Getting into Tube Equipment

Hey there,

I have been gradually getting into vinyl and hi-fi for a while now. I mostly listen to folk, country, and some bluesy-rock music. Examples include the Grateful Dead, Sturgill Simpson, John Denver, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

I have been forward thinking about audio equipment I would like to have in the future. The components I am most eager to upgrade are my amp and phono preamp. For the amp, I am very interested in one of the Dynaco clones people are selling like the ST-70, ST-120 or the M-125 by Bob Latino. However, my first order of business will have to be getting a phono preamp with a volume control because these amps do not have a volume control. I would like to preface, I am not independently wealthy and do not expect to be in my life. Therefore, a $12,000 stereo setup does not seem like a reasonable option for me.

Can anyone please give me direction on either getting a Pro-Ject Tube Box DS or a used EAR 834P?

Additionally, If I could get some direction on an amp, it would be useful. Right now I own the Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers and I really love them. The only thing I can see upgrading to is a pair of used Harbeth Super hl5plus speakers but this would be in the more distant future. Based on what I currently have and will be using for awhile, as well as my future considerations, are any of the amps I am considering a best fit? 

Aca33fa8 39c5 4321 a21b 1ebaee7c7384captainblackleg
For what it's worth, I would not recommend looking for a phono amp with a volume control.  You will significantly limit your choices, and there's no guarantee that the volume control will be of high quality or that you'll like the sound of the phono pre directly into an amp.

Your Dentons (and the Harbeths you mention) are lower sensitivity speakers, and a tube amp may not be ideal.  I would suggest going with a tubed phono stage into a high current solid state integrated amp that puts out 100+ watts per channel (Parasound, Musical Fidelity, Bryston, etc.).  You'll get the tube sound that you're looking for, the power to drive your speakers well, and a volume control on the integrated.

Again, just my two cents based on my experiences.  Good luck!

 Unless you get an integrated amp, you will need a preamp. This is separate from your phono preamp. Maybe a solid state integrated with tube phono stage would be the way to go.

I had both an Dynaco ST-70 (which is only 35 watts per channel and Mark III mono amps way back when. These designs are very dated and syrupy sounding today. They don't sound anywhere near as transparent or detailed as most modern tube amps.

BTW Jerry Garcia always insisted on Mcintosh gear back in the day.

Therefore, a $12,000 stereo setup does not seem like a reasonable option for me.

$12K may not be reasonable, so what is your budget?

Maybe look into getting a Jolida Fusion 3502 Integrated:

Jolida's are reasonably affordable.

Should drive the Wharfdale's.  Maybe a Bellari VP130  or a Graham Slee  phono stage.

Something to consider.

Have fun!
Two great vintage tube preamps from the late 70's - early 80's are the Precision Fidelity C2 and C7. Both were designed by Bruce Moore (of later MFA fame!) and built in San Francisco. They used rather innovative cascode circuitry and were the best sounding tube preamps of their era! I owned the C7 (phono stage only version with a pair of 5kohm pots - no balance control - and signal switching for 4 sources). It was my favorite phono preamp! If the price is right (under $1k for the C2 and under $500 for the C7) grab one and you will have a great sounding USA-made tube preamp competitive with today's big-buck gear!
Thank you all for your considerate responses. This gives me an opportunity to be pragmatic about the hi-fi that is right for me. 

As far as a budget goes. After a lot of thinking, $12,000 was just too much for me to spend on enjoying music. That said if I am thinking about buying into hi-fi over the next decade, a median of $6,000 and maximum of $10,000 is the most I would feel comfortable spending on a sort of lifetime audio system. The caveat being the equipment is bought over a decade.

 If I were you I would take my time and listen. Go to dealers and listen to different brands and pieces. Listen to everything you can. Even if it is more than you would spend.. Most brands have a house sound. You will get a better feel for what you like and don't like. Then you can make a long term plan and work toward it.

 There is nothing wrong with buying used. Older amps and preamps from Conrad Johnson, Rogue and others are still very nice amps. Some are gems. They were built with high quality parts, especially the transformers. Much higher quality than inexpensive amps. You will get better performance and they will last a lot longer. I bought a used Audio Research Classic 60 in the early 1990's  and owned it for over 20 years. I finally sold it to a buddy who still uses it. It is still an excellent sounding amp.

Captain a question are you 100% vinyl and if so do you envision going digital at any point? If so your best options would be either a full function preamp with phono or an outboard phono stage and integrated amp. What amp are you using now? If you can do this in stages its a good way to stretch things out. A $6-10K budget is certainly reasonable and lots of good deals to be had secondhand.
I would investigate the following:

1.  Rogue Pharaoh - Integrated amp, Class D 175wpc, 2-12au7 preamp/headphone tubes, and dead silent.  I upgraded the stock tubes to a pair of NOS Amperex "Medical Grade" tubes ($350) and it set the Pharaoh free!  Perfect for less efficient speakers (I have Revel M106).  Made in Pennsylvania by some very cool and dedicated people who deserve the respect they've earned over the years.  $3500 new.  $2500 used if you can find one (few are for sale - ever).  My total with NOS tube upgrade around $3000

2.  Pro-ject Tube Box DS2 - SMREX13 is on point regardings phono preamp volume vs preamp.  I continue to be amazed with the DS2 (also upgrade to NOS Amperex BB 12ax7) and want to point out to everyone that the variable cartridge loading for MC carts on the DS2 IS THE BOMB!  When listening to vinyl, I set the relative volume on the Pharaoh for the album in play and then adjust the cart loading up or down depending on the music playing.  For those musicians out there, the loaded on a MC cart has a similar effect as the "presence" on a guitar amp.  I paid $650 for a new DS2 and another $350 for the NOS tube upgrade.  My total around $1000.

3.  Clearaudio Concept w/MMC - This TT is without question the best value in it's class.  I have the basic Concept TT which I bought (store demo) for $1200 w/MMag cart - then tracked down the Concept MC cart and paid $730 for it new.  The MC cart with the DS2 has opened my ears to a level of audio reproduction never before encountered. My total for TT and MCC around $2000

4.  Revel Speakers - I love my M106's but there's a few others that warrant investigation as I'm sure others will note.  These can be had for around $2K (with stands) - if you hunt hard enough.  I also purchased a Revel B110 Subwoofer (used for $1000) and, in hindsight, should have gone after the floor standing vs bookshelf approach (the wife wouldn't have "big ugly speakers" - period).  My total for speakers is around $3000. 

5.  I have Emotiva and Oppo disk players and Emotiva cables of all sorts.

6.  Last but not least - if you haven't checked out the OPPO openback headphones for $400 - DO SO!  OPPO is going out of business and the $400 headphones are worth every penny.

I'm in for around $10K - and the result is worth every bit of effort and treasure.  For the record - those of you who think you can just stroll into the local HiFi shop and get exposed to all the reasonable options available - Not going to happen.  Best of luck in your hunt for "the sound" ;)  
Awesome, all good information.

Jond, I am only into vinyl. My current amp is nothing special, I have a Dayton Audio APA150.
My impression of the old Dynaco stuff was the appeal was in those wanting to modify them. Back when they could be had for a song. 

Not a bad place to start, but for just sound quality, it's easy to do better...the list of tube amps in all price ranges is too big to comprehend.

Is there local stereo shops you could visit, buy from? Sometimes...MOST of the time, in person is the best way to go. You get to hear it, likely try it out at home. MUCH much easier to decide what you like that way. 

It's as much a discoverey as it is a matter of research, the more of an open mind you have, the more possibilities.
I’d recommend giving us more information about what aspects of sound reproduction are most important to you. Knowing what type of music you listen to is really just one small part of the puzzle.

That said, and taking a stab in the dark, it’s hard not to recommend the Rogue Cronus Magnum ll in your situation especially if you prefer buying new. 100wpc should be enough for your speakers, and it even comes with a MM phono pre if you happen to use that cartridge type. Frankly, I’d upgrade to a separate phono stage, and given the excellent reviews of his SP14 preamp I’d be very tempted to audition Don Sachs’ custom tubed phono stage at $995. Combined you’d be at $3600 for all new equipment.

Used you have tons of options as well. There’s a Vitus SS-010 integrated for $5000 (MSRP $13,000), and pairing that with the Sachs phono pre would have you at $6000 total, and I’d wager there’d be few people who’d not like that combo. The Vitus puts out only 25wpc, but they’re high quality Class-A watts and likely more than capable of driving your Dentons as loud as you like. Other nice integrateds are Hegel H300 or Plinius Hautonga among many others. Anyway, best of luck.

@captainblackleg, an earlier post recommended Revel speakers. If you want to keep this on a budget, I would pass on that recommendation, that is if you plan to use a tube amp with only 35 watts per channel!
The interface between the amp(s) and speakers is really important! You’ve not mentioned the size of your room or how lively it is and that plays a role too. For example if in a smaller room you might be able to use a speaker with less efficiency. In a larger room, higher efficiency speakers can really help!

So let’s assume that a 60 watt amp is all you can afford? In that case I would be hesitant to go with any speaker that is less than about 92 db. Now here’s the tricky bit- when dealing with tubes, speaker *efficiency* is more important than speaker *sensitivity*.
The reason is that the former is rated 1 watt at 1 meter, the latter is 2.83 volts at one meter. Before your eyes glaze over, the reason this is important is because if you have the bad luck to wind up with a 4 ohm speaker (which is usually bad for tubes unless the speaker is really really efficient, and by that I mean over 99 db), the 4 ohm speaker will be harder to drive than the specs seem to suggest!
There’s a little math involved, at 8 ohms the two specs are the same. But change the impedance to 4 ohms and the sensitivity spec will be 3 db higher than the actual efficiency of the speaker! So if you have a speaker that is 4 ohms and the sensitivity is rated at 92db, the actual efficiency is only 89db. That 3 db may not seem like a lot, but requires that you double the amplifier power to play at the same level than if the speaker were 8 ohms with the same sensitivity.
So if your amplifier dollar is on a budget, the higher sensitivities of 4 ohm speakers might be a siren song, but if your wits are not about you, it can lead to money flushed down the loo.

Also, all tube amps sound better on 8 ohm loads than they do on 4 ohms, because the output transformer is more efficient, so the amp can make a slight bit more power, have up to an octave lower bandwidth, and lower distortion. This gets even better with 16 ohms BTW and on 16 ohms, speaker cables get a lot less critical...
There is no reason you have to suffer less resolution because the speaker is higher efficiency. In this regard, there really isn’t a tradeoff until you get into speakers with a horn loaded bass array, which trade efficiency off for bass response (unless the horn is enormous).

With many tube amplifier companies, the smaller amps are often the ones that sound the best because they have more bandwidth. This is particularly true of Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers. The exception is OTL amplifiers which have no output transformer; this being because the output transformer in nearly all tube amps is the bandwidth limitation.

Some speaker recommendations: DeVore Fidelity, ZU Audio, Audiokinesis, Coincident Technology, Merlin (used only), Pure Audio Project, some of the Tekton lineup (stay away from the 4 ohm models); there are many more.

Here’s a tip: pay attention to the bass array in the speaker. If rated at 8 ohms but you see dual woofers, it may well be that the speaker is actually 4 ohms in the bass while ’nominally’ rated at 8 ohms! The B&W 802 is an example of this. A speaker like that might have you thinking that tube amps can’t play bass, and they totally can. So check with the manufacturer to make sure that the woofer array (if more than one driver) has an impedance of at least 8 ohms (16 ohms is better- the amplifier distortion goes down and the output transformer gets even more efficient) and overall the speaker efficiency is at least 92 db and you won’t go wrong unless your room is really big. If so, you’ll have to consider a more efficient speaker like a Klipsch (some of which are quite good with tubes).

One more thing- if you’re considering an SET (which can be really musical), obey this rule of thumb: match the amp to a speaker whose efficiency is such that the amp isn’t really going to make more than about 20% of full power. This is important as SETs are nearly 10% distortion at full power and the distortion starts to take off right at about 20% of full power. At that point the amp starts to sound really ’dynamic’ because distortion product (composed of harmonics that coincidentally the ear uses to sense sound pressure) starts to show up on the leading edges of the musical transients. IOW, the ’dynamic’ quality is just distortion interacting with physiology. Once you know that is the case, its not as interesting to hear that type of ’dynamics’. OTOH, SETs have a property of extremely **low** distortion if the amplifier power is diminished towards zero, and for this reason if you really want to hear what they do, you need a speaker than is more efficient than you will find others recommending, even on this site and possibly later on this thread! But don’t be fooled, and your amplifier dollar will be a lot better served.
Good Luck!
^^^^ Words of wisdom derived from experience, as always.
@lostbears "I had both an Dynaco ST-70 (which is only 35 watts per channel and Mark III mono amps way back when. These designs are very dated and syrupy sounding today. They don't sound anywhere near as transparent or detailed as most modern tube amps."

You make a valid point.  The original versions of these amps do sound exactly as you described.  That was a reflection of the parts of the day, most specifically, the carbon composition resistors, as opposed to the design / circuits of the Dynacos.  Build / rebuild one using today's metal film resistors, and the amplifier will sound as revealing, open, and insightful as anything you'll find.

Bob Latino's kits are definitely a good way to go.  They outclass many other amplifiers, at a fraction of the price.  Bob's amps replace Dynaco's cathodyne phase splitter / driver stage taken from the guitar amplifier world with the VTA board that implements the Mullard long-tail pair that 99% of tube amplifiers outside the SET space employ.  You wind up with a modern tube amplifier.

Personally, the more I think about the original circuit Dynaco featured, the more I impressed I become.  In fact, I recommend it over the Mullard design.  Its simplicity results in something truly beautiful, both from the electronic and sonic perspectives, I think for the same reasons so many consider SET the ultimate expression of amplification
For extra information, I currently live in an apartment but this is not permanent. Generally, I expect to have my set up in a medium-sized room, perhaps 14'X12' with a ceiling that is not very high. If it is any help, I tend to be attached to older buildings with lots of wood, for example on the floors.

The qualities I would like to get most out of audio could be described as lively, mellow, and realistic. I like music to sound pretty. I don't need all that much bass or high end. I guess you could say I like balance with nice midrange. 
In all my listening a fully tube system / integrated amplifier sounds much better than a tube preamp with solid state power amp and that is the direction I recommend.  
Typically much larger and more immersive sound stage and very smooth, musical sound.  A KT120 based tube integrated will give you all the power you need for the speakers you mentioned.  Also with a tube integrated amp you can be very well served with a dynamic solid state phono preamp.  
My recommendation would be for a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II (KT120 tubes, 100 watts / channel) and a Lehmann Black Cube SEII phono stage.  

Ralph's (atmosphere) assessment is spot on as with some of the others.

Getting into High end anything seriously involves work.  Some people fall into money, and really just want toys.  Some enjoy certain things and really appreciate them. 

Music is one of those things.  Some listen only as background music (and there's nothing wrong with that for them), some like equipment only and the feeling of ownership of "high end" equipment.  some really appreciate and enjoy the accurate reproduction/play back of music and want it to be as "real" and accurate as they can find and afford.

First I would recommend setting a price point for equipment.  How is that done?  Well, that is difficult.  determine what sound you really like.  accurate reproduction of vocals, musical instruments, etc.  When  you know that, go out and listen a lot to various equipment in different price ranges.  since you aren't buying yet, don't limit yourself to certain price points.  Listen to a wide range of equipment in various price points.  Take your time.  Go to friend's homes and listen, good stores that let you take your music and listen to various equipment.   go to audio shows.  But the point is to go and listen to a lot of stuff at various price points.

When you hear to sound and quality you like.  Then you would have set the price point.  If you are keeping your current speakers, then you have narrowed the field on amps.  When you have done that, you also now know the field for pre-amps.

If then, you can bring equipment to your home and connect to your speakers, then you can get a realistic listening experience.  it is really important to listen in your home on your stuff.  if that isn't possible and you really want to keep your speakers, then ask if you can take your speakers to stores, and listen to amps connected to your speakers there.  if they laugh loudly, then ask if they have similar speakers and listen there. 

Just remember, when you are going to stores and listening, you aren't just listening to the amp/pre-amp.  You are also listening to their speakers and cables and "their room". 

If the store has a wide range of equipment that you are interested in (mostly this doesn't happen), then you can swap one amp for another (changing nothing else) and listen and get a good feel for that amp or pre-amp.

All of this take patience, learning and time.  it can be fun and enjoyable if you aren't in a hurry and are patient.  it is definitely not fun when in every store they look you up and down, to assess your spending capability,  won't set up equipment for you, and are basically not helpful.  Be extra careful of places that are trying to off load standing equipment.

But there are lots of really nice tubed equipment out there.  There are also lots of really not nice tubed equipment out there.  So, investigate, investigate, investigate, listen,  read, ask, and most importantly take stuff home to listen there.


One other tip- in this case, you already know you want tubes, so as a result if the question of which you get first, the amp or the speakers, now you have a better idea. You get a speaker that works easily with tubes and by all means you avoid a speaker that is considered 'hard to drive'.
Actually I don't see any point in 'hard to drive' speakers since all amps, solid state, class D and tubes make more distortion when asked to work hard. High end audio is about getting *rid* of distortion - getting closer to the music.
Tube amplifier power has always been more expensive than solid state, in fact when the industry went from tubes to transistors decades ago it was mostly driven by the higher profit margin that was possible with transistors. The point here is that keeping the speaker easy to drive will really help you with that amplifier dollar.
@atmasphere   As is usual I agree with your posts, and in this thread in near entirety, with the following ("staying away") exception...

Some speaker recommendations: ... some of the Tekton lineup (stay away from the 4 ohm models)

In my personal experience, the 4 Ohm versions of the Tekton Double Impacts and Special Editions are easy to drive and many owners are doing so with low power amps.
They probably do alright, but the 4 ohm versions can be problematic if you use an amplifier that does not employ loop negative feedback. This is pretty much all SETs as well as a number of push-pull amps. Essentially you may encounter problems getting the bass energy right. Its not worth messing with, since the amp’s ability to play 8 ohms is better and will result with more neutral presentation, one that is more transparent and likely also smoother.
If you’re on a budget, but are also committed to a tube amp, why not get the most out of it? I compare it to buying a Porsche but not setting it up with the right tires. It might be fun to drive, but it would probably be a lot more fun if you had the right tires on it.
Ralph, these are qualifications to the original general 'phrasing.'

My issue is and was with the generality vis a vis Tekton 4 Ohm speakers, in that phrasing.

I restate that many (not all) low powered amps will work with the 4 Ohm Tektons I own(ed) and they likely will on Eric's other variants similar to the DIs and SEs. 
While Ralph has forgotten more about audio than I'll ever know I concur with David's assessment as I'm driving my 4 ohm Tekton DI SE's with an Aric Audio 300B SET and the synergy is amazing. I drove them with the 1 watt LTA MZ2 before getting the 300b with great success also. While 4 ohm speakers generally might not work with small tube amps, the Tektons don't seem to have issue with them. That would make the DI's a great budget choice for the OP in my opinion. 
Scottinmartin, in reference to your recommendation on Pro-ject tube box DS2, what change did you achieve when you upgraded the tubes to  upgrade to NOS Amperex BB 12ax7

I was thinking about building one of Latino’s amps.  Do you own one and have you compared it to an updated/modified ST70? I was also thinking of just buying an ST70 and updating it using modern day parts in key areas while keeping the output trannys. 
I was in the same boat some months ago. I owned the Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers and wanted to try tubes. I purchased a demo model of a Jolida 202BRC integrated amp which is just a few years old. I figured that I could sell it if I didn't like it or if I wanted to upgrade later. Going used (and under $800) was my way of checking out tubes with low risk. Of course, I could tube roll at some point, but for the moment I'm good. As far as the synergy with the Wharfedales goes, the 40 wpc Jolida seems fine (I don't feel the need to turn it up much more than I would with my vintage Sansui 95 wpc solid state integrated amp) and in many ways quite beautiful especially in the midrange, but take that with a grain of salt since this is my first foray with tubes. When I compare the Jolida to my Sansui, I hear differences that many people say they find between tubes and solid state (I know there are plenty of exceptions to the way people characterize such differences.) So I think the Jolida is serving the function of teaching me about tubes. My main point is to echo the previous recommendation to try things out. One way to do that is to buy used with the idea of selling later if you want.
First, note the biases of hobbyists and professionals and pretty much everyone.
A disclaimer (if not disqualification): I read more than I listen. Next, music is not my No. 1 interest.
Over the years of checking in on Audio Asylum (and audiogon, but mostly to see 'what's out there' in terms of equipment), here are the biases I've noted:
Bias No. 1: a need for bass, large and loud-sounding
Bias No. 2: a preference for frequency extremes [note the relation to the above point]
Bias No. 3: a (peculiar) sensitivity to "W.A.F." [meaning "Wife Acceptance Factor"]. 
Bias No. 4: an insane interest in detail - meaning specs and stats . . . and, oh yes, details in the music, TOO [finally]
A.A. (Anti-Audio)

Regarding references to the Tekton 4 ohm speakers, why would one pick a 4 ohm version of the same speaker instead of an 8 ohm? Any advantages? I don't think I've ever seen an amplifier that prefers a lower load.
Often times in this hobby of HEA, it's more a matter of what you can get your hands on rather than ideal. 

That's because what REALLY works is more often than not trying it out and making that discovery, as opposed to reading about what should work.
I was thinking about building one of Latino’s amps.  Do you own one and have you compared it to an updated/modified ST70? I was also thinking of just buying an ST70 and updating it using modern day parts in key areas while keeping the output trannys.
@grannyring the big weakness in the ST-70 is the use of a single 5AR4 rectifier. Its marginal when the amp is at power and so it the most likely tube to fail in the amp- not the power tubes! There aren't good solutions for the older amps, solid state rectifiers run the B+ too high, the transformer can't support dual rectifiers (and there's no room); the solution is simply to not run the amp hard. Otherwise the original circuit is excellent- rivaling amps that cost a lot more (Marantz 8B) with similar bandwidth and less distortion. 

I'd go with Latino's versions- very nice.
Regarding references to the Tekton 4 ohm speakers, why would one pick a 4 ohm version of the same speaker instead of an 8 ohm? Any advantages? I don't think I've ever seen an amplifier that prefers a lower load.
There isn't one (tube, solid state or class D)!  That is my point. I'm sure people get excellent results with the 4 ohm models- there are plenty of posts on this site to that effect. Here's the deal:
****IF**** you want to get the most our of your tube amplifier****THEN**** that amplifier investment dollar is best served by a speaker that is 8 ohms or more.

Its that simple. If you have a 4 ohm speaker, you are leaving amplifier performance on the table. How this manifests will be less transparency and sounding not as smooth, likely less bass extension.

This forum is about high end audio. To that extent, the goal is simply to get closer to the music. Tube amps are really good at that; why on earth would you want to limit their abilities?
@grannyring "I was thinking about building one of Latino’s amps. Do you own one and have you compared it to an updated/modified ST70? I was also thinking of just buying an ST70 and updating it using modern day parts in key areas while keeping the output trannys."

I think you will absolutely LOVE having an ST70 (or pair of MKII, MKIII, or MKIV monos) around. Simply put, there’s no other piece of high-end audio that provides as much fun. Not even close. As I recently shifted my base from Philadelphia to Vancouver, I sold off a bunch of extra gear, including 2 ST70s. The guys who bought them often text me about all manner of things. Both had a lot of other amplifiers, solid state and tube, and both constantly tell me how fun and exciting and great sounding the ST70 is. They went out bought soldering irons and the like. And modding / playing with them has re-energized their audio experience. I wholeheartedly concur.

I’ve had originals, modernized versions of the original circuit, and modernized reinterpretations of the amplifier, almost all of which use the Mullard long-tail pair phase splitter / driver, the Latino (actually VTA) kit falling into this latter category. I do still have the VTA and the other boards, as I sometimes solder in different boards to play around, evaluate, etc. I also owned an ST80, not the solid state amplifier of the same name, but the Dynaco attempt at a tube amplifier designed to "fix" everything wrong with the original. These reinterpretations, including the Latino / VTA and the ST80, mostly switch out the driver board for their own design, with the rest of the amplifier remaining as it was. The exception to this are the Dynaco ST80 and Triode Electronic of Chicago, who also redo the power supply as Ralph alluded to. The ST80 also featured a triode / ultralinear switch, that mod I did welcome. I can comment on many of these Dynaco reinterpretations outside of the Welborne kit, which I found interesting and unique, used to have strong interest in, and wanted to try out. But the company went through a lot of ups and downs, and when I wanted to move forward, were no longer shipping any products and a lot of folks who ordered got left holding the bag. Most of these reinterpretations either sound exceedingly similar, or if / when / where they differ in sound it’s because they implement different (i.e. 12AU7 vs 6922) driver tube types from each other.

In my opinion, the most interesting, most fun, best sounding version is the original, updated with modern parts and a couple tweaks to the original design to provide the sort of low-end response we typically demand these days and also protect the 5AR4 rectifier from arcing / blowing at turn on. The total cost of these mods can easily come in under $20. But as they include the coupling caps, you obviously could spend $500 on those parts alone. And for those interested, my power transformer runs barely warm. Not to go off on a tangent, as that’s a discussion in and of itself, and I will leave that for another day, but many who really understand what they’re doing think a power transformer should run HOT for best sound.

That means, although no one has done more for the product over the past decade plus than Bob Latino, you WOULD NOT BUILD a Latino / VTA kit. The reason behind that is you want to go with the simpler and IMO, more interesting and beautiful / less ubiquitous / better sounding cathodyne phase splitter / driver circuit the original employed, and taken over from the guitar amplifier industry. Again, I feel though criticized since the time the kits came out for reasons such as rudimentary / backward, incapable of providing the amount of gain of the Williamson or Mullard designs, and simply employed to save a buck, folks overlooked its inherent superiority for the same reasons as they did with SET designs. I could talk about this all day, but will keep it short and high-level instead of making a deep dive and turning an already long post even longer and more boring. Upon taking a look and listen with a fresh set of eyes, ears, and mind, you find something unique, special, and wonderful. Folks historically dismissed the Dynaco with its slow, syrupy, pipe and slippers sound that represented the typical products of the time after hearing the reinterpretations; most of it came down to a case of comparing apples and oranges. The new amplifiers got built with modern parts, which provide a night and day difference in perceived speed, openness, clarity, and refinement. Build an original with metal film resistors (and good modern caps), and you’ll hear what I’m talking about. After all, that’s what 99% of current transformer coupled push-pull amps do, build a Mullard design with today’s parts. The cathodyne has allowed me to now come to see, and hear, drawbacks of the Mullard design folks never raised previously.

So, if you allow me, here’s a couple of thoughts:
1. Outside of buying something that looks like a truck drug over five miles of bad road with the intent of using those original transformers you mentioned, the days have passed when you could buy an original for a reasonable amount of money. A quick eBay history search shows units with the sort of terribly ugly chassis we all know Dynacos for normally fall into the $400 - $750 range. Again, it’s a good move to go for those great original transformers if you find a decent deal. But I want something that actually looks good in addition to sounding good

2. Bob Latino offers some excellent / modern RCA inputs and loudspeaker connectors that allow you to use the sort of real cables we demand today. I highly recommend getting them from Bob

3. Dynakit Parts offers kits featuring the original circuitry, and again, in my opinion, will produce the best sounding end product. Of course, that means ordering the metal film resistor option used in modern amplifiers NOT the carbon composition of the original Dynaco implementations. In addition to that, Kevin’s phenomenal polishing work on the stainless steel chassis, which obviously forever nixes the issues with discoloration, fading, pitting, corrosion, etc. provide something tangibly better than Bob Latino and Triode Electric. As I’m speaking of several years ago, it’s entirely possible the other two have since upped their games

4. As mentioned previously, you may want to consider implementing a couple of mods. The first protects the 5AR4 from arcing over / blowing during amp turn on. Folks have gone to Bob Latino with his thoughts on this, and after initially hesitating, it seems to now have his full backing. Regardless, blowing a fuse upsets me enough. Blowing my daily drinker JJ or top drawer sound $125 Mullard 5AR4 obviously takes that pain up to a completely different level. I’m not 1000% sure, but I don’t think I detect any sonic degradation from this change. The other mod, coupling capacitors, robs enough of the sweetness and magic of the original that you can surely hear it in A / B listening, but banishes the complaint that the ST70 doesn’t deliver the goods on the bass. It’s a sort of balance you work between the two, adding to one takes from the other. There’s a second mod to improve the low-end that’s pretty brilliant, takes nothing away from any other area of the sound, and costs less than a buck, but the only request of the person who taught it to me was to never publicize it, so I don’t give it out online. Just to tell you how comparable to a modern amp the bass becomes, I’ve scared more than a few bassheads literally almost out of their skins by playing the beginning of a Fiona Apple track through my Fried O subs. By that I mean, the sort of reaction someone working in a haunted house at Halloween dreams of.

More than anything, have fun and good luck!

I so appreciate your responses @atmasphere and @trelja 

Thanks you guys so very much! 


I am glad I reached out to you on this.  Your response is packed full of great advise and tips. I am taking your suggestions and will reach out to you shortly on one matter. 
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Folks historically dismissed the Dynaco with its slow, syrupy, pipe and slippers sound that represented the typical products of the time after hearing the reinterpretations; most of it came down to a case of comparing apples and oranges. The new amplifiers got built with modern parts, which provide a night and day difference in perceived speed, openness, clarity, and refinement. Build an original with metal film resistors (and good modern caps), and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.
I've never heard that sort of sound from any Dyna! Of course, the power supplies have to be up to snuff and if not that might account for that reputation. They are plenty lively stock.
But I agree that replacing parts helps. The carbon film originals can drift in value and the metal films won't. I also replace the coupling caps. Over the years we've modified many ST-70s; usually using a 12AU7 voltage amplifier/driver circuit, simpler, with less parts than the original.
Me, either. I had the Big Dynaco Tube Monoblocks. If nothing else they’re fast, super dynamic, liquid and totally awesome sounding. After I had them modded by BWS Consulting they drove my naked Quad 57s swimmingly. A friend of mine had the reissued Dynaco Stereo 70 about 25 years ago or whatever which was also awesome, driving my Quads which by then he owned. 😎  footnote on history: I wound up buying a nice coffee table that used to belong to the dude that owned Dynaco, I bought it from his son at a yard sale. Coincidence?
Sometimes I can’t believe all the BS people write when someone ask for advice. The only valid conclusion I can come up with is that people mean well but lack experience. Thomas, of course you can build your dream system within your budget and even much less. I own very, very expensive gear in addition to collector items and lots of $ doesn’t necessarily buy good sound and synergy. You can build an unbelievable system with budget items. I highly recommend purchasing some of the older “bargain” items from the late 50’s, to the 90’s. Tons of great gear that can STILL outperform many of today’s items. And don’t discount stuff based on company reputation; many Dynaco tube amps were better sounding than companies like Macintosh or Fisher tube amps. I have about 20 tube amps in my home costing $20,000 down to my cheapest $600 tube amp and even my cheapest amp, when set up correctly will sound totally amazing and a sound to die for. My biggest advice, erase your idea of the speakers you want, and start new. listen and get the most transparent and neutral sounding speaker. Build from there. Keep it simple, don’t waste money, buy smart, research forums of old school audiophiles and stay away from people that have just jumped into this hobby in the last 10yrs. They mean well but do not have the knowledge nor experience as someone who has been around for 30 or 40 yrs.  I do own state of the art equipment but I still am quite amazed and attracted at the detail, resolution and realistic clarity of sound when I listen to my vintage stuff from the 50’s to 80’s. Get a preamp with tone controls and do not listen to the BS out there. One of my best sounding vintage preamps has tone controls, the Marantz 7 serial # 14,xxx and it sounds so super transparent and wonderful. It recently outperformed by buddy’s “New Production” $7000 BAT preamp. The Marantz is expensive but there are tons of other preamps to buy that are cheap and fabulous sounding. The secret to buying great stuff - research forums. 
Don’t laugh, but I use the cheapest tube buffer out there - the FX Audio Tube-01 - as a volume control for my woofer amp in my bi-amped system.

$30 for this tube buffer/preamp/volume control, and $650 for the Benz Micro Wood SL LOMC cartridge (bought here on Audiogon) and $650 for the Benz PP-1 MC preamp. Just putting the numbers out there to show how some systems can have mismatched components, price-wise, but have synergy and sound great.
I use a Conn organ amp as the amp for my ribbon tweeters and planar midrange/uppers. And a Nikko Alpha II for some Tannoy woofers.

>>>>> BTW Jerry Garcia always insisted on Mcintosh gear back in the day. <<<<<
Yes... they started with tubed Mac's.  When they changed to solid state the sound changed not for the better.  A friend I worked with (in an audio store) who was a Dead fan,  told me that when they switched to solid state what he heard began to give him a headache.
I still have a Dynamo ST70 paired with a PAS 3x From the 70's.  Over the years have has several upgrades, cap replacements, different tubes, etc.  Bypassed tone controls on the PAS, upgraded resistors, etc.  Still sounds the same.  Compared to my more modern kit, the Dynaco stuff is a stroll down memory lane, but not as satisfying in terms of detail, resolution, and dynamics.  Soundstage is good, but the distortion is so high it obscures much of what is available from the source material (the distortion is lovely, second order harmonics adding a certain "lushness" to the sound).

What I have found is that modern SS electronics, properly matched to speakers (the 86dB Dentons will want more power, probably 100 wpm + if you want to listen at high volumes), room acoustics, and how loud you want to listen, will deliver adequate power to get the most out of your speakers.  Choice of cartridge (we are assuming vinyl playback here), cartridge loading, and choice of interconnect cable between your turntable and phono pre (capacitance) can function as tone controls.  Try running your cartridge as unloaded as possible for more detail and air;  increasing the load will change the resonant peak frequency and amplitude in addition to changing the amount of detail retrieval (you will need to experiment because often as the very high frequencies drop in amplitude, it can accentuate the presence of high-mid to high frequencies in the audible bandwidth, resulting in a more brittle sound, a counter-intuitive result).  Eventually, you will settle on a loading scheme that will get you the results you want.

Spend your money on a good turntable, cartridge, and phono-pre.  I am an avowed audio cheapskate, so I am currently using a new Technics SL1200 GR (removable head shell allows me to easily swap carts, RCA outs let me change interconnects, super easy to adjust).  Run that through any competently manufactured modern SS amplification system and you will likely find the sound that you are seeking.  My old Dynaco stuff stays in the closet.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am currently using an Odyssey Audio Candela preamp that has a tube gain stage.
The amps used in the Grateful Dead's "Wall of Sound" were MacIntosh MC-2300 SS units.  Jerry continued to use the MC-2300 amps for a while after the "Wall" was retired.  For a short time in '72 he used MC3500 tube amps for his guitar signal before he switched over to the more powerful and reliable MC-2300s.
I first started my foray into tube amps by restoring an old Fisher (400?). It sounded amazing and since this was my first and only experience with tubes it is what I grew to love. It has a very warm glow and sounds very warm. It takes the edge of CDs really well.

I've since moved on to the Cayin a-55t, still warm but resolves more of the music I think. Still searching for the right speakers - I was using Wharfedale Diamond 220's that I loved but found a brand new pair of Monitor Audio Silver for a third of the list price as the place was going out of business. Still breaking them in as they sound a bit bright to me (still).

I use a Lavry DAC DA-10 DAC in my living room system (Rotel and B&W based) and the Lavry is an incredibel DAC. I didn't want to spend as much for my office system which is where I have the Cayin and bought a Musical Fidelity V90 which sounds good but not as good. 

If you only listen to vinyl then a DAC doesn't matter, if you listen to CD a good DAC make a really Big difference. The Cayin a-55t is hard to find I got mine for $800 so if you see one grab it is all I can say. I have a Jolida 102B amp that I was using before. The Cayin uses EL34 output tubes and the Jolida EL 84. I think think the EL34 sounds a little closer to the Fisher than the EL 84 sound. It was hard for me to believe that different tubes make a difference but by trial and error I have found this to be true. Good luck with your search - so many options - so little money to chase after them all! Regards
I will second the top marks review on the Pro-Ject DS2.  For me it's Rega P3 into the Pro-Ject and then into tube pre-amp/headphone amp and power amp.  (I use DecWare CSP3 for phones/pre, and Line Magnetic 218 for power).  Love this rig.  Only gripe is the single speed of the P3 so I can't play 45s. Maybe have to upgrade to the external power supply...
Indeed, the Pro-ject DS2 is excellent !
@atmasphere "I’ve never heard that sort of sound from any Dyna!"

Given you keep active on this site, it surprises me to hear that. It’s become the preponderant current criticism. Someone just made that statement here on Audiogon in the past week.

I do agree an EL34 tubed amplifier veers toward the more engaging side. Still, though I prefer more of a flesh and blood sound than a lot of modern amplifiers provide, with the carbon composition resistors, I still find it too lush.

Interestingly enough, the guitar industry has gone in the other direction. The massive swell in the vintage and boutique amplifier market illustrates how those folks bought into the sound of days past. It’s grown large enough companies like Fender have introduced reissues of their mid-late 50’s amplifiers, and become their most profitable offerings. I made a friend near my home who makes a decent living giving the guitar crowd that sought after "tone". As we’ve talked a lot over the past decade, the route to produce that sound comes down to replacing the modern metal film and metal oxide resistors with the carbon comps of old. Of course, retro coupling caps don’t hurt, either.

The historic criticisms of the ST70 lie in response at the frequency extremes, particularly the low-end, and overall power. Oh, and the fact that folks found them ugly. The SET renaissance renders the lack of power no longer a concern. And as I’ve stated, the low-end comes down to implementation, mostly related to keeping costs down at the time. For an investment of less than $20, one can ST70 seriously dial up the slam, and produce bass no worse than any modern two output tube per channel amplifier.

We’ve landed on the same place with you replacing the 7199 and 6AN8 phase splitter / driver tubes with 12AU7. Replacing the pentode - triode with a double triode eliminates circuitry, and improves both operation and sonics (again, always moving toward the simplicity pointed by the SET example), with no detriment on any level. I actually prefer the 6SN7, but to keep the original overall landscape, the 12AU7 represents the best alternative. For those who want a completed amplifier along these lines, and don’t want to get involved with kits or having to keep a soldering iron handy, the Audio Van Alstine Ultraverve makes a good (and mostly correct) choice as a current ST70 implementation using the 12AX7. To bring some real elegance on the sonic and aesthetic fronts, the Jadis Orchestra / Orchestra Reference also use the 12AX7 in a Dynaco implementation, and more than provide that
Glad to see you're familiar with the VTA amps from Bob Latino.  I run their SP-13 preamp because their board is just small enough to allow their PH-12 phono board in the same chassis.  I have no place to work on something like that in my house, so had them make it up for me.  Cost me $1500 built, tested and shipped to my door.  The SP-13 uses the Aikido circuit.  I've had the opportunity to compare it a number of other preamps and it's a real winner.

The PH-12 phono board is dead silent and won't disappoint.
I own the Raven Integrated Reflection amp and absolutely love it.  I think an integrated tube amp with your budget will allow you to maximize your system.  Check out the Raven Audio website.  Call Dave Thompson on the phone and at least listen to him.  He has extremely beautiful sounding amplifiers and his entry level tube amps start at $3k.  For the money Tekton speakers are easily driven by the Raven amps.  I do not own Tekton but they sound great and are extremely affordable.  Add a music streamer / DAC and you have a great system for under $10k.  
Given you keep active on this site, it surprises me to hear that. It’s become the preponderant current criticism. Someone just made that statement here on Audiogon in the past week.
Just because other people say it doesn't make it true. I've heard a lot of older ARC amps and CJs that seemed a lot more syrupy than the ST-70.
But a lot depends on condition- keep in mind when the ST-70 was new, so were the parts in it. That is why many of them have to be replaced, as the older parts when out of spec result in distortion, bandwidth problems and so on. IOW many people are describing an amp that is out of spec. I didn't.
Ahoy Captain,
& welcome to the world of vinyl. As some of the boys stated above, & a set-up I employ myself, a Tube pre-amp mated to a SS amp (an Audion Premier 2 box/MM pre-amp & Classe’ DR9), combines the sonic signature of 6922 tubes with the power, control, reliability, & convenience of SS. So I commend your pursuit of venturing into tube pre-amp territory, "BUT" why swim against the tide??? The Rogue Cronus MAGNUM (have to get the Magnum II) is reputed to have a good phono stage, 100W of power, & that’s just for openers. Now that KT-150 tubes are available you’ll have excellent dynamics, + for not a lot of money you can taylor your sound later on by scraping the JJ Electronic tubes [ (2) 12AX7, (3) 12AU7 ] and rolling them with Philips, RCA, Westinghouse, or even Mullard tubes. If you want to blow the wad go Dutch or German 12AX7/12AU7 tubes.
The thing is with the Rogue Cronus MAGNUM it’s phono stage will allow you to go as far as using High output MC cartridges & no extra interconnects or power cords that you’d have with separates, so with one purchase, in one box, you are done.

As for the Harbeth Super hl5plus speakers are concerned? I’d do a lot more looking around if I were you. Why settle for a speaker that only goes down to 40Hz? You’re missing out on a lot of music!!! My experience with British speakers is that they’re over priced, over rated & they under perform. If you’re enamoured with Brit speakers may I suggest looking at the various ProActs.
If you do decide to go with the Rogue, may I suggest used Coincident Speaker Technology speakers. Easy to drive, very well made & IMHO, dollar for dollar will out perform Harbeth’s offerings .... substantially. (see Hi-Fi Shark, used).
If you’re on more of a budget may I suggests PSB’s Imagine T3 Towers. Giant killers on a budget.
Best of luck.
I'd give the Harbeth Super hl5plus speakers a listen.  They will begin to roll off at 40Hz, but the bass will be present into the low thirties and beyond without doubling effects and port chuffing.  They will, however, require some power.  If you are dead set on going down the tube path, however, speakers like the Coincident Technology speaker recommended by a previous poster, or the Tektons, or any high efficiency horn type speaker may go better with the "gestalt" of your system.  Of course, you will be missing out on the incredible natural presentation of the Harbeths (which can be obtained at substantially less cost than you will end up paying for the tube rig).
+2 for the Rogue Cronus Magnum II integrated tub amp. I am driving a pr. of Magnapan 1.7s and it does a beautiful job. It also has a very decent phono stage. Can buy new for under $3,000.00 and sometimes find used for under 2K. Made in the USA and some of the best customer service ever...Jim