Amp/Preamp Recommendations


Hi all, I’d appreciate your opinions and ideas as I try to choose my next (maybe forever) integrated amp or amp/preamp combo. About a year and a half ago I fell in love with the tube sound and bought a used Jolida SJ-302a integrated amp – I believe it’s rated at 50 wpc rms. While I love the sound, I want to upgrade for several reasons – its overall age (made in the mid 90s); lack of a remote control (getting a little lazy, I guess), but most of all, I sensed that I needed more power for certain types of music. Probably 75% of my listening is jazz, including a lot of jazz vocalists, but I also listen to all kinds of classical and some R&B and pop. The Jolida seems to work great for the softer things like intimate jazz and chamber music, but when it comes to opera, large orchestral or choral/orchestral works, and cranking Earth, Wind, & Fire and the like, it lacks authority and feels like it’s “working too hard.”

I have an overall plan over the next few years to upgrade my turntable, phono stage, and amplification, but plan to start with the latter.

I have a great local retail shop I frequent, and the owner recently let me borrow a used Rogue Audio Stereo 90 and 99 Magnum amp/preamp combo to audition at home for a few days. They both had upgraded tubes and the integrated tube phono stage was a nice bonus because I’d be meeting two of my upgrade goals in one move. I’m not afraid of buying used, and of course, that was another benefit, since the pair was a lot less expensive than new gear with similar specs.

As much as I wanted to love this equipment, I didn’t. I was reminded of a recent excellent post by @mahgister who pointed out that we love certain performers and composers, but only admire others. I admired this amp and preamp, but didn’t love the overall sound. I did love the power – I felt like my Chapman speakers were saying, “Finally, you’re feeding us some real meat!” Pop and R&B came alive, and an opera passage that had sounded anemic with my Jolida a few days ago was easily at true performance volume level. In addition, I loved the increased clarity – I noticed tiny things in familiar songs that I hadn’t noticed before. Bass notes came through with real authority, and my family members in other parts of the house said it sounded like someone was playing a live drum set in my listening room. All that being said, I didn’t love what the amp did for a lot of the other music I listened to. It seemed to me that the midrange was scooped out. I would increase the volume and by the time the vocals, strings, or mid-range wind instruments were at the volume I wanted, the bass and treble were too loud. I will be the first to admit that it may be that the sound I was getting was more accurate than what I’m used to, and I just had a preference for the familiar, but I found this amp/preamp combo to be fatiguing. Maybe my ears want more of the “midrange bloom” I’ve heard people write about – all I know is that I couldn’t really relax while listening – I repeatedly found myself with clenched facial muscles and was constantly changing the volume, trying to find the sweet spot. Anyway, I hope this little story gives you a decent idea of what I’m looking for in a new amp/preamp. I have a slight preference for an integrated unit rather than separates (just easier to fit in my space), and I would love to own something made in America, but neither of these are deal breakers. My budget is around $4500, used or new, but would be very happy to spend less. Here’s my current system:    

Jolida SJ-302a integrated amp

Chapman T7 speakers

Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable with Ortofon MC3 turbo cartridge

Bellari VP 530 phono stage

Theta Digital Compli universal player/transport

Audioquest type 6 hyperlitz speaker cables

DH Labs silver sonic Phantom RCA interconnects

Thanks for any suggestions. I’m fortunate to be in a metro area with several great audio shops where I can hear gear, but am also open to boutique manufacturers that may only sell direct.

Previewgardners501
I think your speakers are a bit of a tough load for a tube amp. I’d look at using a hybrid integrated like the Unison Unico Due ($3700 new) that has a tube preamp section and a solid state amp biased toward Class A that should provide more of the tonal characteristics and warmth you’re looking for with enough power to properly drive your speakers. Or obviously a separate tube pre and SS amp. Best of luck.
I would highly recommend  PS Audio  BHK  preamp and  BHK 250 (or 300 mono blocks)   they are amazing sound stage,  both hybird. 
Check out the new Rogue Dragon review in, I either Stereophile, or Absolute Sound

or...

it finally looks like the much anticipated LSA Voyager (GaN amp) will be available within 60 days

hth
Good Morning, gardner501:
Something to try which may work out or not (and it may or may not be something you'd be inclined to check out).

I have a SJ-502A which is very similar to your SJ-302A. Prior to my replacing a majority of the parts including the coupling caps with Obbligato Golds (4 in total), replacing the bias pots, and minor mods, I had contacted Jolida USA to inquire as to whether it was possible to use KT120 tubes. Their response at the time was - yes/possible.
Why not contact them to see if the SJ-302A's transformers and biasing have the ability to utilize the KT88s, 6550s, KT90s, or KT120s? It doesn't hurt/cost much to ask.
Note: I realize it may only result in a bit more wattage but it may open up the operatic/choral/orchestral aspects of your amp/system.
Also, I've tried a Rogue Sphinx Mk 11 which is obviously not the same as the Rogue 99 & 90 Magnum combo but I found the Sphinx (being a hybrid, tube pre and Class D power) similar to your remarks aside from the bass aspect. The Sphinx was a bit too neutral for my tastes any wasn't a huge step up/upgrade to what I already had so I ended up selling it. (Mind you, the remote was a nice feature to have but not a deal breaker.)

Sincerely,audiobasic2006.
Thanks for the suggestions - I appreciate them all, and keep 'em coming! I'm intrigued by the idea of a hybrid amp, and am just now learning about GaN technology. I'd still love some more all-tube recommendations. My guess is if I want the same kind of power I heard in the 60 pound, 90 watt Rogue, that I'll need to be looking in the used market in my budget ($4500 or less).
Post removed 
For $3999, Canor Audio makes a 100w class D hybrid with a tube input stage. Canor is a Slovakian company that is just launching here in the US. The first amp arrived on New Years Eve for a review in Enjoy The Music. It has been available for a while in Europe and there are a bunch of foreign reviews.

Canor is an OEM for a few companies including Musical Fidelity for the items listed “made in the EU” so they are not new to this.

The model is the AI 2.10. I am going to be selling it direct and through retailers but it is so new I haven’t even listed it on my site yet. 
If you are interested or want to learn more, PM me.

For used, all tube gear in your price range, check out the VTL integrated amp. They are not up for sale often, but are incredibly good sounding.  
I obviously am the importer for Canor.  I have no affiliation with VTL other than being a former owner of some of their amps.
+1 BHK Preamp and BHK 250 (paired with a DirectStream DAC) sounds excellent
Go SS and if you can find a used Pass Labs INT250 within your budget, grab it and dont look back.
For the preamp I recommend the Backert Labs Rhumba 1.3. Very musical! See if you can get a used one (I doubt). I don't have experience with tube power amps. Sorry.
Look at Don Sachs. He now makes an integrated amp as well as a stellar pre and power amp.

Best of all, you can request certain specifics to suit your tastes. They are made to order.
Although they are made in Canada...but very close to the border.
+1 for the PS Audio BHK amp(s) and preamp with their DS (sr or jr) dac. For an Integrated amp, look at Mcintosh, PS Audio, Classe if you like a warmer sound
Seriously give the pass labs gear an audition.
Odyssey audio: integrated or separate.  You will not be disappointed!  Ask for Klaus ....
+1 for Don Sachs gear.

I have his 6SN7-based linestage.

Don does very high quality work and his components are very high performers.
I am going to agree wholeheartedly with Soix. These are not speakers for a tube amplifier. You should be looking at SS amplifiers and Tube preamps. The Ultimate would be JC1+'s with and ARC preamp but, that is beyond you price point even used. So, how close can we come without breaking the bank. I would keep an eye on Audiogon to see what comes up. Also, your local dealers for used equipment. You want at least 100 watts/ch preferably class A or a high biased AB amp. Mono amps even better. These are low impedance speakers and would benefit from very short speaker cables with long balanced interconnects.
A Parasound A23+ and a used ARC or BAT preamp or perhaps a new Cary Audio SLP 98P. Lots of choices.
Just wondering if you listened to the Rogue Stereo 90 in both Ultralinear and Triode mode?
Thanks for the continued responses - I appreciate all the input. @davebeegle , yes, I tried it both ways. Has anyone here tried Jolida's now discontinued JD1000BRC? it's an integrated that achieves 100 wpc with 8 EL34 tubes (twice as many as my 302a).  My dealer has one that I may audition next. I hear what some of you are saying about the benefits of a SS/tube hybrid and plan to audition some of those, too.
There is 500+ combinations out there.

 Give a listen if you can.

  Pass, carver, odyssey, threshold, McCormack, Sanders, 

 so many. Happy hunting.
Parasound JC2 $2000 used 
Parasound A21+ used $2500
two tried and true pieces perfectly in you budget
good luck
Willy-T
Your goals kinda work against each other because part of what provides that midrange bloom is the inability to fully render the highs and lows. A higher powered amp will usually also come along with more bass and detail. Even for tube amps. I was surprised how much like a SS amp the Prima Luna HP sounds. Terrific amp btw. It might be easier to find a more efficient speaker and play around with different tubes since you already like the Jolida sound. You can also consider a few SS designs that have some tube like characteristics, many of the brands have already been mentioned, but I’d add Simaudio to the hunt.  
JC2 and a JC5 should do it.
Tube preamp - concert fidelity 080LSX2 

SS amp - Concert Fidelity 200FX