???Anyone Here UpGrade From Yaqin/Cayin/etc... To Another Tube Amp Considered Hi End???

Say something from Ayon,BAT,AR,Raven,Rogue,Unison etc....
Did you gain anything from the upgrade?Lower noise floor increasing low level resolution?Tighter more defined imaging & staging?Anything?
If you are enjoying theYiquin Cayan stay with what you have.  If you have a decent room and higher expectations it's the better Transformers in a great tube amp that is more alive and cohesive and then more enjoyable 
 What speakers do you have them with?
Harbeth M30.1,Nordost Leif series cables,well treated room...Looking at either the Unison Research Triode 25 or Mastersound Box...
Yes, I went from a Cayin A-50T integrated to a Raven Audio Blackhawk LE and the difference is substantial, for the better. The Cayin is a very fine amp, especially at its price but The Blackhawk is clearly better in every way.
^^^ I looked at Raven but everything is sold out,then I came across the Mastersound "Box" at a STEAL of a price & wonder if the investment will bear fruit over the Cayin...Were talking all hand made in Italy,in house transformers,Pure Class A,EL34 Parallel Single Ended(No Push Pull/Class A/B)weighing 15lbs more than the Cayin...
Not sure about the Raven products. I had the Nighthawk MKIII in house and I much prefered my Hegel integrated.
In my opinion, in my system, Raven was one of the most over-hyped products I've heard in 25 years in audio.
devilboy:just yesterday I spent 2 hours between a pair of Harbeth M40.2 speakers driven by a Hegel H590 & cabled up with several thousand $ of Cardas cables,talk about overhyped,You can keep your hegel,I would rather have my Cayin any day!
plus for Cayin

I've heard, and owned several tube amps, receivers, and last year sold my McIntosh SS amp and preamp, to get back to tubes. Needed 16 ohm taps for my speakers, found and bought Cayin Tube Integrated, AT88.

Sound: it never occurs to me to think about anything else.

Features: I wish it had external 'safe' bias adjustment (later models do, but lack 16 ohm taps). Also missing: I prefer having a balance control, and a low volume listening loudness control. I get both from my Chase Remote Line Controller, RLC-1 which I would never be without.


Mastersound has a reputation for building their own high quality transformers. I like that the  Box is a pure class A circuit parallel SEP (Pentode el 34 probably wired for triode mode).   Weighs a hefty 53 pounds. I suspect it is  a well built excellent (Natural/organic)   sounding amplifier. On paper it seems quite impressive.


I've got the Cayin USA A55T Mark III integrated.  I don't know that I need anything better.  It replaced a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum 1.  The Cayin is better in every way.
I came across the Mastersound "Box

@freediver   Take the leap with Mastersound. 

I think that the Unison is a nice 'conventional' class AB/ PP design. They are a good company and I do not doubt their Triode 25 is a good sounding amplifier. If I were choosing between the two options I'd take "the leap"  (as David put it)  toward the Mastersound. It just seems the more exciting and better (IMO) circuit/approach.


I am a little surprised by devilboy’s experience with the Raven Audio Blackhawk MK3. I have one and I have loved it from the moment I first inserted it into my system. Also, this is the first time I recall anyone saying any of the Raven products are overhyped, though of course I can’t possibly have read everything that is out there, but still I have read a lot of it and have yet to find much if any negative feedback about them. Everyone’s setup and sound preferences are different so I am not questioning the validity of devilboy’s experience with the BH in his room and with his other components, but as I said it is just not what I ever expected to hear. 
My experience with gear stepping up from Cayin/Yaqin/Connsonance-Opera/PrimaLuna, etc... is that you get significantly better transformers in the higher end amps. This shows up most at the frequency extremes and in terms of noise.

The higher end amps will be more linear in their frequency response, especially at high frequencies.   Also, they will have tighter bass and better control over the drivers. This deliver a bigger and more immersive soundstage. 

This also shows up with less transformer noise and less noise at the speaker binding posts. With Art Audio this is critical because we are regularly paired with speakers that are ultra-efficient. What is completely inaudible in a speaker with an SPL of 88dB is loud with an SPL of 107dBs.
Well folks I have spent pretty much every waking hour since Friday afternoon sole searching & critically listening to my system.Experimenting with switching from KT88(EH) to El34(Svetlana Wing C reissue)as well as extensive use of the Triode/UL switch & have ruled OUT the Mastersound...
 Turns out I REALLY don't care for Triode mode(which is hard wired into the M.S.)& I actually like the KT88 better,feeling it has much better bass & IMO a touch better accuracy from the upper bass right through the midrange..Treble seems close but maybe a touch more sparkle in the KT88 to my ears...I will admit it is TRULY difficult to step away from that Mastersound,it probably is the absolute deal of the decade...
twoleftears"Sounds like the moment is ripe for some serious tube-rolling."

Haha,the KT88’s are about toast with near 3000 hours,one went from serviceable to almost 0 bias voltage over the weekend & the small signal are stock chinese SOOO just ordered full boat Platinum Matched Gold Lion reissues,KT88/12AX7 & 12AU7!
Now I’m going to investigate a fancy support stand...Hummm,I wonder if Solid Steel Tripod stands would be better than the Pangea DS400’s I have & what KT120's sound like hahahaha....

I actually had the Nighthawk MKIII, not the Blackhawk, but anyway...

I’ve read up on Raven and their products extensively before purchasing the Nighthawk. I’ve spent many hours reading forum posts and reviews along with numerous hours watching videos. I’ve never read or seen anything about Raven that put them in a negative light in any way.
It was because of the glowing reviews and comments that I decided to do two things which I almost never do:

1) Purchase brand new.
2) Purchase brand new AND entirely unheard.

I made a phone call to Raven and immediately spoke with someone expressing my interest in the Nighthawk MKIII and discussed which NOS tubes to ship my amp with. The amp was shipped very quickly.

While waiting for the amp, I tried to contact Raven with questions that I forgot to ask before I purchased. Needing to call THREE different times before getting someone, I finally get through and ask about some impedance and voltage sensitivity questions. I was told they would find out and get back to me.

I received the amp and opened the box. The very first words out of my mouth were, "What the ***?". I was expecting two boxes, it only came in one. Really?...for a $3,000 amplifier? The foam inserts that the amp sits on were so bent, they looked like they didn’t belong for that box or that amp. The tubes were packed well in bubble wrap, but not packed securely.
First impression: not happy.

The sound of the amp was very thin and had not nearly the body and weight my Hegel had (as I’ve mentioned in another thread). It had no "meat on the bones", so to speak. My Hegel had a TREMENDOUSLY lower noise floor (which is big with me). From my listening seat I could hear a lot of tube hiss from both channels and humming from one channel. Placing my ear next to the tweeters, I could hear a VERY loud hiss. So, what’s with the quality control over there? When you ship a $3,000 amplifier WITH 70 year old tubes, doesn’t anyone listen at the shop first? While the midrange was pretty good, in every other aspect, the Nighthawk fell on its face against the Hegel, in my system, to my ears.

Before I decided to return the amp, I call Raven back and again no answer. I leave a message saying that I think I have some bad tubes and I’m still waiting on an answer to my previous questions.

I never received a reply on all issues.

One of my biggest pet peeves when purchasing anything is when a manufacturer is easy to reach before the purchase but difficult to reach after...boils my blood.

So, with all due respect, the reason I wrote this long post is not to bash Raven, but to give the next person shopping for an amplifier a view that the majority of information out there does not.

Well I found my dream amp & as soon as I can flip the Cayin & the Creek I'll be ordering the Icon Audio ST30SE,Class A Single Ended KT150 w/UL-Triode operation...Moving on up so sweet!
@freediver  For years I've always wanted to try Icon Audio. Please let us know your impressions.
I owned a Jolida 502p amp for years and it worked beautifully, but when a Dennis Had Inspire "Firebottle" SEP (pentode) showed up as a barely used item on Ebay I jumped on it. I realized (even before switching to  very efficient speakers) there really is something to the smaller single ended tube amp, and these Had amps, although somewhat rare due to Had's relatively tiny product output, are outstanding designs utterly handmade.
Thanks for your detailed response. I apologize for misreading which amp you had. My bad. Either way, it sounds like your experience with Raven Audio left a bad taste in your mouth and that is unfortunate. My experience with them has been completely different so am hoping yours was an anomaly - no one wants that kind of bad press, with regard to their product or their customer service.  
My experience with Raven Audio was completely positive. I bought my Blackhawk used and when I contacted Raven owner Dave Thomson about a minor problem with the remote control he followed up with multiple messages and phone calls helping resolve the problem, even though he was aware I'd bought the amp used. He had me open the amp and send pictures of connections he thought might be the problem and followed up every time to find out if the problem had been solved. It was the best support I've received in 50 years of owning audio gear.
just goes to show you how we get accustomed to what we have owned.  
owning a raven audio nighthawk and blackhawk i found the sound to be neutral, highly refined and colorful with outstanding transparency.  sounded spectacular with kef ls50 speakers. 
first and subsequent times hearing hegel amplifiers i thought they sounded obnoxious and closed.  bass was pounding and out of balance, midrange was smooth but lacked transpareny.  
i could never live with that kind of sound.  
@charles1dad  Thank you. 

As I'm listening to the Hegel, the word "obnoxious" is so far from what I'm hearing.  As you all know, there are so many factors.

Just remember:  It all sounds fake.  You just have to find your favorite kind of fake. 
Interesting perspective, devilboy.  I agree with you.  The issue then becomes or the goal then has to be: what is the *least* fake presentation you've heard, or that any of us has heard?  What (integrated) amplifier paired with what speakers has provided the most realistic-sounding musical presentation?
I can say without hesitation the “least fake” presentation of an Integrated/Speaker combo I have  experienced are the Raven Audio Blackhawk with the Raven Audio Corvus Tower System. Following are lists of integrateds and speakers that I or my brother, who has been my teammate in this addiction for close to 50 yrs, can remember owning. And yes, the size of the lists does confirm the severity of our addiction :).  BTW we are in agreement in this assessment. This of course doesn’t mean it is the best there is, it is just the best we have experienced. 


VAC 160I , VAC 160I SE, Luxman 590, Leben CS300X, Mystere, Line Magnetic 518ia, Wells Audio Majestic, Prima Luna Prologue, BMC CS2 and the Einstein the Absolute


Acoustic Zen Adagio, Harbeth HL5, 30.1 & C7ES, Salk SS8 & HT2 TL, Legacy Audio F20, Sonus Faber Cremona, Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater, Cerwin Vega, Petroff Lab Towers, Klipsch Corner Horns, Heresy & Cornwalls, Infinity SM100, Montana EPX, Equasound, CeLest Towers, Tekton Lore & Enzo XL’s, Eventus Audio Phobos & Eventus Audio Métis, Reference 3A MM de Capo, Acapella Fidelio II MkIII, and Cardersound Madison

@dgcurtis36  That's a pretty distinguished list. I'm sure you're quite content with the all-Raven setup.  Enjoy!
I suspect the best way of getting really good sound from tube amps without spending too much is with simple low powered single ended pentodes.Which might be only 2 or 3 watts but they can sound superb with high efficiency speakers.A lot of the more affordable  medium powered push pull tube amps I have heard can sound pleasant but are also pretty low resolution and tend to make everything sound a bit "samey".You tend to tire of that sort of sound.
Post removed 
Well folks,we ain't in Kansas any mo!
 Just placed my order for the Icon Audio ST30SE  integrated INCLUDING the Mundorf silver/gold in oil capacitors and upgraded CV181 premium white ceramic tubes!!!Were talking Pure Class A Single Ended KT150's running UL(mode,which I prefer to Triode Mode)for 28 wpc..I think my Harbeths are going to be VERY happy!
 Now I need a good DAC/Headphone amp but my $ budget is about shot with the amp...It's going to have to be something superbly clean to match the amp & speakers...Well more research...
Cayin A50T I have one and it's well built ,sounds great and looks good , does a great job and for $1,000 bucks it's well worth  it.

rs:I’m confused. Wasn’t a Quad VA-1+ mentioned at some point?
hahahahah,not in this thread...That was the ProAc Tablette Anniversary thread...
Well folks,we ain't in Kansas any mo!
 Just placed my order for the Icon Audio ST30SE integrated
Looks like a nice amp, congrats. Let us know what you think of it when you get it.
Congratulations on your purchase, but I do wish you had jumped on the BoX instead.  Yes, that is my inventory listed that you saw.  I am no longer the US distributor (mutually agreed decision) but their products are fantastic.  I probably would have directed you to the Dueventi more than the BoX with the 30.1 depending on your room.  The Dueventi is more romantic and doesn't need tubes rolled while also having a cleaner sound.  If you put a good set of NOS 12au7 in the BoX, you get a really incredible amplifier capable of driving most speakers.

I do wish you luck on the Icon though and hope it will take you to the next level!
@ audiothesis
There were several points that swayed me away from the Box & the Due Venti,which I did look at,cost of retube & circuit design being foremost(Triode EL34 vs KT150 in UL)...Someone WILL get an amazing amp from you at an absolute STEAL of a price but my requirements were a better fit with the Icon Audio..
To expand on my choice,after a lot of listening to both EL34 & KT88’s running Triode & UL,I simply prefer the KT88..IMO it has more extended treble,a more electrostatic midrange & bass is no contest..BOTH the Mastersound amps were EL34 based so I passed them on to someone who prefers what the EL34 brings...
twoleftears"Geez, how much gear are you buying?"
About $10,000.00 all total.I got an absolutely amazing deal on my Harbeth M30.1’s at almost -$3000.00 under retail..Same for the Cayin CS55a being replaced & the Creek Evo50a/Ruby & those funds go back towards the end game system...The Nordost Leif series cables were also bought used at about 50% off retail(gotta love cable depreciation hahaha)...The Icon Audio amp also received a nice discount from the N.American importer in celebration BOTH founding members & lifelong friends of the 2 companies turning 67years old...That left just enough for a magnificent pair of ProAc Tablette Anniversaries in the amazing Ebony finish for the bedroom & a good DAC/Headphone amp...
While tubes do make a difference, the design is the key.  The BoX has well extended treble and a shocking amount of bass.  The Dueventi is more of what you'd expect from an el34, giving the richness with a smoother top and bottom end while still maintaining proper speed of the music.  Both excel at a holographic image and damn near black background due to the quality of the transformers.

I hope this doesn't come across as a disgruntled seller not closing a sale.  These amps will sell so I'm not worried about that. My only point is that not everything is cut and dry and understanding what a product is as a whole is much more difficult than looking at the 'key' components used.

With all that said, I've followed your journey here and I'm happy to see it continuing!
I agree that the topology and the sucess of its implementation and quality of parts determine the ultimate sound quality level  of the amplifier. Pure class A single ended (Very simple circuit) KT 150 with high quality output transformers should sound fantastic.
Farther down the yellow brick road Dorothy.
Today I found the nerve center worthy of my amp/speakers & headphones(HiFiMan Sundara & Audeze LCD3)...From the side of the industry I believe is the finest driving force behind DAC technology today I went to the desktop audio industry & Burson Audio of Melbourne,Au...
 If you aren't familiar lets just say Burson gives you $5000.00+ worth of performance in a compact,superbly technical,fabulously spec'd & meticulously constructed piece of equipment,sold direct for $1000.00+!!!
 I'm going to chew my nails to the quick waiting on everything to land in my living room,I've waited 45 years for a system like this...
@freediver  I've had four or five Burson products over the years (160 D, Soloist, Virtuoso, Conductor V2+, and one more I think). They all drove my Audeze LCD 2.2, X, HD 800, Hifiman 400i and now Arya VERY well.  The DACs inside are pretty nice; far from the last word... But nice. The Preamp section of my V2+ was amazing. I took it over my buddy's place who has a passive with Audio Consulting wire and it held its own.

Not trying to be a you-know-what but I loved the headphone output of my Hegel driving my Arya so much, I sold the Burson. 

I went from Consonance EL34 70 watt PP A/B monoblocks to Art Audio EI KT90 50 watt stereo Class A PP. The difference was a more refined, detailed sound probably due to higher quality output transformers. The Consonance output transformers are noisy. Output transformers are one of the most important things in a tube amplifier design.
devilboy. "The DACs inside are pretty nice; far from the last word... But nice. "
Your kidding?There is NO better DAC Chip on the market today.

The Conductor uses the SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC and XMOS USB receiver chips, the most advanced and expensive in the industry. Its Customised USB driver by Thesycon Germany ensures low latency bit-perfect audio playback. The result is incredible processing power, accurately playing back DSD512 and 38bit/786khz audio.

It also features a Qualcomm/CSR8675 Bluetooth 5.0 receiver. Playing back at 24bit/96khz with aptX HD audio codec. , it pushes sound quality and ease of use to the highest level."
So how do you figure they are just ok?

@hifijunky Awesome that you have the Art Audio amps. If you ever need anything, PM me. I am the importer for AA now and am always here to help.

@freediver Congratulations on the Icon purchase.  I am sure you will be super happy.  

Regarding DACs, the Burson is lovely, especially for the price. DAC chips though are not the sole driver of DAC quality. Chip and implementation of the Chip have a huge impact. Burson is great at this and for Chip DACs, outstanding.

However, you will find there is more than one way to skin a cat. There are FPGA units from people like Chord and PS Audio that don’t use Burr Brown/Wolfson/Cirrus/Sabre chips at all and use software based solutions. There are R2R Dacs that don’t use chips from brands like Rockna that are brilliant. Like anything, opinions are subjective, but many feel these other approaches are far superior to the chip approach implemented by many manufacturers. These also tend to be a lot more expensive though there are exceptions like the Chord Qutest which is quite affordable. 

In the end, it is a matter of taste, but have faith that in the never ending pursuit of audio perfection (and to get us all to spend more money) someone will find a way to make something that is better or at least different.