Argh Too Many Choices

I have been considering switching to an all-tube preamp/amp combo for a little while and have read a lot of reviews of various tube equipment. There is just too much to choose from, as soon as I think I've settled on something I read about another product and start re-thinking my choices. I can't remember if it was Alvin Toffler or John Nesbitt who coined the term "hyper-choice" (or something like it), whereby consumers are faced with so many products to choose from that they end up feeling paralysed or frozen and unable to make a decision. In any event, I seem to be afflicted by this phenomenon.

Here is a sample of tube gear that I had decided upon only to find something else to consider:

- Wright Sound Mono8 amps and WLA12 pre;
- Canary Audio CA301 MkII amp and CA880 pre;
- Rogue Magnum 90 amp and 66 or 99 pre;
- Manley Mahi monos and Shrimp pre;
- Yamamoto A-08 45 SET amp (2 Wpc) and CA-04L pre;
- and many others, but these are the most recent ones.

Currently I have a Blue Circle BC21.1 tubed pre and BC22 ss amp, an Anthem CD-1 player, NAD tuner, Rune speakers are by Zu (sensitivity of 101dB, 12 Ohms impedance), and Zu interconnects, speaker cables and pc's. As you can see, the speakers are high sensitivity with a 10" full-range driver supplemented by a supertweeter without a crossover. This is the main reason I've considered low-powered SETs. Also, I feel the BC21.1 has too much gain for this set-up, I don't get very far with the volume control before hitting my comfort zone and it's not easy to achieve a level for late-night listening.

I'm looking for some tube magic to enhance the presence of the music, infuse a bit of warmth into a somewhat bright system, although it is not glaringly so, and fill out the bass a little more. Thoughts and advice would be most welcome.




"Paralysis by analysis", all too common. It would help if you shared with us your room, musical preferences, and budget. For what it's worth I have a Golden Tube SET listed here on AudioGon, drop me a line if you're interested. End of shameless plug. Best, Jeff
SET and horns are no doubt a luscious combination. However, if it's more bass that you want, I would suspect that you would want a speaker that digs deeper than the one you have. Nothing like a little more bass to chase that 'top heavy' brightness away.

I happen to love the Wright Stuff. His 3.5 mono's have less bass than the Mono 8's, but oh, what a midrange! We are currently using an Audion 7W SET, with horns as well. A wonderful sound. Plan on delving into the NOS tube world for the best sound available.
Can you demo any of your choices? That usually whittles down the options pretty quick, or at least gives you a better sense of what you like and don't like.
To my knowledge there's a switch at the back of the preamp that will allow you to select different gain settings. Stupid to ask, but you obviously have tried the lowest setting right?

Are you set on your speakers? I have no knowledge of the Runes but since the Blue Circle gear can hardly be classified as bright to my knowledge, it very well could be the speakers that are bright. Have you played with speaker positioning? Lessen the toe-in?

But if you're set on the speakers. Have you tried removing your amps from the power conditioner? That might put some colour back into your system and fatten up the bottom end. Either way, it's a free try. Consider Conrad Johnson gear as well. They should really mellow out your sound.

Could your room be the cause of your brightness? Try hanging up some heavy rugs or quilts to see if it brings about an improvement.

Sorry if this hasn't been much help. I could tell you that I don't think Manley amps would be the right solution for you. They are a great value, don't get me wrong, but they aren't in the "warm and mellow" part of the tube gear spectrum. They will do bass better than pretty much any tube amp in it's price range and has the transparency and inner detail refinement that you want from a tube amp but they are meant be able to "rock".

Does your BC21.1 have the Shallco volume control? If so, there is a "low-gain"/"high-gain" switch; if you think you are getting too much gain, you might want to take the cover off and see which position the switch is set to. There's something like a 12db gain difference between the low and high setting, so if it's on high, maybe you'll get results more to your liking on the low setting...

George Wright's gear is great stuff, especially when paired off together as you are considering. However I'd agree with Boa2, but would stretch it a step further; neither of his SET offerings are going to offer you what I'm guessing would be a "fuller" bass than your SS setup (BTW, I'd agree to plug the amp into the wall outlet as opposed to a conditioner before you give up). Warmer? Yes. Tube Magic? Houdini would be proud! But low bass? Look elsewhere. If he is still making them, his 2A3-based push/pull Mono 10's come very close to a SET sound while giving a corresponding authority to the bass of a push/pull. They're a great combination of midrange magic with a bit more hold on the low end than any of the SET offerings George has (I've heard all of his amps - wonderful stuff...great bang for the buck too!). I've heard great things about your BC 21.1 so my instinct would be, if you do decide to swap out gear in a quest for a different, warmer sound, that you may want to hang onto that preamp and start with swapping out the SS amp. Certainly going to a thoughtfully chosen tube amp would give you a more holographic presentation, especially if you move in the direction of SET. I know absolutely nothing about your speakers so cannot comment there, but 101 db efficiency leaves the door wide open to SET power.

Good luck!

Thanks to all who have responded so far.

Hey Jeff, the room is about 12x24x9 and is most probably part of the problem with hardwood flooring and no area rug yet (still looking). Musical preferences include all kinds of jazz, some classical on FM, and some rock from time to time.

Another problem is that I can't really demo the gear that I have read about. The dealers in my area don't carry much tube equipment and what they do is beyond my budget. Speaking of which I can probably stretch out to $4k-$5k for a pre and an amp.

I have the Shallco and I knew that more recent units of the BC21.1 have the gain switch, but I was under the impression that mine does not have it - stupid of me not to have checked. I will also try the amp directly into the wall outlet, rather than plugging it into the BC balanced conditioner.

I really like the Rune speakers - they aren't horns, the main driver is a 10" cone. However, you're right about them not going very deep, although the bass they do produce is tuneful and fairly tight. I'm not really after deeper bass, just somewhat greater presence (my audio vocabulary may not be accurate). I've played with the positioning a bit and will look at that again, but there isn't a lot of room to play with before my better-half starts to weigh in about how much space the speakers are taking up. ;-)

Marco, the Wright Sound gear is probably at the top of my list at the moment. Thanks for the advice about switching the amp as a first step. I'm open to SET or Push-Pull.
I second Jax2's comment about the Mono 10 push/pull triodes. They have a midrange that approaches that of SET amps, but have considerably more bass response than any of the Wright SET offerings. And the sense of timing of the Mono 10's is extraordinary.

With the stock tube setup, you will get the punchy sound of a push/pull setup. And when you get into the NOS replacements, the sound only gets more emotional and seductive. Wright also has a 15-day trial period.
All the best,
Update on my stupidity. So I opened up the BC21.1 yesterday evening and found the gain switch. Doh! It was already set to the low-gain level. I tried it in the high-gain position and could barely move the volume control beyond the second click before it got too loud for normal listening! Back to the low-gain setting.

Howard, thanks for the advice about the Mono 10's. They may be the way to go. I've also read very good things about the Yamamoto, but its rated at 2 Wpc.



There's always a trade off. Or, perhaps there isn't, and I just haven't found the one amplifier that will convey the room in which Chet Baker is playing while also having the ability to drive Metallica in the way I like to hear it. Of course, if the demands of your music preferences are not so extreme, many amps will manage beautifully. I think that the Mono 10's are a perfect blend of midrange transparency and authoritative timing. I don't speak audiophile well, so what I mean to say is that they can cover a lot of ground.
All the best,

Hi Howard:

Understood. I'm not terribly fluent in audiophile either, but get the gist of what you're saying.


Bill Baker of Response Audio is running a "clearance/demo" sale and lists a "Reference Modded" demo Ming Da MC-3 tube (including rectifier) preamp for $1050 w/warranty. I own one of his modded Ming Da preamps and just bought another from his sale items. I can attest that the modded version truly does transform a decent stock piece into one that I'll not be replacing in my main system. That "Reference MC-3" will likely have no peer at its price (hundreds less than I paid earlier when not on sale). Hopefully, you'll have remaining funds for a high quality low power SET or used AtmaSphere S30. Bill can add an attenuation circuit to the preamp (as he did to mine)which allows far better volume control and operates the preamp at its optimal gain.

Best wishes, whatever you decide.