If you could squeeze and extra $500 there is a used Mcintosh MA2275 tube integrated available here on agon. I own this amp and it has many of the characteristics you mention. It is auto biased, has phono, and a remote. Its really hassle free and Im hearing great improvements rolling some of the input tubes. Good luck!
Consonance Hybrid A-120....
Cayin A 88-T integrated, a TERRIFIC bargain. Grab one before the price goes up. I own this stellar amp, and it is a keeper, after owning a lot of pricier equipment.
I know, it's made in China...but this is a SMART amp and it sounds delicious with gourmet tubes, meaning getting rid of the stock tubes (although they are nice)and going a bit better. Partner this with a decent power cord - a MUST - and you are in business.
This thing has point-to-point wiring, a soft-start circuitry to extend tube life, a nice, small but chunky metal remote with switchable standard ultralinear 40 watts or triode 22 watts mode (not quite SET but close...) AND what I feel is truly exceptionnal build quality and parts selection for the price, leaving in my opinion at least, all the Antique Sound Lab (ASL) and similar amps in the dust in this departement.
Sound-wise, I really think you have to spend a LOT more money to equal it, and even more to surpass it. Very beautifull to look at, and very beautifull-sounding, I think it is a screaming bargain, and my guess is that one of these days, the price of these will skyrocket upwards when more of these will be in the market, and there is a bit more history out there, now that there seems to be (finally) a reliable distributor in the US. By the way, I did compare it to the Prima Luna, sorry, close but no cigar. As I said, my Cayin A 88-T is a keeper, something I have not been able to say in a very long time. Good luck!
since you list orchestral as one of the genres you like, make sure you get an amp with some power, not a single-ended triode. other things you should be aware of are the sonic signatures of the different gear, ranging from quite neutral to quite warm/euphonic/"tube-y". if possible, you should audition a few different brands to see which sound you like.
if you don't have phono, that will make your search cheaper and easier.
I would second the mac recommendation - if you buy it used, you will lose little if anything on resale as these really hold their value - but there are a lot of decently powered integrateds out there: AR made one, CJ made at least one, Cary has a few, lots of new Chinese ones.
the type of tube will have a big impact on the sound, so buying something that can use different tubes will give you more flexibility down the road.
NOS (new old stock) tubes will pop up as an option down the road too. certain popular tubes (KT-88, 6sn7), as currently produced, are not as good as the older (40's - 70's) ones were, so there's an obvious - if expensive - way to improve the sound once you own the amp.
based on what you're saying, tubes are the right choice. you can't beat them for openness and air.
p.s.you asked about finickiness. preamps are pretty much no-maintenance: if you get scratchiness or 'tube rush', you just figure out where it's affected (L or R, CD or tuner, etc., then switch out suspect tubes until you locate the problem - no biasing required. with power tubes, you can expect - especially with current production tubes - to have the occasional loud noise, glowing tube (prior to tube failure), etc. you simply need to keep an extra set of tubes so you can keep listening. with NOS tubes, reliability is less of a factor.
hope this helps.
Thanks for the input. A couple of dumb questions for musicslug. What is single-ended triode, and is 50W per channel (the Manley) enough? I don't usually play music at especially high volumes. In terms of swapping out tubes, what's expensive -- hundreds or thousands? If it's the latter, I'm not sure that's a road I'd want to take. Thanks again!
Blue Circle NSCS.
Do some research. This is a great unit.
And of course this is biased. I own one. And unless I hit the lottery have no intention of replacing it.
After fourteen years and many units I'm finally happy.
Thanks for the Blue Circle recommendation, forgotten about that one.
I too own the Cayin A88T and agree with Paul Burke on his assessment. A damn good amp for the price with musical sound,good bass, detailed and hamonically rich mids and sweet highs. Only, on certain (very few) recordings, the upper mids tend to be forward and bright sometimes. It may be due to the stock power tubes. The 6sn7s are RCAGTB.
The amp drives my Dyn 82s surprisingly well for just 22W. The sound does become congested with confused bass on bass heavy tracks such as Gladiator (this even in ultralinear mode). But this could be due to my power hungry speakers. I am sure this will not be an issue with more efficient speakers.
The only other issue on this amp is biasing. You have to open bias the amp from the inside. The process is easy but a bit risky. Internal biasing could be intimidating if you are new to tubes.
In terms of swapping tubes, it is cheap unless you go for very rare NOS tubes. A pair of current production KT88s could cost anywhere between $80-150 per quad. So this will not be a problem.
It's not about wattage when it comes to getting real sound levels. Current is what can make a 50 watt amp have the growl or bass presence to sound like your in the hall with the orchestra. Unless your pre has a loudness contour to boost bass levels at low volumes you will yearn for more bass at low volumes. When a speaker dips to 2 ohms and you don't have the CURRENT to drive the Load your fuct. If you listen to alot of vocals I highly reccomend tubes,triode is the best. My Manley 750's in triode mode manhandle my Vandy's. I had to put them in storage,I never wanted to leave the house. Look for the current level NOT THE WATTAGE and you will be on the right track
Trust your ears.
Thanks again for the input, especially about current. I'll have to read reviews in more depth & talk to manufacturers because I don't even know how it's measured, but do recall reading about it being a critical factor.
Kag, the Cayin A 88-T is SELF-BIASING, at least according to the people that sell this amp (and the posts on Audioasylum). I also e-mailed the distributor and he assured me of this. As for me, I have fun switching from KT-88's to 6550's ( I have a total of 4 quads including the stock tube) and I have not had any problems. If we were talking about some Jadis integrateds, (like the Orchestra ) then biasing is very difficult and dissuasive for the non-initiated. And besides, in all honesty the Cayin betters the Orchestra in most parameters, so it's a non-issue.
I would actually like to find out if YOU have heard otherwise on the Cayin. Thanks.
Recently purchased a Rogue Audio Cronus integrated and it is quite the sonic value. Please audition one in your quest.
Manley, Blue Circle, or Leben.
I was also under the mistaken befief that the Cayin A88T is self/auto-biasing. This is NOT so. I have got this information directly from the manufacturer (Spark Audio). They have, infact, sent me the biasing instructions. I will be happy to email this to you. Can you confirm your email address?
The amp has to be biased from the inside. The bottom cover has to be removed. There is a cathode resistor for each tube. The voltage has to be measured across each resistor and the biasing pots (again internal), have to be set.
I checked the bias (actually the technician did) about 3 months from getting the amp. It turned out that one of the tubes was not biasing properly. I replaced it and the amp sounds much better now. The bias holds properly since then.
I don't know why the Chinese manufacturers mislead customers on the issue of biasing. Probably they are scared of liabilities in the unlikely event of a mishap.
Hello, I would seriously consider the deHavilland tube Verve or Ultraverve preamp. It has, IMHO, beautiful tone and detail with lots of clean bass and "tinkling" highs...a very excellent preamp. It can be found used for the range you mentioned.
Stay away from the C-J integrated. It's quite opaque and lacking in detail and dynamics, at least in the two systems I heard.
Thanks again for all the input, especially about the c-j & Rogue.