how would an entry-level tube system compare?

Hi all,

I'm looking for advice on the following situation as I move into the tube world for the first time.

My current non-audiophile, lo-fi system: an old Sony 100W receiver and JBL S36 monitor speakers. 75% of the music I listen to is driving and bass-heavy (techno, house, electronica, hip-hop, rock). On this system, the sound is OK, but I can crank it (I mean _really_ crank it), which I like to do, and the bass is there, which I need.

I'm now planning a move into the hi-fi world. Although my musical tastes would suggest solid-state and big watts, I'm very curious about tubes. For budget and space reasons, I'm looking at integrated tube amps in the <$1500 range (from Cary, Onix, Cayin, Rogue, Eastern Electric, Shanling, VTL, PrimaLuna, and others).

I'm sure any of these tubes systems will take the quality of sound of my music to a new level. My concern is whether they'll be able to match the power, drive, and volume, of my current lo-fi system. Can a <50W tube system shake the house?

As for speakers, I'm still evaluating, but had not necessarily committed to high sensitivity ones. Should that be a requirement?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and advice.
Efficency is going to ba a concern for low powered tube amps, high SPL's, and lotsa-bass.

For techno I would suggest Klipsch Heressy's if space is a concern or LaScallas if it is not. The Heressys are usually available for around $400. Just be sure to get the originals and not the II's or III's.

Good luck!
Quality vs Quantity?
To get both, it will cost you an arm and a leg.
Keep you speaker efficiency above 90db. For every 3db above 90, your wattage will equal double:
So, 50 watts @ 90db will equal 100 watts on 93db speakers and 200 watts on 96db speakers, 400 watts on 99db speakers).
For every 10db increase, you will get a "perceived" doubling of volume.
So, it is very easy to find a 40 watt tube amp (many EL34 based amps) that will blow away your 100 watt Sony with the right speakers-and it will sound wayyyy better too.
If you can afford it use a bi-amp configuration, solid state amp for bass and tubes for mid and tweeters....should blow you away if you can afford it.
Tube amps need high quality output transformers to have a chance of sounding right on low impedences speakers, and the sad fact is that good output transformers are very expensive.

Tube preamps and solid-state preamps tend to cost roughly the same for a given quality level, but because of the cost of output transformers in tube amps, not so with tube and solid-state amps (this would thus hold true for integrated amps).

In short, my experience and my advice is that if your speakers dip below 4 Ohms (most do these days), you are best off pairing a decent solid-state amp with a tube preamp. A lot of people buy them, but a tube amp on the cheap is just that.
What is your budget and are you going to need a source? You can go alot of ways here and have a lot of fun doing so. Give us an idea of the $$ you are willing to spend so we can help.

be careful when mating a tube pre amp with a solid state amp.

there is a possibility that dc from a tube preamp may damage the solid state amp and speaker system.
Not worthwhile for you based the type of tube-based gear you are considering. You'd be better off borrowing some all-out-$$$ tube gear from a friend or audio club member. I thinking is that cheap gear will not impress you. (notice there is a fine line between cheap and inexpensive)
Since no one is answering your question spexcifically but are instead getting carried away raising other questions. Of you list my vote goes for Cayin. A88 goes for 1K/used,like new (good deal) or 1200/new from Hong Kong dealer.
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FWIW, I happen to agree with two other posters who suggest that the type of music you listen to and the manner in which you listen to it probably dictates that you would be happier with a good high current SS amp than a medium powered tube amp. The subtlies brought to audio by tubes would probably be lost. That said,

I drive large floorstanders with 92db efficiency and a 4ohm load to very loud levels in a 13x19x9 room using a Primaluna 1 or 3/5 combo. I trade off a bit of bass solidness (compared to a 100wt high current SS amp I have) but since I listen mostly to small scale jazz and classical I suffer no real loss.

Try to audition tubes before you buy, or as another has mentioned restrict your tubes to your pre-amp (a potentially excellent solution for your purposes with all of the flexibility that seperates offer).
Just a guess but I think he wants tubes regardless. Tubes look cool and are a conversation peice (that can sound quite good when done right). With techno all he will need is durrable, efficent speakers that will work well enough with low powered, reasonably priced tube amps.

Jolida also has affordable tube integrated amps. THey also look cool.

Good luck!
Ido agree that the type of super hard driving music he listens to, its BRUTAL on tubes. Tubes are best for easy blues, jazz, folk, classical. Hard Rock, techno, rap go with ss.
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I completly agree in your point on lumping ss nad tubes into 2 piles and end of story. Each tube every lab are different, by alittle and also much. Not all tube amps are built the same, sound the same.
Also agree that its OK to listen to Rock on tubes. Johhny Winter Live And cd never sounded better, I heard details never heard before on my little Jadis, bass "rock" solid. But its not the music I prefer to play on tubes, I feel its abuse, and have no plans to buy new tubes, or risk putting pressure on the Jadis. I do not like to send off for repairs.
Thanks for all the feedback everyone.

As Bignerd100 and Tvad correctly guessed, I really do want to experiment with tubes for a variety of reasons. A lot of the music I listen to is very well produced and has many nuances that I'm expecting tubes to accentuate. Plus I'm in the mood to try something new. Plus the concept of tube-rolling appeals to the DIY-er in me. Plus 25% of the other music I listen to is tube-friendly. Plus they look cool.

Bartokfan - I wasn't aware of the wear-and-tear factor on tubes of loud, driving music. It makes sense. But I think it's a reality I'm willing to live with.

So given the <50W factor, based on all your comments it seems that high-sensitivity speakers are key. So my natural follow-up question is: how highly sensitive do I have to go? (I should qualify that my statement of wanting to shake the house was somewhat hyperbolic.) Do I need to be thinking about 100db+ sensitivity, or will 89-91db (which seems to be the sweet spot in terms of offering the largest number of options) suffice?

Thanks all...

PS Barktofan - I'd be curious to know where you see Cayin A88's for $1000 used. I'm seeing more in the $1500 used range on Audiogon. Please let me know...
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Just a couple of suggestions:
1)Listen to a mid-priced horn system to see if it is to your liking. This will give you the largest performance/dollar return.
Teh problem with horns is that you like them or you don't and they have to be very large to produce deep bass.
2)No mater the design of the speaker stay above 93-94db efficency. Even 84db efficent speakers can sound wonderful with low powered tube amps for everyday listening but it is when brief peaks demand power that it will run out of juice and sound terrible.
3)Single driver, high efficency speakers can sound wonderful too. But for huge swings in dynamics they are likely to fall short.

If it is in your price range Tyler has come out with some beautiful horn-loaded speakers. Also check out Pi spekaers. You can buy them preassembled or as a kit. The guy who owns the company is very nice and accomodating. Old JBL or Klipsch should be high on your list too. Possibly Bag End PA speakers even.

Good luck!
Defiant, you do not need high sensitivity speakers with tube amps, at least not high quality tube amps. The 2 that come to my mind are Jadis and Cayin. i have the smallest of the Jadis' a 40 watt!!! , the Orch Reference, has 4 KT 90's driving the hefty and very low sensitivity Seas' rated at 87/86 db,. I guess you could say power hungry but the Jadis drives them with ease. Other labs in that size tube amp will not match, the Jadis is famous for its well constructed and its stamina/power. The Cayin A88 will drive the Tyler's Big is mentioning. But I would not go above his MTM(Monitors, with 7inch/tweet/7 inch) or 3 way(8 inch, 7inch, tweet) model. Sure its a hefty demanding dribver, but the Cayin, from what I read is up to the task. There are a few tubes amps that are best/only for high sensitivity speakers, the famous 300B tube is one. But don't worry about that right now, thats for another topic.
I should say with hesitation that the Cayin A88 has the KT88 tube and my Jadis has the KT90 tube. In tubes numbers mean alot. I'm thinking the 90 delivers more bass, sweeter highs. The 88 is a shorter tube and is better in mids. If that is so, then the A88 will not work with Tyler.
I bought a quad of 88's for my Jadis, and they sounded like c**p. But they were not Jadis 88's , but a cheap brand. So I do not know what the deal is. What I really need to do is get my hands on the A88, ASAP.
September, maybe August.
Used sometimes for 1K, keep eye open they go fast. I can get one from Hong Kong as well.
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I have a Tube Audio esign-60 with a pair of Vandersteen 2CE signatures. Room size about 12 X 15. Efficiency around 86DB. Using Tung Sol 6550s it can get loud. I listen to classic rock like Aerosmith and Eagles. If you need more power might want to check out the TAD-1000 monoblocks. See the reviews.

I can definitley get satisfying rock solid bass from my set up...

I have successfully mated the Sound Quest SQ-88 amplifier (55 watts using 2 KT-88 tubes per channel) with the Von Schweikert VR-4jr (89 dB) and the AAD 2003 (88 dB) among other speakers. The KT-88 tube has great bass control. The combinations above play driving rock music into my approx 20x26 room at house shaking levels. So, in my experience, ~50 KT-88 tube watts is more than adequate for your application even with speakers below 90 dB efficiency.

In addition to the makes you are looking at, appropriate Consonance gear can be found used in your price range. There is a Consonance Reference 880 integrated amp listed right now on Agon at a great price (less than $1000 ... I have no affiliation with the seller). The 880 uses 4 tubes per side producing 70 watts per channel. Put some JJ blue KT-88s in that thing and let 'er rip!! (I wish someone would buy it so I am no longer tempted.)

Did you get an amp?
I had a thought: A hybrid amp.
This would have a tube front end and solid state output.
The small tubes look cool, you can tube roll, it will take some edge off the music and play loud as hell!
All that comes to my mind right now is Moscode but plenty of others are out there. The moscode is/was 300 watts with tube gain.