My first post, which I will be cross-posting to a few other forums.
I have the immense pleasure of designing/building my first true audiophile system. I will spare you the backstory. Point is, it is happening.
Aside from the million other questions I am researching related to moving coils, Roon, room correction,...I investing most of my time and money on the foundation: Preamp > Power Amp(s) > Speakers. The decision I am spending most of my time on relates to amplification.
Unfortunately, I do not live in a city where I can easily test hifi systems, so I have to rely on a lot of written research and reviews.
However, today, while traveling on business in Hong Kong, I stumbled on a B&W showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of 803 D3 speakers, which have been on my consideration list for a while (along with Focal Sopra No 2's). We listened to several CDs. The sound was the best I've ever experienced. A piano/cello piece was so incredibly quiet. Velvet blackness. Dark Side of the Moon's opening transition from "Speak to Me" to "Breathe" blew me away. The clarity and openness between the instruments was remarkable. Frankly, it was a near-spiritual experience.
Here is where it got interesting...
Afterwards, during lunch at a restaurant in the same building, the waiter saw my B&W catalog and said I should go to the “other” hifi showroom in the building. Why not? I headed back up the elevator to find a KEF showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of Reference 5 speakers, and then the $224k Muon. The source was a digital file through Roon. I know the R5s were powered by a Class D amp, not sure about the Muon.
Neither KEF setup approached the 803 D3's. Not even close. I know sound is subjective, but I played that same sequence from Dark Side of the Moon (which I've been listening to for 30 years) and I am telling you there was no comparison.
I think it must have been the amp. When I asked the B&W rep about the massive, black stereo power amp running the 803's, he laughed and said, "oh, it is only about 100 watts,...but it is pure class A." It was a Gryphon. I think it must have been an Antileon EVO Stereo.
Anyway, the moral to the story (for me, anyway) is that the advice I’ve often heard, “Amplifiers are far, far more important than speakers” was made very real for me this afternoon. It has scrambled my head. Whereas I had been looking for a high-quality, high-power, solid-state, stereo power amp, I have now fallen back down the rabbit hole and am reconsidering tubes, mono-blocks, and, God forbid, pure Class A amps.
What do I do?
(Caveat: all due respect to the seekers out there, I really do not want to be an audiophile who is constantly tearing my system apart and trading components up, out, and sideways. I know digital hardware will change, but with my Preamp>power amp(s)>speakers, I want to be extremely intentional about what I buy, and then not mess with it for a decade. The idea of “try something and if you don’t like it, trade it out” does not appeal to me.)
I love the B&W 803 D3. While I haven’t bought them yet, let’s pretend that the loudspeaker variable is held constant.
I am tied in a pretzel over the amp question. I am prepared to invest in a high-end analog pre-amp, mono-blocks, separate DAC, power conditioning, etc.. I’ve looked at PS Audio, McIntosh (tube and solid-state), Anthem, etc. I tried to look at Classe, but it appears their status as a company is too uncertain.
I am open to any, all advice or thoughts. Does my listening room experience today trigger a thought with anyone? What was it about that Gryphon Class A > B&W 803 sound? And how do I get it without spending $32k on an amp?
Thanks in advance