How about an SP3 Onix. I sure like mine and I saw one for 450 or so just the other day here on Agon. That would leave room for tube rolling.
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Second vote for the SP-3. It was my first foray into tubes and is a excellent performer. It listed for about $1200.00 and can be had used for under $500.00. The stock tubes aren't bad, but it can be improved with NOS tubes.
It has some drawbacks. No remote and only two inputs. If you can live with that, you won't be disappointed.
I took it at face value that inexpensive for your purposes meant "preferably under $800." I offered my suggestions so that you can add them to your audition list and form your own conclusions, and as I have heard samples from several of the brands being discussed, I am sure of my suggestions.
My most important suggestion, however, is that if you are able to find a store in your area that can work with you to dial-in your system, from tubes amps to cables to sources, you will have a far better chance at building a high-value system that you like. My local shop is a tube-centric store, they don't even carry solid state. They have a lot of tubes on hand (they've been in business since 1947) and can let a customer listen to different tubes during an audition. This is very beneficial. Since I am close friends with the owners, when I was building my system they let me take home a box of cables (about $20,000 worth of wire with samples from Kimber, Cardas and Audio Magic) and a caddy full of tubes (RCA, Tung Sol, Mullard, Amperex, Telefunken, Sylvania). And you know what? To mine and many other ears, I arrived at a pretty good sounding system.
But here's the points I'm trying to make:
1. All of the amps suggested to you on this thread are worthy to audition if available in your area. But listen to them for yourself and trust your ears. Don't buy something based simply on the advice you receive here, or in some other review rag. Our advice, or review rags, are good starting points, but you must listen for yourself.
2. You are far more likely to be successful in getting where you are trying to go by working with a good shop. And if they have used equipment on hand to sell, all the better, audition it too.