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Requirements: Drive electrostatic speaker such as a quad, martin logan, or soundlab at moderate volume levels. Must be reliable, and easy to maintain. Smooth sound vs clinical sound.


There is so much stuff out there now, it is difficult finding dealers who carry at least two different models for testing, as well as the necessary speakers. Who owns ARC, C-J, Cary Audio, BAT, VTL, and the other top brands, and are you satisfied with the tube experience?
 

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Well, I don't know if it's the "best", but I've had

a lot of fun with my Audio Electronic Supply SE-811

monoblocks. They use a 6SN7 input, an EL34 driver

in triode mode and Svetlana 811-3 DHT triodes for about

12 watts. I bought the assembled versions for $1499/pr.


I've done a lot of tube rolling, and have settled on

Svetlana 572-3 output tubes (at slightly higher bias

current, 82 ma instead of 72 ma), Svetlana EL34's (after

trying some horribly microphonic Svetlana KT88's)

for the driver and some Philips (possibly rebranded Russian)

6SN7's after most of the expensive NOS 6SN7's I tried

either failed or became noisy.


I drive them direct from a Sony XA-20 CD player that has

an adjustable output level. I find them to be very nice

for jazz, female voice and piano. Maybe a bit muddy for

hard rock.


Be aware that Svetlana 811-3 and 572-3 tubes are in

short supply. Fortunately, I bought a bunch of 572-3's

when they were available, so I'm good for quite some

time. AES also has an 845 amp that's based on the same

chassis that puts out more power and may be a safer

choice since 845's are plentiful.


Other than the NOS 6SN7 failures and one 572 going gassy,

they've been no problem. Also, I just like the bright

glow of DHT triodes.


Ron
 

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Ollie,


Wow, $10,000 will get you quite an amplifier!


I have owned a VTL amp, and frankly based on my experience and others I've read about at audioasylum (a better forum for this question btw) they tend to burn up tubes and ultimately themselves due to aggresive circuit design (high voltages). My 12 year old Stereo 90 burned out earlier this year. For years it was a tremendous sounding amp.


Since you want to go electrostatic, you'll probably want to avoid the low power single-ended amps. I happen to love single-ended amps, and for $10K you have a lot of options. If you want to get into tubes "cheap", definitely look at the Antique Sould Labs models. They make a variety of amps of all sorts, including higher powered SE designs. Also, since you are looking at electrostatics, make sure you look for OTL designs if you can.


My only other high-end high-power experience has been with ARC amps. I've listened to a few, and have a friend who's opinion I value who swears by them. They are great amps.


To your question about the tube experience - I'll never go back to solid state. I'm taking the high efficiency speaker, lower power tube route in a 7.1 system. That's how much I value the tube sound. Yes, it is more work. I would make the analogy to the CRT versus digital projector guys. Are you after absolute sound quility, or convenience? Pick one please.



Greg
 

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I'm certainly no expert in this area, but one of the amps on my "ultimate wish list" is a tube/ss hybrid from Llano Design. It might be worth checking out (literally even - they are sold factory direct and have an audition period). Various posts also indicate that Randy White (the designer) is great to talk to and work with.


Here's the site:
http://www.whiteaudio.com/


Steve V.
 

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My personal favorite is the Conrad-Johnson Premier 12, 140 w mono tube amp. They retail for $3695.00 each. The sound from these is absolutely incredible. I've heard them many times at a local shop here in town playing both records and CD's. They have them hooked up to a Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS tube pre-amp and for phono they are using a Conrad-Johnson Premier 15 series 2. They have a Technics turntable (not sure of the model), Audio Refinement Complete CD player, and a pair of JMlab Electra 926 speakers running on it. It is one of if not the warmest most musical sounding setup I've ever heard.

www.conradjohnson.com


Good Luck,

Brandon
 

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Boy, tough question. Especially if you haven't decided between Quads or Martin-Logans. The Quads can be driven with much less power, as they don't handle high volumes well. But if I had M-L's, I'd want more power and current to better control the low bass. The size of your room is very important too.


I had a friend that used a 25 watt single-ended amp with a pair of M-L's and he loved it. But I found it lacking in dynamics and a bit wooly down low.


I like the CJ Premier 12 recommendation, they do sound wonderful.


The high-end Sonic Frontier amps will provide plenty of power and control, but sound a bit more neutral than many tube amps.


This is so hard to answer because there are so many amps to pick from, with so many different sonic qualities. I've heard some Jadis amps that were glorious, although $10K to Jadis is a low-end number. The Cary CA-805C single-ended 300B amp is also wonderful. Very smooth. Even the $2500 Cary Rocket 88 sounds nice, I listened to one earlier this year for about 40 minutes and wanted to take it home with me.


It might be worth your while to drive up the 2003 CES show in Vegas, where there will be plenty of tube amps in the audio portion of that event. That's only 4 weeks from now.

http://www.cesweb.org/verticals/audio.asp


Tom B.
 

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Ollie,


I would suggest that you ask your question at AudioAsylum.com (in tubes and speakers). Your speaker choices are hard to drive because of their steep impedance curves. I would not suggest using a Single-Ended tube amp as the results may be less then stellar. Single-Ended work best with speakers that have a flat impedance curve. I suggest push-pull tube amps.
 

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I believe the Quad ESL-63 will have the smoothest impedance curve of any ESL speaker. I've seen two test measurements that showed it's lowest point to be 3 ohms. Some M-L's get down close to 1 ohm.


Here's a review of a Cary SE amp that the reviewer tried with Quads:

http://www.hwdsound.com/Cary/caryCAD300SE_review.html


And here's a contrasting opinion from someone at Audio Asylum.

http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/tub...es/101485.html


Across the years, I have read dozens of posts on many boards from people using low power tube amps successfully with Quads. However I suspect most were from push-pull amps. Personally, I like push-pull better.


Tom B.
 

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They aren't well known, but the Kora Cosmos References are an outstanding choice. I use them to drive Silverline Sonata II's, but have heard them Gallo References and some Gershman as well. These are 100 watt triode mono blocs. Very big, dynamic, and sweet sounding!!


George
 

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I have the Llano Trinity amps and am very happy with them. I found them a solid step up from the Brystons I had before.
 

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Ollie,


For that much money you might look into Atma-Spheres, especially if you like the 1930s mad scientist laboratory look. I've only gotten to hear them briefly, but they are output-transformerless, class A triodes with an awful lot of tubes. No transformers means distortion figures considerably lower than the norm with tube amps, but then some people like even-order distortion. However, the Quads sound like they have better impedance for Atmas than the MLs.
 

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Ollie,


The best amp for that amout is actually two Margules U280sc used as monoblocks. You will get 120watts per channel on Ultralinear mode or 60watts on Triode, you can change the mode on the fly, you will get pure Class A amplification and be free of bias adjusting. I have listened to them driving very difficult loads with easy, and they will give you controlled bass instead of just a mess.


Need more? ;)
 

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How about Sonic Frontiers Power 3 mono's. They can be had for a fraction of their new price and are quite powerful able to drive any of those speakers.
 

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I own a BAT VK-60 and if you want power, reliability, drive tough 4ohm loads, ease of use, and phenomenal sound you really should put a new VK-75 on your short list. The VK-75 has a number of improvements over the VK-60 which many people call a piece of audio history.


The downsides are that it does get quite warm, has a large foot print, and weighs in at close to 100lbs.


Here's my "baby" - http://www.stinehouse.com/bat/bat.jpg


-Blaine
 

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I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Wolcott Presence amplifiers, self-biasing, very reliable (from what my dealer says) and it drives the Soundlabs with ease. This is the combo that Soundlab typically uses at CES.


Atma-Spheres are also great, but twice the price of the wolcotts.
 

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Ollie,


I also own the KORA Cosmos monoblocks. They are 100W PURE Class A Triode amps.


I use them to drive VMPS RM40s full-range. Many folks believe these speakers cannot be run full-range by tube amps, but the KORAs have no difficulty at all.


Note I also have them matched with KORA's equally wonderful Eclipse tubed preamp.


Is this the absolute BESt tubed amp under $10,000? Well, who knows? There are dozens of viable possibilities, and I'm sure no one has heard even half of them on the speakers you mention.


One extra note in KORA's favor - their customer service is incredible (dircet access to the designers in France, for example).


Kevin
 

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I like the BAT VK75SE under 10k...dont think I have heard better. I also like the Cary V12i (and owned one), but the BAT is in a different league (price wise too)
 
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