Preamp/Amp synergy with Cain Abby's?

Well here it is: I finally got my Cain Abby's three months ago and they are completely broken in (800+ hours). Now it's finally time to try out some different preamp/amps. After talking to Terry (Cain) and since no amp seems perfect for my musical tastes (everything from World, Jazz, Rock), I am currently looking at getting two different amps for different moods with a matching preamp:

Fi Y preamp

SET amps:
(intended for low volume, relaxed listening sessions)
Bottlehead S.E.X. amp (already got it, but it is still not quite finished)
Fi X amp (planned for sometime in the future, fits 2A3 and 45 tubes, just love the looks)

Solid State:
(for more bottom end control, and a fast, tight sound)
First Watt F1

Any comments, experiences, recommendations?

The rest of my system...(just replaced the Super 3 with Abby's)

Well, thanks already in advance for all your help.

Best wishes,

The best amp for these speakers is the Wright Sound 2A3 monoblock amps with a Wright preamp. Can't do any better with these speakers. Owned Wright gear with cain & Cain speakers and it was the best sound I have ever owned by a good margin. The Wright amps are just a steal new or used.

Bill, thanks very much for your response. I was wondering about the Wright gear (in particular since they do have great phono preamps, but so far had not heard of many people running the Abby's with the Wright 2A3 monos.

Bill, what other amps did you try on the Abby's?

I feel the Abby's need a more than usual careful amp match: For my current Jolida 302 the highs are just too forward sounding, the bass (in EL34 fashion) is just a tad on the slow side. The Jolida worked so much better with my previous monitor speakers with limited, tight bass. Also, the little Sonic Impact I tried seemed a little slow (again in the bass) for my taste. The best amp so far was a Sophia EL34 I listened to at Sound Real Audio. The Fi X and the First Watt both got great comments at AA and on Agon.

I wonder how the Wright WPL11 would match with the First Watt F1 besides of course being a great match with the 2A3s?
The Wright 3.5 mono's are magic with your speakers. Plenty of power and an immediacy/intimacy that will astound you.
Not forward or bright and not slow or to thick. You must try it as nothing I can say will matter - you must hear them together. Talk to Terry at Cain & Cain as he also know how well they mate.
I am still kicking myself for not getting the Wright's earlier. I found a used one close by were I used to live (Albuquerque), but now that I am north of the border things are slightly more difficult.

I have read the Wright 2A3 amps seem to have a little more power than the Fi X and are a little quieter, while the Fi X can exhibit hum sometimes. Still haven't quite decided on whether to go with the Wright WPL11 / 2A3 combo or the Fi X/Y combo. I don't think there's really much I can do wrong though.
You ever thought of using a low wattage Op chip amp amplifier on the Abbys with a tubed preamp? The combo is terrific. You'll have the low end control and tubed magic all rolled up into one. Super revealing and transparent amplifiers IMO.
I suggest you ask Terry Cain about the Moebius line stage that he uses in his own system. This is very nice sounding design from Poindexter at AudioTropic. See the following site for more details:

I built one a couple months ago and am very pleased with it.

(Apologies in advance if this is a repetition; I tried 24 hours ago to post a similar message and it's never appeared.)

Gmood, nice to hear from you. Well, so far I only tried the cheap Sonic Impact amp. While the performance far exceeds its price, it did not offer the ultimate in control for the Abby's. Maybe a T-amp with better powersupply like the Clari-T will be much better in this regard. Any insight in comparing the Clari-T and SOnic Impact from your side?

According to Terry the First Watt is the fastest amp with best bass for the Abby's. Even the person at Audiocircles (Paul_Bui) who has the Clari-T monos talks still speaks very highly of the F1, although he almos sold it....

Salectric, thanks very much for suggesting the Moebius. I talked to Terry a couple of times and read the nice review of the Moebius at 6moons. According to Terry the Fi Y should not be far behind the Moebius and a pretty close call. The Moebius has to be the fastest sounding preamp around according to Terry and certainly a good match to both, the First Watt and Fi.

What are your experiences with the Moebius and what amp are you using it with?

Best wishes,

Hi Rene,
yes I've communicated with Paul many times. He does think very highly of the F1. The only problem with such an amplifier, is it's limited ability on different speakers.

Paul BUI ,Bemopti123 and I all use the same speakers(FTA-2000s). The F1 will not drive them. The ClariT Monos does a much better job. But still isn't sufficient for a 89dB speaker.

From what I gather the F1 is a terrific match for the Fostex high efficient cones.I've communicated with Ed Schilling and the F1 is his favorite also for driving his speakers.

I haven't any real experience comparing the SI against the ClariT. Depending on the setup if using a sub. The ClariT with the sub-outs is pretty darn good. You have a loss in bass below 70 hz or so when using the ClariT on it's own.
Something you may or may not notice on your speakers since bass starts to roll off above 100hz.

The other alternative is a low wattage (maybe 20 wpc) Chip Op amp from say Scott Nixon paired with your tubed preamp. Believe me when I say I haven't heard anything that has the speed and soundstage depth of the Chip amp. It leaves the Tripath amps in the dust along with all other amplifiers I have any experience with! At the going price of the 20 watters Scott will feel like you stole something!LOL I'm willing to bet you will hear things in familar recordings you've never heard before.

This maybe off the beaten path. I have no experience with your cd player. But I've found a NON oversampling Dac does wonders for speakers with minimum or no crossovers. You'll hear the difference instantly! The notes decay naturally without that upper frequency hash assiocated with cds. The layering is also much better as nothing is high lighted in the stage but everything is separated.
There's several companies that make them .So the choice is yours. Do not go on the notion because the player cost a certain amount that a cheaper NOS Dac won't be an improvement. If you go that route make sure the Dac output is atleast 2 volts. This way your dynamics will not be sacrificed.

Good listening
Gmood1, I can always trust you to come with some new suggestions to keep me undecided :-).

You are quite right that biggest problem with the F1 is it limitation to only a narrow selection of speakers. From what I heard it is one of the best matches with the Abby's, but a later speaker change might be problematic. The digital amp would certainly offer a better match for a wider variety of speakers. I'll have to look into the Scott NIxon amps. The thing with the First Watt is that they are very limited in numbers: better to get one as long as they are available.

I was curious about the nonoversampling DACs (AckDack, Scot Nixon, etc.). I really like the AA Prima and it is one of the most natural sounding players around. Maybe I'll pick up a used nonoversampling DAC one day to start a harddisc based system. But first the amp...

Thanks again,

Gmood, one more quick question about the F1 in combination with your FTA2000. Is it only the (lacking) sensitivity of the 200A Fostex drivers that are the problem with the F1 or more. Did you or Paul try different parallel networks when using the FTA2000?

Thanks once more,

Hi Restock,
from what Paul told me the lacking sensitivity was the only problem. He loves the F-1 on his Fostex 1.3 speakers.
Not sure if he tried parellel networks on the Fostex F200A.

He was able drive the FTA with the mono ClariT but after inserting his BSC circuit . The monos started to clip badly. The BSC takes away some of the sensitivity of the driver in exchange for a flatter frequency response.

The F1 maybe your best bet. If your planning to stay with speakers above 94dB. I just didn't want you to be stuck with it if you ever wanted to move to a different type of single driver. Not all of them are sensitive.

Here's a French built amplifier which hasn't gotten a lot of press as yet. But from what I've read from some serious DIYers and underground audiophiles is a seriously great amp that may follow a design similar to the F-1.The difference being it will drive loads of 2 Ohms without breaking a sweat!
I sent this info to 6moons, hoping they may review it soon. Profet amplifier. You can find out more about it on the Selectron forum. It sells for $1600 complete if I'm not mistaken.
Also here's a little shootout with the Class T amplifiers. The Charlize looks like another good amp. You know me always looking off the beaten path. :-) As I've found IME the hidden gems are great finds.

I am going to be purchasing the Abby speakers and am also interested in what amp is best with them. I currently have all solid state equipment (Rotel) except for my headphone amps (Singlepower.) I am betting that tube amps would be better with the Cain & Cain speakers than solid state.... My situation is further complicated by the fact that my system has to do double-duty for both HT and 2 channel, as my house is much too small to have a dedicated listening room, let alone a separate HT room.

Any thoughts on this?

And where is your amp research taking you, Rene? After only 2 hours of listening to them at the seller's house, I love these speakers!


Sorry to be so late in responding. Somehow I missed your posting from several days ago.

When I built my Moebius, I started out with the design just like Poindexter describes on his AudioTropic site, which is the same as the one reviewed in 6Moons. Terry Cain's Moebius is different, as I suspect he told you, in that it uses 6SN7 tubes instead of the 6AQ5/6005 tubes that Poindexter now prefers. Since I haven't heard the 6SN7 version, I have no idea how it would compare sonically. What I do know is that the "standard" Moebius with JAN Sylvania 6005 tubes sounds fast, detailed, coherent and powerful (an odd term for a preamp). It has amazing dynamics. For my tastes, the bass is a little lean, but that is easily tweaked through some tube and component changes. For example, right now, I'm using RCA 6005 tubes without any damping rings, a Noble volume control instead of the Alps Blue Velvet that the review unit had, and I made a few capacitor changes as well. These changes trade off some of the speed for a warmer tonal balance, but all of the positive qualities of the stock Moebius are still present.

Incidentally, I think the 6Moons review is right on the money. It's a little short of the usual audiophile commentary, but what he says is definitely borne out by my experience. You can also read the same reviewer's report on the DeHavilland UltraVerve Jr. to get some additional perspective on the Moebius.

I'm using the Moebius right now with Cary 40M monoblocks to drive Spendor SP100's.

I recommend it highly!

Oakiris, following Terry's advice and my preference for a very live-like system, I ended up with the above short-list of amps. I instantly fell in love with the speakers as well, but they do require a a careful amp match and I am not sure whether a Rotel would work well.

I just finished the Bottlehead S.E.X. amp and after a couple of days of listening I am very impressed: I could not have imagined what 2W can do for the Abby's. And it does play reasonable loud with maybe a little headroom missing. I hardly notice the power limit though. The bass is tighter and well balanced; there is lots of detail detail; instruments and singers are well defined and sound quite real. Even more important, I can' believe how much life you managed to pack into this little amp. It has excellent timing and, within its power limits, has very good dynamics. A much better match the Abby's than the Jolida I had before.

I am assuming the Fi Y and X will go in a similar direction: Just more of everything and more headroom at twice the power.

The First Watt will be a (more?) interesting option: I have given up on solid state a while ago, but heard some very good comments on this combination. The only major problem with the First Watt is that it is limited in the selection of speakers that will work with it. Also, they won't be available much longer.

Gmood1 brought up many good options on the solid state as well. and they are cheaper than most of the other choices.

Oakiris, good luck with the Abby's and feel free to drop me an email if you like.

Happy listening!

Salectric, thanks very much for your comments on the Moebius. I actually did not know that Terry's version used different tubes. However, his description sounds very similar to yours and the short 6moons review.

The Fi Y pre is a little lower in price but according to Terry very close to the Moebius. I will probably go with the Fi Y for now, but might consider the Moebius for a more ambitious DIY project (now that I finished my first Bottlehead amp I am longing for more). I'll certainly be contacting you again at that point.

All the best,


You're certainly welcome. Send me an email when you're ready for another DIY project, and we can discuss the Moebius.

Here' an explanation of why amplifiers sound very different on single driver speakers.This is a very good read! Electrical filters and Acoustic Filters.
Rene - Did you ever consider the Sophia Electric Baby amp? Or maybe their next step up in entry level amps, the S.E.T.Music El34 stereo integrated amplifier?

My Cain & Cain dealer had good things to say about the Sophia amps, but did not have one in stock at the time when I auditioned the Abbys last Saturday. He will be getting some in and I hope to listen to one with the Abbys at the end of this month.

Oakiris, I listened to the Sophia EL34 at Sounds Real Audio in Denver, when deciding to buy the speakers. I compared it directly to my Jolida, and liked the Sophia much more than the Jolida. I used the same CDP, as I have now. As far as my memory serves me, the Sophia is certainly comparable to the Bottlehead S.E.X. SET amp I am running now. The Sophia had a tighter and more balanced than the Jolida, better timing, some more detail. The Bottlehead SET has I think has even more detail than the Sophia, as well as more well defined instruments, and sounds even more lively as long as it is not pushed to hard. The Sophia has way more headroom and power and plays the Abby very nicely to loud levels.

Both, the Bottlehead and the Sophia EL34 resulted in a very engaging sound. Since you will be using it for hometheater applications as well, the Bottlehead would certainly run out of steam, the Sophia should be a very nice and versatile match there. I would certainly give the Sophia a good listen if you have the chance.
Hi Rene - thanks for the comparison. I will be buying my Abbys from Jim of Sounds Real Audio too - small world! I am leaning towards the Sophia, but will have to wait to hear it to see what I think. Of course, when I auditioned the Abbys, Jim had them hooked up to deHaviland tube amps - way too rich for my blood, but if only.... :-)

Oakiris, by the way there are some changes in the Sophia line up. At least cosmetically the changes are major, and the new set of amps is manufactured in California rather than China. Jim should probably now more about this, but there is some info on the Sophia website.
The Sophia Baby is a fine amp that will drive the Abbys w/o a problem; the music will be very engaging, but the articulation softens on the upper end and the bass lacks the authority you might want. I was driving the Abbys with a Pathos Classic One, but the Sophia was a lot more enjoyable to have in my system. It is a good amp, especially when you consider price. I switched an A205A Almarro ($700 Quest for Sound) and the upgrade in sound was immediately noticeable. Great resolution and dynamics, and those 4.8 watts let the Abbys open up. I'm holding on to the Sophia for the moment, but I won't be switching out the Almarro. No matter, all of the above replaced a couple of Pass amps I'd been using for several years, and I don't miss SS at all. All of the negative hype about tubes kept me from going this direction, but I won't be returning to SS.
I listened to the Abbys on the Sophia and the Grommes monos. It may seem like over kill but the Grommes were the better of the two.The sales person as well as a friend all agreed. The difference for the better was quite noticeable.Of course the difference in price was noticeable too! LOL
Do any of these amps have an HT pass through? I am looking for an integrated tube amp with the pass through but haven't found any in my price range; I would rather not pay more than $2000... :-( I think I am out of luck and will end up just continuing to use my Rotel SS equipment.

Just to let folks know, when I picked up my Abbys last weekend, I somehow also ended up with the Sophia El34. :-D

I'm loving the combination!

Now all I need is a new CD-player, and some different interconnects, and some after-market power cords, and.....Guess I'm not off the roller coaster yet but my system already sounds much, much better.

Good luck with your search, Rene. I hope you are as happy with whatever amp/preamp you choose as I am with mine.