Optimal Speaker / Amp Combinations in History

[I’ve been thinking about a series of posts about how few audiophiles actually care about good sound.

It is certainly an ephemeral concept – and it is certainly hard to use written or spoken language to talk about in any kind of precise manner. So it is not too much of a surprise to find most of what passes for discussion, albeit coached in audiophile-ese, is not about the sound.

And it is not a surprise, that given the dearth and inability to talk about good sound – that the gear and systems people buy have little relation to what they would be buying if it was generally known what good sound actually was and how a person could go about getting it.

Finally, I think this is a real problem for the industry if it ever wants to make inroads to selling to the General Public. Unless the GP can be convinced that geeking out buying extremely expensive gear just because it is oh my gee whiz cool, or incessant arguing about nothings on forums which takes the place of pride and passion in our little hobby, is worth the price of admission i.e. dedicating a few years of all your spare time learning ill-defined audiophile-ese – then our little slice of heaven is just going to get smaller and smaller.

This is if you agree that M. and J. Q. Public generally just want good sound in their living room – and why wouldn’t they? – without a lot of fuss and bother.]

By some strange, wonderful and curious happenstance certain speakers work much better with certain amps than with other amps. This fact is largely, almost entirely, ignored by pundit and audiophile alike.

People pretty much pick amps for their speakers and speakers for their amps at, what is for all intents and purposes, random. They certainly do not pick them, these marriages of amp and speaker, these trysts, based on the quality of the resulting sound.

[Some manufacturers, to get around people putting random amplifiers on their speakers, often to horrific effect, offer their own line of amplifiers. Makes it easier for everyone. Although these are rarely optimal with respect to the actual sound quality they can set the bar tolerably high.]

This is not like human marriages where the couple has a chance to actually fall in love later in their marriage. This marriage of amp and speaker, if they do not love each other at first listen, they ain’t ever going to get the deed done. It is unchanging and final: it is like playing Russian Roulette with $10K bills and the gun is pointed at your ears.

In this game, people typically pick a cool lookin’ or hot or well-reviewed speaker and pair it with a cool lookin’ or hot or well-reviewed amp. Has to sound good, too, right?

Anyway it certainly is fun to experiment. Krell on Quad anyone?

It is awesomely fun, especially if you have a lot of time and money [and who doesn’t? ;-}]. But don’t kid yourself that it is about the sound.

Who cares if it is not about the sound? About how good it sounds? Does it really matter? Not everybody has to be a purist, right?

I think not many audiophiles really, truly care at all… but that the General Public does! The one thing high-end audio is supposed to do, Sound Good, is what the General Public may, if they so dare, poke around our neighborhood looking for.

But instead it is like going to an auto dealership and all you can find is people putting old Chevy engines in Toyota Camrys and talking about how cool it all is.


Cool. Fun. But not about the sound [ala Performance].

OK. Best speaker amp combos in History [these are somewhat limited by what we are familiar with here at the Fed as well as what exhibitors like to bring to shows. We used to tour dealerships to hear different systems, but most of the systems kind of sucked a bit and misrepresented what we now know was possible with the gear].

Shows and exhibitor’s tendency to just pair this thing with that – much more random even than audiophiles, allows one to hear a lot of strange and not so strange combinations of gear.

* Kharma speakers on Tenor amps [yes, Tenor amps had a tendency to blow up their tubes and take a speaker driver with them. But otherwise the combo was… awesome]

* Wilson speakers on Lamm amps [no, we do not include the other ‘marketing-driven’ marriages that Wilson has set up on this list].

* Magico speakers on Luxman amps [has real potential. Need to hear this again in a different system to confirm. But exhibitors are too clueless about magical pairings like this that we are unlikely to hear it again].

* SoundLab speakers on Wavac amps [Need to hear this again in a different system and/or room to confirm. No, this does not mean that SoundLab speakers will sound amazing with any random tube amp you care to put on them. They might – but you can’t tell until it is heard a few times and in the context of other similar systems].

And in the Wayback Machine….

* Acapella Violon speakers on discontinued Edge amps [with discontinued Jorma Design No. 1 cables. Hey, this worked. As much as I try and pull apart the sound it is still really good in so many aspects.]

* Crosby modified Quad 63’s driven by Richard Lee’s modified Spectral DMC10/ mono DMA50’s ( that is the original marginally stable DMA50 not the later more stable version).

* Jadis JA30 driving the smaller Magnepans

* Levinson HQD driven by ML2

Others? I know I am missing some. Feel free to post your comments about others – but please don’t just post some system you liked when you haven’t heard a bunch of other systems that are quite similar to your choice but which sound very inferior to your choice. When you hear a system with the same speaker and cables but lots of different amps – and that one amp stood out head and shoulders above the others? That system just kicked rear end up and down the frequency spectrum? Then you got something special!

The kinds of marriages we are listing here have gone up against many, many other combinations of similar gear and are far and away the best sounding combination.

It is the fact that everybody is not, each and every one of them, just using these known combinations of gear that really excel in the sounding good department that raised the WTF flag for me and inspired this post.