Berning ZH270 vs 845 SET amp

After reading a recent review on Enjoy the of the Berning ZH270 amp I got the opinion that maybe it was a good substitute for a powerful SET amp. Not having heard or able to hear the Berning amp I wondered what Agoner's thoughts were.
I struggle with the thought of buying a 845 SET in that ultimately I will be disappointed by the typical SET short comings. The Berning amp still being a P/P yet OTL makes me wonder if it could be the best of both worlds.
Your thoughts are appreciated.

I had the ZH270 in my system (multiple systems) for a while. I think I will be the lone dissenter, but I really didn't like it. I found the upper midrange to be too aggressive. I even had the upgraded cryo'd tubes. Several other friends listened to it in various systems and felt the same way. I even had David Berning check it out and he said it was working just fine. So, I am not a fan. In contrast, I've commonly been impressed with the 845 amps I've heard. I'm sure it depends alot on synergy, but it probably also depends on your listening tastes. I suppose I gravitate laid back. I like punch, I like dynamics, I like a natural sound - but I really don't like aggressive sound. I'm sure others will differ!

the Berning is not rolled off and soft. It's realistic and natural. Yes I would say it sounds like a powerful GOOD s.e.t. It has a wonderful lack of glare of any kind without losing HF resolution.

I have heard a number of very highly rated tube amplifiers and would take the ZH270 over any of them.
I agree with Airwise. The only way anyone will get my ZH270 is to pry it out of my cold dead hands!
Peter s- you are not alone. I never was "moved" by my ZH-270 even though many say it is a great match for my Merlins. I thought it was a bit dull, as in flat or emotionless. I have been told by Alan B that my choice of cabling and power conditioning were big factors in its performance. YMMV.
I'm using my berning with new quad 2805 and the sound is fantastic, the best you can get.
One thing I was really impressed about though - it is a very fast amplifier.
i had a cary 805C (845 output tube) they sounded great, warm & very emotional, a bit rolled off at the extremes. i now have the ZH270, great amp that sounds like real live music. great bass & extended at the highs. no glare or harshness at all.
(i used both amps on Merlin VSM & EXL-4)
And that's why they make chocolate AND vanilla ;~)
I can't find universal concurrence that the zh270 reproduces the sound of music like very few others in my experience so it must be a taste issue. Top to bottom extension, clear natural midrange without anything additive or missing like many of the SETs. There is nothing wrong with that if it is your cup of tea.

On the issue of being "fast" what that means to me is that it resolves all the musical information on the recording with natural dynamics intact, no exaggeration of the leading edge. To me the amp is more on the "laid back" side of things not having the immediacy of some other amps I've heard in familiar systems. It doesn't have a character as some amps do but reflects what it is matched with to a greater degree.

It also works with a wide variety of speakers in my experience, certainly not limited to Merlins which it is frequently linked with.

I agree completely with Diamonddude, Airwise and Slowhand. I've had the amp for 5 years and it still makes me :) Thanks You David Berning!
Somewhat off-topic but I had the pleasure of having a friend loan me his berning just prior to my purchase of a shindo montille. The berning is clear, fast and has good power. Another advantage over conventional amps is that the sound can be tailored somewhat with it's feedback control.

That being said, I prefered the shindo in terms of its tone color and vibrancy. It's transparency, surprisingly, rivaled the berning but with the disadvantage of less power.

The shindo replaced a very nice pair of wellborne labs 300b's.

Depending on your speakers, the control of the berning can be a big plus over even a high powered set. Hard to criticize the berning, very versatile.
Pfront- tone color or vibrancy pretty good description of what I thought the Berning lacked. In my case, I believe that the Joule amps provide a bigger or richer harmonic envelope and more emotion. They can be considered a bit slower than the Berning without the proper cabling.
It an effort to help the thread my speakers are Coincident Super E III's. 92 db, 14ohm. So any amp "should" work fine. My concern with the Berning is that people say it does not sound like tubes a littlelifeless and of course some people say the opposite. I am looking for a little concensus.
I like the sounds of tubes. I have a p/p Cary, I just want to move up the ladder a little bit.
I only have one source a Cary 306 SACD.
If you like a classic tube sound in your amp, you will not get it from the Berning. To my ears and in my system the ZH270 just sounds right. It is very fast as people have mentioned and it is very dynamic. I feel it is the perfect match for my Supratek Cortese preamp and Gallo speakers. As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the feedback settings on the Berning can to some degree give the Berning the tubey sound. I use the normal feedback for my Gallo speakers. This setting provides me with a good solid and powerful bass. If I go to the low feedback setting the bass gets very warm and fat sounding. Personally, I do not like this sound.
Music Reference RM-9. Like the Berning you can use the feedback settings to tailor the sound, but it is an EL-34 based amp that will one up the Cary (and I have owned Cary gear).
Hi Mike,

Since you are looking for a consensus, I will give you my .02 worth. I agree with Slowhand (hi Tom). As well as being fast, they deliver VERY nice top to bottom sound. They will however, let you know when you have a cable or other system link that does not pull its weight or is not suited to your system. They are brutally honest. When you get it right, the ZH270 will reward you big time, as long as you aren't looking for the typical soft tube sound.

Bass is tight and dynamic. Very untube like. Top end is smooth and extended in my system. Mids just keep making me smile. Energy is conveyed much like a live, unamplified performance would give the listener. I have had eight different amps (MBL 9011's, Krell, Sim Audio,Lamm, Pass etc)in my current system and Berning ZH270's are the second best amps I have heard here. The best? The new Quadrature Z mono blocks that I commissioned Dave to build for me. It took two years for delivery but holy s***, these babies make my MBL's sing!
So, what if I am going to use the Berning like an integrated, no preamp? With my speakers a little tightning of the bass would be fine, I just don't want to loose the mid and highs that one gets with tubes. Yes I may lean towards the warm, romantic sound, but that does not mean that I want it overly lust, slow,sloppy, bloated etc.
I've never had an 845-based SET, but I have had a Wavac 1610, apparently not their most popular amp ever, but it fits the bill for a 'high-powered SET'. I am well aware, though that 845's sound different than 300b's, etc., so not sure how valid the generalization from my experience to other SET's is. Anyhow, I kept my Berning and sold the Wavac. I just could not tolerate the bass from the Wavac, it was too loose, bloated, boomy. Also the highs seemed to be way too rolled off, maybe not the right word but close.
Hi mike,
I think the big question you need to ask yourself is "what is the tube sound I like, or want?" This meaning there are pretty much two different tube camps. One camp is what I would call traditional tube sound(please understand I am not saying one is right, or wrong. Strictly a matter of taste) traditionalists being your s.e.t. lovers. This typically renders a very romantic sound some will also say warm, tonally rich, full bodied, and emotional. Emphasis is more prominent in the midrange, with the frequency extremes usually lacking a little in ultimate detail, and accuracy. Please understand this is a generalization of products typically falling in the traditionalist category. There are I'm sure exceptions.
You then have what I would call the non traditionalist camp. This is to say that they prefer the transparency, speed, and immediacy that tubes can provide but also are looking for a more linear sound. What gets confused between these two camps are what "their" definitions of audio adjectives mean. Traditionalist will find the Berning lacking emotion, tonal richness, some what aggressive and so on. Non traditionalist will say the contrary. who's right? everybody. Because what the Berning sounds like, or doesn't sound like, in relation to their preferences is very different. I can tell you I fall in the non traditionalist, and have owned a Berning for over 7 years. I have heard many, many amps and none do for me what the 270 does. It IS brutally honest. One of your concerns is that the 270 may be lifeless, or lacking emotion. For me that is the exact opposite of how I interpret the Berning. But my definitions of what it means I am sure is very different from a traditionalist view point is. So depending on where you fall in you preferences ultimately determines if the Berning is you cup of tea. As for running it like an integrated, I have run it this way for years. I have also run it with a preamp. this really depends on quality of upstream components if you have a very good source and an ok preamp you might then run it without the pre. As people have said almost unanimously, it is BRUTALLY honest and if upstream is not on par, you will know it. Hope this helps. Good luck.
OK, time for a clarification. I said "a bit" flat. Not a lot. These are minor points and I think for most would be overweighed by the characteristics of the rest of the system. I have changed pre-amps, conditioners and cables since I had the Berning. If you are buying used, you can almost certainly re-sell a ZH-270 here for what you paid for it, unless you get into a bidding war. So give it a try if you think that the basic sonic signature of your system does not require tilting towards the fuller side.
I did no like the sound of the Berning going straight into my Sony SCD-1 near as much as I do with my Supratek Cortese preamp. The Berning and the Supratek make for a perfect pair in my system. Both are very musical with great transparency and resolution.
I would like to thank all of you for your responses. They are all unique and helpful in their own ways. Kris yours being very well written.
My source is a Cary 306 SACD and I think it is as good as anything under $12000.00., but as anyone can read on this site, there are many opinions that differ from that, same as my amp question. So for me to expect some concensus is not really very realistic... but fun to try.
One final question, if I were to get the Berning is it going to be so "honest" that I ultimately will be spending more $$$ "fixing" my system. Or is it going to make some of my favorite, yet poorly recorded cd's unlistenable? I had an expensive VTL system like that once and DON'T want to end up there again!!!
Well Mike, that may be a possibility. You could play it safe and go the SET route. Another option with those Coincidents is consideration of another OTL like Joule or Atma-sphere. Not a thing wrong with those amps. Great top to bottom frequency extension but they are about as hot as a sauna in a small space. The Joule is as Swampwalker notes, richer, more apparent harmonic texture but I'm not too sure it is as accurate but it is very seductive. What is more important to you seductive or accurate? Then again accurate can be mighty seductive when all is right. You probably just need to listen to some of these amps first hand to be sure. As noted above, if you picked up a used Berning with all the toys you would have little difficulty selling it at close or equal to what you paid. They are rather rare amps but they do become available.
Hi Mike,
I think your concerns about the Berning too honest are valid, and given many of the strong statements to that end I too might be concerned. Let me say this though. If you were to read many of the posts concerning the 270 the VAST majority of people who have heard, or own a 270 have found the honesty to be more of a revelation than a curse. There are many people who have struggled with the same concerns regarding taking the plunge on a 270. Most have been more than a little overwhelmed at its performace once they recieve it. It really is an amazing piece. With regard to poorly recorded material, it will not be polite, but I would not say unlistenable. You will just be that much more aware of its short comings. If a cd is harsh and bright, it will sound harsh and bright through the 270. Plain and simple, what goes in, comes out.

My experience has been that it isn't the Bernings that make poorly recorded Cd's sound unlistenable. I say that because I've had Bernings through many iterations of IC's, speaker cables, preamps, and speakers. I also have many poorly recorded CD's, since I play guitar and listen to a lot of rock music. The only constant in my system has been the 270's. If it was the Bernings, then the CD's should be consistently unlistenable, and they aren't. Currently, many CD's that I used to just skip because they were unlistenable don't sound too bad; not audiophile quality, but not so bad that I run from the room with my ears covered like I used to.
There is one thought I would like to add to this discussion and it is the primary reason I own the zh270. What is your objective? When I first got into this hobby over 20 years ago it was to improve my system so that classical music and accoustical music in general sounded more like what I hear at a live performance. This has lead me down numerous dead ends and some temporary satisfaction but like most audiophiles there never seems to be a final place of "I've arrived"

The point I am trying to make is that the Berning is that rare product that has the foundation to get one to that place, poor recordings aside. I have heard it first hand, not in my system but it is capable of reproducing music as you might hear it live. So in my very strong opinion the Berning is a rare product in that respect. No it doesn't sugar coat, it may be brutally honest as some have suggested but it is nothing less than anything it will be matched with in my experience. I find it one of the few products I have come across that is just intrinsically right and this becomes more apparent the longer I own it and the more systems I have heard it in. It is a very elegant efficient design with few if any peers with the level of absolute performance it is capable of along with the built in reliability. It is evenhanded across the frequency spectrum. I have not heard nor has anyone that has listened to this amp commented on an aggressive upper midrange. This is not characteristic of the amp although I have no doubt that Peter and his listening group heard this or perceived this based on other issues. This is the cavaet, the other components the most important being cabling and software in my experience. I have found this amp to work very well with a host of different speakers from Legacy, Montana, Sonus Faber, Quads, Merlin and most memorably with Verity Parsifals. In all cases the amp performed extremely well. You can't get a clear idea of what to really expect until you listen. At the end of the day it may prove that the Berning is not for you but you really can't take anyone's word for this. The excitement that many feel concerning this amp is real and valid for them although it certainly isn't for everyone. What audio product is or ever was? We all have different goals and prioriites.

PS Everyone on this thread should hear Vettrone's new amps. Congragulations Steve, I have heard many fine things about those amps, sure would love to hear your system!
Thanks Wil,

You and all here have an open invitation to come by and listen. These amps have fulfilled my highest expectations and then some. The thing I am most amazed with is the way the new amps with about four times the power of the 270s, still have the finesse of the 270s on delicate passages.
I could go on and on but this thread is about the ZH270.

I owned a ZH270 for about 3 years. I thought it to be a tremendous amp for the money - second hand. It probably is the most flexible amp I've come across; having a switchable 2 input with volume pot allows you to use it as an integrated amp. This is how I used it initially.

The first think I discovered is that the light weight chasis has serious issues with vibrations. You really need some kind of vibration control to allow this amp to perform. This reduced the noise floor considerable. I was using the Symposium line of vibration control: Ultra platform with Rollerblocks.

Tube dampers on the smaller tubes (not the large output tubes) tightened up the focus of the sound. Herbies tube dampers were the way I went. Very effective for the cost.

The power cord was the next tweak, and this was not trivial. My journey ended with the Harmonix Studiomaster X-DC Wattgates. Do not skimp here.

Then I put an Emotive Poeta in front of the Berning and discovered the beauty of a preamp. Although I cannot recommend the Emotive Audio Poeta at all. The bass was terrible. I switched to the Lamm L1 preamp, and this changed everything for the better. You really need to put a preamp in front of the ZH.

Berning definately has a cult following. I think the ZH is a very special piece in Audio. It is a very tweakable component with miles to go if you haven't started tweaking yet. I would say out of the box, it only delivers half of what it's capable of if you begin to tweak.
SET amps take a special speaker and as you say has its limitations. Certainly not for me. Give me push/pull with either KT90 or 6550 tube. Speaker comes first as priority, amp second. I buy an amp that works with my speaker, not the other way around.
I thought I would pass this conversation along that I had the other day with a guy from Berning Company(not David). I am not using his name to protect the innocent. He made the comment, that for me to like the Berning amp I would have to like the sound of live music not HI fI. I thought that was interesting... I think I like live music!!??? I know a good Hifi experience can be satisfing, but I would hope I would like the sound of music the way its "suppose to be."
I will admit, I am not sure that the sound of a SET is like live music..but still, it is an enjoyable experience. I just thought it was and interesting comment and deserved some thought.
"He made the comment, that for me to like the Berning amp I would have to like the sound of live music not HI fI. I thought that was interesting..."

Liking one does not negate liking the other but of course there are differences. Many in this hobby are interested in acquiring sound that suits their tastes with absolutely no interest in having it sound live yet there are some that are in it to seriously get closer to the real thing while knowing that the reality is ever elusive. These are goals exclusive of each other and I'm sure that was his point.
>>SET amps take a special speaker and as you say has its limitations<<

All amplifiers have limitations.