Assuming an integrated, Bel Canto s300i or Unison Research Unico would be my top picks.
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I understand that you are not interested in running tubes and I respect that.
I'd just point out for what it's worth that I first ran my TSM-mmi's with a Manley Shrimp tube preamp driving a Bel Canto S300 "Class D" power amp (an odd combination, I know).
I sold the S300 here last year and purchased a used pair of Manley Mahi mono-block tube amps, and the improvement in sound in almost every parameter was striking.
YMMV, of course!
after doing some research, it looks like the merlins are not for me, everyone says they work best with tubes, and I am not getting into tubes, also, without hearing them before buying mkes me very leary, so thanks for all the responses on this thread, I am now thinking of going with the totem manis.
I own the current TSM-MXr speakers. I run them with....yup, Tubes via the Manley Stingray. But I've also had them powered by an Odyssey SS amp, Emotiva XPA-2 and a few others. I've also had the Totem The One speakers, which are certainly a very good small monitor. I'm also familiar with much of the Totem line. Some of my other system speakers have been Magnepan 1.6 and I just recently had the Revel M20's to play with.
I think that ALL of these speakers sound their best with tubes, at least when it comes to the mid and high frequencies. In fact I've become a huge tube convert even finding the a mid-fi pair of Def tech speakers sound amazing when connected to the Stingray amp.
With that said I know 1st hand that the new version of the TSM's are not anymore handicapped by SS gear than the Totems or Revels. In my experience they ALL benefit from tubes. I also found the Merlins in another higher class than all of my previous speakers, even besting my Magnepans for imaging. And it didn't matter if it was SS or tubes. It's true that not being able to hear the speakers is a worry. All I can say is that the feedback on the Merlins is as high as it is for a reason.
Best of luck with your system,
I heard a pair of the TSMs (not very latest version, but just one previous) at AXPONA driven by ?? (sorry, I forget) nothing fancy and they sounded awesome! DCCA cable company had the room. Contact DCCA and speak with the designer/engineer/builder of the cables. Very nice man. The TSMs with ss and DCCA cables WILL be my next speaker, when I move into a smaller room. They were spooky real, and very good. Don't give up on SS for TSMs. (And I have SETs for my current system.)
I am using a Marantz PM-15 (the original 1994 model) with my TSM mmi speakers. The results are extraordinary. It certainly helps to have a very good amp behind the Merlins but it is the synergy of the whole system that tells the sonic story -- not only the CDP and power conditioner but also the cables and plugs (and tweaks), IMHO.
"after doing some research, it looks like the merlins are not for me,"
I would not come to that conclusion based on the fact folks recommend tubes - they sound fantastic with SS as well, but not all speakers sound great with tubes due to impedance curves yadda yadda, the thing is when a speaker also happens to be tube friendly, like the Merlins, they tend to sound better with tubes because tubes tend to sound better than SS IMHO. Don't miss out on one of the truly great speakers for fear of the tube buzz, try'em with a high quality SS amp, you won't regret it.
Well said, Pubul. Naturally there's some bias for my Merlins, but I have a lot of love for other speakers as well. For a short while I had the Merlins powered by an Emotiva XPA-2 and the UMC-1 processor. You can't get more mismatched than that, at least according to Merlin. But I wanted to hear exactly how "crippled" the TSMs would be by such a combo. I'm not going to say anything crazy!. The TSM's lost some of their ghostly imaging and midrange finesse, but I seriously doubt anyone would have been less than thrilled with the sound. I have a friend who ran an older set of TSMs with a Creek SS amp and the sound was great.
Also consider that the Totem's you're considering actually require tubes moreso than the Merlins - the Totem aluminum tweeter is going to sound smoother and less fatiguing if tube amplification is used, whereas the Merlin soft dome tweeter sounds fine with good SS. In the past I had great results with the Magnum Dynalab receiver with the TSMs, and the other Simaudio amps (SimAudio co-designed the original amp secton for Magnum Dynalab's receiver) would work well also (for example I owned the I-5 integrated from SimAudio and it sounded great with the TSMs). You will not be disappointed by the TSMs - I also bought them before hearing them, and the result was that I was simply amazed at how great they sounded, and this was 10 years ago. I now own the VSM-MXe with the new Master BAM and RCs, but I could definitely "get by" with the latest TSMs - both Merlins are fabulous music makers and the closest thing to musical truth I've ever heard.
Ditto on the Totems being bright to my ears. Though it's always important to remember that this is a VERY subjective issue. All speakers have specific colorations. The trick is to discover the speaker that sounds "right" to your ears.
PS: I recently heard the GMA Eos HD....a fine speaker, but I was even more thrilled with my TSM's when I returned home.
Silly me. I was thinking of replacing my beloved but nearly 30 year old pair of KEF Reference 104/2s with a pair of TSM MMi, to be driven by my Proceed Amp 3 or HPA-3. The last time I balanced tubes was when I was a grad student working in a psychoacoustics lab that had a dozen or so MC-60s. What a PITA that was. Guess I'll stick with the 104/2s tell one of them dies.
Just to avoid confusion, the Merlin speakers sounds superb with an quality amplifier SS or tube, but becuase the Merlins are desinged to be easily driven by tubes, and if you believe tubes sound better than SS, then it explains why so many Merlin owners seems to use tubes; the Merlin is a very refined speaker that speaks the truth about what comes before it. It seems what they have been telling me these many years is that I like the sound of tube amps, and no SS amp is really going to do that, not even the great Aleph and XA.5 amps from Pass, for some the finest sounding SS amps ever made (subject to debate of course).
m, what is high volume level for you?
how big is your room? what will your amp be?
they play loud enough for my wife to chase me around with a corn broom to get me to turn it down. this is in a 14 by 26 foot room.
everything is relative.
i have used them at shows and never had an issue. i use them at the factory in a 8000 cubic foot room and it is very loud here.
bobby at merlin
I guess loud enough to "feel" the music. I dont know db level. Loud enough that the Focal drivers start to bottom out on occasion. My room is about 16 x 18 x 8 with one side opened up about another 12'.
I had something worked out to hear Merlins twice and both times they were sold like the next day. I just dont have the funds to buy new right now as I am also trying to get my components set for the long haul. That is why I thought of used tsm's as a temporary (year or two) setup.
Other Thor owner have suggested that the Merlins match well with the Thor gear.
I'm rekindling this discussion from a year ago because I thought it was a very helpful one, and to share my recent experience. I was lucky enough to get a like-new pair of VSM MMIs for a great price from a local owner. I'm driving them with the amps I already had, which are Bel Canto Ref500m monoblocks. I know that's far more power than these things need, but they sound fantastic so far. The improvement in the treble range over my previous speakers (KEF XQ40s) is incredible. And top to bottom, these have to be the most balanced, musical, full, and detailed speakers I've ever heard.
But of course, having read tons of posts about the magic pairing of tube amps with the Merlins, I'm wondering what I might be missing! I guess that's an example of why this is truly a life-long quest for all of us, though. For now I'm just going to try to enjoy the music and not start thinking about my next system move.
Anyway, as a new owner of Merlins and a very happy one at that, I wanted to share my experience with the SS amplification of the Bel Cantos.
Speaking as a ref1000m owner using them to max out some fairly large and challenging speakers, you are probably at a very good place in regards to getting the max out of your speakers with that amp.
I consider the ref1000m amps to be absolutely rock solid in every area of performance compared to most anything else I have heard, including some very nice and pricey tube amps.
The overall flavor might be somewhat towards the "vanilla" side of things compared to some amps, but it is very smooth, rich and tasty indeed! They are capable of bringing out the best in most any speaker and recording I suspect.
With a tube amp, the specific choice of amp will likely result in different flavors of sound. WHat is preferred is largely a matter of personal preference at this point I suspect, as opposed to addressing any clear technical limitation.
So you might get a sweeter more "french vanilla" sound or some other more unique flavor that is your favorite out of any particular tube amp. But you know, vanilla is still the most popular flavor of ice cream overall last time I checked. There are lots of ways to dress up (tweak) vanilla ice cream to make for a even more tasty treat, especially compared to most other popular flavors.
I've run my VSMs with a class D Bel Canto integrated with great results. My amp is lower powered than yours, but I'm not surprised at the happy marriage. The VSM is a terrific speaker and I've run mine with a half dozen different SS amps (as well as a half dozen tube amps). They will sound somewhat different when the amps are changed out, but I've yet to hear my pair sound less than excellent, regardless of what's feeding them.
Thanks to both of you for your thoughts. Martykl, do you use the Merlin's supplied RC network with your VSMs? I installed it per the speakers' instructions and the speakers sound quite good to me, but apparently the Ref500m uses a Zobel network (they confirmed that for me today), so I'm going to go home tonight and remove the RC from the speakers and see what difference that makes. If they sound even better than they do now, I can't imagine how happy I'll be.
I'm curious if you (or others) use the RC network on the Merlin speakers when driving them with Bel Cantos.
It's been several years, and I honestly can't recall whether I had the Merlin RC on board when I had the VSMs hooked up to the Bel Canto. It's always case by case with the RC and, as mentioned, I've literally used more than a dozen amps with my VSMs over the years. I guess that keeping the exact set-up straight is beyond my modest capabilities.
My understanding is that RC network adds impedance to make speakers an easier load to drive.
My guess is that typically it adds more in the case where a tube amp is used. Tube amps tend to not like lower impedances especially in the lower octaves where commonly found with many modern smaller speakers that also have good bass extension, like Merlin and many others. High power higher current SS amps, like BC Class D or many others, will be less challenged, so I would expect less benefit with those, but I suppose its always best to compare with and without when possible and be the judge.
I had a friend over last night and we did an a/b comparison of the Merlins with and without the RC network. We started with it on, and they sounded great, and we were both fully prepared for there to be little or no noticeable difference when we took them off, but we were both struck hard by the difference. Without the RC network, vocals had a little more air, there was more separation of sounds and instruments, particularly in complex passages with a lot going on, but the biggest difference was a significant increase in the bass.
I would highly recommend that all Merlin owners try their speakers with and without the RC network, but particularly those who have amps that terminate with a Zobel network. The difference was far more than I expected, and the speakers now sound even more amazing than they did before!
Your findings do not surprise me. I would expect the BC amps to have no problem handling the natural impedance curve of the Merlins. No additional tweaking of the impedance matching between amp and speakers should be needed.
Your findings correlate to what I have found using BC ref1000m amps with various speakers of similar design. The BCs lean towards the leaner side of things when presented a fairly benign impedance curve but bring out the best in speakers that are more of a challenge by design, which is the case with many popular smaller designs that also have good low end extension capabilities these days, like Merlin. You just have to throw the kitchen sink at them power and current-wise to enable them to do their thing to the max.
The efficiency of Class D in general allows that to happen these days in a much more compact and hopefully affordable package than is possible otherwise.
dazz ok, an rc network is a resistor capacitor network. in my case the rc filters above 1.6 mghz to reduce rfi and emi. perfect for city use due to radio stations and high power lines. the network also applies a 10 ohm load at 100 khz. all speakers become more of an open circuit the higher they go in frequency (unless they use a similar network or the amp is terminated with a zobel) the amplifier sounds strained, resonant in the hf and far from the best it can because it is, unstable. using a termination or hf load will settle it down so it can sound its best. if your amp is terminated with a zobel on its output, do not use the rc. if it is un-terminated, then use it. if you use my rc with a terminated amp (depending on the freq of termination and amount of impedance applied), you may hear a resonant top end. two filters in one circuit with inductance (speaker wire) between them makes a tank or hf resonating circuit. no harm will come to the amp but the sound will suffer. this resonance will stick out in portions of the bandwidth and may un-weight the sound. that is why you heard more bass without the rc.
this device does not alter the impedance of the speaker within its audible bandwidth and it matters not, if you use tubes or ss.
My mistake. I was reading 100 hz, not 100khz. 100khz does
come up very often in most home audio discussions.
Not sure exactly how to determine for sure when a zobel
is not used in an amp. Do specs indicate this somehow?
I've read in at least one place that all SS amplifiers use a
zZobel network of some sort to keep things stable.
Sounds like two zobels are not necessarily better than one.