Best Tube Amp For Sonus Faber? Or Pass XA-100.5? $6-7,500 Budget, Purchasing Used.


As the title says, I have a pair of Sonus Faber Olympica III's that I am more than pleased with, for which I am trying to determine the best available amplifier, preferably tube. Of course, there are always budget limitations and my budget for this amp would be $6-7,500, and I would be buying used to maximize purchasing power.

Based on a lot of research, and quite a few auditions at brick and mortar stores, various home systems, Axpona, etc. I'm honestly not sure if there are any truly exceptional tube amplifiers available within that budget that meet my needs. These speakers need 100wpc tubed, or 200 wpc solid state, into 4 ohms to really open up and perform. 

If, in the end, there are no really great tubed options, I've always heard that the Pass Labs XA-100.5's were probably the optimal choice in solid state for former tube lovers. I would also appreciate any thoughts on that option from owners. 
nightfall
There is a VAC Phi 300.1 for sale on Audiogon right now for $8,150. You could probably get him down to $7,500 or better. 
That's 150 wpc of tube bliss.

I have to admit though, as someone who has moved on from a 85 wpc tube amp to a pair of Pass Labs XA-100.5 mono-blocks, I am quit happy with the change,
I was hoping I might hear from you, as you and I have shared some attachments to amplifiers, going way back to the Jeff Rowland Model 6's. You've also had quite a few other very good amplifiers, as I recall. 

Your comments on the 100.5's carry a lot of weight, for that reason. It sounds as though you are truly satisfied with them, the midrange, the treble, etc. vs your old tube amps?

I also need to avoid any fully balanced power amplifiers, as my system is single ended.

JC

Also, how much heat do the 100.5's generate? I listened to some larger Pass mono's recently, and they turned a huge listening room into a sauna within an hour!

 I have a pair of Sonus Faber Elipsa SE that I drive with a Audio Research Ref 110. This is a really nice combination. Though at this point I would probably recommend either the Ref 150 or Ref 150se.  ARC is a great match with Sonus Faber and our owned by the same parent company.

 I don't know the rest of your system but synergy is very important. Also keep in mind that the preamp has a bigger impact on the sound then the amp. 





  I don't know the rest of your system but synergy is very important. Also keep in mind that the preamp has a bigger impact on the sound then the amp.

@lostbears , keep also in mind that it's not important the level or class of preamp. more importance plays input/output characteristics of amp/preamp in terms of sensitivity and impedance.

Personally, I haven't heard any Sonus Faber speakers sounding better with tube amp vs. solid state. Mentioned ARC reference mono amps probably would do the best job. VTL or Manley labs also make a line of tube powerhouses, but thinking of heat they generate and upcomming July already making me sweat or setting my AC on maximum during playback...
The combo that impressed me with SF Olympia is Classe CP-880/CAM350 monos. I don't think you can beat that with tubes if same funds spent.

Similar situation with Avalon Ascent MK2 speakers that have somewhat similar characteristics and class. It was sounding clean and precise with BAT VK150 monos, but Pass XA250 simply added BODY to the sound and even perhaps spirit which tube amp couldn't. 

So if there's a choice bettween 

ARC Ref 150
VTL MB250
Pass XA250 

I'd pick pass without doubt 

Spearit Audio has a new CJ 125 SA for $4999. Makes a nice match w/the Sonus Speaker.
Would not go with the VAC Phi 300.1.   Definitely go with the updated VAC Signature 200 IQ with continuous auto bias.  100+ watts and has all the bass and tightness of solid state and the midrange is fantastic.    Retails for $14k but there is a like new one listed on US Audiomart.  With the auto bias of the 200 IQ, you can plug in any KT88, KT120 or KT150 and change out the 6sn7 driver tubes if you want to tailor the sound.  It is so user friendly and the stock tubes are wonderful though.  Have owned both the Sonus Faber Olympica III and the Elipsa SE.  The VAC controls the bass of the olympica which can often sound a little bloated if not having a high quality amp.   If I were to go tube amp for SF, would go with the VAC 200 IQ.    Plus Kevin Hayes of VAC offers the best service around.  You are kind of limited with other tube amps (ARC, CJ, Zesto, etc) as the VAC is really user friendly.  
Here is the link to the VAC 200 IQ:  http://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649357991-vac-signature-200-with-vac-iq-system-power-amplifier/

Here is a forum from a dealer on the amp as well:  

http://www.audioshark.org/vac-85/vac-signature-iq200-9738.html

Keep us posted!
I would go with the Pass, as the  Olympica III in the power region is around 2ohms at 100hz, a tube amp would be a gamble.
https://ibb.co/hoYNyF

Cheers George
 
Nightfall,

I've recently heard a system that had Olympica 2's paired with a pass xp-10 preamp and the xa100.5 mono's, I know you have the 3's but this was a very nice combo.
Plenty of pwr with a very nice engaging midrange and too end with excellent control and no bloat whatsoever on the bottom end.

The owner is a friend in our local audio club and he was a longtime tube guy for many years and he is totally satisfied with the sound,other than upgrading to the 3's someday.

The Olympica's are not a easy load for a Amp I personally would stay away from tubes,just my opinion.

The pass gear would be easier to sale just in case you needed to sale it,just a thought.

Kenny.
I tend to agree with George, I'm not sure that a tube amp would work well with the Sonus Faber Olympica III's, they are not an easy load.

Any VAC amp that can put out 100 wpc and use KT-150 tubes though MAY be able to do it.

I was actually using a VAC 160iSE integrated amp before the XA-100.5 mono-blocks, and my speakers have similar specs (90 dB, 5 ohm versus your 90 dB, 4 ohm).

Switching to the XA-100.5 amps, the sound-stage opened up immensely. Not really surprising going from a tube stereo amp to SS mono-block amps.
Mating the Pass amps with an ARC Ref 5 preamp, the resolution of the highs and lows also became more extended and defined.

The only place I would give the edge to the VAC was in the midrange.
Though the Pass are quite warm and musical, the VAC had that touch of *magic* in the midrange, that fuzz on the peach quality, that only a tube amp can do.

The XA-100.5's do get quite warm after a couple of hours, but I wouldn't say they turned the listening room into a sauna. They aren't close to the hottest amp I've ever owned (BAT VK-75SE). However, they are quite a  bit warmer than the Jeff Rowland Model 6 mono's.

Another amp to consider, since you want tubes, but don't really have tube friendly speakers, is an Aesthetix Atlas.
A hybrid amp with 400 wpc into your 4 ohm load, but with a pair of 6SN7 tubes in the driver stage.
Just a thought.
Nice! jmcgrogan2-

at its price-point, the ARC Ref5 pre-amp is best in class.

Happy Listening!
Thanks very much for all the input, guys. Like jmcgrogan2, George and kdude66 , I am more and more of the thinking that a solid state amp is probably the way to go with these speakers. I've just been a tube guy for so long. However, great performance is great performance, no matter how one gets it.

The 100.5's have been recommended previously by at least half a dozen audio people who I truly respect, including a couple major audio reviewers that I discussed it with at Axpona. Now the question is waiting for some to appear for sale. I have been on the waiting list at Reno HiFi  quite a while for a pair of 100.5's. Lets hope that Mark is able to come through with some sooner than later. 
Mark at Reno is a great guy to work with. I bought my XA-100.5's from him.

I have noticed that Reno's used inventory has been "drying up" though.
I've been looking because I have thoughts of moving up to a XA-60.8/100.8.
Haven't seen much used stock in there though, mostly just demo's which are still quite pricey.

Keep your eye on HifiShark too!
I use the Merrill Audio Veritas mono block amps with my  Sonus Faber Olympica III's .The combo is just what the doctor ordered... Powerful,musical and a purity of sound that can leave other amps by the wayside. Highly recommended. 
ARC Ref 150SE makes the most sense with the SF measurements. 
jmcgrogan2,

I noticed the same thing about Reno Hi Fi's used inventory significantly dropping off over the past year too. Doesn't give me a good feeling about Mark being able to come up with a pair of 100.5's for me, and they don't show up anywhere else much either. Also, knowing that the Reno team has gone over them, and re-warranties them is very nice to know.

Before you consider moving to the .8 series, make sure you do some serious listening to them. I've auditioned the 60.8's, the 100.8's and a couple higher power models in the series. There is no question that they are more emphatic and demonstrative in their sound than the .5's, and also offer greater bass control and solidity. However, they do not offer any of the midrange warmth, treble smoothness and comfortable musicality of the .5's. For brief periods, the .8 series is extremely impressive, but not a sound I would want to listen to extensively. Just IMO.




I know this is not on your list, but I have had a great experience with the IMO under appreciated Aexthetix Atlas on a variety of speakers, some fairly difficult to drive,

Hybrid with tube front end and zero negative feedback. 200 wpc into 8 ohms and 400 wpc into 4 ohms. 

There is one for sale on Audiogon now. No relation to seller, just a fan and owner of the product
The Carver Crimson 350 amps put out 350wpc and are easy on the tubes. They can be had for $7500 new if you shop around. With a good preamp, they are capable of fine sound, in some cases rivaling the large solid-states like the BHK 300. I compared both and went with the Carvers.
Last Aug/Sept I bought a pair of Pass 160.8s from Mark at Reno HiFi. Mated with my Steelhead driving them directly; I have all the tubiness I need and the control and frequency extension and midrange sweetness that I need.
Dead quite. They drive my Avalons better than my Spectral DMA 360s ever could.
Hi Nightfall-I would pair Audio Research with Sonus Faber since both are owned by the Fine Sounds group AND ARC is now using Sonus Faber to voice their equipment. 
nkonor,

You’re results with that combination sound ideal, but isn’t the Manley Steelhead just a phono stage?
jperry,

After reading the earlier suggestion, and some additional reviews, I did list the Aesthetix Atlas for serious consideration, going forward. I also checked out the one being offered right now on Audiogon. If it were only silver (the same as all the rest of my components) I might have already snapped it up for that price!
Nightfall,

If you are interested check with Aesthetix on the cost of swapping out the faceplate. I have a black one too but wanted silver. I think it was under $400
Wharfy, you said "I would pair Audio Research with Sonus Faber since both are owned by the Fine Sounds group AND ARC is now using Sonus Faber to voice their equipment."

Interesting timing. I have a very good friend, and audiophile, who spent much of last December auditioning speakers with me three or four times a week before I settled on the Sonus Faber Olympica III's. I just got a call from him on this very topic. He is currently in Chicago on business and ended up with yesterday afternoon off due to a client cancelling a meeting. He took the time to explore a few audio stores. One of them was a Sonus Faber dealer and had the Olympica III's on display powered by the Audio Research REF-75 power amplifier and an Audio Research preamp (he does not recall the model). He says it powered the Olympica III's really well, produced excellent sound and he apparently listened for an extended period.

I have always loved the look of that amp, and had respect for AR. It would seem that might be one of the only tube amps that seem able to handle the load of the Olympica III's. I know it is a fully balanced design, so it would require me selling my existing preamp and likely buying an AR model (maybe I could find a REF5 at a good price), but that would certainly be an option. 
nightfall,

I am not a technical minded guy. Bought the Steelhead because it was not only a great phonostage but had the means necessary to drive amps directly. And it does wonderfully.
Maybe the SS power supply; Call Manley or ask one of the tech guys here.
The combo is great for a 70s, 80s, rock & roll vinyl guy like me.

Best Wishes on this Journey 

A 100wc or higher tube amp is going to be just as hot as a pass amp. or hotter

I've run 100wc Cary mono blocks and they were hot with all those heaters burning away. not to mention the power flow.


I lust after a Steelhead unfortunately my Navy salary doesn't support one at the moment   ;-) 

My vac 200 iq is 100+ watts tube amp and runs warm but wouldn't say "hot."  Leave the cage off of the tube amps and you should be fine.  ARC are not the only tube amp that can handle the Olympica 3.  More options are out there- vac would be at the top of my list.  Best of luck. 
would you consider solid? I pair my SF O3 with MC452, they sound great!
glennewdick,

Thanks for your Service.
Nightfall-Timing indeed. Wondering if the preamp is the LS-27?

When I auditioned and purchased my ProAc's I listened to them with Ref75SE/LS-27 combo, and then Reference 5 preamp. The Reference 5 was great, but at $5K more I had a difficult time justifying the purchase. That's just me, though.

I currently have the Ref75SE/LS-17SE driving ProAcs D30R's and in the near future will upgrade to an LS-27.
I would think the Line Magnetic 219ia. New is $7,500. There is one on Audiogon now for $5,000.

Again, only giving additional option.


FWIW, great results powering my SF Oly 3's with a Pass X150.8 stereo amp. Tubed pre: First Sound PD mk III with dual power supplies and recent S upgrade.  I just don't believe you can go wrong with either the Pass nor the First Sound.  Absolutely dead quiet background; full, coherent, musical, linear, detailed and emotionally engaging reproduction. Adding a second power supply to the FS was a game changer: tighter, deeper bass, plus a bigger soundstage.  
nightfall,

here is a thread discussing the Pass Labs, VAC, and other amps that might be helpful.  best of luck:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/vac-200-iq-vs-ayon-orthosii
Chumsusi, thanks for the Line Magnetic  219ia recommendation. Obviously we "were" thinking alike. However, that's my amp for sale. Just purchased it ten days ago. Wonderful sound, but it simply can't drive the Olympica III's well enough. :(
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Hi nightfall,
one tube amp which i can very easily recommend and that will more than easily drive your S.Faber with glory are the Coincident Dragon 211PP MKII, but that would be outside your budget. 
The Pass XA-100.5 are very good contenders, but the XA-100.8 would get closer to tube sound performance, if that is what you are looking for. 
I have experience of a lot of amps, tubes and SState up to $100,000 units actually playing in my main rig, and in your nice budget, I know nothing, and I mean really nothing that better the Benchmark AHB2. If you get a pair of these, put them with a good preamp, bridge them in monos to get 400W RMS at 8ohms to each speakers, you should have it all. Full resolution, balance, protection to your speakers, PRaT, and most incredible attack and dynamics, which are the main criterias to make your music alive. I have incessantly been recommending these amps to the highest point, and my friends and hobbyist that got them are extremely happy.
Hi Nightfall,
I have SF Cremonas, ( not the M ) and have had Fantastic results with Rogue Audio M180 MonoBlocks. There is a pair on Audiogon now. There is a Zeus Amp listed as well, which is also a great piece. Rogue Audio amps have a lot of power behind them, and are built extremely well. They can be run in either Ultralinear or Triode mode.  They are also very friendly to tweaks, such as Tube rolling. I like their tagline -  intelligent Indulgence  
Hi Nightfall,
After Just looking at Rogue Audio listings both the M180 and Hera II pre amp are both listed and fall $200.00 out of your budget. The Hera II is one of the best preamps I have ever heard at any price. - Frequency response of 1hz - 300khz -  Think Ypsilon retails 36k and Tidal retails 26K
@nightfall , I see a pair of Pass Labs XA-160.5’s just listed for $7,495.
Maybe more weight and heat than you wanted, but that’s a pretty good price, IMHO.
I have no relation with the seller.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/solid-state-pass-labs-xa-160-5-monoblock-pair-2017-06-12-amplifier...
jmcgrogan2, I saw that same listing for the 160.5's, and that's an amazing price for those. I would jump all over that, but also just read the Tone Audio review by Jeff Dorgay, who knows his stuff. He clearly said that the 160.5's needed a balanced preamp to perform optimally, and my preamp is single ended. I "believe" the 100.5's will work effectively with a single ended pre?
nightfall,

I am using a Manley Steelhead; It is single-ended. Only when you try a balanced pre will you know the difference. If the 160.5s are a great deal, grab them! It is a long Journey. You can always get a balanced pre. Great Deals you take when they present themselves!

Best to you, Regards
Yes, the 100.5 work very effectively in single ended mode.

I am surprised to hear that the 160.5’s would operate differently, as the specs are identical (aside from the power), and I assume the circuitry is identical as well.

I see the seller has marked that ad as "Sold", and relisted while raising his asking price $1,000.
Timing, it would appear, is everything. The additional $1000.00, plus what it would cost to ship those 130 pound beasts (x2) nearly across the country has essentially taken out them out of my budget :(

He has also changed the ad to reflect that they are only available for one day........
He has also changed the ad to reflect that they are only available for one day........

Interesting sales strategy.
Let's see how that works out for him in a buyer's market.
Can I throw in a monkey wrench?

Have you or would you consider a PS Audio BHK 250 or a pair of BHK 300 monos? Tube hybrid amps that are wonderful and put out less heat than the Pass amps. I've owned them and if purchased properly, can be a great deal. 

The PS Audio BHK gear is Stereophile Class A rated and is truly amazing. I still have my BHK preamp and will eventually replace the amps.
I wonder what my mc275 would sound like with Sonus Faber
Absolutely wonderful. The MC275 is a great amp. One of the best. Quiet, sweet and powerful. Deep and wide sound stage.

I wonder what my mc275 would sound like with Sonus Faber

At the point of making a final decision now. In rereading this discussion, I was struck by jmcgrogan's early comment that 
 
"I tend to agree with George, I'm not sure that a tube amp would work well with the Sonus Faber Olympica III's, they are not an easy load.

Any VAC amp that can put out 100 wpc and use KT-150 tubes though MAY be able to do it.

I was actually using a VAC 160iSE integrated amp before the XA-100.5 mono-blocks, and my speakers have similar specs (90 dB, 5 ohm versus your 90 dB, 4 ohm).

Switching to the XA-100.5 amps, the sound-stage opened up immensely. Not really surprising going from a tube stereo amp to SS mono-block amps.
Mating the Pass amps with an ARC Ref 5 preamp, the resolution of the highs and lows also became more extended and defined.

The only place I would give the edge to the VAC was in the midrange.
Though the Pass are quite warm and musical, the VAC had that touch of *magic* in the midrange, that fuzz on the peach quality, that only a tube amp can do."

I would suspect the sound from the upper level PHI power amp would improve over the VAC integrated that you had, possibly not in a huge leap, though. And it sounds like your satisfaction was clearly greater with the the Pass 100.5's, excepting the extra touch of tube magic in the midrange.

Going into this, I had really been leaning toward the 100.5's, and as I noted before, had been on a waiting list for a pair at Reno HiFi for the past year. I love the look of those amps, and would have bought an available pair (had one shown up) except for the fact that someone whose knowledge I truly trust, and who has owned and enjoyed about half the Pass line of power amps said they were his least favorite because the bass was puffy and inadequate. 
I should perhaps have mentioned that a big part of originally wanting thr 100.5's had to do with how impressed I was after hearing the 60.5's (not enough power for my speakers) and recalling John Atkinson's review a couple years back calling those the best amplifiers he had ever heard. As a followup, I was told that the 100.5's were essentially the 60.5's upscaled, which doesn't seem to be the case?