Getting the Upgrade Bug Again


I just listened to some CJ gear this weekend. It was the ET3 SE pre-amp coupled with the Classic 60 SE amp. Not that I am unhappy with my current integrated amp, but clearly this is a step upwards.

I want to stay with tubes and would prefer to purchase new gear. So is there anything else I should listen to that is in the same price range of the CJ gear, which is $9,500.
greginnh
Check out Quicksilver gear!
PLEASE...go to an Audio Show (or two) before shelling out the big bucks. There are so many excellent choices in high end audio these days. If you can afford to be discriminating, why not be. Half the fun is the journey!
Agree with Brauser. Different manufacturers have different sounding gear. There's Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, VTL, Lamm, VAC, CAT, McIntosh, Rogue, Cary, Rogers-- and those are just some of the more popular American companies I can think of off the top of my head. They are all have differing philosophies of how tubes should sound and none of them are bad, even to the discerning ear.
Does your Primaluna have enough power for your speakers or will you be needing something that has more?
Which tubes do you have in the Primaluna now? Have you considered swapping them with something else?

But if looking for something new check out the Octave V70SE/V80/V110. Make sure to add a black box or super black box. The latter would be better with your speakers. It really lowers the noise floor and increases headroom.
Zd542 - The PrimaLuna has plenty of power for my speakers. I don't think I would need more power.

Xti16 - Stock tubes right now with about 150 hours on them. Swapping tubes is an excellent suggestion.

Thanks!
I too agree with Brauser, however, equipment listened at the show may sound totally different in YOUR room.
Greginnh - What are your stock tubes? El34's - 6550's - KT88's or Kt120's? Is there a brand name? I can really change up the sound of my Octave by putting in different brands and types.
Xti16 - still running stock EL 34's. Not sure who PrimaLuna sources them from but probably Chinese.
Best you check out Cayin's tube line, and the companion VAS line. Great sound, great value. I own both have never been more satisfied.
The problem I'm having trying to come up with a recommendation in you price range, it that there are so many choices. The only thing I can tell you for sure, is don't skimp on the preamp. Also, don't under power the speakers, even if it means you have to go with a SS amp. I'm not saying that is now an absolute, direct replacement for a tube amp, but current models are good enough where they just shouldn't be dismissed just because they're SS.

The Classic 60 is an excellent piece, but I do hesitate when you say you will be using them with a pair of 803's. I had one, and its a great sounding amp, but I would say that its a must audition in your system first. (You don't say whether you tried the CJ gear in your system, or not.) A few combinations do come to mind that may go well with your speakers. I'll list them for you. You may have to go used for some of these.

Aesthetix Calypso preamp with an Ayre V5 amp.

BAT 300x Integrated

ARC tube amp (something like a VT100 or equivalent and a matching ARC preamp.

BAT separates, tube or SS

Pass amp with a balanced tube preamp like an Aesthetix, BAT or ARC

Quicksilver V4 mono's with a VTL 2.5 preamp or the CJ preamp you just listened to. The V-4's would definately be a better match for your speakers than the CJ 60.
The PrimaLuna has plenty of power for my speakers. I don't think I would need more power.
IMHO, you do need more power. With EL34's, that's 32w/ch. B&W recommends a minimum of 50w/ch. Also, the 8 ohm impedance drops to 3 ohms. 800 series B&W are usually not tube friendly, however some may work, but will probably take more power. Have you tried the 4 ohm tap on the amp? I believe this should be better than using the 8 ohm tap. And if you try different tubes, then KT120's for the additional power.
Zd542 -Thanks so much for all the great info. There is plenty to ponder for sure! I can audition the CJ gear at home with my speakers. I will also do some investigation on the recommended components.
Tls49 Thanks for the input. Yes - I am currently running the B&W 803 Diamonds on the 4 ohm tap. I'm going to try some KT 120's in the interim.
Greginnh - The KT120's will be punchier and more forward sounding in the highs and lows but the mids won't be as luscious sounding as the EL34's.
I'd wait until ARC slaps some KT-150s into their integrated amps. The KT-150 is supposed to be the first power tube designed with 20-20k music reproduction in mind.
03-18-15: Tls49

The PrimaLuna has plenty of power for my speakers. I don't think I would need more power.

IMHO, you do need more power. With EL34's, that's 32w/ch. B&W recommends a minimum of 50w/ch. Also, the 8 ohm impedance drops to 3 ohms. 800 series B&W are usually not tube friendly, however some may work, but will probably take more power. Have you tried the 4 ohm tap on the amp? I believe this should be better than using the 8 ohm tap. And if you try different tubes, then KT120's for the additional power.
I'm with Tls49 here - you need much more power from your amp to drive the N803D. Your Primaluna is woefully inadequate in both triode & UL modes.
Tls49 has correctly pointed out that B&W speakers (all of them) are not tube friendly. They can be used with tube amps but it's with those very large tube amps that burn a hole in your pocketbook.
As far as I know, tube amps work on the constant-power paradigm - tubes are voltage devices (as opposed to semiconductors that are current devices) hence they are less able to output large amounts of current unlike their SS brethern. As the impedance of the speaker changes over freq the power output of a tube amp remains essentially constant & the voltage output & current output of the amp changes to deliver the power. At low freq, the impedance is lower, the amp outputs more current (whatever's available within its spec) & generates less voltage (across a lower impedance). The power output remains essentially constant. At higher freq, the speaker impedance is higher & the amp has to output less current & it generates a higher voltage (across the higher imp). The power output remains essentially constant.
So, running the N803D off the 4-ohm tap is better from a current delivery & lower distortion point of view as the impedance mismatch between the tube amp & the speaker is less but it is likely to result is a slightly less output power (because the amp cannot generate as much voltage across the low speaker impedance).
But what you are missing from your Primaluna tube amp is its ability to dump large amounts of current into the N803D x-over components to generate a large voltage that will eventually feed the speaker driver elements. A honking big tube amps such as Atma-sphere MA-1 140W/ch or Atma-sphere MA-2 220W/ch might do the job for N803D. I'd say you'd need atleast a 140-150W/ch tube amp & it's going to cost you dearly!

Also know that B&W "voices" their speakers with Classe solid-state amps & it is for very good reason.
if you look at any B&W speaker's measured impedance & phase plots you will quickly realize that these speakers are made to pair with a solid-state amp (which follows the voltage paradigm i.e. power amplifier's output doubles with each halving of the speaker impedance down to 4 ohms, often to 2 ohms & rarely down 1 ohm - such an amp is going to be $$$$ to say the least.).

So, IMO, your statement that the Primaluna's have sufficient power for your N803D is a big understatement. Yes, you'll get some music output but you will never be satisfied with the sonics & will always have the upgrade bug.
If you love tubes, get another speaker. If you love tubes & that B&W N803D then open your pocketbook wide & get a tube that is worthy of driving your N803D......

Now, another suggestion (that has recently come of age) is that you can get a high power & high current class-D power anplifier for a very reasonable price. There are too many options (many of them stated here on Audiogon itself over many threads I've read in the recent months) to cite here. Here with a class-D you might be able to have your cake & eat it too (reasonable price, high current, good sonics, light weight, runs cool). if you are totally opposed to class-D, then, this option does not exist for you....
I want to stay with tubes and would prefer to purchase new gear. So is there anything else I should listen to that is in the same price range of the CJ gear, which is $9,500.

The PrimaLuna has plenty of power for my speakers. I don't think I would need more power.

Hi Greginnh

I would definitely include Music Reference in your search.

Music Reference RM200

Price List

Just a happy customer for many years.

Cheers and good luck in your search.
Bombaywalla has mentioned Class D. Rogue Audio now has tube/Class D integrated and power amps that would have no trouble pushing the B&Ws.

Pharaoh Integrated... 185 WPC/8 ohms, 350WPC/4 ohms
Medusa Amp ... 200/400, WPC 8/4 Ohms
Hydra Amp ... 100/200, WPC 8/4 Ohms

A different way to go.
A little more than your budget, the VAC Sigma i160 is truly worth considering and there are add-ons and an upgrade path.
I used one MC275V on my B&W 802 Diamond and sound excellent. I upgraded to Mono Block and get a lot better. Now I upgraded to a Pair of MC601 and never look back and I compare them frequently.
Yes, upgrade to more power will get you better control of your music and require less tweak.
I just ordered a Luxman 505ux. We shall see how it performs. With a 60 day return policy from Music Direct,I have nothing to lose.
cool. keep us posted...
thanks.
I have been running the Luxman for a few hours now. It is showing some promise. I now understand what you guys were saying about the B&Ws needing more power. They sound very different.

I can't wait to hear what these speakers will sound like when the amp is broken in.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
Greginnh, yes a lot of people don't understand that about the 800 series B&Ws until they listen to them with amps that can really supply the grunt. They look at the 8 ohm impedance and the normal sensitivity ratings and just assume things. It's more complex than that. I once has a technical guy at a well respected amplifier company tell me the amp-speaker interaction is a combination of Qts, complex impedance, and sensitivity. Some speakers just need more current to really come alive and it's not always apparent by reading the specs of the loudspeakers. And you don't always know what you're missing until you try various amplifiers.
Abrew19 - to coin a phrase "you don't know, what you don't know", that would describe my experience with the B&W's. The Luxman has made a huge difference. I will be keeping my PrimaLuna integrated and will be on the lookout for a pair of speakers that will be compatible with that amp.
After listening to the Luxman for a few weeks, I have decided that while there is an improvement, the B&W's still don't sound right. Luxman sent back and B&W's sold this morning. On a new quest for a more compatible speaker for my beloved PrimaLuna.
Greginnh,

I think you are doing things in the wrong order here. Speakers (and their fit with your room) will make the most difference to the sound of your system. I'd suggest settling on speakers first, and then figure out what amp works best with them.

Again, an audio show would be very helpful (and in audio shows, speakers are easier to evaluate than the gear that they are paired with, IME).
Thanks Roscoeiii. On the surface my approach may look a bit backwards but I should have left well alone. I know that I am extremely happy with my PrimaLuna integrated amp. am also happy with my sources and interconnects. The "updgrade" to B&W 803s was a big mistake (as others have pointed out). The only variable that I need to address now will be tube friendly speakers.
Break out the Raid.

The audio world is largely your oyster for a 10K investment.

Try a Rogue Pharoah Class D hybrid integrated, stick with an integrated and save a few grand. It'll pretty much drive anything to the max. My dealer who carries full Rogue and ARC lines thinks its the best. I've heard it and cannot disagree.

B&W is not a tube amp friendly design in general so I would steer clear of pure tube amps unless you have speakers better suited for the mating. The hybrid Pharoah is designed for those who like the sound of tubes but do not necessarily have the most tube amp friendly speakers to work with.
Greginnh ;
I too have your amp now and it works nicely with my Di Capo i's from Reference 3a . Triangle would be another company to try .

Good Luck
Greginnh ;
I believe that the stock Primaluna branded EL-34's are from Shuguang . If they are the reddish/brown base ones they are considered to be a pretty decent tube .

Happy Tunes
Harbeth M40.1
Yeah, around $10k you have a ton of options. Off the top of my head from shows and other auditions:

Harbeth 40 or 40.1 (great suggestion Noromance)
Salk Exotica 3s
Vapor Nimbus (long wait time tho)
PSB Imagine T3

I'll report back with more ideas after AXPONA this weekend.
Thanks for the suggestions! Keep them coming. I will be trying Totem Element Earth and Reference 3A Grand Veena BE's on home trial basis next week.
I like Luxman class a and Verity speakers.
FWIW, I agree with Roscoeiii. You are doing things backwards. But the journey is half the fun, so enjoy the experience.
So far it seems like this post has been all about equipment and no mention of sound. I think you'll get much better advice if you tell us what sound characteristics are important to you and what you're looking to improve. Otherwise we're just flying blind here. Also, now that you're focused on speakers, you might want to create a post under Speakers if you haven't already.
Siox - yes, this thread has "morphed" into a speaker-related one. It certainly wasn't by design!
Just bought a Plinius Hautonga amp. The B&Ws will be happy.
I thought you said you sold the B&W's?
Hi Abrew19 - I did (foolishly) sell them. I auditioned over a dozen speakers last week and for some reason, I am hooked on the B&W sound. I just ordered a some 804 Diamonds. They will work better for me in my smaller room plus a bit easier to move around!
Ahh I see. The 804 Diamonds are fine speakers. I've never heard the Plinius amplifiers but have read the rave reviews. I hope you keep us posted on your results. Thanks.
B&W's arrived last week and I have been breaking them in with the PrimaLuna. The Plinius Hautonga amp came in yesterday and it pairs perfectly with the 804 Diamonds! I got in about 6 hours of listening last night as was very impressed with it.

Thanks for all your advice and suggestions. I have placed the PL up for sale on Audiogon. If I can't get my price, I will use it for a second system as the bug is likely to "bite" again soon!
Jump on upgrade ASAP!!
Yes, quite often B&Ws are not a good match with tubes, in particular the models with dual woofer arrays.

But if you still have a hankering to show off the capabilities of a tube amplifier, try a set of Audiokinesis loudspeakers. They are reasonably priced, wide bandwidth and very revealing, as well as easy to drive.