Shootout-- Primaluna Dialog HP Integrated/Carver Crimson 275/Elekit 300B

Hey All, 

I'm involved in my own personal shootout between these three amps.  Because I don't have a separate preamp on hand (I'm building one similar to SP14/Don Sachs), I can only accommodate digital across all three units right now.  My Manley Chinook cannot be hooked up to the Carver yet. 

The system will be: 
  • Source -  Tidal -> Roon Nuc Endpoint 
  • DAC - Doge Audio 7 DAC (all tube).  If you'r not familiar with this DAC, you may want to read up on it or watch this :
  • Loudspeakers - Klipsch Cornwall IV
  • Power -- Torus Tot Power
  • Cabling -- Analysis Plus power/ Chord Single Ended RCAs
[When I get the preamp done, the Vinyl end is: Technics 1200 GAE, Kiseki Purpleheart, Manley Chinook]

I had to try this shootout/personal review because there are simply too few reviews of the Carver 275.  

This is going to be a great ride!  Each one of these amps is impressive in its own right.  I'm eager to learn of differences.  When I'm done I'm going to sell one of the three amps and keep the best two for my needs.  Stay tuned!

Current set up is Carver Crimson 275 / Primaluna Prologue Premium Preamplifer / Sutherland Little Loco phono preamp / VPI Scout 1.1 w/Hana SL MC cartridge / Goldenear Triton 2 speakers / Nordost cabling throughout / Richard Gray PC 1200. The preamp has been modified with Genelex 12AU7's & Telefunken 5AR4's. The Carver with Genelex 12AX7's and 12AT7. Left the Tung-Sol KT 120's after experimenting with various brand KT-88's. Took a while to get here but for the first time in a long time (with these old ears) I'm completely pleased with the sound coming from my vinyl. Give the Carver time to burn and I think you will be amazed. Good luck on your journey!  
Thanks motorway for your story!  I bet the Carver 275 mates well with the PL preamp! 

Each of these three amplifiers in my shootout are wonderful.  I hope folks know the point is just to have fun.  All of them are worthy of my long term listening room. 

I'm 24 hours in, and I promise to hold back my subjective review until I can run through the same recordings with all 3 amps.  I will, however, say the Carver 275 surprised me.  It is super special.  
It has now been a month (about 5 weeks) living with these three amplifiers under the same roof.  I have owned the PL since 12/16 and the Elekit since 12/17.  

The PL has superb build quality, customer service, and features.  It's sound in my system is so big and full.  In fact, it can be huge.  Bass is big and has much authority.  Midrange is really nice, but better with some power tubes than others.  I know folks always say the PL sounds best with EL34s.  It does sound great.  However, I think it sounds great with KT150s.  

The PL crams a ton of stuff into the case.  There's virtually no room to leave a pencil inside of the chassis.  Packed.  The PL is back breaking.  It weights some 55 lbs--maybe more, I haven't checked in a while.  The PL has a dizzying amount of power tube rolling possibilities!  Huge selling point.  The PL uses 8 power tubes and 6 preamp (2 gain/4 driver) tubes.  Re-tubing and rolling is a pricey endeavor.  

The Elekit is virtually featureless.  It's designed as an integrated, but has no remote volume control. It has one pair (yes, just one) of single ended inputs.  To say the PCB is thoughtfully laid out is an understatement: It's amazing.  The Elekit design is really interested.  It's solid state rectified, including mosfets!  In a tube amp! Blasphemy.  And, it has a touch of negative feedback applied.  

The Carver is featherweight.  I can lift it by its chrome protective tube bumper with 1 finger!  It defies logic.  The Elekit is no featherweight either.  Those Lundhaul transformers weigh a ton.   

The Carver has a nice piano gloss paint finish.  I like it better than the PL and the spartan Elekit.   All 3 amps have nice binding posts.  The RCA jacks on the Elekit are not great.  The Carver, while arguably nicer in chassis than the Elekit, is not nicer overall than the PL.  But the PL is not a looker--in my humble view.  The Carver, while not cheap, is simple and without adornment. 

The Carver is the only one of the 3 that needs to be biased or isn't auto biasing.  I was surprised at how easy it was to bias.  The manufacturer says its fine to set it as low as 60 ma or as high as 120-the lower you go the more it is supposed to sound tubes and soudnstage is supposed to increase.  I think that's a fair statement but I didn't hear dramatic differences. 

On the PL, I dislike that the default setting is Ultralinear and you must have the remote to change it.  My remote died and is out for surgery/replacement.   As stated above, the Elekit's 1 set of inputs for an integrated is really a big sin of omission.  It really needs to be an amplifier if it's only gonna have 1 set of inputs.   I see no faults with the Carver on features.  Build quality is solid, but maybe not as substantial as the PL. 

Now onto sound.  I'll try to put it into only a few key statements--rather than go on and on with audiophile adjectives. 

The PL-- Easy to like. Big sound.  Bold.  Rounded edges here and there. Plenty of weight.  Overall smooth, but it's not particularly detailed.  It is, however, pretty musical.  It's an easy choice.  It doesn't offend and makes great music.  

The Elekit--Super clear.  If you stay well within the amps 9 watt limitations, it is super transparent and clear.  Vocals and jazz sound amazing.   It resolves detail wonderfully.  It has a good size soundstage.  Top to bottom, the sound is even, clean and understandable.  It, too, is musical, and not super analytical despite its high resolution ability.  I wish it had more oomph.  Even though my speakers are around 100 dB efficient, they could use a bit more to get them running into stride. 

The Carver--Sweet.  My listening notes use the words "sweet", "boogies", and "this little amp" repeatedly.  The bass is strong and well defined.  There's more of it than the Elekit and it's better defined than the PL.  Midrange is seductive.  The highs swing and don't offend.  I was surprised.    Like the Elekit (but with more authority) the Carver has something lifelike about the sound.  It's not that the PL sounds "fake" or bad in any way whatsoever.  The Carver's sound (and pardon the bizarre metaphor) made me think the music was delicious on many listenings.  I could eat it!    My descriptions of listening session in my notes contain words like "juicy", "sweet".  

I really like all three of these amps.  I think the PL is a safe, solid choice-especially for my first tube amp in 2016.  It's feature-rich, has unreal build quality, and sounds fantastic.   The Elekit is a more specialized tool. If the PL is a nice daily driver and party amp, the Elekit is more intimate and for special listening sessions.   The Carver is really something special.  Personally, I like it a bit more than the PL and it has more versatility than the Elekit.  

Each amp is a delight.  I was a bit tepid that Carver could make a tube amp with transformers be this light and have this type of sound quality.  If you're out there thinking about the Carver, don't let the lack of pro reviews steer you away.  Buy from a dealer with a good return policy like Jim Clark or Music Direct.  

thank you for sharing your experiences with the shootout... excellent info indeed

i can’t help but wonder how the three amps would compare if driving a more challenging set of speakers... certainly the cornwalls are a breeze to drive, a great strength (... and using the primaluna d-hp on them is like using a jackhammer to open a bottle of wine LOL! )

couple q’s reading your post, if you don't mind --

1 - with the pl d-hp... did you upgrade the small signal tubes? how did it sound ultralinear vs triode in comparison to other two? i agree with you in my experience this amp has a big and bold sound with excellent foundation but it needs help in tube selection get all the transparency it can muster

2 - what tubes were run in the carver (make and type)? as you know i have been curious about the carver... and wonder whether it can maintain its composure and character you report if driving somewhat more challenging speakers -- i trust you found it more resolving than the primaluna?

@jjss49 , yes you are exactly right.  First, the PL always felt like it could be a super amp.  It's Godzilla in size--well nearly.  It's bold and refined.  But, it wasn't that resolving--or at least with my stuff. It has always been thoroughly enjoyable. 

I swapped out dozens of tubes with the PL.  I spent too much.  

As to triode v. ultralinear, I enjoyed both.  I always wanted a variable dial that I could turn up/down to adjust feedback or bias. Having the UL/TR button was a gift. While I spent too much time debating which one I liked better, it was nice to have the switch as I sometimes simply used it as a "Loudness Button"--a la 1974.  It just sounded lovely at low volumes in UL. 

The Carver is running Tung Sol KT 120s--the only maker. The driver tubes are basic Electro Harmonix, 12AT7, and gain tube is 12AX7, Tung Sol.  No fooling. Nothing special. 

And to your point, can the Carver drive speakers with much higher demands than Cornwall IVs?   I'd be more cautious as sensitivity drops as well as impedance.  I would question that this thing could drive a medium plus load in a good size room.  But, who what do I know?  If I was in a smallish room I'd try this amp with any loudspeaker within reason....just to see because it's a sweet little amp that begs to be auditioned with all sorts of equipment.  

Finally, yes, I think the Carver is more resolving than the PL.  Mainly, I think the Carver has more texture and open space, while not sounding too airy, or something bloated.