Looking for great tube integrated for Martin Logan Summit X speakers


I've had upgrade fever every since I added bass traps and acoustic panels to my listening room and wondered why I didn't do that years ago.  So I've decided to change my Plinius Hautonga integrated and make the plunge to tubes. I want that sound, and the thought of tube rolling appeals to me.  I was leaning toward the Primaluna Dialogue HP integrated, but after doing more reading, I'm concerned that it won't have adequate power due to the Summit's impedance needs.  I'm admittedly a novice with tubes, so seeking help from the forum.   My room is about 12x15, with the area behind my listening position open for an additional eight feet.  I don't listen at high volumes at all, and my favorite music is female jazz, smooth jazz, Nora Jones type vocals.  Music comes from SACDs and Tidal exclusively - I have no analogue gear.

The rest of my gear:
  • Gustard x20u DAC modified by Rick Schultz
  • Oppo 103D for SACDs modified by Rick Schultz
  • Bryston BDP-1 music streamer
Will I be happy with the Primaluna, or do you have other suggestions in the $5,000 range?  Or should I stay away from tubes for these speakers?

Appreciate your opinions!

Steve
smills59
There are a lot of people who say MLs sound best with tubes but my experience is that they do better with lots of power.  I never tried them with tubes.

I had Summit Xs powered by Pass XA30.8s and they sounded great to me.  The 30.8 I believe puts about 100 watts into 8 ohms and increases into 4 and 2 but doesn't double down.

I decided to see what a muscle amp would sound like and got a D'Agostino Classic Stereo.  300 watts into 8 ohms 1,000 into 2 ohms.  It was a great improvement in every way.  The Summit Xs really came to life with more power.

So that doesn't answer your question, but that was my experience.
I owned Martin Logan SL3s for many years and used a BAT VK500 ss amp....the Stat panels dip real low in impedance. I also heard the those Logans with a 35 watt tube amp and the sound staging was surreal so I guess it depends on the damping factor of the amp?? Those with the big tech knowledge could probably explain exactly what kind of tube rig would have synergy with your speakers 
I've had my PL HP for 4 years. 

ML stats have been on my radar among many others.

I found them to sound fantastic with the PL.

Using sealed floorstanders/sub, and just looking for something different.

IMO, a subjective decision that only your ears can decide.

You won't know until any speaker is in your room.

This review mentions tube/SS performance with the Summit X
http://www.tonepublications.com/review/the-martinlogan-summit-x-speakers/

If more power is needed, you could drop KT120 or 150's to replace the EL34's. Other than visceral DEEP bass, I didn't hear anything lacking with the EL34's. Subs would take care of this.
This is just my personal taste, someone else may find it okay without a sub. 
The Rogue Cronus Magnum II/III has plenty of grunt. Not the quietest integrated out there but probably the most powerful under $5K. I prefer it to many pricier amps I've heard. In use, it sounds like it has muscle comparable to a 300 watt SS unit, but retains the euphonic tube blossom. After rolling the preamp tube, its bass can put many SS integrateds to shame. 
+1 to
helomech

After changing 12Ax7 with Telefuken and 12au7 with Brinmar NOS tube it is a very good amplifier to drive your speaker.
All you have to do is look at this impedance curve, with a 4ohm load and and negative 65 degrees of - phase angle at 3.5khz you have an amp busting load that would seem to be blow 2ohm!!! EPDR.
Then again at 5khz to 20khz it goes from 2ohm down to 1ohm.
http://www.prespeaker.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/martin-logan-summit-x-impedance-phase-graph.gif

No tube amp will get the best from these speakers, unless it has lots of global feedback is over 100watts and has an output transformer specifically designed to be 2ohms.

The best amp to get the very best out of these are solid state and ones that can "almost" double their wattage from 8ohm to 4ohms and then from 4 ohms to 2ohms.

Cheers George

Forgot to mention, also at 250hz there’s a 4ohm -60 degree phase angle load which will equate to around 2ohms EPDR ( equivalent peak dissipation resistance ), that will also be hard for a tube amp to drive.
This is the power region, which will give good "body" to lower/mids if driven correctly.

Cheers George
My advice is that you have to audition them in your own home. I did that just last night. I had my checkbook out prior to the test, fully convinced that I was going to be the proud owner of a PrimaLuna HP integrated amp. Also in the mix was a 400 watt Anthem STR integrated amp. 

Although I loved the stage presence of the PrimaLuna, unbelievably, it didn't have the power to run my hungry AR 910 TSW's. The sound could be phenomenal if I ran mono blocks, but I wasn't ready to shell out that kind of money. 

Next up was the Anthem. It had power in spades, but lacked the depth and warmth. 

I then re-auditioned my 1980's NAD 2600's and to my great surprise that system had the best over all sound. Richer, full and more stage presence than the Anthem, and better bass control than the PrimaLuna. 

The reason for the want to upgrade is that I have a intermittent static somewhere in the system. It has been to the repair place twice and no help. Suggestions??? 
@georgehifi brought up some good points. I didn’t bother to look up the real-world efficiency specs of these speakers.

If you want tube sound from a solid-state integrated, look into the newer Yamaha MOSFET-based amps. I’ve yet to encounter any others that come near as close to emulating the lush midrange and 3D-holographic soundstage of a tube amp - not even the tube/SS hybrids. I’ve compared my A-S1100 back-to-back with my CMII, which is fitted with NOS tubes, and the Yamaha manages at least 90% of the tube character, but with greater detail.

These integrateds are 2-ohm stable, run cool (at least, they do with 4-ohm nominal speakers), and have very large power supplies. They’re also dead-quiet in operation. A lightly-used or demo A-S3000 would probably fall within your budget.
Thank you for all your comments.  I am definitely a novice here, so please excuse these questions.

My listening position is about 8 feet from the speakers.  I never listen loudly, and I prefer chamber music jazz, blues, Nora Jones, Diana Krall, and similar.  So I definitely don't stress the speakers at all.  Knowing that, should I still be concerned about impedance levels?  The Primaluna has very large transformers.  They also say that Martin Logan used their equipment at shows a few years back.  The Summit X speakers have a sensitivity of  91 dB/2.83 volts/meter.

@georgehifi, that Yamaha looks like it might be a good option.

Thanks!!!
smills59 OP
@georgehifi, that Yamaha looks like it might be a good option.

Thanks!!!

I’d look at a s/h John Curl designed Parsound Halo Integrated Hint, or it’s successor the Parsound Halo Integrated Hint 6, both have ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC in it and phono stage.
These will drive the Summits fine, as they are bjt output and can give good current 45 amps into those nasty impedance’s of the Summits.
http://www.parasound.com/hint6.php

I wouldn’t bother the the Prima Luna on these speakers it will act like a tone control.

Cheers George
smills, There is a Martin Logan Owners website and forums:

http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/index.php?s=3ecd8caf173352b81da8a3321b9a338e

Try your question there.  Here's a link to a search for tube amp:

http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/tags.php?tag=tube+amp

The problem with tube amps is that MLs are very hard for an amp to drive and most tube amps can't put out the current (or voltage?) to drive them properly.  People use tube amps anyway and like the sound.  I wish I could give you an easy answer, but I can't.  
Not sure where you live but worth trying to find a dealer that either has your speakers in their shop or will let you home demo the amp.  I owned ML Monolith IIIx for 15 years, different from the Summit but similar in that the woofer is driven by a separate amp.  I used tubed amps on the panels and they have the same challenges as the Summit panels.  ARC D125 which had rated power of 110 watts per channel into 16 ohms (obviously way less into the panel) and then VAC PA160III monoblocs which I generally ran triode so 60-80 watts per side depending on output tube.  Both of these amps had more than enough power to drive the panels in a room that is 12x25 with a cathedral ceiling.  As for tube rolling, it's fun but can be distracting.  Since sold the MLs and went with a BAT VK3000SE integrated, tube input and SS output.  Works well with my current speakers and I just enjoy the music.  Have fun with the speakers, I do miss the air those panels can move!
I strongly suggest you reconsider whether you really must have a tube integrated amplifier. I suggest you instead consider either A) a used Innersound Electrostatic Amplifier (yes, there really was an amplifier with that name), B) a CODA amplifier, with similar capabilities or C) one of Roger Sanders Magnatech amplifiers (look for Sanders Sound Systems website). Any of these amplifiers will transform your experience with the Martin Logans. 
Here's what Harry Pearson wrote about the Innersound: The Absolute Sound, August 2000, Harry Pearson, reviewer
Editor's Choice: Mid-Year Edition

I'm not about to steal my own thunder here, I hope, by letting you in on a secret. InnerSound's new solid-state amplifier, designed specifically to drive the weird loads posed by electrostatic speakers, brings out a degree of performance - and loudness - I never expected to get from the Quads. With the assistance of a Carver subwoofer (rolled off above 40 Hz), I managed to play the entirety of the soundtrack from "Gladiator" without so much as a blown fuse and, in Music Room 2, with enough volume to replicate the movie's dramatic effect. Not only did I get greater dynamic range from the speaker, but seemingly wider frequency response as well.  

Sans woofer, the Quads went deeper into the bass (they held up into the 40 Hz region) than I'd heard. And at the other end of the spectrum, they reached higher more comfortably. I believe in an ordinary (no, not large) room, like No. 2, I could, with the exception of certain Telarc Kunzel potboilers, play almost any composition of musical interest at something approaching a concert-hall dynamic range, especially with the Carver sub thrown in for reinforcement of the bottom octave (below 40 Hz).

Given the peculiar nature of an electrostatic load, sez the well-written explanation (for a look-see, check out the website www.innersound.net/eslamp.htm), such an amp must produce not only voltage, but prodigious amounts of current as well. And check out the claim that the InnerSound "can deliver a staggering 135 amps of current with a combined power rating of 4500 watts per channel." And "it can drive loads below one ohm without damaging its output transistors." And "since it has so much voltage and current capability that it never clips, it doesn't exhibit any transistor sound." From my limited experience, thus far, with the system, I can attest to the seeming lack of any high-frequency clipping with the Quads, which gives the speaker a top-end airiness and openness I've never heard from them before.

I wish we had more electrostatics on hand to assess the befores and afters of the InnerSound mating. But we only have the Dutch Audiostatic panels, which we can't get the company to take back, and these are severely limited in terms of their excursive abilities, and even with the InnerSound, can't be played to anywhere near soul-satisfying loudness. Yep, they played better and with a stitch more volume and with some of the most perfectly "pure" sound you'll ever hear, but not on any music I'd care to live with, long haul. We also tried, in preliminary evaluations, the InnerSound with normal speakers, and found them neutral, wideband reproducers, minus most, if not all, solid state artifacts. Perhaps they are not - and only further listening will tell for sure - as exquisitely and honestly musical as the Danish Gamut amp, but running sans electrostats, they are lovely and musically satisfying. (Consider this a sneak preview and forgive the lack of detailed commentary - that will be coming.)


For some unknown reason, I’m focused on tubes. I called Kevin and Upscale Audio and he talked me into ordering a Dialogue HP Integrated which arrives Tuesday. he also offered me $2500 for my Plinius Hautonga integrated, which seems fair. He said at my listening levels and room size, the HP will be perfect.  I will try the PL HP for a few weeks before I decide. I do understand the impedance issue, but maybe at 65 I cant hear those frequencies anyway. :) I read on their website that Martin Logan used PL amps at a few shows a few years back, so maybe they will be what I want. If not, I’ll send it back and keep my Plinius and investigate something like the BAT VK3000SE or similar. I know the best option is probably to have a tube preamp and SS amp or mono blocks but not in my budget to go separates. I could get the PL preamp and use the Plinius amp by hooking up to the HT input until I can afford a better amp...Hmmm? What do you guys think about that?

Steve


Steve -
There's nothing wrong with tubes, but I commend to your attention Roger Sanders' excellent white paper on "tubes vs. solid state" which can be found on the sanders sound systems website. I found it to be very helpful in understanding why some folks insist on tubes while others prefer solid state.
All I can say is "WE TRIED" and the sales pitch won out.

Cheers George
Well, not completely.  I'm also going to order the Saunders ESL amp and use my Plinius as preamp while I compare the two.  I read the article that markusthenaimnut referred me to on their website and it was also very , convincing.  In that article he does say that the roll off at high frequencies is probably not noticeable (maybe more so for us older folks), and that power is very important.  He uses a large transformer, as does the PL.  It will be interesting to compare them both.  The Summitt x bass is powered, so the amp will only power the panels.  

I appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions.  This is a great hobby with many opinions, all of which are certainly valid.  That's what makes it fun!
Let us know  which amp you end up with.  Enjoy!
Sorry to say save your money, the Prima Luna will be a big failure on these, look at the black wavy line, that’s it’s deviation from the ideal flat line!!, and that’s it driving a "very easy simulated Kantor speaker load".
Your Summits will make it look 2 to 3 times worse!!.
https://www.stereophile.com/images/1214PLDPIfig01.jpg

Cheers George
Just spoke to Roger at Sanders.  I ordered the ESL Mk II since my Summits have powered bass units.  Really looking forward to the test next weekend.  Going to play all weekend long!  I will update with my thoughts as I play each one, and compare them to the Plinius.

Thanks everyone!
Should be an interesting shootout.

Technical specs/graphs may indicate absolutes, but it won't guarantee what your ears like.

The PL certainly will equal, if not best the Sanders in build quality/detail.


Just spoke to Roger at Sanders. I ordered the ESL Mk II



Sanders amps are a great anmps and match for his ESL's which is said are not as hard to drive as the Summits.

Read this owner with one, that keeps popping fuses with the ML Montis which are a little easier to drive compared to your Summits. 

https://www.stereo.net.au/forums/topic/260674-blowing-fuses-on-a-sanders-esl-mkii/?tab=comments#comm...

Cheers George
Looking forward to the results.

I agree with tablejockey, graphs are meaningless if you don't like the sound. I've owned/auditioned my share of flat-measuring gear that sounded lifeless and uninspiring. 

Whichever amp has you jonesing to fire up your system each night is the one you should pick.
graphs are meaningless if you don’t like the sound

True, but all graphs and measurements are the basis for a good product They save a lot of time if you can understand them selecting the good from the bad. And can save you a lot of time knowing what will be compatible electronically with what, instead of wasting money and time on things that have no chance of being compatible.   
Knowing if they have a good Electronic Engineering design to start with, and are not just a poor design that’s someone has thrown together in a nice glitzy box without any regard for measurements or testing.

Cheers George
well, the Primaluna arrived and I set it up last night.  It needs about 100 hours to break it in, but of course I couldn't resist and started listening to music right away.  Mind you, the Plinius is a great Integrated, but man was I blown away by the imaging, sound, and control of my Summit X speakers.  It was absolutely beautiful.  As though my speakers came alive.  This is a HUGE step up for me.

George and others, what should I listen for that will show me the limitations of tubes with my speakers?  Is there specific music that will make this apparent to me?  I want to make sure I grasp the effect of the impedance shortfall of tubes before I listen to the Sanders.

I also received the Sanders ESL amp today.  Going this route will be more expensive because I would have to buy a preamp eventually.  I plan to use the Plinius as a preamp initially if this is the route I go.

I will listed to the Primaluna for about a week, then move to the Sanders.  Setup takes time to move back and forth, so I'll probably spend about a week or so with each and then make a decision.

Thanks everyone!
Steve
Congratulations. Your experience demonstrates the well known fact that there are many variables in play to predict an outcome with any degree of certainty. Instead of trying to find the shortcomings of the tube circuit, I think you should listen to familiar music and decide for yourself if you can hear anything missing. If anything, you “might” hear a slight roll-off at extreme high frequencies due to the inherent very low impedance of the ESL panel. Enjoy.
I have owned a Primaluns Dialouge 1 Intergrated in the past . It drove my KingSound King Electrostatic pretty good in a smaller room . My speakers should be harder to drive than you ML . I now own a Primaluna Premium HP amp . It works great with Electrostats . Have no idea what graph would indicate a poor match with stats . Enjoy the amp !
I have owned a Primaluns Dialouge 1 Intergrated
 It drove my KingSound King Electrostatic pretty good in a smaller room .
My speakers should be harder to drive than your ML .

No sorry it’s the other way around.
ML’s
https://hometheaterhifi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/martin-logan-summit-x-impedance-phase-graph.g...

King sound
https://www.stereonet.co.nz/wp/wp-content/uploads/attachments/118797=3977-KS3000%20Measurements.jpg

Cheers George
"George and others, what should I listen for that will show me the limitations of tubes with my speakers? Is there specific music that will make this apparent to me? I want to make sure I grasp the effect of the impedance shortfall of tubes before I listen to the Sanders."

smills59-

It's great, having the experience/wisdom of SOME qualified members here, but trust your own ears. As mentioned earlier, white papers with graphs and specs certainly are necessary to establish a baseline "good," but it ain't gonna ensure what YOUR ears like.

Your favorite music will sound more convincing on one of the two. 

Happy listening!


"George and others, what should I listen for that will show me the limitations of tubes with my speakers?

As I said above a tube amp that’s a good design, but doing it hard into this load of the Summits.

The hard load is at:
At 5khz to 20khz may show a distant subdued high frequency.
And again at 3.5khz this may soften the presence area of the mids

You may "characterize" this as sweet and euphonic at first listen. Then after a while, even a week or two you may understand that it’s not what it should be, and that "the life" is missing from the music, detail, attack, presence and harmonic decay are waning.
Saying all this is with a tube amp that behaves itself in the top end.

But the Prima Luna has an odd peak up there, that says to me output transformers are ringing (oscillating).
This "could" counter to a degree the statements I make above but in a very crude way.
https://www.stereophile.com/images/1214PLDPIfig01.jpg

Cheers George
The amp now has about 50 hours of break in and I have listened now for about 15 hours.  I have to say, it's still amazing.  I'm pretty new at this, but I'm not hearing what George is referring to.  Not saying he is incorrect, just that I'm thoroughly enjoying this amp.  Break in for this is about 100 hours, so it should be in it's prime Monday night.

I have the Sanders and my old Plinius action as preamp ready to power up mid-week.  Question: should I plug in the Sanders to let it begin breaking in?  Do I have to have speakers attached if it's on?

Steve
Do I have to have speakers attached if it's on?
Solid state amps can be powered without any load on them.
But tube amps need to see a load, as there is the possibility without a load they can damage the output transformers if they go into oscillation.

Cheers George