An absolutely true story follows.
About 6 or 7 years ago, there was a gentleman named Steve Zipster who ran a high-end emporium in Miami called Sunshine Stereo. Steve picked up the Pass line of electronics and was "blown away" (his words) by how good he thought they sounded.
At this time, over in the rec.audio.high-end UseNet group, a very intense debate was raging between the objectivists (who claim if an amp is properly designed, they all sound the same) and the subjectivists who believe differently.
Mr. Zipster (and his wife, Gigi) issued a challenge in this UseNet group and invited a fairly large group of "Golden Ears" to visit his shop for an evening of listening, and several of Pass' top amps were going to be compared to a lowly $500 Yamaha integrated amp driving the same speakers. A speaker comparator was agreed upon by all the participants and everyone agreed, upfront, this comparator would have no effect upon the amp/speaker interface
This event was widely publicized in the rec.audio.high-end newsgroup by Mr. Zipster and he even offered a prize of $10,000 if people didn't agree that the most expensive Pass amp would win this shootout. And anyone who wanted to attend and participate was invited. Mr. Zipster did this in an effort to bring the perpetual argument between the subjectivists and the objectivists to an end. He was firmly in the objectivist camp and he was convinced he was correct in his beliefs.
An expensive B&K SPL meter was used to set the levels for each amp so everything would be the same volume when the amp was switched.
Several of Nelson Pass' most expensive amps were tested with the cheap Yammy.
The testing went for several hours. Both pristine vinyl and well-recorded CD's were the source material. And everyone was convinced
they heard differences and all were certain they had accurately rank-ordered the amps from the most expensive Pass as the "best" to the cheap Yammy as the "worst" sounding.
The results were tallied.
Drum Roll . . . . . . . .
There was virtually no statistically significant difference between the rankings by any of the listeners between the two uber-expensive Pass amps and the $500 Yamaha integrated amp. And these were rankings by so-called "Golden Ears," not some buffoons pulled in from the street.
And, as you might imagine, when subjectivists run a valid test and do not get the results they expect, they all began attacking the testing methodology, claims were made about "defective" equipment and there was a long laundry list developed by the subjectivists why the Pass amps did not cream the Yammy.
I always thought it was interesting that before
the test began, everyone agreed all the equipment was performing well, the speaker selector switch was acceptable to everyone, etc.
And remember, this test was set up and run by subjectivists,
not the objectivists who never believe any of the subjectivist claims.
This was a classic case of shoot the messenger and bury the results because they delivered proof that the subjectivists did not want to, and could not hear (pun intended).
Mr. Zipster (and Gigi) never made good on the $10,000 payout, they were both widely ridiculed in the UseNet audio groups on Internet (there were not groups like this at the time), and Mr. Zipster kept saying he was going to re-run the test because of the "problems" that were uncovered after the test was run and they did not get the results they wanted. As you might imagine, these problems were never quantified nor was an explanation offered as to how they might have affected the results of said test.
Unfortunately, Mr. Zipster died at an early age of a heart attack about 18 months after this somewhat famous "test" was run.
If anyone doubts the veracity of this story, just spend a few hours researching Steve Zipster and Sunshine Stereo on the Internet and you will eventually uncover all the postings of this event.
And nothing changed. The subjectivists claim they hear differences between amps and preamps, the objectivists claim if they measure the same they sound the same, so virtually no progress has been made. It's like trying to get the Sunni and Shia to stop killing each other.
So which amp is best?
It really doesn't matter, frankly. What matters is what preconceptions you bring with you when you make a purchase decision. You are going to make your purchase decisions on what you believe is "best" as there is really no way to actually define what is "best."
As for me, I listen to vintage McIntosh amps that have been refurbished and brought back to spec (but not modded) by McIntosh Labs in Binghamton, NY because (1) I like the retro look that some others here do not like; and (2) My amps keeps increasing in value on eBay and in Audiogon. I cannot think of another brand whose vintage products actually increase
in value each year.