Be careful what you wish for upgrade that...


My old system consisted of a Linn LP12/Ekos/ArkivB/Lingo/Linto
Linn Ikemi
Harmonic Tech Magic Link/Magic Woofer
Sony SACD-1
Avalon Opus
Pass X1
Pass X250

Everything was fine - the Pass stuff was new- having recently upgraded from Rowland- until I listened to my friend's system - It was magical- all the detail and quiet of the Pass, with the musicality of Naim. He was using a VAC signature preamp and VAC 70/70 Renaissance.

I decided to finally take the plunge into tubes. I got rid of the Pass stuff, and replaced it with an Air Tight ATC-1 line stage and ATM2 KT88 based amp.

The result- LPs sounded much better- CD sounds much worse. First I sold the Ikemi- it sounded hard on top with the Air Tight stuff- but I cannot find a suitable replacement.

Now I am listening lesss and less to LPs. The system, while on the one hand more transparent and visceral- on the other hand has become harder in the 2-3k range with sibilance on vocals and definite loss of air- I'm tempted to go back to the Pass stuff- but lost a fortune selling the new Pass stuff to buy new Air Tight- I'm even tempted to chuck it all and buy a small all Naim series 5 set up with a small Pair of ProAcs or Spendors.

What happened?
Can anyone shed light on what I can do to get the "magic" back into the system? Separately they are great components- I have heard the Air Tight used my Avalons without any of these unpleasant artifacts ...
Please make suggestions......
I'm very sorry to hear about your difficulties. I currently own the ATC-1 and used to own an ATM-1 power amp and think that they are fabulous sounding components. The first thing that springs to mind in your case is maybe borrowing more efficient speakers to do a comparison. You may be hearing the Air Tight amp clipping, or at least straining to cope with the demands of your speakers. I don't know the specs of the Avalons, but something tells me they're not the easiest speakers in the world to drive. Give another pair a try, but above all, don't panic and do something rash. As you've said, you've already lost a fortune, work through this and you may not lose anything else. I'm sure others will have even better advice, so hang in there.
Air Tight needs light speakers such as Coinsident that are friendly to OTL amplifiers. It's definitely clipping and OTLs clip very unpleasantly.
You can add integrated Plinius 8200 used for ~1.5k, keep your Air-tight preamp to adjust the level for tonal balance in bi-amplification setup if possible.
Avalons arn't best to be used with tube gear in general and like amps that could work as welding machines. If you look through the posts about Avalon speakers here you may find Tireguy's system with BAT VK500 which he believed is the "key-word" for these speakers.
Marakanetz is right I used a number of different amps on my old avalon's and the more clean power I threw at them the better they performed. Jeff Rowland amps and Accuphase are said to mate up very well with avalons as well, if rowland has an integrated with enough juice I would suggest looking into that. I tried a BAT VK-60 and while the midrange was to die for it got very unpleasant at high volumes and the bass was very thin and rolled off, no matter what I tried. Tube amps can work they just have to be BIG and powerful(CAT, VTL, Manley, etc..) I can't say for sure what the answer is, but if your having problems with just digital try a different interconnect, I found cardas golden cross worked well with avalons, it warmed things up a LOT.
I think you are right. While the Air Tight is not an OTL design, it sports two very large handmade output transformers, I believe the amp was clipping. Last night I had an extended listening session at low to almost moderate volume level- no louder than 5 or 6 people in a conversation, and the sound was nothing like my other experiences. I have a pretty large room 17 x 23 with an A frame 18' ceiling. With the volume control set between 7:00-8:00 o'clock the sound is liquid, smooth and detailed. As soon as I hit 8:30 the propblems start and at 9:00 I am taxing the amp to the point where the sound suffers. Keep in mind that the amp has its own gain control, which I may have set too high giving the preamp little head room. The equipment is great and I seem to be the only person who has noticed this problem with power.
I cannot believe that I overlooked the obvious. Last night while listening, I noticed an enormous change in the tonal balance of the system. Thing started evening out- the edge on the treble was gone, the midrange articulation was outstanding, and bass definition and weight had improved. The variation in sound quality with volume had disappeared.

The amp is breaking in- the JJ KT88s are brand new, the amp only has about 8 hours on it znd I have cold solder joints because the power switch was replaced due to damage while shipping.

It sounds great.
That's excellent news! Air Tight gear is fantastic and I think you'll be a happy owner until the upgrade bug hits again. Sometimes all you need is a little patience.