Ok, here it is-
First let me take this opportunity to thank Mr. Frank Van Alstine for being so gracious and allowing me the privilege to do an in home audition of this wonderful amp. And for all the other times he let me take home equipment.
Now for the review-
AVA 600R power amp
AVA Ultra II preamp and Ultra II DAC
Modified Music Hall 25.2 CDP as a transport
Magnepan QR 1.6 speakers
Cables by Blue Jeans
I will list the music played at the end.
This amp is nothing short of spectacular. When we first hooked it up, my 20yr old budding audiophile son and I noticed that it was a huge improvement over my Parasound A21(which strengths are dynamics,detail, bass, sound stage and transparency) and the FET Valve 550 that we auditioned a couple of years ago. It was quite apparent that this is a special amp. First off, the sound stage seemed to extend well past the walls of my 17'x17'x10' room. The transparency of the sound seemed to have an almost holographic feel to it. The spacing of the instruments was phenomenal. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not listening to SACD's. Even compressed older recordings like Fleetwood Mac opened up and became uncompressed with air and transparency. Vocals and instruments were so life like that if you closed your eyes you got the feeling that Eva Cassady, Hope Sanduval of Mazzy Star or Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane were singing or playing in front of you.
The amp really showed its colors with classical music. The quiet passages just sounded better and were more involving and the amp handled dynamic passages effortlessly. The amp has great pace and rhythm. The sound was grain free and the clarity, resolution and detail were on par with the $10,000 Ayres amp that I heard a couple of years ago and was better than my friend's $5,000 Nuforce Model 9se monoblocks. Bass is powerful, smooth, deep crisp and well controlled. It was the first time that I have heard my Magnepans produce that nice bass thump that you get with cone drivers. Treble was natural and life like. In fact, my son who plays the Sax in band commented that the amp produced the most life like cymbals that he has ever heard and I have to agree. People who have heard my system have always commented on how life like the sound was but with this amp the music was eerily life like. You get the feeling that you are sitting in the front row of an orchestra.
My only criticism if you want to call it that was that I had to do some tube rolling in my DAC and Preamp. I use 6CG7 amprex in my Preamp and Tong Sols in my DAC which produce a slightly warmer sound with my Parasound, but with the 600R the sound leaned just a hint on the bright side with slight sibilance. But once I switched to RCA clear tops in the Pre and DAC the amp was completely neutral with no real sound of its own. But thats the beauty of tubes. They sound different with different equipment and you can roll them to get the sound that you want.
So would I buy this amp? Absolutely, it performs well above its price point just as all AVA gear does. It is certainly on par or better than all of the amps that I have heard ( Ayres, Bryston, Theta, Luxman, Belle's, Nuforce, Parasound, Adcom, Jolida, Plinnius, Classe and MacIntosh ).
Music used for the reivew-
Anouar Braham-The Astounding Eyes of Rita
Groove Note-True Audiophile, The Best of Groove Note
Eva Cassidy- Simply Eva
Cowboy Junkies- Whites Off Earth Now
Carmen-50kHz Master Transfer to DSD
Acoustic Flakes- Kazumi Wantanabe
Mighty Sam McClain
Patricia Barber- Cafe Blue
Mazzy Star- Among My Swan
Muddy Waters- Folk Singer
Keith Jarrett- The Melody At Night With You
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
Anna Colvin- Anna Colvin
Fleetwood Mac- The Very Best of
Blue Spec CD- Classic Selection
The Best Audiophile voices- XRCD24
Eric Clapton- Unplugged
Frank Sinatra and several other artists.