by the CJ CA200 and Kinki EX-M1 integrated amps I tried as being due to their higher power. It now seems that a lot of it was due to the fact that they weren’t loaded down by the subwoofer as they didn’t have an SE output it and I had to use the sub’s high level inputs.

I feel like an idiot. I’ve used the Herron VTSP-3 for the last 10 years and always used the SE output for the subwoofer. Doh!

I feel like I could quite happily live with this level of performance as my end game. I have no interest in putting the Silways in now for comparison. If I had to absolutely nit pick, I could imagine that a top class, higher powered solid state amp might perhaps maintain even better separation during symphonic crescendos and deliver slightly tighter bass extension ... but ... what I’m hearing now is so good that I really don’t care and would not want to give up the benefits I’m getting across the rest of the frequency range in pursuit of that last 5% of bass performance.

I might play around a little cleaning up my AC power even further but otherwise I think I’m done for a while. :-)