I don't have a recommendatation as to what to buy, but if I had $18k and was a "neophyte" builder, I wouldn't even THINK about building anything from a kit. That's a lot of money and there is no need to go the kit route. (I have built a few kits over the years, but, again, for $18k I'd grab some used equipment from Audiogon), Good luck
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Sorry for using excessive hyperbole.
I have no problem building from kits - I've built the bottlehead gear and the instructions are quite good. I'm most concerned with speakers, however, as the carpentry skills here are far more technical than soldering, and they require tools I don't have. I'd prefer to buy these pre-made.
In general, I'd prefer to buy used than make from scratch, but as many SET afficiando's have noticed, some of the best gear can't be purchased, but must be made. Luckily, some small companies build equipment to commonly known specificiations, like Voigt pipes. However, if I need to get my hands dirty for a few weekends doing soldering, etc., I haven't a problem with that. I've taken enormous pride in making my little Bottlehead Foreplay kit.
Just to set expectations, my estimate of $18,000 isn't cash sitting in the bank - I'm planning on selling $10-12,000 of equipment to move in this direction. I might keep my preamp, but my speakers and amplifier, plus some of my wiring simply isn't congruent with the SET philosophy. Hence, I'm suggesting that I'd invest another $6-8,000 if necessary to get a wonderful system.
I'd strongly consider a Berning Siegfried SET ZOTL amp. It is available in either 811 or 300B. The 811 is probably more ultimately accurate, but the 300B is probably warmer and maybe a little fatter overall, and many people would prefer that. Either way, this Siegfried amp is really something. An OTL with true SET topology gives the best of all the worlds, with extension and speed to burn, and the coherence that low power SET amps are known for. I have a custom version of this with the Type 45 output triodes, and it is possibly the best sounding amp of any kind that I've ever heard.
A good single-driver speaker system is made to order for an amp like this. There is a synergy between SET amps and single-driver speakers that is unlike anything else. A good pair to try out might be the Lammhorn 1.8 with the new Lowther drivers. They need a long break-in, but when they are broken in and in a good system, they are great. Other popular ones with Lowthers are Rethm, Beauhorn, and even DIY like the Voigt Pipes you mentioned. That's what I use and I like them alot. Tough to beat a SET/Lowther system for many aspects of sound.
Leftistelf, to be honest, I haven't tried any real high end linestages in my system. I know one thing, though. It is going to have to be a good quiet one. The high efficiency speakers really show up any problems with the noise floor very quickly.
If I were to venture a guess as to which might be a good match, I'd mention the Supratek preamps. They have been really well received by alot of members who have bought them, and they make an excellent synergy with the Berning amps, according to what has been stated on that "Preamp Deal of the Century" thread. Everybody seems to think that these preamps are really performing in a very high-priced category, but are still affordable. Maybe you could even get into their top of the line Grange model. At any rate, I'd investigate these Supratek preamps, if I were in the position that you are in now. Nothing is perfect, but these seem to be regarded as coming pretty close to it, at a reasonable cost.
Probably because I misspelled the name. It was supposed to be spelled "Lamhorn 1.8".
Here's a link.
This gives some info, pictures, and dealer locations.
The Lowther drivers in these cabinets are nice. The AER is only good if your amp is designed to handle 16 ohm loads, and the Berning is designed for 8 ohms. The Reps-1 drivers are very nice, but at $5k for the bare drivers, they make the package too expensive.
For much cheaper, but still very good performance, the DIY Voigt Pipes are a real good bargain. If prices start to look like a budget crunch might ensue, then definitely consider this option. The drivers are the same, and the cabinet does very well if properly constructed. And it is easy to make. I can email you the plans, and pertinent info to maximize these.
For SET amps, Atmasphere and Wyetech have been the best to my ears. These go for about $8,000-$10,000. I would not recommend any single driver speaker that uses a "whizzer cone" as you will lose the time/phase coherency of a true single driver. Von Schweikert has a DB100 100dB efficient speaker that I have not heard and know nothing about.