quandary: inefficient speakers, low-power amp

Hola fellow Agonners,

Help me figure this out. I'm running a system that presents what I guess is pretty much a nightmare scenario for one or more of the components involved: Dynaudio 50 monitors, notoriously power hungry at something like 86db/4 ohm rating, Anthem Amp 1 EL34 based power amp (40 watts/8 ohms I believe), and a Creek passive pre. My sources are Sony DVD feeding a Muse 2+ Dac and Music Hall MMF-5 w/Dynavector 10x4MkII cart feeding a modified NYAL Super It phono pre. This system sounds damn good to my ears, but I'm afraid I'm putting undue stress on the amp, speakers or both. I frequently run the preamp wide open or close to it, and it gets loud but not always as loud as I'd like.

I've considered getting more efficient speakers and keeping the Anthem (truly amazing sound for the $$$ I paid here on the 'Gon, especially with NOS 12AX7 in place)...or looking for a more powerful amp and keeping the Dynaudios (another amazing bang-for-the-buck product)...or just putting in an active pre to see if that improves matters. I really love both the amp and the speakers, but am I crazy for trying to make this setup work? I don't want to fry anything, but this combination sounds so good that my impulse is to crank it up as loud as it will go.

I wanna keep tubes in the system, so I'm thinking, either go with an active pre and keep the Anthem, or get another hybrid amp (like the modified Moscode 300 I used to have, or the Anthem Amp 2) and keep the passive one. Or hell, add a tubed one. Thoughts, feedback?


if your happy with the speaker's & you love the anthem then why not get another anthem & a crossover & go biamp ?
I was using a 50 watt triode Cary V12i amp with a pair of Spendor 1/2e speakers that are 88db efficient. However, I was using an active preamp with 12db of gain. I did not have the volume control issues you had and 50 watts seemed to make the amp work a bit harder, but the sound was wonderful so I kept with it for a while.

However, I was still a bit curious as to what more power could do with my speakers, or less power could do with more efficient speakers. I tried the Cary in ultalinear mode (100 watts) but was not that impressed. So I decided to experiment some more and while I am very high on Cary products, I made the decision that if something had to go it would be the amp and not the speakers. While I heard many efficient speakers with excellent sound, I came to the comclusion that the Spendors are the constant in my system.

So I decided to try a 225 watt solid state amp with the same speakers. Well the difference was amazing. The amp seemed to be able to drive the speakers effortlessly and they sounded much more dynamic.

In your case solid state may not be an option, but there are higher powered tube amps (mainly push-pull configuration) and hybrids that should work nicely with your speakers and passive preamp. Also, the biamping option could be your answer as well, especially if you decide that you want to keep the Anthems. An active preamp will add more gain, which will probably solve the issue with the volume control to some extent, but not necessarily improve the sound significantly.
For this Dyns you'll probably need 5x power you're currently using.

You can change an amp for a larger power or you can add SS amp with electronic crossover and biamp.
I had (relatively efficient: 93db/w/m, I think) Wilson Watt/Pupp 5.1s, and tried to feed them with 25wpc VTL Tiny Triodes. It worked, but when I went with 100wpc ARC VT100MK2, THEN I heard a whole other sound (better!) Years later, now on WP7s, I switched to the new NuForce 9s and the sound improved again. (My pre is tubed.)

I still play at the same volume. I think the transformation is more about damping factor and current delivery.

My advice: try the NuForces on a 30 day return priviledge.

Best of luck!

Bob Wood
There are many things to consider here. First, don't worry -- you're not straining anything other than possibly your voice coils if in fact you were clipping your amp. I don't think that's the case. More likely, your passive controller is the first problem. The input sensitivity of the Anthem tube amp may be (I couldn't find the figure on the web) too low for your sources to drive it to full power. An active preamp or at least a TVC (transformer volume control with +6db of passive gain) is probably called for. By your description, I take it you're running your volume control wide open and still not getting what you want, which gives you the impression you're "straining" your system.

It would be helpful to know more about your room, with respect to size and furnishing characteristics to guess your perception of the dynamic range of your system. You certainly could use more power but may in fact not need it if you have some voltage gain in the preamp stage. You can figure your 40/40 watts of RMS power from the tube amp have a good 3db of headroom on bursts. Also, does your amp have 4ohm output taps from the transformers?

There are a lot of ways to get more power if you like your speakers, but many of them won't please you if you're accustomed to the qualitative aspects of your amp. You can try a pair of the excellent Channel Islands D100 or D200 monoblocks on home trial with return privileges, and that is a quite musical and affordable solid state option. Another thing is to consider much more efficient speakers, Such as Zu Druids (101 db/w/m) or something Omega, for example. You might be surprised how much better things sound when your power amp isn't squeezing sound through a speaker crossover.

by the list of your components, I tend to believe that you will be happier with different speakers along with the same amp. The choices you are given here by members might be better invested with an efficient design such as speakers from Green Mountain Audio, Living Voice and others.

I have and still own speakers that are inefficient, one of then being a pair of Infinity Kappa 9s, also Gershman X-1+SW-1s and a bear of an amp, DNA 225, but my present system set up is op chip amps at 40 watts with a fullrange 8" alnico driver in a massive TL cabinet. Much much better and faster sound than inefficient speakers could have offer and ironically, better control.

Bi amping might defeat the purpose of coherence and space issues. Would we want to add two more components to make one component work with another? It is trying too hard to make things work well.
Hey everybody, thanks for all the responses. Thanks especially to 231cobra for assuring me I'm not about to blow something up. I hope you're right!

The room is roughly 15' by 16.' Thick walls, medium-length carpet, lots of furniture. Definitely not "live" sounding.

The Audience 50s are a two-way standmount with only one set of binding posts, so biwiring is not an option. If I had tower speakers with different posts for woofers and tweet/mids I would definitely look at biwiring with the Anthem on top and something like an ATI on the bottom, but that's for another day.

Popular wisdom is that you need to hit the Dynaudios with gobs of serious power, but I've run them with two different SS amps in the 125-150 watt range and I have to say, the Anthem absolutely smokes 'em in every way. I wouldn't have believed it myself -- I bought the amp at what I thought was the end of my time with these speakers, but I hooked it up to the 50s just for kicks and was stunned by the sound. Mama mia! I do like the combo so it sounds like the pre is what I want to look at replacing next.

Thanks again for all the feedback!
Based on your room and alternate amp experiences, borrow if you have to and try an active preamp. Get some voltage gain going into your power amp, then tell us what you notice. I think the sources are not driving the input section of the Anthem power amp very well. Answer that question and you'll have a much better idea how to proceed.

It may be a more expensive experiment, and I cannot speak to actually reccomend the solution as being good or bad, but you might also consider Paul Speltz's Zero-Autoformers as a possible solution. They are essentially in-line (speaker cables) transformers that make your amp see the speakers as having 2X, 3X, or 4X the impedance. A more thorough explanation and reviews are available on the website. I have no experience with them to speak of. Actually I have a pair of them that belongs to my friend Peter, but I have not hooked them up. He may be selling his pair as he'd purchased them to use with his Quads (electrostatic speakers) and was not pleased with the results there. Your Dynaudios are a different animal though. Anyway, some folks like what these things do. Just two more pennies in your hat.

get an active preamp; i recommend one by wright sound

if you need another anthem amp 1 i have one
Hey guys,

Update: I got a nice active pre (Audio Refinement Pre 5) to play around with. Kazam! No problem blasting the system loud enough to peel paint. However, I found the whole sound shifted dramatically. Even the PRAT -- with the Creek passive, I was getting sort of laid back sound - the system now sounds faster, more urgent. The sound is tighter overall, more dynamic (surprise, surprise), but initially, it was unbearably aggressive to my ears, a little white and flat-sounding, very solid state-ish. So I went to fooling around with cables and tubes. Found out the biggest culprit was the Russian-made 12bh7s in the Anthem (follow the Amperex 12ax7). With the Creek the Electro Harmonix 12bh7s gave me more drive and a clearer, cleaner sound than the NOS tubes I had, but with the AR in the chain they're overkill. Swapped 'em out for some NOS Sylvania 12bh7s and the sound is quite good -- it has the richness, depth and nonfatiguing quality of the Creek, but with more slam and higher SPLs.

I still feel like I'm missing some of the depth I had with the passive setup, though. Now I'm eyeing the stock power cords on the AR and my Muse DAC. And thinking about getting different NOS 12bh7s to roll into the Anthem. Damn this hobby and its infinitely forking paths to nirvana/neurosis!
Hi Jeff,

I owned the Anthem amp1 for a while, and eventually sold it on audiogon. I wonder if it was mine you bought ( :

I am also quite familliar with Dynaudio speakers, as I own the S1.4

While I agree the Anthem amp is an excellent amp, it frankly is not suited for Dynaudio speakers. While it will work with them and give acceptable sound, you really are not getting the most with your speakers.

I'd be interested in hearing what SS amps you tried.

Dynaudio is kind of an interesting beast because you really have to get the components right for them to really shine, but when you do, they are incredible with their dynamics.

My experience has been tube preamp / SS poweramp really is the way to go with these. You really don't need to spend a lot of money, but the match does have to be there. You could pick up something like the Eastern Electric minimax preamp which is great and is a blessing with the dynaudios, along with the SS amp of your choice. I've used a CJ Sonographe 400 (200WPC) with them to great results. I bought the CJ here on the gon for something like $500. I switched to that amp directly from the Anthen amp1. I was using a Supratek Syrah as preamp at the time which is great but pricier. Swapping to the CJ brought out the dynamics of my dynaudios, and at first sounded like a lot of bass went away - but I realized that it actually just cleaned up the loose bass of the amp1. My overall enjoyment of listening to my stereo went up dramatically with this change, as the Dynaudios really do need a strong force to properly control the inefficient drivers.

So with that - I would recommend you at least try a tube preamp + SS amp combination. It would be an interesting experiment