Ok....Audiogoners: need some tube amp ideas

Any suggestion/comment is appreciated. Just off the top of my head, below is a list of initial parameters.

- budget: $4k ish (somewhat flexible)
- tubes/valves amp(s)
- preowned or new
- mono or stereo configuration
- min wattage: 70 and higher (this rating would afford me more speaker options down the road e.g. 4/8 ohm and >88db efficiency)
- brand(s): leaning toward more esoteric manufacturers or models (e.g. Dodd 120, VAC PHI, Audio Valves); would prefer staying away from manufactueres that do magazine advertisement.

Current thought: I might push the budget a bit to consider a pair of preowned Lamm ML1.

Thanks much. (currently listening to Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 by NY Philharmonic/Berstein)

Right at the low end of your power range is the Berning ZH270. One is for listed sale ~$4k(I don't know the seller). A very high performing quasi-OTL design that runs cool, weighs only 10 lbs. and has output tube life of ~10 years! Worth reading about if you aren't familiar with it. This amp is being discontinued later this year, to be replaced in about 2 years with a model that will have 100w/ch, but sell in the $10k neighborhood.
Most of the other better tube amps IMHO aren't high enough power for you, or are over budget.
If you want push/pull, a used Air Tight ATM2 would be good. OF the ones you mention, the VACs are nice, too.
At $5k/pr, their are Wolcott P220s. Great w/Electrostatics.
I would suggest conrad johnson either a premier 140 stereo or a pair of premier 12 mono-blocs; both used as neither are current products.
McIntosh MC275. No contest.
Hi Ken,
I perceive a change in the market toward more efficient speakers. You may want to adjust your parameters with this in mind. There are many more options at lower power within your budget and a reduction in quantity might enable you to purchase higher quality with the same outlay.
How about some other brand such as Art Audio, Mastersound, EAR...?
I used to own VAC (all the top models) and never like their sound.
No contest....Rogue M-150 Monoblocks. I don't read the magazines, so I don't know if they advertise.
Anyway, 150 watts ultralinear/100 watts triode.
New price is $4000. Hard to find used but go for $2600-2900. One of the best value in amps.
Hi Ken

Unlike Linkoping, I love my VAC amps. I believe that they offer tremendous value when joined with Martin Logan speakers. Have not ever tried box type speakers although I will put some Avalon Eclipses in my system as an experiment sometime soon. Good luck.

Thanks for everyone's input so far. This is a good starting list. Let me insert a bit more background.

- Art Audio is supposedly sending me a pair of its Concerto MKII push-pull monos (over my budget, but I'll stretch if I like them that much)

- My current speakers are 88 db, 8 ohm, and highly damped; however, they do not provide enough bass. Thus far, some of the real-world priced speakers I've seen are typically around 88 to 90 db efficiency. Hence, I thought more power might be better. Nonetheless, I'll keep an open mind on the eventual speaker selection.

- I'm looking into a pair of Continuum 2.5 speakers from SP Technology. The waveguide is an intriguing proposition, and SP is sending me a pair of its smaller offerings for demo.

- Linkoping: Nice setup you have there. I actually did think about the Mastersound amps, but am unsure if they're sufficiently powerful for orchestral music.

- Sbank: I'm still investigating on the Berning amps; OTLs are an interesting animal to me. Sans Berning amps, other OTLs may be a bit fussy to maintain. Air Tight is certainly a viable option.

Again, thanks for all the inputs. Please keep them coming. I've been doing a lot of reading/researching here, AA, and Audiocircle for "esoteric" amps. The next step for me is to put together a short list for demo.

Check out a real OTL design... Atma-Sphere. You may be surprised with the dynamics and lower end resolution comparatively. I love the sound from mine. The one caveat is you will need to be focused on a higher efficiency speaker (90db or + would be great) with a straight 8 ohms (or higher), but why not regardless. I'm running Atma's MA-1 Silvers with a 140 watts into a 94db Coincident Total Eclipse speakers @ 14ohms and IMHO they do it all from top to bottom. A higher efficiency speaker will open you up to a much wider range of possible tube amps in the future. Think ahead. Happy Listening!
Again, thanks for all the inputs. At this point, 3 amps have emerged as the leading candidates. In the end, I'll do my best to demo them, but it will be difficult as there are no local dealers for the Air Tight and the MF. We'll see.

Please feel free to comment on the below observation.

- Air Tight ATM-2

- Music Reference RM-10 MKii (a pair in mono mode)

- Dodd 120

I would choose the Music Reference because of the company's track record and because of the flexibility afforded by the two amps for mono use or vertical biamping or dropping down in power with more efficient speakers or just having a spare should one amp fail.
Second Atma-Sphere. MA-1 used will fit the bill. I have never heard a better amp than the Atma-Sphere
The Ait Tight and Atma-Sphere are in a completely different league than the Music Reference IMHO. Never heard of Dodd. Both these companies have long-standing high quality reputations. Ralph Karsten of Atma-Sphere is almost legendary in this regard.
If you do go OTL, you will need to have an appropriate speaker in mind. They don't mate well with everything. But when they do, they are amazing.
I would discount R_f_sales disparaging remark to "check out a real OTL design", which is code for "the Berning isn't a real OTL design". This topic has been discussed at great lengths elsewhere in the archives. The point is that they are both great amps, and if you get a chance to hear the Bernings you will likely hear things that few amps can accomplish. The similarity quality in sound of the Bernings, Atma-Spheres, Joule Electras and other OTLs is something that is rare overall, and difficult to do justice in words. Cheers,
I am going to go out on a limb a bit and talk very briefly about the diff btwn Berning, Joule and Atma OTLs. I have had all 3 in my system over the last 2 years. I think that the Berning is the most neutral, the Joule the most emotional, and the Atma the quickest and most dynamic. Right now I am going the Atma way; the Berning is gone, and the Joule may be looking for a new home soon. In my system in my room, with my tastes, I like the Atma and the Joule better than the Berning. Others disagree. They are all great amps and you really can't go wrong. There are ergonomic/space/cost factors that probably will be important to many. The Joule is the biggest, heaviest, and runs the hottest. The Berning is the smallest, lightest, coolest running. The Atmas are monoblocks and have better seperation but also have an unusual form factor (AC inlet on opposite side from audio inlet. They also sound best running balanced or at least with an XLR cable from a quasi-balanced source. Decisions, decisions. If you live in the northeast, you are welcome to come hear the Joule and the Atma (at least until I need to free up some cash ans sell one.
Sbank & Swamwalker,

Good timing and the thoughtful inputs. We actually share similar speakers (I have the mx version). :o)

At this point, I'm down to:
- Air Tight atm-2
- VAC Phi 110
- and, maybe a pair of Pathos Classic one in mono

For our speakers, just about everyone suggests Berning, Atma, and Joule; hosever, I'm ready to try something else, something different. I just wish I can hear the above amps. A good dealer-friend speakes very highly of both the Air Tight and the Pathos. We'll see.

Kyyuan, I would also like to extend an offer, if you were interested and in the Detroit area please feel free to contact me about a listening session with the Atma-Sphere amp. I am not a dealer, just a very satisfied owner.

I would like to echo that Swampwalker gave IMHO an excellent comparison of three possibles. All great sounds in there own right. I have not owned but have heard all and settled with the Atma's because they moved me like no other amp musically and for there combined attributes.

Sbank, Please refrain from your negative interpretations and discounting of others opinions. It's not necessary to intelligently make your counter point. "The point is" Ken ask for some sound tube amp options and I responded. That is "code for" nothing but the facts. It’s fine with me that you don’t agree, really.

Happy Listening all!
I'm doing the Pathos monos using the Classic One MkII's; I'm enjoying them immensely! See my reviews (one review of the Classic One MkII in stereo; the second review of twin units in bridged/mono mode) on audioasylum.com

See also my virtual system. They sound as good as they look.
Berning ZH270 !
Ok I'm going to chip in here with regard to the Berning and say it is one of the finest amps for the money, size and heartache that you will ever hear. I've had the atma's in my system the M60 and S30 and have heard the MA1 extensively on many speakers..big JM labs,Revel,Audio Physic, Trangle and many more.. When I speak of heartache I mean fiddling with biasing, heat!, weight, paranoia of wondering if every tube is working or is biased correctly and on the atma's this is a reality. The atma's are fine amps but they take up alot of room, are heavy, awkward chassis and can be expensive.

I think the Berning is quite a value. There were some other choices mentioned that were all viable and very good..I think you'll spend quite a bit more money, if that matters, on some of the other choices that may not get you any closer than the Berning ...and no, mine's not for sale...Good Luck
Adding to the last two posts, the Berning ZH270 is an excellent choice. Furthermore, when you hear the ZH270 in your system with your speakers you might decide to keep them. The ZH270 delivers DEEP and well controlled Bass. This amp's lower -3 dB point is at 1.5 Hz and runs the tubes very conservatively.

Good luck in your selection.
I have no idea about the VAC PHi amps, but I can tell you that the VAC Ren Mk2 pre is magnificent with the Merlins.
Kyyuan, I recently heard the Quicksilver V4's mated with Cary electronics and a Vandy Quattro speaker. The Quickies seem to have the dynamics, sweetness, space, 3D etc. Liked them very much.
Swampwalker, can you provide the models of Atma, Joule, and Berning in discussion? I am trying to understand the price:performance ratio. Lots of people compare VZN and MA, but VZN series I believe are more $/watt. I have access to Joule VZN 100 and MA-1Mkii and Audio Valve Challenger 115. The OTL has its signatory floating sound, but the Audio Valve PP design also has its magic i.e. the most realistic bass (growl) and drums (tight kick and snare). If Audio Valve has designed their amps with the feedback control knob, I'd be set! How about Audio Valve PP for bass and drums, and OTL for vocals, strings, keys, woodwinds, all upper freq range.
FWIW Nkj's comments about weight, chassis awkwardness and biasing are red herrings so far as we can tell. This is not the sort of thing I like to harp on but I sent Nkj an email explaining that our amps have been autobias for a while and he denied that he had even made a comment about our amps at all:

Hello Ralph,

You must of intended the info re auto bias for someone else.. I've not posted on audiogon re your amps at all

all the the best,


Consequently we suspect he's either not heard them at all or did so so long ago that whatever he has heard is not even slightly current. Hard to tell.
Agree completely with what Atmasphere said. Their amps with autobiasing are simple to use and enjoy. Just hook 'em up and switch 'em on. Initially you want to zero the DC offset and once in a great while after that, but there's no tube swapping involved. The 6AS7 output tubes are good for 10,000 hours' use on average.
Indofunka- the Atma was the M-60 2.3; the Joule VZN-80. And to keep the discussion current; after several back and forths, I believe that I am sticking with the Joule but with a quicker, more dynamic i/c.
Sheeh. My apologies to Nkj and everyone else on this thread. His post was a year ago! When I emailed him, he had forgotten about it.
McIntosh 2102. I own two of them. Used, fits your budget. Great amp.
Wow, the internet is a strange place. I was queried the other day on comments I posted a year ago and low and behold did not remember what I said. I assure you I have had the atma amps as I described in my system. I decided to go with the Berning amp because of chassis size, tube heat and biasing fiddling.

Ralph has addressed 2 of these issues in his current line-up ...that's great. My comments were relevant for the models that were availble to me from my dealer's current stock at the time I auditioned them and posted.

Atama's are great amps ...so is the Berning. Go listen and live with them and see which you prefer.