I am from Denmark, and purchased two of these amps (having a pair of Technics SB-M1000, I really need power to kick them into life), so 900 USD in total (used). They came with some cables and a pre-amplifier; Carver CT-26v and it sounded so horrible in 2-channel that, well... I bought a new pre-amplifier: Technics SU-C1000. This was far better, but suddenly the A-500x sounded delayed in transients. It is of my understanding, Bob Carver developed his power amplifiers with tube pre-amplifiers. So a year past and finally I bought a third pre-amplifier. A tube/valve pre-amp called Audio Mirror TP4A. Then the Carvers shone. They run considerably more hot with the tube pre-amp. Maybe the ground noise form the tubes keeps the transistors more 'ready'? Anyway, the A-500x revieled itself as quite detailed and with lots of headroom, and with no delay in transients. Eventhough I am bi-amping these units into 6ohms speakers, I never feel that I have immense power handling. I just do. This is the one point, which is different with the Carvers. It doesn't sound powerfull - other powerfull power amplifiers often sounds 'rock solid' - but not the Carvers. Here is the delicate sound of thunder.
Bying these units used, I still have experienced a harshness; but this was with the Technics SU-C1000, and only when I turned up the volume - with the Audio Mirror TP4A the hasrhness has 90% disappeared. The bass reproduction could be better. It is not exceptionally low nor tight, but it is acceptable. The highs are close to 'sweet', because it sounds mild and detailed. The midrange is good and a little 'warm' sounding. Almost any kind of horn (trumpets, sax, french horn etc.) sounds 'right'! Compared to the Luxman M-383 (200W, 8ohm), the A-500x is more detailed and clear. Compared to a SiriuS DM100 (100W, 8ohm) it has a hard time keeping up - but it is still more warm sounding, and with oozes of drive, it really got that air guitar factor.
The Carver A-500x is a strange brew. It just kind of is there. With a good signal and pre-amp it sounds good. With a bad ditto, it sounds bad. The overall sound is very clear, and I haven't detected any muddiness or murkiness. It is not a musical power amp.
So, A-500x is very powerfull, but doesn't sounds powerfull. It sounds warm, but it isn't musical. It has good detail and headroom, but it isn't analytical. It just kind of is there, but then again, it isn't neutral(...). It sounds clear, but it isn't what one might call 'open'.
Who should buy a Carver A-500x: Hi-fi enthusiast on a budget and the patience to match them with the right pre-amp. My claim is, you haven't heard what A-500x is capable of, if you haven't heard the with a tube pre-amp. But these Carvers are not good enough for an audiophile, hence they can everything rather well, but nothing (except power) exceptionally good. Although I must add, I have a hard time finding out, what amplifier I should buy next; while I'm used to (and happy with) the Carvers special sound. So my plan for the moment is to upgrade the Carvers. First of all, the potentiometers on the back got to go. These are, as far as I can tell, 'of the rack' ((really!!!) poor quality). Also, there is a problem with hum. This is from the transformator, and I cannot belive, this has no influence on the sound. So a better power supply is next step. With these two upgrades, it might be a lot better. And it might not.
A return to the special sound: The sound of these power amps are, in my opinion, to prefer with blues, jazz and soft rock; and some fine classical music. Heavy rock and big orchestral arrangements are let down by the lack of impact (keep in mind, my speakers also have these tendencies, but hearing them in combination with other power amplifiers has maked me convinced, it is not just the speakers). Used for A/V I'm not sure. Many A/V-products sounds a little hard, a little bright and a little metallic; great for movies, but that kind of sound is not a good match for the Carver. It will really make it scream!
Listening mostly to LPs through a tube pre-amp, the sound is very involving. I think, if you match the A-500x with a Croft Vitale, you got a combo that will sing. The Vitale are inexpensive and have a pair of tubes, so even this is possible to run on a budget. And strangely, a pair of easy driven speakers might be the right choice; though my speakers aren't exactly easy to drive.
This is the end: The sound of 'little' or 'weak' amplifier is present, but it never gets nervous og 'jumpy' - and it never becomes short of breath. It just plays smoothly; LP/tube-like and with fairly good dynamics.
So, when you are sitting quietly enjoying those delicate sounds, then suddenly there is a transient, and this power amplifier will blow your house down, and then you're sitting there, wondering what happened, while the A-500x sounds oh so delicate once more.
When I first got the A-500x I was pleased with the classic Carver appearance. The front panel is really neat looking with the twin lighted VU meters! The bass is tight and strong. The treble and midrange
is smooth and pleasing to the ear. It does not seem edgy in my opinion. It is much quiter then the older Carver amplifiers. There is no triac buzz like the older Magnetic Field designs. I like my A-500x so much I would like to buy another one someday!
I replaced my Carver M-400 with the
A-500X to power my (Carver)AL-III's. They are the front L and R speakers in my home theater setup. Simply incredible. (A bridged output A-220 powers the center, a Polk CS-400i with equal splendor while a Harmon/Kardon Citation 24 keeps up to power the rear dipole Atlantic Technologies surrounds) They simply provide all the power you will ever need and more in a normal sized (probably I'd guess up to 20' X 20'), listening area using these power hungry ribbon speakers.
First, a note to everyone who's had a problem with spade lugs on the A-500x. As you've seen, the problem with the binding posts is that they're protected by small collars on top & bottom that get in the way of the spade lug. (I presume they're there to prevent anything touching a bare wire wrapped on the post.) The deal is, those little collars are PLASTIC! So you can do a quick & easy little home mod to fix this:
- Unplug the amp and park it face down (well cushioned) in a well-lighted work area - Grab a sturdy X-acto knife and a candle (or lighter) - Look at the binding post and note that there's a top collar and a bottom one. You just need to remove the bottom one to get a spade lug on the post. - Heat up the X-acto knife blade, and use it to saw into the bottom of that collar. You'll need to heat, saw, heat, saw, perhaps a dozen times to carve that little guy off. - Smooth off the cut-off ridge, and be sure to clean up any little plastic shreds - Repeat for the other post
I did this the first week I had my amp, hooked up some DH Labs Silver Streak cables with spades, and enjoyed it for two years.
Just for reference, I eventually replaced the Carver with a Proceed HPA-2 amplifier, which lists at $3500. (Proceed is one of the Madrigal brands; one high-end reviewer referred to this amp as a "nuclear reactor", it really rocks.) Recently I hooked the Carver back up to my system, and found that it still held up very well. The sound is well-balanced overall, with clear highs and solid bass.