Integrated tube amplifier - finest ?

In looking for a superior tube integrated, I have come across the Bel Canto SET40i, Jadis Orchestra Reference, Pathos, Viva Sintesi, EAR V20 and Unison Research. Has anyone done a head to head with any of the above ? Of those I've heard, the BelCanto is my favorite, but the remote may be coloring my opinion. Any thoughts on these units would be most appreciated, particularly the Viva Sintesi and Unison Research. Most of my listening is done at low to moderate volume, simple stuff (acoustic, female vocals and chamber music) and always off axis, so purity of tone is more important to me than soundstage and/or imaging. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, this is a wonderful resource you all share ! Anubis
I auditioned the Audio Anologue Puccini SE, Jadis Orchestra (the older version with EL34's), YBA DT, conrad johnson CAV-50. I purchased the CAV-50 and have never been happier with an amp. It is a gorgeous sounding amp worth more than its' cost. I recently sold it to a good friend and upgraded to a Premier 11A due to more demanding speakers and a good opportunity. I was shocked at how well the CAV-50 sounded in comparison to the 11A at 1/2 the power. If you like jazz and fem. vocals....the CAV-50 is literally to die for. However, I found that with rock and large scale orchestral pieces...the CAV-50...when pushed hard...lacks the power (thus the 11A purchase). I don't want to overstate...because the CAV-50 was the best integrated I have ever heard....I even named the amp!! Give it a try. Also...I have not heard it....but VAC has a new integrated (I believe that it was reviewed in this months Stereophile) that looks quite interesting. The Jadis Orchestra that I auditioned sounded like crap. I found out later that the dealer had a problem with the amp (that he did not know about when I listened to it) I cannot formulate a good opinion. I also have heard the Pathos...which is big $$$...and is quite beautiful. Pathos is quite nice. As far as purity of tone....that is subjective. Also...remember warranty and service when you select. It isn't easy (at least in my area) to get service on the Jadis and some of the others that you mention. CJ warranties 5 years and warranties used gear as well (2nd hand) I wouldn't call the CJ "neutral", however, it makes music rivetingly musical. Give it an audition before you buy.
sorry for the mention of some non tube integrateds in my post.
In contrast to Mfgrep stellar review of the CJ, I found it to be very slow and colored. I auditioned the CJ a/b to the Mesa Tirgis, which, in my opinion, was far superior to the CJ. However, I purchased the Copland CTA-402 which was very close to the Tigris and included phono and remote for a few dollars more. If you don't need a phono, then by all means, audition the Tigris. It has variable pentode/triode settings is very musical and has amazing head-room. I have heard the Unison and was not nearly as impressed.
Hi Anubis. I just bought a Viva Sintesi from an audiogon member. It has replaced my seperates. It's 13 watts aside has a drive and dynamic range that is unreal. This amp demands your attention. You will also find the purity of tone you desire. No remote but you won't care. A very good friend of mine came down for a visit. Heard the amp and is now looking into the mono blocks for his Venture speakers. I can't say enough about this integrated. You will not miss your seperates. If you would like more info feel free to email me.
I really don't have experience with all of the ones that you mention...but the one that I have superb, the VAC Avatar. It also has an excellent phono stage...worth the look and listen.
I owned the Bel Canto SetI40 and now own the Pathos Twin Towers. It is part of a second system. I have Lamm ML-1's in the main system. I had a cap mod done on the Pathos (slight opening up of the top end) and they give the Lamm's a real run for the money. I love the Lamms but as a value I have never heard anything close to the Pathos at any where near the price (and it is stunning visually). I have not heard the Viva but would assume it is very good as well.
The amps I have heard from this list are the Jadis Orchestra Reference and the Pathos Twin Towers. I cannot comment about the others, but feel you would be happy with any of these fine products. The Pathos is fabulous, but not the type of sound a tube lover is into. It is more open, detailed, and extended, while lacking the sweetness and warmth that we buy tubes for. Interesting the above post states he preferred the CJ CAV50 to the Jadis Orchestra(though he later states there was a problem with the Jadis). I feel just the opposite. I cannot find one area where the CJ is superior to a Jadis(unless you prefer a REALLY warm sound), but all of this is personal opinion. I own a Jadis Orchestra Reference, which I feel even much superior to the Orchestra. It is more like a DA-30, with passive preamp, and in my opinion should carry a different moniker to avoid confusion with the Orchestra.
I too heard the Mesa Tigris....I found it superior to the CAV-50 only with Rock and Roll loud and pumping...which I do not listen to.
I found the VAC Avatar to so profoundly change tonal color that I felt compared to measure its response (on an easy 4.5-9.5 ohm speaker load): compared to several SS amps, which mutually agreed well within the +-0.25 dB resolution of my meter, the Avatar...down 3dB at 250Hz climbing through 0 at 1kHz, then peaking at +3dB at 3-4kHz (ouch! went the horns!), then falling precipitously to -8dB at 10kHz! (no air wharsoever!), then recovering to +2db at 20kHz. The dealer verified that the amp was functioning normally, so I called VAC, who admitted that all EL34-based amps are colored tonally, and that I should try their more expensive separates for a neutral sound! Oy.... I ended up getting Aleph separates for an easy, but pricey, solution. From my experience I can imagine that the AVATAR may synergize well with a speaker that has complementary frequency response anomalies, like an overly warm lower mid, too-soft low treble, yet VERY hot high treble. OTOH, I'm not even aware of such a speaker design, but obviously some folks like what this amp does to their system...but neutral it ain't--not by a long shot! Subjective effect: male voices severely pinched, horns and strings VERY hard, cymbals & brushes extremely rolled off. I'm sorry if my criticism seems harsh, but this amp wasted a lot of my time. Happy hunting.
I am also looking at high end integrated amplifiers for purchase. I am looking for comparisons between tube and transistor amplifiers in the $2000-5000 range, particularly the Plinius 8150, the Bow Wazoo, Classe etc. I would like phono but no absolute need. Let know of your listening experiences. Thanks, Rich Mitchell
Rich Mitchell, If you want SS integrated listen to Gryphon's 100 watt int. It is much better than Plinius int. or there seperates. Have no knowledge of Bow Wazoo.
You should check out the Manley Stingray.Very fine piece and an excellant company.Stereophile class b and The Absolute sound recommended.
The CJ CAV50 with it's stock tubes is OK at best. BUT...with some choice NOS tubes it is a world beater. As good or better as anything up to 5 grand.