I'd be careful - see if you can return if not happy. I listened to the i5 earlier this year, and found it to have many of the properties claimed by tube amplifiers - a very natural midrange, and a realistic if not very powerful bass range.I find it hard to lump all tube products together and all SS together. To my ears, some of the tube products have more in common with some SS than other tube stuff. My point is every product sounds unique, and its sound is determined by a lot more than whether it uses solid state or vacuum semiconductors.
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To get a sense of how tube products are wildly different, listen to (if you can) a Cary Audio 300B amp and the one from Air Tight. Also, listen to something from Audio Research and then one from Conrad-Johnson. Check out SETs, OTLs, triode P/P, pentode P/P, etc. I once had a P/P amp that was so etched and infused with glare that it had to be sent back to manufacturer for substantial gain reduction and wiring change.
Tomyran is dead on and in fact describes my journey almost to a tee. I was in a similar situation, using a Bryston B-60 integrated, tried using it as a preamp with a c-j Premiere 11A, got a tubed preamp, went to an Air Tight ATM-1 PP amp, and then got to where I am now Cary 300B monos. It was a process I wouldn't trade for anything I learned something new with each different amp. I would suggest picking up something used that's a good deal, that way you can try it and then just resell it or trade it if it doesn't suit you. I love to trade and each of those amp changes I described was the result of an even swap, so I've really lost nothing for my efforts. Always remember this, the journey is just as important as the destination so don't get frustrated, enjoy yourself.
You have a very nice system there. It seems to be carefully thought out and well balanced. Also, the sim I-5 is a good integrated, so I would advise you to proceed with caution. However, if you have a few grand to spend, I think you can do better than the ASL models you mentioned--even though I own and like ASL. This is especially true if you are willing to purchase used, either at a dealer or here on Audiogon. I'm not familiar enough with Totem speakers to make any specific recommendations. If I was in your place, I would try talking to Totem dealers and owners and find out what amps they like with them.
Jond's comments are really worth remembering. nice post!
FWIW, I heard a nice Totem/tube combo, with a Jolida integrated. Pretty affordable for the quality I heard. Worth a listen if you get a chance.
I agree that used tube amps will give you a chance to try it for a few months & then try something different at litle cost. I've been through VTL, AirTight,BAT, Cary and now Berning amps. If I hadn't taken those steps, I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. IMHO, most decent tube amps give you more realistic sound than ss competitors at most price points; but that a WHOLE 'NOTHER DEBATE! ;-)
thanks everyone for your thoughtful and speedy responses. i suppose i'll wait till i see something that's reasonably affordable and make a decision, but i suspect that after reading your opinions that the fact that i have an integrated which has some tube like qualities, and that im coupling it with a very nice little tube preamp, that a tube amp isn't necessarily going to make that significant amount of change.
Thanks again to those that have responded, and I'd love to hear any other opinions.
>a tube amp isn't going to make that significant amount of change<
IMHO and experience, it makes a rather large change, even if tonally speaking its similar, you loose the liquidity that a tube amp can bring to the system. I have a summer (SS amp) to back up my tubes when it gets too hot. Its a good amp and considered by many to have tube like qualities (thats why I bought it). I can't wait to take it out of the system when the weather cools down!
>IMHO and experience, it makes a rather large change, even if tonally speaking its similar, you loose the liquidity that a tube amp can bring to the system<
i'm sure you're right. i would think that some of that liquidity in my system is replaced by using the foreplay pre. but the point you make is a good one and is why im wrestling with this question.
I went to tubes from a Simaudio power amp (the W-4070SE, rather less good-sounding than the amp in your integrated but still great at the price). My value-for-money choice was the Shanling SP-80 monobloc pair. These gorgeous amps get 50 watts from a pair of EL34s in push-pull.
It was a whole new world, musically. And then I tried changing the driver tubes for NOS...
Downside of these amps for you is that bias is not easily set by the user.
Totem will tell you what tube amps they like with the Model 1 Sig if you ask them.
Bad tubes-Crappy !Good tubes-Heaven ! Perhaps as simple as that.
People in the know seem to like the OTL amps(like Spencer who responded above).Speaker matching critical with tubes.
I like the Hybrid amps.Perhaps the best of both world's ?
Currently use the Pathos Logos-nice amp !Also Pathos Classic One excellent.See their reviews.
Must have a Tube somewhere in the signal path.A sense of spaciousness that is special.
You are thinking in the right direction.
Dr Chris van Niekerk
Sasolburg ,South Africa
If you can, you may want to consider expanding the budget a bit in the interests of buying something with real build quality (for example, the Antique Sounds Labs stuff is not known to be particularly reliable).
The VAC Renaissance 30/30 Mk.III can now be had for +/- $2,500 used. It has first-class power supplies and output transformers, and is thus much more powerful than its 32 watt/channel rating would suggest (it is, incidentally, a push/pull, not single-ended, amp). It has automatic tube biasing, which takes all the hassle out of owning a tube amp, and long-life 300B output tubes. As for build quality, the VAC Renaissance amps are hard to beat. A 30/30 can be had used for a fraction of its retail price because people look at "32 watts/channel" and dismiss it -- they don't know what this amp can do (like drive a 2 Ohm load).
There are some pretty fine used preamps available for $600-$700 (ARC LS-3, Audible Illusions L-1), and you are about there.
I think this combo would be pretty hard to beat.