The APPJ PA0901A is surprisingly good for the money. You'll need efficient speakers, over 90db at least, and you'll have to retube it with nos before it sounds any good. So you're looking at around $400 all up. I can recommend using a GE triple mica black plate from the fifties as a driver tube.
Not sure this exists under $500. But if it does, I definitely want to know about it...also, per my own experiments with different gear, a tube pre with a SS amp or a tube integrated will best a SS pre with a tube amp. Just my experience.
Look at Jolida, probobly used. Try to get one of the more recent models.
Look on E-Bay for 'tube amp' and you'll find a number of items in your price range. Most are Chinese imports, but my limited experience with these types of products is that most sound pretty good as long as they are not pushed too hard.
I can probably stretch my budget to around 500 or so. This is more of an experiment than need for an amp. I'm using an Vincet hybrid amp now and I have an old mf100 Conrad Johnson I can try as well. Another thought I'm having is a tube preamp with SS amp.
While not apples to apples this is what I'm using on my main rig with my Thiel speakers. There I run a BAT pre with a Parasound A21 amp with good results.
nice used vista audio 500-700
some of the cheap chinese stuff scares me. It looks like no CQ on the units.
good used Decware unit? Grommes PHI-26 used
Any of the Cayin units is a good choice. Inexpensive, high quality sound, great value. I have three of their units and all are outstanding.
Run a WWW search of the "Musical Paradise MP-301 MK3" single ended tube integrated amplifier ($339 plus shipping).
Looks interesting (to me) and reviews are quite positive.
To use it as a power amp turn its volume pot to maximum and just run your Acurus through one of the MP's line inputs.
Would also be interesting to try the phono section (only) of your Acurus by running it via "record/tape" out through one of the MP's line inputs.
Considering it to simplify the Bottlehead (separates) system I've been using for the past 12 years.
Anyway, a taste of SE tubes for $400/new and it should be fine with Zu's in a small room.
I agree that tubes in the preamp stage, with solid state for power, is the best combo. I use the Roth MC4 in my office for this setup.
Having said that, if you really want tubes in the amp stage, check out the Dared VP-300B SET tube monblocks on eBay. Six Moons loved them, and they should work well with the ZUs. I owned a Dared integrated, and it was really well built. Worth a look.
"I'm using an Vincet hybrid amp now and I have an old mf100 Conrad Johnson I can try as well."
Have you gotten any gain related noise with any of the electronics that you have already tried?
I currently have Musical paradise MP-301 MK3 and definitely it's one of the best kept secret - reason being you can get it for $400, it's integrated so you will not need preamp, I have used other amps like NAD, Odyssey and few other SS amps currently I have are coincident mono blocks and even though they are better definitely not by not by the margin you are paying for those, Musical paradise is the one amp I will always keep, so much value for the Money and it's really musical.
Thank you for all the suggestions. I'm looking into all of them.
zd542- I'm not sure what you mean by "gain" issues.
Both amps work. However the CJ sounds better to my ears if only a little darker.
I've decided to try the Music Paradise MP-301 MK3. Seems like a safe bet for my first venture into tubes. I'll keep this thread posted.
Anthem Amp 1 is a nice 40 watt EL34 amp that can be had for around $500....
"zd542- I'm not sure what you mean by "gain" issues. "
Gain related noise. When you have very efficient speakers, like the ones you have, its very easy to get some noise coming from your speakers. It's kind of like a hissing sound.
As an example, I have a pair of Wilson Cubs in one of my systems. Source is a Wadia CD player going directly into a VAC 30/30. The Wadia has a volume control, but it also has dip switches internally that you can use to change the global volume. So if I have the overall gain on my Wadia too high, I get noise. When I lower the overall gain, the noise goes away. What this means for you is that you really need to try components in your system before you commit to a purchase.
It's a real shame and kind of sad that Jim Nichols can no longer be used as a reference, as he built some of the best tube amps around for the money
Ok, just got the amp and have been listening to it for about an hour.
First impressions, compared to the Acurus Ls-11 line stage pre and the Conrad Johnson mf-2100 I think in general it's a step down so far. But I suppose $400 integrated tube amp should not be able to compare to over $2000 worth of gear. But I guess I was hoping for a bit more.
The highs are generally smooth but have this harshness to them on some level. The highs are generally rolled off. I opted for the RCA tubes 6SJ7 in the pre section and 6L6's in the amp section.
The sound stage seems a bit closed in and the air around the instruments isn't there anymore.
Now these are first impressions. Maybe once the amp breaks in a bit or I throw some different tubes at it it will open up.
Not saying it's a bad piece, just not the equal of what it replaces.
That's the problem of buying tubes just for the sake of buying tubes. The sound varies quite a bit, just like with SS. If I had to guess, the issues you are having sound more like preamp, than amp related problems. Given your budget, I would try a passive preamp with your CJ. You're far more likely to get better results.
Well granted this was an experiment, but one that was suppose to compliment Zu bookshelf speakers that by most accounts crave tube amplification.
This is my secondary rig so it allows to me experiment to some degree with too much risk.
The Musical Paradise gets rave reviews both pro and owner. I'd tube roll.
I've read that the rca's I have are pretty good in this pre. I'm gonna try some Genelex Golden Lion KT88's to see what they do for me. They are suggested units.
I've been running in the amp all day, so I got a good 8 hours on it. I'm happy to report that it has opened up substantially. The highs have smoothed out as well.
One thing for sure,is that interconnects make BIG differences in sound. So finding the right one might be long road. Especially since any good interconnect will cost as much as the amp. The trick will be to find one that's inexpensive and works.
I will say I can see what all the fuss is about with tubes. The presence of the music can be really life like.
"Especially since any good interconnect will cost as much as the amp. The trick will be to find one that's inexpensive and works."
There's an easier way to do this. If you are looking at cables that cost as much as your amp, a better strategy would be to buy an amp that's twice as expensive and just use cheap cables.
Ahhh but what fun is that. If you start making logical decisions like that you take all the beating your head against the wall and kicking yourself for making bad decisions out of the process.
Zd542 you make logical and concise arguments. As you usually do from other comments on other threads I've read. I have no counter argument with what you say. But I'm not looking for audio bliss out of this system. Just some fun and to dip my toes in the tube water so to speak. Without breaking the bank. That's what the main rig is for.
Just an update, I found some old Strait Wire interconnects I had stored away and threw them on. As luck would have it they seem to do the trick.
You should strongly consider selling your preamp and interconnects and buying an $890 Clones integrated.
So I switched the amp tubes out for some Genalex Golden Lion KT88's and now it's really singing. A nice full sound that's smooth and musical. Tubes look nice too.
This little amp isn't too bad at all once you get the right tubes on it and let them burn in a bit!