To this day, one of the most memorable systems I have ever heard was in a showroom at the downtown NYC, Sound By Singer. Snell AIII's, VTL 300 mono's, Audio Research SP14, Roksan table, Koetsu Rosewood Sig., MIT cabling. It's been about 25 years and I remember it like it was yesterday. "peach fuzz" feel of tubes? Not a chance. Beautiful tonality with very dense images and rich timbre, and some of the best imaging I have ever heard. I have been lusting after a pair ever since, but have never had the right room for them. I really think you are making a mistake ruling out good, modern tube amplification for these wonderful speakers.
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Tccaux, 300w of quality tube amplification would be expensive. But, who says you would need 300w's? Read these comments by Peter Qvortrup, CEO of AudioNote UK, who now manufacture variants of the classic Snell's:
Your B&K is a nice receiver. I own the 307 in my HT setup driving
Totem's. But, the B&K's are not known for their performance into lower impedances. The 707 is rated at 125w into 8 ohms with no indication of the output into 4 ohms. My 307 puts out 150w into 8 ohms and 185 into 4 ohms; a far cry from the ideal "doubling of power" as you half the speaker impedance. The Snell's are rated at nominally 4 ohms, with probable dips somewhat below that, and 86db efficiency; not exactly an easy load. Having said all that, as the audio cliche says: "It's not about the number of watts as much as the QUALITY of the watts".
I like tubes, and the stereotype of tubes necessarily sounding soft and mushy with "peach fuzz" is simply not true. What a good tube amp gives you is a sense of dimensionality and tonal correctness and fullness that many SS amps don't give you, IMO. While it is true that great SS amps can surpass many tube amps in bass control and power, many tube amps do very well in that department. This is a subjective opinion also shared by many, but tube amps also give the music a sense of aliveness (dynamic energy) that only the very best (expensive) SS can give you. Certain speaker/tube amp combinations just seem to have "the magic". That is what I heard with the Snell/VTL combo. Please remember that these are my opinions, and I fully expect some who read this to disagree. Another thing to consider is that the most often stated shortcoming of the Type A's (lack of soundstage depth) will be somewhat compensated for by what is one of the fortes of good tube amps, their superior rendering of dimensionality.
When I mentioned the VTL/Snell sound, I was not suggesting that the Type A's would not sound good with SS, only that they CAN sound fantastic with tubes. I have heard the Type A's sound great with Krell amplification, and I have no doubt that they would sound great with other
QUALITY solid state like Levinson, Classe and others. All simply more capable than a B&K AVR. But, it's a different kind of sound. Your choice.
As price is concerned, there are options available used right now that would certainly pique my interest. As far as tube amps go I would say $1500-$2000 is probably rock bottom. An older 150+w VTL could probably
be had for that, and there is a Jadis Defy7 for sale right now that is a fantastic amp, and I think would be fabulous with the Snell's. For SS and in that price range you should not have trouble finding a used older Krell, Levinson, Classe, and for a lot less, maybe a McCormack, or Bryston.
If you are not familiar with this site, it might be of interest:
I've heard the AIII many times (a friend had a pair back in the day), and like it a lot. I think that the AIII is an iconic design, but....
The one thing I've never heard from them is much in the way "depth". When set up properly, the imaging is very good laterally, and there's a sense of real weight to the localized sounds. However, I've never gotten a convincing sense of front to back depth or layering when listening to AIIIs - relative to many other speaker designs.
If that's your issue, I'm not sure that a new amp is going to change that.
When a speaker does as many things well as the Type A's do, a relative shortcoming becomes that much more pronounced. As already mentioned, soundstage depth is probably their biggest shortcoming. But, that does not mean that there is NO depth; there is. The B&K receiver will stifle a lot of the depth information before it even gets to the speaker. Electronics that excel in the depth department will allow the Snells to produce sufficient depth to possibly satisfy, IMO.
Marty, out of curiosity, did your friend use tubes or SS?
I certainly don't feel I get no depth even with the AIII and B&K combo. As I think Frogman implies, it's just that the shallowness is more noticeable with so much other wonderful presence from the music.
Turns out there's a well established vintage shop here in Austin and I plan to speak with them tomorrow. The Jadis D7 looks interesting but I can't get away from feeling the need for more power. Interesting to FM's first reply, there's a pair of VTL 300's on ebay. Supposedly working. I'll discuss with the local vintage guy.
BTW, I got my Snells from the original owner about five years ago. Came with original boxes and packing. I sent them directly to Snell for a complete check up. Ended up having the woofers rebuilt which took over six months because Snell was resourcing new supplier. They're amazing.
Also own pair of Snell EIII's and Ci's. Added a Snell LCR and their 300 powered sub to complete the HT setup.
Look forward to really unlocking the AIII's. I can feel the potential is there but still unopened.
It's summertime in Austin and an audiophile is seriously considering high wattage mono tube power amps. I guess some like it hot!
If you don't have much experience with tube amps I would be cautious in buying vintage tube power amps. They may require more maintenance than you anticipate. I'm not saying they are unreliable, but that they are not appliance like. If I were you I'd be thinking along the lines of Jeff Rowland 5s or mono 1s.
The Snells are an excellent speaker. Please post how you end up and your impressions.
It was quite a while ago, but IIRC, there were several different amps over a period of 5ish years. I know that one was a SS Audire, because I sold him that one. I'm pretty sure that there was also a Counterpoint hybrid in there, somewhere, but even that might have been after the Snells were gone. Beyond that, I just don't recall.
You make a good point - I can't state that I ever heard the Snells at their best. Nevertheless, he had other speakers (generally less expensive) in the same system (s) that provided a notably better sense of depth. My observation is based on the memory that The AIII was the best of that lot in every respect but the one under discussion here.
Tccaux, the B&K gear is not bad. And sure, upgrade your amp and keep your preamp and you would probably have an improvement. But, IMO you are really limiting what that speaker can do using the receiver's preamp section. And how can you be sure that it is not the preamp itself that is the cause of your dissatisfaction? You certainly could try it, but I would be prepared to get a better preamp in the future. And BTW, no reason you can't use a tube amp with a SS pre (even your B&K; for now).
I've made contact with a local HT installer that carries Mcintosh, Classe, Rotel and some Peachtree. He's offered to let me bring the AIIIs in to his listening room fr comparison. Theyre in climate controlled storage now and it'll be a hassle but I have the time and it'd be fun. Will get to hear some tubes I think. I'm watching the boards for a Rowland as suggested. There's a Rowland dealer in San Antonio but haven't made contact yet. The house has got about six months of remodeling so I do have opportunity to look around.
Well, I listened today to a mc integrated and the classe ca2300. It's clear to me that I'm a neutral reproduction kinda guy. I listened to two - mc252 and mc452 - and the warmth was distracting for me. Softened edges too much. One room was too dampened but the other was fine. All were hooked up to B&W 801 s
Frogman I stand corrected. The intergrated I listened to was the mc 7000. The other mc was the mc452 with a C48 Pre. You're right, I'm taking the Snells there next week, this was just a run to see the set up and rooms. Wanted to see what I was getting into before hauling those behemoths out. I'm also going to hear the Rowland and ModWright set up next week but will do the same before hauling the Snells there. That's a two hour drive.
Both the Macs were what might be called too warm for me. Am I so accustomed to the "live" Snell and B&K sound??? That's how I'd describe the Classe difference that was more appealing to me. More live. Do you think the Snell neutrality will balance the Mc warmth? Very anxious to hear them hooked up to all the set ups there.
Very cool and fun. Im definitely keeping an open mind but it seems this tatse difference may be the great audiophile divide....:) Thanks.
Tccaux, listening to your Snells with a variety of amps is a fantastic opportunity. If the Snells are keepers (I think they should be), you are doing exactly the right thing. I would only encourage you to approach it with an open mind. "Neutrality" means different things to different listeners. I personally think the Snells are definitely closer to neutral than not; MY definition of neutral. But, I think a lot of audiophiles (perhaps most) would think they are more on the romantic side of things given their very full bodied sound, and dense images. I am not familiar with the mc stuff you have listened to so far, but can't encourage you enough to listen to them with tube amps if you have the opportunity at the dealer. Tubes don't have to mean too dark and with rolled off highs. You are going to the trouble of going through this, I think you owe it to yourself to experience what tubes can do with these speakers. You may decide that it's not for you, or that you can't deal with the hassles (heat, etc.), but you may just be blown away.
FM, I'm taking the Snells for the MC and Classe reviews tomorrow. I'm fairly certain there's no tubes in the shop but I will definitely check and press to review if there. I've found a ARC dealer in town but he's not open until Tuesday. I pretty sure he's got tubes as well as Bryston. Then I go out of town to hear the Rowland and the Modwright which does have a tube(ish) pre. I'm having a ball (this is sorta my vacation time) and will keep it up as long as they'll let me! I'e decided I will hear these babies driven by tubes (maybe several amps) before I spend any money. Thanks!
Most of my CDs are in storage but picked up a few used of my fav's last night. Have some apple lossless on my iPhone as well to play through the DAC they have. (sonus?)
As I consider the possiblility of tubes in my life, the comfort zone comes up as a tube Pre. There's a ARC Ref 3 listed now and the data on it seems appealing. Should have a report on the days adventure later.
I have two pairs of A3's. They can sound good with Tube or SS, but need a ton of power. I have tried 100 watt tube and SS amps, and they can sound nice, but just are not enough juice.
And the best way to do it (tube or ss) is to vertically biamp the snells. Seperating the power going to the upper cabinet makes a huge difference in imaging.
My choice of power would be a quartet of JC1 mono blocks.
If using tubes, would either get two stero amps or a 4 mono block tube amps, again with at least 150 - 200 per channel.
Well, I spent Monday afternoon listening to the Snells with three different systems in three different rooms and I can report first and foremost that theyre truly amazing speakers! Their openness, clarity and range was extremely impressive especially with the added power Id never heard before. Theyre behemoths but do they deliver! Wow.
My objectives for building a system around the Snells has expanded into the issue of introducing more warm, liquid, fluid sound into the live, neutral, clean sound to which Ive become accustomed with the B&K and a fairly bright room. Thanks Frogman for pushing this. Its really fun and enlightening.
The first system was the McIntosh C48 pre, MC452 amp and Rotel RCD1520 cd player. The room was the highly dampened room I visited earlier. This was not expected to be good for the Snells since theyre designed to be about 50-50 direct and reverberant. It was not. However, while the dynamic quality of the sound was quite muted, the staging was very noticeably deep and wide. The speakers disappeared. There was agreement among the listeners that this reflected a strength of the system. With the dead room, I felt it was an unfair venue for judging the warmer quality of the Mc but I still found myself wishing for more clarity and live feeling. While listening to the Royal Philharmonic Decca recording of Beethovens concerto for violin and orchestra in D with David Garrett, there was a very noticeable dulling of the bass. Timpanis I expect. I was concerned this was the speakers.
Second system was the intergrated Mcintosh Mc7000. Used the same Rotel cd player. This was set up in the best room in the store. Much more live and a good size for the Snells. Much better dynamics all around. Now, Im really listening for the warmth thing. Went through the music Id brought along and in the end, something was still missing for me. I just couldnt get the softness everything seemed wrapped up in UNTIL I heard a vinyl (on a Rega?) of Fleetwood Macs Rumors. Then that wrapping became a harmony of all the elements in the recording. Everything had a place and was in it. It was wonderful.
Last system was the Classe 2300 with a CP 800 pre with built in DAC and the CDP 102 player. The room was more live than the first but not as balanced as the second. More open to other spaces. I admit that I expected the Classe setup to resolve the warmer issue for me right away. It did not. By this time, Id gleaned some appeal of the warmer sound of the Mcs and the Classe set up simply did not elicit the dynamic range that Id clearly come to expect from the Snells.
Please forgive the lack of better info on the high, mids and lows performance; whether they were forward or backwards, full or clipped, etc. etc. Its just beyond by current ability to discern and I was trying to take in as much as I could while not wanting to over extend my welcome at the shop. BTW, hats off and a big thanks to Josh, John and Brad at Modia here in Austin. They were really helpful, enthusiastic and welcoming of my search. Especially young Josh he helped me load, set up and move those refrigerators around!
So, fresh from this experience, I was determined to hear some real tubes. Next day I went to hear a set up of an ARC Ref 5, ARC 150, ARC DAC8, a NAD cd transport with a Sonus airplay driving a pair of Maggie 3.7s. I brought the same music along. It was good. Real good. But I consistently felt I was reaching through to get to the experience of the music. Tomorrow or next day I take the Snells to hook them up with the ARCs. Theres also a Bryston amp there.
BTW, listening to the Beethoven piece on the ARC set up, the timpanis were just fine
The journey and the fun continues
Thanks for reporting back. I think what you are doing is just great, and an invaluable experience. I am not surprised by your reactions/comments. We sometimes get used to excessive brightness and think it is more lifelike or "live"; until we hear how right music sounds without it. Your reaction to the vinyl setup is, likewise, as expected. I think you are definitely on the right track to putting together a killer system; you are openminded and willing (and able) to reconsider your preconceptions. Have fun and please keep reporting back.
Power, power, power!
So, the next destination in this journey of discovering my magic Snell AIII setup was to haul them to Audio Systems here in Austin. Theyre an authorized Audio Research dealer as well as Bryston. Very nice shop with smaller rooms; committed to bringing good sound to customers with some real nice affordable systems. They seem to do a lot of electrostatic speakers but not exclusively by any means. They were very helpful and friendly.
First up for the Snells was the ARC Ref 5 with the ARC 150 with an ARC DAC 8 and a NAD C545BEE. I started with the cds Ive been testing other setups. Nice, really great staging but the speakers especially the bass, was very clearly "anemic". Clearly not enough power. We didnt even try the DAC.
So, out with the 150 and in with a Bryston 4bsst2. All else stayed the same. More power and definitely, definitely better. Bass improved but still seemed swallowed, not defined. Overall, something was thin as in too revealing. Listened to both the cds and the DAC. Overall characteristics same. Too revealing as almost a thin, shrill (too strong a word) sound.
Then we switched the pre to the ARC LS27. Surprisingly, the lesser pre actually provided a better synergy with the Bryston and the Snells. Listened to this combo for quite a time, cds and my digital music through the Sonus Connect and the DAC 8. But the more I listened (over an hour) the more the sound - which was initially pleasing and appealing - got cloying. As I exposed the setup to more and more types of music, the depth and nuance my gut was expecting to hear just wasnt there. The more I listened the more I got increasingly frustrated. I really expected the power of the Bryston to make the Snells sing according to their legend.
Then, as almost an after thought, the very helpful Audio System salesperson, Rice, suggested we try the Sanders Magtech that was in the shop. I knew they carried Sanders and had come across the company in my research but hadnt paid that much attention to their products. We hooked up the Magtech and went back to the ARC Ref 5. for the pre. The difference was startling and spectacular! Everything sung like nothing I'd heard before with any other set up! It was satisfying and complete in every way. This was the magic song of Peter Snell.
One enormously revealing bass weakness in the previous set ups was evident with the title cut from Johnny Langs Wander This World. The opening bass is so big and exotic that it almost sounds like some weird synthesizer sound. With the previous setups, the sound was all over the place. With the Magtech, it was absolutely controlled, defined and placed. That was it. Finally, finally, these beasts were under control.
Rice, the salesperson, went off to check the specs. The Magtech is 900w in 4ohm.
Id heard and read over the years that the AIIIs needed power. Now its clear what that means. In this thread, Johnss said it loud and clear FOUR JC-1s. Frogmans vividly recollection of an AIII magic moment was TWO VTL 300s. These babies need tons of power. Tons of power. Plain and simple.
Just to see what we were listening to, we tried the lesser ARC LS27 and there was a huge, disappointing difference. The power of the Magtech needs a really great front end. The Ref 5, the Magtech and the Snells were truly sweet! The DAC 8 is obviously no slouch either.
So, the search is now more clearly defined. Amp must be very powerful. Dont think tubes can get me there as my setup (and budget) is currently planned. Im obviously impressed with the Magtech and its definitely a contender (great price and rep). Tubes in the preamp seems very, very appealing. Task now is to find one that really performs at a more approachable price point than the ARC Ref 5 (used Ref 3?) Any and all suggestions appreciated.
Next steps in the journey continue. Thanks all.
Good for you! BTW, your posts should be read by all the cynics who believe there are no decent dealers out there. Never heard the Magtech gear, but sounds like a great match for the Snells. Personally, I would look at a CAT preamp. Based on what seems to appeal to you, and the possibility of an analog setup, a used CAT is hard to beat. The dimensionality and magic of tubes with a highly resolved, clear sound. Good luck.
Sort of late to the party, but I haven't been around in a while. I have two pairs of Type A's (AII & AIII). While the AIII's need the woofer cones redone, I'm running the AII's with a McCormack DNA1, Paradesea DAC, Jolida 100 CD player, and TAD 150Sig pre. I'd definately look for a tube front end with the Snells and SS power for grunt. The do need power.
Have you settled in on a system for them yet?
I must say I'm surprised by the replies to this post, not that I can suggest anything better.
I've read that Audio Note admired Peter Snell's designs and in fact copied a couple of models for their own speaker line. And Audio Note amps range from what, 4 to 40 watts? Also one of the contributors to the old Sound Practices magazine stated the Snell A series was his favorite speaker and he also favored SET 300 B amps with 6 or 7 watts.
The only Snell A series (not sure if I, II or III) I've heard was a less than optimal set up. But simply reading comments over the years and seeing the respect for Peter Snell as a designer, I must admit my interest in hearing an optimized pair.
Frogman, Sorta been occupied with other stuff lately. My current direction is headed towards a tube pre with strong SS amps. The combo that really lit the Snells was the Audio Research Ref 5 and the Sanders Magtech. I'm watching for a Ref 3 as a possible substitute and still haven't heard the JC-1's. Which I really want to hear. The house remodel is taking longer (who could've guessed, right?) so I still have time to continue the search. Thanks for checking. Best.
It's been a while since you've posted, so I don't know where you are in the process, but I'll offer a suggestion. I own the Sanders 10c with two Magtechs (individually driving the transmission line and the 'stat panels). After having been extremely impressed by the Zesto Andros phono stage, I recently acquired a Zesto Leto line stage. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is perhaps the best preamp that I've ever owned. Just offering this as an alternative to your Audio Research possibilities.
If you're ever down towards Houston, feel free to drop in for a listen.