Budget tube amps and integrateds?

I'm looking to get back into tubes again for a second, music only system. The room is small to medium in size (12x14x7.5). Listening will be low to medium output, it is an office, the room is very quiet.

My source will either be PC-based music server with external DAC (no final choices on the DAC yet), or Meridian 586.2 (I'm leaning towards the PC-based setup right now). Speakers are a bit up in the air, current choices are Aerial 7b, 7, and 5, Totem Rainmaker, Linn Ninka or Kan (current), or a pair that I am thinking about building (been doing some research lately)

I have some experience with previous tubes systems, BAT VK-5i/VK-60, Jolida hybrid, and older Marantz separates. I have loved them all, especially the BAT.

I don't want to spend a lot, this is going to be a broad swipe, but probably $500-1200 range, maybe up to $1500 for the right unit.

I've notice a few new brands that are inexpensive (Sophia EL-34 or the Baby, Cayin TA-30, Consonance), as well as many great existing (Conrad Johnson, Jolida, Cary, ASL, Graaf, Audio Research, Pathos, Audio Note, Copland).

Features that might be nice would be a volume pot, auto-biasing, and source selection (in that order).

Does have any experience or input to help direct me in making a better, more informed decision.

Thanks for the help, Todd

Interesting idea, and one that I'm interested in as well.

My budget for this setup is much lower than yours (about 1.5k total), but this is what I've got so far.

I already own an EMU 1212 soundcard (check www.head-fi.org for some reviews)

I plan to run it to a pair of Antique Sound Labs Wave 8 monoblocks (about $250!). I plan on doing some minor upgrades to the capacitors.

For speakers, I'm looking at used axiom 3ti's for about $200.

What speakers are you considering? The axioms were just kind of the first cheap, easily driveable speaker I ran into, but I'm open to suggestions as it's my first time with tubes.

regards, esfand


I would highly recommend the fully modded Cayin TA-30 from Bzzy Bee Tube Audio Design. I just bought this integrated amp (from Paul Gryzybek) less than a month ago for Paul's advertised price of $849.00 + shipping Fed-Ex insured = $874. Paul also offers a 14
day return policy if you're not fully delighted. Although, I don't think you will be sending it back, it's nice to know that you do have that option.

The Cayin TA-30 is my first venture into tubes and I'm
delighted with it's performance. Far and away,
one of the most incredible and affordable integrated's
out their. The build quality is incredible, high quality parts used throughout, and it's all point to point wiring.

Although, the Cayin isn't auto-biasing, biasing is acheived by Paul's external biasing modification from the side of the amp. Paul even supplies a volt meter for this purpose. Extremely simple, even for a tube newbie like myself.
With the exception of biasing, it's pretty much plug and play. Turn it on, let the tubes warm up for a few minutes,
and then press play. Give Paul a call or email him at (www.2baudio.com.) Take a look at his web site and see for yourself. BTW, the photographs don't even come close to describing it's beauty. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the amp.

Best of luck in your search.

Thanks for the feedback guys. I've been very tempted on both the Cayin TA-30 followed up by the Sophia Baby, so it is good to hear a positive about the Cayin. But there are a lot of used options in this price range - the other integrated I am interested in the Audiomat Arpege, but that is on the high end of the (used) price range, and very difficult to find.

As far as my immediate plans for the setup, I'm leaning to the Totem Rainmakers for the speakers, or one of the Aerials (7b or 5).

The PC is a Hush mini-itx (http://www.logicsupply.com) and is dedicated entirely to music. It has a combo DVD/CD-RW drive and 160 GB Seagate HDD, and is very quiet. Currently I'm using the motherboard's digital output, and I have played with a couple of different DACs, but haven't settled completely on soundcard/DAC combination yet, still doing a bit of research on that end. I'm currently running the system through either an Adcom GFA-535II or NAD receiver (depending where it is setup at the moment).
There is a refurbished Scott integrated amplifier that looks very, very nice; price is nice at 350. They get thumbs up for good sound. It will only appreciate over time probably
I also recommend the Cayin TA-30. If you can get one stock or used its even better, biasing the tubes is easy. The same amp upscale audio is selling for $1000. TG