I owned the VZN-80 Musicwood edition for 8 years. Wonderful sound, very present and immediate, with rich, full bodied tone. Had to sell it because of the heat. My music room was remodeled and I am now sharing it with the rest of my family. No way they would put up with the heat, nor would I expect them to. Prior to the remodel, I had the amp in an unused bathroom, which has since been demolished, and ran the cables through an adjoining wall to my music room, which helped me deal with the heat. If I could still keep the amp in a separate room, I would still own it.
My Joule amp was a labour of love, in that I often had to tinker with it. Buzzing and humming would arise, much more than any other amp that I have owned, but always I was able to diagnose the issue. Usually it was an output tube that needed to be replaced, or an output tube needed to be re-biased, or DC offset needed to be adjusted. A couple times I just had to re-route a cable and the noise would go away - that was puzzling to me as I never had to do that with the other amps that I owned, but hey, the solution worked. When the amp was quiet, meaning it was operating with just a very faint touch of tube hiss, it was glorious. Just as a point of reference, a VAC 70/70 amplifier was noisier in my system than my VZN-80, but my Coincident Frankensteins that I currently use are quieter.
Output tubes are $40-$60 each. The price adds up if replacing 8 tubes or more. There was a Russian seller offering them for $20, but he didn't have any left last I checked three years ago. The driver tubes can be inexpensive, or you could go for NOS tubes, some of which can cost way more than the output tubes. Didn't have to replace the driver tubes until the amp was 7 years old.
I also owned the LA-150MKII preamp, a very nice match with the amp. Never had a problem with it. Loved the touch of richness it added to the sound, without compromising the presence and immediateness that I prized. Stock tubes were still going strong when I sold it.
Thaluza, thank you very much. So..great sound but possible problems with noise. No problems with preamps. Could be "labour of love" indeed. Since the tubes last a very long time this should not be much of a concern, I just don't want to pay $200/$300 per tube when I need at least ten or twelve of them.
In any case, within the next two/three years I would like to be in a process of replacing my SS phono and the integrated amp with all tube pieces or at least getting tube phono and preamp and maybe SS amp. Phono may actually come first.
Thank you Charles for the compliment.
Inna, another thing to consider is that Jud Barber, the sole proprietor of Joule Electra, has retired. If you ever need service, you will have to look elsewhere.
I see you are asking whether the preamp will work well with solid state amps. I did own a solid state amp at the same time that I owned the LA-150MKII, a Belles Reference 150a. The LA-150MKII was a nice match with the Belles solid state amp, with a relatively big soundstage and a non-edgy presentation, but not as three dimensional and immediate sounding as the VZN-80. The VZN-80 also had a larger, more fleshed out sound than the Belles. I thought of other reasonably priced solid state amps that might sound good with the LA-150MKII, ones from McCormack and Pass in particular, but never got around to trying any of them.
Good luck with your journey! I really liked the LA-150MKII. Joule made an excellent preamp with built in phono, the LAP-150. Have you considered looking for one of these? Signature Sound is a good source for used Joule gear if you decide you still want Joule. If you buy from them, you can feel more comfortable about your purchase since they used to be dealers and still perform repairs.
I've owned two Joule preamps and Joule phono stages. I agree with the characterizations above. The preamps are rich tonally, and work great with a variety of amps both ss & tube. These days they are a nice value used. Rich Brkich at Signature Sound is great resource for everything Joule Electra (sales & service). He's worked w/Judd for decades.
The phono stages are more sensitive to RFI interference than many others I tried. Granted, I gave them a torture test, living about 1500ft from a radio tower, but after many calls with Judd and experiments with tinfoil, etc. we concluded that only turning my home into a Faraday cage would get it totally quiet. Then out the door it went.
The amps are OTL and wonderful sounding with the right speakers, and only the right speakers. I don't buy the argument that Speltz autoformer makes any speaker compatible, etc. To me they degrade sound quality. The noise from variac and voltage fluctuations do make the amps a bit of a labor of love, but for the right mindset owner, really awesome. FWIW, I put the Atma-Sphere amps in the same conversations but with the benefits of Ralph & team. Cheers,
I like the LAP150 linestage for its warmish tonality without sounding murky or slow. I also have heard and liked very much their OTL amps. These too are on the warm side, particularly for OTL amps, which still manage to retain much of the genre's advantages in terms of liveliness and dynamics.
The big issue with their gear is longevity and reliability. Both the linestage and the various OTL amps had some issues with build quality and reliability. I happen to be listening to one of their OTL amps at a dealership when the amp delivered a HUGE pop. It turned out that the tube sockets were going bad on the amp and had to be replaced. I found out later that this was somewhat of a common problem with this particular model. While socket replacement in most amps would be time consuming but not extremely so, in an OTL amp such as this particular model, it was not easy to do because it had MANY tube sockets and a whole lot of point to point wiring.
^^Any amplifier using 6C33 power tubes will need the power tube sockets replaced on a regular basis. When the tube was used by the Soviet military, the recommended service life included replacement of the socket along with the tube.
The socket was originally designed in the US for a Sylvania tube called the 3C33 which was an RF transmitting dual triode. In that service it ran fine for decades. The Soviet design doubled the filament current and the result is that the connections fail. The best sockets we have seen were made by EF Johnson in the US, and there are some vintage Russian sockets that hold up fairly well too.
Rich Brkich just listed an LA150 line stage for $1500, considering your comment, quite a deal for you @Inna.
When you get to the amp upgrade, perhaps @atmasphere 's OTLs using the 6AS7 will be a better fit for you. M60s, MA2s are long-standing fixtures in more than one friend's system. I enjoyed my MA1s as well. All use the 6AS7 which is reliable and affordable.
It seems Joule Electra is not in business anymore:
If someone is interested on OTL preamps or AMPs, perhaps it is wise to choose a company which offers reliable customer service like Atma-Sphere.
enjoy the music...
Sbank, yes I saw it too. Atma-Sphere are expensive. Did I hear right that OTL amps require a very careful match with speakers ? In what sense? I read that some use them with big Sound Labs, Classic Audio's modern vintage speakers are apparently excellent match too. But that's big unusual speakers. How about common dynamic speakers ?
OTL amps tend to have a high output impedance. That means that, if they are matched with low impedance speakers, particularly ones with an impedance curve with wide swings up and down, the frequency response of the speaker could vary quite a bit. The ideal speaker for all tube amps, particularly OTLs and SETs (which also tend to have highish output impedance), would be one with a high nominal impedance and a curve that is relatively flat.
Theory aside, all speakers require careful matching of amps. I haven't noticed, in the setups I've heard using OTLs, any particular sensitivity of the OTL type; they tend to sound very good with a wide variety of speakers.
Well said @larryi !!!
Perhaps @atmasphere would care to share a list of some of the other brands that are popular with his speakers. IMHE, they include:
Most speakers rated at 8ohms nominal have a good chance at working well. For those that want to use 4ohm speakers etc., Speltz Zeroformers are a popular solution, but not my personal cup of tea.
My older Sound Labs are very difficult to drive, but newer ones are easier, so I am not best to opine on that. Cheers,
Did I hear right that OTL amps require a very careful match with speakers ? In what sense? I read that some use them with big Sound Labs, Classic Audio's modern vintage speakers are apparently excellent match too. But that's big unusual speakers. How about common dynamic speakers ?Imagine a powerful SET and you have the idea of what an OTL needs in a loudspeaker (impedance of 8 ohms or more, particularly in the bass, no crazy phase angles). One of the most popular dynamic speakers with the Joule Electra and our amplifiers was the Merlin VSM. Audiokinesis is another, Coincident, Audio Note, Utopia, Spendors, etc.
inna, I've owned a JE LA-150 with the phono stage for several years. Most of that time it drove Parasound JC-1 monoblocs. I never had issues with noise, even with low output cartridges. I heard several JE amps over the years and always enjoyed their rich, musical presentation with the right speakers. Most OTLs don't match well with low impendance models. My speakers dropped to around 3 ohms at two different frequencies so the JE amps didn't work for me. Also I live in SoCal without AC so heat was a concern.
I would also agree that Jud's retirement should not be an issue. Rich at Signature Sounds is friends with Jud and has been a dealer for many years. He continues to service and sell Joule Electra (used) products so prospective buyers and owners can have confidence.
My older Sound Labs are very difficult to drive, but newer ones are easier, so I am not best to opine on that.Just a FWIW, sbank, there are some simple mods to the Sound Labs that make them a lot easier to drive and also better sounding regardless of the amplifier. Or you can just get the new backpanels for them.
Thank you, Atmasphere. It is Michael Green Audio Revolution 80i free resonance speakers.
You know, though it is difficult to assess while listening to youtube, that set-up - Classic Audio speakers, your amps, Purist Audio cables and some turntable sounded really good, I think. I would improve the source, though, but it's a guess. It's the video posted on Purist Audio website.
I have owned the Joule LAP 150 II, paired with VZN 100's, for 8 years. Speakers are Merlin VSM MMX. The sound is rich, warm, fast, detailed, immediate. Preamp, including phono stage, is very quiet. Amps have slight hum that is not noticeable as soon as music starts to play. Original output tubes. Replaced a couple of driver tubes. Cost of tubes is reasonable. The amps are very easy to bias. Heat from the amps is considerable - another A'Gon member commented once that the amps "could melt an igloo". Joule gear is special - the urge to upgrade melts away too!
The Joule Electra like other preamplifiers uses the Russian Super tube. I was not a fan of this preamplifier. Thought it sounded small and not as transparent as I had hoped for.
Check out the deHavilland Ultra Verve. Less money and sounds better. Uses a couple of 6sn7's. Big tubes big sound. I think it is true that larger tubes do have a bigger sound. 845's 300B's. Not a fan of the 6C33.
Sounds real audio,
I realize that there’s more to an amp/preamp performance besides the type of tube it uses, however you raise an interesting point. Each tube has it's own sound character that can be affected by other aspects of the component (design,part quality, implementation etc).
I heard a 6c33 tubed amplifier (Lamm push-pull) and I wasn't particularly impressed with its sound quality. Is it the tube or other factors? Would I prefer this same tube in Lamm's SET amplifier (great reputation) instead? It raises curiosity. In my system the 300b amplifier was clearly the better sounding in that specific comparison. The preamp paired with these amplifiers uses 101D tubes which are DHT.
I guess this thread is the reason why I have been getting several recent phone calls about Joule-Electra gear! :-)
Some general notes/thoughts....
6C33 Tube Sockets - Ralph (Atmaphere) knows way more than I do about the variations and types of these. What I can report is that as long as the tubes are not often messed with (bent around in their tube sockets), they generally hold up fairly well. I have not had to replace many. I do carefully give them a visual inspection whenever a amp comes in... looking for signs of carbon caused form poor contact tension (sometimes arcing). Sometimes they need a little tweaking (tensioning) to make sure the contacts are fitting right on the pins. Given the layout of the board and how the sockets are mounted in the amp, making other sockets (with different mounting points) is not something I have tried just because it did not look practical, cost effective, or possible to do.
The amps can be a bit fussy (to operate) and Variacs can be a problems on the early versions, but in general they a quite reliable and make great music.
The phono preamps susceptibility to RFI (quite literally radio station signal creeping in) is limited to MC operation in my experience. Later versions (MKIV/V) seem to be better in regards to this and the problem tends to rear its head with folks who live close to radio station transmitting facilities.
As to tubes use and cost.... the preamps and amp are not hard on tubes. The 6350 used in the amps, and preamps though not currently made, is not a hard tube to find NOS samples of... and a get set of 6350's in a LA-150MKII for example, will last around 4 years or more depending on use. Jud, generally used good NOS tubes in his gear so that I generally what I like to stick with (except for the 6922/6DJ8 used in the phono preamp and OTLs). The older preamps use OA2 for voltage reg, later on Jud switched to a Zener diode to replace them. There are also 6EM7's in the power supply and those hold up quite well (lasting about twice as long or longer as the line stage tubes IMO) and they are not expensive or not hard to find NOS examples. So, it could cost $300 to completely retube a preamp, but the thing is, that is generally never necessary. When a old preamp comes in for a check, I may generally replace a couple of the line stage tubes as the ones in the power supply usually tube test and measure in the preamp fine, then tweek the line stage bias adjustments and then send along its way.... they are great preamps and generally very reliable. I'll never sell my LA-300ME.
As you can tell, I'm pretty found of Joule gear... will continue to do what I can to continue supporting it to see that it lives on in use for its owners and fans.
Rich, maybe I'm just lucky but I live within two miles of two Interstates, six miles from a military air station, and within sight of three TV transmission towers. Still, I never experienced any RFI in my Joule phono stage, in either low or high gain.
And inna, as Rich will likely agree, Merlin speakers are a very good match with JE electronics. Jud and Bobby demoed together several years at CES.
@soundsrealaudio ... Only ONE Joule preamp (model/version) used the Russian 6C45 and 6H30 "super" tubes... The LA-150MK1 line stage (you can also find this line stage in the few LAP150MK1 preamps made (NB: a LAP is a joule line stage and phono preamp [a OPS-1] in a full function two chassis [power supply in separate outboard chassis] full function preamp. LAXXX preamps are only line stages). If a Joule preamp sounded small, IMO there was something wrong with it... Not something I have experienced or many owners I have talked to over the years have heard with them. If you ever get a chance to hear a LA150SE or a LA-300ME, give it a spin - I think you may find it to your liking. :-) I do understand we all have our individual preferences though when it comes to what tubes and tube designs sound best. :-)
The LA-100(MK1 through MKIII) used 5751 and 6350 tubes in the line stage and LA-150MKII line stages used four 6350 tubes in the line stage.
I am also not a big fan of the Russian tubes (sound wise), but even for using those tubes the LA-150MK1 line stage was pretty good sounding... I do think that the LA-100MKIII and the LA-150MKII line stage designs (so the later includes the 150SE and the LA300ME variants) were Jud's best sounding efforts.
@pryso The phono preamps can be odd that way. Generally they are not prone to picking up radio stations, but I have one customer who seems to be in the right spot to pick up a certain FM radio station... RFI can be odd that way . . . it can be something about slight differences in wiring layout or even tube chosen that can cause it to happen or not.
Those CES shows with Jud and Bobby bring back fond memories and were great fun... And also some sadness with Jud's wife Marinanne passing some years ago and just last year Bobby. I do miss them both.
It is Michael Green Audio Revolution 80i free resonance speakers.I've not been able to find any information on this speaker, but in general it appears that the speakers on Michael Green's site are pretty tube-friendly in terms of impedance and phase angles. They do need a bit more power but that is usually not a problem for OTLs.
Ralph, thank you. When I switched from 60 watt/ch amp to 120 watt/ch amp, both ss integrated, there was a big improvement at all volume levels, though the current amp is of higher quality too. But I can definitely hear that the increased power is beneficial. So 60 watt/ch of tube power should be just right, and 100 watts wouldn't hurt.
inna, I own the Joule Electra 150MKII SE. The one piece of gear I just can't let go. Everything else in my system has changed but I just love the sound of this pre. Plus Jud is a super guy and I wish him all the best in his retirement.
Rich, did you end up with Jud's stock of tubes for my pre? I ask because I had planned on buying a second set just to make sure and then heard Jud was retired.
Ralph, you are always such a gentleman, it's really nice to hear you talk highly of someone else's products without trying to sell your own. Of course to me that is reason enough to look into your products as well.
In fact, have a new audio friend who is bringing over a pair of your M60-MK111s that he is going to sell. I have heard here in fact a few years ago that they are a very good match with my Joule pre so I'm really looking forward to that.
@gregfisk I received some tubes from Jud (6350's and Russian 6C45 and 6H30 stuff - all old stock - some new, some not), but I am unsure if it is all that he had. So, I am always on the hunt for batches of NOS 6350s (which are not easy to find... plenty of folks with a pair or two, but I'd love to find a stash of a dozen or more).
BTW, I agree Ralph is a true gent. Often sharing his experience and expertise on various forums which for sure I have learned much from.