Monoblocks to consider?


Current system:

* Audio Aero Capitol;
* Joule Electra LA150 MkII;
* Dave Berning ZH-270,
* Merlin VSM-Mxe

I'm sort of considering monoblocks to replace the Berning - I know there are a few members here (especially SBanks) who have moved to Atma Shere monoblocks.

I'd like to canvas views on what amps I should be listening to. I'd like the amps to have just a touch more bottom end slam, if this is possible with my pre and speaker combo.


Odyssey mono extreams. They have caused me to sell off all my Jadis amps that I've had for 12 years and really love.
Definitely check into Wyred4Sound. I am using the K 500s on my Magnepan 3.5R mid/bass panels. Underwood HiFi sells them. He advertises here.
Merlins require a subwoofer to provide bottom end slam. Without one, the speakers lack bottom end weight, IMO.

I'd suggest adding a sub (or two) rather than changing your amplifier.
What's your budget? You may consider getting a second 270 somewhere and monoblocking them, very easy to do, or, if you can afford it, the new Berning monoblocks are available. I had multiple 270's, and the new monoblocks are just in a different league. I still have my MX's too, I should hook up the Bernings to them to see what they'll do.
One other thing--how old are the tubes in your Audio Aero? I just had mine replaced after 3 years (I leave it on standby most of the time), and wow, what a difference. Of course, I also added an Elrod cord to the AA, but regardless of what caused it, there was an immediate increase in bass.
Agree with Tvad.You might get a little more bottom with a different amp,but you would lose out on what the Berning is giving you on the top/middle area's.I also have Merlins,good luck,Bob Of course this is just an opinion you realize.....I have heard the Berning with these....

IMHO, I'd first bring your VSMs and BAM to current spec (if they are not laready there). The difference in bass impact is pretty dramatic - mostly, I assume, to changes in the BAM. The KT-88 powered Prima Luna 7 monos, the TAD Hibachi SS monos, the Odyssey monos (mine were not extreme), and the the ICE powered Bel Cantos all sound different from each other, but all provided real kick at 60 hz and down.

Good Luck,

Here's an out-of-the-box suggestion, but one I've tried: Pass Labs XA-30.5.

Don't be fooled by the 30wpc power rating. This amp is a velvet hammer. It might be very impressive on the Merlins.

I auditioned one through Reno HiFi. Mark is a real pro.

I'd still recommend a subwoofer first, though.
The Atma-Sphere MA-1 monoblocks are a great match with the Merlin speakers. I listened to Sbank's system many times when he had the Bernings and then after he switched to the Atma-Sphere. The Bernings were a nice match and are excellent amplifiers. The Atma-Sphere amps were simply better: more resolving, more complete rendering of harmonic overtones, greater bass impact and control, better soundstaging. (Note: I use Atma-Sphere MA-2 monoblocks and so clearly like what Ralph's amps do in making music.)

Thanks for the replies.

I have never really considered a sub... and to be honest I have no idea where to start - I guess I need to do some more research.

I have considered a 2nd Berning, but they don't appear for sale all that often and I'm not sure it is the right solution for me.

My Merlins/BAM are up to current spec... but still lack a little bottom end 'slam'.

I changed the tubes on the Capitole about 2 years ago - so I will change them first, as it is the most cost effective option at the moment.

My budget is circa $15k but could find more for the right amps.


I'll bet for $5k (or less) invested in a couple of subs, you'll get all the slam you desire, and you'll save some money in the process.

Why not call or email Bobby P. for some subwoofer suggestions (or search the Member's Systems to see what other Merlin owners are using)?
Got me to thinking.You have 95% of what you can get with what you got.You know your trying for the last 5%.Going to need 50K or so for that.Or take the easy way out and get the sub.You don't say much about the room,whats that like?
Hi Monty: My system is similar to yours. Joule LAP 150 MkII, AA Prima CDP, and Merlin VSM-MXe but I use a very old Muse subwoofer with it. My amps are Joule VZN-160 and I have been very happy with them for the last 8 years. They are probably the last item in my system I would switch out. Bobby himself uses the VZN-100 at the CES and has done so for a few years.
It could very well be your room and speaker placement thats sucking the dynamic life out of your Merlins.Its not the Berning amp.
Before you start selling and spending, start with differant speaker placement.

Sometimes patience and alittle work pays off large.

If that does not do it for you.

Tvads suggestion is agood one.

The subs today have come along, long way. Borrow one or two and see for your yourself.

Or take Rushtons advice regarding the Atma-Sphere monos.
They are everything he says they are.

The Atma-Spheres could very well be a better match for your Merlins. Try them out and see.

Good luck and good listening.
If you want a fantastic bottom end slam consider the Innersound mono amps,excellent amps with unlimited power.
I'd recommend adding another ZH270 then strapping the channels making them into monoblocks. The combo is killer, I did it with my old Soundlabs and it was the best amp combo I have heard to date. This might make more sense than switching to old school tube amp technology. The Atmasphere will run much hotter, have much less bass drive, are way more high maintenance and less efficient than (2) Berning ZH 270's. with channels strapped.
You stated with respect to Atma-Sphere,
Atmasphere will run much hotter, have much less bass drive, are way more high maintenance.

I have been running 4 MA2-MK III's for almost 2 years now, and I have lost 3 power tubes during this time. This is the lowest tube loss I have ever had when running Audio Research, Air Tight, and Bat, and this is with 4 monoblocks or 80 power tubes in total. I have not heard the Berning, so I can not comment as to how its bass compares to Atma-Sphere's, but I have never heard better bass. I agree that Atma-spere's do produce heat, but my air condition easily keeps this in Check and does not appear to noticeably run more than it normally would when amps are not powered up. Sonically, I can not imagine amps sounding better, more accurate or musical.
Happy listening
Hi Dgclark0007, I agree Atmasphere amps sound good, no question about it. Berning amps are mega reliable, stable and low maintenance designs. Tubes last a very long time due to the grid drive. It would take much longer than 3 years before requiring a drive tube replacement for a ZH270. Bass from the Bernings are world class, they are not outclassed by much. If comparing apples to apples the new Berning Quadrature designs would be a better direct comparison to the MA2 MKIII as the Atmasphere amps cost nearly 7 times what a single 270 did when new. Resale value on used Berning products is also very high. Ultimately, I feel as long as you are happy with your gear and your system thats all that really matters. Cheers, Chris
Hi guys,

Heat from the amps is not a problem... however, reliability and the need to 'just use' an amp is essential - that is one reason why I didn't consider the Joule mono's.

It would seem most of you believe the Berning has damn good bass and the latest spec Merlins should cause a problem, so it leads me to think it might be my room.

I really do like the idea of the Atmashere amps, but there is point in investing if my room is the problem.


Mentioned earlier was the Pass XA30.5; I had it for a while and it is indeed a very good match with the Merlins - it is one SS amp that certainly works well with them and the bass performance is superb (I'm use to the bass performance of the CAT JL2). Like Tvad, said, don't let the 30 watts fool you; it must be a very conservative rating and as far as reliability and ease of use goes, well I doubt it gets better.

If you have the choice, the first thing you should do is look at the room. It may be fine, but odds are that it is not. Having said that, is it a dedicated room and what is its construction and dimensions. Buying gear is always sexier than fixing rooms, but the only way to know how any of it really sounds is to fix the room first.

If you can't fix the room, the amp is an awesome one and if you like it, waiting for a used one would be reasonable. If you want simplicity without the worry of tubes, then you will be looking at solid state.

Good luck