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Amps & Preamps... Do You Match Brands?

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BDH55

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I've been considering new main amps as my next upgrade and that made me wonder whether I shouldn't also be considering a new preamp (currently running Parasound JC2 BP pre and JC1 mono blocks). I guess I've formed the opinion that I want to keep both the amp and preamp the same brand. I have absolutely no data or anything else to back up why, but it just seems to me that when any manufacturer develops a new amplifier, they likely develop it to work best with their own preamp (and vice versa). I have different brands of source components as I chose what I felt was the best component for job (and price), and that doesn't bother me at all.

It turns out that my bias toward a single manufacturer for the amp and preamp is limiting my amp choice, because that manufacturers preamp may lack a feature I need. Am I making a mistake by limiting my choice to what a single manufacturer offers?
 

spkrdctr

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Yes, you are making a mistake. The manufacturers know that many, if not most of their product will be plugged into an existing system. Knowing this they make equipment that will usually marry up to other components very well. I can also say that the signal coming from a pre-amp going to an amp is just a signal. The signal doesn't know or care what it is going to. Now if people buy very high end exotic poorly engineered equipment, then maybe it could cause some problems. But, you are not looking at that kind of equipment. So, buy what you like that has the features you like for your pre-amp and then buy an amp that has the power you want. Remember the amp is just amplifying the pre-amp signal. So 97% of the "magic" happens in the pre-amp. The amp is the muscle of the system. It needs to put out brute power. The amps your looking at do the job very well. Let us know what you end up with!:)
 

spkrdctr

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OK, after posting the above post, I went to the Parasound website to look at the items you mentioned. All I can say is that stuff is seriously, crazy, amazingly over the top awesome equipment. I like that I could look inside to see how it is built. The amplifier is built like a tank. Very high quality parts and well engineered to the highest level. I do not see how anything better could be made other to say that another product may be different, but better? That amp is a beast and engineered like we on this site would do it if we were building it ourselves! All I can say is WOW.
The pre-amp is also very well engineered and designed. This equipment is about as good as it gets. I salute your taste in amazing gear. Needless to say I am impressed.
 

twich54

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Unless there is something wrong with your JC-1's I suspect your 'upgrade' will yield nothing more than a 'change'. But that's ok, myself, I've got off that merry-go-round some time ago.

So, what is it about your JC-1's that causes you to lust for a change ?
 

Lightloopy

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My impression is that amps have a significant impact on your sound depending how they dance with your speaker. You can narrow things down a bit SS vs tube, total watts , doubling power but after that you just have to plug it into your system and see if it moves you.
Dave nails it. I would never have been looking if my VTL's were not going down repeatedly after many, many great years.
 

Russr

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I've been really happy with Anthem/Bryston combos over the years. About to try a bit of a hodge-podge... Bryston 4B ST, Bryston 4B NRB and an Anthem MCA 30, with the Anthem AVM50v2 up front... wish me luck!
 

Dgeez

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If you're primarily listening to digital recordings, why not just run the signal straight to your amp bypassing the preamp?
 

Mirolab

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I will echo Russr's praise of the Anthem/Bryston pairing. I really love the old Anthem AVM series Pre/pros, even if only for 2-channel analog usage. The analog preamp performance is stellar. I use my very old AVM20 in a 2-channel setup, and a D2V in my 5.1 living room system. The user interface on the AVM's is the best. A dedicated button for every feature!.... no menu diving, except for setup features of course. The onboard DACs are OK.... but are now easily bettered by newer DACs for stereo listening. An unsung feature for me is the timer. Every morning, my living room stereo turns on, and we wake up to great music every weekday morning. Audio is via a Node 2i, which also has an alarm clock feature. I just have the Node2i kick in about 10 mins after the stereo powers up.
I have 2 Brystons.... a 4B-ST (recapped), and 4BSST2. Truth be told, I prefer the older ST, but it really depends on the speakers. My SL3's prefer the 4B-ST. It's a bit punchier than the SST2, and the SL3's need that.
If you need a preamp with tons of analog inputs & routing features, AM/FM, & DACs, a used AVM20 or AVM30 can be had for around $400-600. The analog section will outperform any new preamp under $1200.... (except maybe a Freya?). FYI... old AVM remotes are usually missing or in bad shape, but can be purchased from Anthem for around $80.
 

BDH55

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Yes, you are making a mistake. The manufacturers know that many, if not most of their product will be plugged into an existing system. Knowing this they make equipment that will usually marry up to other components very well. I can also say that the signal coming from a pre-amp going to an amp is just a signal. The signal doesn't know or care what it is going to. Now if people buy very high end exotic poorly engineered equipment, then maybe it could cause some problems. But, you are not looking at that kind of equipment. So, buy what you like that has the features you like for your pre-amp and then buy an amp that has the power you want. Remember the amp is just amplifying the pre-amp signal. So 97% of the "magic" happens in the pre-amp. The amp is the muscle of the system. It needs to put out brute power. The amps your looking at do the job very well. Let us know what you end up with!:)
I know, I know... as I originally said, I have absolutely nothing to back up my 'feeling' about amps and preamps belonging together, and everything you said makes complete and total sense. It's just one of those crazy biases I guess. In my search I have found a couple of examples of benefits from running amps and preamps from the same manufacturer though.

The first would be McIntosh. Since I'm running mono blocks, and they sit out next to my ESL 15's that puts them just underneath the left and right corners of my Stewart screen. Most amps don't matter, but of course the Macs have the big, blue meters which I would think would be annoying in a dark room watching a movie. While I can switch them off on the front panel of each amp, a) I'd rather do it remotely, and b) I worry about wear and tear on mechanical switches on the amps. Turns out that I can switch them off remotely, but... of course, it takes a Mac preamp...

The other example is with Constellation. In addition to balanced and single-ended connections on their gear, they also have something they call the 'Constellation Direct' interface. According to their literature, it provides the following benefit...

This interface routes the high-level, perfectly balanced audio signal from the preamp's Line Gain Stage Module straight into the voltage gain stage of a Constellation Audio amplifier. It bypasses the amplifier's own Line Gain Stage Module, removing one amplification stage from the signal chain and achieving even greater musicality in the process.

Turns out the Constellation doesn't really matter to me as even their entry level gear would really push the budget. However, one of the preamp features I need is a record out, and that feature is only available on their top of the line preamp which I think is $80 or $90K!! :oops: No thx!!! OTOH, if I would go with Mac amps, their preamp has a lot of connectivity options, and the remote meter off function could help push it over the top..
 

BDH55

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Unless there is something wrong with your JC-1's I suspect your 'upgrade' will yield nothing more than a 'change'. But that's ok, myself, I've got off that merry-go-round some time ago.

So, what is it about your JC-1's that causes you to lust for a change ?
The big thing is their heat output, and I don't mean if I have them cranked to '11'. I'm talking about normal listening or even just watching the news. Otherwise, they are fantastic amps, and I have no real complaints (I think they were the longest running A rated product on the Stereophile Recommended Components list at something like 15 years). Of course, if I changed amps and found my new dream amp that just makes my speakers really sing... that wouldn't be a bad thing either. As for the JC2 BP preamp, my main complaint would be that there is no display showing the current volume level (also, it would be nice to display the selected input).

Since heat output is my main complaint, that makes it even tougher for me to shop for amps as I really have to see them in person and put my hands on them. Of course, even that doesn't tell me much as they are likely not driving the same speaker load, etc. Of course a couple of dealers out there will allow an in home demo, but even that is difficult as me hauling hundred pound amps around just isn't good (or safe) anymore. The easiest thing would be for me to just bring in a pair of the JC1+ amps, but I really don't need more power, more current, etc and my guess would be that they would deliver even more heat (although I had a back and forth with Para Engineering and they assured me the measurements for heat from the JC1 and JC1+ are essentially identical, and the improvements between the JC1 and JC1+ are substantial). In any case, this would truly be more of just a 'change' as you suggested.

I guess the other option would be for me to seriously look at one of the newer class D amps that seem to be growing in popularity. Doing that would almost certainly solve the heat output issue, and even the weight issue. The challenge with that is it will expose another one of my biases...
 

BDH55

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If you're primarily listening to digital recordings, why not just run the signal straight to your amp bypassing the preamp?
I run a mixed system with both analog and digital sources. (y)
 

Robert D

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The big thing is their heat output, and I don't mean if I have them cranked to '11'. I'm talking about normal listening or even just watching the news. Otherwise, they are fantastic amps, and I have no real complaints (I think they were the longest running A rated product on the Stereophile Recommended Components list at something like 15 years). Of course, if I changed amps and found my new dream amp that just makes my speakers really sing... that wouldn't be a bad thing either. As for the JC2 BP preamp, my main complaint would be that there is no display showing the current volume level (also, it would be nice to display the selected input).

Since heat output is my main complaint, that makes it even tougher for me to shop for amps as I really have to see them in person and put my hands on them. Of course, even that doesn't tell me much as they are likely not driving the same speaker load, etc. Of course a couple of dealers out there will allow an in home demo, but even that is difficult as me hauling hundred pound amps around just isn't good (or safe) anymore. The easiest thing would be for me to just bring in a pair of the JC1+ amps, but I really don't need more power, more current, etc and my guess would be that they would deliver even more heat (although I had a back and forth with Para Engineering and they assured me the measurements for heat from the JC1 and JC1+ are essentially identical, and the improvements between the JC1 and JC1+ are substantial). In any case, this would truly be more of just a 'change' as you suggested.

I guess the other option would be for me to seriously look at one of the newer class D amps that seem to be growing in popularity. Doing that would almost certainly solve the heat output issue, and even the weight issue. The challenge with that is it will expose another one of my biases...
Why are you unhappy with the heat output? I know for me I just worry about damaging the amp, but that has never happened. Do your amps just heat up the room too much? I've never had trouble with that in my family room because it's big and open. My study on the other hand gets up in the 80s or more during the winter! That's from my gaming pc and a receiver running.
 

spkrdctr

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BDH, you are right about Class D. It would be lighter and cooler. I don't know about any high end Class D other than PS Audio gear. You have to be careful as many makers have pretty much the same circuits but charge prices that are all over the map. LOTS of it has to do with the name of the product. I don't believe in paying for the name unless it adds in great repair services and customer service. Those are worth paying a little more.
 

twich54

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The 'heat' you speak of is a direct correlation to the amp topology. While your amps are a A/B design their initial Class A bias is generous. That's where your heat is coming from. Most people don't realize that a Class A amp produces more 'heat' at idle than it does driving a load for it's always 'on' and thus it's dissipating the unused energy through heat !
 

twich54

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Mark Obrien (Rogue Audio) a few years back gave me one of his Hybrid / Class D amps to try out up against my Spire's that I had at the time. FWIW I enjoyed them very much and I believe his latest offerings have been tweaked even further ..........

 

BDH55

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Why are you unhappy with the heat output? I know for me I just worry about damaging the amp, but that has never happened. Do your amps just heat up the room too much? I've never had trouble with that in my family room because it's big and open. My study on the other hand gets up in the 80s or more during the winter! That's from my gaming pc and a receiver running.
I also have a good sized room (approx 25' x 16') that opens wide into a smaller room (21' x 13'), In addition, both rooms have good sized 'nooks' making them slightly larger. Whether I'm listening or watching, the two doors into my main room are closed. If you leave the room, or even worse, walk back into the room, you definitely feel the heat when you come through the door. It just 'seems' like they are putting out too much heat. Although, someone once told me (not sure if it was Parasound, or someone up here) that as long as you can hold your hand on the heat sink for five seconds, the amps are okay. Well, I can hold the heatsink for five seconds, but at probably 3.5 or 4 secs, I'm looking to bail out! Also, I have never triggered the amps thermal protection so as far as the amps go, they are likely just fine.

Maybe I should try and demo a pair of big tube mono blocks to perhaps 'reset' my perspective on heat output!!! Then again, I don't know the first thing about tube amps and while the glowing elements may 'look' hot, maybe their heat output is no different than the heat sinks on my JC1's... :unsure:
 

BDH55

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The 'heat' you speak of is a direct correlation to the amp topology. While your amps are a A/B design their initial Class A bias is generous. That's where your heat is coming from. Most people don't realize that a Class A amp produces more 'heat' at idle than it does driving a load for it's always 'on' and thus it's dissipating the unused energy through heat !
Dave, sure, of course. I think the first 25w of the JC1 are Class A, so that makes perfect sense. That said, I just realized something and I don't know why it took me so long to think of this.... I've been running my JC1's for about five years, and I don't recall a 'heat' issue until the last several months. Nothing changed in my system in that time... or did it? Ummm, yes, I made a major change in that I moved from Summits, to the ESL 15's!!! But help me understand why changing from Summits to ESL 15's would make my amps run hot? I would think they both present the same load to the amp. Sure, it's a much bigger panel but is that the answer?
 

Spike

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It could be that the ESL15 are more efficient than the Summits, resulting in your JC1s not having to work as hard as when driving the Summits:
  1. Speaker sensitivity: ESL15=92db vs Summit=91db.
  2. Crossover: ESL15=300Hz vs Summit=270Hz.
And then there's the size of the panels where the ESL15 has larger surface area than Summit. All of these factors added together will yield more sound pressure as delivered from the ESL vs Summit. When the JC1 is not working as hard to drive the ESL15 panels, the excess energy dissipates as heat. That's the nature of Class-A.
 

twich54

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While I agree with Spike of the 'possibility' I'm somewhat leery that it would make that much of a noticeable difference. FWIW my Pass X260.8's are biased into Class A even further than your JC-1's and I do notice the 'heat' difference in the summer time whereas it's welcome this time of year !

As for big tube mono blocks , oh yeah, space heaters for sure !
 

BDH55

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It could be that the ESL15 are more efficient than the Summits, resulting in your JC1s not having to work as hard as when driving the Summits:
  1. Speaker sensitivity: ESL15=92db vs Summit=91db.
  2. Crossover: ESL15=300Hz vs Summit=270Hz.
And then there's the size of the panels where the ESL15 has larger surface area than Summit. All of these factors added together will yield more sound pressure as delivered from the ESL vs Summit. When the JC1 is not working as hard to drive the ESL15 panels, the excess energy dissipates as heat. That's the nature of Class-A.
I'm really struggling with understanding how what I view as a minor change could make this big of a difference in my amps. Actually, it may be so... it's just not something my simple mind can wrap itself around! My best friend has two engineering degrees (including a EE) so maybe once we get back together, the system warms up, and the cocktails start flowing, I'll bring this up for his take. However, usually what that results in is a big headache the next morning... o_O
While I agree with Spike of the 'possibility' I'm somewhat leery that it would make that much of a noticeable difference. FWIW my Pass X260.8's are biased into Class A even further than your JC-1's and I do notice the 'heat' difference in the summer time whereas it's welcome this time of year !

As for big tube mono blocks , oh yeah, space heaters for sure !
IIRC, you recommended I consider the X260.8's. If so, thank you! Also, I agree with the heat being welcome this time of year... it was just the change in heat output that caught my eye...

Earlier you mentioned that maybe I was looking for more of a 'change' than an 'upgrade' and I've thought a lot about that comment. I remember when I bought my JC 1's I thought... I've finally arrived at my ultimate amp, and I will never change! While it was the heat issue that initially got me thinking about maybe making an amp change, I think you are correct that there is a little bit of me just looking for a 'change'. I'm going to really have to think thru this as if I'm really looking for 'change' I would see more change by bringing in a pair of tube amps, than by upgrading a great solid state amp, with another great solid state amp. Of course, I would also be bringing more heat..
 
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