Perhaps Sbank will weigh in on this. That said, I have spent a lot of time in his listening room and have always been impressed with the synergy he had with the Merlins and the Berning. He is now using the Atma-sphere MA1 amps and is really getting some spectacular results IMHO.
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With the benign load requirements of the VSM, an OTL amp is probably the best option overall. Joule, Atmas-phere, Berning, Transcendent.
So far as transformer coupled tube amps go, there have been numerous ones that would probably work quite well with this speaker. Bobby showed the CAT a few years back at one of the shows. Greater dynamics is my understanding but it is hard to imagine too much out there that is going to beat the Joule, Atmas, or Berning.
You should hear the VSM/Berning with David Berning's tube BAM, it adds a special flavor to this combo, sweeter and much better harmonic resolution, the music is a bit closer to being real. You couldn't want for too much more. I can't give a SS recommendation because I haven't heard one other than the SIM with the VSM and while sounding good it didn't provide the magic. I've heard a few other SS amps that were totally forgettable with the Merlins.
As Slipknot mentioned, I'm having good luck w/Atma-Spheres, & I've previously happily owned the Berning. The Joules sound great too, but were out of my price range. A used pair of MA1s for around $6k would be my first choice. If you could find a pair of Joule 100s near that price it would be the other top choice.
If push-pull amps are your preference, Manleys are a good choice.
The Cary amps I've heard aren't transparent enough by comparison. Merlins will get the most out of those amps, but if you are choosing an amp, it wouldn't be your best bet unless you are trying to compensate for overly bright source or preamp(generally not a good strategy). Cheers,
I would also add to your "Shopping List", the 200 series amps from Blue Circle. I had a Joule 80mk4, and Blue Circle BC2, and was looking for an amp that had more power (Large Symphonic works) say +100 watts, that had the Joule clean OTL sound and Palpable mids/precense, but with much better bass..... After listening to a few of the amps listed already (I found the Berning too "clean/Dry", not the mids I was looking for, and would have to go for monoblocks of each; the Joule 100 were nice but still not enough bass; The Belles didn't have the detail or magic of either Joule or Berning), I then heard the BC204. Largest soundstage by far, killer mids (right with the Joule), but better dynamics, hall info, bass and PRaT. Really goes well with the Merlins (+ Joule 150pre and VSM-MXe). Ended up with a BC206 (run Single Ended). I would just keep your eyes out for these too..... As with everything in Audio, its about your tastes, your room, your system, just listen before if you can..... and Enjoy!
As I've noted on a few other threads - I really like the VSM SE with Cary 300B monos. You can't get really high spls in a medium/large room and deepest bass may be MIA... but the combo is magic dynamically and timbrally. Vocal reproduction is startlingly good. I understand that later versions of the VSM may be less SET friendly.
The ARS Sonum Filarmonia integrated amp. It is made in Spain, thus it is on your side of the pond. Fantastic little integrated amp if you can force yourself to only spend $3500 US MSRP (my dry sense of humour). I have owned the VZN 100's, Belles 150A HR, and Sim Audio Moon W5. Overall, I enjoy the ARS more than any of the above.
Plenty of power at 30 watts per channel (I believe that it ouputs around 24 watts in Class A).
01-13-07: [email protected]
I´ve owned previously Joule LA150/VZN100 combo and Berning ZH270 with my VSM-MX and right now my amp it´s the Ars Sonum Filarmonia SE and I´m EXTREMELY happy with it.
I was reading the topic of what amp sounds good with Merlin speakers. You mentioned you had owned a few prominent amps but now you own the Filarmonia. I've heard some good things about this amp but im a little skeptical. Also ive read threads where people are waiting in upwards of 11 months to get their amp. I'm going goo goo over VAC amps if i can get them at a fair price. I've heard they sound wonderful with the merlins. I havent heard any of this equipment except for VAC. Im sold on this sound. Can you elaborate on the filarmonia? Have you heard vac gear? If so what are the differnence...
Haven't heard the VAC. As for the Fila, nothing more normal than to be suspicious. Until you hear it. As Bobby would put it, it's stupid good. It shouldn't be that good. But it is. In a blind test, I'm confident it would trounce anything below 10.000, and probably a lot of competitors between 10 and 20.000.
Now the wait is long indeed, but worth it.
I have recently changed form Cary Sixpacs which I liked to Quicksilver Triodes (which is a 6C33C tube based amp ----same tube as LAMMS) which I like better. Very direct sweet sounding amp with drive that is more true to the music. The Sixpacs are more of a flavor albeit a flavor I like.
I have heard very good things about the Filarmonia integrated which you can speak to Bobby about.
The Prima Luna Prologue amps allow tube rolling (kt88, kt66, el34, 6550, etc)
which may prove very useful to you as you explore the "tube
sound" through Merlins. The speaker is amazingly revealing and will
change character with each roll - sometiimes subtly, other times pretty
dramatically. Even modest examples of each tube type will provide a taste of
that tube's sound without a huge investment.
IMHO, there are advantages and disadvantages to each output tube I've run
through the system. In my system, the KT88s provide unique bass impact
(for a tube amp) at the cost of some midrange nuance. The EL34s tip
preciisely the opposite way. Others fall somewhere in between. I've used the
Prima Luna 7/VSM combo for almost a year now (other amps slide in from
time to time) and I have still not been able to settle on a single clear winner.
My message here is that tradeoffs and personal preferences will likely play a
big role in your final decision and it may take some time to make a final
determination. Flexibility in output tube may be something to consider as
you choose an amp to start this decision process.
I have tried many combinations, and I must say that the Atma pre / Atma M-60 is the absolute best to my ears and taste (there are many other great sounding pieces, so I'm not saying this IS the best, or the best for everybody - some might prefer the relative added warmth and texture of the Music Reference RM9 SE for example, or the seemingly limitless dynamics and drive of the CAT JL2, there is a lot of good gear out there - obviously the Joule gear is a must audition with Merlins - I did own the Joule LA-150MKII - very good indeed) - but for me, the Atma is an incredible match.
But, another combination I have been listening to is simply a great, great value and wonderful match - that is the Dodd Battery Preamp with the Pass/First Watt Aleph J. I know that Merlins are often thought to be a tube amp speaker, and they basically are and often sound their best with tubes, but the Dodd is an extremely good preamp, very quiet, dynamic and with the Amperex 6dj8 (1958)about as good as I have heard. Their 200 ohm output impedance makes them capable of driving almost any amp load, but in this case, with the Aleph J, a very easy load indeed, and very high 242 kohm!(unprecedented?) optimal for tube preamps in general. The Aleph J is easily driven by the Dodd. It is single-ended SS, Class A, only 30 watts (more than enough for the Merlins), 15db less negative feedback than the original Aleph 3 (which I owned and loved), low damping factor (20) which is good for the Merlins, and optimized for 8-16 ohm speakers. Known as a "tubey" amp in general, the combination is an under $4,000 combo that is mighty impressive with the Merlins - trouble is the Aleph J isn't made anymore, but can be found here from time to time for $1,200 - $1,500. Is it the best possible? proabably not, but for the price I think you will be very, very happy. I also used the Pass XA-30.5 that worked very well to, but at a higher cost. I think it might be a better overall amp (the best sounding SS amp ever?) with a wider range of speakers, but IMHO, the Aleph J is all you need with the Merlins.
P.S. I've tried the Dodd with the Atma M-60s. Of course it sounds very good, but I still prefer the Atma MP-3 pre with the amps.
It would be very interesting to try the F5, which I beleive is a P/P design versus single-ended. It too seems very easy to drive for typical tube preamps. Based on the sixmoons review it sounds like it is less warm (2nd order harmonics) and more linear/leaner than the J, which would not generally be my first choice with Merlins, but of course, "theory" is no subsititute for listening. The design creativity of Nelson Pass is really incredible.