Nakamichi PA-7 – The amp that ruined all other vintage amps for me.

If you’ve read my review of the Nakamichi SR-2A, then you already know how I feel about Nelson Pass and his Stasis design. That low-powered receiver floored me, and it is still the best $100 that I’ve ever spent on a piece of stereo equipment. So when the opportunity came along to purchase a Nakamichi PA-7 in wonderful condition for $600 on Craigslist, I jumped at the chance (even if it took me a ferry ride to get it). If the 35W/channel SR-2A receiver sounded incredible, how would the 200W/channel PA-7 amplifier (weighing in at a hefty 59 1/2 lbs.) compare?

Oh my lord. The moment I fired up this amp in, I knew it was a keeper. I’ve recently been using a pair of DIY Pass F5 Turbo monoblocks that I built and love, but I’ve long worried that they lack a certain degree of oomf in the bass, which could mean they are simply underpowered for the big Revel floorstanders that I’m using them with (although you wouldn’t think so based on the speakers’ stated 86db sensitivity). In any event, bass was not an issue with the PA-7. It was deep and controlled, but could also slam when called for. It reminded me of my experience with another amp from that era, the Yamaha M-60, which had a similarly strong bottom end that I find lacking in so many more recent designs.

The PA-7 immediately drew me to piano music of all kinds, perhaps because the lower register sounded so realistic, with rich, deep notes lingering as they should. But I don’t want to give the false impression that the PA-7 is a bass-heavy, one-trick pony. The PA-7 was also no slouch when it came to reproducing human voices. On What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, by Regina Spektor, her voice sounded eerily three dimensional and full, like she was standing in the room about a foot behind the middle of the speakers. The PA-7 ability’s to clearly reproduce fine details in a recording was also impressive. On Sarah Bareilles’s live rendition of Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, from Brave Enough, I could hear audience comments, including a comment about how funny she is, that are muffled and indecipherable with many other amp/speaker combinations. It really felt like I was in the room with the audience, about 8 feet from her piano. That’s a nice place to be.

The crazy part is that this amp is all original, meaning the eletrolytic caps are more than 30 years old at this point and definitely need to be replaced, which should further improve the sound. I hope to get to that project in the next six months or so, and I will post an update if I hear any noticeable sonic improvements (which is not a given based on how good it already sounds).

But there is one problem with the PA-7: I don’t want to listen to anything else after spending a few weeks with it. The idea of going back to my DIY Pass monoblocks, my vintage Marantz or Pioneer receivers, my Naim integrated, or even my classic Harman Kardon A500 tube integrated is wholly unappealing at this juncture. The PA-7 just sounds right, seems to have endless power, and brings me closer to the music than I have experienced in a long time. It is a wonderful amp and among the best investments I have made. If you can find one for under $1,000, I’d urge you to jump at the chance to buy it, because you won’t find a modern amp that is remotely comparable for under $5,000, and probably more at this point. There is a reason Nelson Pass has stuck around for 40 years. The man can build an amp.

Unfortunately, as most audiophiles will attest, you can only keep the upgrade bug at bay for so long. I’m sure that in a few months I will be itching for my next vintage find. But in the meantime, I am going to enjoy every minute with this extraordinary amp, which also happens to be gorgeous.

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