I’m no electrical engineer, but I have been building PCs (with a focus on audio and ‘electrical trickery’) for many many decades. (I had the first soundcards to market and ran an overclocked 8086 back in the 80s)…
Watching the market advertise and ‘list stuff’ that is “consumer attractive” (spec sheet warfare) and experiencing the parts that actually deliver (quite often without promises of greener pastures); I can recall the early days of my hifi journey.
I ‘downgraded’ a top tier 100s of watts amplifier to a ‘lowly’ 50watt yamaha stereo unit.
A later upgrade from that Yamaha was a ‘further downgrade’ to a range of others (such as a NAD 3020, and ultimately a Musical Fidelity XA1 (30 watts)).
The NAD, when you looked at the Printed Circuit Board, you could see FAT COPPER TRACKS,
It made sense to me when I would read about how it could push 2ohm and ‘low ohm loads’.
The MF XA1 was one of the first amps I had bought that claimed a headroom in dB…
Some of the nice things ‘along the way’ included a Sansui AU919, which gives ‘flat’ freq response from DC to like something insanely high, with a crazy slew rate (and featured ‘five power supplies’ (I believe it claimed)).
Sure some amps are ‘over engineered’ and don’t over promise on what they can do.
(that is probably a large part of it), but also due to incredible design choices ‘do things other amps simply cannot’.
It really comes down to what the engineer, or ‘design goals’ are.
I have just moved from a 275Watt Musical Fidelity amp to a ‘lowly’ Nait integrated.
At any listening volume I care to listen to, what I notice are the musical goals of the part that has my attention.
There is a lot of music where a beat or a certain instrument just sounds life like and ‘real’.
This isn’t about power levels, or even, I would argue, a ‘matching with my speakers’ (towers that most would pretend that the lowly Naits just don’t do ‘the best’ with)…
I am highly sensitive to harmonic distortion… (of the ugly kind- I LOVE valve amps and their ‘musical’ distortion)…
I used to listen to test tracks with varying amounts of harmonic distortion, and whilst initially 3% or 1% was what I would pick up on quickly, after awhile I got to much much lower amounts…
It is fair to say I never drive an amp to the point where it makes the sound ‘harsh’. (my tolerance for such small distortions is basically NIL)
Having now run the Nait (nearly nonstop) for many many weeks, it has become a ‘very sweet sounding’ box…
I have on three occasions driven it at 10o’clock on the volume pot.
About six occasions at 9o’clock on the volume pot. (never with compressed music!)
At those spots, I get a very sweet dynamic range that doesn’t ride past high eighty Decibels, and the smoothness is really nice. It is obvious it has headroom and the swings in volume, whilst playing large scale orchestrations or ‘tricky recordings’ - it bounces back quickly…
So a large part of this is tuning a circuit to have the ability to renew its’ power reserves, whilst having circuitry that allows letting the electrons actually flow.
Many amps make rock (as a genre) sound harsh, or ‘like a wall of sound’.
(I use Suzanne Vega ‘fat man and dancing girl’ as typically about my third test track when auditioning kit, and if the amp makes THAT song sound like a wall of sound,…WELL- I would NEVER buy an amp like that!)
Enjoying rock on the Naim Nait, a genre that I simply do not spin if the the associated equipment doesn’t do it justice; on the Naim kit, is a true joy to experience.
Equipment that plays ‘rock’ right, in the last twenty four years, seems to have basically disappeared from the audio market.
spec sheet DAC chips and ‘homogenised sounding front end and amplfication stages’ just robs the life from such genres, and I would rather simply remember it sounding good, than attempting to play back music I enjoyed through kit that makes me ‘hate the music’.
It is fair to say I would rather buy an amp which doesn’t play spec sheet warfare games (and sounds hollow/lifeless) vs one that doesn’t promise anything but delivers joy.
Oh- the Nait does so much more than ‘rock’, but rock is a hard genre to do well.
Having around twenty amplifiers in the house, only FOUR I would consider decent enough when playing this one genre.
Orchestral music, at high dB volumes might be an advantage to the top tier Musical Fidelity amp I have ‘swapped out’ (but it drinks 1500VA from the wall, has three toroidal power supplies in an outboard box, and weighs many many times what the replacement Nait does= not really apples to apples comparison)
By design, detuning spec sheet perfection seems to be what most of the best (‘my favourite’) brands seem to do…
They make a part that is perfect at the spec sheet level, and then they rotate parts on THAT circuit until it sounds musical.
With yellow belt consumers- not doing the ‘last step’ (tuning for MUSIC), actually means less work equals ‘more sales’ (albeit- kit that serves little purpose for those who have actually heard stuff built at the high point of two channel music (>20 years ago)).
I learnt at sixteen years of age that ‘spec sheets’ can tell me aspects of ‘does the company know what they are doing’/ how to compare two ‘same tier’ pieces of kit- but by the time I was twenty I had learned so many truths that just didn’t fit with what a science background (including psychology) had taught me…
There certainly IS more to all this than the numbers dictate.
Brave companies with ‘loyal followings’ are generally free to follow their hearts and make stuff that is worth owning.
I stumbled on Naim, because of many dozens of times when I have been buying tier 2/tier 3 kit (second hand), and when finding out ‘what are you upgrading to’(?); many people whom had ‘unlimited budgets’ (and didn’t buy based on ‘value’ but SOUND), were Naim converts.
Given the chance to experiment with this brand: I can see (!HEAR!) why; it is actually musical by design.