Trelja's new tube amplifiers - Granite 860.1

In the past month, I have purchased a pair of Granite 860.1 tube monoblock amplifiers for my main system, and could not be happier.

The first thing I would like to say is that I have absolutely no relationship to Granite whatsoever. Although, since buying these amplifiers, I have been in contact with Don Hoglund, and have developed an incredible amount of respect for the man. Don has built an American (VERY important to me) high end audio, which produces incredibly great sounding gear at prices I find extremely attractive. In the short time that I have gotten to know Don, I see that customer support, and service after the sale are two things that Granite goes out of its way on. These traits are actually followed through on, not just lip service.

I had purchased a Granite 657 tube CD player in the winter, as some will recall the CD players that have really impressed me most in my audio journey were the Audio Aero Capitole, Electrocompaniet, Granite 650, and YBA. Based on my pleasure with the 657, I decided to take the next step and try a pair of the 860.1 tube amplifiers.

One small anecdote I would like to share with everyone here before I get too deep into this is that while playing these amplifiers the morning after getting them, my wife asked if she could have them in her system! She was simply enchanted by the sonics. On top of that, the very manageable size and attractive cosmetics had turned her into an instant Granite fanatic. Within one song, she enthusiastically commented to me that she has never heard anything as special as what she was currently hearing. No matter what, when your wife gets bowled over by a purchase, you know something VERY different is going on.

Allow me to give a general introduction of the Granite 860.1 monoblock tube amplifiers. These amps are about half the width of a typical component, and their weight is also manageable. Side by side, a pair should fit nicely into a rack, presuming said rack is tall enough to accommodate their 9" height. Despite this, I can assure you that no corners have been cut whatsoever. The amplifiers look very attractive to me with their exposed tubes, covered transformers, polished stainless steel bodies, and acrylic matrix faceplates with the luxuriously relaxing cool blue Granite logo glowing soothingly bright.

These amplifiers are sure to please a very wide variety of individuals due to their myriad settings. They can operate in triode or pentode, and with varying amounts of feedback, from none at all to a moderate amount. Each setting is different enough that one will get the impression they just bought a stable of amplifiers, and can choose the one they feel suits them best. And, while the included tubes are the fantastic JJ KT88, tube rollers are sure to be in heaven. The amps can run 6L6, EL34, 6550, and KT90 as well. Don has definitely built the amps for the ultimate in ease as each tube is independently biased, mitigating the need for matched pairs.

Although I was told the amps were optimally set up to sound best, triode with no feedback, the curiousity in me drove me to try all of the possible combinations. In the end, it served nothing more than proving what I had been told. Operating the amps in triode with zero feedback produced the best sonics - alive, beatiful, sweet, incredible!

I had been warned that the Granite monos were not warm amps, but they were sweet. Interesting, I thought, but totally accurate. Theirs is not the lush, warm euphony a lot of tube amplifiers exhibit, masking over detail and excitement for ease of listening. No, these amps had as much detail as anyone would ever ask for, but there was something quite magical about the sound. I keep going back to the words sweet and beautiful when describing the Granites.

Anyone who has known me here for the past five years knows that, as opposed to the tubes themselves, I always harp on a tube amplifier's transformers. Let's face facts, the heart, soul, guts, and expense of a tube amplifier are its transfomers. What separates the good or not so good tube amplifiers from the great ones, the Air Tights, Audio Notes, BATs, Jadis, Lamms, and Thors of the world, are the transfomers. Add Granite to this very esteemed list.

Although Granite doesn't hype them much, my own opinion is that the secret weapon of these ampifiers are the transformers. First off, they are huge. Overspeced to be sure. These massive trannies are the reason I simply laugh when I read the amplifiers are rated at a mere 30 watts per channel in triode. The Granites are without a doubt the most powerful two EL34/KT88/6550/KT90 tube a side amplifiers I have ever encountered. Suffice it to say that they absolutely drive the pants off of my Coincident loudspeakers, sending their 10" woofers flapping around with authority - my own personal judge of an amplifier's bass response. A lot of amps require the owner to make the switch to pentode when the situation becomes demanding, not the Granites. You can run them in the pure, sweet, dimensional triode mode all the live long day.

A very interesting feature of these amplifiers are the integral Alps volume controls. This lends the capability of being able to run a line level source, such as a CD player, directly into the amps. The immediacy, clarity, refinement, dynamics, and slam I observe in this configuration flat out make me believe I may never use a preamp ever again in my life if I can help it.

I do not hesitate to say this is the best sound I have ever gotten from my system. Late night listening marathons are now once again a regular occurrence for me. They are simply a joy. While the sound includes everything I have outlined above, there is no listening fatigue whatsoever. I can listen all night, pulling out CD after CD after CD. Discs I have written off long ago not only become listenable but downright enjoyable for me.

From a service perspective, one major concern I had voiced to Don was that some in this field will not make the circuit diagram available to the consumer. While it would surely be nice if products didn't break or companies did not go out of business, but the reality is that both of these happen. As such, if the company dies, then the component dies, you may be stranded up the creek with no paddle. Don assured me this was no problem, and at that moment I knew I had found the company I would throw my full faith, allegiance, and support behind.

In short, I honestly believe I probably have just come into a lifetime purchase. The combination of wonderful sonics, outstanding value, American craftsmanship, a great company which stands behind them, and Don himself make me wonder why I have taken so long to find this path. I encourage anyone who is able, to give the Granite tube ampifiers an audition. I think you may just come away thinking they are one of the absurdly best buys in high end audio today, definitely reference level components for a quite modest pricetag. Granite is the type of company that leaves me confident that an American company can compete with the best from the rest of the world. The requirement being a young, agile, clear thinking, creative, passionate, smart company such as Granite. I recommend the Granite 860.1 monoblocks, and the Granite nameplate unconditionally at this point.

Thanks for the review Joe. While I'm into much larger amps right now, I'll be pondering your words and those of others as I think about next steps. In the shorter term, the cd player sounds interesting. I'll check to see if they have a multi-format player.

By the way, your wife has her own system?
Thanks for your comments, Ozfly!

Yes, my wife has her own system. It is something she can use for playing music, watching tv(semi HT), and karaoke. It consists of a Lasonic DVD karaoke player(junk!), Sony SCD-C333ES SACD changer(actually, quite competent), Sansui T80 tuner, Jadis Orchestra Reference integrated amplifier, and Fried A/6 loudspeakers(she'll be getting new speakers soon).

Believe it or not, I didn't ask what she thought about the Granites. She saw them the night before and said, "Great, this idiot just bought another pair of amps. He needs more stereo equipment like he needs a hole in the head." But, the next morning, the gloriuos sound of The Chieftains prompted her to enter the room with an unsolicited comment that she never heard such wonderful sound. After looking over the amps, she decided that they belong in her system - she's NOT getting them.

From what I understand, Granite makes two CD players, the solid state output 650, and the 657, which also includes a variable tube output(actually a built in preamp?). With the 657, you can run either way, and they are quite different sounding so it is truly like buying two CD players in one. The solid state output is more relaxed and liquid, the tube section has more sparkle and shimmer - a "beautiful" kind of sound that is difficult for me to describe.

Like the amps, the tube output of the 657 CD player allows one to get away from using a preamp, and run directly into any power amp for a very immediate, impactful, dynamic, detailed sound.

I waited a very long time for SACD to take root, but after seeing it kind of just hang there, I decided it was time to go for a serious CD player. If SACD does gain more traction in the future, I would be interested in a very serious "destination" player for my main system from whatever estimable company builds a great machine(hopefully, Granite).
Trelja great review!

I have no experience with the amps, but I have owned the 770 preamp for a little more than a year now. The 770 is absolutely fantastic as well, and quite frankly it has me perplexed as to why Granite Audio is not better known.

After receiving the preamp I took it over to two local dealer's places and we proceeded to do some comparative listening via the integrated phono stage. One dealer had nothing in his store that could beat it, and at the other place we couldn't best it until we got up to phono and line stage combos costing over 10K.

I knew nothing about the company until Positive Feedback released their review of the 770 on their site. At the time, I was leaning towards purchasing a Lamm LL2 linestage, but the review and what he compared it against really turned my head. Then I think the deal breaker was just the interior shots of the preamp. Compare the inside of the 770 vs. just about anything else in its price range and the build quality, attention to detail, and parts quality will pretty much blow the competition out of the water. I know it did when compared to the Lamm.

I have found Don also to be a pleasure to deal with over the phone. And I too, also find the looks of the gear to be pleasing, but I do have to say the entirely granite encased pieces don't work for me at all.
Good comprehensive review. I am currently looking for both a cd player and amp and favor tubes. Would you know how would one contact Don and is there a website? Thanks.
UHH - Maybe Link is here. Looks like an interesting site at first glance. Bob.
Nice review. However, I'm wondering if your unconditional endorsement of Granite extends to their cables and claims of using six 9 purity silver. Is that really possible???
Thanks for the contributions guys!

Labtec, I am not actually so big into cable. The reason being I have a close friend who makes his own cable, so I see the truth behind the hype. Cable is important to a system, no doubt. But, the lunacy with which audiophiles have embraced cable really does not paint us in the best light. The vast majority of cable is manufactured by a third party, covered with a fancy braid/cosmetics, terminated, then sold for dollars on the penny.

Beyond a power cord, I have never tried any of the Granite cables. In my experience, the majority of copper power cords sound the same, a step up from the stock cord, but one should be careful not to pay over the top prices.
Trelja, you stated,

"...I always harp on a tube amplifier's transformers. Let's face facts, the heart, soul, guts, and expense of a tube amplifier are its transformers. What separates the good or not so good tube amplifiers from the great ones.....are the transformers."

I agree with you 100%. So why not "cut out the middleman", so to speak, and go with an OTL design? The lack of impedance matching transformers (when OTL is done right) eliminates any micro electro-magnetic degradations of the signal which will always occur with even the BEST transformers.
I think that what you present is definitely valid, Fatparrot.

I currently also have a pair of AtmaSphere M60 MKII.2 OTL monoblocks, and they are QUITE special. Anyone been around them knows what kind of sound they can produce. In addition, I can never say enough great things about Ralph Karsten and the company he has built. In my eyes, Ralph is a true prince. You probably know that I have been a long time fan of Atma Sphere...

However, the sound I am getting now is more to my liking. The Granite transformer coupled tube amps have introduced a liquidity and relaxed sound that I have been seeking out for a long, long time. Previously, I have made source, preamp, cable, and setup changes in order to attain the warmer, but definitely not warm, sound I was after. I had been in contact with Ralph about what I was looking for via e - mail and in person various times this year. He suggested some upgrades, most specifically a power supply modification. But, I kind of came to the conclusion that the house sound was just a bit leaner than where I was aiming. The Granites have provided what I was looking for.

As a testament to my hesitancy in walking away from them, I still have them for now. I do hope that if I sell them I will not live to regret it, but along the lines of those who sold their Quads way back, one never knows.

The Granites are richer, the Atmas leaner and more "neutral". Both are incredibly detailed and clear, but I think the Granites are more cleaner and definitely have a lower noise floor in my system. The Granites also produce a lot more slam in the bass, which was historically my only criticism of the OTL amps in the past. Though, I will say the bass they do produce is extremely tight and more extended than you would think.

I cannot argue with anyone who runs AtmaSphere amps, they are everything that I respect in a component and a company.

Incidentally, anyone interested in Granite gear should check out Quest For Sound here on Audiogon. Stephen Monte happens to be local to me, and I have gotten to know him over the past four and a half years. I can personally tell you that Stephen is a first class person and the antithesis of the typical high end audio dealer. I am certain he would be more than happy to answer any questions you have, and if you are also able to check out his new brick and mortar store, he carries an interesting array of audio.
Quite right, Trelja! I am also the proud owner of the Atma-sphere M-60 Mk 2.2 monoblocks. Ralph is a total class act, as well producing some outstanding sonically superior equipment that is also AFFORDABLE!

Hey, every high end component has it's own signature and sound...its "flavor", if you will. I think that achieving the ultimate high-end system is a misnomer, since every audiophile will have certain parameters of audio reproduction that he will prefer. For example, some people like listening at relatively high spl's; I rarely hit PEAKS of 97 dB. You seem to place an emphasis on bass performance. The Granites satisfy your "audio recipe" enjoy your "musical meal"! Too many people pay "Chez Ritz Snooty" audio prices, and end up with a "McDonald's Happy Meal" sound that is just not satisfying. Perhaps part of the problem lies with people not recognizing (or refusing to admit) their own personal sonic biases, resulting in the subsequent lack of incorporating these biases into their PERSONAL stereo system's design and progression.

B.T.W. Trelja, what are you using for speakers? Were you using a Atma-sphere preamp with your M-60's?

Thanks for a great review of the Granites. It appears that you're quite happy with the sound of your "tunes"! So many audiophiles get caught up with their gear INSTEAD OF ENJOYING THEIR MUSIC!

I agree with you whole heartedly,not only about the amps, but about Don. I have owned the 860.1's for almost three years and during that time have had dozens of conversations with Don about the amps and ways to tweak the performance. He is always there and willing and happy to talk. Like Pat from Meadowlark, Klaus from Odyssey, Roy from GMA,Mike from Quicksilver, and Dave from Belles a rare breed indeed and a real breath of fresh air in an industry full of B&W's, Levinson's and Harmon's. As for Stephen, your assesment of him as a dealer is spot on too. I have dealt with him on at least four occasions, from thousands of miles away and got the same level of service.

Ditto on Quest for Sound -- Stephen Monte is fantastic to work with, even long distance. His cables are also quite inexpensive and very capable.
Fatparrot, it seems we more or less agree! Yes, thank you for mentioning the word "affordable" when bringing up Ralph's AtmaSphere amps. The older version got to be $4650, and the new MKII.3 are something like $5150 - please correct me if I am wrong. The Granite monos list for $5000, but Stephen will take care of anyone interested.

These kind of prices for innovative, competent, well designed, great sounding AMERICAN amps really set the bar. Is there value in buying an inferior product for $3000 from an overseas company with precious little US experience and not much in the way of a track record? I guess it is for each of us to decide. I will say that both companies, and I will add Cary and Quicksilver to this list should have a good run in the high end audio marketplace for the forseeable future.

You will not see many Atmas or Granites on the used market, and those who find them are getting one heck of a deal and amps in the process.

I was running a Blue Circle BC3 preamp with the Atma Spheres. I tried JAN Philips 6922, then Valvo 7308 tubes in it. Somehow, I was never able to tame the M60s to the point I wanted. I am dumping the preamp, as I have completely lost respect for the company(believe me, you will not get the same level of service from them as Don and Ralph provide), and in my current configuration, a preamp(also tried the Joule LA150) robs the system of a tremendous amount of immediacy, slam, extension, excitement, detail, and reality.

My speakers are Coincident Digital Masters w/Troubass subwoofers. They are a good match with my AtmaSpheres, Granites, and Jadis(forgot to mention I also have one of these) amps. They seem to take to tubes well, but also are nice with solid state as the bass really perks up with a "sand amp". I overhauled the Digital Masters this spring, rebuilding the midbass drivers, installing a ScanSpeak Revelator, damping the box a bit, stuffing the insides, and rewiring the speaker. The improvements are not subtle, and produce more detail with an easier to listen to sound, combined with tremendous slam. One of these days I need to start a thread about the importance of getting a loudspeakers drivers right which I feel are akin to the tires on an automobile. Sadly, most of the high end audio drivers(from Europe) are not as wonderful as we are led to believe - they need to be rebuilt to really play correctly, to "sing".

Interestingly enough, while I was breaking them in, I turned them up a bit with the Atmas and a friend called. He said it sounded like I was playing them pretty loud. I measured it and they were playing at a rock steady 115 dB. The Atmas were not even breaking a sweat as I can reach 120 - 125 easily. ANYONE who says an OTL amp cannot rock is just flat out wrong. I also believe the Atmas are probably the most reliable and rugged amps in the world - another OTL myth debunked. How many other amps can be shorted and suffer ABSOLUTELY no damage? I have done it many times. I will have to be more careful with the Granites, but their build quality seems spectacular, so I have no doubts that they will last me a long time. Again, I am leaning towards thinking they are a lifetime purchase.

It's also good to hear that Stephen has some fans around here. I feel it important to support dealers who represent the hobby in such a positive and good natured way.
One thing you are oh so right about Fatparrot that I forgot to mention are your last comments regarding music versus gear.

The weekend before last I was around a bunch of audiophiles. One particular guy was there who ALWAYS goes on about technical minutiae, measurements, specifications, square waves, and gobbly gook. Of course, this particular day was no exception.

On the ride home, I got to wondering why this guy bothers with audio at all. I have never heard him once speak of music, the actual target of an audio system. He seems to get no enjoyment once the music comes on. In fact, it seems to annoy him, getting in the way of his audio pontifications. What a sad, sad thing. He might be much happier at a meeting of audio engineers, discussing the latest circuit and looking at data.

The whole point of this hobby is the music. My goal is quite simple when it comes to audio. I like to sit down at night, with or without a small amount of lighting, and just close my eyes and get totally into the music. Everything else(meetings, readings, research, discussion forums, this technology versus that technology, etc.) is secondary to that.
So well put my friend! I could not have said it any better myself.
I've gone and bought a pair of 861s from Stephen - been hankering after Granites for a while now and this thread made me jump to action. I'm pairing them with Merlin VSM-Ms, Cary 306/200 CD/transport and have a Supratek Chenin on order due in August. The solid state Marsh A400s is going to have to go as will the p2000t pre-amp, for financial reasons mainly as they are both nice pieces. This is going to be a fun year!
Congratulations, Nick!

PLEASE let us know your impressions of the Granites when you get them. Of course, they will need some break - in, unless they were demos. Also, make sure you A/B them with and without the preamp(heck of a preamp you have on the way) in the system. My own analysis has shown me definitively that a preamp takes SO much away from the music that it is not even fair. And, you could sell that Chenin very easily...

I am going to be trying them with my friend's Merlins next week, so it will be interesting for us to compare notes. I look forward to it.
I owned the 860.1 for a while and found them to be very nice amps. They replaced a BAT VK-60 (a pretty good amp, if you ask me) and my wife immediately commented on how good they sounded as well.
With the KT88 they were a tad dark sounding but had incredible bass (with AP Virgos at that time). Put in EL34 and they sound warmer and tube-ier (loosing a bit of bass). Regarding the volume pot, I found it more suitable as a noise pot.
I've switched to Beauhorns a while ago driving them with an Art Audio PX25. The Granite's were driving the Beauhorns in the beginning and I was amazed how good they sounded and how well they compared to the PX25.
Joe- Congrats on your amps and the pleasure they so obviously bring you. Please let us know how the Granites sound with the Merlins and offer any thoughts on the contrast to the amp he is presently using.
Thanks Swampwalker. I will definitely keep everyone in the loop as to how the Granites do with the Merlins.

It should be an interesting thing, as the owner currently uses a Berning amp, which put out the kind of sound that IMMEDIATELY reminded me of my AtmaSpheres.

Speaking of which...

Because of this thread, I decided to try my AtmaSpheres again in my system. Differences from the past were that I was now not using a preamp, and was using a different pair of interconnects - a 1.0 M pair of Home Grown Audio Silver Lace.

Well, after a marathon Friday night/Saturday afternoon listening session, things are truly much closer than I had heard before. Running the Atmas this way definitely took them up a few notches. The harshness I was hearing from them all but melted away. In the wake, I heard a very immediate, warmer sound, that produced much more impactful bass than I had become accustomed to with them.

Thankfully, both amps are not very hard to move around, so A LOT of A/Bing took place. The variable output of the Granite CD player has allowed me to fairly A/B both amplifiers, and I am kind of at a crossroads here.

Both amps are incredible. Both owners and their respective companies are about as good as one will ever encounter. In comparison, the Atma Spheres sounded a little more open, immediate, with more impact in the midbass. The Granites were a bit lusher, and took better control of the woofer in the loweest frequencies.

In short, I love them both. It will probably be that I keep the Granites due to their flexibility - being able to accept any line level input without a preamp, and their compact size. It could be argued they are also more attractive, but that doesn't really mean much to me. The ability to run more different output tubes is something that registers with me.

Both amplifiers are just so magical sonically, and more close to each other than I would have guessed. I realize this post is drifting a bit from the original intent of the thread, but I have to be honest. The Atmas had more in them than I had heard before. Still, my unrelenting recommendation of Granite definitely continues.
Very interesting. My Merlins are scheduled to arrive w/in 10 days and I will be running them with a Supratek Chardonnay and the Berning ZH-270. I was hoping this would get me off the amp-go-round. Audiophila nervosa strikes again!
Trelja - I'll race you to post the first impression of Granite 86x and Merlins together! ;-) My Granites are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday and I will be "working from home" that day. Chenin will be arriving within the month I hope so I should have a reasonable time A/B/C-ing with my current Marsh p2000t preamp, Granite and Merlins.

Btw, have you considered rolling tubes on the Granite yet? Obviously the Electro Harmonix and Svetlana KT88s are known to be good - how about the blue-glass JJs or the Pearl CryoValves. Anyone know how these match up?

Happy listening!

Swampwalker, you are DEFINITELY taking your system upwards. My friend with the Merlins and Berning was the impetus for improving my system. I had been drifting along, ho hum, until I happened upon probably the finest audio system I have come across. In the aftermath, I realized I had some serious work to do.

Nick, it looks like you are going to be the winner of this race, my friend. I won't get to hear the combination until Saturday. Please let us know how things turn out for you. Personally, I think you will be far more than pleased just running your CDP directly into the Granites.

Yes, I have rolled tubes, but only the 6SN7. One thing I can definitely say is true is Don's literature on the amps. You want a very low noise tube in the first position, and you can go with something else on the other. In my case, the amps had a Sovtek in position one, and an old RCA in position two. Currently, I am running a JAN Philips in position one and a Sylvania VT231 in position two. The Philips kept the noise level low, while the Sylvanias added more bass and perhaps more detail. I think the original combination was more lush, but not as good in the bass. I also want to switch back to the original tubes just to see.

On the output side, the doctor picked me up a quad of JJ blue E34L on Saturday which I will try. But, they are actually destined for my Jadis in all probability as I need to retube that baby - unless I prefer the E34L in the Granites.
Can't wait to hear your impressions of the Merlins with the rest of your gear.
One pointer: do all your critical listening with the BAM on 100% battery mode. Makes a HUGE difference...

Joe, hope to see you & listen to the Granites on Saturday. Cheers,
Trelja:I've been really impressed with the Granite Audio 657 CD player also. If I am ever in the market for new amps, I will have to check them out. What tubes are you using in your 657?
Spencer, this is going to be one serious Audiogoner/PAAG gathering at Mark's on Saturday. We'll also have Joe(Slipknot1) and the doctor(mechans) in attendance.

Eagle, I am currently using Valvo 7308(E188CC) tubes in the Granite. I should try the JAN Philips 6922 again just for fun and comparison. BELIEVE me, if you ever once again go looking for amps, you will be more than happy with the Granites. Put it this way, if you like the 657 CDP, you will absolutely, flat out LOVE the monoblocks.
FWIW, the JAN Phillips 6922s were my least favorite in my BAT pre-amp! Would love to hear those amps.
Swampwalker, most seem to share your view on the JAN Philips 6922.

Well, on Saturday, a bunch of us got together and had a great time. With the Merlins, we compared the Granites sans preamp, and the Berning with and without a Joule LA150 preamp.

First thing's first - the sound without the preamp is just SOOO much better. Much more slam and immediacy. I also think it is immediately apparent level of detail and refinement are quite a bit better.

The Merlins are a much more relaxed speaker than my Coincidents. In fact, they are quite different altogether. It goes beyond the Dynaudio Esotar versus ScanSpeak Revelator, all the way to the bass being handled by a 6.5" driver versus a 10" driver. In my opinion, the Berning is a better match for the Merlins, as it brings out the best in what these speakers do. If I was going to live with the Merlins, I think I would go with either a Berning or a pair of AtmaSpheres(or Joules?). Overall, things are close, but I think the Granites are probably a better overall fit with my Coincidents.

Both speakers are final purchase loudspeakers, but I think the Coincidents can probably please a broader section of audiophiles. But, what the Merlins do well, they do more than well.

I could tell Mark was torn, just as I am with my Coincidents. It is the classic OTL versus transformer coupled tube amp challenge. Both of these amps are at the pinnacle of their respective technologies.

I heard the same things with the Merlins that I do with my speakers in terms of differences. The OTL amps are more lively, with superior resolution across the spectrum. There is also a lot of similarity in the bass region to a solid state amp, albeit without the impact. By that, I mean there is an extension, snap, and tightness, combined with a definite leaness in the midbass that may make some feel the amps are cold. The transformer coupled tube amps are not as deep or tight, but have an enticing fullness and warmth that will appeal to some. The Berning is sinewy, the Granites voluptuous.

I preferred the Berning on rock and music that was more intricate and complex. But, if you are a fan of vocals, particularly female vocals, I would have a hard time believing things could get much better than the Granites.

Which is better? I don't mean to sound like a Stereophile writer, but heck if I know. I feel like I am at the ice cream counter, wondering if it will be Death By Chocolate or pistachio. While I love both, it's hard to make a choice. Normally, I have quite visceral reactions to gear and can easily make a decision as to which is better to me. In this case, I am totally at a loss. Perhaps it speaks to the level both amps are playing on - they ARE that good.

I would say that in the end, if you are looking for a transformer coupled tube amp, the Granite has definitely attained "destination status" in my mind. It features everything that a tube lover loves a tube amp for, it's sweet, romantic, dimensional, and surprisingly detailed, refined, punchy, and powerful. As I said, add it to the list of best tube amps made. If you want a more incisive sound, combining a lot of what solid state and tubes do well, you are probably an OTL fan - but you knew that already. So for me, when it comes to my Atmas and my Granites, do I keep both???
Swampwalker, One follow-up comment to Trelja's last post...We know for sure that Joe prefer's the Berning sans Joule preamp. However, when some of our group next compare the Bernings(stock & modded) with/without preamp using another contender, the CAT SL-1 III, we might find a different conclusion. More to follow...

Joe, one thing I realized we forgot to try was experiment with the higher feedback settings on the Berning. Perhaps, they would have moved down the continuum more towards the Granites if we went with the normal or higher feedback settings? I think you need to hang on to both for a while and keep playing them without active evaluation. Let the other side of the brain "feel it" for a while, and see which amp keeps you up late listening to tunes. Cheers, Spencer
Trelja....Two points...

You are very right about the transformer being the heart of a tube power amp. Dyna Kit, later called Dynaco, was originally a transformer manufacturer. They came to realize that between the power and audio output transformers, they were making most of an audio amp, so they packaged up a kit of parts, and introduced audiophiles to the benefit of 60 watts, when most people thought 25 was overkill.

Your observation about variation of sonics when the amount of feedback is varied does acknowledge that the amp is not truly "high fidelity" ...accurately reproducing the input signal. I think you have a musical instrument, which you have tuned to your own particular preference.
Spencer, good points! We need to hear that CAT you are playing with next time. Also, Joe G.(Slipknot1) may have his Supratek at that time, so we can also try it.

You may remember that two weeks previous, I felt the same way at Jim's, all the way up to the Lamm preamp. I would absolutely LOVE to hear a preamp that betters the sound that I am hearing with CD direct, but as of yet...

I would be curious to hear how the Berning's sound changes with varying amounts of feedback. I know that with the Granites, adding feedback doesn't improve the sound, and I am left wondering as to why anyone would want to do it, or why the switch to change it is included in the first place.

Which brings us to Eldartford - the aim of this thread is not to discuss the point of the "absolute sound" versus a component being a "musical instrument". Witness the recent discourse between J. Gordon Holt and Arty Dudley, the point has been belabored to death since the dawn of audio. I would submit that in my experience, amplifiers react in this same way to varying amounts of feedback, be they OTL, transformer coupled tube, or solid state. Is there an amp that anyone can think of that does not behave in this manner? I have read articles from that time I was a child regarding feedback. In the days where measurements were king, amplifiers with feedback measured better, so the engineers of the day, went with it. Trusting my and my compadres own ears much more than ANY manmade device, no feedback sounds definitely more true to your definition of a high fidelity component.
Hi guys. I've been with my Granites for almost a week now and am very pleased so far even though the tubes are not yet burned in. Immediately I noticed everything I expected moving from a 200 wpc solid-state to 30 wpc SET: less slam, more sweetness; less bass, more bloom; less detail, more air; bigger soundstage with the Granite, increased sense of nuance, like I can hear more *into* the music or something. It's just more natural in every respect. The Granite bass is something to get used to - I wouldn't say it's woolly and it's not even less extended just different. Maybe the notes are less well defined or something but it doesn't bother me. I leave the Merlin BAM off now (it's in my tape loop).

Admittedly this is my first experience with tube amps and I am happy I made the move. I expect things to get more satisfying as the tubes break in. Btw, how many hours do you think that takes? I'll probably get a quad of Svetlana KT88 or Electro-Harmonix KT88 - any thoughts on what works best?

On Trelja's suggestion I also tried for a day without a preamp and have some comments on that. I have to say - I don't prefer this configuration. I know it sounds more "immediate" and there definitely is more "slam" but I don't find that makes things more "musical", to my ears. I like the finesse and sense of balance that a preamp gives you even if it's just more colouration and probably distortion than without one. My preamp is a Marsh p2000t ("t" for "tube") and it's pretty good for the money. But I'm really looking forward to how the Supratek will sound (and *look* - I have so much glass in my room now it's not funny - my friends and family think I'm insane!). I also can't live with CD direct to amp as I have other sources to consider - it's possible a passive preamp like a Placette will be rotated into my system in the nearish future, just to see. The guy I bought my Cary 306/200 CD player off swears by the Placette.

Obviously the Berning or Joule amps are better with the Merlin VSMs but I can't afford either for now so the Granites will have to do. They are seriously classy sounding amps, well made and look fabulous. When my Dad saw them he was shocked at how retro they looked - he said he was taken back to his youth when he built SETs from a kit! Btw, how do you like the Pentode sound? I can't say I've given it more than 1/2 an hour. The feedback knob doesn't do anything for me so I leave it on zero.

More later, take care,

Trelja...I have no doubt that your system sounds great, at least to you, the owner, who is the only person that matters. My only point is that "fidelity" to the input signal is questionable. Maybe the input signal is screwed up in some way that your amp can fix. That would be true magic.
You have a great sounding combo; just like what Trelja & I were listening to this past weekend.
FWIW, I would recommend:
Keep the BAM on all the time; do use thru the tape loop, and do all serious listening in the 100% battery mode. You might be listening to a uncharged BAM, if it doesn't obviously improve the sonics. (email me offline and I'll explain in more detail!)
Stick w/zero feedback on the amp...
If you ever get a chance to try a Neuance shelf under your 306, try it. Guarantee that it will shockingly good. Cheers,
Eldartford, you are making two very dangerous assumptions. I will remind you of the old adage about when we assume. You have no idea on either count as to whether my input signal is flawed or whether the amps are correcting it. You have never heard my system, although you are more than welcome to come over and give it a listen.

I will also say that I don't consider my system great sounding. It's a fairly competent high end audio system. I site it in a small room, and take pride in its undeniably modest cost for the performance I hear from it. Many spend much more than me, orders of magnitude more, but that doesn't really correlate with performance always.

Having run through a raft of sources, I will submit that there is nothing wrong with my input signal. And, having run through an equally large number of amplifiers in my time, the Granites are not correcting said signal. Again, until you listen for yourself, it might be a better idea to not make these statements.

Nick, I will say that having survived many amplifier break ins, if yours are new, and you are this happy, it's a good sign. Nothing has given me more fits of buyer's regret than new amplifiers. I am not sure why, but most have definitely sounded really BAD when I get them new. Over the course of a month, they start to reveal their true selves, always improving substantially. It will be interesting to hear your impressions of the Supratek, as many here among us have been watching that preamp closely. Both KT88s you listed are more warm and dark than the JJ tubes in the Granites. If you are looking for that kind of sound, it would be something to try. And, follow Spencer's recommendations on the Merlins/BAM, as he really knows what he is talking about.
Trelja...I made no "assumption". You have reported that the same signal sounds different depending on the feedback setting. I accept that as fact (and, for that matter, go along with your preference for low feedback). But the conclusion follows that one setting or the other is deviating from the input signal. Knowing what I do about feedback control systems, I believe that the high feedback output more closely matches the input signal.
Trelja...By the way, the idea that audio hardware might "correct" signal defects is not as far out as one might think. One example that comes to mind is "Dynagroove" LPs from RCA. When a phono pickup tracks the groove, the vinyl deflects a bit. RCA introduced a compensating change to the recorded signal. However, the amount of vinyl deflection would vary, depending on the compliance of the phono pickup, so a high end pickup, causing small vinyl deflection might, by more accurately reproducing the recorded signal, sound worse than an ordinary pickup for which the Dynagroove processing was designed.
Pretty far off thread, but if my Merlins ever arrive (if you're lurking out there, Bobby, get off the net and get back to work!), I will be able to add my thoughts on the Supratek/Berning/Merlin vs Berning/Merlin. Of course, in the long run, I would have to buy a separate phono stage if I abandoned the Supratek. Wait a minute, maybe if I sold the Supratek and the SOTA TT and my digital front end, I might have enough to get a good universal player. Uh oh. That way madness lies!
Congratulations on the Merlins, Swampwalker! They are a truly wonderful speaker. I wish you many, many years of happiness with them. Yes, Bobby is usually lurking in the threads, but it's a good thing.

Eldartford, you state, "Maybe the input signal is screwed up in some way that your amp can fix." Maybe I am incorrect, but that sounds like you are driving beyond your headlights.

Anyway, on something more important, on what do you base the statement high feedback power amplifiers being more close to the input signal? If making amplifiers sound and measure the same (and making Julian Hirsch happy) is the goal, then I will allow feedback is a good thing. In my experience, which is no more valid than your own, high feedback does more damage to the input signal. Please note, I used the term "high" feedback, as opposed to "any" feedback.
Trelja...I thought you might doubt the suggestion that a screwed up signal could be corrected by playback equipment , so I gave you the Dynagroove example.

Feedback (properly applied) does make the output more closely match the input signal. This is not debatable, and can be objectively observed with electronic instruments such as an oscilloscope. Excessive feedback (like anything done to excess) is bad. In the extreme the amp can become an oscillator. Your distinction between "high" feedback and "any" is appropriate.

However, although the output may differ from the signal by a measurably smaller amount, the residual difference could "sound bad"...worse than the original larger error. This is true particularly for a tube amp (vs transistor) because of the pleasant sounding type of harmonic distortion which tubes generate. However, to my mind, if this happens the design of the amp is faulty.

Headlights...a new one. Throughout my engineering career I have always had a reputation for "thinking out of the box", and a lot of good things came from this. Have you ever tried driving at night with your headlights off? If you are ever in the country on a full moon night with no other traffic, try it. I have heard that this is a common practice in Scandinavia. (Maybe that's why Volvos are built so crashworthy).
OK, it looks like we have finally are reaching middle ground! I am glad we agree on "any" and "high" feedback, which is why I was quite careful in wording it that way.

I still am of the belief that low and no feedback tube power amplifiers sound better than ones with even moderate amounts. Of course, there are no universal truths, and this is a definite generality. Countless products have proven to me that despite measurements or "solid engineering" the ears are still the final arbiter.

Yes, I have driven at night without headlights. Not for long stretches, though. And, while in scouting and in ROTC, my demand was that no one use flashlights on night hikes - they destroy your night vision. I still live by this, and do what I need to do (nighttime bathroom trips, getting up to get a glass of water, let the dog or cat out/in) with all lights off. I feel it's better that way.
"If it sounds good, it is good".
As a satisfied owner of the Granite 860.1 monoblocks, my impression is that there is truth in both Trejla's and Eldartford's take on negative feedback. To my ears, the lowest negative feedback setting is more accurate than no negative feedback, but the higher feedback settings bleach the sound too much for my tastes. With no negative feedback the amps have a much bigger soundstage, but sound a little sloppier and unfocused compared with the lowest negative feedback setting. In my system, I prefer the lowest feedback setting as it seems to offer the best balance, but can easily imagine others who would prefer no feedback.

I also found that there seemed to be a brief break in (5-10 hours) to get the best sound on the negative feedback or ultralinear settings- since these parts of the circuit had little previous use.

The rest of my system is a Consonance 2.2 CDP directly into the Granite 860.1s driving Equation 25 speakers.
Touche' Eldartford. The only audio "truth"!!!

Interesting points you make, Nzera. Based on your insightful post, I will dedicate more listening time to the way you set your Granites and see if it is for me. Thank you!