The Berning ZH270 is a winner w/Merlins. It sounds even better with a preamp, but accepts 2 sources and has a volume control. Lead time/used availability is an issue. Manley Stingray is a good choice, too.
Search the archives, this has been asked many times. Cheers,
I think Bobby is not particularly keen on SET with his speakers; I had considered that route. I own the Ars Sonum and the Joule/CAT JL2 combo and in the Ars is certainly comepetitive in terms of musical pleasure. I think it will be hard to beat an integrated designed with a specific speaker load in mind - I suspect design philosophies (SET PP Class A Triode Ultra linear, etc) are not nearly so important as excetution. P.S. I have also heard the Stingray is a good match with the Merlins.
" I think Bobby is not particularly keen on SET with his speakers". Don't forget that Bobby voiced his earlier models using SET amplifiers. SET work very well with Merlin, but I would avoid the flea powered SET and concentrate on the 300B family or better yet, the 845 or 211 based sets.
I have heard the VAC Avatar sound very nice with a pair of VSM Me.
I agree that the VAC is very likely to be wonderful with the Merlins. I did not know Bobby ever used SETs or the history behind that. He gently steered me away from going that way, not that they would not work fine or that some might truly like it, but I was not encourage to go there. I would think that you would need an 845 or 211 for it to work though. Would love to try a deHavilland 845G for instance. Was very curious to try the Almarro 318B, but...
I've been running an Art Audio Carissa Signature for going on a couple years with the VSM-MM w/ superbam, absolutely no problems with power delivery. Plenty of slam, bass is filled out very nicely, refined mids and highs. I beg to differ, SET's can work very nicely with even the new Merlins.
Having said that, the partnering equipment is very important. Also, as you probably know, this is not an integrated amp, I can't help you there, although the Ars-Sonum is reportedly very nice on the Merlins. I suspect the EL 34's this amp uses mates well with the Merlins. I only say this because I still occasionally use a Conrad Johnson MV-55 (el 34's, about 45 wpc), and this also works beautifully with the Merlins. I have also used Cary SLM-100 monoblocks, another amp that can use EL-34's and it too was very nice.
There is an Art Audio Carissa on sale with a built-in volume control for less than $3000. I was very tempted by the Carissa.
I would be very leery about using the Art Audio, and perhaps any amp with volume control sans preamp. I wanted Joe Fratus to install a volume control on my Carissa, asking about my preamp (Joule Electra LA-100 MK.III), he advised against it.
I suspect running any source direct to amp would result in a thin sound, also lacking in dynamics. The pot Joe uses also slightly degrades the sound, something like the DACT volume control would likely be a better choice.
I think that Joe has a Gold Point Attenuator option that would likely work very well; better than a Joule? Well likely a very different presentation. I can't decide between my Joule and K&K TVC by Keven Carter - both wonderful in their own and different ways.
What I discovered over time, though Bobby told me from day one, the BAM sounds best when there is a tube preamp buffering the output to the amp. While I believe in passive for many setups, I think Merlin users are best served with a quality tube preamp.
If you have extra money go for the monoblock quartet.
Ive heard them with my friend ,hook up with the Andra I
they sounded unbelievable.
I did forget to mention that the Ars Sonum does actually have a tube preamp linestage, not a passive. Another integrated worth trying are any interation of the VACs.
Been awhile, thought I'd update the thread (for posterity, if nothing else).
I did in fact get the Ars Sonum integrated. Loved it. Used it for 2 years with my beloved VSM-MME speakers. The combo was fantastic.
Over the course of our relationship (ahem), two shortcomings came to mind.
One, I didn't get a tape loop on it (got it used). This was a mistake. If you want to get an Ars Sonum, get one with the optional tape loop. Honestly I have no idea why this is an option -- it should be standard. Why? Well, the BAM module (which may well be the bane of my musical existence) needs to go somewhere and quite frankly, putting it between your sources and your integrated's inputs is a bit limiting -- unless you plan to buy a BAM with multiple inputs and a switch, or buy multiple BAMs and have one per source.
An aside -- I went the multi-input BAM route. It's a PITA and I'm still not sure that the selector circuit on the BAM is anywhere near the quality of the one in the Fila, so I was always thinking that the BAM implemented and used this way was the Least Valuable Player on this particular team. And without a tape loop, the options for comparison simply don't exist.
Two, the VSM-MME + Ars Sonum can put out very prodigious volumes, and in the room I had it in (too small, really), I managed to get some startlingly deep bass. When I switched rooms, to a much (MUCH) larger open basement, I suddenly found that the bass, while very tuneful, true, and altogether wonderful, might not benefit from a bit of a kick in the nether(world) regions. So, an experiment in adding a pair of subs became an exercise in frustration. The line out on the Fila is a fixed-volume (rec out), so that couldn't be used. Using the speaker-level inputs on my subs was an option, but those Cardas binding posts made fitting multiple sets of spades just about impossible. But whatever I chose to do, there was still the non-bypassable BAM, which was rolling off all very-low-freq info oblivion. [Sigh].
Well, at least WRT to the subwoofers, I'm told one can get a standalone Velodyne SMS-1 to add/correct that BAM-induced roll off for your subs ... assuming you have a variable volume line out. Which the Fila doesn't.
Ok, so that said -- and all my deep-bass/large-room challenges aside, did I mention that the Fila sounded wonderful? It did. Is it perfect? Almost!
I sold my Merlin VSM-MME's last summer, and the Fila at about the same time. Why? Time to upgrade! Late last year, I was lucky enough to take delivery of a full set of Joule-Electra gear and a spanky new pair of VSM-MXRs. But that's another post. ;-)
The functional issues without the loop and multiple sources is a limitation, yet, as you say it does make a great pairing. The moved the MXr with the MasterBAM should make a noticeable improvement, with no loss of why you loved the MMEs, hopefully you will feel no need to use a subwoofer now! I will note that a fellow Agoner went from LA150/VZN100 to the Ars Sonum - which he actually preferred - as great as the little amp is, it is still a "little" amp that does play loud enough in most settings, but ultimately preferred an OTL, what I consider to be the best topology for an amp (SS or tubes)if it works well with your speakers, and obviously it works very well indeed with the Merlins.
I think the sound quality of the Joule-Electra is pretty remarkable, with a top end and upper mid that is untouchable by anything that isn't an OTL. It's just incredible.
But the Ars Sonum, being a transformer based amp, does stuff in the mid-bass and down that a true OTL can't hope to compete with.
We live in an imperfect world, it's true. Doesn't stop me from wanting it all, however. ;-)