Are Low Power Tube Amps Worth The Troubl

Some people say that low power tube amps are more musical then their higher powered cousins. This whole 2A3 thing has my interest but such low power really paints you into a corner when you look for speakers. I would like to hear some input from some of you guys that had the nerve take the plunge and what your results were. Please mention names.
Don't even think about these amps until the speakers of your dreams are in your house and paid for. If they happen to match well with the 3 watt amps like Art Audio etc. it's the way to go but don't buy the amp and then go searching for speakers that will play loud enough for your taste. And also- use the Cary 300b (15watt) mono amps as a reference to test any lower power amps, as it's very hard to get more musical than these and the Cary's will play most average effecient speakers with medium impedences just fine.
Single ended triodes are quite popular these days among certain audiophiles. However, the only SET amp I've heard that sounded good to my ears is the Wyetech Labs Topaz which puts out about 18 watts, plenty for speakers of 88 db sensitivity unless you're a headbanger (in which case SET isn't for you anyway). The Cary's and all the others I've heard do too many horrible things to the frequency extremes to satisfy me, although the midrange is wonderful. I currently use a SE pentode amp at 25 wpc, even though my 103 db sensitive speakers could do with less power. These amps, the MaxLine Trimax monoblocks, don't roll off the highs nor make the bass mushy. But generally speaking and assuming amps with the same architecture, lower powered amps sound better than higher powered ones. Check out the VAC 30/30 as opposed to the 70/70. With appropriate speakers, the 30/30 sound cleaner and more musical. It's just that most folks need the higher power.

Approach SET's with caution. My best advice is a lot like the above posters. Buy the speakers you like first and then see if SET will work. Then try a low powered amp and see what you think.
Stokjoc: I use an Audion Silver Night 300B stereo amp with a pair of Reynaud Twins MKII in a room that is approx. 18' x 23', with very good results. A smaller room would be even better as I have tried this as well. The Audion is not rolled off at the frequency extremes, has very little 2nd order harmonic distortion, has extremely fast transient response and it delivers a real 7.5 watts per channel at reasonable (not outrageous) distortion levels. It is also not adversely effected by 4 ohm loads. Unfortunately though it is a bit pricy ($2700 for the basic model, which I have, with a single Alps volume pot and zero switching capability) and $500 on top of that for the integrated version. An upgraded version is also available for an additional $1K. They do not come up very often on the used market, though I recently did see one for sale. Speakers may come and go in the future as budget allows, but this amp is not going anywhere. I hope to eventually retire it to a spare room (which is smaller) so that I can listen to it while working on the computer, but for now it does full duty in the living room. I personally did not care for many of the SET amps that I auditioned and will suggest that you audition before purchasing one. My complete setup is listed in the "Virtual Systems" section under my moniker (DeKay) in the event that you are curious. If you do not listen to music at headbanger levels, yes, I feel that they are worth considering, but proper system and room matching is a must. I have owned quite a bit of push/pull tube gear in the past but this is the first SET that I have owned and I have no regrets.
Has anyone used the $700 Decware Zen Triode?
I had the use of one of the early versions (unpainted chassis) for a weekend and it was very impressive for ($500-$550, think that is what it sold for). The newer versions are said to be even better. It was "extremely" detailed and I would not suggest using it with mid-fi source components if you want great sound. There is a good review, by Thorston, of the "C" version at the TNT website.
Can anyone suggest some good efficient speakers that matches well with SET amp (~15W)? I like the Avantgarde, but my wife will never agree to the high price and the "hate it/love it" look. Thanks inadvance.

Coincident has a "new" speaker at their website rated at 95 db. I would discuss it with Mr. Blume to see if he has designed it with either low powered push/pull or SET tube amps specifically in mind. There is another manufacturer, I think that their name is Swan (and not the Diva one) that makes wooden horn loaded (the bass anyway) speakers. Doug (Sedond) had given me their website once, but I lost it. Good and efficient means expensive as far as I know. It also will depend on the amp itself as some seem to have a lot more driving power than others rated at the same power output.
I have a pair of 91db Ribbon Hybrids (Newform Research R645's) that work well with the 35W AES-25 Superamp (DJH Version). I listen almost exclusively to large orchestral music and have been pleased. Am looking for just a little more oomph for the bottom octave and may augment with subwoofer. Otherwise, the dynamics are fine. My solid state Amp (Odyssey Stratos) goes lower and has more visceral impact. However, it does not have the sweet midrange or highs of the AES.
3chihuahuas: There is something else in regard to horn speakers that I would like to mention (since you may be looking into them). From my experience, "most" horn speakers require that you do not sit very close to them, to get the best sound. I am sure that others may disagree with this general statement, but I feel that this is "one" of the reasons that many people do not like their sound (they auditioned the speakers while sitting too close). I don't have an exact distance or anything nuts like that but off the top of my head I would guess at least 10-12 feet and even further might be better, depending on the setup (for instance I have heard large/huge vintage horn speakers sound great to super from 20 feet or so in larger rooms).
If you need affordable, high-performance speakers for a SET and don't have the money for full-range horns, try the Super12's. One of the biggest problems with SET amps is getting sufficient bass at low power and still retaining the magic mids/highs. These puppies go to 40Hz and are 97db efficient! They'll go loud and deep on just about any music, especially if you are using a 8 watt 300B SET amp, plus you'll have all the SET magic you could ever want.

The only slight drawback is that they come as a simple kit for the drivers and crossover, you have to build the boxes(or have someone do it). Anyway, the kit is only $600 and the speaker boxes can be made for about $60-100 with simple MDF boards. It's dimensions are 14.5" x 14.5" x 48".

Check out the reviews on the Hammer Dynamics website and also the Super12 modifications page. There are quite a few people who have taken the performance to near reference level. You can email or post them from the Single Driver Website that hosts the Tweaks page. Search the archives on the Single Driver forum for posts. Also check

BTW, they'll work great with any amp, SET, push-pull, Ultr-linear, solid state.

Super 12 Tweaks:
I auditioned the Cary 300BSEI (15W per channel) with my Jean Marie Reynaud Twins mkII's (90dB sensitivity) at a local dealer. I really couldn't afford the $4k amp, but I really wanted hear what the SET sound was all about. Also, the Twins are $900 speakers, so that may not be a fair match(but price isn't everything, right?).

The Twins are amazingly musical with my Audio Refinement Complete Integrated SS amp, but the Cary made their best traits even better. The combo was magic! The sound was so much more spacious and airy, also the midrange was incredibly textured and real. Vocals, wind instruments, strings, and even bass! Deep musical bass like I'd never heard before that was amazingly detailed. I could hear resonance of the the drum heads. Cellos and Oboes were absolutely scary.

Now there were some downsides that are also partly attributed to the Twins medium efficiency, mainly that on more complex passages absolutely all bass dropped out. Just gone. The amp would quickly run out of gas for the low frequencies. It also had the effect of flattening out the mids and highs, or at least reigning them in slightly. And I'm not talking about giant orchestral crescendoes, but anything with more than 4 sparcely playing instruments. And forget about rocking out. I posted about this on Audioasylum and many people said thhat is a shortcoming of Cary amps, I don't know if this true, though because tha is the only SET I have ever heard.

Although, I had a chance to play a cd of traditional Japanese drummers and the deep, powerful, bass was simply incredible, even the multiple drum tracks still had punch.

Matching that amp with more efficient speakers would have been incredible. ALthough, equally good, if not better, amps for much less than $4k. Thorsten Loesch, a SET guru and audio reviewer has been using a very cheap(in price) $775 pair of "The Billie" 300B monoblock amps from with superlative results. They are a very simple kit with less than 20 parts +/- a few. Anyone with simple soldering skills can assemble them. Or you can buy a great looking, pre-assembled set of the amps from Look in the Signature series. They look great, although the website is very slow tonight.

My final impression is that SET is absolutley where the real music is for me, when I can afford it. I'm shooting for next year because I just upgraded my system 6 months ago.

Good luck, and audition, audition, audition. Take your time because you'll have to live with your choice for some time.
Dark: It was the amp, not the Twin's. I listen to full orchestra daily and the Audion 300B does not "collapse" at our regular listening level, which is plenty loud for the living room. The amp does not seem to "care" that the Reynaud's are a 4 ohm load and it has 7.5 "useable" watts per side.
Thanks,Dekay-appreciate the knowledgeable info. Having only "readable" input from the magazines / I think about sets;alot. Just a point of curiosity; how close might the Vac 30/30 with the 4 300b tubes be?
Hi George, I am not familiar with the VAC. If it is a push/pull configuration though, chances are that it will not sound the same as a true SET. All of the SET's that I have auditioned sound quite different from one another (everyone needs to audition them individually), but the better ones all do have one thing in common, which is a depth and 3D effect that I have never heard with push/pull tube designs. This is what it's really all about. The problem that I had was deciding whether to work with the lower SET power, or to make a compromise and go for something push/pull (though with fat sounding tubes, such as EL34's or 300B's) and make it easier on myself by adding the extra power. There are also some hybrid designs I believe that somehow switch to push/pull when more power is needed for musical peaks. Having owned quite a few push/pull tube amps in the past, I decided to go full SET to try something new. The amp was referred to as the "new toy" for many months until I was able to get the system properly matched, because that is what the amps will sound like until you get the right combination going. Other than speaker sensitivity and impedance there are other factors (just like in any system) to consider such as the output of you preamp (or source/DAC in my case), the cabling and how it interacts, the tubes used and the room size. My particular amp is somewhere between (sound wise) that of typical 2A3 and 300B amps in that it is quite linear and detailed and it has very fast transient response. The 300B tube, itself, can actually be linear, but how it will sound depends on the design of the amp. Many designs roll off the bottom and top and let distortion run wild and this sound is generally not to my liking, but on the other hand it (this type of sound) is favored by the majority of users. The epiphany for me was when I went to audition a well setup system consisting of AR 300 mono blocks, Vandersteen 5's and top of the line AR and BAT preamps. Sources were BAT and Oracle CD players and an Oracle turntable. This was a great sounding system, but as far as the reality factor of the music went, my little budget setup crushed this system (it was no contest). The little system did not have the bass or dynamics of the big rig, but I discovered at that point (or proved to myself) that there is a lot more involved in total sound reproduction than bigger than life dynamics and bass slam. The only "major" obstacle that I see with SET's is for people who have large listening rooms and who do not like the sound of or who cannot afford the more expensive (highly rated) horn systems that are available today. There seems to be a shortage of high quality and affordable speakers that will work in this type of application. I urge anyone interested in SET's and who is willing to do the work to start by auditioning as many of them as you can, but I do not suggest purchasing one blindly (without hearing it first) due to the diversity of their sound which is dependent on both the design of the amp itself and proper system matching.
Dekay-thanks for comments about horn speakers. I will definately take up your advice when auditioning them.

Does anyone have comments on how the Reference 3A speaker lines fare with SET amps?
WOW; thanks. A pretty good dissertation,indeed!!
I was over at a friends house recently, he had the Jota,and eidons ( sorry for the spelling)--(they are the speakers that seem like the cabinet is a bit to small- woffer protrudes) I was under impressed. It sounded very much like normal stereo. I'm sure there might have been something imperfect going on. The Jota (in TAS) has gotten rave press. It actually cooled me off on set. Hearing your description reloads my enthusiasm. Thus, an emphatic "yes" for the answer to the title.