Re: WHO MAKES THE BEST AMP?
IMO, amps can be as mysterious and elusive as high-end cables to the average audiophile or HT enthusiast. The often subtle, yet none-the-less real aural differences between amplifiers are often not realized on mid- and even hi-end systems. It can really take a critical ear with familiar source, speakers, and listening environment to best recognize sonic differences. Amp evaluations often follow "the weakest link" theorem where amps are isolated in the system chain.
I have owned NAD, and Sony ES and currently own B&K, Fosgate Audionics, and a Cinepro amp (anyone need an amp?) mostly multi-channel as I am primarily an HT guy now-a-days. They do have their own personalities, but no one in my listening circle other than myself would be hard pressed to discern their qualities, which ultimately is one man's opinion.
Inevitably, friends will ask how much a piece costs, which I reply, "the road to audio heaven is paved with opinions and Benjamins ($100s)." I am a firm believer that there is a definite audio advantage in buying separate amplification and pre-amp and often argue that a separates solution can be had for the same cost as a high-end receiver, especially if you are willing to do a little research and aren't afraid of using eBay and Audiogon. I don't even attempt to convert the "HT in a box" crowd who, when audio discussions arise ask, "What do you think of my Bxsx system. We love it." Great, I say, that's great for you if you enjoy it. Me? I wouldn't take it on a bet. But I also find that most people have no idea what equipment and performance can be had for the same dollars. They have never heard of Outlaw or NAD or B&K or Sunfire or whatever else might be on the evolutionary chain toward Bryston, Krell and Levinson. They just buy whatever BB and CC has to offer and go blissfully unaware of what they are missing.... sorry, back to amps.
One must also ask, in any audio system, what is really shining through sonically? Is the sound of the amp over-ridden by a more overbearing piece in the chain with greater sonic signature? How well is the piece isolated electrically? (In my case, despite having a Monster Cable HTS-5000 power conditioner, if the dimmer is on in an adjacent room, I can hear it through my amp.) And, what is it exactly that makes one amp sound <better> than another? I've read some cases where amps from the same company can sound very different. Is it the luck of the draw? soldering? circuit compenent differences (caps, transformers, circuit boards)? I'd be interested in hearing from those with technical input.