Best Integrated Tube Amp for 2.5K or Less

Got a pair of ML Aerius i. Love them. Lookin to upgrade my integrated amp... right now I have an NAD 340 (yikes!), and can finally upgrade (YEH!)...

how would you spend your $2500?
...don't you need some juice for these speakers?
you could try pathos hybrid amp that has 80w/ch and its new price is arround 2k.
there is mesa boogie integrated amp that can meet your power requirements. definitely you should go with higher power than nad 340.
in your situation i would go for ss plinius 8200 -- sounds like tubes very musical and worm in fact it's realy my favorite integrated amp that can smoke many separates for the price offered.
Conrad Johnson makes a nice tube integrated amplifier; the CAV-50. You could get a brand new one for $2500.
VTL It-85 is THE only amp in this price range that will be compatible with ESL or planar speakers.
If you remember Fi magazine, they reviewed a system consisting of the Audio Research CA-50 with the ML Aerius i. I own an ARC myself and have very successfully run a pair of ML Aerius with it. My room is 11 x19 x 7. I am not sure if they would have worked as well in a larger room but in my room they sounded great together. I no longer have the ML's but the ARC is driving my Vandersteen 2CE's very well.
You might consider the JoLida JD-1000A, at $1700 retail. Disclaimer - I'm a JoLida dealer. I sort of specialize in amps that work well with electrostats, since my primary loudspeaker line is Sound Lab electrostats. The JD-1000A uses the EL-34 output tube, which is more musical in the midrange than the KT88/6550 familiy of tubes, while the KT88/6550's are more powerful per tube, and generally have better bass. The JoLida's output transformer is quite good for the money, and this amp has what it takes to drive a hybrid electrostat like the Aerius i.

Among the other amps here, the Audio Research uses two 6550/KT88 output tubes, and the VTL and CJ each use four EL34 output tubes (so despite the optimistic power rating of the VTL, it's essentially the same power as the CJ or the little JoLida 302B). The JoLida JD-1000A uses EIGHT EL34's, so it's twice as powerful as the other EL34 amps mentioned here (and more than twice as powerful as the AR amp). That extra power is welcome when driving the Martin Logans, but because the JoLida does it with the EL34 tube, you don't trade off midrange performance for power. And the JoLida costs less than the others, so you can put the extra money into a tube upgrade if you'd like.

I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Best of luck to you!

The Jolida 1000a is an interesting piece. Way more powerful, but so much less. Why is that? it makes me wonder...

Can anyone speak from experience how the Jolida integrated amp has stacked up sound-wise vs. the CJ or VTL?
JJ Electronics Kt88 Integrated with C-Core transformers, Torodial Power Transformers(one per channel)Eight KT88, 4 per channel, Remote Control, 70 watts per channel, sounds great.
Jolidas have cheap chinese valves, cheap trannys, cheap coupling capacitors and throw a great amount of DC into the speaker. Beware! Most of the time its specified characteristics do not correspond to reality.
You buy Jolida to change everything except the circuit board or the wiring(which is also cheap but OK).

VTLs are the Manley's quality designes and they're all great.

CJ you shouldn't buy used since the built quality lacks of reliability.
Rogue Audio Tempest
In response to Marakentz's post: Before I took on any entry-level tube amp line, I discussed various low-priced tube amplifiers with an experienced local audio technician who's a hard-core audiophile, as well as an audio equipment manufacturer and inventor. He builds tube amps. In response to my questions, he said the JoLida amps use decent quality components (equal to or better than some of the more expensive amps mentioned in this thread, though he doesn't like the stock tubes). He also likes the simple, easy to repair topology. He told me that in his experience JoLidas are more reliable than several more expensive brands mentioned by name in this thread (his one-word comment when I asked about one of the brands in this thread was "Boom!"). Based on my technician's extensive experience and their price/performance ratio, I decided to become a JoLida dealer. By the way, just for the record, neither he nor I nor any of my customers have ever encountered any DC offset problem with JoLida amps.

I've only had one customer have a problem with a JoLida product - a bad solder joint on an input terminal, which the factory of course fixed at no charge. I have yet to have a customer complain that the sound of their JoLida amp wasn't up to their expectations - in fact, I have yet to have a customer who didn't tell me he was quite pleased. I'm using a JD-302B in my bedroom right now, and I have numerous more expensive amps on hand.

The Chinese-wound transformers are the key to JoLida keeping their cost down. Nope, they aren't as good as a German or Swiss transformer. But if we're going to compare apples to apples, we need to compare products in the same price range.

If we were trying to drive Quad 57's, I'd say the $2500 CJ amp would make more sense (though the $950 JD-302B sounds very good on my Quads). The Martin Logans need more power than that, so for 2/3 the price, the more powerful and still very good-sounding JoLida JD-1000A makes sense.

Marakentz, as you allude, the JoLidas can be improved by upgrading components. The same is true of all budget audio products - the difference is, the JoLida is fairly easy to work on so it CAN be upgraded. The kind of person who buys JoLida is often an extremely passionate music lover on a tight budget, and this kind of person is more likely to go to the trouble to upgrade it himself.

Most of the gear I sell is quite expensive - my top-selling amps retail for ten grand, and my most successful product is a sixteen-grand speaker. I took on JoLida because I didn't want to only sell to wealthy audiophiles who travel to my by-appointment-only listening room. I also wanted something to offer the college student or newly married or otherwise cash-poor but passion-rich audiophile. Relatively speaking I don't make a lot of money off of a JoLida sale, but I do get a lot of satisfaction out of it.
As a satisfied owner, I have to put in a good word for the Cary SLI-80 Signature (used). To hear it in it's stock form is to hear it's POTENTIAL. To replace all the tubes with NOS is to hear a completely different amp - detailed and musical, esp. in triode mode. Good luck in your search!
I understand that from Jolida it's possible to make something like VTL but than again spending on parts may not be as beneficial as simply buying used VTL.
VTL isn't the bottom line still and can be significantly upgraded and be kind-of Kora or BAT and that's where I'm standing to with my VTL MB100. From my experience most of the tube amps are very simple ecpecially SET(the oldest and the weakest design of amplifier). The complicated ones are Cary and BAT that can switch automatically their type of operation.
Well, I've decided on the VTL IT 85. It should be arriving within the next week (apparently I ordered at just the right time). I'll let you all know how I think it compares to my current NAD 340C.... I also went ahead and took a suggestion to get a CD clarifier from Bedini. $50... what can I lose trying it out?
Congrats on your purchase, Dennis! I think you'll like what tubes do for the Aerius i.

Marakentz, you make a very good point - often it's most cost-effective to buy a very good used amp instead of a less expensive new one. By the way, the local Martin Logan dealer is also a VTL dealer, and I personally prefer the sound of his Martins driven by the VTL's over his big Krell or Levinson amps.
Easy question, Jadis Orchestra Reference
My VTL IT 85 is here. I just went and picked it up a couple of hours ago, and it's just about warmed up. I'm giving it 1 hour before actually turning it on...

I'm replacing my NAD 340, and man, is it LIGHT compared to the VTL.

I am so excited!! 10 minutes until I see what tubes can do for my music, in my own apartment... !!!
the only word there is ENJOY...
We often slam - deservedly, in my opinion - dealers who are annoyingly self-serving, scream like a 'lil babies when someone doesn't agree with their opinion on their equipment, or even lie about being a dealer through ommission on posts, so I just wanted to say that audiokinesis has contributed to this post with integrity. For other dealers out there trying to nab newbies with hype and histrionics, please take note on how its done. I don't know audiokinesis and have never met him/her, so can't say longterm what might be your milage, but I was impressed here. More of that and we wouldn't see quite as many threads asking if the hi-end is dying.

You'll enjoy the VTL, but comments on 6550 vs. EL34 are quite valid. Get a good power cord (can't remember if 80 uses a captured cord or not) and stand, or make one yourself - just get it off the ground. Let us know what happens because its a big price point with a lot of relevance to people out there.
I agree, Asa; I wish all salesman could be as respectful.

THE SOUND of my VTL IT 85 compared to my old NAD340:

(the amp has been on playing music for about 27 hours now...), and here are my first impressions:

1. WOWWWW!!!!!!!

2. Stevie Wonder is groovin me OUT! several times, my VTL remote has turned into a "microphone", INVOLUNTARILY!

3. I never knew how VEILED my speakers sounded until I switched the amps and heard how they sang when those sheaths and sheaths of crud were removed.


5. this song never had this kind of "pick up"!

6. wow, i'm playing it loud, but my neighbor doesn't care... what gives? (in reality, i don't think i'm playing it any louder, it just sounds louder!)

7. bass is so much tighter, not all over the place

8. and finally, DAMN my speakers sound GOOD!!! these are f-in AWESOME speakers! (Aerius i)

... btw, I also got my speakers up on spikes, and found some little disks with divets in them at the audio store to set the spikes into... no more holes in my wood floor.

Can it really get better with more burnin?? o my god, why did i wait this long to get TUBES??? my friends aren't going to be seeing much of me for the next week, taht's for sure!
Ahhhh, another convert.....
Something about tubes with Martin Logans. Just works! I haven't heard the VTL combo with them but I have heard them with lot's of different ARC, Cary, Jadis etc. They always sounded their best with with the valves over any of the high end solid state amps I used except for the Goldmund. Bet the VTL's would be great. Might also look for a used Goldmund integrated. They really are good.
Asa, from nothing to tubes?

IMO there shoudn't be any comparison between $350 NAD and $2K VTL.

I would call convert that would go from EMC3 to VTL IT85 for example.
A little off this subject but related. Would you think it worthwhile to put a MC2205 on a MA6100. I'm looking for sound quality not looks or loudness.
Mara: point taken. However, validity of point, absent this point of reference, unimpeached. Do an empiric experiment and check with Dennis in two years, do you think he'll be back into SS? Question: how many SS guys move to tubes with similar reactions, notwithstanding the range context here; how many people move from tubes to SS, excluding moves for convenience, and rave about the improvement?
From now on i begin to understand that it's not a SS vs. tube issue in general rather than pure and simple bucks. I 100% agree that in 2...6K range VTL amps are standing to be the one of the best and they do beat SS correspondedly. There are different ranges like $400 for instance where probably Creek 4330 is probably the best if used with easy-drivable speaker. Would you find any descent tube amp for $400...500 that will sound descent or better than SS in that range? -- I doubdt.