With VSM-MX I've used both the BAT VK5i & Atma-Sphere MP-1 MKII. The Atma is particularly fine & offers an integrated phono stage that can be taken to a high level with upgraded coupling caps.
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Bobby from Merlin uses Joule Electra in his system, and now there's a new version that he has which is supposed to be even better(LA150 Mark II). Definitely synergy there with great full-bodied portrayal of instruments and very natural tonality.
Bobby has told me that many customers have also been happy with First Sound, CAT and Hovland. Like Dgarretson, I'm also currently using an Atma-Sphere. Critics have alluded to a brighter balance w/the First Sound. My CAT mk III was bettered in most respects by a Joule LA100 mk III. The Atma and Joule are both quite fine but different. It would be great if you had a chance to listen to them both.
Not too many comments about Lamm used w/this other gear...Cheers,
Kjo - I would look at a VAC Renaissance as being a wonderful mix with your system - should add pinpoint imaging and give you depth to your soundstage that the Merlins will be make good use of. With balanced and single ended inputs and outputs, cinema by-pass, and (included) remote as well as an optional phono stage, the Ren should be at the top of your list.
You didn't say how much your budget is, but I would recommend two things. First, wait until the new Berning preamp is commercially available--soon, I think. Promises to be a killer, the prototype has been used at a lot of shows where it is part of a system that (in lots of peoples' opinions) ranks among the best. That's where I will end up as soon as possible. Second, go for a Tron, a little-known but outstanding British preamp. That's what I have now. Like the Emotive Sira, it's 5687 based. Your system is much like mine(well, except for the Merlins, currently, although I did have the MX in the system with these components for about a year and a half), the Tron preamp, AA Capitole MK II SE CD, and a trio of 270's, two monoblocked on the bass and one stereo on the highs.
Thank you all for taking the time to offer such helpful comments. Dgarretson, I have heard the Atma sounds excellent with the Merlins. Diamonddude, I neglected to mention that I have a (generally well behaved) 5 year old so I am looking to avoid exposed tubes (I think the Sira lacks a cage?). Sbank, I have heard from Bobby too that he loves the sound of the Joules with his speakers. Jwpstayman, I heard from someone else today that the VAC Ren Mk II (?) makes an excellent choice with the Merlins and the Berning. Oneprof, the budget is generally in the range of the preamps I mentioned - I hear the wisdom of waiting for the Berning preamp but have found that patience is a virtue in short supply when the upgrade bug bites. I had not considered the Tron - you have given me a research assignment. Jopi88, your advice is sound (no pun intended) but where is the fun in that? Thank you all again - you have remminded me why Audiogon is my favorite site. - Kevin
In my experience, the Berning sounds lousy without a preamp. It does plenty great, but it isn't Superman. I don't know a single user who has tried any of the preamps mentioned above and concluded to run the Berning direct.
Also, unless plans have changed, I heard from David and Allen that their coming preamp is a SOTA design and will be priced somewhere > $10000. So it might not be in your range. Cheers,
Sbank, I purchased a First Sound Deluxe 2.0 Mk II, which is being inspected by Emmanuel Go and upgraded. I should have it in about a week. I have been using the Berning straight out of a cd player (Anthem cd 1 while my AA Capitole is being upgraded to SE). The sound is not great right now. I am gratified to read your comments because I was expecting something much better. Don't get me wrong, the Berning really drives the Merlins (good bass,nice detail), but the sound lacks refinement. I am very much looking forward to receiving the preamp. I will post a follow-up after the preamp is in place and I can do some before and after comparisons. Regards, Kevin
Spencer, I received the FS from Emmanuel Go (via Swampwalker - both excellent to deal with) yesterday. I hooked it up and.....the transformation was phenomenal. The FS has pinpoint imaging, real energy,and wonderful tone. I was amazed at the before and after. The highs are extended, the midrange is crystal clear, and the bass has excellent impact and definition. There really is no comparison. The FS kept all of the virtues of the Berning but brought the whole system to a new level, and something I've never experienced before. The Berning/FS combo shows real synergy. Fyi, I changed out the stock tubes with Mullard Blackburns, having read some threads on these discussion forums. I did not do a before and after on the stock vs. Mullard tubes so cannot offer any insight there. Regards, Kevin