Q: I have a pair of Polk LSi9 speakers and recently purchased a high-end tube pre-amplifier. I would now like a high-end amplifier to go with it. What is the best for around $6,000?
A: If your mind is set on forking over that much cash, the answer is the Pass Labs X150.5 for $5,500 (passlabs.com). But before you order one, let's discuss if that's the best use of your money.
You have a wonderful pair of speakers that retailed for about $1,100 per pair. Using a $5,500 amplifier with a $1,100 pair of speakers doesn't add up because the speakers are the much more important part of that pairing. It would make more sense to use an $1,100 amplifier with a $5,500 pair of speakers. Even if your budget is of the sky-is-the-limit variety, consider that unless you have exotic speakers or extremely high power requirements, with two-channel stereo amplifiers you hit greatly diminishing returns around $2,500.
So what should you do? The old-school approach would be a traditional solid-state analog amplifier with a large power supply. My hands-down favorite is the Cambridge Audio Azur 851W, which will deliver 350 watts per channel to your 4-ohm speakers. I use an 851W in my main music system, and I love the warm, rich and powerful sound. One note: It generates a lot of heat, so be sure your equipment rack has good ventilation before buying one. (cambridgeaudio.com)
The new-school approach would be a high-tech digital amplifier. Axiom Audio makes unique digital amplifiers that combine the best features of traditional power supplies with digital amplifier technology. I use one, and the sound is pristine and clear, backgrounds are silent, and I have found that the LSi9 speakers match well with digital amplification. The $1,090 ADA1000 will deliver 250 watts per channel to your speakers and, unlike most other powerful amplifiers, is cool-running and consumes little electricity. More powerful models are available, as well. (axiomaudio.com)
With either of these choices you have at least $4,000 remaining from your original $6,000 budget. Why not use it to really make a difference? Get some high-end speakers. Even if you plan on continuing to enjoy your LSi9s, it's always fun to have different speakers to play with, and when properly spent, $4,000 gets you stunningly good sound. You can get some nice Ohm Walsh speakers in that price range, and Polk's LSiM towers retail from $3,000 to $4,000 per pair and are a logical upgrade from your LSi9s. (ohmspeakers.com and polkaudio.com)
If you decide on an Axiom amplifier, you can get a package deal with their LFR880 omnidirectional speakers, one of the most advanced designs on the market. Unlike most bipolar or dipolar speakers that simply radiate sound from front and back, the Axiom omnidirectional speakers use four amplifier channels combined with an external digital signal processor to precisely tailor the front and rear output so you get a large, spacious soundstage combined with pinpoint imaging. A package with the LFR880s, the processor and a matching four-channel Axiom amplifier is $4,763, well within your budget for the amplifier alone. And it's a terrific bargain: Most systems of this type that I have seen cost well over $15,000.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.