Should I get a new amp?

I just picked up a fresh pair of Focal/JMLab Electra 1027be's and I'm now looking toward a possible amp upgrade. Currently, I have an older Outlaw 750 (165w x 5 @ 8ohm) pushing them but I'm itching to upgrade. Question is, will I really hear a big difference? That's when all you guys come in with your opinions :-)

My amp budget is about $1,500 (used from A-Gon is fine) and I'm only interested in 2 channel amps. I would continue to push the rest of my HT speakers with the Outlaw, so this amp would be dedicated to the 1027s.

This would also be for about 95% music, 5% HT.

I can get an Anthem Statement A2 for about $1,000 or a P2 for about $2,000 (little over budget...but might be willing to stretch) but I don't know if there is something better in my price range.

And finally, my room is narrow. 11' wide, 20' long (with an open back), and 7.5" high (basement). My speakers are on the short wall firing down the room toward the open end. I tend to sit about 7' off the speakers for listening.

Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated, as always.

Thanks guys!

Mixing 2 and multichannel presents problems. First, room acoustics are skewed by all the other speakers. Speaker Positioning for 2 channel will be different than multichannel.

Lastly, no matter the budget, the same money invested into a 2 channel rig will outperform that same money invested into a multichannel rig hands down.

Test it yourself. Once you get the new speakers and amp sorted out, play your movies through the 2 channel, then the multichannel.
Tube or Solid State.
Assuming you want an SS amp I'd say look at Belles and Odyssey. both are very well reviewed. I own an Odyssey Stratos SE I bought new recently within your budgetary constraints. the Belles will run more, but if used, should be in your range too.

I've used my Odyssey S SE in 2ch and in my HT setup. I'm pleased with both configurations.
If you do upgrade, you might want to consider a tube amp, especially with the Focals. If I were in your position, I would look into the Rogue Stereo 90 which you can get used for about $1,200. The Rogue is a great sounding amp and is built like a tank, also has excellent customer service.
If you could up the ante a bit, I would consider a Conrad Johnson MV60.
I have some older Electras and they sound fantastic with tube power amps. People who hear the rig with the tube power amps always comment on how great the speakers they have heard many time during the past 4 years sound now.
They alway forget to look dowm at the tube monoblocks. I tried everything I could, to get expansive, detailed, holographic, and still musical sound, I lusted for. I had to stop the hyperanalytic SS fatigue syndrome. But Nirvana was only one move away. But for reasons I can't remember, I kept on trying different SS to no avail.
After trying tube power amps suddenly I was instantly in heaven. The amp the the Cyber 800s by Consonance.
Read the philosophy section. The author insists that you won't get great sound, until you use tube power amps not just a tube in a window integrated. A really tube power section integrated will work, I have that as well.
It turned out to be exactly correct for my system . Remember not just a tube preamp! You owe it to yourself to hear them with tube power amps.
I could say it again but I am tired of hearing myself.
Great feedback from everyone. Thanks!

There have been a couple of references to Focal's really benefitting from Tube Amps. My problem is that I have never heard a tube amp, and I'm not sure there are any dealers around here that sell them seeing as SS has pretty much taken over the mainstream.

Having said this, I'm now very curious to dig further into the possibility of going the Tube route. This raises a few new questions:

1. I understand that tube amps power is "measured" differently than SS. I know at the end of the day a watt is a watt, but what type of Tube wattage should I target for these 1027be's?

2. What kind of maintenance is required for tube amps? Is "biasing" an involved process? Is it something I can do myself or do I need to send it out to have this done? Are tube replacements easy?

3. I'm a digital guy, not vinyl, with no plans to change in the near future. Does Digital benefit from tubes as much as analog?

4. How important would it be to get a tube-based preamp if I end up going with a tube-based amp? I'm in the market for both so I figure I'd rather find this out now than after I purchase one or the other.

5. The 1027's have the Berrylium tweeter which obviously puts emphasis on the highs. It seems to me that a lot of the SS amps over-exxagerate the highs and I wonder if tubes do a better job of keeping them "less harsh". In essence, is the berrylium tweeter a good match to tube equipment?

As always, thanks for all the great feedback.

I have JM Focal Alto Utopia speakers. These are not easy-to-drive speakers as their impedance goes down from 8 ohms to about 3.5 ohms for lower frequencies. This means that the amp needs to do more than double the current at the lower freq., which is more difficult for tube amps.

Since your speakers have similar characteristics, you may need to get a more powerful tube amp too. I would say 100W minimum.

Tube amp maintenance is easy as long as their bias adjustment is easy to access to.

Hope it helps.
New amp. Look into getting a used Cayin 100 tube amp. Great sound and great value.
With that kind of impedance swing, and yet wanting the glory of tubes, I would take a look at the Music Reference RM200 which are great amps with any speaker (assuming 100 watts is enough), but also handle impedance swings easily and are extremely reliable amps, like all Music Reference amps. Otherwise you would have to use some very large tube amps with huge transformers to handle the speakers load. I think you would find the RM200 to have the conveniece of SS, with outstanding tube sound.
Vett93, I would think that the 1027be's would be easy to drive with a 50W or greater power amp since they seem efficient at 91db nominal impedance with low frequency range 38Hz.
My power amps arated at 78 watts into 8 ohms, but they do admit the impedance will fall into the mid 4 range. The amps have excellent big power trannies and I would hurt myself if I really pushed the amps. They get so loud I haven't clipped them to my thinking yet. The sensitiviuty should be about 90-94 DB/W/M. You don't need to to do a derivitive just get good amps.
Cyclonicman, my Alto Utopia is also 91dB. I have a pair of 50Wpc KT88 monoblocks for my 2nd system. They are not enough to drive my Altos. Cello sounds like violin! LOL....
It sound like the speakers need a lot of current, not voltage (watts)and with that you are pretty much left with SS, very powerful tube amps (and heavy and expensive), or a hybrid tub amp like the Music Reference or the Moscode amps.
I'll second the 100 wpc notion for tube amps... or in that area.

Watts is watts BUT power supplies aren't all made equally.

That's where many transformer based tube amps differ. Manley, Dodd, McIntosh, Cary, VTL, Prima Luna, Quicksilver, CJ, etc... all use 'em. Spend a little or spend a lot. your pick. Older models weill be more traditional sounding... bigger, fatter, wetter ... rich and warm.

The flavor of the tube amp will ususally folow the tube types being employed. Changing either the splitter/driver tubes and/or the output tubes will 'alter' the sound.

I can run a pair of 3way towers, 87db, 4ohm, speakers which drop to 2ohms at times with my 120 wpc Dodd mono blocks... easily. Without cranking up the volume. In a 14x21x8 room... in a smaller room of 10x12x8 I don't even think of a sub. in the larger room one could come in handy.

your room and preffs will determine if you need well more than 100wpc.

Find a good tube vendor too. That'll help immensely. Possibly not too much with price, but with quality of the tubes you may wish to try.

tube pre?
Like with anything in audio... you can spend as much as you wish there, just like with the amp (s). Some well reviewed pres run right at a grand or so preowned.

When I got back into this deal I found the sound I liked the best was in fact provided by tubes... so far anyhow. All tubes power train... digital front ends. but there sure is some thing to say for a tube preamp and a nice SS amp... which would be my suggestion to begin with given your speakers. As I feel that energetic top end could well be eased up with simply that... a decent tube preamp and a nice SS amp. VTL makes a 2 point something or other that's pretty nice pre. Later on if you don't want it or wish to move on up, selling it shouldn't be too difficult.

there's tons out there, and only yourself can ultimately be the judge. Maybe stick with something wherein the company is still in business first though.

repairs & upkeep?
biasing. If a bias model is the choice. Self biased? Well, then just turning it on and off. tubes last a good long time if new or New old stock... NOS. A good lloonnggg time... years in fact.

Havve fun.
I have owned JM Labs , 926's .
While they will sound good with SS . Tubes will sound better in my opinion .

I started out , like you , with SS and kept looking for satisfaction . I didn't find it until I tried tubes . I am now all tubes and enjoying the music . I will never go back .

If I were you I would try a tubed integrated amp that is self/auto biasing . It will show you what tubes
are about , be very easy to operate and maintain and be more affordable than seperates . As mentioned above , the power supply makes a difference .

I would suggest a Primaluna Prologue 2 . It is within your budget , built well , self/auto biasing , able to use many different types of tubes and will be easy to sell if you want to . It does not have HT pass through but it is not that difficult to match the sound levels .

I've always said , if you want to see what tubes can do , then do tubes . If you go half way you will only get half of what tubes are about . I tried a tubed pre with a SS amp and it was not what I was seeking . Just my opinion .

Good luck .
Saki70: Thanks for the feedback. You're actually the second person to recommend the Primaluna Prologue 2, but my concern is that it's relatively moderate power rating contradicts what many others have said in this thread suggesting that I need a minimum of 100wpc tube power to push these speakers based on the wide impedance swings.

Since I'm new to tubes, I guess I just need a little clarification.


Ben, I'm not sure what kind of current (the ability to drive and handle low impedances and impedance shifts)the Primaluna's can provide, but those speakers definetly need some real current, other wise I don't think your bass will be balanced with the rest of the spectrum. You may have stated previously, but what do the folks at JM Labs say? These speakers seem to have some of the same "tube" friendly issues as let's say something like Thiels - excellent speakers, but hard to match well with tubes. What was your budget?
Pubul57: My budget is $1,500, but if going tubes would require a tube pre as well to fully experience the sound, that $1,500 would have to cover both. As such, an integrated would likely be better suited to my budget.

Having said this, I want to make sure that I'm not making overall quality concessions simply to go the "tube" route. If I need a higher-end tube amp to be able to push these 1027be's properly and it's out of my budget, I don't want to settle for an inferior tube just for the sake of going to tubes.

I just wonder where the crossover point is between the sound difference vs affordability when working within my specific budget range and comparing Tube to SS.
At that budget level and with the current requirements of your speakers I think you have no choice but going SS. An option would be to consider the Unico (Unison Research) or Pathos integrated - they both make hybrid (tube pre /SS amp)units that might be in you price range and should be able to drive your speakers. I've only heard them in shows, so I can't really vouch for them, but both companies have received very nice review for their 50-70 watt integrateds. I could be wrong, but I think in your price range you are unlikely to get a reall good quality tube amp capable of driving your speakers they way they deserve. Again, I have not tried the Primaluna, so I can't say with certainty that it would be a bad match - but tube amps tend to need tube friendly speakers to work their magic.
Get a tube pre (if you don't have one already) and a "Class D" power switching amp that is built to handle the impedance swings. There are quite a few to choose from. I built a 200w/8ohm power amp using the Hypex upgraded modules (Hypex is used in Channel Island amps) and use a tube pre. The sound is tube with SS tight top and bottom. This might trigger another boring Class D vs. MOSFET vs. Tube debate, but I am simply stating what I have found. P.S. If the debate takes place, I will not participate, there has been enough discussion on this topic.
JM Lab speakers are particularly special when driven by tubes, IMO. It's too bad that they're not particularly tube friendly. I was driving the Mini Utopias with a 70W conrad johnson. Does it work? Yes. But I would like to encourage those who say that they're happy driving their JM Labs with 50 Watts or so, to try and listen to them with bigger amps. When I threw 200W cjs at the Mini's, they really came alive, relatively speaking.
I agree with others who stated that JM Focal speakers can use the harmonics from tube amps. I have another SS power amp, rated at 200Wpc/8ohms and 400Wpc/4ohms, and my Alto Utopias sound a bit dry with it.

So I ended up with a completely redone Counterpoint NP100 power amp that is rated at 100Wpc/8ohms and 200Wpc/4ohms. It is a hybrid amp with tube gain stage and SS output stage. Mike Elliott voiced it like SET amp sonic signature. (Yes, its upper mid-range does sound like my 300B SET amp.)

200Wpc/4ohms may sound like a lot of power. But when I play Beethoven Symphony No. 9, it is barely enough towards the end. I can't imagine if it only had 50Wpc......
That Counterpoint sounds like a good option, I do think the hybrid idea makes sense here. As to watts, I think it is really an issue of the impedance challenges presented by the speaker, not the sensitivity - these speakers need current. My Merlins are 89db and sound extremely "complete" with just 30 watts from the Ars Sonum and 60 watts from the Atma-sphere. The difference? A very benign impedance curve, very easy on tubes, and that is all the difference in the world. Massive tube amps could proabably overcome this handicap, but seems like the wrong approach. Did someone mention the Odyssey amplfiers in this thread? Those are pretty nice SS amps at a very reasonable price.
There is a Llano Trinity 200 Tube amp for sale on A-Gon right now that's in my budget. They are 200wpc and I've heard great things about Llano amps, but never heard one myself. Any opinions/thoughts on this amp pushing these 1027be's? It also seems to cover the high-current characteristic. May this be my perfect amp given the circumstances?

Any/all opinions welcome.

Do you use a sub? If so your choices IMO expand looking at tube amps, or tube ints, which are a real good suggestion... eg., Prima Luna, Antique Sound Labs, Cary, VTL, etc. Even some under 100 wpc.

your desires for bass output will matter too. though I feel with tubes and your 1027s, the 'slam' aspect SS provides therre will be lessened some... although again, that's a taste thing as well.

True enough, an ALL tubes power train reveals a different sound than SS + HS (hollow state), and some find it pleasing enough... I did and still do depending on the mood and genre of music. The better the tube preamp in that case, the better however.

The issue I had in going tubes was the same as yours and many others.... finding the right power match, AND the right sonic result. I beleive my true aim is for SET, (single ended triodes) which are quite low in power output comparitively speaking. Under 20 wpc, usually. that path entails a much keener match of amps and speakers. Much.

So I compromised. Some. Given your budgetary constraints I would think some compromises are in order for an all tube int in the $1500 range. Flexibility with rolling of tubes is another great idea. The PL int affords you that too. the one I'm thinking of can run in ultralinear at 100 wpc, and 50 in SET and can use various tube compliments so you can get a shot at finding 'your' sound better.

I ran a 60wpc tube amp in a larger room than yours on lesser eff speakers with as difficult to drive loads and got decent sound levels, none of those pairs of speakers went lower in bass than do your 1027b's. Consequently, I added a sub and was very good with the outcome.

later on I went up to mono block tube amps, and changed speakers.

so my single caveat for you to consider is this, Things change. As much as we would all like to have our next move in audio be our last, it seldom ever is our last. seldom too is our next move the perfect one.

so if you are thinking to 'try' tubes, then just do that... try. you won't go too far wrong, IF AT ALL... if bought right, very likely none at all as you can sell it later.
Blindjim: Very interesting points. I do use a sub and while I was trying to avoid using it for music listening, I just don't think it's going to happen given all my positional constraints (narrow room, doubling as HT, etc).

To me, it's much more important that the 1027's capture from mid-bass on up as accurately as possible and I'm not so worried about that bottom end slam. For now, I'm perfectly OK with letting my sub handle from 80hz and below.

Forive my ingnorance, but what exactly is 'tube rolling'? I hear the term all the time but never actually understood what it meant.
Without looking up your speakers here is my opinion on the bass . My 926's only had 2 little 7inch drivers for the bass . I ran them with a 200w SS amp (300w@4ohms) in a 13ft.X26ft. room setup 11ft. from my listening position firing down the long walls. There was just no way to get any decent bass from those little drivers on their own . At that time I was listening mainly to classic rock music . A sub would be the only way to get good lower bass with them and I was not able to blend my sub well with the 926's .

What is the size of your listening room ?
What type of music do you listen to ?
How loud do you want to play those 1027's ?
These factors will be important in determing how big of an amp that you will need to drive your speakers .

Just my opinion .
Saki70: My listening room is 11Wx20Lx7.5H. The back end of the room, however, is open to the rest of my basement so there is no wall. THe speakers are positioned at the end WITH the wall behind them, firing down the long walls toward the open space. I sit about 7-8' off the speakers.

The speakers are only about 18" off the side walls and 12" off the back walls becuase there is a projection screen on the wall behind them. Acoustic panels are at the first reflections for my listening chair on walls and ceiling. Floor is low-profile carpet over concrete. The back of the room is wrapped by 3 microfiber couches which do a good job of high-frequency absorbtion in the back, but they are all behind my listening chair.

I listen to some classic rock, but probably more folk, acoustic, blues and jazz than anything. I have somewhat of an addiction for ultra smooth female vocals, regardless of genre. Not so much in the way of classical/orchestral.

I don't listen to them at ear-bleeding loud levels. I would say probably on average between 75-85db tops (not factoring in dynamic peaks).
Ok , try this get the Primaluna Prologue 2 advertised here for $950 . If you are still worried about the power thing you could also try some Speltz autoformers and zeros , again listed here for $450 . They should , if I understand them right , take care of the lower impedance dips . That would leave you with $100 for shipping and be with in your budget . The Prologue should be easy to sell if you don't like it . Don't know about the Speltz stuff .

Try bringing your speakers another 12 inches out from the wall behind them . If you loose some bass then put them back . Also try to put them on an equal lateral triangle ie. the same distance apart as the distance from your listening position . Toe them in so that , in your listening position , you can see equal amounts of the sides of each speaker . When mine were setup this way they had the best soundstage that I have ever witnessed . It actually seemed like some of the performers were behind the wall behind the speakers , some were outside the boundaries of the left and right speakers and some were at my feet . It all depended on the CD mixing and the accompaning equipment but not that hard to do just to see what happens .

It doesn't sound like that you need to run your system at high sound levels to enjoy your music .

But if it were me , I would just get the integrated and see what happens . If it doesn't work well then try your sub with it . If that doesn't work well either , you still will have gotten a taste of what tubes are like and can go from there . Just my 2 cents .

Good luck .
Thanks Saki70. My soundstaging is actually excellent already. Many well-mixed tracks do seemingly extend beyond both the side walls and the back wall. I do have them toed in and sit in an equilateral triangle, but I'm always open for moving around a's fun :-)

It's more the smooth mids and vocals that I crave with this upgrade than anything. And from the sound of it, the tubes do that better than SS which is what caught my attention.
FWIW, FatghOst, I tend to agree with Saki's recommendation regarding the Primaluna stuff. But, as I think you already know, the actual sound you get is very dependent on tube selection, both power and small tubes. While that can be a small PITA its much better than trying to find a SS unit that would sound 'smoother'. But with the wrong synergy, or tube selection, tube amps can sound 'bright'. Its very managable using inexpensive new production tubes, fortunately.
FatghOst, tube rolling is trying different manufacturers' (EI, Sovtek, JJ Tesla, etc)version of the same tube (EL34, KT88, etc). There is also the search for NOS (New Old Stock) which are tubes made long ago and no longer in production. Many feel they sound much better than current tubes - I have no idea why, may QC was better, maybe the use of radioactive parts no longer permitted, - but this path can get very expensive - some NOS brands - Mullard, Amperex, Telefunken, Siemens, RCA, Sylvania. Typicall NOS tube rolling start in earnest when you are committed to tubes and are try to eake out the last nth degree of performance - it can be a slippery road if you do not know what you are doing, and even if you do.

My room is just under 14w x just over 20L with 8 ceilings. Until recently it had two openings, one to either side. One midway back on the left, and another all the way back on the right side. Near field listening was the only place to gain good balance, left to right. Great Bass was really difficult to acquire too.

The comments I made thus far were all applicable to the room in that config. I've since closed off the room by adding doors there just a couple months back.

That room doubles for me as well, as an HT and 2 ch listening room. Give or take a bit here or there, you have your room just like mine.

In fact your musical tastes, save for the rock, are mine as well.... and I do play rock as well, just not a lot. Def Lep, ZZ, Whitesnake, Lynyrd, Styx, Ozzie, Matchbox, etc.

As far as integrating a sub for 2 ch it shouldn't be too hard. Surely not expensive either. Especially if the "???" int has a set of preamp outs. Most do. Run the sub off them with a pair of RCA cables you can get at Radio Shack cheap... I do/did. they work fine. $20-40. If the sub has phase contrOls you might not even have to move it much if at all.

...AND YOU MAY NOT EVEN WANT TOO INCORPORATE THE SUB... BUT it's there if you have to.

Tube rolling = exchanging tubes in a piece of tube gear. I guess the term came from a while back 'cause once you take 'em out and lay 'em down while putting in other ones, they could roll if not on a level surface. ??

The Flavor of the tube piece is dependant upon the tubes being used within it. Differenet tube brands? Different sound.

that is to say, if it has JJ Tesla's 6922's, and you replace those with say, Amperex 6922's, the sound will differ. in fact the whole shooting match can change. Sound stage, bass, impact, openess, liquidity, etc.

Tjhis goes for all the tubes. inputs or drivers, and output tubes too. Even the same tube, yet a different vintage, can and do sound differently. for some this is a true joy, having such flexibility. For me it was a consternation.

But even a blind squirrel can find an acorn now and then. I did find the compliment of tubes that suits me without too much trouble.

you should be fine. Especially given your mention of gaining more from the mid bass on up is more important to you. you'll still get that which your speakers can put out in the bass region.... it'll just be different... but the musical info will still be there.

one other thing... you said the back end of the room was open. If you only ran some heavy curtains across that area behind the couches, which you could open and close at will, you'd be far better off too. Even better, accordion doors.

Hope that was helpful.
Audio hobby is a journey. If you agree to that, it may be a good idea to find an amp that allows you to experiement various things of a tube amp. Then you can gain knowledge and develop your own preference. Treat it as a stepping stone to reach your audio nirvana.

If you agree with the above idea, I would recommend the following requirements for choosing your tube amp:

1. Manual bias: This is a key feature that I look for in an amp. In fact, my Counterpoint hybrid amp allows me to adjust the biases of the output bipolar transistors too! You want to experiment biasing the output devices at, below, and above the recommended value. For my KT88 monoblocks, I'd like to adjust the biases at 15% below the recommended value, which gives me more delicacy and finess.

2. Ultralinear or Triode switch: It allows you to adjust the output tube mode, ultralinear or triode.

3. Enough power: it allows you to try various music. The bass guitar in Jazz music does need power!

There is a Rogue M120 that is just listed for about $1K. It may be a good start for your journey.
I had an Outlaw 7100. Upgraded it to a Sunfire TGA5200, which still didn't do for 2 channel purpose, so bought a Musical Fidelity A5 integrated. Perfectly happy.

I completely disagree with those saying you can't blend a home theater setup with 2 channel. Sure, it won't compare to a dedicated listening room that's acoustically treated, but most people can't afford that route. I'm running a Benchmark DAC1 fed lossless from a PC into the Musical Fidelity, which serves double duty in the HT setup due to it's direct bypass. Speakers are Quad 22L2's (with a Quad Center for HT). I personally couldn't be happier, though I spent a grip on Shunyata Pythons and Taipans as well as a Hydra-6 to clean the power up.
Fatgh0st ; if you do decide on the Primaluna , you can call Upscale Audio and tell them what you want to change about the sound of the amp ie. tube rolling . They know these amps very well and can both advise you what to do and sell the tubes that will accomplish the change . A nobrainer for phools like me ! So don't feel overwelmed by all of the choices listed here . It's really that easy , just buy what they suggest , take the old tubes out , insert the new tubes , turn the unit on and give the tubes about 10 - 15 hours of operation to settle in . Actually I was able to hear the difference right away . Tube rolling will allow you to get many differing sounds out of one amp ! Much cheaper/easier than changing out SS/chip amps .
And with self/auto biasing it is all just plug n play .

But be careful with which brand of amp that you purchase if you plan to tube roll , especially if you purchase new .
Some manufacturers will void the warranty if you roll 'any' tubes other than what is supplied with the amp as new and some will void the warranty if you use tubes purchased from anyone else than them ! And some require that you buy tubes that are a matched set , an added expense .

You will find two kinds of hobbiests here , tweakers and listeners . Guess which I am ?

Good luck .
Thanks to everyone for all their advice. I managed to free up some additional funds and went with the hybrid integrated Musical Fidelity KW500. With it's Tube pre-stage and solid state amp, I'm hoping to get the best of both worlds while having more than ample power/current to control and push the Focals.

The reviews seem favorable so time will tell. Thanks to everyone who steered me toward introducing Tubes into my system (even if it's only in the pre-stage).
If that unit has preamp outputs you are ahead of the game still as you can add a tube amp (s) later on perhaps.

Google for Joe's tube lore. That article will shed some light onto what tubes do what, soundwise, and give ya some ideas.
I think the hybrid will serve you well with your speakers. Congratulations.
Congrats! Hybrids are the ways to go for JM Focal speakers! I would take up Blindjim's suggestion and find some tubes with more harmonics. These speakers are on the dry and polite side....