Do all amplifiers sound the same?

linnasak

Active Member
Following discussion on Marantz 8805 review thread. The premise has been made that amplifiers sound the same and high end is just a psychological feel good. The sound being the same.

Is this the opinion of members in general or just a few evangelists who have not compared themselves but rely on opinions of others.

Kevin
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
Power amps less difference, Preamp’s definitely sound different.

I have compared an old nad preamp, rotel rsp av process as a preamp and a passive preamp and they all sound very different.
 

Timmy C

Distinguished Member
My experience suggests both pre and power can sound very different. Pre-amps certainly but power amps I've done less in the way of side by side serious comparisons. However there was a time I bought a pair of Arcam P1 monoblocks that at the time seemed to be thought by all to be a good step up from bi-amping with P35 stereo amps. I so wanted to like and keep them as I had planned to use the P35's elsewhere but no matter how hard I tried to convince myself, I just didn't like the sound nearly as much and eventually decided I had to return them. My point being, no high end snoberry going on, I just didn't like the different sound of the far more expensive and thought by most to be better power amps with my system.
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
I have written a lot in the other thread about this so I'm going to try and not say too much more about it.

There is no testing of any merit (i.e. double blind loudness controlled etc.) that has ever been done(to my knowledge and believe me I've spent many many hours researching this) that has ever been able to detect a clear audible difference between the output of any amp, any digital cable, any speaker cable, any CD player etc.

I suggest that anyone who claims to have heard a difference is the subject of placebo and/or confirmation bias. It does not mean they didn't hear a difference, it means that the difference was imaginary (which if you believe the Matrix) is every bit as real. The cause/mechanism however is not the function of the equipment but a consequence of your mind playing tricks on you. Placebo and cognitive bias are psychological effects that has been documented and studied extensively in neuroscience and cognitive studies for decades and is beyond question.

Provided the amp has sufficient power to drive the speakers in question, a £500 PA amp will produce the exact same output as a £50000 boutique amp. Repeated testing has always produced the exact same results and not a single person on the planet who has completed any double blind, output matched testing has *EVER* produced a result that suggests they could tell the difference.

There are no scientific papers or journal entries that prove any of this pseudo science "audio quackery" (thanks James Randi!) has any merit or scientific basis.

I do not in any way hold it against anyone who honestly believes their magic power cable or £10k amp setup makes a difference but make no bones about it you are incorrect if you think the physical lump of metal you have is the reason.

To close I'd just like to make very clear that there are a number of items that can trivially be shown to make a difference. Speakers, speaker positioning, acoustic treatments, listener position, room dimensions, listeners ears and so on. They are a very real (and clearly measurable) impact on the sound we hear.

So yes, all amplifiers do sound the same if subjected to proper controlled double blind testing and no amount of hyperbole, wishful thinking, audio quackery, pseudoscience or indeed money is going to make it not true.

There, that's lit the fire well.

G
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
@xxGBHxx - so you're of the opinion it's only speakers that make a difference?
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
@xxGBHxx - so you're of the opinion it's only speakers that make a difference?
The evidence that exists suggests that only components that have physically different measurable qualities, such as speakers, can be distinguished as different. That is, the shape of a speaker cone, for example, clearly affects how the sound is produced, its direction, intensity and so on. Those changes, generally from speaker to speaker, are measurable scientifically as well as aurally and clearly has an affect on the sound you hear. As does the acoustic treatment you apply to a room, for example. Put acoustic panels up to attenuate your first and second order reflections and even my mum could hear the difference.

That difference does not exist in all components in your system and even if there are minute differences in the output between amps, no one yet has been able to hear that difference in any meaningful (read double blind loudness matched) testing. Every result points to there being no discernible difference. From that I am content to believe the mound of evidence backed through some scientific rigor over zero evidence backed by pseudoscience, anecdote, confirmation bias and rhetoric. In other words just because someone claims "I heard a difference" does *NOT* mean there was a difference. In fact testing has proved it was imaginary and didn't exist.

G
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member

Abacus

Banned
Its synergy, if everything works together optimally then you will have a perfect sound, (Unfortunately this does not occur in real life so you get as close as possible) however if they do not interact well (EG: the speaker impedance drops to a point that the amp cannot deliver full power) then they will sound terrible. (And contrary to what the subjectivists say, the differences can be measured)

In blind testing everything is set up optimally, (Amps match the speakers etc.) and providing the amp is of a competent design, using quality components, then there will be no difference in the sound, however in the real world, users do not have access to the equipment to get everything set up optimally, so the ears are used instead, hence the variations in sound. (Think of it like a TV, OOTB the same model will vary in quality, but calibrated they will look exactly the same)

The reason there is disagreements between technical and subjectivists is because they treat it as black and white, when in the real world there is no such thing.

To finish off, if somebody tells you there cannot be a difference, and another person says that there is a difference, ignore both, and try the equipment yourself and get the one YOU like the sound of.

Bill
 

Dans1210

Well-known Member
Right on cue, audio myth buster Ethan winer just dropped a video challenging a high end audio manufacturer ps audio to prove his claims.
I must admit when i saw ps audios videos earlier this year i nearly spat out my dinner...

 
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JamesW 51FD

Active Member
To close I'd just like to make very clear that there are a number of items that can trivially be shown to make a difference. Speakers, speaker positioning, acoustic treatments, listener position, room dimensions, listeners ears and so on. They are a very real (and clearly measurable) impact on the sound we hear.
G
Seriously though, do you genuinely believe the statements you are making or do you just say them to get a reaction?
Have YOU personally tried listening for differences when auditioning new kit or following a significant change in your system? Have you tried for example listening to Jimmy Hendrix voodoo chille on cd in a DVD player and comparing that to a quality CD player, partnered with a good set of floor standing speakers and a (decent) amp? It would seem that you have never experienced an improvement in your system since day 1, and don’t believe them possible - which would be a real shame. Do you attempt to improve your system or have you given up already?

Perhaps I and most others are delusional but if so then this ignorance is bliss and it gives me so much enjoyment and so I will continue to play with my volume control and delight in the imaginary improvements!
 

Abacus

Banned
Right on cue, audio myth buster Ethan winer just dropped a video challenging a high end audio manufacturer ps audio to prove his claims.
I must admit when i saw ps audios videos earlier this year i nearly spat out my dinner...

Talk to any audio engineer and you will find multiple differences between them on what is best, which makes his argument no better than Pauls argument, hence I said in my previous post, ignore both camps and make up your own mind, (Just like any good recording engineer) as if you don't, you will never be happy with your system, no matter what the measurement and subjective elements claim.

Bill
 

JamesW 51FD

Active Member
Following discussion on Marantz 8805 review thread. The premise has been made that amplifiers sound the same and high end is just a psychological feel good. The sound being the same.

Is this the opinion of members in general or just a few evangelists who have not compared themselves but rely on opinions of others.

Kevin
My personal experience and opinion is that there is a difference and the differences can be more or less noticeable depending on other parts of the kit but speakers in particular.
It is difficult enough to get the same electronics to perform identicaly when manufactured to the same specifications so I think it impossible that all electronics can perform the same even when manufacturers are using different components and different circuits - it would be a miracle. Why would they bother with different classes of amplification? Class A, B, G?
A question for those that believe there is no difference in performance regardless of quality- do you also believe that all amplifiers (or audio equipment in general) has always sounded the same?
 

mushii

Distinguished Member
OK if I have no takers for speaker cables can we at least consider HDMI cables? Or how about IEC mains leads?
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
It depends on what you mean by "sounds the same".

If I play the Beatles and hear the Beatles and it actually sounds like the Beatles on 5 different amps ... do they sound the same? Maybe ... maybe not.

All amps sound similar in that you hear what you play, but I know for a fact that Amps do not sound the same ... but again they sound similar. My Yamaha and Rotel sound very much a like. However, my Onkyo do not sound the same as the other two. (From Memory) The Onkyo have a Damp Factor of about 50, where as the Yamaha and Rotel have a Damp Factor of 250 or more.

Now keep in mind that a somewhat artificial Damp Factor can be created with negative feedback. All amps use feedback to some degree to stablize the amps. It is just a matter of how much and by what means.

Whether that explains the entire difference between Onkyo and Yamaha/Rotel, I can't be sure. But side-by-side the difference is very clear.

Now, does that mean one amp is bad and the others are good? No. They all sound good ... just slightly different.

Next it depends on the class of amps, and I mean that in two context - Class-A/Class-AB/Class-D/an assortment of other hybrid classes, then Price Class. I don't expect a £150 Receiver to stand up to a £15,000 Amp. Though admittedly a £15,000 amp is a bit on the ridiculous side.

But this is a moot question, the question isn't does it sound the same, but rather do you like how it sounds? Does it please you? If it does, then - that's a good amp regardless of price.

Last, is the element of sanity. To me it is insane and pointless to pay anything more than about £5000 for an amp, but you are free to do so - it is after all your money. And in reality, even £5000 is a bit over the top.

Again, it doesn't matter if they all sound the same or if they all sound different, and long as you can fine one you like the sound of.

There are friends and enemies in both camps. Those who absolutely swear that all amps sound the same, yet oddly they do not have a £150 Stereo Receiver. I had one 'all the same' guy who eventually admitted, after a great deal of pressing, he actually had a NAD Master-Series amp. These are expensive. His justification was that he got a deal and it had features he needed, but that particular amp was not really long features, it was pretty basic. So to me - he was full of crap.

Another camp is all the same are those who have cheap amps, and what they are really saying is that they currently have the best they can afford and are a bit self-conscious about it.

Lastly the camp that says amps are different and therefore sound different, but not grossly so. But it doesn't matter as long as you have an amp that sounds good to you.

It is something of a pointless argument or discuss because like cable and a range of other hot-button topics, it never can and never will be resolved.

Steve/bluewizard
 
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dannnielll

Well-known Member
I go back to one of my original postings here. .. all perfect amplifiers sound the same at the same power output level. That is so self evident that it should not need discussion. And we hhav been able to make virtually perfect amplifiers for a few decades now. A perfect amplifier is one which take in a signal and make a larger version of it with nothing added or subtracted. All the voltages at whatever frequency they were at the input have the exact same phase relationship at the output.

However people do not necessarily want perfection. If anyone suggests that a specific amplifier is more musical than another or has a different " sound signature " they are discussing deliberate distortions. Preference is preference not a measure of quality.
I am with Ethan in regards to measurements. If there is a difference,it is open to measurement. The null measurement technique is extremely long established in all branches of Physics,it has served us well for 200 years abd is nno failing us now.
 
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Rambles

Distinguished Member
I think we need to be a bit clearer on the definition of amplifier.

Do we mean an integrated amplifier, including all of the pre-amps and DAC's or do we mean a power amplifier?

My experience, based on having 30+ different pieces of electronics going through my room over the last couple of years, trying to build a system that sounds fantastic for both movies and music, without requiring a second mortgage is...

Power amps - sound the same, as long as they are not introducing noise, and working within their tolerance (eg not clipping).

DACs and pre-amps - sound very different, in terms of instrument and voice separation, placement of instruments and voices, and how much bass is evident, how much treble is evident (warm / bright).

Then of course, the big difference in how things sound are the speakers, the room, the quality of the source and EQ / room correction.
 

ashenfie

Well-known Member
It depends on what you mean by "sounds the same".

If I play the Beatles and hear the Beatles and it actually sounds like the Beatles on 5 different amps ... do they sound the same? Maybe ... maybe not.

All amps sound similar in that you hear what you play, but I know for a fact that Amps do not sound the same ... but again they sound similar. My Yamaha and Rotel sound very much a like. However, my Onkyo do not sound the same as the other two. (From Memory) The Onkyo have a Damp Factor of about 50, where as the Yamaha and Rotel have a Damp Factor of 250 or more.

Now keep in mind that a somewhat artificial Damp Factor can be created with negative feedback. All amps use feedback to some degree to stables the amps. It is just a matter of how much and by what means.

Whether that explains the entire difference between Onkyo and Yamaha/Rotel, I can't be sure. The side-by-side the difference is very clear.

Now, does that mean one amp is bad and the others are good? No. They all sound good ... just slightly different.

Next it depends on the class of amps, and I mean that in two context - Class-A/Class-AB/Class-D/an assortment of other hybrid classes, then price class. I don't expect a £150 Receiver to stand up to a £15,000 Amp. Though admittedly a £15,000 amp is a bit on the ridiculous side.

But this is a moot question, the question isn't does it sound the same, but rather do you like how it sounds? Does it please you? If it does, then - that's a good amp regardless of price.

Last, is the element of sanity. To me it is insane and pointless to pay anything more than about £5000 for an amp, but you are free to do so - it is after all your money. And in reality, even £5000 is a bit over the top.

Again, it doesn't matter of they all sound the same or if they all sound different, and long as you can fine one you like the sound of.

There are friends and enemies in both camps. Those who absolutely swear that all amps sound the same, yet oddly they do not have a £150 Stereo Receiver. I had one 'all the same' guy who eventually admitted, after a great deal of pressing, he actually had a NAD Master-Series amp. These are expensive. His justification was that he got a deal and it had features he needed, but that particular amp was not really long features, it was pretty basic. So to me - he was full of crap.

Another camp is all the same are those who have cheap amps, and what they are really saying is that they currently have the best they can afford and are a bit self-conscious about it.

Lastly the camp that says amps are different and therefore sound different, but not grossly so. But it doesn't matter as long as you have an amp that sounds good to you.

It is something of a pointless argument or discuss because like cable and a range of other hot-button topics, it never can and never will be resolved.

Steve/bluewizard
I think we are saying by following the laws of deminishing returns there is an optimal point where spending more money yields no or little improvement in sound.

Further the fact you can measure a difference does does no mean you can hear a differences but you have to be sure you measure every reliavant parameter and take into account varying hearing abilities.

The hifi and av world both trade on people being lazy and just assuming because it costs more it must be better
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
Its synergy, if everything works together optimally then you will have a perfect sound, (Unfortunately this does not occur in real life so you get as close as possible) however if they do not interact well (EG: the speaker impedance drops to a point that the amp cannot deliver full power) then they will sound terrible. (And contrary to what the subjectivists say, the differences can be measured)

In blind testing everything is set up optimally, (Amps match the speakers etc.) and providing the amp is of a competent design, using quality components, then there will be no difference in the sound, however in the real world, users do not have access to the equipment to get everything set up optimally, so the ears are used instead, hence the variations in sound. (Think of it like a TV, OOTB the same model will vary in quality, but calibrated they will look exactly the same)

The reason there is disagreements between technical and subjectivists is because they treat it as black and white, when in the real world there is no such thing.

To finish off, if somebody tells you there cannot be a difference, and another person says that there is a difference, ignore both, and try the equipment yourself and get the one YOU like the sound of.

Bill
Ok.

Sort of but I think you're missing the point somewhat.

If you push an amp too far or you don't have enough power to drive the speakers in question you're going to get distortion or clipping and you will certainly hear that. But you're hugely unlikely going to get that with, say a £400 Behringer NX6000 iNuke. As the sound produced is exactly the same as if you were using a £5000 boutique amp (as in the sound they produce would be indistinguishable) then why pay £5000? Now of course theres things like aesthetics, room correction software or some other "value add" you might want which "justifies" that price and that's fine. But if it's all about the sound you're wasting your money. If, as you say, things are not perfect in the room or environment the amp is going to go into then that's the same for all amps going into that environment so your point is somewhat moot. The reason test conditions are made "optimal" is to make sure these external effects don't affect the sound. That is that you're testing a like for like otherwise it wouldn't be a fair test either way. I mean you put that Behringer up against a boutique amp that only pushes out 50W and push it into clipping and the boutique amp will sound appalling compared to the Behringer which will likely blow the speaker before you get anywhere near clipping. The would be just as unfair.

The point being though is that your ears lie to you, as does your brain. In trying something with the belief it's going to make a difference then it will, it's just an imaginary difference. Now as long as people understand it's a psychological effect and that you've paid the money to convince yourself of the difference then we're all happy.

G
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
Seriously though, do you genuinely believe the statements you are making or do you just say them to get a reaction?
Have YOU personally tried listening for differences when auditioning new kit or following a significant change in your system? Have you tried for example listening to Jimmy Hendrix voodoo chille on cd in a DVD player and comparing that to a quality CD player, partnered with a good set of floor standing speakers and a (decent) amp? It would seem that you have never experienced an improvement in your system since day 1, and don’t believe them possible - which would be a real shame. Do you attempt to improve your system or have you given up already?

Perhaps I and most others are delusional but if so then this ignorance is bliss and it gives me so much enjoyment and so I will continue to play with my volume control and delight in the imaginary improvements!
Why are you taking it as some personal attack? I certainly don't mean it as such and apologise if you feel it is.

I, of course, would like to improve my system if I had infinite money. I would like to improve the items that actually, provably, do make a real difference to the sound I hear. I've listed those previously.

Heres an opposite question. Have YOU personally listened to a CD player and DVD player on the same system at the same loudness without knowing which you're listening to? (hint, there is no difference)

No, I have not done any extensive testing of my own outside the equipment I have had over the years but as I've stated before I stand on the shoulders of those people who have come before me and done those test extensively. I fail to understand how we are happy in life to accept testing results others have done before us on a whole myriad of things without feeling the need to prove it to ourselves yet with audio quackery people ignore all the evidence and blindly believe what they think is real.

I only stand by my statements because they are backed up with the 30-40 years of test results I've managed to unearth. I don't agree with people who have subjectively heard a difference that objective testing has proven to be fallacy.

As for your last paragraph I would use the word misguided and hoodwinked rather than delusional. While you're lacing it with no small amount of sarcastic anger I actually wholeheartedly applaud your stance if you actually believed it. The problem is if you really did believe it then the placebo and/or confirmation bias that is causing you to believe you hear a difference would no longer be there so you actually wouldn't hear a difference. It's a maddening concept, I agree.

G
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
Talk to any audio engineer and you will find multiple differences between them on what is best, which makes his argument no better than Pauls argument, hence I said in my previous post, ignore both camps and make up your own mind, (Just like any good recording engineer) as if you don't, you will never be happy with your system, no matter what the measurement and subjective elements claim.

Bill
Except he's not basing his statements on anything but provable fact whereas Paul is talking complete audio quackery bull. All Ethan is trying to point out is that audio is a quantifiable effect that can be entirely measured and so compared. Paul is saying that even when two devices or cables have a provably identical output they can still sound different which is clearly laughable at best and disingenuous at worst. I don't see why that should be ignored except when someone just doesn't want to accept they're being conned and as such spent money on something that doesn't make a difference when they could have spent it on something that does.

G
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
OK if I have no takers for speaker cables can we at least consider HDMI cables? Or how about IEC mains leads?
You missed USB....

G
 

xxGBHxx

Well-known Member
My personal experience and opinion is that there is a difference and the differences can be more or less noticeable depending on other parts of the kit but speakers in particular.
It is difficult enough to get the same electronics to perform identicaly when manufactured to the same specifications so I think it impossible that all electronics can perform the same even when manufacturers are using different components and different circuits - it would be a miracle. Why would they bother with different classes of amplification? Class A, B, G?
A question for those that believe there is no difference in performance regardless of quality- do you also believe that all amplifiers (or audio equipment in general) has always sounded the same?
It is possible to manufacture just about any electrical component to make a difference in sound. You can make components that add in sound or distortion to the output and that will be measurable and real. Without doubt, before the advent of transistors, IC's and all digital equipment there will have been all manner of crud produced. Today will be no different, you can probably go on to Alibaba and find some very poorly designed "amplifier" that costs £20 and has no power, no filtering circuitry and introduces real, measurable noise into the sound.

However, once you get past the question of is it possible at all to is it in any way realistic with any reputable manufacturer then the answer is no. The likes of Crown, Behringer, Emotiva who all produce low cost, high power amps (usually PA) and all have some excellent design engineers working for them. The kit is designed sensibly but costs an order of magnitude less than your Bryston or Mcintosh. This is the area where I believe there is no audible difference.

As for your part about why they do Class A-G etc. is marketing. Everyone wants to let the buyer believe they're buying something worth the extortionate money they're paying because I can assure you it's not the raw cost of the electronics in the box.

G
 

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