SET amps ?

Hi all, I have been a budget system builder since the mid 70's.I still have my first system ( Marantz 1060/Pioneer PL 12D ,JBL l36.I stopped in the mid 80"s for kids.I have Adcoms,NADs several Marantz's you know the deal.Anyway I picked up a pair of Tekton 4.1's and have them powered by an NAD 314.The question is , is now the time to try a SET tube amp ? I have been looking at several in the $750.00 to $1500.00 range. I do have a nice small listening room for the 4.1's . The Dared MP 2A3c looks interesting at the price.Any feed back would be helpful.How long do the tubes tend to last ? Thanks...
I can't speak to the Dareds except to say I've read good things about them. But the Tektons would probably be a good match for a 2A3 or 300B amp. What are the specs on those speakers?
I used to have the Lores and they were really nice, also used a 2A3 SET with them.

And a NAD 314! Nice, that was my first "real" piece of gear. A classic.
Grommes makes a nice powerful set/p amp and decware would be a good match also
If I were to buy another SET amp I'd probably first look (again) to Min at Tube Audio Lab in California. Great guy, does great work.

Are you sure you really want an SET amp as your first foray into tubes. They are kind of a special interest. You might want to try an easier tube design to play with like a push pull amp. I may be off base and you really do want a very low power amp that doesn't take kindly to reactive loads or current demands.
Hi Mechans,
I used push pull tube amps for 15 years until the switch to SET amplifiers
over four years ago. IMO SET amps are much simpler in design and use
(fewer tubes and parts) circuits are quite minimalistic. I enjoyed my PP
amplifiers but in my case the SETis just better sounding, more musically -
emotionally involving and natural in presentation. A profound upward step
for me. The key is having an "appropriate speaker", if you do, the
resulting music reproduction is a sheer joy. I'd spend a bit more if
necessary to ensure the output transformer is of good quality( mandatory
for good SET performance).

If your name is representative of music taste I think you'll love what SET
amplifiers can achieve. Generally speaking the DHT type tubes of good
quality ( 300b, 2A3, 45, etc) last for many hours in circuits that don't stress
Single-ended triodes are the very best choice with speakers that are efficient.
^^ not sure I would agree with that (I think there are better amps for efficient speakers...) but it is true that if you want to hear what a SET can do you need efficient speakers, otherwise you won't hear the 'magic'.
I would naturally expect you to take that position or why build OTL
amplifiers for all these years. Either could be the ideal choice depending on
various factors. Having heard both amplifier types I preferred SET, someone
else could certainly chose differently. The builder(Israel Blume) of my SET
could come here and make a very compelling case for SET just as you
passionately do for your OTL topology in many threads over the years. I
appreciate both of you talented and committed gentlemen. Variety is truly
the spice of life.
I have spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of years listening to SET and OTL amps with my reasonably efficient speakers. I enjoy both equally as much. So much so I am now part of a group that manufactures SET amps and just recently became a dealer for OTL amps.

That being said one of my "pet" amps is a push-pull design using EL-84 tubes. The Music Reference RM-10. I would highly recommend this to the OP if he is inclined to move away from SET. Used it would fall within the budget.
The OP has stated an interest in a new audio experience and moving towards SET not away.
The question is , is now the time to try a SET tube amp ?
hold on Charles1dad: according to me, the OP is confused & does not really know what he wants to do. So, he's asking the forum for some guidance. I take that to mean that ALL options are open - continue with solid-state, move to P-P tubes, move to SET amps, move to OTL amps, move to hybrid amps & even move to "digital" amps like the new NAD digital 30W/ch & 50W/ch amps. I don't interpret his statement to mean that he WANTS to move to SET amps.

I'd like the OP to take a step back & find out what he/OP is really looking for. Being a budget system builder since the 1970s means that he's had a lot of budget sonics experience (do not take this to be a derogatory comment as there are plenty of good budget components - from the likes of NAD itself - that can deliver a very satisfying music experience. Nothing wrong with being a budget system builder). So, my question is: what's missing from the OP's sonic experience? Have you heard your various friends' systems? If yes, what do you like most & least of those friends's systems? Have you heard systems at audio shows, at audio dealers? What did you like the most & least of those systems? I.E. what new sonic experience are you looking for?
Just 'coz you have high efficiency Tekton 4.1 Fostex driver speakers does not mean that it's time to move to SET amps.
Do the Tektons play ALL (& I mean ALL) of your music to your satisfaction? Or, are these single-driver speakers good for certain types of music genres?
You could get a SET amp for these speakers & then try to play AC-DC. Will the total system deliver? (I think not from my personal experience of listening to Cain & Cain Abbey & Carolina Audio single-driver speakers with various ASL amps but my experience is limited & there could be several single-driver aficionados that would say otherwise).
So, look at what you are trying to achieve & what kind of music genre(s) kind of person you are & then try to see what is the right path for you.
Trying a SET might leave you jaded & you might be one more victim who'll drop out of audio (there's a long-running thread that seems to go like "why don't more people love audio?")....
Anyway, FWIW. IMO.
When a "?" is used to me that is an interrogative. So IMO the OP is asking a question as to whether or not this is the time to try a SET amp. My answer is simply "maybe," but don't rule out a push-pull.
You raise good points and I agree there are multiple roads to audio satisfaction. The OP specifically mentioned SET, a price range for these amps and even listed a particular SET amplifier he's considering(Dared MP 2A3c). So it appears he has given some degree of thought into this. SET have some limitations as do "every" other type of amplifier.
Jazzman463 what do you think?
I have read many more personal accounts of people that went to SET and stayed, than of those that went away from SET. I can't imagine leaving mine.
11-21-13: Clio09
When a "?" is used to me that is an interrogative. So IMO the OP is asking a question as to whether or not this is the time to try a SET amp. My answer is simply "maybe," but don't rule out a push-pull.
I don't think any particular topology is inherently superior. A lot depends on implementation and system compatibility. I own two good pushpull amps (a pushpull 45 amp and a 349 amp) and a 2a3 SET (actually a parallel SET). I like both the 349 and the 2a3 SET a lot, perhaps the pushpull 349 more than the other, but, then again, the linestage I currently use is specifically matched to the 349 amp.

In a heartbeat, I would trade either or both of these "favorite" amps for a particular OTL amp that I have had the pleasure to hear. Unfortunately, these particularly amps take up WAY too much space and are extremely expensive, which is why I passed on a recent change to own them.

The SET amp is particularly good at presenting all of the fine detail, nuance, and complex interplay of instruments without being harsh or brittle sounding (a problem with many supposedly "detailed" gear). The 349 pushpull amp is not quite as open on top and does not quite have the same delicate touch as the SET amp, but it delivers a more propulsive bass line and has a fantastically realistic midrange. The OTL I heard is so immediate, punchy and alive that it is startling, yet it is smooth and not the least bit harsh sounding.

Conversely, I've heard plenty of, to me, crappy sounding SETs, pushpull amps (not heard a really crappy OTL, though many have turned out to be somewhat high maintenance).
Bombay-as an owner/user of the C&C Abbys, mated with a sub and driven by an EL-34 based p/p amp, I can listen to AC/DC at volumes just short of 'I can't hear the person sitting next to me'.
Like I said, I could be off base with my suggestion.
I too anticipate that I will someday become an SET guy. I like what I have now, which are as far from SET you can get circuit wise in a tube amp ( A Jadis DA-60 and Consonance Cyber 800 mono blocks and some others amps)
"The question is , is now the time to try a SET tube amp ?"

Yes, now is a great time. I would recommend a 300b amp, not because that's
what I like (which I do) but for reasons based on what I think would
"marry" better with your 4.1's. Although if a particularly good deal
comes up on a 2a3 based amp, I'd say go for it.

"How long do the tubes tend to last ? "

Depends how hard the designer runs them. In general, they should last for at
least a couple of years.
Hi Larryi,
Knowing that you own an Audio Note Kageki, that OTL must be quite expensive if it causes you to pause. Is this OTL amplifier a bespoke-purely custom component?

The OTL amp I mentioned is an amp built in the late 1970's by someone in Greece. It was never a "commercial" product. I have been told that the builder made about 10-12 amps, two of which were brought to the USA by the Greek ambassador in the 1990s. I cannot recall what kind of tubes are utilized, but, I understand that the tubes are old television sweep tubes. I also understand this amp utilizes the Futterman OTL design. The amp puts out about 30 watts.

Each of the monoblocs is massive--each contains a huge toroidal power transformer and four smaller toroidal transformers. I understand that in each monobloc there is essentially four separate power amps, including four separate power supplies, hence the four transformers. The previous owner had it for the past ten years and pretty much kept the amp on and in standby all the time; the output tubes were never changed in that time and very little adjustment to bias has been required (attesting to how gently the tubes have been run in the amp). I know the owner of the other pair of these OTL amps that is in this country. That other amp is actually a different version and has 4 boxes instead of two.

What is particularly striking about these OTLs is how they make even small and lower-cost speakers sound surprisingly "BIG" and ballsy and alive. OTLs, in general, are good at doing this (you could call it a parlour trick); this OTL is particularly good at this game.

Thanks very much Larryi, I can appreciate your admiration for these obviously one of a kind masterpiece amplifiers. This amplifier must weigh the proverbial ton! Now I understand the prohibitive cost.
Thanks Larry for sharing about the massive OTL amp from Greece. Very interesting!

Whenever I read one of these SET vs. PP threads, I am always left shaking my head. There is just so much more to the sound of an amp than this one aspect. Most of the time people are comparing very different types of amplifiers and they then ascribe the differences to the SET/PP aspect alone. It matters quite a bit what type of tube is involved. Among the directly heated tubes, the 211, 300B, 2A3, 45 and 46 all sound quite different. Then there's the matter of input and driver tubes and circuitry, all of which can sound quite different. The output transformer is very important. Then there's the power supply---solid state vs. tube rectifiers, type of supply filtering, regulated or not, do the directly heated tubes have AC or DC filament supplies? And we are not even scratching the surface of component differences---every capacitor, every resistor, every wire has some effect on the sound. Plus all of these issues apply to both the SE and PP amps.

The bottom line is that amps sound different for many reasons, only one of which is whether they are SE or PP.

In my case, I have 3 pairs of monoblocks, two PP and one SE, and I rotate them in my system every couple weeks depending on my mood. They all sound excellent but in different ways. None is categorically superior to the others.
Hi Sal,
Your listing of the multiple variables involved are true and no one could
argue against that point. But here's the deal, the OP posted this thread
stating a curiosity and interest in SET amplifiers . He's seeking feedback
before making a decision. Presumably he has little or no experience with
SET amps. He has to begin his quest somewhere, so I'd think there's some
appreciation for a dialog about these types of amplifiers and people's
experience with them. Isn't that reasonable? I did the same thing over4
years ago when I developed an interest in the unkown(to me) niche of SET
amplifiers and experienced members here were extremely helpful. I'm
attempting to do the same for Jazz463. Could he be happy with non SET
amps? Of course he could. I just happen to find the SET to be very special
when executed well.
11-22-13: Mt10425
Bombay-as an owner/user of the C&C Abbys, mated with a sub and driven by an EL-34 based p/p amp, I can listen to AC/DC at volumes just short of 'I can't hear the person sitting next to me'.
I'm sure that I believe you.
I was merely asking if the entire system using a SET (not P/P as you are) would deliver for the OP. Something he needs to find out for himself.....
To me it depends on musical taste as well as speaker efficiency as to whether or not an SET will suit your individual needs. I find these amps have their limitations for ALL types of music but fare extremely well with small scale and vocal music. The budget SETs I've personally listened to would be less preferrable than a PP tube amp that would probably achieve greater musical satisfaction over a broader range of music. No one can answer this for you. You have to listen yourself. Like Ralph, I prefer OTLs and secondly a good PP amp for the wide range of music I listen to, but that is me. I would expect a good SET with wide bandwidth performance, convincing bass and dynamic impact would cost considerably more than your budget would allow.

I agree with Bombaywalla, step back, determine what you are trying to achieve within your budget and try to listen to as many options as you can.
When discussing a SET amp I'm speaking of those that are well designed, built and implemented, this along with a well chosen speaker will allow enjoyment of all genres of music.SET is capable of far more than only small scale and vocal (though it does these very well). Lesser amplifiers of any topology(not just SET) will lack this ability. In the stated price range I'd agree there are more choices among PP amplifiers. Good quality SETs don't come cheap but can be found for reasonable cost. Any amplifier type has 'some' degree of intrinsic compromise along the performance spectrum.
Take a look at Bottlehead. They are kits, but offer a lot more value for the money. If you can get past the "kit" aspect you will be rewarded with a great amp sounding much better than the price. Of course, getting it professionally built might push them out of your budget as well.
Hi Charles

Yes I am sure you are talking about those that are well designed as was Salectric, at least that can perform at a satisfactory performance level that they can be used on a wide variety of music. The output transformer and power supply design would certainly come into play as it does with all designs but more so with an SET to realize realistic performance across the frequency spectrum. I have yet to hear a budget SET, admittedly the breed I'm most familiar with, perform adequately full bandwidth, at least from my perspective. This isn't to say they don't exist but I doubt at the budget the OP is looking at. This is why I chimed in on this thread. I personally feel that a PP or say a used Atmas-phere 30 watt stereo OTL may be a better alternative unless he listens primarily to small scale, music where a budget SET would be satisfactory and perform quite well, that magical midrange. I have heard a few expensive, well designed SETs that were superb across the board, the Lamm being a great example with the Russian 6C33 tube, not typical for sure and very expensive.

Since their reemergence as a more mainstream audiophile alternative for high efficiency speakers 20 years or so ago, there have been numerous offerings at various pricepoints so I'm sure there are some that offer excellent performance for all types of music. Out of general curiosity I too would be interested in hearing your input as to what one might have to spend to achieve what I have described above and a few examples.
Art Audio Jota HC with KR 300BXLS gives 24WPC and will drive any Tannoy 15" DC very nicely.
Hi Tubegroover,
Your overall assessment of SET amplifiers is spot on, there is a hierarchy that exists. Although SETs have very simple circuits and generally fewer parts, what usually seperates them is the output transformer and power supply quality and they aren't cheap. A budget SET will have some inevitable limitations. The OP mentions a small listening room and has an easy to drive speaker. For 1500.00 particularly if he considers an used amp I think there are some SET options that are worthwhile. I'll provide some viable choices later today (Have go to the airport now). Tubegroover there are for certain good PP amps in this range that would serve the OP well.
Guys ,I'm late to the game and every post has it's merits.
I'm in the SET camp.I find they transfer the purest signal to my hybrid horns.
However the OP asked about amps in the 750-1500 dollar range and I doubt that a good SET or OTL could be found in that price range.
Also I think the OP may have left the building.

Enjoy your music
In any case Charles, I am looking for an SET that has the transparency and full bandwidth performance ALONG with the magical midrange that I hear with a good OTL type design which I have found, when used with the right speaker, can be most special and more importantly, realistic. Not everyone would agree with my assessment it seems but many sure do. I have many more personal listening experiences with OTL type designs, Ive heard numerous and owned a few but I'm no absolutist about anything audio, it often just boils down to synergy as well as taste, what works best in a given application. I am wondering if my experience with SETs in general, I have heard a few expensive ones besides the above mentioned Lamm, also lacking what I have come to expect from an amplifier. We all have our tastes, biases and objectives, no? This is not a challenge to you as so much as to me and my prejudices based on MY experiences and tastes. I REALLY would like to be aware of and listen to a great SET that would take back my general preconceptions that is not other worldly in price.
Hi Tubegroover,
Agee,It comes down to preferences as my experiences differ from yours and all considered it's SET rather than the OTLs I've heard. Certainty many listeners will find genuine satisfaction with either, that's for sure. The sheer realism quality of SET is the most compelling/convincing I've heard so far.

It does seem the OP has disappeared.
It could just be the case that OTLs suit your desires better and I could
understand that easily. My exposure has been Atma-Sphere and Berning,
they both do 'many' things well and their reputation and loyalty have been
earned. This will obviously be a personal perspective but the better quality
versions of SETs I've heard (primarily 300b and 845) win out with superior
tone,timbre-harmonic overtones and profound tactile pressence. They
sound closer to what I consistently heard at live events, full body, color,
weight and vibrancy. For me the OTLs present a leaner, scaled down
interpretation that some will say is more accurate, not to me. When that
natural tonal body and color saturation is missing, so is the life, soul and
emotional connection. I must have this realistic fullness otherwise the
effective result is merely hifi. I also find SETs to be utterly transparent
and maintaining musical purity. It goes without saying that there are those
who'd disagree with my impression and that makes sense and would be
expected. Is it 2nd order harmonics I'm responding to? Could be but it
sounds closer to live
instruments and voice and that's all I want , as much organic realism as is
possible. There are multiple choices in amplifiers and each type will have
its advocates. The key to sonic happiness is knowing what is most
satisfying and involving for you and going for it.
Thank you Charles for your input. I do suppose that you are right, I just prefer OTLs overall for what they generally provide and I hear in live music. I don't personally find OTLs lean sounding but compared to virtually all the SETs I've listened to I can certainly see where some would. I have an audio buddy that owns an Italian Integrated 845 based SET, huge transformers and a beast at 135 lbs. I've heard it plenty of times and really like it for vocals, it can really draw you into the performance. The last time we listened my impressions were as you describe so well above. Interestingly to ME that "color saturation" that really serves voice so well did not carry over to instruments. The timbre was too much of a good thing which is a consistent impression. Piano sounded unnaturally rich to me and ironically I found it missing much of the subtle ambient harmonic overtones and decay in the recording venue that is so clearly resolved with my Berning. There must be a balance somewhere and I was just curious to know if there is an SET out there reasonably priced that might "win me over" with across the board performance. I just haven't heard one to date less the Lamm but would love to.
SETs I've heard that sound very natural and honest without embellishment
are the following. Absolare, Coincident, Wavelength, Dehavilland and
Allnic. By reputation Audion amplifiers , Fi Audio and some Yamamto amps
meets this standard and I'm sure there are more. To be fair within the niche
of SET there's much variety of sound and presentation. Simply swapping
either output, driver, input tubes or changing capacitors can produce very
noticeable differences. I've heard Viva sound fantastic with certain
Of course my idea of natural and realistic could be interpreted as too rich
and warmly colored to you and conversely my too lean and thin is
may be your "just right".

I get exceptional resolution, articulation, separation and clarity with my SET
so I don't suffer the short comings you've mentioned. You may not find a
SET that satisfies your ears as much as your OTL does. So many factors
shape our preferences. Berning could simply be the ideal choice for you
and anything else will fall short of your needs. We both are very happy with
our different types of amplifiers.
When someone is determined and able to try something new and different, there is no time better the present.

Dared seems like good value. I think of TEkton in general, monitors in particular, as pretty set friendly, but not I am not familiar with those Tektons specifically.

I would expect very nice results with a Dared/Tekton pairing for very modest cost.
I have no problem with any kind of music selection as far as SET amps are concerned. If they are paired with suitable speakers, they can deliver clarity, detail, weight, and do everything quite well. But, they are considerably harder to match with speakers, given their low output and quite high output impedance than a pushpull amp, and probably harder than an OTL given how low the output of most SETs (an issue for me because I prefer the 45 and 2a3 tube over 300b or 211 or 845). But, I also agree that most of the lower priced models do not deliver the goods--it really does take high quality output transformers to get decent SET sound and that does not come cheap. I've heard a few of the supposed giant killers and the sound of these tend to be quite bad--anemic, dead and too light weight-- in the setups I heard (perhaps the amps would have sounded better with easier loads).

OTLs are no different from other amps--each implementation/tube type sounds different. Atmasphere and Joule OTLs, for example, sound very different and which is "better" is a matter of taste.
I agree that Jazzman463 has left the building!! ;-)
But it is clear now from the discussion that Charles1dad, Tubegroover & Larryi have been having that with Jazzman463 having only $750-1500 available that he should not bother looking into SETs. The quality in the power supply & the transformers is simply not going to be there to deliver the goods. Better options might be Atma-sphere 30W/ch or a P-P like the RM10. thanks.
I'm absolutely enthralled with my 2 watt Decware SE84 SET amp. After having been through a few solid state amps, some considerably more expensive, and another single ended pentode design, it's the SET that ticks my boxes.

The resolution, imaging and musicality of this one are just heads and tails above everything else I've had in my system.

At just under $900.00 I think it's worth a try if you've got speakers that are efficient. It's a 2A3 design with point to point wiring and high quality custom transformers. The primary compromise in design is the aesthetics, not the parts. The SE84 amp will not win any beauty contests though, that's for sure.

While big orchestral or heavy metal music won't sound good on my system, I suspect it's more due to my speakers than the amp. I really believe that with the right speakers, this amp could do just fine with complex music.
Yes the OP has apparently moved on. However I've enjoyed the contributions from you, Larryi, Tubegroover and all the others who've contributed interesting posts.
Goldeneraguy, I imagine your Dehavilland 845 SET and Horning speaker combo sounds fabulous!
Guys, I don't know what happened to the OP but I am enjoying this thread. I am beginning to put together a bedroom system, and my idea is to go with something totally different than my Magnepan/Cary SS main rig. High efficiency monitors driven by a modestly priced SET or push pull is what I had been thinking. The Coincident Dynamo has been under consideration, but I'm also intrigued by Dennis Had's Inspire amps. I have a couple of Ref 3A DeCapo's on the way. Anyone heard anything on the Inspires?
I believe that the Coincident Dynamo would be an exceptional match with your new speakers. This amplifier certainly has a strong family pedigree. Best of sucess with this bedroom system.
Charles, Agree on the Coincident. I'm pretty sure we won't see Israel selling any bad sounding gear. I guess the same could be said for Dennis. Nice to see SOTA guys working a little magic on more affordable stuff. BTW, the 101D's arrived a couple of days ago. First impressions--not a night and day difference between the Psvanes and the Shugs.
Hi Brownsfan,
I asked about those tubes on your system thread earlier today LOL.
Israel is quite proud of the transformer quality in these very affordable Dynamo amps (which are usually the weak point of inexpensive SETs).
Hi Charles1dad,As good as I thought my was,it took a giant step forward when I replaced my Kuzma Reference with the TW GT turntable and 10.5 tonearm
I am waiting for the arrival of some upgrades for the turntable which should bring it to even higher level.
I often wonder what the Hornings would sound like with your
Franks.I'm headed to Atlantic City and if Lady Luck is kind to me I may be calling Isreal Blume.
I hope all the posters realize that it's not just the speaker amp combo.Its the entire system that must work together in a room that will allow the majesty of music to shine.
Enjoy your wonderful system
I belive the vast majority posting here acknowledge the concept of room interactions and entire system effect. Your Horning is one of a few speakers I'd really be curious to hear (also Phy driver based speakers) with the Frankenstein amplifier. I think you'd enjoy speaking with Israel Blume.
Charles ,
If you find yourself out here on Long Island you are most welcome for a listen.
Beware, you might fall in love with my Tron Syren and that would hurt the pocketbook
I think the Syren is the cornerstone of my ststem

Thank you Charles for providing a few examples. I must say they all look nice particularly the 50 watt Absolare which is quite stunning looking. At 37K a pair I would expect its performance to match its looks and that price. The Allnic at 19.5K looks more promising to us more "pedestrian" audiophiles. I was thinking on the line of something more modestly priced like the Coincident Frankenstein which also looks quite nice. I see you have this amp but at 8 watts it would seemingly require a quite efficient speaker to make full range, large scale music come alive as I have come to expect. I doubt the DeCapos I am currently using at 92db would be efficient enough for use of an 8 watt amp for my needs and room size. Less can certainly be more as long as it's enough.