Linear Tube Audio
I picked this amp up yesterday and holy crap, it's bested everything I've ever owned. In fact, I was just at the Newport show I don't think I would trade my setup for anything I heard there. I did hear this amp at the show and it was good but it's much better in my treated room.
ZOTL 40 + Micro ZOTL as pre + Direct Stream DAC + Janszen zA2.1 speakers = Holy Grail. After some good breakin time more will be revealed.
After a few days of breaking in and critical listening, here a few thoughts.
Amazing soundstage. Clear. Organic. Micro dynamics in spades. Life-like.
My system: Primaluna Dialogue Premium HP integrated, PS Audio DirectStream DAC, PS Audio Perfect wave transport, Aurender X100 and Omega's new floor stander with 2 Alnico drivers on the narrow baffle (Louis hasn't named it yet). I also have a pair of Proac D30R speakers. My wiring is from Jena Labs (Symphony interconnects and Twin 7 speaker cable)
As good as the Primaluna is (it's the best integrated I've heard yet), the Linear Tube Audio Micro Zotl2.0 with the Linear power supply and the ZOTL 40 are a clear step up to my ears. There is an organic, naturalness to the sound. I am definitely hearing things in familiar songs I've never heard before, but more than that, I'm not focusing on that. I find myself getting caught up in the music and just enjoying my listening time. Maybe another way to describe it is that I feel (for the first time) that the musicians are playing in front of me.....not a recording of them. I am hearing inflections in vocals that I've never heard before.
The midrange is magical and there is a punch to the bass (more natural sounding) that I've never experienced before. Not a bit of fatigue with the high frequency either. Another description that comes to mind is fast. I especially find that music starts and stops on a dime with the Omegas.
I have to admit that I'm smitten and look forward to putting a few more days on the gear. I do want to mention that Mark is one of the nicest gentlemen to work with. He answered all my questions and doesn't hype his products. I suspect he doesn't get too worried with his 30 day in home trial as he probably won't get too many back.
I agree with your impressions. This is the best sound I've achieved to date. There is a magic combining the Micro as a pre with the ZOTL40. I tried other preamps but nothing can touch the micro, not even at 4 times the price.
Funny thing, I originally bought the Micro as a headphone amp (and a good one it is), then I found out I could power my 93db efficient speakers in another system with the one watt. As a flea watt amp it sounds fantastic. Finally I decided to try it as a preamp just for the helluva it. Holy crap, it's doesn't have all the bells and whistles and only has 2 inputs but it's the best preamp I've ever heard.
I also have a DS DAC and Janszen zA2.1 hybrid electrostat speakers. The ZOTL40 drives the electrostats with plenty of headroom. I have tried a variety of amps over the years with these speakers and until now have never found a satisfying combo along with the power I need.
Because the ZOTL circuit reveals the character of the tubes (and most components in the signal path) so strongly, now that we've made more ZOTL40s and heard them in different systems, we've decided to find some new tube options, as the Tung-sol EL34s don't seem to be the ideal match. Mark is currently deep in a pile of NOS, various new stock, and tube equivalents that we'll be auditioning to find a ZOTL40 tube that can really complement the 40's nature.
i am listening to the ZOTL40 with a quad of Shuguang Treasure 6CA7-Z. These tubes take an agonizingly long time to break-in. I put them in another amp I have and let them play for almost 2 weeks straight. The ZOTL is very easy on tubes and I think it adds to the long break-in. I think the tubes are almost there now, yes, sounding pretty damn good. Warmer, more liquid and very good bass.
ZOTL40 - EL34 shootout
The shootout was a lot of fun. For those of you who haven't met Mark, he's a great guy and a dedicated audiophile. I like his business model too. Start with a fantastic design and employ local people to manufacture great products HERE, not by slave labor in XYZ foreign country to maximize profits.
OK, the results are in, the EL34 Tung Sols that come stock with the amp sound very good, but there are a few other tubes that sound even better. Here are my Picks for the top tubes in the ZOTL40 in order, no. 1 being the best:
1. NOS Mullard EL34 XF2
2. Genelex Gold Lion KT77
3. Shugaung Black Bottle 6CA7 (very long break-in)
4. NOS Sovtek EL34 Winged C
5. psvane EL34PH
6. Tung Sol EL34
7. Mullard EL34 reissues
The Gold Lion KT77s are killer in this amp and are manufactured currently.
The very expensive Chinese 6CA7 black bottle tubes and the Phillips knock offs also sound very good but are costly. Equally as good as the Gold Lion KT77s are the NOS Sovtek winged C EL34's and maybe better, but I'm still listening to them. They're getting better with break-in, and I keep going back and forth on that one. I didn't get enough time with the KT77, but my first impression puts it near the top.
If you can get your hands on them, the NOS Mullards in this amp..... I can't explain it.... is the most incredible sound I have ever experienced. Yes, the Mullards are legendary and the ZOTL 40 takes advantage of these vintage tubes in a spectacular way. I bought a set of used NOS Mullards for a fairly reasonable price. Because the ZOTL is so easy on tubes, I expect them to last a long time.
I'm not really good at describing the sound differences in audiophile terms but it was all there, the sound stage, airy highs and tight lows. The top of the list giving the best of these attributes.
The upgraded tubes put the ZOTL40 a notch above the ZH230 in my humble opinion. Maybe that's why David Berning has decided to drop that amp from his line. I did hear that Berning is going to stick to his top of the line amps that he builds himself. The Berning 211/845 monoblock amps were reviewed this month in TAS and I think they used the term "best amp in the world." Oh well, $75K is out of my reach but I've got a ZOTL40.
If you ever wanted to own a $50k amp for a fraction of the price, this is it. I really can't say I've heard anything this good at any audio show. Although I've never heard the 211/845.
Janszen zA2.1 hybrid eltrostats
JL Audio E110 subs (pair)
PS Audio Direct Stream DAC networked
PS Audio P10 regenerator
Micro ZOTL as preamp with linear power supply
Morrow and Cerious Tech Cables
Lance, thanks for hosting that shootout! We had another with Mark's system and we've decided to go full Genalex Gold Lion for both the ZOTL40 and the ZOTL10. KT77, 12AU7, and 12AX7 for the 40 and EL84, 12AT7, and 12AU7 for the 10.
These Gold Lions are really excellent current production tubes, and unless you want to pay significantly more for some of the boutique current productions, they seem like the way to go. Now they just need to make a 6SN7!
The NOS Mullards as you probably know are extremely expensive. I purchased a used quad of XF2's for $300. These are used tubes mind you but they test strong. The ZOTL 40 is very easy on tubes so I expect to get a pretty good life span out of these Mullards.
I think the EL34 NOS Mullards are the holy grail of tubes and yes, better than the Gold Lion KT77's. Don't get me wrong the KT77's sound great in the ZOTL40 and definitely better than the Tung Sol EL34's, so the question of is it worth the cost? It's all relative. If I didn't have that extra $300 to spend I would say no but I like to collect tubes.
Congratulations on a greats sounding amp and taking it to the higher level with evaluating so many tubes. Have you had an opportunity to try audio grade fuses and wall outlets with your system?
I am quite pleased with the improvements after installing Synergistic Research Black fuses and their Black A/C wall outlets. And unlike most tube purchases, they come with a 30 refund policy.
Have a good music weekend.
i like to try things even when I don't always understand them. I did install a hospital grade outlet when I cleaned out a spare bedroom to use for my stereo. I can't tell you if it made any difference at all, no way to test this without going to a lot of trouble.
I might be accused of participating in some pagan ritual but yes I installed an SR black fuse. When I stop making changes for a minute I will eventually pop the old fuse back in and try to do an A/B comparison. At the moment I have Bobs Cerious Technologies graphene extreme speaker cables burning in and they are spectacular.
I am definitely going to get the ZOTL40. At the same time, I’m looking for some speakers to go with them. I don’t have a lot of space, so something with a small footprint.
I’ve heard the ZOTL40 with a set of Dynaudio Confidence C1s, and the sound was excellent. However, the Dynaudio’s are both expensive, and really prefer higher-wattage amps.
Does anyone have a suggestion for a good pairing with this amp?
I already have the microZOTL2, which I bought as a headphone amp, and it’s just one of my favorite purchases ever.
definitely use the Micro ZOTL as a preamp with the ZOTL40. It beat a 4K preamp I tried in my system. The two were meant for each other. The ZOTL40 will work without a preamp, it has a volume control but it's better with a pre.
This combo is absolute magic with my Janszen zA2.1 speakers and plenty of power but they are a little pricey, unless you found them on the used market maybe. I also have a set of Decware ERRx radial speakers that sound pretty good with the combo. The ZOTL40 is way more power than these radial speakers need.
One other thing I noticed is the power. I think the ZOTL40 is actually rated at 46 watts. I have another 40 watt old school tube amp and the ZOTL40 is way more powerful, more volume. My 87db Janszens are driven with headroom to spare.
Zach, based on Lance's experience I might suggest the Janszen Carmelita, formerly called the zA1.1. That is the stand mounted version of his zA2.1 with very similar sonic character. While I'll admit the zA2.1 hardly occupies more floor space than its stand mounted sibling, with fewer drivers the Carmelita might suit some smaller rooms better and the price is quite a bit lower. Yet it retains that electrostatic mid-range magic.
Thanks for the advice. I will definitely use the MZ2 as a pre-amp. If anyone is still using their switching power supply, I highly recommend getting the linear power supply LTA now offers. Makes a big difference.
(I was so impressed by the linear power supply that I jumped hard on the power supply bandwagon and got a third-party one that costs about as much as the MZ2 did to begin with.)
Anyway, with the ZOTL40 I find myself in a position of looking for speakers to match my amp instead of the other way around. I will look into the Janszens. Not sure if they're available in Japan, where I am, but I will check.
I picked up a Job 225 here on Agon. I will let you know how they do together. Although I've heard the Job 225 can be picky when it comes to the pre it's paired with.
i have tried the Micro ZOTL with other tube amps and it's good but the synergy between the Micro and the ZOTL 40 is the best pairing I've ever heard. Just incredible.
i just noticed today they have a Black Friday sale. I'm going to Have to get the MZ2-S.
Yeah, some say the Job plays better with a passive pre because of the relative high gain but I had used a tubed pre with it when I had one and thought it was a good match. Probably helped that the speakers I had at the time were not as efficient as the ones I have now.
Someone told me they heard that Linear Tube Audio is developing a remote for the micro ZOTL preamp, have you heard that?
yes, the remote control feature should be available by the end of the year or maybe January? Better to check with them. I live close by so I hang out there occasionally and I saw the prototype.
The new MZ2-S will soon have a switch on the board to change from 6 volt to 12 volt. This allows you to use 6SN7 or 12SN7 tubes and NOS 12SN7 tubes are cheap because of low demand. He is able to sell the unit pre-rolled with NOS RCA tubes. The sound is incredible.
These LTA amps won't win any beauty contests so if you're into audio jewelry maybe not your thing but if you're into quality, world class sound at a price that seems too good to be true.... For me this is it.
In this system I'm using Decware ERRx radial speakers (very good Omni speakers for the price)
I will eventually move things around and try a set of Monitor Audio GX300's I have.
I own the Pass XA30.8 and am borrowing a First Watt SIT-2 amplifier.
Am planning to try them both with the MicroZOTL2.0 preamp in January or February.
I hooked up the SIT-2 this week and it is one of the most amazing sounding amplifiers you will ever hear. I'd expect mating it with LT MicroZOTL2.0 will make serious magic. I'll let you know when I do. Happy holidays.
Based on lancelock’s mention of LTA’s Black Friday sale together with our years of off-forum communications (we both have the JansZen ESL speakers) I pulled the trigger ahead of schedule and bought my own ZOTL40. Like Lance, I also had a well reviewed transformer based tube amp driving my JansZen’s and was immediately impressed by the LTA amp. That other amp is now sold. No looking back and it was a really good amp.
Driving an amp with transformers must be like run training with a parachute. Without the transformers my JansZens sprang into a whole new happy place. Much more weight to the sound, dynamics out the wazoo, and full frequency range is toally released. Basically more of everything.
I would like to try the LTA Micro ZOTL as a preamp, but it is at it’s heart, a headphone amp and doesn’t have balance controls or extra outputs for a sub. The latest version only now offers a remote as an option. I’ll stick with my Cary SLP-98P preamp for now as it also has a phono stage and I’m running with good NOS tubes.
If LTA comes out with a more full function preamp down the road I would be a fool to not try it. I’m sure it would best my Cary with the ZOTL approach, but I’d have to find a new phono preamp as well. I need to stand pat for now and simply enjoy the virtues of this amazing amp. I have no doubt the ZOTL40 or ZOTL10 (efficient speakers) would allow any speaker it touches to reach its potential. The JansZen ESLs reveal all and they are swinging.
Oh, I almost forgot. Those 40 watts feel like a whole lot more. I have the volume on the amp maybe 1/3 of the way and my preamp never goes above half, but I do listen at lower levels than many. My prior "40 watt" amp got into clipping at party levels. The JansZens are rated at 87dB.
Mark Schneider is planning to build a full function dedicated preamp and it will have a built in phono stage as well. I will be able to sell my JC3+ when that happens. I just don't know when it will happen.
if anyone out there doesn't know about these amps yet then you don't what you're missing. This is the best kept secret in high end audio.
I did get the Linear power supply with remote and extra input. I have some great 6sn7 and 12at7 and they take this unit to completely different level. I listened with the stock tubes and couldn't imagine it being better but the unit is even more musical with the NOS tubes . I sit here listening to the demo unit feeling sad that I will need to give it back knowing it will be a couple weeks until mine is built. The shocker is that my wife even noticed. She is a professional musician and hears enough live music so that audio gear isn't important to her. She noticed how much more musical the system sounded with the preamp. She asked me if it was the preamp that caused the music to sound so much better. She asked why I had to give it back!
Mark Schneider (owner of LTA) told me this and I don't think he'll mind me quoting him:
"The ZOTL circuitry is complex and like no other tube amplifier. It is an advance in tube technology. Which is why it sounds more musical and realistic than almost all others, and certainly anything in its price range. One of our clients just replaced his $16K Pass preamp that comes in 3 pieces and his $27K Pass power amps with a microZOTL and 2 monoblocked 40s....and says they sound better."