NHT makes a powered monitor that's pretty much ideal for a desktop system - it's also a great value. The only tubes in this chain, however, would be in your cd player.
I've been using a pair of JohnBlue JB3 single-driver monitors in a very similar setup and find them to be absolutely remarkable. The sense of openness and the convincing soundstage are great and the quality of the bass is something I wouldn't have thought possible from a small, single-driver box. They're also very cool looking.
I use them with a NuForce Icon amp and either an Ah! Tjoeb tubed CD player or the MacBook, via USB, as a source.
07-09-09: Daniel825I haven't heard this unit, the Antique Sound Lab Wave Line Preamp, but I've been impressed by other products from their line, and the footprint *is* small.
Although not tube, this Vincent SA-96 is optimized for computer desktop use, and it looks like Audio Advisor has 'em at half price.
I've never been a kit-builder, but the Hagerman Clarinet looks interesting.
I just ordered the Audioengine a5... Should be here in 3 days.
Going to look at the vincent sa-96 next. I have a vincent audio tube cd player that I am very happy with.
Does anyone make a line preamp with usb that also has a DAC in it? So that I don't have to use the DAC that is in the Mac?
07-10-09: Daniel825This is a rapidly emerging product category. The easy answer is also a bit expensive--the Benchmark DAC Pre at $1595. Small footprint, inputs for RCA and Toslink SP/DIF, USB, and analog. Outputs to XLR, RCA, and headphone jacks.
You could stick with the Vincent and add a small USB DAC between the Apple and the preamp. Possibilities include the HRT (High Resolution Technologies) Music Streamer at $99 or the higher quality or Music Streamer+ at $299.
Another very ingenious design is the Devilsound DAC at $299, which is a USB-to-stereo-RCA cord with the USB DAC in a tiny matchbox size lump where the cable switches from USB to RCA. Very clever and lots of favorable Internet buzz.
You may also want to peruse the product offerings of Nuforce-Icon, which includes a battery-rechargable iPod-sized DAC/headphone amp (Nuforce-Icon Mobile), and the Icon, a little desktop USB DAC, headphone amp, and integrated amp at $249. It doesn't have stereo RCA preamp outputs but you could use its headphone jack to drive the AudioEngines, which only input is a 1/8" stereo jack anyway. The AudioEngines come with a 6' adapter cable. Just plug it in between the Nuforce Icon headphone jack and the AudioEngine 1/8" input on the left speaker.
How about the Peachtree Nova?
80 watts, SS & high current with a tubed preamp AND a Scott Nixon designed Sabre DAC. Around $1200 from what I understand.
Mated with something like Devore Gibbons 3 or Merlin TSM-MX or perhaps Zu Tones/Druid Credenzas, oh my! I would say any of these would be a great desktop setup.
If I had the cash myself, I would go for Devores & Peachtree Nova.
The audioengine A5's came today. Out of the box they sounded just ok.. But then I remembered that my magnepan 1.6's sounded terrible out of the box so I let them play for a couple of hours while I went outside. When I came back I was just amazed. Playing straight out of the my Mac they are amazing. Huge stoundstage. Very musical. Found myself pulling out disc after disc and just listening to the music not the stereo. I hate to say this but I could live with this system alone... My main system is a Parasound a21 amp, Audio expressions tube preamp, Energy veritas speakers and Audioquest king cobra cables.
I found the Audioengines online for $325 shipped, no tax. So far I think this is the best money I have yet to spend on audio dollar for dollar.
Thanks Johnnyb53 for the suggestion on getting these.