Frank let me take home his new DVA 700 amp to review.
The review amp is a prototype but has the exact circuits of the finished product just in a different chassis and face plate. It is true balanced and has only XLR inputs. The amp is rated at 350 wpc at 8 ohms. I have to ask Frank what the 4 ohm rating is. Price is $3700. The test model was only 2ch but it can be built as a 4ch amp.
I am going to start off about the sound of the amp and then do a comparison to my Pass Labs X250 amp and Parasound A21 Halo. But first-
Pass DIY Preamp B1
Parasound A21 amp 250 wpc 8 ohms, 400wpc 4ohms Cost new- $2300
Emotiva Big Ego DAC with Audioquest Jitterbug.
Speakers- Wharfedale Diamond 10.2
IC's Blue Jean Cables and Audioquest Golden Gate
USB Cable Audioquest Cinnamon
Pass Labs X250 amp, 250wpc 8ohms, 500wpc 4ohms Cost when new- $6800, the newer 250.8 is $10,000
BAT VK-51se tube preamp
Luxman DA-06 DAC with an Uptone Regen
Magnepan 1.6 speakers
Dual Martin Logan subs
USB Cable Wire World Starlight Red
XLR's Audioquest Columbia 72v DBS, Belden 8402
Music source for both was an audio dedicated Dell Laptop with an HQ 6700 I7 processor and 16gb Ram using Bug Head music player and a 4 TB external Western Digital Red Hard Drive.
When I first heard the amp the first thing that popped into my head was musical and smooth. The amp has excellent musicality. It is smooth and liquid sounding with out being rounded off. The attack on leading edges of instruments with crisp but not artificially. Vocals had good texture and weight. Bass was tight and powerful. Drums hit hard and were upfront. Cymbals had good air and a natural feel to them. There was an excellent sense of air and transparency with a wide sound stage. The general tone of the amp has a little darkness and warmth but in a good way. And I sensed a little mid range bloom which may be the amp, Bug Head music player, my preamps and DAC's which all lean a hint to the warmer and darker side of neutral (especially the Emotiva Big Ego, which by the way, paired with the Jitterbug is a fantastic sounding DAC) . I think that this lends itself to its smooth and liquid sound. There is not a hint of grain, glare or fatigue. This is an easy amp to listen too. In some ways it almost sounds a bit like a tube amp.
Compared to the Parasound A21, the DVA 700 is a better amp. The Parasound is a great amp for the price but a little long in the tooth. It has a little bit of grain and it lacks the air and transparency of more expensive amps and some of the newer lesser priced Class D amps that I have heard lately. The DVA is smoother, more musical and more detailed. I was better able to delineate instruments in space. There was more resolution. The sound stage was wider and more holographic. There was much more transparency. Surprisingly bass is also tighter than the A21 which is one of its strengths. Cymbals had more air and were more realistic. The A21 did have a meatier mid range however. I think that is a trade off with the DVA having more air and transparency. The clear winner here is the DVA.
Compared to the Pass X250, things are mixed. The Pass amp sold for $6800 back in 2003. The X250 is a brute force amp. Here is a quote from the manual "The X250 has 32 output Mosfet power transistors in TO-3 metal packages. The output stages can sustain transients of about 6,000 watts, but are not allowed to dissipate more than 1000 watts for any instant". Upgrading from my Parasound A21 to the X250 was a revelation on what a great high power amp can do for your sound. Bass is thunderous and controlled. It never seems strained or at its limits. Besides all the power, the amp excels on quiet and low passages which is no surprise since it runs in class A for about the first 20-25wpc. Compared to the Pass, the DVA 700 holds its own in many respects. There is plenty of power, and it is delivered well but the Pass amp plays a bit louder before letting you know that it is time to turn down the sound. However, I never felt as though I was missing the power of the Pass. The DVA never sounded strained or slow. It has great dynamics. The DVA's bass is tighter but it does not hit quite as hard as the Pass (I have not heard an amp that delivers bass as powerful as the X250). The DVA does have more air transparency but the sound stage is not quite as wide or deep, but by no means is it lacking. Again, just like the Parasound, the mid range of the Pass has more weight to it at the expense of transparency and air. I don't look at this as a negative, it is more about personal preference. The DVA is smoother sounding and it has better attack in the leading edges of guitar and piano. The Pass is a bit more rounded here. Again, this is more a matter of personal preference. Cymbals are more detailed and have more air with the DVA. They also have a slightly more forward presentation. I have always felt that the cymbals with the Pass are a little pushed back. However, Piano and vocals sounded more natural with the Pass due to the weight and depth. Texture on vocals were better with the DVA. Female vocals like Eva Cassidy and London Grammar were superb. One thing that I really liked about the DVA 700 is that it is very musical at very low volumes like Frank's 400R and 600R amps. Much better than the Pass. Other benefits to the amp are that you don't need a fork lift to lift the amp. The Pass weighs 100 pounds while the DVA comes in around 38 pounds or so. The DVA also does not heat up the room like my Pass, although that is a bonus in the winter time along with the heat generated from the 8 vacuum tubes in my BAT preamp.
So where does the $3700 DVA 700 stand in comparison to the $2300 A21 and the $6800 Pass X250. Well, it clearly out classed the Parasound by a wide margin. It took that system to a new level of refinement. The little budget Wharfedale Diamond speakers never sounded so good. However, in comparison to the Pass, things were not so cut and dry. The DVA did somethings better than the Pass but the Pass had its strengths. The Pass had more powerful bass with more depth and it played louder. It sounded fuller and more natural to me. Overall I would have to say that the DVA had a slight edge in musicality and in how smooth and easy it was to listen too. Bass was a bit tighter. Air, transparency and detail were also slightly better. Not bad for an amp that costs $3700. I highly recommend it if you are wanting a brute force SS amp that can play with the big boys without breaking the bank. Frank has another winner.