Written by 6:31 am Amps

A Look At Reliability

Steven Stone looks at some of the most reliable audio gear he’s owned.


This morning a piece of audio gear broke. Given the amount of gear that I review and own, having something fail isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. But it got me thinking about some of the components that I own that have worked day-after-day and year-after-year. The list would be longer, but  there’s a lot of gear that I don’t get to experience over the long haul, but here’s some that has delivered years of listening pleasure.


The top of my list of reliable and great sounding gear is my Pass X-150.3 power amplifier. I’ve had it since 2001 and it has been rock solid despite a myriad of power outages, spikes, and user errors resulting in full output. Besides being uber-reliable the Pass X-150.3 is a great sounding power amplifier. And while it did list for $4250, if you divide it over the years of ownership, it’s cost me $354 per year (not counting electricity to run it). Less than $1 a day isn’t bad for a solid top-flight piece of electronics.


What other components have been as reliable? My Dunlavy SC-VI speakers    have been making beautiful music since I got them in 1996. I did blow up the tweeters once due to an amplifier going into oscillation, but since then I’ve never had any problems with these $25,500/pair full-range speakers. Since Dunlavy Audio has long since closed their doors, it’s a good thing that John Dunlavy used “off-the-shelf” drivers that, except for more rigorous grading and testing, are identical to the original manufacturer’s product. If I did manage to break a driver I can still find a drop-in replacement.


Another power amplifier that has been extremely reliable is the Bryston PowerPac120 monoblock. I’ve had five of them since 1997, and I’ve used them for driving full-range speakers, subwoofers, and even PA columns, and they’ve never even blown a fuse. And while I’ve heard slightly better sounding amplifiers, such as the Pass X-150.3, the PowerPac120 is  still fine “straight, no chaser” amplifier. There’s a reason that Bryston has a 20-year warranty – their stuff doesn’t break.


Other components that have remained in my system and proved their long-term worth are my two VPI turntables. My HW-19 as been spinning records since 1985, mounted with an original Souther Linear tracking arm and a Denon 103/VanDenHul cartridge. My other VPI turntable, a TNT III, has been equally reliable. Sure I’ve replaced some rubber belts and the TNT’s air-support bladders do leak slightly, requiring pumping up before any critical listening session, but it sounds wonderful after just a couple of minutes of adjustment.


The Meridian 500-series pre/pros have also been super-reliable over the years. I own a Meridian 568.2 in one system to decode surround sources while in my other system a 561 handles all my Dolby, Direct TV, and digital video signals. I also have a 518 digital converter and upsampling box that still sees occasional use (it’s great for improving both Sonos and Squeezebox digital signals.) Given the number of 500 series components I see available on the used market, I can only assume that there are lots of 500 series components still going strong, just like mine.

I’m sure that there are many pieces of vintage and even semi-vintage components that have proved to be reliable and long-lasting – obviously there’s a lot of old McIntosh, Marantz, and even Scott and Fisher audio gear that still works as well as when it was new.


I also have some relatively new gear, such as my Krell S-150 monoblock power amplifiers, which so far have proven to be solid and able to deal with the vagaries of use in the field, including multiple power outages and brown-outs. But only time will tell if they are as long-term reliable as some of my older gear.

For my money one of the main reasons to buy high-performance high-quality audio components is for their reliability. Because if it breaks it doesn’t matter how wonderful it USED to sound…



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