Merlin Mil. w/hybrid amps??

My usual amps are VTL MB-450s. They are in for repair and I have a Bryston 4B SST on loan in the meantime. I really like the low end control and extention. However, I miss all of the appealin qualities of tubes. Have any of you found a hybrid amp that gives you the best of both? Are there still compromises? Any experience that you can share is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Brooks
Brooks, I have a Joule Electra VAMP integrated that sounds very good on the VSMs. They show up every now and then used and I have seen a few of the non-integrated version as well. But it has been quite a while. I have a Joule OTL amp and am fairly biased when it comes to the Joule equipment. It's easy to be biased because the Joule stuff sounds so good with the Merlins. Much like the OTL, the VAMP allows the Merlins to flesh out. Which is normally the issue when you put a solid state amp or an amp with a lot of feedback on the Merlins. It's not quite as real as the OTL and the highs are not as extended. It's also not as transparent as the OTL.

But that is all relative. I happen to think the Joule OTL is a great amp and definitely one of the best amps you can buy for the Merlins period. If I had to make due with the VAMP, I'd still be very happy. It sounds better than several other tube amps I have heard with the Merlins.

Another good thing is that when they do come up for sale used they are usually for a good price. I got mine for $1,000. It was $3,800 new. It's a steal. Apparently Jud lost money on every unit he made. The non-integrated version is even less. Match the amp with the Supratek Syrah pre and you'll have better sound than people spending many times as much.

Good luck.
Jim, I have been intrigued by the Joules. I have been waiting (a while) for VZN 100s to show up here. I will be patient. Thanks.
Brooks, I can assure you they are well worth the wait. I have the VZN80. Set the feedback control to zero and enjoy.
I would say if amps as big as the MB-450s are not delivery the goods, you need to look at other tube amps. I've heard a few hybrids on the VSMs, and then generally do not do what a amp like the 4BSST does on the VSMs in the bottom end.

The amps I have heard on the VSMs that can do that kind of very authoritative bottem end are big OTLS and a few high power tube amps (the Joule VZN-160s and the big CAT amps). Now I realize that most folks would be happy with the bottom end a VZN-80 or the VZN-100s would deliver on the VSM-Ms, but the bigger amps have more authority, weight, and defintion in the lower registers along with the great capabilities these amps offer in the midrange and top end.

FYI, I have the latest retail price list from Joule-Electra.... a pair of VZN-100s is now $15,000 ($18,000 in musicwood). Used VZN-100s are hard to come by.... Joule's production capabilities are limited, so there are only so many out there and the customers I know who have them are very attached to them. :-)

Jim2, you are right about the VAMP.... given the way Jud builds things (allot of labor goes into the fabarication of each Joule amp), he was loosing money on the VAMP.

Happy listening,
Rich Brkich
Jim and Rich, thank you for your comments. Rich are you referring to the CAT JL2? Also, what do you think of the Tenor 150 stereo hybrid?
In regards to the CAT amps, I have heard the JL2 (stereo) amp on the VSM and just spent four days at CES listening to the JL3 (triode monoblocks) on the VSM.... either amp has impressive dynamic abilities.

I've only heard the Tenor amps on several other speakers at shows... they are certianly nice sounding amps but I am unsure of how good they are in the quality of low bass reproduction and dynamics. I'll say that in the systems I have heard them in, they did not impress me in these areas.

I know a merlin owner who has the big Atmasphere MA-1 or MA-2 (can't recall which) monoblock amps that speaks highly of the big atmasphere's abilities in these areas on his VSM-Ms (and this gent has tried a number of solid state and tube amps), so I think these amps are also worth consideration.

BTW, just to fully disclose my own self interests, I am a Joule Electra dealer and a consultant for Merlin. I am not a retailer/dealer for any of the other products mentioned here.
Brooks, have you ever heard a Joule OTL on the Merlins?
Jim and Rich, you both are very helpful. Jim, no, I have not heard the Joules on Merlins. I suspect that if I had I my decision would already be made. There is only one guy who I have found in Chicago who has Joule Electra amps. He has the Grand Marquis. Unfortunately, one of his speakers (Martin Logan) had to go back to the factory for repair. So, I have actually never nneard them on any apeakers.
Brooks, I understand what you are looking for in low end control from an amp. In my opinion, any VSM owner in the market for an amp should hear the Joule OTL. It has been said many times, but it really is a special combination. And I think it will give you a reference standard for comparison with other amps when thinking through tradeoffs and benefits. You may forget all about a hybrid amp after hearing it. When I heard the OTLs at the CES in 2001 I knew I HAD to have it. I have the VZN80 and am very happy with it. Rich makes a good point about the amps but these things are all a matter of degree. It's like saying, "I like my Porsche 911 Turbo but I would rather have a Ferrari Enzo". The VZN80 was about as much I could afford at the time. If presented with the choice again I would probably opt for the VZN100. Not becuase they are that much different or better, but because you might as well for the little extra power and control. Size and heat-wise the 100s fit most rooms. When you start looking at the 160 or 220, not only does price become a major factor, but you are talking about some pretty large amps that generate a good deal of heat. I don't have the money or the room for them (my room is 14x24) but all else being equal - that'd be the way to go.

I have had my Merlins for 4 years now and they are not going anywhere. Many other owners feel the same, especially the guys with the Joule stuff. These amps will last you for the rest of your life. You might want to check with Jud or Bobby about when they will be pairing up again. Maybe they will in New York at the High End show in May? They're worth seeking out for a listen.
Jim, yes, there seems to be an extrordinary synergy with the Merlins and the Joules. I wish I could hear it. The show in May is a possibility. Thanks.
Hi Brooks, I would like to chime in on this if I may. I currently own the Berning zh270 OTL that has been totally tweeked out, every conceivable upgrade including cryoed outputs, various sets of NOS inputs, cryoed wire ERS and tube dampers. It is a very dynamic amp stock. With the upgrades, the ease, transparency and performance top to bottom is quite good. Especially the low end since it uses a switching power supply. David Berning's designs have always been noted for their low end performance. I have heard the VSM's with 2 of these amps strapped together in my system with the wire upgrade and I must say it was most definitely in the realm of ss control and extension with puffs of air coming from the port of the speaker regularly at moderate listening levels. It literally sounded as though a subwoofer was hooked up to the Merlins but with a coherence that NO sub can project, especially with such a speaker as the VSM. If you are looking at hybrids but love the sound of tubes, I strongly suggest you look into this amp. It is also easy on maintenance since the outputs are auto biased and operate at a very conservative plate voltage relative to their capacity, same with the input/drivers. 20 years tube life can be expected with this design. About as plug and play as you can get without the constant worry of tubes. Another plus is that all the tubes are readily avaliable NOS and are quite inexpensive.

Now having just made a strong case for the Berning I would also STRONGLY recommend you listen to the Joule's per Jim's recommendation. This amp is the most harmonically realistic, natural sounding amp I have heard with these speakers. It is incumbent for anyone purchasing the VSM to hear it first hand. It doesn't have the "plug and play" convenience of the Berning and it also puts out quite a bit more heat but it is a final purchase product especially with this speaker and I can't say enough good things about it including performance, build quality and value. Jud Barber is most definitely a music lover and his designs are masterpieces at reproducing music! The only cavaet is that to realize the bass control that you might get with the Berning I would think that you would have to go with the Marquis 100 monos or the Grand Marquis if you can handle the heat, current draw and price of admission.

Before purchasing either I would try to search out both for a listen. I doubt any hybrid out there will offer the musical involvement these two do with the VSM but on the other hand there are many tube designs that work well with the Merlins. On the SS front I would look at the Sims and Belles that would probably offer much of what you might expect from a hybrid.
Tubegroover, thanks for the very interesting report. I think that I need to defer my decision until I can hear the Joules and maybe the Berning on Merlins. I will try to get the spring NYC show or see if I can find someone with them who wouldn't mind me coming over for a listen. I live in Chicago but in the next several months I will be in St Louis, St Paul, Ponte Verde, Princeton, and New Haven - just in case anyone knows Joule/Berning/Merlin owners in those areas. Thanks to all of you a lot for sharing your experience. It is a big help. Also, this Tenor hybrid stereo 150 has me so intrigued, I am going to try to hear it too.

I agree with Tubegroover on the Berning, which I have and that is fully "tweaked" out. It is paired with the Merlins. I live in Minneapolis and would be more than happy to have you over when you are in Mpls. Just email me and we can set up a time. You really do owe it to yourself to hear the Berning with the Merlins. I have not had the pleasure of hearing a Joule but, can also tell you that since getting the Berning I have not been hankering or even wondering about something else. This was true before the latest mods to the Berning. Since I had the Berning moddedI have been in awe.

BTW, Yes - Merlin and Joule are currently planning to do a room together at the NY HiFi show in May.
Brooks, I understand that Merlin will be teaming up with Berning and Stillpoints in Montreal this March. It might well be worth it for you to listen and then check out the NY Hi-end show with the Joules. You will get a good idea of the differences. I DO know some folks that actually prefer the Berning to the Joule. It might be worth it to hear both. Of course you are always welcome to come down to Florida and listen to both Jim's and my system, we live quite close to each other. I'm sure Jim wouldn't mind, right Jim?
Musiclovers are always welcome :)

Brooks, my wife and I are planning to go to NYC in May and we'll be going by the show. Let's keep in touch if you plan to go and maybe we can meet up.

BTW, bring your checkbook. :)
Thanks for the invitations guys. I will email you individually with the dates I will be in your areas to check your schedules. Jim, that is very cool that your wife is going to the show with you. My wife loves music. She especially likes to hear it live . However, I cannot imagine ever getting her to the show. Interesting enough, with the parade of equipment of equipment that has passed through my system, the only time she has ever made an unsolicited, positive comment is when she heard the Merlins for the first time. She said "Wow, those really sound good." Since then, instead of just hearing the music through our in-wall speakers, she will come downstairs to our basement, actually sit on the couch and listen to the system with the Merlins. This is high praise, indeed. Funny enough, she asked me if the were available as an in-wall.
Brooks - I used to live in the Chicago area. Check out Holmes Audio (no affiliation). They are in the Downers Grove area right off I-355. The owner had a Joule Electra VZN-80 that he was using at home. They loaned it to me for the weekend along with an LA-100 pre-amp. This was a few years ago, but he still may have it. I loved the sound, but could not afford the price. At the time I was using Blue Circle gear to drive my Merlins. I have since switched over to the David Berning camp with no regrets. My ZH-270 is currently in Florida getting the wire/capacitor upgrade. I am anxiously awaiting its return.
Brooks, no offense to any other spouses, but I have no doubt that I am the luckiest man on Earth. She is also letting me build a 427 Cobra Replica in the garage.
Jim, what a blessing. MrPaul, Thanks for the suggestion. I have been to Holm audio many times. It is a cool store. However, they are no longer a Joule dealer. They primarily have Cary, ASL, and Elect.. By the way, David Berning is so busy that he is back ordered until December.

Hang on to your hat as you will be "blown away" by the wire and cap mods on the ZH270 after 200 hours. The upgrade is that good.

Brooks, I am in your back yard and will have a CAT JL-2 available for audition very soon. I can help you with some of the other options you have mentioned here and in private email.

Brian Walsh
Brooks1- I've got a very different system, but if you want to hear the Berning vs a megawatt hybrid (Llano Trinity 300) I have both here, in W. Hartford, CT, 45 min from New Haven. I am using them to drive Vandy 3ASigs, but you might learn something from hearing them both. I have only recently gotten the Berning so I really don't have a handle on the differences, but they are both very nice. You can email me if you want to give them a listen. BTW, I may also give the NY show a try.
Swampwalker, I will email you. Thanks. In the meantime, I hope you post your thoughts on the Berning.