Spend my $8,000 pt. 2

A rehash of some previous threads so I apologize, but I'd love some help!

Need a pre/power and phono-stage (HO MC or MM) for my system system (Sony SCD-1, Totem Forests, MH MMF 7--soon to be VPI Aries 2--variety of cables), have about $8,000. I'm auditioning:

Plinius 9200 (no balanced inputs!)
BAT VK-300XSE (bad phono?)
Sim i-7 (no phono!)
JRDG Concerto (bad phono/digital?)
Accustic Arts Power 1(no phono/underpowered?)


Aesthtix Janus (tube--too warm?)
Ayre K1xe (over my budget!)

I know I'm picky, and I know I need to make a compromise: I either need a killer Integrated, which doesn't sacrifice too much to separates, and add a good phono stage; or, I need a preamp with a killer phono stage and find it a good power amp. Given these choices which do you think entails less of a sacrifice?

I'm also having trouble getting first-hand opinions on any of the phono sections of the components above that have them onboard. I hear the 9200 phono-stage is actually good, but only from a poster who doesn't use it. The BAT seems to get tepid reactions. Apparently no one in the _world_ owns the JRDG Concerto with the phono stage. People love the Aesthetix Calypso and the Rhea Phono, but I can't find many opnions on the Janus. Any first hand experience with these phono stages?

I only have room for two boxes. I'm not looking for lush/warm tube sound, just something accurate, neutral, with pin-point accuracy and great imaging...sheesh, I want it all! The Aesthetix at $6500 means I'll need to buy a temp. amp used and then save for something better, which I'm not adverse to. I want something that will stave off the upgrade bug and mate well with sources and speakers higher up the food chain, since I know my SCD-1 and Forests aren't the final word (for me at least). Help!

And just think, soon you get to help me pick either a phono stage or a power amp. Oh Joy!

Thanks a ton!
I had a VK3i with the phono card. If that is the same as in the 300x then is was fair, but that's about all.
Too bad the Ayre K-1XE is over your budget, because the phono cards are quite good. Very detailed and yet musical. It also has a very, very black background, which is the thing I love most about it. (I much prefer it to my old ARC PH-3 phono stage, as there is no tube rushing.)

Well, good luck in your search.
Hi again, looks like you're getting close now to a lovely setup...

For 8 grand you might find a Klyne System 7 or a Hovland HP 100 preamp, and still have enough left for a Simaudio Moon W-3 or W-5. The Klynes are separate boxes for preamp and phono stage, but they're half-height and should fit on one shelf if they need to. I've heard the Simaudio amps with the Totems and I think they are made for each other, but if you want tubes, c-j amplification also sounds very fine with these speakers.

If you are limited to what's on your list, then without knowing all of the items on it, I would tend towards the Moon i-7 and a phono stage (and here I would listen to Audiomat). I liked the Accustic Arts integrated but for my taste and money, if there is any question of a power shortage with Totems, choose something else.
Swampwalker: Yeah, that's what I gather about the BAT. I don't think it's ultimately the route for me regardless of the phono. This is a petty concern (and I'm petty person) but I can't stand the look of the BAT. I know it should be abot the music, and I know cosmetics are all subjective, but I'm an art dealer and can't avoid what runs through my veins.

Kurt_tank: I'm now considering the Ayre, but would have to find a good price on it, or save up some more loot. I read great things about the Phono stage, and the thing that worries me about the Aesthetix Janus is that there could be tube-rush. Anyone experience this? I could always add the Ayre outboard phono to an integrated...

Tobias: I'm getting warmer (thanks to everyone's help!) I also love the sim/totem combo. Totem uses Sim and Ayre equipment when they demo, so the K-1 and the i-7 are interesting. I'm actually nervous about the idea of tubes, because it means more tweaking and maintenace down the road compared to SS. However, the Janus gets great reviews and has some great features (that even the Ayre lacks) so I'll make careful study of it. If I stick to my budget, I could get the Sim i-7 and the Ayre outboard phono for about the same as the Aesthetix Janus would cost me, and I wouldn't have to shell out extra for a power amp. I guess the question is do I want to be limited to my choice of phono stage, and get to play around with diff. power amps, or be limited to the power amp and try diff. phono stages. I listen to 50/50 vinyl/cd so that's a tough decision. Anone else in this predicament?

Thanks everyone, and keep the help coming!
Here's an option. The new Modwright preamp at $2200 will outperform almost any preamp out there under 5-6K. I have heard it as well as have been told this by Dan and several others. Take a look at it and then you can reallocate your funds for phone stage and power amp. If you want to even have some monet left over try a pair of Channel Island DM 100 or 200 amps with the Modwright preamp. If the CI phono stage is half as good as the mono blocks, then you are done.
Cellorover: Thanks for the info. As the Aesthetix pre is 6500 and the Ayre pre is 8600, it appears I'm not looking at preamps under 5-6K. I'm not looking to spend this money on principa (the plinius is on my list)l, it's just worked out that way, because, and this is the other thing I've mentioned above, I only want 2 boxes (covering pre/power and phono) and these seem to satisfy my needs without sacrificing too much in any area. Also, I'm sure the Modwright is a great preamp, and I'm sure Dan has every right to be confident in it, but I will only buy gear that I can audition in NYC, and I think this precludes the Modwright. Someone emailed me offline to say they thought the sim i-7 and ayre p-5xe combo would possibly rival the aesthetix janus and ayre v-5xe combo but at about 3 grand less (although they haven't heard the i-7) so that'll bear some looking into.
have you looked at the classe cap-151 integrated? also, the mcintosh ma-6900 is a nice integrated.
Rbstehno: I like the classe unit, but It also only goes to 225 at 4 ohm, and while that's not a concern with the Totems, I don't want to rule out the idea of getting a pair of huge brutes down the road if I end up finding something I like more than the Verity Fidelios. Also, I think the Plinius 9200 sounds better.

The Mcintosh I don't like. I know some people love Mc gear, I just may not be one of them. It's also HUGE, which is a drawback, and don't like the EQ feature (although I don't have to use it, I know).

Is it possible that there aren't integratedes in the sub 8K area that rival seperate pre/amp combos (w/out phono) the same way there are Preamps with onboard phonos that rival a line/outboard phono combo?

It seems more people end up trading their integrated for a pre/power combo than swapping out their Preamp for a 2-box line/phono solution; however, this is like comparing apples and oranges (and I'm by no means a fruit expert).

Mimberman, "Aesthtix Janus (tube--too warm?)" Not a chance. Aesthetix is some of the best sounding front end equipment I have ever heard. That is why I own a Rhea and Calypso. It has all the "tube sound" advantages and none of the detriments. It is one of the least "old tube" sounding tube systems I know. Sorry I can't answer the Janus question directly as I too have never compared it head to head with Jim Whites other fine gear. With Totems and a VPI you have an excellent base. Be sure to match an amp(s) that have great synergy with the speakers. No other part of the Hifi needs to be as well matched, beyond maybe the TT/tonearm/cartridge pairing IMHO. LOL
R_f_sayles: After reading your back and forth with the ARC supporters on Perfectionist's thread on the Calypso, I'm scared what would happen if I _didn't_ get the Janus. Actually, after a long discussion with a really helpful Agoner (and the posts above!) it's looking like the only things I'm seriously considering from the ridiculously long list of gear are the following:

Sim i-7 + seperate phono stage (Aesthetix Rhea or Ayre P-5xe)
JRDG Concerto
Aesthetix Janus + power amp (to be determined)

I've been reading a bunch on the Janus and Aesthetix in general, and am very intrigued. My worries over tube warmth and high noise floor have been assuaged, and I think that it may make more sense to get a preamp I could live with for the conceivable future, as opposed to an integrated I might be tempted to upgrade. HOWEVER, I'm giving all these a try, because, well, I haven't heard them yet and I'd be an idiot not to. I gotta trust my ears, right (at least while there's still not too much hair growing out of them).

Any thoughts on power amps for the Janus? (sim, rowland, mccormack, etc. come to mind...would like to keep it SS)

The Ayre is outta my budget, the Plinius would be here for about 10 days and then be re-listed, the BAT I don't love (and feel like they're kicking you in the groin by making you purcahse the remote..I mean honestly!) and the Accustic Arts I can't demo (seems they've been dropped by their only NY dealer!?!)

I've noticed it's impossible for me to write any post that's less than about 2000 words, and half of them are just filler. Maybe I should start reviewing equipment professionaly? heh...
I agree that some have had some tube noise problems with the Aesthetix. Not me, or two of my immediate friends. Yet I realize by the threads of A'gon that it exists. Both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound have recently reviewed these units and list them as recommended or editors choice components if you take any stock in that kind of thing. And yes I agree that if you went the extra mile to buy separates in the long run you would not be disappointed. As for amps... I'm not full of answers given your budget. Maybe a pair of used Atma-Sphere M60's and the Aesthetix (used) could be the trick. I have Atma-Sphere OTL's and I swear by them. I'm not sure what would be the best match for the Totems and can't remember for the life of me what I heard them with. I also agree... to trust your ears in the final analysis. Cheers!
R_f_sayles: It seems Jim White is good at customer service (some say he's slow, but I've had not experience, clearly, so I'll reserve any opinion) so should a problem develop I'm confident he'll stand behind the product. As far as the reviews go, it's nice, but ultimately not a deal breaker. I did a little rading on the Atma-Spheres, but I think I'm going to stick with SS for now. I want tubes somewhere in the chain, but I think I'll start with the Pre, as this is my first tube exposure and I want to take my time getting used to it. Likely contenders would be a sim w-5, Rowland 201s, McCormack 250, and there are some nice classe's out there, or maybe an old rowland, but I'd prefer to buy new. What do your buddies use with their Aesthetix gear?
To answer your query, my friends us Atma-Sphere or other tube gear with their Aesthetix. It's not a requirement but rather a choice. I understand your like of SS to do the power end of the scenario and see nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of great SS amps out there. If it hadn't been for a number of events coming together; a good friend with Atma-Sphere OTL's and two years of my listening at his home and the fact that the amps are not flea powered by any means (mine, MA-1 MK2.3 Silver editions are 140w@8ohms and I'm driving 14ohm speakers) and the fact that I found an excellent deal on a demo pair through a great dealer on A'gon, I might still be SS myself. Not to try to sell you on tubes or Atma-Sphere yet, I find these amps handle the full musical range very completely. Their ability to give great textural detail in a solid lower registry is more than I have heard from a number of SS amps. Solid state is known for fast, rock solid bass and extended high end and in general tubes are not. Here is where Ralph’s OTL’s break all the rules. IMHO these amps leave nothing to be desired. They show lots of air, throw a great sound stage, very fast, pitch accurate, and highly detailed without being analytical at all. I find them just very musical and quite complete. The one caveat is that some speaker loads, I think 4ohm, cause difficulties and are not the best suited for pairing with these amps. Personally I know little of the compatibility problems, as I have no experience with trying to pair them.

Just a note about Jim White or for that matter Ralph Karsten equally, you would be hard pressed to find two more helpful and knowledgeable, true audiophile gentlemen if you tried. Read A’gon threads and I believe you will not find one curse word about either.

I do not have a tremendously varied background of experience as many on A’gon do with a plethora of various equipment. I have always listened carefully and long and then spent my money. As an example I have owned a Linn Sondek Lp12 TT since 1983 and don’t see the need to try a hundred other decks to figure out which flavor I like (this week). For you, and especially because this is my first tube foray and potentially my last due to the excellent quality of this equipment and excellent quality of support, I would not be the most unbiased and diversely knowledgeable for recommendations. I hope this longwinded explanation has been helpful.
Happy hunting and in the words of Elmer Fudd “Shhhhhh! Quiet, we’re hunting wabbit! Cheers!
If your considering a Simaudio i-7 then you might want to also consider this combo of the Simaudio W-5 and Copland CTA 305. In addition to the five sets of line level inputs, the CTA 305 offers a high quality phono level amplifier.

also see UHF, Reference Systems;
Heli_dog: Thanks for the heads up. What are you using the Copland with? Have you compared its phono stage with anything else? I can't seem to find who reps them in NY, so I guess I'll email the copland people. Anyone have an idea?

Also, any Rowland 201 users want to chime in on what they think of the sound? Man am I demanding!

Thanks everyone for your help...I'll continue to update this thread as I audition (starting this friday!) just in case anyone is interested. Maybe someday I'll even be able to add pics of my system, if I ever get to set it up. If you're selling/renting an apt. in downtown manhattan let me know!!!!
So I finally got to audition the rowland gear. I couldn't listen to the integrated, but I heard the concerto pre with the rowland 201s, with a meridian cd player and some B&Ws. The sound was unimpressive. Everything sounded rather condensed, especially in the lows and mids. The soundstage was pretty deep, and the imaging was rather nice, but something about the highs seemed to assault my ears. It seemed a little grating, and didn't make me want to listen. I'm not a B&W fan in general, although I have liked some of their stuff in my time, but this was just a bad match. I tried to get them to switch in some proacs, which I'm much more familiar with, but they only had them on special order. I think it's hysterical that a store of this size and inventory only has B&W speakers to audition with...filling quotas much? So that wasn't my cup of tea.

The Sim i-7 is apparently still not available, which is a bit of a drag. I mean, I know shipment dates aren't concrete things, but that's why it's better to say "Available in Fall 2005" instead of "Available in August 2005". I listened to an ayre K1xe at a friends place and ultimately think it's pretty great, but not for me. I listened to the Aesthetix Janus with a Cary 303/300, Bat VK-250, an Avid TT, and a pair of Audio Physics. The sound was great in the mids highs, but the bass, although it had great extension into the lower registers, sounded a little sluggish and murky. We swapped in some Electra 927BEs and it was a different ballgame altogether. If I was just looking for a line stage or just looking for a phono stage, I think I'd still get the Janus. Jesus, what a piece of equipment. I liked the BAT quite a bit too, and I think it had remarkably little signature. I almost wonder what their tube amp would sound like in this setup, but I'm still partial to SS at this stage. The Avid table sounded killer, and I need to find out the model # of it, because it's the first Avid I've heard and I _really_ enjoyed it. Some people have said they sound slow, but I disagree in this case. Also, I noted none of the tube rush on the Janus that others have cited. It was exceedingly quiet and not nearly as hot as I feared. Okay, so it's not winning any awards for power conservation, but if it sounds this good, who f-in cares.

So it looks like the Aesthetix is the winner. Next up: TT and cables.
I relistened to the Avid and I retract my earlier statement. It may sound a bit slow in comparison to the super scoutmaster. Not that it's a bad table, and I'm not even sure slow is the right word to describe the sound, but I think it involves some careful matching in other areas (but what doesn't?). In any case, I'll need to save up for the power amplifier before any changes to my analog source so I'll bother you all later when the time comes for my TT.
I remember your quandry, I'm in the same boat. I just recently heard the Chord 2600 -- a very sweet sounding integrated which has the most open sound for an integrated I have heard. Very tubelink for solid state with a big soundstage, lots of depth and very musical. Sorry to add one more amp to the mix, but if you can find one used, about 3k, you will have an amp that can last you years. It is 120 wpc into 8 and 170 wpc into 4 ohm load, very stable, no phono stage.

I heard the plinius hooked up to a pair of proc speakers, the chord as well. The chord made the plinius' soundstage sound compressed. The chord has such an extremely open presentation that it is never fatiguing. I am looking at buying an integrated and my search is over.

If you want to see a review, check out this link:


It is from the Absolute Sound, from March/April

Good luck.
re: last post -- saw you are an art dealer, you will love the look of the Chord...
Catch Up: Greetings Mimberman-- FYI Modwright has a dealer in the New York area. But if you are still hunting, CJ has new amp coming out this fall called the Premier 150 CA. It is half the Premier 350 with switching and volume control from the Premier 18. So you have your first box --killer power amp with superb control functions. Now you can go after the phonostage.
Trust your head's still spinning from all the gear combos sent your way, plus your concern over tube reliability.

If you can "stand the truth" (not offered in an arrogant way)...my following comments are driven by:

1.Over 30 yrs of listening and usually loving (at least initially) two-channel REAL MUSIC LPs and CDs (not "audiophile" demo discs) through a succession of high-end systems.
2.Over 30 yrs of searching for a more pleasing, MUSICAL response from many systems as I spent years and much cash on The Latest & Greatest promoted by box pushers disguised as audio "salon" experts.
3.The realization that I needed to get past the eye candy and technobabble and truthfully ask myself:
"Does the music or the gear matter most to me? Do I really enjoy shopping for and then looking at my system, like women enjoy shopping for shoes, or do I want to spend my precious time enjoying a MUSICAL system and shop for new artists' discs instead?

As a result, I purchased and still enjoy MUSIC through two tube integrateds: Main system: VAC Avatar Super (the "Super" is an apt description) with VAC's step-up phono x'former for my low output MC cart. Second system: Audiomat Prelude Reference.

The Prelude came first, was in my main system with a very good ss phono stage and I thought I was through shopping. After hearing a friend's Avatar Super, reading the review, and talking with the helpful/honest/music-loving folks at VAC, a demo came home and is still in my main system.

The VAC is dead silent (even on phono with the gain way up and no LP playing). It lets the MUSIC through without added syrup, controlls both hard- and easy-to-drive speakers with authority and finess. It has Mac-like build quality and beauty throughout. It is conservatively designed and rated for thousands of hours of trouble free use. It takes 30 seconds to bias the four KT88s using the front panel pots and the lighted front panel mounted meter. After the first 50 hours, I now bias the tubes once every other month, when I remember to do so.

I've owned many separates and several integrateds and must say the current crop of better integrateds perform as well or better as higher level separates. The only down side is you get to dispense with the "snake oil" ICs between your pre and amp!

Have fun and good luck!