Old or new gear


Greetings,

I am trying to buy my first tube amplifier. Budget is about $2500-3500. I am not very good at doing electrical work myself and do not intend to restore/repair/update the equipment myself. No time for another hobby. 

Looking to get something very reliable to use for years to come. I tend to keep my equipment for a long time, and do not upgrade things frequently. Trouble free listening is the goal. US made (or Japan or western Europe) would be really nice. Looked at Chinese models, but decided not to go that route, although there are many very good quality brands with great reviews. The top of the line Chinese units are not much cheaper than US made ones, through.

For that money, I am looking for something like quicksilver mid monos or decware MK4, brand new, both made in US, with good reviews as far as build quality and reliability goes.
.
Alternatively, there are amps here on Agon, such as CJ, Cary, VPI 299d, VTL de luxe 300,  VAC rebaissance 30/30 MK3, all used, about 10-15 years old, some in mint conditions with low hours, under or around 3K.

I am looking more for good sound and reliability than a specific amp type (pp vs SE) or output tube design.

Any advice? Again, not looking to resell but this is always a consideration as well (never know what the future holds). Main concern is quality and long term reliability.
Are there better transformers, caps, resistors etc... now than 10-15 years ago? Again, not looking to upgrade anything myself and do not have the time to spend in repair shops.

Thanks for your advice.


sophie999
NEW all the way!Depending on your speakers,room size and listening habits I can HIGHLY recommend the little Quad VA-One!Heirloom quality build,really looks and feels like it will last several lifetimes!No Biasing,easy to own.Perfect for small/medium size rooms...

Sophie, I’m not saying you can get a McIntosh Mc275 for $3500, but If there is a chance at all that you could get close, call Mike Sastra at Audio Classics!

Also, not sure of your speakers or if 75wpc - 90wpc will work for you.

This is a special amp indeed and new they cost around $5,000. Used ones are cheaper. McIntosh has been making this amp for decades! It is built like a battleship and will last forever, very reliable too.

https://www.stereophile.com/tubepoweramps/mcintosh_mc275_power_amplifier/index.html


Matt M
Thanks. Will look at those.

Macs are almost impossible to get at that price. New ones are almost 6K. Not many used ones on forums/stores. Have been looking at those for a while.

Will look at Quad as well. Typically, would prefer the separate components, especially DAC, to keep things simple. Will have to research this one a bit more.
Buy a nicely restored pair of Dynaco Mk 3's. A classic design - 60 watts and excellent iron! Half the price of a Mac 275! I have a pair myself! Excellent resale value, too!
I own QS amps for the past ten years. They are built like tanks and I never had any problem with them. Point to point wired and made in USA. BTW, what preamp are you using?
I've bought both new and used gear and going forward will only buy used. Most sellers by far are honest audiophiles and you can try different brands if you buy at a good price and have some patience. There are lots of great options in that price range to just be stuck with one brand or sell at a great loss. 
Quicksilver makes some the great equipment. You should look at Line Magnetic. Very nice with US support

Thanks.

@yogiboy: Thinking of getting Schiit saga and Behringer DAC. Alternatively, may go with SS Emotiva T-100 and call it a day. Not decided yet.

@jperry : Looked at LM, Opera, Cayin. Wanted their 845 with 300B drivers, but those are over 5K, and tuces are expensive although last longer. Feel like if you get a bit over 1K, the price difference between comparable Chinese and US builds is very small. Chinese are clearly more affordable and offer more options under 1K price range. Over that, parts alone are quite pricey. Labor costs become less important proportionally. Would prefer US made amp for extra few hundred. Also prefer PTP over PCB for ease of any future repairs/upgrades.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the choice of the amplifier ultimately depends greatly on the speakers that they’ll be driving, particularly if you are considering a tube design. The preamp is another consideration, maybe to a lesser degree but important nonetheless. For example, the 300B/845/2a3 designs need very efficient partnering speakers otherwise you’ll be disappointed. Did you mention what speakers you own?
I should have stated this at the beginning. I have Polks LSI 15 towers, 88dB. I do not listen loud at all, mostly pop and classical.
Medium sized bedroom is where it goes. Imagine would need at least 20wpc to get anywhere. New 300B+805/845 amps have 30-40wpc in SET mode. But as I mentioned, everything in this category is expensive for me.
I am trying to buy my first tube amplifier. Budget is about $2500-3500. I am not very good at doing electrical work myself and do not intend to restore/repair/update the equipment myself. No time for another hobby.
No good for tube amp. At least you need to know when to replace tubes and on some units you need to know how to bias (usually instructions are in the manuals or available to download online).

 The lowest maintenance required tube amps are Quicksilver (not done in China yet for good vibes:)) and it's the BEST starter amp period. Depending on speaker of your choice, you can choose within your budget the right one. I'm fan of M60 that can accommodate different power tubes such as KT90, 6550, KT66 etc, but there's a newer version and perhaps you've mentioned that one.... 

Spend little to no attention on type of amp operation weather it's push-pull or single-ended or sepp or SET. All you need to know is your speakers, your room and power speakers require.

Have a look at Audio by Van Alstine's offerings.  He does an updated Dynaco as well as various other highly recommendable models.

@czarivey  Thanks. I can use the multimeter, so biasing should be OK. I just prefer not to replace/upgrade parts requiring soldering.

Been leaning QS way. Just wanted to see if any of the old used amp here may be worthwhile for a fraction of their original price.

I have the QS mid monos. They have a built in bias led meter. They also have the option of using different types of tubes.You can't beat them for the price!
Although Jolida is made in China (along with Primaluna, Hegel, your phone, your computer, your shirt, etc), it's finished and tested in MD USA by smart guys. Very well made and there is nothing that comes close to these things in relative value that I know of. I had a 502P (with inexpensive factory upgrades) for years and it sounded magnificent and was fun to bias (although it didn't need it generally, I just liked messing around with the meter) and roll tubes through, and I only sold it when I found a single ended tube amp I liked.
  I concur with Mattmiller's post. But then, I am biased as the owner of many McIntosh components. 
I would look at Atma-Sphere amps. They are built very well and give excellent sound. A used S-60 or M-60 should be in your budget. I would call Ralph at Atma-Sphere, he sometimes has demos and units for sale at a significant discount (that's how I got my MA-1's).
He can also give you advice on what will work well with your speakers.
Bob
With your speakers and practice of listening at lower levels in a small room, you should have many choices and alot of fun ahead. Additionally, if you went with a fine integrated you wouldn't have to worry about matching the pre to the amp let alone the cable nervosa certain to strike. Some nice tube integrateds that are reasonably available pre-owned that would fit the criteria you gave regarding countries of origin: Cary SLI-80 F1, VAC Avatar, Leben CS300-XS, Audio Research VSI-60 immediately come to mind. Service is convenient and reliable and they would each comfortably mate with your speakers. Also, within your budget you could spend a few dollars on a dac that would potentially be more musically pleasing than the Behringer but YMMV.

Disclaimer, I am not a dealer but have I have owned alot of tube integrated through the years and have loved the synergies of each for different reasons with different speakers. The Cary is nice with a nice headphone section, remote, easy to change the flavors with all of the tubes on board. The Avatar I simply love. No headphone but the original el34 based unit is magical. Some had remote, some didn't, just ask the seller which one. Over the years, it evolved in search of more and more power to the kt88 and lost a bit of its graciousness IMO. The original Avatar was the evolution of the Matantz 8b reissues VAC built and the Avatar I have always considered to be the *b integrated that Marantz should have built but only VAC and Kevin Hayes could achieve. I have owned 3 of these (have one now in my 3rd system and may or may not part with it. its perfect condition and they are hard to find in perfect condition) and keep coming back. Killer phono stage, no headphone, VAC service is A+++ should it ever be necessary. The Leben, within its power limits, is amazing. I have owned 3 of them as well (have one now in my office). Nice energetic amp and punches way above its 15wpc rating. Bass boost and great headphone but no remote. The Audio Research is a very nice amp, especially for what they sell for used. Not as "tubey" as the 3 prior amps which for your purposes may or may not be a good thing. I presently have a GSI-75 in my main setup and I LOVE it. Audio Research service is terrific. Others I have owned but will not again: McIntosh 2275 tube integrated, Line Magnetic anything, I've had 2 I purchased pre-owned and I always felt I was on some strange drug that made everything happen in slow motion when listening to the LM Audio amps LOL. I've had a few ss Macs which were fine and solidly built, a Nagra integrated which was excellent but a letdown for the $ spent, a BAT 300xse which was a fine hybrid.

You have alot of options but I've always liked buying with the peace of mind that a strong service oriented company is there when you need them. McIntosh, Audio Research, VAC are terrific in this regard. BAT probably is Ive just never needed service for a BAT. Cary Audio may be different now that Dennis Had retired so I don't know. Leben and Line Magnetic is through Tone imports so I'm sure its probably terrific although if you buy used it might be tricky, especially if you accidentally bought something gray market. My Lebens have been rock solid. I would be very surprised if the Schiit pre is a perfect match with all of the amps you are considering and great 6sn7's are not cheap. Probably TMI. Good luck!

Thanks. What are some other alternatives for preamp (SS or tube), under 1K, that would match fairly well with many different types of tube amps, if there is such a thing?
Pick your amp and then pick your pre, or vice versa. Impedence matching matters. Thats why you may read that someone has a dac with a volume control that works perfectly feeding their amps direct sans pre, while others proclaim their system collapsed. They got lucky that the dac matched up well in the volume range they listen with the amps they chose. There is alot of data out there but it adds another layer of complexity to chase down in the event you are not thrilled.
@sophie999, I think your inquiry about Quicksilver monos is a great place to begin, and end...

I just sold my pair, as I'm moving to a house half the size of my current one.  Both love and respect the build and sonics of the Quicksilvers, along with the fact they're made in America.  You can't go wrong with them, as they have an incredibly simple (Dynaco), hardwired circuit.  Outside of blowing a transformer, no matter what ever goes wrong with them, you can easily source replacement parts, and either make the repair yourself or have a tech do so.

I also second the Dynaco suggestion from @roberjerman.  Obviously, what I said about Quicksilver holds true for Dynaco.  Given the company produced several hundred thousand amplifier kits, the vast majority assembled by folks with zero electronic assembly experience, it seems easy to say Dynaco produced the most reliable high-end audio components of all time.  Most underrate how good they actually sound, however.  And in my opinion, having heard most of the modifications that "fix the design flaws", I believe the original sounds (and works) best.

In my opinion, a simple tube design, whether SET / PSE or push-pull, employing hardwired construction represents the best long-term purchase when it comes to amplification.  Such products mean you'll likely never get stuck someday owing a mega priced doorstop.

For what it's worth, I previously served as the North American importer for Opera Audio / Consonance.  The company builds a staggering array of products, including tube amplifiers, specifically.  Some of the tube amplifiers sound really good.  If I would recommend anything they produce, they would lead that list.  That said, many had the sort of implementation and reliability issues that go with 1) building so many products that none receive the level of attention in terms of design, implementation, support, and iterative improvement as a company dedicated to building tube amplification alone, and 2) the gap between the owner / designer of the company and the folks actually building the product.  Given most employ printed circuit board construction, over the long term, I would have reliability concerns not present in the aforementioned two products
If you decide to get the QS amps you can get the QS preamp to go with it!
http://quicksilveraudio.com/products/line-stage-preamp/
Another plus for Quicksilver, i believe Mike Sanders has just about perfected the art and science behind tube transformer design. Great amplifier lineup from bottom to top. I have a pair of Silver 88s and i just love these amps. With the right speakers they are about as ideal as it gets. Check out the 20 watt integrated at 1995.00, wonderful with the right speaker. I heard with a pair of 12k ref 3a Reflectors, very impressive with those monitors that hide nothing. That integrated helped them totally disappear.
Thanks. 
I think I will go with QS mid monos based on my research and multiple comments here. Will schiit saga pre match with it? That's a $650 price difference from QS pre. Seems to have output impedance 180 ohm vs 100 for QS. Also no output gain for saga. Is QS really worth extra $650? 
Do not rule out PrimaLuna. They are a great value and awesome for the money. I am a tube guy and I love my PrimaLuna Dialogue Preamp and Dialogue amps. They're integrated are an amazing value.
I looked at them carefully. There is an authorized dealer close to me. The one that I wanted runs around 3K, similar to Decware or QS with preamp. Not to bring any politics to the thread, but for the same price would prefer locally made. Great way to support small local businesses. PL does have excellent user reviews though. And the build quality seems excellent as well. Still an option if others do not work out for some reason.

Also, like the idea of separates. More hassle, but can always swap one component at a time, or try other variations, as I have another system. And if something breaks, no need to replace everything at once.
You can get a used Music Reference RM-200 Mk.2 for $3000, $2500 if you get lucky. The lowest-maintenance 100w/ch tube amp on the market. Only two output tubes (6550 or KT88) per channel, run conservatively for long life. Read Michael Fremer’s Stereophile review if you’re interested. Very transparent even though the tubes are fused ;-) to prevent amplifier meltdown in the event of tube failure.
Have been looking at it for a while. Others recommended this as well. Prices have been generally well over 3K used, but still loking...
I own, previously own or recommend the following previously mentioned amps:
  • Music Reference RM 200.  I own their RM9 MKII from the mid 1990's and it's a classic amp that can be had for about $2,300... have it re-tubed from RAM Tubes for about $550 for many years of enjoyment.
  • VAC Renaissance 30/30 MK3.  I've owned three models from VAC's Renaissance line and currently own a 30/30 MKIII Signature.  I have another one left over from a pair of mono blocks that I need to send back to VAC for conversion to a stereo amp (if you are interested).   The one currently listed looks like a good deal from a reputable seller and comes with VAC supplied 300B's which is very important to ensuring many years of trouble free enjoyment.  The MK III retailed for $8K around 2004... so it's a steal for $3K.
  • McIntosh MC 275 MK V will likely be at the top of your budget, maybe pushing $4K... but I've owned it, liked it and recommend it.
  • Quicksilver Amps (V4 or Silver 88's or the new KT 150 based 120 mono blocks.
I’m surprised no one has recommended a good used McCormack DNA-1 (ideally a Deluxe or a Steve McCormack rebuild); I got one this year for $1K, paired it with my Polk LSIM 707s, and I love it.

Two important points:  1) Polks love power; just because you listen at low to moderate volume, don’t assume that an amplifier with less than 150 W per channel will do. 2) the LSI-15 is a 4 ohm speaker, and at certain frequencies may drop close to 2 ohms. Be sure that whatever amp you decide on can handle low impedance loads. Good luck, and happy listening!
Why are you surprised? The OP is looking for a tube amp!
I thought the op wanted gear made in USA, Western Europe or Japan? Quicksilver is fine gear but....isn’t it constructed in China and QC’d in USA? 
You can get a fully wired and tested VTA 120 tube amp (60 WPC) from Bob Latino for $1600 (includes tubes) plus shipping. From their kits I've updated my old ST-70 and also built a pair of M125 mono blocks, I've been running them for over 3 years without any issues.

http://www.tubes4hifi.com/bob.htm#ST120
QS made in China? Where did you get that information from?
Take you time and find a Lafayette KT-550 tube amp.  They come up on eBay every so often.  It does everything so very right.  It does use older 7025A power tubes but with a wiring change (changing a few wires on the tube sockets) you can covert it to newer power tubes.  It will drive anything and is one of the best sounding amplifiers I have ever heard and I have repaired or modified many over the past 20 years.  It has transformers that you just cannot buy today.  Simple design that will last more than you lifetime.  Happy Listening.
Take a look at Audio by Van Alstine Ultravalve amp.  American made and top quality!

https://avahifi.com/products/ultravalve-vacuum-tube-amplifier
"QS made in China? Where did you get that information from?"
Thats why I posed it as a question. I was under the impression that a good deal of their construction was conducted in Asia and the amps were finished in the USA. I have no issue with made in China (or Poland or Serbia or anywhere else) and 100% of Quicksilver may be made in USA. Nice sounding gear regardless of where its made. The el84 integrated seems to be a compelling amp but would a buyer get best value from a new QS integrated or a pre owned Cary SLI-80? Horses for courses.....

Would like to thank everyone for their advice/thoughts.

I think I am strongly leaning QS mid mono. Main reason: New, great prices, good feedback. I know I could get better for the same $$ with old used gear, but time is the key. Really do not want to have to upgrade/repair. I guess do not want to take a chance now. Maybe later if/when I have more time... But now, trouble free is the key. 10-15 y/o tech as great as it is... always a chance. Same true for new stuff, but feel this is less of a gamble.

Also prefer PTP wired stuff, as it will be easier to repair/upgrade if need be. I know this is not ideal, but a trade-off I am willing to accept. In addition, I have not received any negative feedback on QS gear.

They do seem to be 100% hand made in California. Meets my needs/wants.

Do not like their integrated for "stupid" cosmetic reason: exposed wires on the pictures. Also, prefer separates for easier upgrades/repairs/swapping.

Next question: preamp. Easiest to buy QS, 1k. But what about other options? Other cheaper pres that would work? For pre, I would consider something made elsewhere as long as quality is good.

Will Schiit saga work? Slightly higher output impedance (180 vs 100oms) and no gain at all. But $350 new. Also good reviews. Good company history of buiding quality stuff.

What about SS? Emotiva t100, with built-in DAC, $300 new? Is SS bad for  tube amps?

Are there any DAC that would work well with QS amp directly?

Are there more or less "universal" neutral pres that would work with many different tube amps?

I am OK paying 1k for QS pre, but is that the best value for the money?

Thanks again

@ghasley
Here ya go!
http://quicksilveraudio.com/products/integrated-amplifier/
Sophie999 in response to your query about the Quicksilver 1k pre or to further include the model with the remote at 1.5k both of which I have heard in familiar systems. While both would and should be considered good values, my enthusiasm for these pre-amps is not in the same realm as the amps. This should be taken in context to your budget.

I would definitely go the integrated route if budget were a primary consideration. No dis on the budget Quicksilver preamps but they really don’t hold a candle to the now discontinued full function pre or other preamp options IMHO. Furthermore, budget preamps that trancend their price point is an oxymoron in my experience. The better active preamps are necessarily more expensive than their budget AND lesser counterparts.
Octave amps are made in Germany and are built to last. But they sound more like SS amps. Faster, less romantic.
Freediver,

Almost all of my equipment is pre-owned. The only components that I buy new are phono cartridges. It’s worked out very well for me. 
Foremost we are dealers so a little bias however I also personally own, but surprised no one has mentioned Rogue Audio out of Brodheadsville, PA. The lower end of your budget would put you in a Cronus Magnum II, 100wpc, higher end of your budget could be an RP1 tube preamp feeding an Atlas Magnum II power amp.

Lots of love in this thread for Quicksilver and although we do not deal in new QS, I have had many traded in pre-owned units which have been impressive. Great build quality, and simple yet great sounding design. Might be a brand to add to our lineup, hmm.... 

Best of luck with your new system and once you get setup would like to hear a review.
The new Prima Luna amps have excellent reviews and are affordable because they are made in china. They are supposed to be built very well and have auto bias and protection circuitry so if a tube goes bad it won't damage the amp. I have heard them and they sound good. There is no maintenance except replacing tubes when they go bad. there are nicer amps out there but these are in your price range and seem to be trouble free. Here is the website http://www.primaluna-usa.com/  Good luck.
Thank you.

Still leaning towards the QS mid monos. PL was my choice before, but the model I wanted is slightly over 3K. For that, I can get US made gear of likely at least similar quality.

Rogue is also nice, but decided to go with PTP over PCB.

Still would like to hear some opinions about preamps. Several affordable once I am looking at are SS (many brands would be under 1k, most new would have DAC in them as well), Schiit Freya, or even assembled Elekit pre. Any thoughts? Or there is really nothing good under 1K newto go with QS?

Thanks
Sophie999 the Odyssey Candela is nice and really so are the Quicksilvers, although i prefer the one without the remote  with the cavaet "for the money". For a bit more i would consider the  Conrad-Johnson classic 2 SE (upgraded teflon caps), definitely worth it. This model is recently discontinued but may be located at a discounted price. You can never go wrong with CJ, easy to resale and they hold their value, warm, transparent and always true to the music.  

Most of the amps people have suggested with the exception of the Atma Spheres are traditional tube amps using iron core transformers.  In your price range you will be hard pressed to differentiate other than by feedback and time in market. 

Take a look at Linear Tube Audio for both amp and preamp.  These are David Burning designs, should run your easy to drive Polks fine in a bedroom, and tubes auto-bias and will last 10-20 years.

Their 10 watt amp is in your budget, is really stronger than 10 watts and will sound better than the traditional options.  That plus their MZ2 preamp will make magic together.   Plenty of gushing professional and audio show reviews over the last few years.  I'm a customer with their bigger amp and preamp, not affiliated.

I own the Quicksilver Mid Monos, they are great amps.    Serious value for your money, rock solid reliable, excellent support should you need it.  These aren't my first tube amps, I've owned several.... but they are the best I've ever owned.   And they are the only ones I haven' t had to repair or put a soldering iron to when a tube failed.   I had two tube failures, one I just replaced the tube and good to go.  The second time replaced tube and mains fuse.  No damage..  Great amp for first time tube owner.  

I have used them with Revel monitors and currently using them with Klipsch Heresy III and they are an awesome combination.   I would buy another QS product without hesitation.   

@oddiofyl That's what I am leaning towards. Much cheaper than Decware, which I also really liked, PTP wired, and US made, as opposed to PL, which is also great from what I read.

Which preamp are you using with them, if anything?

Also, PL says they have protective circuit to avoid damage when tubes fail as well as tube decline indicator. Does QS have protective circuit? I know it has LED biasing indicator. Does this work as a early tube failure indicator?

Thanks

There are some reputable people out there restoring Vintage Fisher Amps, any Fisher  tube amp will bring a smile to your face and pleasure to your ears.
I recommend a Fisher 500C, super great tube receiver that can be had restored for 2000 to 2500 I would think.