Newbie Can't Decide Which Tube Amp

Just had a Bottlehead tech build me a BeePre preamp and an MM phono. My speakers are Sonus Faber Concertos Homage (rated at 87dB sensitivity) and my budget is $4K- give or take. I am not much of a bass person. Mostly classical, appreciate the Blues, Latin, and occasional classic rock. The tech is adamant that I look for a used EAR 534.

I appreciate your feedback in advance.
They rarely come up for sale. I owned an EAR 534, music was presented with outstanding realism. Class A 50 wpc tetrode, I ran mine with 91dB, 8ohm speakers. A very powerful amp.

To get recommendations we need to know the nominal impedance of your speakers.
87dB sensitivity is on the low side.

I would be looking for a good AB that could run KT88s or LARGER valves, or a whole slough of 6L6s, for the great bass, mids, and highs.

A operation, sounds wonderful, but runs VERY hot... Valves are hot enough.. Class A is smokin’ hot.

An honest 87 db would work better with A/B and 75 watts or so..Cooler over all, still hot though.. MC275, Carver, there is a couple of Carys that would do a nice job..Have an A, A/B switches, and many valve options.. EASY to work on too.. I really like Carys wide valve option on a single amp platform...Wonderful..

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Whatever you do, don't buy Raven.

(Just trolling you know who. Raven seems good.)

Love Quicksilver. One thing about the Mono 120's -- they're more powerful than the Mono 60's but less flexible in which tubes they can take, I believe. (decooney stated as much, I think, and he really knows QS.) So, if you get the Mono 60s for a bunch less, you have spare $$ to spend on really nice NOS tubes.
Pathos Acoustics makes a wonderful line of hybrid tube amps and I do own one or two of them. Have a Classic One MK3 in one of my systems now and I have one of their In Pol.

I also have a Raven Blackhawk MK3 in my main system and I love it. Also have Raven CeLest Towers and all Raven cables, Thorens TD145 TT, Icon phone section and Moon by Simusdio 280D DAC Streamer.

Just Buy the Raven. 
EAR534 wouldn't be enough to drive those 87db speakers. 

There's a pair of VTL MB-125s listed here for $4K, that would be a much better fit. Manley and Rogue both also have many models >100w that would pair better with your speakers. 

Output tubes each have their own characteristics. If you can't listen to a number of amps of varying design, at a minimum try reading up on comparisons of EL34s, 6650s, KT150s, etc. 

@yogiboy I think it’s safe to divide all forum respondents into two camps: Those who recommend what they own and only what they own (using all caps, or language that implies that anyone who ignores them is an idiot) and Those who consider what the OP’s parameters are and try to suggest a range of things. In other words, fanboys and non-fanboys. ;-)
My friend has 3 year old M120 amps. They can be used with KT88 tubes. 
@ckenrIf   If you really want to use a tube amplifier I would consider different speakers unless your room is very small. 87dB is low efficiency and you'll need about 240-400 watts in most rooms to get realistic levels with any musical genre. There are not many tube amps that make this power and sound like music at the same time! Bandwidth is hard to achieve due to limitations in the output transformer (BTW there are tube amps that don't use an output transformer).

To give you some idea of how important this is, consider a loudspeaker of 93dB, which is a moderate efficiency. It will need 1/4 the power for the same sound pressure. 100 watts is a lot easier to find in a tube amp, and in many rooms you could get by with 60 watts.
@hilde45 My friend has 3 year old M120 amps. They can be used with KT88 tubes.

Best to check with Mike @ QS and give him the serial # of the amps, and reconfirm to be sure. The latest version of the Mono 120s with the large transformers in the past two years may have a different recommendation. Not sure if it's plate voltage or what changed, if anything. Or, maybe something was learned since. I ran KT120s and KT150s in my Mono 120 amps, no issues. In fact, originally I tried to order them with KT88s. No-go.  On three separate occasions while checking on internal biasing of the small tubes, I asked and pressed it with him pretty good asking more than once.  Mike told me no, "not" to run KT88s, that I'd, quote: "burn them up" in my Mono 120s.  His web page has been updated since then.  KT88s are removed as an option for output tubes now for the QS Mono 120 amps. Definitely worth re-checking. Best of luck.  

Look here:  

Mono 120 now shows: "Tube Complement1 12AU7 input, 1 12AT7 driver, 2 KT120 or KT150 outputs. 
I agree with Ralph at atmosphere, But if you insist keeping your speakers, look at the Tsakadiris apollon mono block tube amps, they are right on your budget.I own this monos, they run my Andra hard to drive Speaker without a sweat, with musicality attach to it.
It appears at least 2 different Concerto models existed, each had different drivers in them. The later model has a diffraction device on the tweeter as one indicator, and look closely at the woofers. This original model reviewed way back was rated at 86/db at 8ohms, and yet the other version showed 88db at 6ohms. Old review here,

Agree, its likely going to take a capable amplifier (tube or SS) for these speakers to get proper performance out of them - as your tech and others have already noted. The Tech Factory review above noted these like a clean 100w amp, capable of peaks up to 250w; betting that was a solid state amp too. I like and use tube amps, and in this case, if I kept the Concertos, it would mostly likely be paired with a really nice sounding solid state amp. You could find a number of nice integrated solid state amps in your noted price range. Or, if you must go tube, maybe others speakers as many here suggested.

Is there a label on the back indicating 6 or 8 ohms? Does it have the smaller soft dome tweeter or the version with the diffraction 3-point star diffraction device on the front of the tweeters?
The OP is not looking for an integrated amp. No Raven today


not to bright are you.

Just buy a Raven 

Actually skypunk, not sure why you are so gung ho on giving free advertising for a couple of guys who went out of their way to read you the riot act.
Hey Einstein, go back and reread the post. His budget is $4000! And speaking of not too bright it's too not to!

My bad guess I am the dim bulb.

@jetter  That's okay unlike many I can find a way to forgive and forget.

I am a Libertarian and we can move on unlike some....
Lafayette KT-550 send it to me and I will convert to EL34 tube. Nothing that I have heard can touch this amp.

Happy Listening
Without a doubt Ayon Scorpio  the only microprocessor controlled tube integrated but so much more ,Worldclass Lundahl transformers which is the heart to any good tube amp.
no tube amp under $5k has transformers in this class check it out.
My sincere thanks to everyone who has taken your time to respond. Amazing kindness!
To clarify, the speakers are 6ohms impedance (per the rear,) 88dB (from a website,) and power handling of 30-200 watts (same website.) They are currently driven by a 1990's Bob Carver, SS, 60wpc, integrated amplifier (CM-1065) with no issues. Interestingly, it seems, the preamp and the amp components are connected from the outside rear, enabling one to disconnect them and connect an external preamp to the amp component. I haven't tried this since I don't have any interconnects yet and I am looking for a total tube experience.

I would consider an integrated amp if I'll have the option to connect my preamp and I would consider monoblocks if they are designed depth-wise and not width-wise due to cramped quarters.

Any input with regards to Bob Carver's Crimson 275? I can pick one up for around $2k.

I've been enjoying a Bob Carver Crimson 275 for a couple of months now and I highly recommend it. American made with a 5 year warranty that includes the tubes and it sounds great. You can stick with the stock KT120's, vary the tube bias between 60 and 120 ma and roll the smaller tubes to get the sound signature you want. 
Those speakers need some oomph!

   Consider a minimum of 300 W rms.

 Carver 350 crimson tube monos.

 Those speakers are power hungry, and need some good power. 
@ckenr, with your noted "cramped quarters" and space constraints limited to depth vs. width, you might want to reply with your LxWxH limits.

This might help folks to help you to narrow down a list of possible tube amps(s) you can do given your circumstances. Remember, tube amps need a little space round them for ventilation too.   
Ordinarily I would say you don't need an amp you need speakers. But unlike some I am not a fanboy and actually read the info and so since you are already fine with 60 watts then that's not a problem and you should be fine with the Carver Crimson 275.  

Honestly though you should realize 60 vs 75 watts is insignificant. You are looking for the total tube experience (there I go again, actually reading the question) so you should know that is almost totally down to the first watt. You're pushing it trying to get away with speakers under 90 dB. My personal limit is 92. Won't even consider anything under 92. But you got em, like em, they're not going anywhere, and you're even happy running them with 60 solid state watts.  

No idea why you would want pre-amp input. That will rule out a lot of really, really good integrated amps. Being on a budget, even a $4k budget, you should know at that level the interconnect alone will add another couple hundred bucks. Separates in general are a money pit. I think you'll be way better off in terms of "the total tube experience" to go with the Raven Blackhawk.   For sure there is nothing at that price point that will give you more of "the total tube experience". If you really want the "total" experience step up to Osprey, run all kinds of tubes. Dave has a killer selection. 

You get a few more watts, sure. But again, there is no significant difference. What you are really paying for is the flexibility of being able to run a wide range of NOS tubes. 

The Blackhawk doesn't have pre-in, but it does have adjustable sub out. Just pointing it out. Seems to me for whatever reason, small room, low listening level, whatever the reason, you're okay with your current amp. This alone tells me you'll be okay, power wise, with the Blackhawk.  

Not trying to "sell" you on it. Already said you'll be fine with the Crimson. Save you two grand you can put into something else, better speaker cables, interconnect, which you mentioned not having.  

Nobody yet mentioned it, but since you are a newbie you should know the interconnect and speaker cable are every bit as important as the amp and speakers.  

All the amps here, the Raven especially but frankly all of them, are leagues better than your 90's era solid state. You get the Raven, you are gonna be stunned. Whole new world. Unbelievable. But pretty much the same with any of the other tube amps as well. 

Reason I mention this is people tend to look only at what's right in front of them right now. Odds are you get a great amp, it opens your eyes and ears to the potential. Right now you are probably thinking what you can afford to spend now and what you can get with it. I'm suggesting you think longer term.  

The difference is one way you get the Crimson for $2k, put $2k into interconnect and speaker cable, maybe a power cord or two, and have one pretty darn nice system. Another way you get something like a Raven, its more of a lifetime anchor type component, and gradually add really good wire, source, etc.  

You can see how much depends on things about yourself that are hard to explain on a "what amp should I get" level. Been there. Done that. Take your time. You'll figure it out.
There is a Carver VTA305 for $4900 and and Carver 350 in crimson no less (I own one) for $6500 on the "other" site and also a couple Carver 275s (I'm thinking bi amp) that combined is very close to your budget.  IMO all are very competitive with price points well above Bob's
Ok, sorry to butt in, since this post is written primarily to address the comments about needing “this or that” number of watts of power for the OP’s 87/88 dB speakers, but I just want to share my personal experience, and remind everyone (because honestly, most here already know this) that many factors determine what amp will drive which speakers. I’m currently using a +/- 100wpc tube amp to drive Maggie 1.7i speakers. I’ve tried many amps, of various types and power ratings, hooked up to these (and many other) speakers. In my room, with my music, at my ‘normal’ listening level, it sounds fantastic. As long as I don’t try to blast my windows out (which I don’t) I’m completely satisfied with this combination. I read carefully every time Ralph (atmasphere) posts because he not only shares his wealth of knowledge in a very even-tempered way, but also I find what he says to be very well-thought-out. However, in this case, I respectfully disagree. Now, there are plenty of others whose experiences contrast my own. But the bigger point here is: What do you listen to, how loud do you listen, how big is your room, and what do you listen for / expect your stereo system to deliver? 
Fun problem to have,

Considering cost, weight, heat, placement flexibility: I would avoid overdoing wpc,

Happy now with 60wpc, more than likely you will do well with Carvers 275 (75wpc at 4 ohm or 8 ohm).

Bob Carver has created many amazing products over the years.

Your inefficient speakers are currently driven satisfactorily by his 60 wpc SS. Does that amp have any special features to handle momentary peaks that you are benefitting from now? 

IOW, you might assume his 75 wpc tube amp is 'more than' enough to match current performance. I would want to confirm his tube amp also could match momentary peaks like his SS. You might simply ask them that, and how they think their 275 will do with your specific speakers.

His 275 was specifically designed to sound like the classic McIntosh 2275.

Are you considering a McIntosh 2275?

Because of the low sensitivity of a sonus faber  and the low impedance i would recommend at least a one hundred to one hundred fifty watt tube amp with 4 ohm taps. You could try and find a good 6550 or kt88 amp from audio research, sonic frontiers, or rogue. You should be able to find an awesome used model in the 4k range of that power rating. The only upgrade you will need in the future will be good nos tubes and a good power cord but you can add those later. i am worried that a fifty watt amp will run out of steam even on the blues.
I'd go with the rogue sphinx and save some money. It's a very nice amp for only $1500. It's got everything you would ever need including headphone amp and phono. All analog, which to me, is important. Tubes combined with class D hybrid, and it looks great.
i have a triode corporation trv-35ser (35 w integrated with pre in, el34 tubes) driving acoustic zen adagio jrs (6 ohm, 88 db) in my second system, and it’s a very nice combo.  triode is a cool niche brand, and the price is within your budget.  they also offer the trv-88ser (45 w integrated, kt88s), also within your budget.
I run PrimaLuna amplification and a tube preamp with Sonus Faber speakers. Great synergy!
The Bob Latino power amps are always going to be your best value.  They are universally admired.  His ST-120 is a real Mac 275 killer.  But in your budget, you could readily afford his M125 mono block power amps which put out 120 watts each.   All of his amps are available either in kit form, or fully assembled and tested.  They have excellent tech support for kit builders and you won't end up with a mystery brand that you'll have difficulty selling later.

Pricing on the M125 mono block power amps is:

Pair of kits, no tubes $1778
Pair of kits, with tubes, $2233
Assembled pair, no tubes $2595
Assembled pair, with tubes, $2995

Shipping extra.   The kits are offered without tubes for those people who have a particular preference for other brands, or perhaps already have some they want to use.   No need to buy tubes you're not going to use.

These are extremely well engineered.  Nobody's cutting corners on these designs.    There is a great deal of useful comment and information on his amps at The Dynaco Tube Audio Forum.
I own the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premier HP with the stock tubes.  I use it with Focal Diablo Utopia III's.  I really like it, it is hassle-free, sounds great, and can switch from Pentode to triode mode with a remote. 75wpc with the stock tubes. I highly recommend it.

i have been curious about the carver unit as well -- carver is definitely a mad genius always thinks creatively -- but between my linear tube audio and arc units, i just don’t see the need for trying another tube amp

that being said, for ~4 grand, primaluna is an obvious choice, a lot of value for the $ -- or an older arc like a vt100 series or ref110 - these make zero apologies to current day tube amps much more than what they cost used today

a steal at the asking price .... ... if your space constraints allow

with sonus fabers, i think you want more high end sparkle in the feed to the speakers, i would go with an arc unit over primaluna
Frequently available used in your price range:
  • Music Reference RM200 MK1 or 2
  • Manley Snapper monoblocks
  • Quicksilver VR4 monoblocks
  • McIntosh MC275 MK V or VI
Sensitivity of Your speakers is bad. Id like to advice You a new idea.
The best tube amp is cl. A Single Ended SE 2A3, 300B, 6BQ6... with output power about 8-10-12 W,.....not 
PP McI, Pr. Luna..... and use hi sensitivity speakers 94-96 and more dB and that small power is enough for 1000-1500 sq.f.
With big expensive brand amps You will spend too much money for power, that never you will use.
SE, IMO, is the best sounding mode for tube amp....
This is my first time on a conversation forum. How can I respond to a specific post without bothering others else with unrelated conversations?
Once I corrected the specs in the original posting, I've been receiving some really good tips and that's how my confusion started: Once I realized that EAR's are hard to find, I started reading about these recommended brands, they all have rave reviews!

And now look at the latest posting, a single-ended amp with 8-12 watts for a 30-200 watts rated pair of speakers?
I am a retired grocer. I can pick a good cantaloupe out of the bin about %90 of the time at a rate of one cantaloupe every 10 seconds. How can an 8-12 watts amp drive a min. 30 watts rated speaker? Aren't all watts the same? Please excuse my level of sophistication!
Speakers for big power dont mean good Hi Quality. Big power speaker is not for HiEnd. I have excellent . speakers with big sensitivity, that sound with big acoustic pressure with small power from Single Ended. Its big mistake to buy speakers with big power. Main parameter is sensitivity.
If you have a line OP on a Carver Crimson 275 for ~$2K, you should give it a go.  I have heard it and have it.  I'm running it in comparison to two other awesome amps, an Elekit 300B and a Primaluna Dialogue HP Integrated.  The Carver Crimson 275 is a special amp and at that price it's worth a test drive.  Shoot, if you don't like it, I'll buy it off you for that!

If you have a line OP on a Carver Crimson 275 for ~$2K, you should give it a go. I have heard it and have it. I’m running it in comparison to two other awesome amps, an Elekit 300B and a Primaluna Dialogue HP Integrated. The Carver Crimson 275 is a special amp and at that price it’s worth a test drive. Shoot, if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it off you for that!


inquiring minds want to know - how does the carver compare to the primaluna you mention?

pls disclose tubes used in both, and what speakers driven ... thanks
jss49,  The Carver Crimson 275 compares very favorably with the Primaluna Dialogue HP Integrated.  

Folks sometimes don't like conclusions that end with, "they are both very good amps", but it's true here. 

The Carver is smooth, strong, warm and behaved.  It has a deeper soundstage than the Primaluna (but I have it biased low for that) and nice holographic 3 dimensional character.  The Carver is clear and warm sounding.  It has a different take on detail than the Primaluna, which I cannot quite put into words yet.  Again, both are great. 

I'm running the Carver stock with KT120s and Tung Sol 12AX7 and 12AT7.  The Primaluna is running either KT150s or 7581s.  I have two nice military spec'd Mullards in the two gain positions, and a fleet of 4 Gold Lions for the driver tubes.  

I can lift the Carver up by its chrome rail with a finger.  The Primaluna is back breaking.  Somehow Bob found a way to keep this amp feather light yet it competes with amps that have big iron.  

If I were hypothetically talking to a younger person who was looking to get into great tube sound, I'd say buy the Carver and run a DAC that has a preamp function. You'd be off and running.  Later, you could add vinyl, a bona fide preamp, etc. 

I'm using Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers.  

Footnote:  I broke down and bought the Carver because I need a dedicated amp for a preamp project that I'm finishing.  I simply couldn't get enough information online about the Carver so I took the leap.  

thanks for your thoughts

will keep the carver on the 'to try' list, pick one up at some point

i hear you on the backbreaking weight of typical tube amps.... love my linear tube audio for that reason, among others... it is very light, so easy to handle - sounds like the carver is similar (although i am under the impression does run standard metal transformers...)

Any discussion is going to get responses written to you, anybody who might be following, and answers irrelevant to your question(s).

I read that 8-12 wpc post, totally irrelevant to your original post. You/we can gain from reading irrelevant posts, but you need to stay on point.

A lot of people here like that Carver Crimson 275 and think it is enough for your speakers.