Amplification question - PrimaLuna Tubes vs. McIntosh Solid State
First post here, was looking
for a little help on my new system set-up.
My sources for music will be
fully digital using Roon to manage those assets. I have a PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Bridge II network card which will also
be acting as the preamp. Speakers are Monitor Audio Platinum PL100 studio
monitors with a REL Storm subwoofer.
have never owned a tube system. My previous system was also a fully digital source
music set-up (CDs) with Martin-Logan reQuest speakers, REL subwoofer, and
Classe CA-300 amp. I have had to downsize those components due to physical
honed down my purchase choices to either a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP tube
amplifier, or a McIntosh
MC152 solid state amplifier. These are the only two models I am willing to
consider at this time to keep things focused on this discussion thread. Links
This system will
be going into my office, and will be run pretty much 8 hours a day, 5-6 days a
week. As far as the type of material I listen to, it is a very eclectic mix of
rock, classical, jazz, pop, etc. Very often I get to crank the system up to
seriously fun levels when I am doing graphic design, Photoshop, and other
I would love
some feedback from the community here on which choice, tube or amp, they would
put into this system. Also, what kind of service life and realistic maintenance
would be required with the PrimaLuna tubes being my first tube component if I
go in that direction.
Do you have PL100 series I or II's? I've listened to McIntosh amplifiers several times and just don't prefer their sound. I find them dark and lacking detail. That being said, if you have PL100 series I, the McIntosh may have synergy with them, because to my ears Monitor Audio series I speakers have a forward sound to them and can be bright "to my ears". I've never heard Primaluna so I can't comment.
You could always try a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Pre fronting for a McIntosh MC152... Sounds lush and rich with my Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESLs... Would I recommend PrimaLuna? Yes... Would I recommend a McIntosh MC152? Yes...
To be fare, McIntosh is a statement, but not to many people not into to hifi audio. ( Mindfull I own several McIntosh pieces) now tubes on the other hand, they are beautiful and sound is great, but find lacking in some of the highs depending on the circuts. ( Mind you I own several tube amps and preamps, tubes are my love) all this being said, I know you said not interested in other gear, Why not a MC275? Best of both worlds. I have 2 MC275s running mono and love them, will never part with them, ever! The primaluna gear is quite good, nice sound and tube hardy easy to use with auto bias. But it's no McIntosh.
I think Mc is probably more of a "statement" to a lot of folks who aren't into audio--many still recognize those big beautiful blue eyes--if that's what you're after. Pretty glowing tubes, however, can be a sort of conversation-type thing. "They still make those?" "What the heck are those?" "Wow, those must waste a lot of power. Have you no shame?"
Running non-stop in an office setting, I'd probably go with the solid state.
I have used switchable SE/PP tube mono block amps for over 20 years. I followed your link to the PrimaLuna site and note that they self bias. That will reduce a lot of maintenance/time and hassle for you. I did not see that they could be controlled by a trigger; if you want one button "easy on" for all of your equipment via a single remote control (which I believe the Mac would offer), that is something you may want to consider. Also, as a tube amp owner, I will mention that I completely turn off my amps--hard power off--after listening. They do not have a "standby," as it would dramatically shorten tube life. I did not observe a standby on the PrimaLuna (maybe it's there and I missed it). That means that powering on a tube amp system requires repeatative bending to reach power switches and it means waiting at least 30 minutes for the amps to reach operating temperature and settle down. If the system is going to be running all day, that once daily ritual and warm-up may be inconsequential, but you have asked, so I have shared what only a tube amp owner could know. btw, I have the same DAC with the Bridge II. I have A/B compared the volume control in the PS Audio DAC to two excellent pre-amps. The volume control is a good one, but not the same as a high quality pre. hope this helps...good luck....
This post has had me spending some time with my mc7300 and mc302 and a mono setup of the Usher 1.5 that I haven't used in quite a while, I have been back and forth with several different pairings into both my ns1000s and ns2000s and even a pair of dahlquist D10s for good measure to see if after a couple years or so w/o solid state going back to tubes after a slight hiatus I can say that I do appreciate the benifets to the soild state crowd, but from little 30watt mono amps to 500 watt carvers, that I've spent sometime with in my comparison the detail in the tubes specially the el34 amps, and the monstor kt120s in the carver the tubes to my ears are so much easier to listen to music doesn't have to be perfect, with the DQ10s the staging and Sonic's was beautiful and very easy to listen to with out fatigue of any kind, vs the almost clinical no room for error of the solid state amps. Now I can say the ushers got me closer to a tube experience driving a pair of thiel 3.7s. As far as heat, wow the carvers lit the room on fire I forgot how hot those amps were, vs the mc275 monoblock I normally use. The point is I forgot how great both spectrums can be, and how lucky we are to have such great options in hifi. everyone's ears are different determine what sounds best to you. Preamps, dacs and stage buffers can be used to get close to the sound you want with both options. Either way you go i don't think you will be disappointed, the look of both are just as beautiful.
I returned from draft duty in early ’54, and from that time on I’ve been absorbed with high fidelity audio. Of course, the early years meant embracing vacuum tubes. Transistors weren’t ready for prime time, so tubes were the only option. And I soon learned that tube technology was far from perfect. Tubes suffered high incidence of failure, and their abundant heat cooked adjacent parts. But those faults could become my gain if I learned radio/TV repair, so I built (from kits) a tube tester, audio oscillator, oscilloscope, bought a multimeter, and began my career in the industry.
Tubes reflect their Neo-Victorian vintage (1904); they’re just not high precision parts. Why not? Well, to start, the tube manufacturers identify vacuum tube operating parameters only by listing “average” or “typical” characteristics. They never specify tubes by providing precise min./max. limits (as with solid-state devices), so tubes lack uniformity from the git-go. That’s why tubes of the same type often differ so widely. Further, all tubes exhibit random long term drift when put into service; plate current falls, grid bias shifts. These changes reflect a persistent degradation that begins at initial turn-on and ends in cathode depletion failure—barring other modes of premature demise (e.g. open filament, vacuum leaks, gassing, microphonics, atypical distortion, hum/noise). So vacuum tubes are not a wise choice when predictable, stable circuit performance is a serious design goal. Regardless, for some 70 years tubes were all that we had. Creativity got stale toward the end of that era. Tubes were just too big* (and too inefficient) to use more than the functional minimum. Innovation later revived with the debut of fully-complementary solid state technology.
Early angst: In 1963 I bought a “hi-end” Fisher FM-200B tuner, one of the top FM signal sources of the day, but its RF/IF stages exhibited incessant drift due to tube aging. I had to perform very tedious realignments annually. And my 1962 Marantz 8B stereo power amplifier needed quarterly output stage re-biasing to keep the measured IM distortion inside 0.5%, plus I had to install four new EL34s every two years. (CVA, in FL, currently resells Chinese EL34 tubes at $55 per matched pair.) Indeed, I got so anxious to dump vacuum tubes that I built my own solid state power amps in the mid-’70s, just as soon as PNP silicon power transistors became affordable. Free at last!
Vacuum tube commerce has collapsed in the 40+ year lapse since my escape. All of the principal domestic, British, Dutch, and German producers are now either defunct (like Tung-Sol Electric, my employer from ’57 - ’60), or they’ve long since ceased making tubes. The entire world market for (receiving-type) tubes is now confined to a small coterie of audio and guitar buffs, and served only by obscure Russian and Chinese suppliers with no previous market recognition. (There are other minor sources in former Soviet bloc countries; also, perhaps, one in Canada.) The quality and reliability of the tubes made by those arcane foreign suppliers is a subject worthy of concern. And those sources will persist only as long as there’s viable demand, so the outlook for assured access to replacement stock seems dicey. Further, this situation prevails at a time when every instrumented means of evaluating audio quality validates the measurable superiority of modern solid state design. Tube boosters reply that “my ears are more accurate than your instruments”, but their faith is mired in groupthink. There’s no credible A/B/X aural evidence to support the “tubes sound better” cult. Tubes were marching to the casket 40 years ago. Don’t consort with zombies.
*A 12AX7 dual triode tube contains two digital gates. A smart ’phone utilizes > 8 million gates.
My house has four gates. Both it and most 12ax7 gear sound better than your smart phone.
I’m not sure "tube boosters" generally have the take that "[their] ears are more accurate than your instruments." Pure mathematical, unweighted "accuracy," in most cases, is often conceded. Those measurements you reference, however, aren’t the be-all, unless you get more satisfaction looking at graphs and such than actually listening. Even among solid state, the better measuring item quite often doesn’t sound better than what you might claim would be an inferior item.
Stfoth---Thanks, but, in the '50s, failure to report was punishable by a maximum penalty of up to five years in Federal prison and/or a fine of $250,000. Back then, draft duty was just like using vacuum tubes: No other option.
I have the PL HP integrated. This Is my second PL, and for over five years now, I've had no problems and no need to replace tubes, except for the fun of tube rolling.
In contrast to the comments above, you can have one power cord to cycle it all. I turn on one switch,and the TT is ready, phono amp ready, and PL quickly cycles. Primaluna amps do not require 30 min or more to warm up. Mine is ready in about a minute, and sounds great.
Putting the tube vs SS debate aside, the PL is a terrific sounding piece. I think mac gear is nice, but I much prefer the sound of the Primaluna over any mac gear I've heard.
Thank you for all your responses, it's been an interesting and educational discussion thread for me. I really appreciate everyone who took the time to respond.
The decision is made, I am going with the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP Integrated. I was originally thinking just the DiaLogue Premium HP Power Amplifier, but the Integrated will give me a bit more flexibility for hooking things up as they arise, as well as providing a built-in the headphone output.
The more I researched, and from posts here, it should be years between tube changes even using it daily with their Adaptive AutoBias circuit, and the fact they run more tubes at a much lower load. I am also taking steps to provide more than adequate ventilation for the unit to keep things running optimally. Time will tell, but I feel excited to get things hooked-up in the coming weeks.
I also picked-up from a seller here a PS Audio Power Plant Premier that is being refurbished at PS Audio. That should provide convenient switching as required for all the components.
Yes... Boy boy, crazy boy tubes are too cool boy. (thanks for that "tubegroover", it makes me smile every time I read it!)
One thing I noticed is there is a big difference in sound when talking about Mcintosh amps. Their solid state amps sound much different from the tubes amps. when I took the MC402 for a weekend and then the MC 275 there was no competition. The MC275 stomped all over it and sounded totally different. That is my personal opinion. if you want a big sound, big headroom, MC402. The MC275 is a music lovers amp. MC 402 for home theater all day long. MC275 for listening to a stereo and some records.
I just ordered a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP Integrated. A friend kindly brought his PL Dialogue HP Integrated to my house and we listened for a few hours.
My first impression:
I was stunned and floored at how well it ’connected’ with my Dynaudio Contour S3.4 LE’s. Beautiful music sprang off the dyns at any volume..this was just incredible. I was amazed at how loudly and openly the sound was with high SPL’s...when I thought the amp had nothing more to "give" the headroom for my tastes, seemed limitless. More than just how loud the system goes, was this easy going yet fully refined and detailed soundscape. The midrange and presence regions, to me are the most important aspects for truly enjoyable playblack (if the mids aren't right nothing else matters in my book). The PL HP was liquid and transparent. Anyway long boring story short, I liked the thing so much I sold my separates and bought the PL.
Recently, I was driving the Dyns with a modern very well known expensive 500wpc (into 4 ohm) solid state amp and the PL was simply more satisfying.
Lyngdorf TDAI 2170 ? Observe the rear panel: That expensive box has the world’s cheapest PCB mount rca jacks...no better than entry level Sony, Panasonic, etc. $8,000 USD. Buyer beware. Horses a$$ alert.
charles1dad's avatar charles1dad 6,356 posts 07-24-2017 7:44pm If non critical listening and on for many hours would favor the McIntosh. If the scenario were serious 2 channel music listening I’d choose the Prima Luma. Charles
I second this. I own a PL dialogue hp integrated. Amazing amp! But for a casual head turning Statement go to the Mac. If you’re looking for an unsurpassed listening experience go to the primaluna.