The amplifier is sometimes called the 'heart' of any good audio system. Some, however, still hold to other concepts; that of 'source first' (very popular when vinyl was the predominant format, rather than the greying underdog position it currently holds) and even the 'all competent amplifiers sound the same' stance held by hi-fi enthusiasts until the mid 1970s.
In a way, I subscribe to this latter stance, but read in a different way. The pivotal word is 'competent'. I think some of the best amplifiers are converging on a point where they sound equally good, but what's clear thus far is just how far we still have to go to reach that convergence. Amplifiers still have a distinct 'voice' and character, but it seems the best of them limit the intrusion of that voice into the musical mix.
We seem to be moving away from the bright and forward sound of audio, if this crop of amplifiers is anything to go by. Or, maybe we got lucky, and we didn't happen upon too many of the bright and forward set by luck and luck alone. I hope it's the former.
One thing is clear, though. Amplifiers today show a greater diversity than any other section of the audio world, especially in the high-end. Far from being a moribund link in the chain, we have the latest DSP-driven switch-mode, Class D designs rubbing shoulders with amplifier circuits that would have looked quaint to a radio operator in WWII. And all points in between. These are all still in circulation for one reason, and one reason alone: they sound good! Ultimately, we might be converging on a more uniform version of good sound, but it's still a long way off.
The drive to make things ever smaller and especially ever more environmentally-friendly doesn't necessarily sit right with audio folk. But, an awareness of environmental concerns does slowly seem to be filtering through to the audio world, through the medium of Class D audio, and the brands who are beginning to adopt it more widely.
What the future holds for the humble – and not so humble – amplifier remains hard to fathom at this time. But for the moment at least, it really doesn't matter, because we seem to be getting the best of all possible worlds.
No writing is ever error-free, but managing to misspell the name 'Ensemble' in a headline is unforgivable. Our apologies to all concerned.
Finally, congratulations to Bradley Lear from Milton Keynes in the UK, who wins a pair of Alacrity Audio's excellent Caterthun 6 loudspeakers worth £2,699!