Naim, simaudio, creek integrated all good.
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If it were me I would spend the lion's share on speakers. You can find a decent used amp for $800-$1200. Start looking (listening) for what you feel is the best $3500 pair of speakers your money can buy.
Keep in mind the room you'll be listening in and an amp that can get the most out the speaker you choose.
With that kind of front end, you need to up the ante a little.
I suggest the "better than most" integrated tube amp, would be a Jadis DA-60. You should be able to get one for about $3-3.5K used.
That doesn't leave a lot for speakers, but you might want to get by on a pair of better monitors, while saving up for speakers to match the rest of the system.
BTW I saw a pair of Von Schweickert VR2s on "the big auction site" for $1,000. I have my DA-60 feeding those speakers, there is good synergy.
No conflict of interest to report.
I'm with Tom. I'm guessing patience and around a grand could get you a pretty nice amp used, and at 3500 (or maybe 4000k) makes for a lot of speaker options, new or used. I don't know enough about Zu to say if the house sound fits your taste in music, but I was impressed with the Superfly at RMAF (sadly, the top end hit my ears a bit hard). John
Thanks for the responses.
A number of the integrated amps, like most straight preamps, have far more functionality than I really need.
All I really need is a single input, volume and balance control.
I would prefer to spend my money on better design and parts than on RCA jacks and switches. Any minimalist integrateds out there?
I also had the crazy idea of just driving an amp directly through an stepped attenuator but I don't know if the impedance matches would work and I only have around 600mV from the Herron.
Hey Jarrett, if you are a minimalist, here's a thought: A Morrison ELAD linestage (400 used, 700 or so new). I've not heard it, but it is very well regarded. Morrrison says it mates well with Odyssey amps (starting at 600-800 used); like many others, I enjoy mine. An inexpensive IC from Signal Cable or somebody like that, and you'll come in at a nice pricepoint for you. Just a thought. J
My present system is:
Zu Soul Superfly speakers, $2600
Lightspeed Attenuator, $500
Music Reference RM-10 Mk 2, $2000
dbAudio Labs Tranquility SE DAC, $1800
The Music Reference amplifier has an input impedance of 100 K hms and the DAC has an output impedance of 50 ohms. The combination with the Zu speakers is the most satisfying setup I've ever had. I think it's really terrific. Detail, soundstage, relaxed and smooth presentation. Musical.
It is slightly more than your stated budget, but if your source is less than 200 ohms output impedance, I think you'll have a winner here.
My personal advice would be:
A pair of Tonian TLD1's or a pair of Quad 57s and a used Almarro 318b or a Transcendent OTL. I don't think it's possible to do better and that will get you very close to as good as it gets. With an added woofer and a couple cap upgrades, you're pretty much there. If you're going with dynamic drivers I would stay in the high efficiency realm as I believe they're physically better. Quad 57s are breathtaking but may be harder to live with long term if thats your plan.
My advise was the same as Trcnetmsncom, find the best speaker that you like and figure out the amp situation after.
You have a good front end and will need a good phono preamp too (Dont skimp).. There are lots of good used speakers in the 1500 - 2500 range.
Just my thoughts
Vandersteen 2CE, Spendor sp1/2e,B&W 801 matrix III, revel F50's
New - Magnepan 1.7, Eminent Tech LFT8b
Find a used Sim 5.3 phono preamp
Used Rogue M120 or RM200 amp or Odesey monos
and you will be set...
I understand your concerns about electrostats and otls in which case I stand by my suggestion of the TLD1 and an Almarro 318b. That's not to say the es and otl option is a better one. Just different. I think the TLD1's will be more enjoyable to listen to. They can play most music. They are far more detailed in the upper registers -- the modified raven tweeter in it is the best I've heard aside from the Acapella Plasma.
Of speakers at a similar price point, I prefer them over Audionote AN/e's (the pair I heard was a $20,000 version and it quite frankly sucked), spendors harbeths and the likes, klipsch cornwalls, various Zu speakers (far lesser than the TLD1's) and so on. I think in their price point there's nothing close to as good (the same can be said about the Almarro). And frankly the only thing superior in my opinion would require entering into the realm of super expensive compression drivers. Add a pair of TAD or JBL woofers and you're there.
My last thought would be to pickup a pair of Tannoy dual concentrics. They're very easy to live with but are a little less resolving than the Tonians, electrostats, and compression driver based systems.
I own a pair of the Tonian Labs TLD1 speakers and have heard the Merlin's numerous times. I have to say they offer up quite a different sound. The Tonian's are fast, detailed, and more transparent. Sometimes a bit in your face. When in use I use no toe-in with them. The Merlin's, while not as transparent, are smoother in comparison and IMO would be easier for most people to live with long term.
Aside from that, Wilsynet mentioned a combination of the Lightspeed attenuator and Music Reference RM-10 MkII. I also use this combination and another Audiogon member uses this same combination with Merlin speakers and loves it. The only concern wold be the output impedance on the Herron which is a tad high at 500 ohms. The Lightspeed usually likes to see an output impedance of less than 200 ohms. You could check with the manufacturer to verify that. In lieu of the Lightspeed a buffered preamp like THE TRUTH of Pass B1 would work well.
11-16-10: Clio09This is valuable, IMO. Clio09's comments certainly echo what I've heard from Tonian speakers on several occasions.
I. too, have the Tonian TL-D1s and agree with 'fast, detailed and transparent' but 'in your face' can apply to any speaker when not mated with the proper amp, unless they are smooth and wooly to begin with. Who would want that? The Tonians are masters of tone and body when partnered with the right equipment. I've gotten great results with a Burson integrated. And I use a little toe in. I even had Tony Manasian at my place to make sure it was set up right and even in my small apartment, he thought the set up was spot on as to placement.
You can get the speakers, new, along with a new Burson (from partsconnexion.com) for about $4,000 and use the rest on music.
11-16-10: Nonoise"In your face" is a perfect description for how they sounded *to me* when they were being demoed by Tonian at two separate audio shows (Stereophile's HES in Los Angeles, and T.H.E Show in Las Vegas). I have to assume Tonian selected amplification they thought was optimal.
The VSMs with Lightspeed and RM10s are SOTA IMHO (the LS replaced my Joule LA150 SE which is wonderful in its own right), but Clio9 might be right with the output impedance issue, and excellent integrated for the Merlins would be the Manley Stingray (uses EL84s like the RM10s). I personally think the VSMs are among the best 2-way speakers ever made (perfect for my 20x12 room) and if you know you like that sound I would stick with them. Fortuantely, 30-40 tube watts are plenty to drive'm. I'm sure the Jadis mentioned would also work well, but the EL84 tube is pretty special if you can get enough power to drive your speakers. I think the EL34 -based VAC Avatar[?] would also work well (EL34 amps tend to work well with Merlin).
Have you ever heard horns of any kind? Very different than Merlins. Not saying better or worse, but surely different. I do think you have to find the speaker you love, and the worry about the amp, since the speaker is the most influential (other than recording and possibly room)piece of equipment and the sound of your system. Now one advantage of Horns is you can get away with low watts, and that can save you money on the amp side of the equation - but fall in love with a speaker, then....
I spoke with Tony about the amp and its specs prior to buying the speakers and he said the speakers would work fine with them. My room at the time was much smaller than what I have available to me now so I was sitting closer to the speakers. The speakers are on loan right now and set up in a larger room and I still get the "in your face" sound from them. These speakers image incredibly well and are one of the few I've heard that seemingly project the image in front of the speakers, as opposed to some that are more recessed.
Don't get me wrong. I think Tony builds some fine speakers, including the 12.1(?) model that I heard in SF over the Summer and nearly bought on the spot. Its just that the Tonian and Merlin sounds are so different, that the OP who is familiar with the Merlin sound might actually feel overwhelmed by the Tonian.
Yup, I think we have to settle the speaker issue first, but certainly one could build a Merlin based system with good amplification for $4,500 used. Or a Maggie based system, Or.... it is all going to start with the speaker and only OP can answer the question of what type of sound he is looking for - having started with Merlin (a really good start) we can move forward, but every change in speaker changes the equation and if OP never heard the speaker himself, I'm not sure I would every feel comfortable saying one way or another whether a speaker would be good for him. As for horns, the one horn I really liked was that Audiokinesis I heard at RMAF, but not sure if that was a Jazz or Dream Maker or something else, but it sure did sound good with the 30 watt Atma-sphere OTL.