This is a question been asked many times and with all sorts of answers, supported by facts, logical or illogical reasoning, or just simply blatant nonsense. And so the best way to get the answer is to listen to them yourself, which I had the opportunity to do so myself.
Before I continue, I will answer your question, do all amplifiers sound the same? No, it doesn’t and the difference is not much either. As mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity to listen to them myself, years back when I was just a young lad. I was visiting a high-end audio boutique where I bought my Ken Kreisel subwoofers for some advice on how to stack them up properly. And to my pleasant surprise, they were actually having a small event where their customers would bring in their preamps for an amplifier sound test.
The whole purpose of the event is to do a test to see if different amplifiers, for this case preamplifiers, sounds the same. It also acts as a small gathering for the dealer and customers to mingle and chit-chat. I was exhilarated that I pop by at the right time, and also feel a bit sad that I wasn’t invited in the first place, nonetheless, they did welcome me with open arms so it was cool, very cool in fact.
Amplifiers Sound Difference Test
We used one of the main showrooms (about 20 feet by 16 feet) where the room is professionally treated, with acoustic panels and bass traps strategically placed. The stereo sound system (2.0) has already been set-up, they just need to integrate their own preamps into the system. I apologize in advance as I couldn’t remember the brands and models of each audio component but I do remember the speakers that they are using which are Legacy Audio Signature SE. They will be using the same audio components down to the speaker wires for this test, only the preamplifiers are interchangeable. They will also be using only one song for this test which I also couldn’t remember cos I don’t know the song at all. All I can say about the song is that it belongs to the classical genre, purely instrumental.
As you can see this may be a small event, but they are still quite strict with the setup and really wanted accurate results from the test. Even though I said that the only flaw in this experiment will be the sweet spot which is at the center of the room where the sofa is. At best the sofa area could hold 2-3 person and the rest of us have to stand behind it.
With everything in place, the test starts and everyone was listening diligently with occasional teasing and bragging. Some of the preamps cost a 5 digit sum which left me flabbergasted, heck I don’t even use a preamp just to be honest.
Amplifiers Sound Test Results
The whole test lasted for a few hours with short breaks in between. I reckon we tested about 20-30 preamplifiers that day. Everyone agrees that the difference in sound is small, the most notable difference (at least for me) will be the sound stage. For most of the amps, they project the sound stage roughly at the same spot with a few exceptions where the sound stage is nearer to the listeners or slightly further away from the usual spot.
The delivery and the actual sound of the music all sounded mostly the same, just that some of the preamps produced more high-frequency than the rest which only the female participants could really detect. Aside from the test results, I noticed some of them who own the more expensive preamps were slightly disappointed as there were no significant improvements in sound quality when compared to cheaper preamps.
What can you learn from this amplifier test?
Other than having your question been answered, you should also be able to see that all these HiFi audio components are just mainly supporting roles for the speakers. The main component which will make all the difference will always be your speakers and their placement is as important as well. Imagine placing your speakers up close and facing the wall, I can assure you it will greatly affect how your music will sound.
The listeners’ hearing ability is another important influencer, not a popular opinion I might add. As mentioned earlier, the female participants are the only ones who can detect more high-frequency differences as some of them were actually covering their ears. Everyone has a different level of hearing, and so we must respect that. We shouldn’t criticize each other just because of that as well.
These are some of the reasons why you must always audition the speakers or sound system that you want to buy. Best that you can audition them at your own home, as what you hear is what you will get.
To Sum it all up
In the end, all of us had fun during the event, we said our goodbyes and part our ways. I wasn’t able to talk about stacking my subs with the dealer though because it was already too late at night, I digressed. So now we all know the answer to the question “do all amplifiers sound the same?” which is the difference is not significant. The only exception I can think of right now where an amp could create a more significant difference in sound will be Tube Amplifiers. But I always find them more colored than digital amps.
Speakers will always be the major player in sound quality for all sound systems, the rest of the audio components such as amplifiers are more like supporting roles like providing power, processing the sound formats, etc. with minor influence on the sound quality. Of course, if an amp is underpowered that will play a bigger difference but you get my drift.