I highly recommend looking for a used VAC Avatar Super. It can be done within your budget and you'd be hard pressed to top it in value IMHO.
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Try to find a Marantz PM11S2. 110/220 watts into 8/4 ohms. These reference series Marantz integrated amps with the HDAM module have outstanding signal to noise ratio, which is particularly good for mating with a high sensitivity speaker. Current delivery is swift and sure, and the ability to resolve low level detail is excellent. Even the $999 PM8004 from this series would do the job, as would the PM15S2 in between.
I'm not sure the MKIII made sense for my needs. Given I'm already at MK2 status, I have the same tweeter they'd use and my paint is mint so the main differences are:
- newer subwoofer amps;
- additional internal bracing/deadening of the speaker; and
- Zu Event wiring
I feel for almost $3000 I could get more sound quality elsewhere then those changes--especially as I don't believe my current amp and source, though good, are up to the Definition 2 standard (Melody MK88 and Metrum Octave).
I actually heard that Marantz's little brother, the more humble $999 PM8004, power a $12,500 pair of Sonus Faber Cremona Ms in a most excellent way, leaving nothing wanting. Bass control, truth of timbre, ambience, inner detail, transparency, fully fleshed out tonality, timing, rhythm, and pace--it was all there. Starting with the PM8004 and moving up the line, the Reference Series Marantz integrated amps all use their HDAM circuit, which provides 70 dB of very wide bandwidth, very low noise gain. The s/n of the PM8004's amp section is a startling 125 dB. When you have that low a noise floor plus the wide bandwidth, you get great inner detail, a lifelike dynamic range, and clarity without harshness or edginess.
I was stunned at what that $999 amp did for those speakers and I have no doubt that the more powerful version well up in their Reference Series will--as you say--make those Zus sing.
I will say my strongest leaning and what I'm saving pennies for is the AN211. I think with the right tube compliment it would likely satisfy me (I own a Melody KT88 now and love their gear).
I had the Torii 3 with a pair of Zu Soul Superfly speakers. It was a nice amp, but didn't shine until there was a high quality preamp in front of it (and much attention paid to the tubes and tuning). I didn't care for it nearly as much solo and don't think I want to that route at the moment.
The only VAC I've heard was the PA100/100 and I was pretty disappointing with it on Von Schweikert speakers. The Avatar does seem interesting though.
I think I'd rather skip CJ.
Mastersound Compact 845... damn, thats a really good suggestion. I considered it for my Superflys but forgot about it. I'll keep my eyes peeled for one.
I haven't heard Hegel gear, but I'll keep an eye out.
The Marantz units look attractive and seem well built, but I'm not sure I want to go that direction.
Thanks for the ideas so far.
How about this for up your alley Fred? I should charge a finders fee:
LM Audio 218IA - $3500
LM 218IA 22 watt per channel 845 SET. Driver tubes can be switched to adjust flavor. The options are 6V6, 6L6, 6550, EL34, KT88, 5881 etc. Remote control, adjustable bias using built in meter. 4, 8 and 16 ohm output taps. All point to point wiring used throughout. Comes with a tube cage.
Nope, don't know of any reviews. That larger 845 looks pretty sweet too, no? Tho it seems to lack a remote.
But this amp is available in your backyard. You know you like 845s. LM Audio is being imported by the same guy who imports Shindo. The amp meets your cage and remote requirements. Go take a listen or see about an audition in your system. You're not in the middle of Iowa with no hifi shops in sight.
I am demoing the AN 211 now and I am loving it. It seriously went up a notch in performance with rolling the drivers tube to nice NOS tubes and now it is really impressive. What I experienced as a bit of slowness was in fact as you suggested due to the tubes rolling off at the extremes. Now that I have solved that, I am loving the amp. Anyone near SF is welcome to swing by for a listen.
Awesome! I was milimeters away from buying one but the 6moons review on heat output spooked my wife and I. I had 845 amps before and they were hot but reading: "These tubes run hot - around 300 degrees Centrigrade in fact. Even the controls get toasty after a while. What a 2A3 or 45 dissipates into the surrounding air by comparison is tepid. "
No can do! That converts to 572 degrees Fahrenheit! My oven doesn't get that hot on broil!!! Definitely not in a house with a toddler and another child in the works.