Joule Electra VZN100 with Merlin VSM-MX.

Is this combo really so superb??
How compares the VZN100-VSM/MX combo with the very best combos out there (Tenot-Kharma, Wilson X1-Halcro, Boulder-Soundlab, etc. I´m considering this combo but here in Europe it´s close to impossible to hear one of them. Is this really one of the very few more natural and realistic combos out there regardless of price?
You should try searching the archives. For example, There's a long thread that compares/contrasts the Kharma with the Merlins. Many, many opinions on this already stated.

Long story short, what's best will be based on your personal priorities, associated components and your room. All those mentioned above are among "the very few". IMHO, the Merlins give you an advantage in small to medium sized rooms, increasing the likelihood that you get "showroom sound" at home. Cheers, Spencer
The Merlin VSM and (Joule or Berning or Atma-Sphere or Viva) combination represent an incredible ratio of value-to-performance. I've listened extensively to Merlins with both Berning and Viva amplification (but not Joule), and I place the combination at the top of my candidate list for any combination under US$25,000 retail. I'm very familiar with the Atma-Spheres and do not hesitate to include them among amplifiers to include in this consideration.

For me, the Merlin VSM-MX is a "never-regret-it" choice in it's price range. Any material improvement requires a one to consider materially more expensive alternatives. In consideration of the "very best combos out there," yes there are better but the price doubles or more.

For amplification, the Joule has a very particular sonic signature. It matches well with the Merlin. But, also a great match are the Viva Auroras (much higher priced in the US, but perhaps more affordable in Europe), the Berning ZH-270, and the Atma-Sphere MA-1. The Berning is a very common match in the U.S. and works very very well with the Merlin; it gives a much more neutral tonal presentation than the Joule, but that becomes a question of one's listening priorities.
hi rushton,
your post caught my attention.
you know that i am a big fan of all of the amps you mentioned, a really big fan.
but i am interested in what way you prefer the the tonal characteristics of the berning to the joule and what you find the joule's sonic signature to be?
Hi Bobby,

And as I hope you gathered, I am a big fan of your VSM speakers. Ever since I first heard Lloyd Walker's tweaked out older pair, I have been impressed. Your new VSM-MX is, in my opinion, a superb speaker; I've really enjoyed listening to it in Sbank's system.

As to the amps, probably my preferred choice would be the Atma-Spheres. But as to the Joule, what I hear is a richness and bloom in the mid-bass (subtle) that adds a beautiful warmth and some seductive richness that, ultimately, I don't find as truthful as the Berning or the Atma-Sphere tonal balance. I also hear a complementary "sweetening" in the top end; not so much as to describe the amp as "polite" but still makes the amp more "pleasing" to my ear than neutral. I clearly don't want to overstate this, because compared to traditional transformer tube amps the Joule delivers so many of the benefits of an OTL design. This is why I suggested in my post that this may move closer to a matter of listening priorities. For me, I'd prefer the greater neutrality of the Atma-Sphere or the Berning. Also, I listen almost exclusively to vinyl with tube preamplifier so this may also sway my choices in finding the right synergy of equipment. And, I acknowledge not having heard the Joule recently so matters may have changed or my aural memory could be deficient. If you don't hear these same things (and they are subtle, not dramatic), I hope you'll balance my comments with your own so others are not mislead.

thanks for the input. there is no doubt that the ma1 sould always be mentioned in the absolute of the absolute. certainly very even handed. but i still find the joule to have less sonic complication. the berning is also fabulous but just a bit shy imo. the emphasis is more on a complete quality where ambient energy is at an all time high. certainly the ma1 and berning may even sound a little more extended in the bottom octave but imho not so in the treble. but you know, it really depends on the wire association as i think the berning sounds better with the audience and the joule with the cardas and one's opinion could change to a degree depending on the interface. in the end i do agree with your statement about the joule mid bass fullness but always found it to be a positive thing rather than something off neutral. as i said, in conjunction with the au24 this might be too much of a good thing but with the cardas it seems right on to me.
the ma1 and berning may indeed play better tone from top to bottom but the joule imho sounds less like an amp and lets you actually walk into the music as it is being performed. it sounds slightly more centered and because of this produces a holographic quality that is really quite remarkable.
just my take on things.
isn't it nice to know that we have so many great amps to consider these days?
you can also throw in the jl2 and jl3s from convergent into the discussion. totally relaxed huge dynamics and resolution out the ying yang.
thanks again.
I can contribute a bit based onpersonal experience. I've heard Bobby's speakers with A-S and other gear and his speakers are superb. In fact, my nephew snapped up a pair on AG based on my recommendation. Bravo Bobby!

I own the Rites in Musicwood. I heard the VZN100s in a direct head-to-head with a Berning 270. I auditioned Berning, A-S, Cary and others and have heard CAT a few times.

IMHO, the Joule is the most harmonicallty fleshed out amp in the world. I think the other amps are terrific in there own right and personal preference and price is a consideration. But, Joule is the best. There is no hump or bump anywhere in the sonic envelope, but they powerfully render the acoustic envelope and this can fool you.

I suggest strongly that the midrange warmth you hear is a room interaction or mechanical vibration seeping back into the signal chain or a cabling issue. Joule's don't bloat. They are harmonically fleshed out and very right.

The others may sound more right in certain areas because they are thinner and excite the environment a bit less.

I do very much agree that wire plays an imporatnt part in getting the soundstage right. Bobby knows what works best with his gear, but I own Elrod and it is killer.
"certainly the ma1 and berning may even sound a little more extended in the bottom octave but imho not so in the treble."

Boy I sure hear you there Bobby. The Joule/Merlin combo is in a very elite group of systems I've heard that get the critical high frequencies close to real. The Berning certainly has its virtues but really doesn't approach the Joule in this area. This is a really big deal to me because it is so rare to hear it in an audio system.
good post and you see that the elrods are a little lighter in the midbass than the cardas and certainly more so than the audience. this is why it might be a cable issue.
so if you don't mind rushton, what cables were used way back when you auditioned the joules and was it on the merlins? oh yes, was it in the basic vzn chasis or the music wood model because that has a bearing too. glad i remembered that! the basic one sounds somewhat thuddy or slightly one note-ish in comaprison to the music wood ones. imho, speaker feet are also an issue here and these amps sound best on my z feet due to the much improved dynamic coupling.

I just can't let you slide on Elrods being lighter in the midbass than Cardas. I've had both in my system. Elrods are harmonic firehoses. If it's in there, it'll come out, stand clear! And their ability to support coherence and musicality bring an emotional connection with recorded material I truly love.

But, I honor your expertise on all matters Merlin. I have not experienced the pleasure of Merlin in my system. You make a truly outstanding product and your tenacity and vision speak volumes in the design. You surely know what works best in the chain! I do not.

The writer also asks about other higher priced gear and it's all great stuff.

I'll close by suggesting that you could spend less on the Joule/Merlin combo than the other combos and be happy for a lifetime.

Many already have.
LOL and smiling... I surrender! Never intended this to become contentious folks, and I'm delighted to see so much energy in the conversation. :-)

Jsl - the word "bloat" is your word, btw. I never used it. Relax.

What all of you are describing are, to me, excellent examples of matching equipment to achieve great system synergy. My compliments. System synergy is absolutely the key to success in this pursuit of ours and many people pay too little attention to the fact that we all listen to complete SYSTEMS. And I agree wholeheartedly that choices in power cords, interconnects and speaker cables play a big role in achieving that synergy, provided we are not using the cables as equilizers to offset or compensate for issues elsewhere in the system. (Just a comment, not a suggestion that is the case with the experiences shared here.) Choice of tubes will do that as well, and can have a particularly great impact of the sense of treble extension and air that a given amplifier demonstrates, in my experience.

Bobby, my direct experience with the Joule was at least four years ago, in two different systems. I don't recall the cables in use, but I'm pretty sure it was the standard chassis. Neither system was with your speakers. I will certainly defer to you for what you believe makes a great match with your speakers. For the record, I use Omega Mikro Ebony inconnects and speaker cables in my system here.

And, now, I have an early EMI/Harvest pressing of Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" ready to be queued up on the turntable...

BTW, is anyone else willing to actually respond to the original question posed by Felipe? That's what I was trying to do.
believe me jsl, i am not saying anything negative about the elrods, i think they are super. but this type of cable has a very different type of push in this frequency than a litz or certain cryoed cables would and that is my point. elrods are very good at harmonics but "on my speakers" they are a little lighter (and i say, a little) than the cardas and audience in midbass heft. i have known david for many years and we are very good pals. god, he'ed shoot me if i messed with him. ;-P
hi rushton,
nothing contentious coming from me. just trying to get info.
the chasis have a large part to do with how the latter generations of vzns sound. the originals were particle board with a leatherette glued on the extremities with really spongey feet as decouplers. i recommended the use of such woods years ago to judd and clark and they made up a sample that i used at a ces show and fell in love with. we experimented with the stock feet and my z feet at that show and it was clear to me and rich that the amps needed a coupler like my z feet to really make them disappear and open up.
i think if you heard them now you would be impressed.
by the way, this is really good info for the man who started the string.
Hi Bobby,

Sorry to imply you were being contentious; it was not my intent. Quite to the contrary: I have very much enjoyed the questions you asked and the way you have sought further clarification and understanding!

Best wishes,
There was nothing contentious meant in my comments. If it came across that way, I apologize.

Cheers, Jsl.
I'm sorry for being contentious as well.
Hi Bobby,

Afer hearing your show set up with VZN 100, and driving my VSM M with a Berning ZH270, (thanks Tubegroover!) I've been enjoying immensley my new VZN 100 Music woods.

I totally agree with JSL comments. The "harmonic envelope" is as complete as any I've heard in my 35+ years in the hobby. There is a tonal "rightness" to this amp that is difficult to describe. Perhaps your comments about it sounding less like electronics and more like the real thing is what I am trying to say but I'm not sure that describes it accurately. I'll just settle for "killer amp made better in music wood" to steal your expression from CES a few years ago.

The VZN 100 high frequencies on the Merlins are portrayed in the most open, relaxed, and detailed manner with absolutely no ring, tizziness or etching. Brushed snares, cymbals, bells take on a realistic clarity and beleiveable decay. The VZN slam dunks the Berning in this area and the ZH270 is no slouch on the Merlins.

The other area most noteable is the holographic layering of the VZN 100 compared to the Berning. The Joule is much better. I cannot imagine going in in other direction after having this combo the past couple of months.

While I could have easily lived with the LA150/Berning combo, (or the Music Reference RM-9 prior to the ZH270) I have no buyers remorse or regret in moving to the VZN camp. I look forward to my MX speaker upgrade when my order is built.

I will be adding the Critical Mass amp stands (that Jud likes so much) to this mix in the next week and hope to report back yet another "notching up" in resolution.
you should hear those amps on the z feet man.
simpler and maybe more right in the end because what you want to do is couple them, not decouple them.
Bobby, Tubegroover, Jsl, Joneill....

Are your listening impressions between the Berning ZH270 and the VZN-100 based on hearing a fully tweaked Berning (i.e. silver wire, ERS, upgraded caps, NOS cryo'ed output tubes, and NOS input tubes)?

The fully tweaked ZH270 is what I'm running now, so I'm very curious about this comparison more than a plain vanilla ZH270.

Fully tweaked Zh270 that was in my rig. Cryo Briamar drivers, cryo outputs, ERS kit, new cryo foil caps and all wire upgrades.

I did not intend to make it appear that the ZH270 is a slouch. It is not in any respect. Just very, very, different sounding then the VZN 100. I could have lived with the ZH270 (espically after the mods) but choose another path and am very pleased.

It will be hard to part with & sell but the economic realites do not allow me to hang on to two amps.

Hi 1markr

Yes, I also have a fully modded Berning with all you mention and have tried numerous combinations of input/drivers. The Berning is improved greatly with these mods and the cryoed hybrid wire is probably the most significant in my estimation. It gave the amp a more relaxed presentation and improved the highs significantly. That is to say more effortless across the board.

In truth I agree with much of Rushton's impressions as they mirror my own except for the high frequency presentation of the Joule, it really must be heard with the Merlins to appreciate all the accolades this combo has received. There is a true sense of air above and around instruments and vocalists that capture the reality of a live performance. When I first heard it I couldn't believe it improved so much over the Berning although this was before I did the wire upgrade which markedly improved the situation. What is quite different is the harmonic richness, not an exaggerated fullness as I have heard with many tube amps but a rare combination of harmonic reality plus transparency of the highest order at least the equal of any amp I have heard. The Berning and Atmas-phere excel in the transparency but are harmonically a bit leaner. I have communicated with several Merlin owner's that have heard both and there is no concensus which is better as they each offer a different palatte of musical reality. I would offer this hopefully without it coming across as contradictory, the Berning is more neutral to the recording while the Joule can sound closer to real. As Jim notes the Joule offers greater dimension of the space. I recently heard that gap close quite a bit after auditioning a few pair of Stereovox Sei 600 cables which to date are the only silver cables that I heard truly work with the Merlins. The cables opened up the soundstage and dilineated the instrument lines to a degree of a major component change. The bass was the best I have ever heard the Merlins, taunt defined in space and deep, no bass, no way man! An audio buddy who has watched my Merlin system evolve over the past 4+ years was completely taken back by the addition of these cables and remarked that maybe it was closer to the Joule/Merlin combo in certain areas of spacial resolution and venue reality.

The bottom line is that the Joule/Merlin combo is world class, truly among the best I have heard. The Berning/Merlin/Stereovox system won't make you second guess a thing it is so wonderful. Each offer two different presentations with a differing set of appeals, as Jim notes, it would be hard to part with an amp as special as the Berning especially if you explore deeply and discover what it is truly capable of with the Merlins.


Don't worry about coupling versus decoupling the VZN100 amps to the isolation platforms. Mr. Ps comment, though very well intended, was made without an understanding of the physics of the system.

Mr. P, all do respect, nothing malintended in my comments. Your work, and Mr. Berning's and Mr. Barber's is marvelous.
i saw your website and it looks interesting.
we need to discuss the possibility of getting something to listen to at some point.
are you suggesting that this item will preclude the need for specialized feet on the bottom of the amp? aren't you concerned that the amp is still storing energy within its own chasis to a degree? the more this energy is expended the more your device can convert it to heat energy.

That's a wonderful thought.

Actually, I supply feet that provide a pathway for mechanical energy to drain into the isolation system when the component requires a degree of separation to facilitate ventillation. I am providing feet for Joneill.

When no ventillation is required, the component can be placed direcly on the platform.

I must drop out of the thread as it does not relate to my field. I apologize for any inconvenience to you and the readers.

All the best B. Keep up the great work.
Would like to know about the heat from the Joule. I have heard from a few sources that they do heat up the room. Is this a factor?
a factor?
to me the heat is not a factor in whether i like or use this amp or not. it may be for others but for me its sound is just too dam good to be without it.
does it heat up the room, a little but nothing to worry about. just open a window.
While the VZN 100 do throw some heat, I agee with Bobby. Open a window. Works quite well for me in a dedicated room 20X14x8.

can i digress a moment and ask a stupid question? ok, so i will anyway, all these comparions b/w the Berning and JE amp with Merlin's in very informative, but why is nobody discussing the price of these - and how that might factor into the equation?

I own a Berning ZH270 but not Merlins. Mine drives a pair of Sonus Faber Guarneri Homages, and to a wonderful effect. At one point, following this or another thread - looking for a good amp for my speakers, and in doing so I seem to recall something about the VZ100 going for $15,000 a monoblock set. If that's true, for Pete's sake, you could buy THREE Berning ZH270's for that price.

Anyway, for me and anyone else not born into the lucky sperm club, i'll the amp that costs 1/3 - the $4995 amp that could! Now, please correct me if im wrong on the price delta betweeen these......
Artg- You are correct, of course. In terms of price/performance ratio the Berning walks all over the Joule at retail, but the price of a used Joule gets it quite a bit closer to the price of a Berning. And I will comment that while I have not heard the MA-1s, I have a pair of Atma M-60s (2.2 upgraded to include most of the 2.3 mods but not auto-bias or a/b switch). I think that they are a real contender with my Merlin-MMs and I am beginning to agree that at this point, cabling becomes very important. My Berning does not have the silver/cryou wire mod, but does have ERS and cryo output tubes. Any on these amps sounds great with the Merlins, right now I like the Atmas or the Joule (VZN-80 MkIV), but I can see that with a different set of cables/ics and a wire upgrade, I might hear things differently. Unfortunately, the Stereovox cables are $$$$.
Swampwalker - I hadn't thought about the used VZN100's, mostly because they're pretty rare to come see, but I do see a pair of VZN350's on AG for only $27,000!

My Berning is like yours: cryo's tubes + ERS, but no wiring/cap upgrade as of yet. As I understand it, that mod is an absolute no-brainer, so I'll be doing it sometime soon. As for the cabling - DITTO. I have heard amazing things about the Stereovox, and once I get me $$ saved up, i think I'll take a shot at using them. Allan Bhagan and a few others have spoken quite higly of these, and so far 100% of Allan's advice has been spot-on, so it's a matter of time and $$.

I also agree that all of these are lovely amplifiers that would make the "average" guy ecstatic - and that we're talking about that final "nth degree" of performance here. In fact, i heard and loved a set of Atma-Spheres in my system and loved them - I had some serious practical issues qith them (space for Mono's, the heat, exposed tubes, cost of replacing tubes, etc), otherwise I would have bought it, esp given the relatively higher supply of these. Whereas the Berning sounded as good (better in bass, and no my ear, slightly more neutral), and ran cool, cheaper upgrade, smaller, etc - but was harder to come by -i.e., so few on the used mkt - and most go for near retail when they do come along.

Never had the oppty to have the Joule's in my system, though i would have liked to try, based on everything Im reading here. The other thing to consider is that the Sonus Faber is voiced differently from the Merlin, and the value of a "warmer" sound is less of an issue - Sonus Faber uses a Berning in it's reference system, so that certaily reinforces the synergy!
Art and Swampwalker, you really must get the wire upgrade, it is more significant than either the tubes or the ERS, maybe even more significant than both combined. As for Stereovox, by next week at this time I hope to have all Stereovox cabling, the new IC's (SEI II's) and speaker cables. As for IC's, over the years I have had all quattro fil, all HMS Gran Finale, all Stereovox, all Indras (beta versions), as well as various combinations of them. I'm currently trying out an Harmonic Tech cyberlight. While each cable has its strong points Stereovox is probably the best overall cable with my system.
Sorry about taking the thread away from the Joule-Berning direction.
Artg- I bought a used VZN-80, for about the same price as a used ZH-270. Seemed like a good deal, but since it only worked for about a week before buying the farm, maybe not. Jud won't have time to fix it til next month. If the Sonus Fabers (or your font end equipment) is a little warmer, and since they were voiced with the Berning, that seems to be a good choice. The monoblock and unusual layout of the Atmas IS an issue. I do not have a child, so exposed tubes is not a problem. Of course, Joule also has heat and tube exposure issues. The 8 6SN7s needed for the Atmas is also an issue in terms of cost of good NOS tubes. The 6c33cs in the Joule are pretty reasonable; I got a new set of 8 for $100.00. 12 individual bias pots on the Joule; 2 for the Atmas (1 per block); none for the Berning. IN terms of ergonomics, ease of use,etc., the Berning is a no brainer. In terms of ultimate sound quality, IMO, its a personal choice issue. NO right answer. As for me, I like chocolate and vanilla ;~)
nice analogy, swamp. Like most animals (esp males), im also complex and can fall hard for any or all of these very fine amps.....Art
Just a quick update; my Joule has been back and running for about a month; Jud got it fixed in less than 2 weeks. It sounds great. I have not yet swapped it out for the Berning; personal matters have intervened. It is an excellent combination and with a Joule pre-amp in the mix, the imaging and bass are VERY impressive.