So back on track here… got the Aurender review (a truly wonderful product—read that HERE) done and so on to another product that I loved so much, I ended up buying the review sample… the PS Audio BHK Signature 250 Stereo Power Amplifier.
Bought it? What about the legendary Clayton M200 amplifiers? Are you selling those? Well, yeah, no. Still have those as there is nothing that can come close, except perhaps the PS Audio BHK Signature 250 Stereo Power Amplifier.
See the Clayton M200 (read a review from 2007 HERE) are getting a wee bit long in the tooth (have had them for over 10 years now and at that time they ran $10K a pair) and as far as I can tell, Clayton Audio, as a company, is defunct (word has Wilson Chen still happening - Editor). Plus they run hot. I mean hot, not so hot you are going to burn yourself, but with 200 watts pure Class A, yeah after an evening of listening the room has that warm cozy feeling. Nice during the winter, but since SoCal never gets that cold, and with the temps heading higher than lower, uh… summertime is not a cool time to spend with the Claytons listening to music. For sure, they still sing and are my reference in that they do so little wrong and so much right: warm, rich, textured, dynamic, clean, articulate, extended and airy… the Clayton M200 are simply wonderful. Love 'em, but what else is there?
Plus they cause my electrical meter to spin quite quickly, and since we have gone solar, cutting back on our electrical consumption is something we are striving to do—going green baby. And, well…damn some neighbor who occasionally uses something that puts DC back into the AC line. This causes the transformers in the amps to hum and the only solution I have found is either the DC-blocker thingy from Audio by Van Alstine which works but has always been a sort of bottle-neck. It works but is rather a Plain Jane in terms of wiring, outlets/inlets, etc. So I had a custom version one made by Tweak Geek that would also block any DC on the line, but one that is way more "audiophile-like" in terms of wiring, plugs, and so on. And of course the amps sounded better. But still…. Time for a change. Too many AC cords, too much complexity.
So I am sitting around thinking about the DC issue and I recall what PS Audio used to make a DC blocker unit too and so yeah, this got me wondering what their new amp sounds like.
I contacted Bill Leebens and he promised to get me one as soon as they were available… and after a few weeks, bam FedEx is huffing and puffing as they are delivering a box that seems to be unmovable. Compact and weighing in at 100 lbs, the box is an ingenuous design that allows one to easily remove the amp as long as you got some serious upper body strength. Ah, where is the kid?
Once situated, the amp ain't going anywhere. Based on MOSFETs and being hybrid (tube input stage) the BHK Signature 250 Stereo Power Amplifier should present a warmer richer sound that say other Class AB amps, or even some that run in Class A... which, depending on the amplifier, can sound thin and too analytical for me. This design approach is what brought me to the amps in the fist place—could they equal the Claytons? On paper and from what I could read with other reviews… perhaps so. Identical? Doubtful, but I would be happy with close…
Okay so this is one well made amplifier that has the looks and detail of workmanship that qualifies it as a work of art. Clean with everything one could want on the rear, the BHK 250 is the real deal. And made right here in the States too.
From the PS Audio site…"The BHK Signature is a hybrid design enjoying performance benefits from multiple design techniques including, a balanced differential vacuum tube input, balanced differential MOSFET power outputs, and separate, isolated, analog power supplies feeding each." And…" To maximize the benefits of the two amplification topologies inside the amplifier, it should be built as if it were two separate systems, each with their own power supply tailored to fit. Thus, the BHK Signature has two power transformers, one for the vacuum tube input stage, and the other for the MOSFET power output stage. Regulation of the power supply for the input stage is important. Separate and discrete MOSFET regulators are used throughout to preserve details found in the music and keep noise levels to a minimum." And… The BHK Signature input features a classic triode vacuum tube in a modern configuration. Hand matched pairs of Russian Gold Lion 6922s are self-biased with constant current and high voltage, free of timing and phase distortion without the use of negative feedback."
So what does all this mean sonically or musically? Well, simply put the BHK 250 rocks and does so with a nimble presence that puts the music in the room with you. Neither forward nor recessed, the presentation is, for me, spot on. Fast and coherent, extended and dynamic, yeah it does sound a lot like the Claytons, but the BHK 250 is perhaps a wee bit leaner and perhaps with a touch less bass extension, slam, and heft. But it is as articulate as all get out with no fuzz, no blur, and no MOSFET mist that I could see… or hear. The BHK 250 is smooth and airy on top with a stellar soundfield. Now I am not into exact imaging, but for sure the BHK 250 will place the images of whatever you are listening to in a palpable space that is both engaging and startling so… all about that speed and clarity with nary a hint of noise. Even with the input stage being tubed, there was nothing coming out of the speakers between the notes or songs. Quiet. NO hiss, or diss… just music. No doubt this added to the resolution and clarity… I was hearing for the first time certain lines being sung on various Lambchop songs. "Oh, so that is what he was singing. Oh, even odder than before. Now it makes even less sense than before!"
All of this was listening to the amplifier being fed with the stock generic AC cord… and yeah, the amplifier could have a wee bit more heft or weight to the sound. Not a deal breaker as everything the BHK 250 did made my music oh so wonderful. But, like I said above, compared to the Claytons, yeah, we could use a touch more heft and weight here and there. I mean, how close could I get that sound in a current product that is so solidly right in not only its looks, build, and sonics? So what to do? Swapping in the Luminous Audio Mega Power Lynx was not the ticket. Where this cord made the warmer Claytons that less warm by balancing them more to the leaner side of things, they were the wrong match for the BHK 250 turning its sonics in the wrong direction. Uh, hey… wait a minute. Ditto that of Sablon and Kubala-Sosna—they worked and added this and that to the sonic tapestry, and for sure, I could live with what they did… but what about PS Audio's own AC cords? One would think that they should, could, be the perfect match for the amplifier. They are… well, the AC 12 that is ($799 for one meter). Bill sent me one to try and damn… synergy times 12.
Balance! Lean? Uh… no. Spot on… right there. Right where I want my music to be. Heft? Check. Slam and dynamics? Ditto. A touch warmer and tonally that much richer? Yep. Bass extension and control? Was there already, but whoa, deeper and more textured for sure. Nice indeed.
Listening to any of the titles by Recondite is quite mesmerizing, and with the recent release by PiL coming across as simply astoundingly rambunctiously good. Classics by Yello rock like never before… ditto Fourtet's Pink, anything by Radiohead, Gang of Four, Low, the latest from Bowie… and certainly the rest of my music. Delicate when called upon, tactilely airy, spot on visceral… space, drive, pace… nice.
Why PS Audio does not package one of their cords with the amplifier is an interesting question. I get it… people want to tailor the sound to their liking by using cord A over B, but man, what a match. A no brainer. Of course, damn, are these cords stiff or what? Stiffer than me in the morning after a poor night's sleep, you got to work these guys into place. Glad the amplifier is so heavy or the cord would push it around a bit.
Oh… want to take the amplifier to another level? Now just as AC cords or whatever is more of a preference or seasoning than anything else, so are tubes. As good as the Russian Gold Lion 6922s are, what else is out there? Well in talking to Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio (the tube guy everyone goes to for advice) he suggested the tubes by Tungsram—specifically the PCC88/7DJ8 versions. I ordered a matched A rated pair that were also cryogenically treated… and oh my… sweet corn muffins in the morning. Yeah. A nice improvement. Sweeter. A touch more warmth. And oh so airy… music to my ears. Tangible and physical. Not a major upgrade but certainly as good as a perfect lime accenting the splash of tonic water with a top shelf gin. And easy cheesy to replace tubes via the rear door.
Oh and I do like the amplifier sitting on ether DiD from Daedalus Audio or the Black Ravioli Big footer things. In either case you can change the sound somewhat to that being more open and such or one that is more lush and warm… depending on the device used. Way cool. Which is right? Neither. It is finding what sounds best to you with your music and system. Nothing more… nothing less.
I can't recommend the BHK 250 enough. Like I said I bought this one and it is now here between the speakers with the Claytons off on a rack. I won't sell the Claytons ever and for sure they will eventually find their way back into the system. And having a stereo amplifier as opposed to monoblocks is an adjustment: different routing of cables, one less AC cord, one less platform… and one component sitting between the speakers unlike the Claytons sitting off to the sides. Visually this is an adjustment. Sonically? Musically? Not at all… as a matter of fact, the BHK 250, if anything, is perhaps better than the Claytons and yet it is the Clayton—minus an DC hum! I am one happy camper. Are there better amps? Well, no doubt, Different for sure. And I am under the impression that the intent here was to build the best PS Audio and Bascom King could envision, but at $7.5k they obviously created a ceiling of sorts. Personally I don't give a rat's rear as I am not the sort to review components and gear that I could never afford to buy. No interest really. At the asking price I will say that the BHK 250 is as good as I have ever heard here, and that is good enough for me.
Now where is this all heading? Well with the Claytons getting long and grey so has my beloved Reimer Teton loudspeakers. What I have here is really good, but man who is that Reimer guy, heard of the Claytons, but not really familiar, so perhaps it is time to re-envision my system.
The Vandersteen Quattro Carbon Wood loudspeakers with the PS Audio BHK 250 seeing the PS Audio DirectStream DAC as my digital feed, with either the Aurender N100H or the Aries from Auralic (HERE), is simply stunning. No strain, stress… loud and mean. Big. Spaciousness… especially with the items from Synergistic Research doing there thing in the room (HERE). Luscious and visceral with no ceiling in terms of how loud can we go? Music done right. My music done right. More to come…
BHK Signature 250 Stereo Power Amplifier