I've seen the Sophia Electric EL-34 sell for some pretty low prices here on Audiogon ($500's). It runs about 30 watts and is very sweet and musical.
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I would suggest an Onix/Melody SP3 integrated amp. It has 38 watts per channel, Huge Trannies, 2 inputs, uses 4 5881 tubes, and it sounds wonderful. Check it out on www.av123.com. Look at the reviews. You may find something of interest. I have not had this amp IMO system yet but I will soon. I have two friends locally that do have them and I can say it sounds very interesting.
Also understand that tube amps do not have the control in the bottom end that solid state amps have. I was once told by an old audio guy to, "buy an amp with as much metal as you can get. The bigger the transformers the better the sound." I think he may be on to something.
Also check this site for the SP3 too. The prices are coming down on these lately. Not a bad thing just lots of them for sale. I assure you that the prices won't stay low for long. This integrated amp is built better than some amps costing 3 to 4 times as much.
shanling 35 watt integrated.
good out of the box.
roll the tubes (not a big deal) and your really sweet.
additional mods available for down the road upgrades.
I have one in my office driving a set of proac 2.5's.
very, very pleasing, if not the final word in accuracy & resolution. OTH - can listen to the rig for hours w/ a smile on my face.
best regards - good luck.
I would also suggest looking into the Primaluna int.`s sold by Upscale Audio. The Prologue One is 35w/ch. using EL-34`s...the Prologue Two, 40w/ch., can also be used with the 34`s. Lots of great reviews and there may be a couple of used ones here on a`gon. They usually go for $900-$1200 respectively on the used market.
I have the tsm`s on order and should be receiving them shortly. I hope you let us know which int. amp that you chose and fill us in on the results.
The undisputed bargain of a lifetime in a bargain EL 34 integrated: The Cayin TA-30, around $ 700.00 used.
They usually have the extended bias option built-in, meaning you can use a wide variety of tube, including the 6550, KT-88 family of tube.
PLUS, you can use only 2 tubes and go for a whopping 4 watts (instead of the stock 35 watts/channel) of near-SET sound.
Easy to bias (Paul at TAD audio design can help with biasing instructions), it's a beautifull unit, and looks like a million bucks.
They sold tons, yet they are somewhat scare, as audiophiles keep'em.
Search for one and read all that is written on the web, I don't think you can do better at even twice the price.
Good luck !
How about a Dyna stereo 70 with an input volume control. BTW to Ponnie...tube amps are voltage amplifiers, transistor amps are current amplifiers. Sometimes tube amps with huge power supplies can also act like current amplifiers too. If you are running dynamic speakers current amps do a better job of controling the bottom end. Voltage amplifiers do a better job with electrostats, as they dont want to see current, just voltage.
I have heard both the Sophia EL34 and the Onix SP3 in my system. Am surprised that these two can be mentioned in the same thread IMO. If EL34 sound is what you're after (and that's what you asked for), then the SP3 will NOT deliver that.
I prefer EL34 sound to whatever the SP3 has. The Sophia sounded good but I found QC somewhat lacking.
What are your speakers' sensitivity?
A previous poster mentioned the Onix SP-3. I'm glad to hear from someone who has experience with the Sophia, thank you. I was hoping to hear more about the three amplifiers mentioned above. There was much previous discussion about the Prologue One and the Cayin TA-30, but I would be very glad to hear about how it compares with the Sophia and the TAD-60. The speakers I have in mind have a sensitivity of 84db, but I don't need them to play very loud.
If you are inclined to consider a complimentary tube type (EL84), you might also speak to George Wright (www.wright-sound.com) about a new integrated EL84 amp that he will soon have in production. It will have many features, including plug-ins for iPod, USB, etc. His amps get as close to the music as any I've heard--at any price--and they are one of the true bargains in this hobby.
I have the Onix SP3 integrated amp. I bought it strictly on Srajan Ebaen's Six Moons review. Previous to that, I was seriously considering a Conrad Johnson CAV-50 EL-34 based integrated amplifier. I am so glad that I bought the Onix SP3. The CAV-50 has that lush EL-34 sound that can be alluring, but some of the music that I listen to just didn't have the dynamic punch it should going through the CAV-50. The Onix SP3 has the PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) thing hands down plus the liquidity of tubes. It will never have the tone of an EL-34 amp like the CAV-50, but that tone and warmth are more colorations in my opinion. If that's what you're after, then go for the EL-34 amp. The Onix SP3 has the immediacy and ability to convey musical emotion found in some SET amplifiers.
One other possibility: Harmon -Kardon MKV , uses 5881 , or EL34's with Huge output transformers, sound similar ( if not indentical) to the famous Citation II's . I found a working amp in Ann Arbor , MI for $175. For my money by far the best buy, built like a tank.
Good listening and good luck,
Pubul57, your enthusiasm for the Ars as the only and best int amp for Merlins has to be admired, but you have not heard the Jadis DA 88 Signature with them (I have) - and how do you know the Ear isn't a match? Anyway, the questioner is talking "bargain", which to me means a lot less than $4K, so to answer Jamesw20, I have owned and heard the Onix and the TAD-60, and there is no comparison - the TAD-60 with EL 34s blows it away, as well as anything else I've heard for $800 used. If one input is enough, it has a volume control and can be used as an int amp; if not, I'd get a Manley Stingray and use it in triode mode or a Cayin. (as Bobgates suggests)
On the EAR, I don't know if it would beat the Ars with the Melrin, which is why I said "unlikely". I've heard the EAR gear and love it. The reason I suspect the Ars is a better match for the Merlins is that it was a collaborative effort between amp designer and speaker designer and voiced for each other. When we speak of synergy between components, one would think the Ars would be at an advantage here; not that the Jadis is not a spectacular piece; but so is my CAT JL2 and in that context the Ars is very competive driving the Merlins (of course the CAT will sound great with a wider choice of speakers). At below $2000 new, I'd have to agree with you on the Stingray, never heard the Cayin gear, but there are certainly good reviews and comments on their gear.
Pubul57, your points are all well taken, and you and 100's of others cant all be be wrong - unfortunately, I am of that
impetuous breed of nuts who cant wait 6 months for an integrated amp, particularly when there are other such good sounding ones on the market at lower prices, and furthermore, in my office setting, I have to have a remote, one of the reasons I had to sell the Jadis. I would love to hear the Ars/Merlin combination and will find one to listen to at some stage - I certainly need to hear for myself what all the superlatives are about. My points were only that (1)a $4K unit with a 6 month wait is not a "bargain" and that (2) there are other amps which are a bargain which sound great, many of which I have heard or have it on the authority of those whose ears I trust implicitly. But I certainly do not dispute the fact that you all must be right, to write so glowingly about the Merlin/Ars synergy. By the way, Jamesw20, listen/look at the Consonance range. The distributor, Joe Trelli, is a gem of an audio resource, and would never take on a line that wasn't special. Sorry for the long post to Pubul57, but I wanted to make it clear that it was only in the context of this thread that I raised the question about the Ars. In absolute terms, it clearly is a match made with much thought and, even more clearly, spectacular results.
You know, I forgot about the Consonance, which I tried while I was waiting for the Ars to arrive (six months is proably right) and liked very much with the Merlins and gave it to my brother who was starting out with a system with Vandersteen 2Ce speakers. It was a 75 Watts KT88 tube integrated and I think I got it used for under a $1000 with heavy transformers (good bass). And ditto on Joe T.
This may be an old thread for me to respond but in efforts for people who may be still asking this thread's original question - here's my two cents.
I've owned the Cayin TA-30 (EL34 integrated) and now own the Sophia Electric 126S (EL34 integrated). Yes they both use the EL34 power tubes but sonically the amplifiers are on different levels. So to answer the original thread question, regardless of name brand but at a bargain level I would still recommend the Sophia Electric 126S at $5k versus the Cayin TA-30 $800. Why? Name brand comes with its own price league.
The TA-30 (by Sparks out of China) later fashioned Prima Luna, was good and sweet but the refinement level is far below the level of refinement done by the 126S. The Cayin didn't give details and handle complex music very well - its transformers were small and not the best quality. The Sophia 126S has big quality transformers rendering very sweet and refined music. It is so good, that I put it on par with Shindo and Leben. It is its own flavor. So for me a bargain is Sophia at $5k as opposed to Leben (CS600, also running EL34) at $6k and Shindo >$6k
There is a newer company brand called 'Line Magnetic' out of China as well. I've heard their EL34 based integrated LM 211A as well. At roughly $1600, it reminded me of the $800 Cayin TA-30 sounded.