I think Classe has a very pleasing sound also like Pass Labs YMMV
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This may or not be helpful. When I decided to move away from a tube amp I decided to try the TRL D-225. It is listed at 225 watts but tests out closer to 275 watts. It is $4k new. They can make a monoblock version, but that may be over your budget. I have been very happy with my D-225 and paired it with a Joule Electra LA-100 MkIII and Cary SLP-98. It worked fine with both those tube preamps and my Spendor 1/2e speakers.
I'm somewhat intrigued by the Accuphase vintage gear, specifically the P-300 amp. They are available at very reasonable prices and can be brought up to spec by Accutech. One other option that caught my eye at RMAF was the Butler hybrid OTL amp. I think it is $3295 new, but I have seen them listed here for around $1600.
There are SS amps that come very, very close to tube sweetness (I'm not talking about the SS amps that are made intentionally "warm and mellow" and try to mimic tube sound.)
I'm talking about SS amps that aren't hard, harsh, grainey, etc. And as someone pointed out the other day, the problem here is that it takes a lot of money before SS amps catch up in quality to the best tube amps. In other words, they're saying that the moderate priced SS amps don't match the performance of moderate priced tube amps.
With that in mind, there are a few great SS amps available used (i.e. within your budget) that will give you 90% of what you love about your VTLs, yet with maintenance-free ownership.
My favorite (in your price range) is a Levinson 23.5 (200W/8ohms) or 27.5 (100W/8ohms), about $2500 and $1900 used. (Stay away from the 23 and 27, they're OK but not sublime.) Levinson 20.5 or 20.6 100W pure class A monoblocks are even a bit better, but will set you back more than $4000. Older Rowlands, Accuphase, Cellos, Spectrals, and Goldmunds are also good bets, but somewhat harder to find, and may be a little more than you were planning to pay -- especially the very desireable Goldmund and Cello, although I have seen Cello Encores and older Goldmund Mimises go for $4k+.
At your price point, the Rowland Model 6 monos, especially if you can find a pair run from batteries, will beat your VTL's in most systems (no offense intended, but the 450/750/1250 vintage of VTL amps are a bit crude in my opinion). The Model 6/8ti/9ti Rowlands sound like a very good tube amp, but with solid-state qualities. You'd have to go with a darTZeel to beat them in solid-state designs.
Since you mentioned McIntosh, I can tell you that MC402 is a very pleasant sounding amp with a warm midrange that just sounds "right" and not artificial at all. Bass is plenty deep and well controlled, while some say it's lacking the last bit of impact, to my ears it's very musical and not dry at all. Highs will not be crystalline but very pleasant and naturally extended, no exaggeration in this area either. The 402 throws a soundstage with the best of them both wide and deep but again, no exaggeration here either. This almost sounds like I am describing a tube amp, well the 402 resembles tubes in many ways and is just as easy to listen to. That is what you are looking for, isn't it? Give the 402 a good listen.
Funny, I just got a pair of VTL-450's and I love the way they sound with my Maggie 20.1's. But I've also been keeping my eye on SS amps that I might try someday, just to hear the difference. Current interests include: Edge, McCormack, and McIntosh - maybe someday. I've also heard the Plinius 102 sound really good.
Are tubes really that much of a pain in the butt? I am looking into a tubed pre for the first time. I don't mind learning new things or doing a little maintenance from time to time, but I don't want to have to be crossing my fingers every time I power up.
Seriously, are/can tube gear be that much hassle?
Have no fear. Most tube preamps are low hassle and many at most price points are well worth it. Search the archives here, there has been TONS written on the subject already.
When you are ready, post your system and your musical priorities along w/your budget, and you will get plenty of opinions about what gear to consider. Then, ignore everyone and trust your ears! Cheers,
Original Mcintosh MC275 with vintage tubes will give you everything you've asked for and easily drive the Meadowlark. Ive gone full circle with Mcintosh and high quality SS designs and nothing beats the mac for smoothness, layering and a holographic presentation. Deck it out with telefunken input tubes and Gold lion kt88's with a Cary slp98 or Joule la100 and be prepared to grin with no thoughts of upgrading. I am a fan of mac but the mc275 original really makes the mc402 unlistenable once set up properly. Good luck
Thanks for the responses so far. I will try to drag home a McIntosh MC402 at some point as I have heard great things about it. I have not heard the hybrid Butler piece but will do some research. I could not in good conscience buy a _Digital_ amp as I have heard plenty of the upper end hash from the likes of bel Canto and even the ice modules have left me cold (pun intended) . Not a shot at the CI models but I have not heard them so it really would be tough to claim an opinion unless I do. Darn , another thing to research and then hear.
Perhaps I should just calm down and do some listening to detirmine how much I want to get rid of tubes !
Check out the Moscode 401HR hybrid amp. Several folks here have discovered it, auditioned it, and bought it. Very low maintenance as it uses 6922, 12AU7, 6H30 driver and input tubes (among many possible varieties). 200 wpc, MOSFET output stage.
And, if you decide to get out of tubes, be sure to contact me if you sell your stash. :)
Krell ksa 250. very tube like but has solidstate grip on the lows. Ive owned the vtl 300's. very powerful, excellent soundstage layering, grest bass,highs were the weak point.
That krell is very close Ksa 250. Actualy the krell imaged better more control Cenetr of the earth lowend Smooth mids And very detailed highs WITHOUT typical Solid state hashey highs.
Look into Levinson and Pass Labs amps. if you can check out x.5 series of Pass amps(there are few currently available here used at decent prices), you may like what you hear. McIntosh MC402 is very nice too, as mentioned above, but if the speakers are laid back sounding, this may not be the most neutral amplifier, although I heard it with the B&W Nautilus and liked it a lot. But Meadowlarks are warm sounding, if memory serves me right, so, you have to try.
Meadowman...The CI amps use a module (UcD) that is similar in concept to the ICE module, but with some topography changes that address what is perceived as a weakness of the ICE nodules: HF response variation with load impedance. As you know, loudspeaker impedance varies greatly over the audio frequency range, and this has been blamed for less than ideal HF sound from these amps.
Check it out at www.Hypex.nl
my most enjoyable experiences using ss amps with quad 63s included the aragon 2002 and the b&k st 140.
to my ears those amps exhibited minimal objectionable characteristics of solid state amps.
i find that the current production ss amps are lacking something. the only word i would use to describe their presentation is clinical.
i had a conversation with viktor, the designer of bat electronics.
when he introduced his first ss amp, back in the 90's, i heard a prototype at CES. he said that he tried to "tune" the ss amp to sound like his tube amps, but admitted to me that the differences between them were clearly audible.
there certainly are virtues to ss amps, but they are so unforgiving of recordings, that it is often a challenge to listen to them unless one has high quality recordings.
i'll stay with tubes.
I have no problem with grit and grain with solid state and I have horn loaded speakers! It probably helps to start with a ss amp known to have a grain-free treble like the Odyssey Stratos. I also like its warmish & transparent sound which makes it an excellent candidate to match to a tube or ss preamp. I'm sure because of its small price tag it will sometimes get overlooked by some audiophiles who think you have to spend money hand over fist but it shouldn't. Besides, its sound & build quality far exceeds its price tag. I love audio bargains which frees more money up for other things like music purchases, home improvements, & of course family.
Meadowman, it is not sacrilege to go from tubes to solid state, I have done it without any reservations or regrets. If you want the best of both worlds match a tube preamp to a ss power amp. I suggested the Odyssey only because I like it a great deal better than the newer ss Mcintosh amps I have tried.
Well, the Odyssey Stratos sounds nothing like McIntosh or tubes for that matter so for a guy who is used to listening to tubes would be a completely wrong advise. Here is a quote for TAS review on Stratos: "The sonic character of the Stratos kept reminding me of the SimAudio Moon designs of Jean Poulin: coolish clarity and transparency; airy, unbleached highs that have a touch of mid-treble silvering. And the sense of transient speed helped to distinguish it from the B&K Reference more than any other attribute. It's not particularly warm-sounding, certainly not tube-like. The Stratos, like the Marsh Sound Design A200s stereo amp (review, Issue 123) won't enrich a lean voice or add bloom or bloat to the lower mids or mid-bass.
Flyski, there are many reviews on the Stratos, most all being very positive. All though this particular excerpt from your above mentioned Stratos review would lead one to believe that the Stratos is certainly not tubelike inspite of the fact the reviewer's final conclusions are very positive. There are other reviewers whose conclusions are quite different and I will give you an example of this shortly. From my own personal experience and in my system the Stratos exhibits a warmer sound than other solid state amps I haved tried but yet still has some tube-like qualities without the solid state nasties. Like any amp the speakers & preamp used will have some effect on anyones final conclusions including those of pro-reviewers.
From IAR Master Guide to the best of 1998.
Odyssey Design Group Stratos:
This power amp is a sonic miracle at its $995 price and an easy IAR Best Buy. We (and then others) have praised the sonics of Symphonic Line power amps in the past. They sound very transparent, fast, and clean, with capable extension to the frequency extremes, all the typical strengths of solid state. Yet throughout the midranges and trebles where virtually all other solid state products run into trouble of one sort or another (too glazed and hard in some frequency region, or too defocused and smeared), the big symphonic Line amps stay eminently neutral giving a very natural portrayal of music by straddling the line between solid sound and tube sound (what we called the hybrid sound). Thus the sonics of the big Syphonic line amps give you the best of solid state sound combined with at least some of the best aspects of good tube sound.
Finally their opinion of Class 1 (class 1 being the best) amps are Odyssey Design & Plinius & rated musically natural. Some Class 2 amps are Levinson 33H & Krell FPB 300 and try valiantly to smooth and soften the hard edge typical of solid state, attempting to sound musical but instead they succeed only in being veiled and defocused.
I'm very certain that no solid state amp will have a 100% of the tube sound but some will come closer than others. So which reviewer is right, you decide.
Not one solid state amp I have owned or heard sounds even close to a tube amp: Odyssey Stratos Extreme Monos, McCormack DNA-2 Platinum, McCormack DNA-500, McIntosh MC7200, Bryston 4B SST, Bryston 14B SST. The same applies to chip amps: NuForce Reference 8, CI Audio D100, CI Audio D200.
The closest to a tube amp I have heard is the hybrid Moscode 401HR.
I have not heard Pass Labs, but I'd like to do so.
TVAD, you being a tube guy I am not at all surprised by your response and many tubeaholics will agree. If and when Meadowman moves from tubes to solid state the best we can suggest is what solid state amp will be the least offensive. You know, I would like sometime to try a Pass Labs myself. I personally know one member who purchased a Pass Labs amp and swore he would never sell it, he did. Maybe he purchased the next higher model, I'm going to ask him.
10-27-06: PhdIt's interesting to me that I have been an Audiogon member for 3 1/2 years, and I have owned solid state amplification for nearly half that time, yet I am considered a tube guy. I presently own a SS/tube hybrid amplifier, so perhaps I am a hybrid guy, but thankfully the hybrid amp has he realism that tubes bring. It's true that I prefer the sound of tubes at this moment, but I have experimented with solid state and chip amps during the entire time I have owned tube amplification. So, consider me a tube guy with an open mind to other possibilities, which I have proven with the purchase of the 401HR amplifier.
When it comes to what creates something approaching the sound of real music in my system, tubes do it.
I think there needs to be some distinctions made here. "Tubes" and "SS" cover a very large range of amps and some are very similar and some are not. In my experience thus far, SET tube amps have a special quality that I have not found in any SS amps yet. Not sure what to call it but you guys know. At least Tvad does.
And then there are some SS amps that are very good at coming close to tube sound. It is all relative and I find that the speaker being used plays a big role with how the amp will sound. Some push-pull tube amps are not that distant from the average SS. Much closer than the SET crowd gets for instance, but even within push-pulls there are big differences.
At one point, I was using a CJ MV55 tube amp. Nearly everyone will tell you it is the quintessential tube sound. Well, I have yet to find another tube amp that sounded like it! In my system, matched up with my Audio Aero Prima and my Triangle Cometes, it had a clinical resolution, well damped bass and a slightly dry character, with a lack of developed timbral color. Putting in my MC240 gave me smooth resolution and coherence, somewhat soft bass, a liquid midrange, and much improved timbral accuracy.
And yet, my McIntosh MC202 gave me pretty much what my MC240 gives me but with slightly better transparency and tighter bass. The CJ was not like either of them! You will just have to experiement with your own system and see what you find out.
Well I like the Mcintosh stuff, but the Odyssey extreme is an incredible amp for better money..And I see above some people already pointed you toward the Odyssey Stratos, the extreme is another version of it, super smooth, rock bottom bass, neutral flavor... And it does not heat up at all like most solid state or Tubes... Very good pricing, and you can find thousands of reviews in specific on this amp that are all favoring it the best you can get for the purpose, but again it will not just like any amp be perfect with all speakers.. so some research is involved.
Undertow, I noticed your system posted on Audiogon that you have the Odyssey Extreme with the new red boards. I too have a Stratos with the new red board. I am curious if you know what technical differences these new boards entail? I talked to Klaus on the phone and he said the red boards have some new circuit improvements but did not give specifics. After playing my newer Stratos I was not able to hear any sonic differences but was strictly going by memory in reference to the slightly older Stratos I use to own. But more time spent with it and break-in could reveal something.
Well the extremes obviously go up in capacitance, my understanding the only differences on the standard stratos boards are it uses like Freid hexfreid? not sure of spelling superfast rectifiers, and like some improved resitors and bypass caps on the board.. I know a few were done special with some nichon caps on the board but they found some real popular sanyos or something just as good or better and stuck with those... Its very little improvements I would guess overall.. Also the new 2006 on up versions have new top plates with the Holes in them for simply style character on the stereo version, and for actual ventilation in the 3 channel version, the 3rd channel added on the home theater stratos versions run hotter, the stereo version does not break room temp.
I ve been down that road before and back to tubes.I found out a little secret about eliminating the headache with tubes.Once it working.DO NOT touch it..dont even clean it.just turn it on when you want to listen to music and off when you stop..dont even do any tube rolling..This method seem to work for me so far..knock on wood..
One amp you might consider is the Red Wine Audio Signature 30. Its SLA battery powered and has the sound of a great tube amp without the haze and glare. You can hear so deep into the recording and the highs are sweet and extended. From the mids on down its full bodied but there is no bloat. Everything is tight and articulate. Plus, you're off the grid so there's no power cords or conditioners to fret with: just clean, clear power. If 30 watts aren't enough, Vinnie is coming out with 70 watt mono blocks based on the same technology. I have mine with the Hornshoppe Horns and couldn't be happier.
I would hate to be so stereotypical but tubes give off a sense of realism that SS amps cannot attain. I will not go as far as saying that I would never listen to SS. The SS amps that I heard at shows are truly excellent, however he non fatiguing sound of tubes make them my favorite. Also I like the notion of 'tube rolling'. The chance of replacing your stock tubes for some Bugle Boys and improve the sound makes this a true hobby. If changing tubes are to much trouble, why bother replacing a stock power cord. IMHO.
Much to my disbelief I have no tubes in my system. I kind of evolve into this, first with the solid state H-Cat P12 line stage, but then I moved to the Esoteric X-01 Limited sacd player, and finally the LSA/Exemplar Statement amp. This is all providing extraordinarily good sound reproduction, so I would have to say ss has gotten much better. I have never been committed to tubes after returning to them over 30 years ago. I still remember the ARC banner saying, "That for the audiophile the era of tubes has come." Times change once again.
10-28-06: TbgTbg, doesn't the LSA/Exemplar Statement amplifier have a 6DJ8/6922 tubed preamp section?
Tvad, yes the amp is still integrated but it also allows bypassing the line stage. Briefly I used the line stage. While it is okay, it is not state-of-the-art. I must say that I was surprised by this. It may suggest how superior the H-Cat is.
At the RMAF I heard the Statement amp driven by the Exemplar cd player and the Exemplar external power supply linestage. The speakers were the LSA Model 10s. All I can say is wow, but the speakers are beyond my means.
Thanks for the info, Tbg. You're the first to comment on the Exemplar/LSA system at RMAF. Which Exemplar CD player was being used. You may or may not recall I am using an Exemplar Denon 3910 with the balanced output option.
It's interesing to me that you bypassed the linestage of the LSA Statement amp (and that LSA Group did the same at RMAF). Not insofar as I doubt your preference because I don't, but rather because I thought this was the primary area of improvment/redesign by John Tucker to the LSA integrated.
Certainly the original efforts by John to improve the reference amp were to strengthen the line stage. The Statement, however, is directed toward the amp, which John found well conceived. It would make a good deal of sense to merely do another amp without the line stage, but that would be expensive and some may want to use it as an integrated amp.
The Usher cd player which will apparently not be imported into the US serves as the basis of the LSA unit I heard.
Unfortunately, LSA made a late decision to attend RMAF and thus their electronics were in their room and the exceptional Model 10 speakers were in Lloyd Walker's room, not driven by LSA electronics. I heard a late night demonstration where the LSA equipment was brought in.