Prima Luna Integrated - EL34, KT88, KT150, Brimar AU - My experience


Thought I would help out some who are considering rolling some tubes ......
Prima Luna Dialog Premium HP Integrated Stereo

Stock EL34 - Chinese I think
JJ/Slovakia KT88 - from ARS
Tung Sol KT150  - yep, these are it, and worth it, do it.. purchased matched from Upscale

First, I have to tell you, I LOVE this amp.  Prior to this, I had a pair of monster VTL Deluxe 300 monoblock tube giants.  In short, the VTLs were less veiled... but the PLs are so musical, believe it or not, better bass! yes, true. and way more fun to own given the tube rolling flexibility.  (I only use the amp in ultralinear, higher power mode).  Oh, and the auto biasing feature - no more burnt fingers or back twists!  BTW, VTLs were a pain and flaky - still loved them and owned them for about 15 years.

The PL comes stock with (Chinese I believe) eight EL34 power tubes.  Out of the box, the amp is stellar.  Why did I try rolling tubes?  Well I have a big stock of power tubes left over from my VTLs.... KT88s ... so after a few months of using the amp as stock... I tried the KT88s.  These KT88s are labeled JJ/Slovakia and BTW, Upscale said to me they won't carry these KT88s from JJ because "their quality control is awful".  Anywho, I put them in anyway. 

EL34 = beautiful.... just a wonderfully musical tube - nothing wrong here - PL did a good job choosing this tube
KT88 = more dynamics, a bit more power, better fuller bass, but something was a bit wrong on the top end.... had an odd edge up there.  Overall I am not sure which I liked more.... the EL34s are perfect but I liked the more dynamics and bass of the KT88.. but their top end ... hmmmm..... I would switch them and therefore hear their strength and say "these are better"... then I would switch and say the same thing.  Issue was there were trade offs.
KT150 =  This is the tube you want.  Compared to the EL34... a bit more dynamics, less veiled, much more power, deeper bass.  Sounds very linear top to bottom.   The only negative of the KT150s over the EL34s... I think the EL34s were a tiny bit more musical... but the KT150s are very musical themselves.  Overall, the KT150s are staying put.  Done.
More to the story.... before I purchased the KT150s I traded emails with Upscale... we discussed the JJ KT88s... they suggested swapping out the front two 12AU7 gain tubes with Brimar CV4003 NOS (made in the '60s).  So I did... and I hated them!  OMG.... they did something to the top that made my ears bleed.  I really let them break in but I had to pull them out as I just couldn't take it.  Now this was with my JJ KT88s.  Upscale responded to me and said I was the only one to complain and describe them as bright.  So... I put the amp back to stock.... listened for a few weeks... then I put the Brimars in with the EL34s ... well OK, much better.. but I still am not sold on the Brimars.  I did learn that my KT88s really do have something bad going on at the top end given these Brimars screamed their issue.  So.... let's buy some KT150s from Upscale.

Note: Upscale said that many like their KT88s over the stock EL34s due to the dynamics and bass improvements so apparently, these JJs have a sonic characteristic that is different than other KT88s.  Maybe.  If all KT88s sound the same, then I can't recommend them.  If they don't all sound the same, then I can say strongly, don't bother with the JJ/Slovakia brand.

I have not tried the Brimars with the KT150s.... right now I have no desire to do so the amp sounds so good.  I probably will try them some day... maybe in a few months.
Anywho... I hope this helps some folks. 

PeaceBruce in Philly

bruce_philly
I was just reading this last night.....
http://www.hifi-advice.com/blog/review/analog-reviews/amplifier-reviews/primaluna-dialogue-premium-h...
Christian Punter is an excellent reviewer and really goes in-depth on the Dialogue Premium and HP models.
Yea, the amp and brand get great reviews.

I found I have to be very careful of reviews.... I got burned a few times. For example, I purchased the Benchmark DAC1 solely based on reviews... boy what a lifeless unit. My older Accuphase is still way better (still be cause even at 18 years old it still sounds wonderful and I can’t bear to sell it.. so I use it as a transport now). The Benchmark product, if you listen closely.... hmmm.... there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Really odd as it just sounds dead and flat to me. Why it got the rave reviews is just ... well I don’t get it.
A long time ago, I "upgraded" my Sonic Fonrtiers tubed DAC with a factory upgrade. Robert Harley said it was worth it. Boy was I pissed.... that upgrade really ruined the sound for me. So.... buyer, or reader, beware.
Oh, BTW, I use the 4ohm taps on the PrimaLuna... seems pretty consistent across reviewers.

PeaceBruce in Philly


I prefer the tri vista21 for the dac.


Really appreciated this post. Have been considering a PL Integrated for some time as my first foray into tubes. Very helpful info on the sound of different tubes and some of the differences between the 4 tube vs 8 tube models.
I got my first exposure to tubes in a retailer on the west side of Cleveland around 1984. I walked into a showroom and was smitten by this beautiful sound... of course I assumed it was the speakers.... I described what I was hearing and the sales guy smiles and said that wasn’t the speakers, it was the electronics. It was a Luxman integrated with a glass window showing two small tubes. Boy did that stick in my head.
Then a few years later I was looking for a preamp.... back then there were many retailers and I was living in NYC so i had a huge selection of retailers, brands, and models to choose from. It didn;t take long to convice me that a tube preamp was the only way to go... then it became Audio Research vs Conrad Johnson.... I chose a CJ PV11 over AR... I remember this really clearly. .... The AR was way more detailed but John Coltrane sounded so much better on the CJ.

That was it.... I stuck with transistor amps but moved to a pair of VTL monoblocks ... they had the power and control of transistors. I had a retailer that let me take home some amps... tried Cary... (that thing sounded beutiful but the bass was so farty, I can;t believe anyone would think it was a good amp).

Anyway, tubes are it for me and I will never change.
PeaceBruce in Philly
Oh, a few more items... just cause I can.....
I was so sold on tubes, I purchased the tubed Sonic Frontiers DAC and tubes really smoothed out the digititus of the day. Today, I own a PS Audio DirectStream DAC Junior that I am totally amazed with (no tubes but not digititus).
There are risks associated with tube amps.... this is my experience.... speakers that have difficult loads don’t mate well to tube amps. The PL gets good marks by reviewers for their ability to push difficult loads, but I am cautious about this due to my personal experiences.

I purchased a pair of Martin Logan Quest Zs.... awful with my big VTL monoblocks..... sounded "glassy" (odd, I thought problems would manifest in the bass, but not so) .. the MLs were known to have a difficult load ... I was traveling back then and would stop into ML dealers wherever I was .... always sounded great... always were displayed with transistor amps. The moment I hooked up my MLs, I knew something was just plain wrong. I kept the MLs for maybe 60 days.... shortest time for a component in my life.... I moved back to Magnepan with the MG 20 and they were good with the VTLs. However, these big Magnepans sounded way better in the bass when a friend brought over a CJ transistor amp... so.... tubes can have trouble in the bass.
So.... my rules of thumb for tube power amps: 1) don;t use them with speakers with difficult loads, 2) don;t use them with low efficiency speakers, 3), get a tube amp with higher power over a lower power unit.
There are always exceptions... for example if you don;t listen to rock, you don’t need a higher-power tube amp. If you do, get one with some juice.
Oh, biasing... the PL amps autobias... a godsend... I had to bias, with a multimeter 16 tubes on those VTLs and I grew to hate it. Just hate it. You have to bend over, get your plastic screwdriver into a slot (never would go) and dick with it. I would burn my fingers and you can;t put the amps into a rack, I had to get my head in there. While any amp you buy will most likely be a bit different, don’t assume it is not a big deal... it becomes a pain.
I could go on.... but if you follow my rules of thumb, you will be very happy with tube equipment.
PeaceBruce in Philly
I've yet to find a tube that sounds better than NOS amperex/valvo DD getter el34 in a primaluna amp. Bass as good as a kt150 with that lovely el34 midrange bloom. As far as nos go, you can still find a quad under 400 unlike kt88s where genalex now commands 1500+ for a quad.
I think the hard edge is in part due to ultralinear mode. Try triode and it will take the edge off. I have that amp and initially ran it ultralinear because I thought my Revels needed power. Tried the Brimar and thought they were a little bright also. Then swapped in the Mullard CV4003 and not bright at all. When I added the extra power of the KT150 I found I prefer triode mode. (I think KT150 in triode is 54 watts/channel.) So I put the Brimar back in for the gain tubes (the 2 in the middle) and the Mullard in the other 4 positions. Now it has more detail but is still super smooth. I have tried all Brimar and all Mullard but I like the hybrid combo the best.
And yet...Trafomatic or Cary, Ayon, and Whammerdyn are other brands that I think compete with PrimaLuna. 
Leotis, I will try triode mode. 

Oddly, I never thought about it... I experimented with it on the EL34s and my JJ KT88s..... I didn't care for it... I think it is because the sound was a bit enemic.... I like a more dynamic sound.  Now with more power of the KT150s, yea, I will give it a try.... will start out a listening session in normal ultralinear mode to build a memory, and give it a try.
Are all Mullard CV4003 tubes the same?
As another selling point for PrimaLuna, notice in this and other threads the fun you can have rolling tubes.  I never heard of an amp that could take such a variety of power tube types.   Pretty cool and fun.  You can really tune the sound to match your taste or better match your speakers.

PeaceBruce in Philly
Thank you for posting. I too have the Primaluna HP Integrated. Bought it about 4 years from Kevin at Upscale. LOVE IT! Have also been down the power tube path and tried them all. I am at the same stage as you. KT150's. Second would be the stock EL34's. Love the 34 midrange! Running two 1962 French Ciftes in the most inner pre position. Have had the Ciftes for several years as well. I will never stop using a tube amp. Pure heaven to this brother.
Bruce,

I totally agree with you concerning PL and the fun rolling tubes. I own the Dialogue Premium Int and it’s built like a tank and sounds great.

I tried a variety of tubes with this amp which I purchased from Upscale. I ordered it with KT120s but they were too harsh.The stock EL34s were better but a bit bright for my tastes.I also tried the GL KT88 which had a slightly better bass but again a bit bright. I decided on the GL KT77 which have a beautiful midrange and soundstage, good bass and not bright. Since I own stand mounted 2 way speakers, I added a JL Audio E110 sub to supplement the bass using the PL line output.

I called Upscale concerning different pre-amp tubes and they recommended NOS Cifte 12AU7 tubes based on my tastes. At first I replaced the 2 front tubes but I found it sounded even better when I replaced all 6 tubes. I also tried the Brimar and the Mullard CV4003 but they were also bright for my tastes.

Enjoy




OK, you convinced me to try the Cifte.Just the 2 middle tubes for now. (= $290 out the door. Ouch!) Got the extra 4 Brimar a couple weeks ago for the outer tube positions, but liked it better with the Mullard I already had.
Am thinking all Cifte might be too much top end in my setup. Maybe depends if going vinyl vs digital source.
I am a 99.9% vinyl listener through my HP Integrated into Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers. I feed two subs via a splitter on the line level output of the Primaluna. A MartinLogan Descent I sub and a JL Audio f112 v2 sub. Sounds phenomenal. 
Anyone tried the Sophia Electric EL34 on their Primaluna?  They are even more expensive than the KT150!  Review at https://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/sexy-blue-tubes-the-sophia-electric-el34-st-and-aqua-2...
@a25105  I was able to audition the Sophia tubes which were a bit more dynamic at both ends but I still preferred the midrange sound of the GL KT77. I preferred their sound to the KT88 but that's my opinion. Give them a call and ask if you can return the tubes for a small fee if not satisfied.

@leotis I can't believe the price of the Cifte went up that much. I paid between $85 and $95 ea a couple of years back. I guess it has to do with supply and demand. Im so glad I purchased a second set of 6 before the rate increase.
I would listen to ronrags, the GL KT77 are a great tube.
homer skins: You have the JL as master and ML as slave so you can use the JL autoEQ for both?
OK, I listened half the day in triode mode with KT150s and stock small tubes...... I am confused... I don;t know which I like better.
I was listening to Keely Smith... she never sounded so good as in triode mode.  Madeline Peyroux... triode for her!  But with punchy music, ultralinear was more of a toe tapper.  With a couple tunes a guitar will pop out in space - imaging was enhanced in triode... but not always.  Odd.  Maybe it depends on the instrument's harmonic content.

Triode took some some of the edge out of words that start with "Ch...." and gave a nicer bloom to the midrange (actually upper midrange).
I guess I will choose based on the music.  Rockin' = ultralinear ... female vocals and warm music.... triode.
To anyone reading this thread who hasn't experienced tubes... for the most part, the sound differences are subtle.  Further, the Prima Luna sounds wonderful out of the box.  Because some likes this or that tube in the unit does not make the stock unit bad.  PL makes a real nice product.
PeaceBruce in Philly
Bruce,

I use only ultralinear since using the KT77s. The Triode mode removes some of the bottom and top end which sounds flat with my system. I guess Triode works better with your KT150s since they supposedly have a greater extention and dynamics than the KT77s. I prefer the KT77s since I listen to a lot of jazz and female singers. They also take the edge off my old rock recordings from the 60s and 70s.

If you wish I will send you 2 Cifte tubes to try in the front sockets which might help. I’ve swapped tubes with other members before, so you don’t need to spend the extra bucks experimenting. I live in Staten Island which is a little over 1-1/2 hours away from Philly if you wish to hear them in my house. I’m retired so I’m home on most days.
Leotis: No, the subs are separated quite far from each other. The MartinLogan has some great adjustability on it. The auto EQ on the JL does not calibrate correctly because my huge open livingroom and kitchen. I've had discussions with Barry at JL about it.
Ronrags,
Thank you for your suggestions, I am surprised to hear that the midrange of the Kt77 will beat the Sophia EL34.  That's pretty amazing!  I listen to a lot of jazz and female vocal as well.  I guess I will try the KT77 before the Sophia EL34 and they are much cheaper too:)
a25105, I have not heard the Sophia's, and although they are the only KT77's I have used, my opinion is to purchase the Gold Lion's
Ronrags and Jetter,
Do you use the KTxx or EL position on the switch for the KT77 tubes? Thx.
I used to own PL Dialogue Premium integrated. My favourites were Amperex 12au7s and Gold Lion KT88. The Shuguang Black Treasure KT88s were nice, too in my system back then.
a25105 The KT77s are equivalent to the EL34s
Thanx Ron,
Let me think about that.... I am just settling in with the KT150s.... Kind to offer.  I may ping you in a few months to take you up on this.
One nice thing about this hobby.... I doubt any trashy folks are into it.  We are all a bit crazy here, but how can you be bad when you love music?
PeaceBruce in Philly
The Genalex Gold Lion KT77 is for me the best sounding EL34 variant I used them in my stereo pushpull amp. Short of very pricey NOS tubes, which I have not tried, these are the best I have heard.
Yeah @johnread57, maybe so, but this discussion is about Prima Luna.

I too have the DP HP. I've had it a little over a month and absolutely love it. I replaced a recently purchased Rogue Audio Stereo 100. That dog won't hunt with my speakers. And their claim of 100 WPC is totally bogus. It actually hurt my ears at anything over 74 dB SPL in UL mode, Triode mode wasn't much better. I bought it from one of those one man dealerships that we are being warned about regularly on this forum. Wolfsong Audio. Stay away. He will hood wink you.

But this is about Prima Luna.  I've purchased a set of KT150s from Kevin, but I want to listen to the EL34s for a while. I can't decide if I like Triode or Ultra-linear better yet. I'll try rolling the other tubes as @leotis suggests, as I am always tweaking something.

I've been in tubes for 60 years. My dad and I assembled Heathkits into a jammin' stereo back in the 50s. I just replaced a Conrad Johnson PV6 that I had for 35 years with a DP pre-amp. Another big difference. The pre-amp came before the HP, so it drove the Rouge dog for a while to no good end.

I am primarily analogue. So I have a high end turntable (VPI) with a newly acquired Sound-Smith Helios cartridge. A BAT VK-P6SE is the phono stage feeding the PL amps. I do some digital with a Lynx Hilo ADAC.

I'm looking forward to the tube rolling and what that might bring.

The two Prima Luna's mate with each other very nicely. Kevin was such a great help in the purchasing of these units (he sold me the BAT also), his advice is very valuable. He is an excellent resource for all things tubes. He will try to sell you his stuff, but his advice is free. He won't over sell you though, he'll tell you if you don't need it and guide you to a better decision.
I plugged in the Cifte today. First impression is more refined top end. sounds a little cleaner than the Brimar. So far I like it a lot.
Been toying with the idea of using a solid state preamp via home theater bypass. Tried a vintage Threshold SL10. Gave the presentation more definition. But that preamp is a little thin in the midrange. Am considering what other preamp to try. I understand it bypasses the initial gain stage so all those different 12au7s I have for the middle position would then be of no use  :/
Cifte retake: Cifte top end is  pretty hot so the mids seems pretty recessed.In my setup anyway. They say the top cools off after 100 hrs. Not sure I'll make it that far.
try a set of the PSVANE gray glass KT88s.

is now my fav tube; super musical.

best
Ron sent me a pair of Cifte 12AU7s to try.  Thanx Ron!  Compared to the Brimars, they were better.  They took the edge off.  Overall I liked them.   I liked them quite a bit actually.  But still, there is a super-high frequency issue in my system.... 

Something changed... the KT150s sound has changed.... they are about 5-6 weeks old and they are becoming more transparent.... good.  They are also growing an extended top end.  Not brighter, but I can hear some higher frequencies more than I did.  I have Focal speakers with the Beryllium dome tweeters.... they go high that is for sure.
With jazz, and well recorded music, the sound is wonderful. No issues at all.  When I put on a crappy recording... yikes!!! The song Ballroom Dancing on Paul McCartney's Tug of War had dogs howling in the neighborhood.  Now this is a poorly mastered CD... but it is part of the catalog of music I listen to.
So....... The Brimars are way to bright for me, the Ciftes are really nice.  The stock Chinese are really fine but the Ciftes just sounded better.  So, what to do?   I just ordered some NOS Mullards from Kevin Deal at Upscale.... known for their glorious midrange and soft top, I am hoping for the best.
I guess what really counts is system matching.  If I were powering my old Magnepans, I suspect the sound would have been just great with the Brimars.
PeaceBruce in Philly
Update again..... YOU GOTTA GIVE IT TIME!!!
I noted the sound changed.. the KT150s (or the system) had some super high frequency thing going..... now it is gone. I’ve been listining with the amps on for about 12 hours per day over the last three days... and it smoothed out. Sheesh!

So what is going on? The newest thing in my system is the KT150s.. I suspect they are still breaking in.... but... maybe there is hash on my electrical line? I have one of those PS Audio noise harvesters on my line and the other day it was almost black... I thought it broke... then it lit up and flashes madly.

I think the KT150s and still braking in. My NOS Mullards have not arrived yet.... I should have waited I think.. the original Prima Luna 12AU7s are sounding really really good right now. Maybe coulda saved some money.
So... How long does it take for a power tube like a KT150 to stabilize?

PeaceBruce in Philly
Bruce, I think you need to let the KT150s settle in for at least 100 hours.  I noticed that they change the most in the first 50, but will still settle in more for upwards of 200 hours.  I did that same thing you are... swapping things around.  I had EL34, KT120 and KT150s, as well as a variety of tubes in front.  Right now I have the KT150s and Ciftes.  The best thing I did was leave it all alone for a while, enjoy the sound, and let it settle in.  Now, it sounds fantastic, and I find that rolling the stock AU7s in, versus the Cifties, I like them both.  I have others like the 4003 as well, but I think the Cifties are pretty good overall.

Enjoy the music for a while, then roll tubes in 3 or 6 months.
Mullards NOS.
OK, so I am now done... seriously, I think I am done.....
I left the PL 12AU7s in ..... so the amp is stock except for the KT150 power tubes.... the KT150s appear to be stable... amp is stable... sounds wonderful.  Now I have the Mullards sitting here staring at me.  OK, in they go...... guess what... they sound really similar to the Chinese 12AU7s stock in the PL!   Honestly, the amp sounds great with either.  I am leaving the Mullards in..... there is just nothing wrong with this system now.  Nothing.  If the Mullards crap out, I will just put the original Prima Luna 12AU7s back in and be done with it.
Interesting journey.....  This Prima Luna integrated is one of my better buys.  If you consider it, I can't imagine you not being happy with one.

PeaceBruce in Philly
bruce_philly OP28 posts08-03-2018 1:26pmMullards NOS.
OK, so I am now done... seriously, I think I am done.....
I left the PL 12AU7s in ..... so the amp is stock except for the KT150 power tubes.... the KT150s appear to be stable... amp is stable... sounds wonderful. Now I have the Mullards sitting here staring at me. OK, in they go...... guess what... they sound really similar to the Chinese 12AU7s stock in the PL! Honestly, the amp sounds great with either. I am leaving the Mullards in..... there is just nothing wrong with this system now. Nothing. If the Mullards crap out, I will just put the original Prima Luna 12AU7s back in and be done with it.
Interesting journey..... This Prima Luna integrated is one of my better buys. If you consider it, I can’t imagine you not being happy with one.

PeaceBruce in Philly


-------------------------------------

Similar conclusion exactly one year later today. Found similar tube combo results with a completely different preamp/amplifier. Same output and input tubes though. It has been a journey for me too with other amps using GL KT88s, Shuguang EL34s, TS KT120s, and now staying with Tung Sol KT150 output tubes paired with NOS Mullard input tube in combination for an interesting combination and result.

My mono amps run KT150s and utilize 12AU7 for input and 12AT7 for the driver tube. Not sure I’d ever go back to other output or input tubes once discovering this combo when deciding to stay with KT150s.

Next?
Will be interesting to see how long the KT150 lives like this before some other new high output tube comes along and moves it off the pedestal.

As a long time owner of PL amps, always interested to read what others hear with different tubes.

Like everything audio, a particular tube doesn't always have the same end result in a particular system.

I have heard the KT150 many times. Nice, but [email protected]$100 each, it made me think twice about dropping that much cash on tubes.

The 6l6G has been in my HP for several  years. Not quite the EL34 mids, and more convincing bass. They have their own, unique sound that is pleasing to my ears.
It's a lower powered tube,  but I don't have any volume issues.

Also a cool vintage look, being a 60 year old tube. Unlike new tubes, they fire up like lightbulb.

As a bonus, you can still find them for a reasonable price. 

I hear the Brimar as a more relaxed tube for the gain position. The Cifte does seem to add more excitement in the highs. I prefer the Brimar,after listening with the Cifte for a few years.Speaker design probably has a factor in performance.
 
@tablejockey 
I agree about the cost of the KT150s.  But, I do like them!  I would really like to hear the 6L6G, but don't want to buy any more tubes.  Maybe next year.  

Anyway, I wanted to share that I found a set of new KT150s on eBay for about $550 for the set.  They've been working perfectly for two years without a hitch.  So, options are out there... even if Uncle Kevin would say not to buy tubes on eBay.

Soundermn-
Am I reading   [email protected]$550?
Or do you mean 4?

That's a great price for 8! The only thing I don't care for is now, the tube cage doesn't fit with the 150's.
Yes, for a set of 8.

The tube cage is a thing... but I had a buddy who has a machine shop make some "lifters" for the cage. They are about 1/2 inch tall, with a hole on top, and pin on the bottom. They lift the cage just enough to clear the tubes, and look fine. There is a pic in my system page. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/7144
soundermn-

That is a great price. Thankfully, I don’t have the itch to get them. Your custom cage lifters look like the do the job.

It appears we also have the same CD deck. IMO, a decent cheapie that’s even better with a nice DAC.

Mine doesn’t get used much, since I’m more of a record and FM tuner listener.
I have my entire system plugged into a Power Plant.
It's a Cambridge Audio CD player.  It's almost never used.  We listen almost exclusively to vinyl.  The few times it's used is to compare a CD recording to vinyl.