Different tube amps sound different, so I'd hesitate to have you make a decision about how a tube amp sounds based on one particular budget amp. That said, I'll give you some of my thoughts.
1) For a low-budget amp, I love my Jolida 302b integrated. It has a warm, relaxed sound that glosses over only the smallest details.
2) If you're looking for just an amp (as opposed to an integrated), a Cary V12 would be a solid choice to drive your Electra's.
3) If you want something even more on the warm side, try one of the rebuilt Dynaco ST-70's.
4) For just a hint of warmth, I used to own a pair of Audio Valve ppp45 monoblocks that I miss. They're rare on the used market, but available in your price range when they do come up.
I hope that gets you started.
Check out the Minimax on this site..$650 OBO
This may sound a bit strange but I advise waiting a few months, actually until October or so. Why? Because of the heat issue.
About three weeks ago I traded an amp for a Jolida JD-202A with a local Audiogon member. Thought I'd give tubes a try.
Hooked it up, turned it on and let it warm up. Sound was very nice. Not up to par with my ss system but the cost difference isn't small.
After an hour of listening I left the room for 30 minutes. When I returned I was hit by the heat in the room. Bottom line, I sold the amp today.
If I had tried this in the fall or winter I probably would have kept the amp around for a more rigorous evaluation.
If you do go with the tubes be prepared to crank up the AC.
-Cayin TA-30 (Bizzybee upgrades.. biasing pots on the side, vs underneath) $600-700
Prima Luna Prologe II $900-1100. Auto-biasing, soft start circuit. Basically plug and play, no hassle.
Some believe that both are basically the same amps. Kevin Deal who imports the PrimaLuna line claims better internals. I don't know. I have the PLII. I like mine quite a bit.
The Cayin (takes awhile to find one) has a pre-out to separate the preamp and amp, going for it.
I bought this model for the same reason you are. Easy to tube roll. Both uses almost all power tubes. KT88, 6550, EL34s.
If you're coming from solid state, from what I've read, the Russian Gold Lion "re-issues" KT88s are supposed to be very very good. I have a set, haven't plugged them in yet (waiting to get my room in order).
Currently have Electo Harmonix (EH) 6550s in and stock preamp tubes, quite like it.
I got my tubes from Jim McShane (google him, very well regarded), and Kevin Deal at upscale audio is suppose to be very good as well.
Also, look into the Monarchy M24 all tube DAC and linestage (2 separate power supplies). It has a 3K output impedance though, but you could use it as a "tube" preamp to go with your existing power amp (no worry about driving speakers). To get your toes wet.
I went this way for a while, but decided to go full tube integrated.
From 9 feet away, I dont' find tubes that hot. IME, a non-issue. Just go for it.
You can probably find a used Music Reference RM-9 for under $2000.00, but it's far, far better than an entry-level amp. It's the first tube amp I ever heard and I understood all the fuss immediately. Seriously great amp.
I agree with Joelv,Music Reference RM-9 is a world class amp the best for the money and very reliable.
Thanks all for the suggestions. Please keep in mind that my goal is to get more texture in the midrange compared to my current amp, First Watt F5, which is rather good one in terms of midrange performance. I don't need a lot of power, as my current amp is 25Wpc only and it's plenty enough. I did hear Cary V12, although not in my system, and the characteristics is close to what I'm after.
Surprised no one has mentioned the BAT VK 55. A great tube amp, with a fabulous midrange. Used would be in your price range. I had a full BAT tube set up with Wilson Maxx's, and it took more money than I would like to admit to outperform them.
I think any great tube amp will give you more life and texture in the midrange, that's what tubes are known for!
The best tube amps I've ever heard were from BAT and Music Reference. While you're looking to "get into" tubes, for your budget you might be able to buy a used one that will satisfy you for a good while. You might buy your first and last tube amp at once.
What is the rest of your system consist of? What are you currently using as a pre? If you are all SS, you will get more tube bang for your buck adding a tube preamp first, and then going to a tub amp.
I have CJ 16LS v2 for pre. I've always used SS power amps. I've used Theta, Proceed, Mark Levinson, and currently First Watt amp. All the gears in my system are listed in the link that says "System" next to my user id.
I like the sound of my system. The sound can be characterised as dynamic, clear, detailed, well extended to both freq extremes. The midrange is smooth, realistic, and life like. I really like the realistic harmonics of the piano, thanks to the amp from Nelson Pass.
The one thing I miss from the sound is the texture in the midrange. As I have expressed in the original post, I would like to hear more resin in the bow of cello, and reed of the sax. I'm not sure if that's all possible with the change in the power amp alone. That's why I am calling it as a trial.
That's a pretty nice system you have there. I was going to suggest that you look at new speakers, but...
I am of the opinion that source components (and speakers) make the largest change in overall sound quality, and that the improvements diminish as you get to the middle (power amp). Have you tried other CD players or transposts/DACs? I have tried a couple of universal disc players (admittedly not the Linn) and have not been satisfied. Just my $.02 worth.
The RM-9 is a very good amp, but if you don't need that much power the Music Reference RM-10 at a very solid 35 watts could be a better choice.
I doubt you will accomplish your goal with a change in amps only, because I doubt that what you wish to hear is on the CDs.
And, straighten up that plasma! ;-)
The plasma is mounted ok. It was crooked camera angle. It has been updated with better and more recent picture showing current equipments. :)