Which stereo amp to try under $30k

Having just made several upgrades to my system, it's now time for the amp. Given the number of amps in the 15-30k range, I'm guessing many of you have experiences with them. To get started, I'll tell you my (1) my guidance (2) my current list of options (3) My current setup. Looking forward to getting more options on my list, as I'd like to pull the trigger in about 2 months and need to start listening.

My Guidance
- Under $30k
- I need to be able to hear the amp before purchase, preferably at a local shop (SF Bay Area)
- New or used ok
- Large sound stage
- Bass
- More Bass... all the bass
- Very much prefer stereo to fit in my rack. I have small children and not enough room for monos.
- Prefer not tubes (already have a tube line stage - too hot for small children and don't fit in rack)
- I'm ok with a colored sound. Prefer musicality and realism over "accuracy" or "neutrality"
- Needs an absolute minimum of 150W based on how loud I listen
- 15/20A or something I can plug into a regular wall outlet

My Current List of options
- Luxman M900u (current top of list)
- Ayre VX-R Twenty
- Pass Labs XA160.8 (doesn't meet all of my guidance)
- Boulder 2160 (a little above budget)
- Audio Research 160S (doesn't meet all of my guidance)

My Current Setup
- AMG Viella Turbo Turntable w/ Koetsu Onyx Platinum Cartridge
- Boulder 508 Phono Stage
- Mytek Manhattan II DAC (next upgrade after the amp - maybe a dCS Bartok?)
- Audio Research Reference 6 line stage
- McIntosh MC452 power amplifier
- B&W 802D3 speakers
- AudioQuest and Nordost cabling or a Symposium Osiris rack

What I listen to: Anything from the 60s on vinyl, some things from the 70s on vinyl. A lot of large orchestral and jazz, also a fair amount of pop, from any decade, on vinyl and digital. Thanks for reading my long post! I'll keep this thread updated with amps I hear. Lots of great shops in the area. My two favorites are The Analog Room in Campbell and Music Lovers Audio in Oakland and SF.
Ag insider logo xs@2xmayoradamwest
I need to ask the obvious question. What do you feel you are not getting from your Mc 452 ? And as part of this same question...What do you want more of, less of ? Your Mc actually fits your " guidance ", but admittedly, I do feel there is better. Curious, if you have asked WC for his opinion ? Enjoy ! MrD.
It seems like the weak link in sound staging, speed, and definitely bass. Overall I don’t have anything against the sound out of the McIntosh, but it’s a little polite. 
As for WC I asked in his thread and confirmed the Luxman should be my top choice so I will definitely be listening to that one and the Boulder. I believe the all the ones I listed except Pass Labs I can audition at Music Lovers Audio. 
I'm thinking the X350.8 would do the trick for you. 802's like power and you want a stereo amp. I know the X amps are fairly high bias and in regular listening are mostly running in class A. Another great amp is the Moon 860A V2 made in Canada. The Ayre you already know about. 
Appreciate the feedback! My concern with the X350.8 is (1) WC didn’t like it much (2) no idea where I can audition one. Nonetheless you’re right that if I can find one to try, I should. I tend to not go much over 40-100W when playing loud but the 802s do drop to 4ohm at times. 
Well I loved the 350.8 but it was too large for my room. Quite the beast. Very big and heavy. No way will it go into a rack. Or at least I can't imagine it would. Needs space and runs very hot. If I had a large spacious living room I would have kept it. Don't expect to be able to handle it by yourself.
You really should listen to Luxman and Pass. I don't find them comparable, and am sure you'll pick one OR the other, but not either. :)

Before that though, you didn't mention your room acoustics. That has a big impact on bass, more than a lot of other things.

If you listen to Luxman and Pass, the other amp you should listen to which I think fits in your budget is a D'Agostino.

I'll be really interested to find out which of those you prefer. :)

Good one, I’ll see if I can find the D’Ag. Room acoustics are quite good. Relatively small room, vaulted ceilings and lots of acoustic paneling and bass traps. 
i had the VX-R then upgraded it to Twenty series. A sweetheart of an amp. It needs to be ON or in standby for 24 hours prior to serious listening. speed detail, 3D ( with Vandersteen 7 ) and warmth without fatigue. Bested ( of course ) by Vandersteen purpose built amp.

I would add the Aesthetix stereo amp w eclipse upgrades, that amp has BASS and more....roll the front end tube.

have fun, enjoy your search.
Nagra Classic - 100 wpc, but you can buy 2, if you decide you need the additional power, bridge them, and have them fit in your rack due to size.

Aesthetix Atlas - Plenty of bass and drive. Will fit in your rack. Get the Eclispe version or buy used and have it upgraded. Great customer service.
I'll add to my list Simaudio/Moon 700i v2 and the 900 series Luxman separates. 

@mayoradamwest What makes you place your concerns on the amp and not on the speaker and more importantly on the amp-speaker synergy/interface? OR on the system as a whole?
Ayre and Audio Research were my favorite amps.  I recently heard of poor customer service from AR.....which leaves Ayre ...which has marvelous customer service.
How about a D'Agastino stereo 250 Momentum amp, pairs beautifully with tubed preamp, has reasonable sized footprint for rack, is great 'eye' candy, and perhaps can find a refurb unit from dealer for around that price point. Very copious and tight bass, great sound staging...am using it with VTL 6.5 tubed pre running Wilson Yvette's to very enjoyable effect. I had a Hegel H-30 stereo, and this really reveals the differences between the two.
Like the Momentum better than entry model, 
If staging and bass are your game, the new Vitus SIA 030 integrated may be perfect for you. A bit over your price point but may be worth your audition? 
A nice set of Class D monoblocks might do the trick. They're not expensive enough, but you can hide them anywhere because they don't need ventilation, so you can do monoblocks and put them where the kids can't get to them. I find the Bel Cantos very musical.
Had the Mac 601 monoblocks and moved to the Audionet AMP then Audionet MAX monoblocks. Huge improvements on all fronts. Also preferred them over Soulution when compared on my YG speakers.
Mayer, stay away from D'Agositino products. His idea of customer service is to get your money then leave you in the weeds. If you have a problem you are on your own. He does not support his products by maintaining a supply of spare parts. He wastes money on making his amps look catchy frequently using custom components to fit the chassis. I got seriously burned by him, stuck with a $6000 Krell preamp that became totally worthless when it blew it's volume potentiometer, a custom part which he did not keep a supply of. He told me to go to Radio Shack, get a pot and mount it on the out side of the chassis! The unit was 4 years old, just out of warranty. 

Under $30K I would certainly recommend my Lepai 2020 +.  It powers my Magneplanars beautifully. Great bass and a soundstage to die for.
Try to find a used pre-owned D’Agostino Momentum stereo power amp that can be had for around $30k or possibly less. D’Agostino Momentum amps will pair really well with a tube preamp especially the ARC Reference linestage preamps.

I used to have two pairs of D’Agostino Momentum M400 monoblock amps paired with the ARC Reference 10 linestage preamp in my previous setup/system driving a pair of Wilson Audio Alexx speakers. They performed and sounded wonderfully together. 
My analog front end source components at the time were : Kronos Pro turntable with the D'Agostino Momentum phonostage pre. My digital front end source components at the time were : DCS Vivaldi full four stacks (Vivaldi masterclock, Vivaldi upsampler, Vivaldi DAC, Vivaldi CD/SACD transport). The overall sonic end results were phenomenal. 

The ARC Reference linestage pre + D’Agostino Momentum amps will sound pretty good on your B&W 802 D3 as well. I have heard the B&W 802 D3 driven by D’Agostino Momentum amps before with an Ayre Reference linestage pre and I thought they sounded great together.
Thanks all for the suggestions. I’ve added them to my list to listen. I’ll need to research where I can hear the D’Agostino. As for why not the speakers.... no. And while appreciate the cheap Class D zealots, I’m not interested. I’m also not going to buy an amp that needs some ‘upgrade’. The McIntosh is quite good and sets the bar high. 
The McIntosh amps are pretty good but the ARC (especially their Reference line), Boulder, Luxman, Pass Labs and the D’Agostino amps are leagues ahead and big step up from McIntosh.
Ayre Ref will also sound good on your B&W 802 D3.

Another amp that will sound really good on your B&W 802 D3 will be the Naim 500 DR power amp with its partnering Naim 555 PS DR external power supply unit (psu). The Naim 500 DR amp does not have onboard power supplies. The Naim 500 DR amp + Naim 555 PS DR psu will be over your budget of $30k though. The combo will run you for around $34k total ($26k for the amp + $8k for the PSU). The Naim 500 DR power amp is a true dual monoural design amps with left & right channels are encased in completely separate chambers and are completely isolated and independent from each other. You could use two of the 555 PS DR power supply units, one for each channel but they will cost you even more and will drive up the total costs to $42k total. And besides, you said you won’t have additional rack shelf space.
But if you did have extra rack spaces I would highly recommend this Naim 500 DR amp + Naim 555 PS DR psu. This is a highly refined highly musical sounding amp. Do not get let down with its power output ratings of 140 wpc @ 8 ohms but this is a very capable amp more than capable of driving your B&W 802 D3 and this amp is stable down to very low impedance loads. The current delivery that matters. I’ve previously heard this amp driving a pair of big huge Focal Utopia Grande Evo iii speakers with ease and effortlessly. The sound was soo effortless.
Some great suggestions. 
You should definitely try out Audionet, Luxman, Vitus and the Naim.
All the best. 

@mayoradamwest If you make it down to S.Cal you can hear almost all the gear mentioned on this thread rather easily (not sure where for Audionet). Some of them at the same store. There are more high end audio stores down here than in the Bay Area. I lived in the beautiful Bay Area for a decade and visited most of the audio stores.
The impedance curves shown in John Atkinson’s measurements of your speaker indicate, on paper at least, that the speaker is highly unfriendly to tube amplification. Especially in key parts of the bass region that you are concerned with, e.g. 50 to 100 Hz or so, taking into account the phase angle plot as well as the impedance magnitude.

Personally I would rule out the ARC 160S as a candidate "a priori," based on those impedance curves.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

“I am not going to buy some amp that needs an upgrade”

I am guessing you were referring to the Aesthetix Atlas. This amp is delivered by Aesthetix as a base model, Signature model, and Eclipse model. The lower models can be upgraded to their top level (Eclipse), you can also buy the Aesthetix Atlas Eclipse. 

The Atlas has plenty of low end drive and will drive low impedance loads. It is worth auditioning, although your other picks may end of being what you prefer. I think your B&W speakers would be better matched to a solid state output amplifier.

Best Regards,

Jim Perry
To be sure it's clear, my previous comments about the speaker not being friendly to tube amplification do not apply to the Aesthetix Atlas Eclipse, since its output stage is solid state.

-- Al

I would also recommend a Simaudio amp.  I have the 870A (300wpc) but you could probably get a 860A (200wpc) on the used market for around 7k.  They are very refined, great bass, smooth yet detailed top end....also runs cool , so kid friendly.
get a used arcam delta 120 it's 300 watts bridged ,likes b&w speakers has a very exciting realistic sound giant bass and doesn't cost 30k (maybe 1k in a fantastic condition it's from the 90's british made).krell and pass labs makes amazing amps go second hand on something that is proven to work with your speakers .get the schiit loki or itube 2 they are cheap and give you the ability to tweak the tone a bit.i'm using the arcam with b&w dm580 and ifi itube as a preamp.
Simaudio 860A v2 might be interesting to try. As for the Arcam and Schiit, I’m assuming you’re just a troll.
I have a Boulder 2060 and am currently saving for a 2160.
It will take me three years. 
I think you can probably guess what I'm going to recommend....a pre owned 2060.
Not mine of course, because my cat was sick on it and it went pop

In my limited experience, Boulder does everything. The effortlessness, huge soundstage and unfathomable grip on the bass you might expect, but the exquisite delicacy on vocals and acoustic music was, for me at least, unexpected.
I have never heard music so vibrant, textured and 'right' sounding as via Boulder amplification. I have a different relationship to music now, compared to the past. Totally immersive, it really feels as though my system is on the side of the artiste,  and the effect i experience is what the artist was trying to achieve. No more diving in for odd tracks and then moving on; whole sides run into whole albums run into entire discographies.
They combine the best of the 'English' sound
(a place for everything and everything in place, perfectly controlled) with the larger scale of the 'American' sound, and add a neat trick; when the Boulder arrives it seems to take my room out of the equation. I have no idea how they manage this, but my room seems to transform from it's usual, concrete floor and patio-windowed reflective harshness into a fully treated, covered-with soft fabrics fluffy chamber of sublime comfort

Alternatively for a taste of the new wave get an 1160, then when you can afford get another and bi amp.
2 x 1160 = 1 x 2160= 😁
Thanks @gavman even a used 2160 is likely out of my price range, given they are around 60k new. Is that really true that the 1160 is 1/2 the 2160? There is little detail on the 1160 but it seemed like a class AB amp where the 2160 is class A? Another concern is that WC didn’t like Boulder (I think the 2050) and most of the magazines say it’s great if quite sterile. Either way, I will definitely listen to them both as they are carried by my shop of choice, Music Lovers Audio. I really appreciate everyone’s help. I’ve got until late November when I’ll have the funds.

ps can it be plugged into a regular wall socket? The rear of the amp appears to have a high amperage plug. 
- Prefer not tubes (already have a tube line stage - too hot for small children and don't fit in rack)
- I'm ok with a colored sound. Prefer musicality and realism over "accuracy" or "neutrality"
- Needs an absolute minimum of 150W based on how loud I listen
@mayoradamwest  A lot of us older audiophiles grew up with exposed tubes. If kids know they are 'hot' they stay away- otherwise a stove in the house might not be a good idea either :)  Even a class A solid state amp is going to be hot- such an amp will make 85-90% of the same heat made by a class A tube amp of the same power. The heat of tubes comes from their class of operation, not their filaments. Most solid state amps make less heat because they are 'AB' but they are biased so lightly that they are much closer to 'B' than 'A'. This is why solid state amps have a reputation for being cooler for the most part.

 Some tube amps do fit into a rack. But if you are looking for a warmer, more musical presentation, tubes might be the only way to go. But I agree with @almarg  your speakers present difficulty for tube amplifiers. If I were looking at this I'd also be looking at a speaker that is easier to drive and this would be true even if I was staying with solid state. The simple fact of the matter is that **all** amplifiers make higher distortion into lower impedances and difficult phase angles! The distortion I'm talking about is higher ordered harmonic distortion, which will be audible as brightness, harshness and reduced detail. By simply using a speaker of higher impedance you can get any amplifier to have a smoother and more detailed presentation. And make no mistake: many people conflate brightness with detail and the two are not the same!

I’m not sure about all of this chatter about how my speakers don’t work with tubes but maybe they will if I get the right amp or whatnot. I said I didn’t want a tube amp. I’ve got a tube line stage. That’s enough tube for me. Looking forward to trying several of the amps suggested here over the coming weeks. 
mayoradamwest OP

The impedance curves shown in John Atkinson’s measurements of your speaker indicate, on paper at least, that the speaker is highly unfriendly to tube amplification. Especially in key parts of the bass region that you are concerned with, e.g. 50 to 100 Hz or so, taking into account the phase angle plot as well as the impedance magnitude.
Totally agree with Al on this, I might just add that the -64 phase angle combined with the low impedance at 70hz could be seen by the amp as 2ohm or even lower.

But because the 802d’s are 91db, only 50watts will do the trick, so long as you don’t want party levels..
But!!!! that 50w needs to almost double to 4ohm 100w and again to 2ohms 200w, to make sure the amp has good current, and it needs to do that without breaking a sweat, and stay stable doing it.
Solid state amps with bjt (bi-polar) output stages will be your best best.

This will do a magnificent job, and you can select your own amount of Class-A bias on the front on the run, also good for hot days, just back it off.
or the cheaper Mephisto https://gryphon-audio.dk/shop/power-amplifiers/mephisto/

Cheers George
I second the Gryphon Diablo 300 recommendation!  For the money, there are few integrated or even separate amps that are in its class.

Very powerful and gives very nice bass.  Not overly punchy, but cool and organic.
You should be able to get great bass now with the McIntosh (the Grateful Dead always did). I've always thought the Nordost line sounded bright. Try different cables - which, I know, is another entire thread. 
Hullo MayorWest, apologies for the delay in responding, I wanted to check with Boulder to make sure i wasn't giving out incorrect information.
 It was a pre owned 2060 that i initially suggested, as you say a pre owned 2160 would likely be a budget buster, and more to the point, i don't believe there has yet been a used 2160 on the market.

Basically your information is correct, as confirmed by Boulder

"With regard to your enquiry, the 1160 and 2160 are very different beasts, although, both absolutely stunning as you would expect from the stable of Boulder.
The 2160 is 600 watts/channel in pure Class A operation, the amplifier is biased as not to act or double up to the equivalent of a log burner, it will run warm, but nothing to be concerned about.
With regard to its power, it will handle any load you care to place (speaker type) through it.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this amplifier, and as you would expect, it’s jaw dropping.
The 1160 is biased more towards a class A/B status, rated at 300 watts/channel, it’s no slouch though, very open with a massive soundstage.
You’ve also made a correct assumption with regard to 2x 1160 used to bi-amp or bridge.
They totally come alive in this configuration, extremely musical open and dynamic, everything you would expect really."

It can be plugged into a regular outlet and is configured for the market it is sold in. I understand that some owners of the 2000 series upwards do install a dedicated 32amp circuit in order to get the best from it. I've done the same here.

 I will admit to being fairly nonplussed at the idea that 2050's sound sterile. IME these are the most richly textured, lifelike power amplifiers i have heard. But i will admit to preferring mine when fed by a valve preamp- i use a Wavac - it sounds less awesome than with a Boulder preamp, a tad rounded off at the frequency extremes, but gains some seductive magic while maintaining an iron grip at all frequencies.
 I'm unfamiliar with the review you referred to, but i found the positive feedback review of the 2060 to perfectly encapsulate what i experience with my 2060, to the extent that i now trust their reviews above all others


I read that you were in the San Francisco area. Here is an even that you may be interested in?

Philip O’Hanlon, who is the North American distributor for Gryphon Audio will be hosting with Audiovision San Francisco the evening of Friday 9/27 through Sunday 9/29 with Audio Vision S.F. at the Holiday Inn on 1500 Van Ness Avenue for their 20th Anniversary event, presenting a full Gryphon system with choice music. you may want to drop by if you are in the area.

  GO HERE for more info
thanks, @mrc4u 

You guys are a bad influence. I originally started thinking I was going to get the M900u which is only like 15k. Then, I started debating the Boulder 1160, at 27k. Now I've got the 2160 and Gryphon on my radar. I probably do need to keep it under 30k if I want to stay married though ;-)

LOL!! It's a bug that never stops biting!  I just completed my system after 3 years of matching/comparing/demo'ing/researching/ and I couldn't be happier! 

There will always be matters of taste, so I just do my best to be as well-rounded as I can be.  I've heard the D'Agostino pieces and love them too!  As a matter of fact, my Gryphon seller here locally raves about them too (even though he doesn't carry it, a sign of objectivity to me).  But I highly recommend you give Philip a listen and even if you don't go the Gryphon route I think it'll be worth your time!

Best wishes!

(And let us know what you decide ultimately) ;)
mayoradamwest OP
You guys are a bad influence. Now I’ve got Gryphon on my radar.

I've heard this amp, on similar hard to drive speakers Alexia's, what I write below is not exaggerated.

If you bite the bullet just a little now, and get the Gryphon Antillion Evo, it’ll be the last amp you ever get.
As it will drive anything, sound sublime, the bass will be a bottomless pit of drive and information with any speaker, and has adjustable Class-A that will give you mids and highs that are as sweet and extended like you’ve never heard, dynamics that are wholesome and big, so in a way you’ll save.

Cheers George
Someone mentioned the T+A above. I second that. I have the B&W 803 D3 speakers, paired with T+A PA 3000 HV, and it’s a great match. Current (slightly improved) version is PA 3100 HV
May I suggest the Wells Audio Innamorata II Level II

$15,000.00 USD?

You can audition the amp in either Cambell or San Jose, CA

There are a number of reviews of the Inamorata online.

I think you’ll find Jeff Wells is a gentleman and a pleasure to deal with, and the audition worth the short drive south from SF.  He'll tell you whether or not he thinks his best amp would be a good match for your speakers.

No affiliation except that I own a "basic" Inamorata and Maggies.