sweet, euphonic, reasonably powerful tube amp?

I'm thinking about moving away from my ARC VT100 mkiii to something more euphonic, forgiving, and sweet-sounding...tubey, really. (The VT100 goes somewhat in that direction when using the 4-ohm tap, but it's still somewhat "dry". On the 8-ohm tap, it's way too bright for me.) I have a VTL ST150 that's sort of in that direction when in triode mode, but it's just a bit bright for my tastes, as well. I want soft, easy highs. I'm using Harbeth speakers--I have both the Compact 7's and the M30's. They are somewhat inefficient, and require some power, probably no less than 70 watts or thereabouts, give or take. I listen mostly to classical music, in a relatively small room (14x19), and usually at low volume, but sometimes I like to step it up and play some rock or push the volume with some orchestral stuff. Other requirements: vanishingly low distortion, reliability, and ease of repair.

(Basically what's happening is that I've done the hyper-revealing, detail thing, and now I want to get down to just listening to the music, so that it's less about slam, holographic imaging, and cymbals in the room with me, and more about just listening to the music--not that I don't like a certain amount of those things!)

My budget, on the used market, could be anywhere between $3000 - 5000. On the pre-amp side, I have a GNSC-modified ARC SP8, a BAT VK31 w/ bugle boys, and I just bought a second hand Mac 2200, which I'm trying out because I want--Yes, believe it or not--a tone control!

(I really am whimping out, I guess!)

Whats the room like?
I bought Quicksilver V-4 for sound, reliability, re-tubeing cost and original cost. They handle the styles of music you like and fill the low distortion,reliability and ease of repair bill also, at least worth a listen. I use mine with Vandersteen 3A sigs 87 db and the V-4's drive them easily.
How about a McIntosh MC275?
I'd suggest older Jadis JA80s using KT-88s, the Quicksilvers mentioned above or perhaps some of the older VAC amps.
That Quicksilver V4 is an execellent recommendation for what you are looking for, and there is one up for sale now. Hard to beat for the price.
That Quicksilver V4 is an excellent recommendation for what you are looking for, and there is one up for sale now. Hard to beat for the price, quite a bit less than you are willing to spend and I don't think you'll do better spending up to your limits.
Usblues - The room is a standard suburban living room with wooden floors, rugs, various furniture, sheetrock walls, and windows on one side, treated with Marigo dots. Domestic issues limit my ability to fiddle with room acoustics. The speakers are on the short side, on either side of the fireplace.

Those of you that recommend Quicksilvers or the Mac 275, first, thank you, and second, have you heard these amps in comparison with ARC or VTL?

Many thanks
maqc mc 2102 of cj prem 12's
I'm fairly familiar with the VT100s and ARC amps generally - few are sweet and euphonic. Besides sounding great, there is unlikely a more reliable tube amp the QS, they are very, very easy to bias, and they are quite attractive; which counts a little bit. If you want really sweet and euphonic, you might also want to consider some of the older Conrad-Johnson gear using EL34s.
What 6550's are your using in to VT-100? Some are brighter than others. have you tried lowering the bias slightly? That will also take a bit of edge off. If the amp were either the MK I or II, I'd suggest rolling the 6922's into a Mullard or Brimar to provide the euphonics and glaze you prefer. That 6H30 is your thorn right now! have you tried a Mullard or Brimar 12AT7 driver in that excellent VTL amp? That might give you just the right amount of warmth/sweetness in the midrange to make you happy. (http://www.upscaleaudio.com/product.asp?itemid=31&catid=45) (http://www.tubemonger.com/12AT7_ECC81_E81CC_ECC801S_6201_s/8.htm) You might give a pair of those a shot before spending a bunch on another amp. Too bad there aren't more options for the 6350.
Rodman - My VT100 is a mkiii, so I'm stuck with the 6H30. I'm reluctant to roll NOS tubes in an amp. Tube problems with an amp can be a bit more dramatic than with a pre-amp.

Pubul57 - Thanks for the thought about the CJ's. I had an MV75a 25 years ago, then tried a Premier 4 and thought it was too bright. Haven't tried anything since. I gather that EL34 tubes can generally be softer and more laid back? What CJ's do you recommend?

Funny- I've been rolling NOS tubes in my amps for decades without one issue. Happy searching!
Hi Eweedhome. I am no expert on CJ. I based my comment on listening to the MV55 and MV60s both of which use EL34s. They were warm and sweet to my ears, and I imagine an MV100 would be similar with more power. I don't necessarily think EL34s are always sweet and euphonic, it depends on the circuit design too, but for the most part I think amps using them tend to be on the warmer side of neutral. The QSV4 use KT88s and I think are also on the warm side of neutral with significant power and bass energy.
Circuit design is an obvious variant but apples to apples I have found that the EL-34's have a seemingly more inherent midrange richness than the 6550's or even KT-88's My experience is based on my last tubed monos, the VTL MB-125's which are 4 x EL-34's per channel and can do tetrode or [1/2 power] triode. They provide much of what you're seeking in tetrode but almost all you're looking for in triode. I can also second the recommendation for the older MV series CJ's, perhaps an MV-125 IF you can find one (I've had my eye out for one for awhile) or an MV-100. I went to CJ from the VTL's with Premier 12's right now which are using 6550's. Sound went from velvet to silk in the midrange (rich and creamy to less fat but more "zest"), bottom went from ballsy, fast and strong to even faster, a bit leaner, somewhat more defined, and the top end went from ever so slightly rolled off (but didn't miss it), relaxed and natural to considerably faster, more detailed and extended but with no hints of harshness or bite. Each sound is a new acquired preference but it sounds like the EL-34's meet your description better. VTL also makes an EL-34 based bigger pair of monos.. I think they're MB-250's or so ?? Correct me if I'm wrong. I know they made MB-225's that were strictly triode and used 6550's but they also had a tetrode/triode switchable one with the EL-34's too I think. Might be worth a listen.I've also heard great things about the Dodd 120 monos (again, EL-34 based). Good luck.
The gentleman who inquired about your room is, I think, on to something. You appear to be trying to use your amplifier as a tone control, and I submit that is the wrong approach. Instead, identify what it is in your system that makes the sound harsh and address that issue.

The room is the most important component. You may well be hearing the harshness of room effects, and I would strongly suggest room treatments. They don't have to look very intrusive. I had an acoustical consultant listen to and look at my room, and he recommended placing "BAD panels" (basic acoustic diffusor, I think it stands for) manufactured by RPG. They are not sound-deadening absorbers, rather they diffuse the sound and disrupt standing waves. They are flat, hang from the wall like a painting, and can be covered in fabric available in many colors. You don't have to hire the acoustician to do this yourself, and it's less expensive treating your room than it would be to replace the amp. Please do that first, then decide if you need a new amp.
Give BAT 75SE a try. It's not tubey, euphonic, nor romantic, but it does sound more musical and purer than ARC VT-100 III which I owned for a very brief period and quickly sold after comparing to my BAT 75SE. Could be a good match to your BAT 31
Drastic - Thanks for your comments about the room, but as I tried to indicate previously, further work on room acoustics is not possible, for domestic reasons. Further, as noted, I've already treated the windows, the floors are covered with rugs, there is a fair bit of sound-absorbing furniture in the room, and oil paintins on the walls. The room is not ideal, but equipment I've heard in showrooms does not sound substantially different than in the room. I think the real issue is this: My ideal for hi-fi sound I'd like to listen to is mid-hall Carnegie Hall, and most equipment does not lean in that direction (and the same is often enough true for recordings). And, indeed, you're quite right, I AM trying to use not only the amp, but every piece of equipment I own, as a tone control, in the broadest sense (encompassing timbre, top end, bottom end, etc.). From time to time, I see comments that suggest that there is something wrong with that, and I just don't get it. It's as if there is one only one absolutely correct and ideal system sound, and if my system deviates from that, then I'm doing something wrong. I don't buy into that for a variety of reasons, but that's another thread.

Semi - Thanks very much for letting me know about the BAT vs. the ARC. I'm glad to hear of someone who's heard both. I've wondered if I might like the BAT 75 non-SE better than the BAT 75SE? I understand the SE extends the treble, etc., and am fearful that I may find that less to my liking.

Lissnr - Thank you for your comments about VTL - but I'm puzzled. As noted, I'm now listening to the VTL ST150 (which I think is 6550's) in triode mode. It's really very good in triode mode, I must agree. However, if I'm finding that to nevertheless seem a bit on the bright side, wouldn't I likely feel the same way about VTL's EL34-based gear? That assumes there is a "house" sound for VTL, but maybe the EL34-based gear sounds a bit different?

I'm in the process of looking into older CJ's, by the way. It's been on my list as a possibility for a year or so--now might be the time.

Many thanks to all, and I'm looking forward to any further suggestions.
i was told by a tube seller that the el34 tube is not kind to the ear. i realize that it depends upon the circuit, but my experience listening to many amps using that tube is not very positive. i prefer the sound of an el84 tube. unfortunately many are required to achieve more than 100 watts/channel.

i am considering a beard amp. it is up for sale on audiogon, 70 watts using 24 el84s, ouch !.

the other amp which has been suggested , the mv125 is also on my list.
You might also look for amps that are built with oil/paper caps in the signal path. Those lend the sound that you are searching for as well.
For fear of making even more generalities here we all have our deserved experience based opinions but lets dabble a bit more with [hopefully] more of these and not our pre-conceived notions. As stated above, circuit design can significantly extract uncharacteristic impressions from tube types you'd never suspect (both positively and negatively), so I find it prudent to reiterate the minimal use of the terms "good or bad" when it comes to the general description of a certain tube-type's sound. With that said, personally I haven't found an EL-34 based tube amp that I didn't find appealing in its overall musical delivery They are generally characterized by a "lusher" sounding midrange and as such will typically deliver some extraordinary vocals and many stringed instruments also sound particularly warm and inviting. It's frequency extremes are sometimes less impressive because the top end MAY come across as a bit rolled off and the bottom may not be as extended as others. This is only IMHO, as there are many others who are far more experienced in specific tube rolling and swapping brands of NOS, etc, who can fill you in better than I. As for the VTL house sound, I believe it is considered a good natural and lifelike midrange, powerful, punchy lows, and "pleasant" but not necessarily extended highs.... and this has been my personal experiences with them. The 6550 based amps will probably be a little more extended at both extremes and a bit less lush sounding in the mids.. I've grown accustomed to this sound (especially with the EL-34 based amp) and as I said before, am "re-adjusting" to the CJ sound (using the 6550's). Triode mode will differ from a 6550 (brighter) to an EL-34 (more romantic) also, and this is what I was basing my first response to your inquiry on. There are plenty of other ways to "persuade" your end result sound such as speaker cables and I/C's as well as powercords.... each area is another can of worms to sift through... and that would be another thread too. Good luck.
Well said Lissnr. I think you have the basic sound of EL34 versus 6550/KT88(a little different than 6550)correct as implemented in most amplifiers. I switch from EL34 to KT88 in my Music Reference RM9SE to get just the difference you describe based on the type of music I'm listening to.

I'm not sure what Mrtennis' experiences are with EL34s, but I'm suprised to hear him say "not kind to the ear"; they are kind to my ears, but we all hear differently and have different expecations.
This has been a terrifically helpful thread and I thank all the contributors.

Today I bought a 2nd hand CJ Premier 11, which I'm having sent to Bill Thalman to upgrade, etc. So I will experience what I guess would be a "mid-period" CJ sound, which should sound different from the VTL and the ARC. If it doesn't work for me, I'll try something else.

That having been said, let me ask the EL34 fans, what are some of your favorite EL34 amps that have the lush, warm and inviting sound to which you refer? (Maybe I should have bought one of those...and maybe that will be next...who can't help but be attracted to the notion of "audio as warm bath," after all?)
Funny that you asked about 75 vs. 75SE. I started out with BAT 150, I liked the sound but it sure wasn't head and shoulder above say ARC VT-100 II/III or SF Power 2 or 2SE which I have all heard in the same system for an extended period of time. Among them, ARC VT-100 III was probably my least favorite because it was sterile and analytical, it was like listening to hi-fi. MK II and SF 2SE are similar in the sense that they both offer sweetness without being tubey. If I had to choose between them, I will pick SF 2SE for ease of tube bias and look.

as soon as I plug in 75SE, all questions were answered. it has everything I want from an amp. top end is pristine, transparent, and extended. but unlike ARC III, it is not analytical or hi-fi sounding. speed is also the forte of 75SE, I haven't heard tube amp to sound so quick and fast before.

davidgarretson on Audiogon is a great guy who will share his experience on how to further improve the 75SE. I will be selling mine soon since I moved up to 150SE, still not sure if that's the best decision I made since 6C33 does generate a lot of heat.
You can guess my vote... my VTL MB-125's stayed in my system longer than any single component ever did for very good reason (about 7 years). The tetrode mode could kick butt all over the place and the triode mode ( mostly late night listening) was the unifying thread between a good cabernet, candle light, and all that romantic kind of stuff.... what it did for intimate vocals and the fireplace-on-a-cold-winter-night thing was incredible. The Premier 11 will be very very close to my changeover to the Premier 12's was...as per above; I suspect you'll like it more than your ARC based on what you've been saying and it may be a good step in the right direction without going too far right away. Good luck with it and keep us informed.