Listening test: Rotel RA-12/1570, NAD C356, Cambridge Audio 651A, Marantz PM-8005, Yamaha RX-A2040

Laurens_B

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Apr 24, 2014
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So I just came back from an HiFi store, and I compared the differences between my set-up, which is B&W 683 S2 on an Yamaha RX-A2020 (AV receiver), and a bunch of stereo integrated amplifiers. My main goal was to see if the difference between my receiver and integrated amps in the same price range was large enough to buy an integrated amp.

This store allowed me to switch "live" between amplifiers so that there was no gap whatsoever when switching, just instant switching while music is played. I brought a friend who controlled the switchboard, so that I did not know which amp was playing. I just stated when I thought something sounded better or worse.

So the equipment involved was: Yamaha RX-A2040 (they didn't have the 2020 anymore obviously), Marantz PM-8005, NAD C356BEE, Rotel RA-12, Rotel RA-1570, Cambridge Audio 651A, all on the B&W 683 S2. The source was my USB stick on a similar priced Marantz tuner, so the DAC remained constant.

Interestingly enough, not knowing which amp was playing, I could not give consistent answers to what sounded better or worse and in which way. I have read a whole bunch about Marantz being on the warm side, NAD being on the bright side, but in this test, they were all VERY similar. The receiver being slightly more forward than the others, which made it sound a little less sophisticated to my ears. But I repeat all the differences were VERY VERY subtle. I would say they would be totally inaudible if the switching was not done "live".

In the past I have tested Marantz, NAD and Rotel on B&W speakers, but not blind, and I thought I really heard the NAD being brighter than Rotel, Marantz being warmer than Rotel. This time, blind test, after two hours I could still not tell which amp was which.

Then I tried playing on some serious SPLs. Here I noticed that especially the RA-1570 had some more energy than the RA-12, and the RA-12 got rather hot, while the RA-1570 remained pretty cool. Still, I could not say that certain combinations sound awful and some wonderful, it was still VERY similar. Also I did not find any of the amps incapable of driving the speakers.

I find it interesting to share this, because when reading about amplifiers and their pairing with speakers, people tend to describe that different amps sound like day and night. I really really have to disagree with this after today. The differences are there, but extremely subtle, and certainly not worth investing an extra say €1500 (to me).

Some people might think/say that I am just not able to hear the differences, which I highly doubt, or people might say the speakers are not revealing enough, which might be partly true, although it would not make sense to connect €20000 euro speakers to a Rotel RA-12.
 

Thompsonuxb

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Feb 19, 2012
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What does forward mean. I am being serious.
I hear this term often but never really understood it.

Amps never sound has they do in the home has they sound in a demo.

Its odd.
 

Laurens_B

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Apr 24, 2014
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Thompsonuxb said:
What does forward mean. I am being serious. I hear this term often but never really understood it.

Amps never sound has they do in the home has they sound in a demo.

Its odd.

What I mean with forward in this context is that especially the voices in this case, were more shouted towards me. With Norah Jones, sometimes you hear she is singing something in a gentle way, but it was still shouted to me by being a bit harsher I think. It was still subtle, but it was definately different from the PM-8005, which I found slightly better with Norah Jones vocals, though the differences were small, and I think I would not have noticed it if I had to stop the music, change amps, and then listen again.
 
Think most brands have a 'House Sound', therefore the tonal difference between the RA-12 and the 1570 will be similar/same. The difference you should hear between the two is the more expensive model should have better detail and insight, bass definition and better stereo imaging... don't expect night and day differences.

Nad sounding bright? I've not experienced that with older with 352 or 355. They are generally warm that dig deep in the bass. However, that can be interpreted as harshness if the room acoustics aren't up to scatch.

What speakers did you test these with?
 

Laurens_B

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Apr 24, 2014
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plastic penguin said:
Think most brands have a 'House Sound', therefore the tonal difference between the RA-12 and the 1570 will be similar/same. The difference you should hear between the two is the more expensive model should have better detail and insight, bass definition and better stereo imaging... don't expect night and day differences.

Nad sounding bright? I've not experienced that with older with 352 or 355. They are generally warm that dig deep in the bass. However, that can be interpreted as harshness if the room acoustics aren't up to scatch.

What speakers did you test these with?

Everything was tested on B&W 683 S2, though I did try some other speakers, most extensive listening was done on the 683s.

I read about NAD being on the brighter side, but as I said, I did not experience that myself. Moreover, I did not experience any signature sound from any brand, everything was more or less the same. I am convinced that the subtle differences can not be detected when the switching is not done during music playback. This leads me to believe that if one would upgrade the amplifier, let's say, from the Yamaha Aventage receiver to the Marantz PM-8005 (BIG difference according to many, receiver vs integrated), one would not be able to detect any difference whatsoever, only in a direct test when switching is done during music playback, one might notice a very subtle change, but nothing more.
 

MeanandGreen

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Dec 26, 2012
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Another one here who has never heard of NAD being perceived as bright. I always thought they were renowned for a sound which favours the low frequencies.

Anyway I think reading too much into things can give a false expectation. This is all meant to be 'high fidelity' equipment. If they all sounded completely different, then something would be wrong somewhere.

Differences with similar priced equipment should be subtle, because they should all be pretty much equally capable.

It sometimes takes a bit of extensive listening to fully appreciate the differences between equipment. I sometimes find that switching between componets can be more confusing, because the initial comparisons from say warm to bright may make you favour the bright sound back to back. Then you take it home and live with it and it gives you a headache after an hour or so.

The main differences between the amps will probably be how much power they can cleanly deliver and for how long. Not something you can really test.
 

abacus

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Sep 24, 2008
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Unless someone is highly trained then the human senses are easily fooled, however blind testing solves the problem by removing any other cues.

As to the differences you heard, if you measured the frequency response of the amplifiers with the speakers connected, you will probably find that the Yamaha has a slight rise in the midrange, the warm sounding amplifiers a gentle treble roll off, and the bright sounding amplifiers having a gentle bass roll off, most of which would probably disappear if you used the tone controls. (Note there are other factors besides frequency response that can affect the sound, so the above is a generalisation)

In the old days when equipment was measured as well as listened too, most differences could be identified by measurement, however these days it is purely the reviewers personal preference that is written up in the review, hence it is now even more important that you try before you buy.(Modern reviews contain little if any actual facts)

Bill
 

unsleepable

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Dec 25, 2013
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Recent Nad models that I heard didn't sound bright to me at all, either.

I've appreciated more clear sound differences between different hi-fi amplifiers and speakers, than between most other audio equipment than I've auditioned—I'm not into vinyl, though. I suppose that whether these differences draw your attention or not, also depends on what is important for you when listening to music.

I also find that some speakers imprint their own personality more strongly on the music than others, sometimes making it more difficult to discern differences between amplifiers—so your experience might have been different with more neutral and revealing speakers.
 

pyrrhon

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May 9, 2013
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plastic penguin said:
Nad sounding bright? I've not experienced that with older with 352 or 355. They are generally warm that dig deep in the bass. However, that can be interpreted as harshness if the room acoustics aren't up to scatch.

Took me a very long time to realize that but I totally agree. Too much low bass overwhelms the mids and kind of give a feeling that the other end (highs) stands out. Thats was my problem and the reason I sold my 275bee.

Concerning quick switch from amps it is not the way to compare them. You need to calibrate, adapt, get used to,.. the sound then the change will be very evident. Those quick changes can really make you go crazy. Its a delicate balance of listening but not too much, not getting lost in sounds but still beeing aware of your feelings. Beeing there but letting yourself go, etc... Thats a very diffucult and complicate task and the first amp to awake your shivers cannot do it twice so you need to listen to yourself and take note, you wont repeat the feeling by flipping the switch.
 
abacus said:
Unless someone is highly trained then the human senses are easily fooled, however blind testing solves the problem by removing any other cues.

As to the differences you heard, if you measured the frequency response of the amplifiers with the speakers connected, you will probably find that the Yamaha has a slight rise in the midrange, the warm sounding amplifiers a gentle treble roll off, and the bright sounding amplifiers having a gentle bass roll off, most of which would probably disappear if you used the tone controls. (Note there are other factors besides frequency response that can affect the sound, so the above is a generalisation)

In the old days when equipment was measured as well as listened too, most differences could be identified by measurement, however these days it is purely the reviewers personal preference that is written up in the review, hence it is now even more important that you try before you buy.(Modern reviews contain little if any actual facts)

Bill

Also, when these mags test equipment they use a special room that's acoustically treated, and they don't have background noise (cars, lorries etc) polluting the sound.
 

Laurens_B

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Apr 24, 2014
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I understand that listening longer to the amps might make me appreciate the sublteties more. However, usually this is not very practical when auditioning amps, and so I would have a really hard time saying which amp sounds best on a certain pair of speakers. I was just very suprised because when reading a lot on different fora, many people present the differences between amps as very big, and talk about "awful" combinations and "wonderful" combinations. Something that I could not really get into now..

What suprised me the most was how well the AV receiver performed next to the stereo amps. Almost everywhere I read that AV receivers are "poor" for stereo (compared to integrated), and an integrated is always by far the best choice. I really have to disagree with this. I bet in a blind test no one could differ between the receivers and the stereo amps (in this price segment atleast). I was in the market for changing from AV receiver to integrated, because of allegedly improved stereo quality, but at the cost of less convenience in terms of connectivity. However, I plan on sticking to the receiver, now I have heard how it compares to quite highly praised stereo amps. The fact remains that connectivity is much easier, and AV receivers are available with huge discounts.
 

noob

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Feb 21, 2013
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Thanks, Laurens_B, for very insightfull post. You did something I always wanted to do, but never had an opportunity. I always suspected that debated differences between amplifiers are very small and probably undetectable for most of average hifi "aficionados".

Unfortunately, it seems that most of equipment descriptions here are just pejorative essays on "look at these shiny boxes I've bought" theme :)

Could it be that (non clipping) watt is a (non clipping) watt, afterall? :)
 

tonky

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Jan 2, 2008
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Hi Laurens B - your observations have been very interesting - I did wonder what type of files you had on your usb stick (lossless? - mp3 (if so what bit rate?) ).

Obviously this could influence your observations. I've heard differences in amps I have heard. I do like the marantz PM8005 - a very nice sound. Switching "live" between these amps over a long period of time can be very confusing - it being very difficult to notice small (but very important ) differences. When you live with the sound day in and day out these small differences can take on a great magnitude.

cheers Tonky
 

Laurens_B

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Apr 24, 2014
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The USB stick only contained losless (FLAC) files.

It was indeed confusing, switching between amps. It got pretty tiring as well. I tried to focus on different instruments and the way things were presented. But as you probably know, this can get quite fatigueing after a while. Therefore, I think it is very difficult to choose an amp by means of auditioning at a hifi store, I certainly would not be able to make a choice if I really had to buy one of those amps.
 
I've experienced listening fatigue, where I've heard so many in a short space of time, sometimes you can't see the woods for the trees.

At the end of the day, choose an amp that you feel most comfortable with i.e. relevant inputs, looks and, not many people understand this, but a sound that feels right. A sound that suits the ambience of your room.
 

Esra

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Feb 20, 2011
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Testing amps only with one pair of speakers wouldn´t convince me that all amps sound same which OP implies and leads to his conclusion.They don´t imo.,better say interact.There is a reason why the RA12 gets hot and the bigger Rotel doesn´t.They may sound even similar at low level easy music.But put on orchestra and push higher levels things will change.And it´s the small differences in sound weather you get happy with your gear on long term or not.Imo. not possible to determine the right one in different rooms than yours by process done as described by OP.
 

jerryapril

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Jan 15, 2014
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Well, in my humble opinion in most of the cases, a good AV receiver is being sold with a very inferior set of soround set spekeakers letting this receiver deeply burried in muddled sound. I cannot remeber any dealer offering me a good AV receiver with a good set of two stereo speakers. Say something like a Pioneer LX86 with two KEF R700s. And let me tell you, this set sounds very nice.

With good AV receivers you get direct mode for pure stereo. Plus you can compensate for your room accustics with various sound enhancements and equilisations like Audissey if you want to. But then again, you may bypass it all if you wish. Plus you get a virtual front sorround sound for movies or games thru your "only" two front speakers. Internet radio and a streamer is in the box too. Can you really ignore all of this if your source of music is not only a spinner? I do not think so.

I'm not mentioning controlling all of this from your tablet / smartphone because you can do it now even with "stereo only" Marantz PM8005 hooked up to NA8005 and up. (Or Onkyo) So cool!

I personally would not buy a dedicated stereo amp anymore. Only my opinion though.

Merry Hi-Fi Christmas to everyone!

Enya: And Winter Came...
 

ID.

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jerryapril@msn.com said:
I personally would not buy a dedicated stereo amp anymore. Only my opinion though.

Me either. Active speakers only for me from now on
shades_smile.gif


Problem.jpg
 

davedotco

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Apr 24, 2013
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Esra said:
Testing amps only with one pair of speakers wouldn´t convince me that all amps sound same which OP implies and leads to his conclusion.They don´t imo.,better say interact.There is a reason why the RA12 gets hot and the bigger Rotel doesn´t.They may sound even similar at low level easy music.But put on orchestra and push higher levels things will change.And it´s the small differences in sound weather you get happy with your gear on long term or not.Imo. not possible to determine the right one in different rooms than yours by process done as described by OP.

This is important but needs stating in a more 'organised manner.

Decent amplifiers do indeed sound very similar unless deliberately voiced to sound different, however there is a caveat.

This is simply that the amplifier is operating within its design parameters.

It is remarkable how little power is needed a lot of the time when playing music in the home, and even more remarkable how much power is needed when circumstances are different.

Choose low sensitivity speakers with a difficult impedence curve, add a bit of bass boost, up the volume a notch or two and power requirements go through the roof.

In essence, in a lot of systems, amplifiers are being stretched beyond their capabilities, even when used quite normally, it is under these conditions that differences in amplifiers become quite clear.

And as pointed out above, the speaker can have a huge effect on the amplifier's performance.
 

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