Cary SLI-80 Signature- Cary NC
Manley Labs Stingray- California
Audio Research and Balanced Audio Technology- USA
Rogue Audio- USA
Canary Audio- USA
Many many others that I haven't mentioned are great as well. I'm sure my fellow "Goners" will kick in many more great units!
Plenty of choices, but for under $2K, I'd look for a used VTL (California) IT 85 or a VAC (Florida) Avatar (~$2500 used).
What sort of speakers are you using?
I have Aerial 7Bs on the Krell. I have a pair of Klispch Fortes kind of sitting in my office. I'm torn between buying something that could easily power the Klipsch's like a Cary SLI or something more costly with more horsepower that could power the Aerials which I like a lot. The Aerials have more of a WAF as well.
Cary SLI80 (USA)
Jadis Orchestra Reference (France)
Manley Stingray (USA)
Rogue Cronus (USA)
VAC Avatar (USA)
All quite competent tube integrateds, in your price range, and recommended.
Trelja, I've read good things about the Stingray but I notice it's only 20 watts per channel. Also I notice some of the SET amps only 8 watts/ch. What's up with that?
I've heard people say x watts for tube is like y watts for a SS amp. Being an electrical engineer, to me x watts is x watts. Is there something I'm missing here? I'm uncomfortable using 20 watts from the Stingray to drive speakers I'm using a 200 watt SS amp on now... unless 20 watts is not 20 watts.
I believe the Stingray is 40 Watts in ultralinear (20 in triode). Watts is watts, but tubes clip more gracefully so they sound better than SS when the reach their power limits so tubes seem to have more useful power for the same watts.
I just lived with a Stingray for a year, (see the "tube amp for rock" post) I'm no expert....and im still sorting through it....but if I had to put my finger on what I grew to dislike.....it would be power. Prior to I lived with a 200W receiver for many years. I heard/read all the "tube watts vs ss watts" comments...and manufacturers ratings etc... Regardless...the difference in power was very apparent. Qustion is does that matter for your needs? For me and the Stingray....Jazz, blues, chamber music, vocals....very very impressive. Rock/Metal..not so much.
I had a chance to hear the Onix SP3 and Rogue Cronus at the Denver Audio show, though it was brief, I would make simliar comments on my experience that day.
Dont get me wrong, the Stingray produces beautiful sound, but I would describe as more about finesse then punch. Just my two cents, take it for what its worth.
I'm going to step out on the ledge here, but that's life...
I don't believe in the "watts is watts" statement. Something else is at work here, which the majority of us (myself included) obviously do not yet understand.
Engineers/scientists love to hit us over the head with the measurements, saying, "Look, the meter says this. Therefore, it must be so..." However, I've seen enough examples of 12 wpc amps outmuscling 100 wpc amps that I now must look over the amp itself, as opposed to looking at the numbers, and then "listen".
Music is a dynamic phenomena, one that when factored into the uniqueness of the power demands of a loudspeaker (like a fingerprint), produce something far more complex than can be wholly represented by putting a 1 KHz test tone through an 8 ohm resistor, and making a value judgement on nothing more than that.
As far as the Manley goes, yes, EL84 amplifiers with its respective tube count tend to produce less real world power. That is true. However, for those who do not need the last word in power, EL84 amps also tend to produce incredible tonality.
In the end, what is and is not important to you must be factored into the equation when you move forward with your purchase. Beyond the lineage requirement for a North American or European tube integrated, I feel the products on the above lists are from good solid companies, meet your price requirements, are built well, and sound good.
While tube watts do have more apparent ("useable") power than comparable SS because of the clipping distortion characteristics, 40 watts of tube will not be comparable to 200 watts of SS with tough loads and low efficiencies. Although I did hear a tube versus ss demo at the Stereophile show in NYC. The tube amp was 30 watts and the ss was 200 watts. With the speakers being used, it certainly seemed like the SS was clipping at a lower volume than the tube amp. With the Klipsch I suspect 40 tube watts will be more than loud enough and just as loud as you Krell. With the Aerials you might want 60-80 watts, maybe a used VAC Avatar.
I must say, I'm cooling off on the tube idea. I've researched the brands above pretty throughly and the thing that gets me, the measurements, in for example Stereophile. Have you seen those? Especially the 1 KHz square wave. Wow! The output is highly distorted.
It may sound better that way; I'm sure the tube lovers think so. But I'm having a hard time getting over knowing that the input is being distorted that way. Think of it. Everything from the lows to highs are moved all over the place. I still want to try one but I think I'll try maybe the Cary and hook it up to my Klipsch Fortes. Basically I would need to probably spend 5 grand or more to drive the Arials and I'm not convinced it's going to sound that great if I do. I've got to find a tube shop around here and listen to the equipment like I did with the SS stuff.
In my experience, tubes- regardless of measurement criteria- present the music in a different and better way. There's more reality there, simply put.
I've owned very great SS stuff that I loved. But when a Cary SLI-80 gave me more musical satisfaction than my $8,000 SS pre and amp, I snapped to attention. Every tube amp I've owned since then has reinforced the notion that there's something there that measurements don't quite capture.
Bottom line- there's a reason tubes are still around- and it ain't measurement criteria. It's music, pure and simple.
I write this as I listen to my tube Exemplar CD player through my Yamamoto HA2 SET headphone amp and AT headphones, spinning the remastered Beggar's Banquet on ABKCO.
Tubes are staying in my house!
I'm not sure what to say about your measurement comment. I own a CAT JL2 and and a Pass Labs XA30.5, arguably among the best samples of tube and SS sound, and I'm sure the Pass measures better, no one would pick a the Pass sound over the CAT sound IMHO. I'm not biased towards tube or ss, I own both, but when you hear both, the choice is clear.
Pubul, how do you use them, I mean if one sounds much better than the other why are you still using the Pass? I assume you are more in the audiophile mode with the tubes turning it on, letting it warm up, etc. and that takes more time. What speakers and source are you using with the CAT?
>>Especially the 1 KHz square wave. Wow! The output is highly distorted<<
Don't get too hung up on charts, graphs, and specs.
Over the years I've heard a bunch of speakers that measure flat 20-20K and sound like dogsh**.
Where's that pooper scooper?
I guess the point I was trying to make above is that for those who need some sort of empirical evidence to justify their purchase, a tube amplifier isn't for them. I believe the reason being we do not yet know how to correlate a test to the phenomena of music.
Those who take measurements and make declarations based on them regardless of what is in front of them need to be assess what the definition of a scientist or engineer actually is. As an example, if everyone can see that grass is green with the eyes that God gave them, but it measures "pink" using a sacred colorimeter, who is right, those who feel the grass is green or pink?
The resurgence of tubes over the past generation (against all odds and their disadantages in terms of cost, weight, heat, efficiency, maintenance, lack of supply of good tubes, as well as "scientific evidence") can be explained by not much more than there are those willing to trust themselves over what we are consistently told we hear or do not hear.
Bottom line, I don't listen to square waves (or anything else of that ilk), I listen to music. And, because that is what I care about, I listen to music through tube amplifiers.
I recently made the switch from SS to tubes so this thread and Zamdrang's on "tubes for rock" have been interesting to me. I listen to a wide range of music, and I occasionally spin rock recordings (last night it was Audioslave, followed my a series of different "chicks with guitars" as a friend calls them).
I'm using a Rogue Tempest II, a KT-88 integrated with 45 watts in triode (90 in ultralinear) which replaced a Musical Fidelity A5 with 255 watts into 8 ohms. The MF had better control of the bass, but besides that there is no comparison to me, the Rogue is a much more musical machine. Like guitar amps, the Rogue has a much fuller, more rounded, sweeter overall sound than a SS amp, much more musical. It's not even close plus tube rolling has let me tailor the sound somewhat.
To use tubes to good effect for rock where dynamics are important, your choice of speaker is critical. If you pair a tube amp with speakers voiced to have that "classic British sound" (Spendor, Harbeth, etc.) you'll get absolutely beautiful mids but rolled off dynamics, bass, and treble (in general, of course). If dynamics and slam are a top priority for you, you'll probably hate the pairing as it is likely to be too lush.
For me, I found that using a speaker with that warmish profile made the SS amp listenable. When I bought speakers that were voiced to be more dynamic (Paradigm 100), the SS made them sound pretty awful, just too forward in the treble, too edgy and harsh.
But dynamic speakers paired with the tube Rogue is just right for me in terms of a balance that has some of that sweet tube vibe but still gives me a wide dynamic range. Not as wide as SS and not as much slam, but much more musical overall. A nice balance for me.
So I'd suggest that a warmish SS amp (Plinius?) with warm speakers is one way to go to stay musical with good dynamics; tubes with less warm speakers are another. I don't think you can discuss an amp without discussing the speakers in terms of having a chance to hit your sonic target (hey, that's a good name for a band, grin).
Steidlguitars, interesting view. Based on what ive been through so far id say your on the money. The speaker choice is not only critical to match to the amp, but also to match to your type of music. My tube setup, while not necessarily bad, in fact damn good for the soft stuff....really didnt cut it for rock and metal. I wonder if a more dynamic speaker would have made me feel different.
I like Trelja's thoughts too, But I have to admit, I find it interesting that the "scientific" facts of my set up....and what it sounded like were somewhat aligned with one another.
The amplifier/speaker matchup is so important, that I find it almost impossible to evaluate, or make claims about the sound of either component (any amp or speaker) indepently of that system context - one can come to assess either an amp or a speaker very differently based on the match between these two components. This makes evaluations more difficult, but it is the only way to find great sound and make recommendations IMHO.
I agree to an extent but with SS, which I'm familiar with, a house sound is there to one degree or another no matter which speaker is used with it. For example MF equipment always sounds the same to me. Other examples are Krell, ML, Ayre, Naim, Theta. Now within certain brands or brands that have a broad product offering I can hear differences. Probably the best example of this is McIntosh. Their low-end integrateds sound vastly different from their high-end separates. One other caveat - the speakers can't be different technologies, for lack of a better word. For example I wouldn't compare horns to regular dome drivers to electrostatics but as a generalization I can hear the brand sound pretty clearly. The difference the speakers make vis-a-vis the brand of amp is in degree not in kind.
David, I agree with you. What I meant to suggest is that while their may be a consistent sonic siganture in an amp that is more or less revealed with most speakers, it is critical that the amp/speaker match well to allow that amp to sound its best, putting its best foot forward. This seems especially critical with tube amps that generally require smooth (linear) and highish impedance loads from the speaker. A moutain ridge impedance curve or dips below four ohms can severly hamper the perfomance envelope of a tube amplifier, which with the "right" speakers sound wonderful. Not having sufficient power to drive a particular speaker can also lead to conclusions about the amps performance that are really about the amps perfomance with that speaker. So while I do think there are basic sonic signatures to amps, their performance is critically bound to the speakers they are asked to drive.