Audiophiles can be very picky about what they hear from a quality stereo system. They all seem to have their own ideas of what they consider the ultimate sound and it varies greatly from each individual. Since I seem to end up working on their systems when something goes wrong I have struggled to understand what they mean by the various factors being what they should be or what they are not. There have been a lot of advancements in the area of receivers, amps, speakers, equalizers, pre amps and other components over the years. Since what is considered best is relative I am going to review one amplifier that has stood the test of time and that I know will provide trouble-free service for many years without becoming obsolete in a short time.
Most audiophiles will tell you there is no way to get quality sound from an integrated stereo unit. That one must pick and choose various components to fit together so you end up with the closest thing to a perfect sound coming from the speakers. I have yet heard one of them say they have achieved that objective and they keep working on it sometimes spending a great deal of money in the process.
What is considered high end one year is considered junk the next with many components as newer advancements are brought to the market. Names that use to be considered the best move down the list as others move up and some disappear altogether. Names such as Akai, Sansui, McIntosh, Carver, Altec, AKG, Bose, Denon, Pioneer, Harmon Kardon and JBL are traditional and newer kids on the block have showed up like Audio Research, Krell, Rowland, Mark Levinson, and Goldmund.
Carver amps, designed and manufactured by Bob Carver, has been my choice for many years. These amps are designed so well that for $300 – $600 you can own an amp that would cost much more from the competition. Carver literally changed the industry with his designs. Bob Carver later started a new company called Sunfire that currently makes home theater systems.
Carver Audio TFM-35X
Made from 1993-1996 the Carver TFM-35X retailed for $900 and is still considered one of the best there is. You can pick one up used for around $300 and it is money well spent. This powerful amplifier is rated at 250 watts per channel when loaded at 8 ohms (350 W at 4 ohms) but many believe it is underrated. This amp has always received the highest rating from it’s owners and I can contest to it’s ability to deliver clean power with plenty of dynamic range even considering todays standards. Many audiophiles use this amp for their front speakers in replacement of other amps when connecting to a surround sound situation.
What an amazing amp. It can be connected mono and deliver 700 watts with a 4 ohm load. Its clean sound delivers .01% THD, 47 k ohms input impedance with and input sensitivity or 1.5V. The 29 db gain is admirable and the 20-20k Hz bandwidth is totally within the total range of human hearing. S/N ratio is >115 db giving it plenty of dynamic range at any volume. Carver amps are designed to give you flat output with their patented transformer design that also cuts down on the heat most systems have to deal with. Not having the heat problem is one reason these amps hold up well over the years when the competition ends up in the junk yard.
It is a handsome amp to say the least. It’s vintage style VU meters and large handles on the rack mount gives it a look that fits well with any other modern component you choose to integrate. The speakers you use is the next most important consideration and speaker selection is more of an art than science. Everyone hears sound a little different and speakers perform differently when connected to various amps so the trick is to be able to hook up as many speaker combinations as you can and listen to them in a similar environment that they will be installed. Not an easy task. A high end equalizer makes the process easier and at the same time much harder due to the multitude of settings that are possible.
Sources: Personal experience