Tube amps that kick ass?

I'd like to find a high powered tube amp that can deliver all the magic that tubes are known for AND that kicks butt. Solid, tight bass with good authority. Dynamic, quick, but handles the little information (micro) sweetly as well. A tube amp that will play rock and roll at realistic volumes – the way rock in roll was meant to be enjoyed - and still sound great.

Any ideas? 10K or under? preferably 5K or so

Thanks for all responses.
The easiest question to come across Audiogon forums in several months.

VTL 750 is the answer and VTL 1250 if you have a bit more to spare than the 10K budget you listed.
I think you would be extremely happy with a Manley Neo-Classic 250. You should be able to find one here for 5000 or less.
I have been using one since 2002. Does everything that I could ask for and has been extremley reliable. Or use up more of your budget on the Neo-classic 500.
Used Quicksilver M-135s, but they are hard to find.
Thank you gentlemen. I will eagerly look into all three of those recommendations.
Try looking for a used CJ Premier series amps. They run in your price range and are very good. I certainly am happy with mine.
The Cary 120s is a knockout..UL/Triode switching(120/60wpc)
Here's another vote for the Cary 120S. It is totally kick-ass in my system (replaced the NuForce Ref 9V2 SE). In my view it sounds better from bottom to top and it's especially kick-ass in the BASS! That said, it is not as quiet electrically or mechanically as many other amps. But when the music starts, I surely don't notice as I'm mesmerized by its wonderful dynamic and musical presentation.
All depends on what speakers you're driving.

used Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk 3(140wpc@8ohms) for ~$7k-$9k or for a little north of $10k used, if you can ever find them, Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk II (220wpc@2/4/8ohms)

Audio Research Reference 300 MKII monoblocks used ~$10k

Wolcott Presence 220M (220wpc@4ohms) - famous for driving difficult large electrostatic speakers like Soundlabs really well.

used Bat VK-150SE monoblocks ~$9.5k
Wavac MD-805m used.
The big Manleys and VTLs are always good choices. However, one that flys under the radar is a pair of Canary Audio CA-160 monoblocks. These will give you all the tube goodness but can deliver the mail in respect to dynamics and bass control. They thrash my Piegas around like nobody's business.

If you are looking with a budget of $10k, but preferably $5k or under, I'll chime in. I have a pair of VTL MB 450 Signatures from several years back. I like them very much and they boot excellent tuchus, even when done in triode mode with a measly 225 watts, they do very well (450 watts in tetrode of course). With the bigger models, you just get more fanny-kicking prowess. The older 450s should be available used for <$4k, which is a lot of LPs cheaper than the 750s.

Of course, several of the other choices will be OK depending on your speakers. In fact, what is necessary to kick sufficient tuchus will depend ENTIRELY on your speaker load.

As a case in point, someone mentions the Wavac 805s used. There happen to be a pair for sale. Cool! But note they are for sale because they don't meet the needs of the seller's current-hungry speakers. The Cary 120s may be a great amp - never heard it - but I have had a pair of speakers before where they would have been less preferable than the VTL 450s (OTOH, the Wavacs would probably do more than justice to my current speakers).

IF you have speakers with sensitivity in the 80s, and require current, and they have an input impedance dip down to a low 1-handle (like Martin Logan electrostats), then I have not seen many large tube amps which will meet that need other than big VTLs. If, on the other hand, the speakers are low-mid 90s dB with a more benign impedance curve, you could probably easily do OTLs with an autoformer.

A reasonably interesting thread on the subject came up last year and is here. Furthermore, the atma-sphere website has several white papers which make for interesting reading and may help inform your choice as regards tube amplifier topology.
Coincident Dragon PP211 is the most dynamic tube amp I've expirenced. May be difficult to audition but well worth the effort. I'm not exagerating by saying there really is nothing like it
Cary 120s I had one, now have a V12R. Both kick ass. Even my 92 year old neighbors are starting to like Johnny Winter.
Just for the record, 'Solid, tight bass' does not describe real bass- that sort of description makes me think of transistor bass, which is to say it has punch but no definition. If you want definition, you have to have tubes.

A lot also depends on the speaker load. If you want the tube amp to have as much slam as possible, avoid speakers that are 4 ohms in the woofer region. Your tube amp dollar will be better represented by a speaker that is at least 8 ohms. The output transformer will have better bass extension and greater efficiency.

Thanks to all.

Ya, I should have mentioned the speakers that I am driving...

I have a pair of Vandersteen 5A's. And now that I think about this.... the 5A's have a powered sub woofer. Not that I didn't know this already.... I just didn't consider this fact when I wrote my initial post. So anyway, I guess the tube amps won't actually be helping much in that area - da.

The 5A's are rated at:

22Hz to 30kHz + or - 2dB

87dB at 1 meter with a 2.83 volt input.

40 TO 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms for the upper section, 400-watt subwoofer amplifier built in.

6 ohms nominal, 4 ohms minimum.

100Hz, 600Hz, 5000Hz and adjustable H.F., 6dB per octave.

did nobody said KR Kronzilla?
Luxman has a relatively new offering, the MQ-88, that I use in my primary system. I love this amp! If you have an opportunity to audition it, I suggest you do, as it seems to meet all of your criteria, depending on what speakers you will be driving and the size of your listening room. It sells new for $8000.
My new dedicated sound room (theater and 2 channel) will be 17.5 feet wide by 22 feet deep.
Given those speakers, if I were flying blind, I would try hard to get a demo of some high-powered OTLs, maybe with autoformers (disclosure: no affiliation or ownership history with either). I expect the 450 VTLs would do you fine. I would, however, be wary of using amps at the low end of the recommended amplification range if you want the speakers to come to life.

You might ask what other Vandy 5A owners use for tube amps - you might draw a few out of the woodwork.
My Luxman MQ-88 can drive my Verity Fidelio Encores to incredible SPLs in a room that is 15 feet wide, 25 feet deep, with a ceiling height of 8.5 feet. The MQ-88 is a pure class A at 40 watts per side into 8 ohms. In my experience, either that is an overly conservative rating, or those are some of the most robust 40 watts I have ever "heard" . . . !
I heard some Audio Research gear make some truly beautiful music with the Vandy 5's.
Kora Kosmos or Kora Titan Monoblocks
I think of the rock bass you are looking for is actually frequencies above the subwoofers in the 5A, a lot of apparent bass is above 30Hz so you still do need a good tube for rockin bass. The best bass I have heard from a tube amp was the CAT JL2 - though the Atma-sphere with the right speakers does produce really good bass, I don't Vandersteen is the right speaker though.
cayin or vas. you need to hear to believe.
Sonic Frontiers Power 3 can be had for <$3500 if you can find them, they are very good for the money.

BAT 150SE is superb if 150 wpc is sufficient, BAT has tremendous drive and speed that sounds more powerful than 150 wpc. you can start with 75SE and upgrade to 150SE if you like the sound, you gain more than power when you bridge. BAT can be further upgraded with some aftermarket parts, there are a few threads on audiogon discussing this topic and result is well worth the price.
Canary CA-160 monoblocks, 140 wpc. I second their recommendation that was made to previously. I just bought a pair off Audiogon and to say the least I am very impressed.

They really spank my Von Schweikert VR 4 JR's. The sound is excellent. Very good taut bass, a wonderful mid range, and clean highs. These amps have "it". You just want to listen to them as they are so engaging, smooth, and textured. I use Canary monblock preamps to drive them.
I think the Audio Valve Challenger 180's I just aquired may qualify but I don't know if they can beat Albert's suggestion on the VTL monoblocks.
Keithmundy- What type of speakers are you driving?
I forgot to ask in my earlier reply.
Hello Rleff, I'm running Vandersteen 5A's.

22Hz to 30kHz + or - 2dB

87dB at 1 meter with a 2.83 volt input.

40 TO 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms for the upper section, 400-watt subwoofer amplifier built in.

6 ohms nominal, 4 ohms minimum.

100Hz, 600Hz, 5000Hz and adjustable H.F., 6dB per octave
I agree with Albert Porter, this one is easy:
CJ Premier One
Melos 400
Jadis JA-500

All butt kicking and all 3D, range 3000-12,000 USD. + All drive MBL 101Es to concert levels.

I owned VTL 250 mono's for several years and a good bud has owned the 450's even longer. The 250's are wired in triode and sound even better than the 450's when they're switched to triode and either will definitely get the job done; especially since you're only driving the top portion of your Vandy's and they're a pretty easy load.

I too am running a system that has powered subs and only use tube amps for my 89db, 6 Ohm main speakers. About 18 months ago I swapped my VTL's for a pair of 140wpc Atma-Sphere MA-1's and to say they were a huge improvement over the VTL's would be an understatement.

Everything is cleaner, clearer, smoother and much more refined. I'm getting way more information out of recordings, both cd and vinyl and the sound is just more believable. The VTL's sounded sorta muddy by comparison.

My main speakers are good down to around 50Hz and with the MA-1's, bass is fast and weighty but not exaggerated and more importantly, pitch and timbre are spot-on.

Both VTL and Atma-Sphere are well built and you'd probably be happy with either of them but the MA-1's will definitely take things up a couple notches.

Happy Hunting.
I have owned several tube amps (and hybrids) over the years. My rating of the amps that I owned is based on extended listening with many speakers including various Apogees, McIntosh, Legacy Focus, Totem, Avalon Ascent.

My rating is based on clarifty, details, depth, imaging, transparency, control, power, midrange purity, bass control. etc.

The rating is:

1. Tube Research Labs GT-800
2. Tube Research Labs GT-400
3. Jadis JA-500 (the bigger Jadis-800 is not worth the price but the smaller Jadis JA-200 has slightly better sound)
4. Audio Valve Challenger
5. Lamm M2.1 (hybrid)
6. VTL-750 (the one with high-quality caps).
7. Llano (hybrid)

So in summary, the TRL GT-800 kicks butt of everything else that I have tried or heard, including the SS ams in the bass area, as well as any area of sound, subjectiveky and objectively alike. I even doubt if any any amp can outperform it. It should be among the seven wonders of the audio :)

So in summary, the TRL GT-800 kicks butt of everything else that I have tried or heard, including the SS ams in the bass area, as well as any area of sound, subjectiveky and objectively alike.
And at $140,000 (14x-28x the max Keithmundy is looking to spend), of what relevance is this information?
Darkmoebius, the thread evolved from the original question, and several amps mentioned were also out of the intended budget. I listed other amps to indicate the *relative" butt kicking.

The Audio Valve Challenger can also kick butts.

Moreover, list prices hardly matter any more, thanks to audiogon.
Just bustin' your chops, Gallant, sorry
Thanks so much to all who have responded.

Yes the GT-800's are going to be slightly out of my budget! but those are great pictures GD. Do you need anymore friends?


why all the concern about high power with the 5A's? Ok, there are some demands down around 100Hz but most of the heavy lifting is being done by the sub's plate amp, which I hope is also rolling off the woofer just about that 100Hz. Anyway, I would be more concerned with synergy than just raw power numbers. You just may be surprised at what the "right" 50 watt/ch PP (or OTL) amp sounds like. Good luck with your search.
I was so surprised by the performance of the VAC Phi 300.1 that I got a 2nd one! Has everything you are looking for and the VAC "sound" is one of the best in audio, IMO. Organic, musical, powerful yet true to the source. There are a number of very positive reviews here on Agon. Can be had used for under $10K if you can catch one - people just don't give them up very easily. They also make a Phi 200 amp that might work for your situation. Worth checking into.
Yes Dan, you are probably correct - 50 watts of the right power might work. I like to turn my system up at times though and don't want it to strain when I do. I probably should have started a thread that was more specific to the Vandy 5A's. Maybe I will search to see if one has been started already. Thanks to everyone for such great responses.
Keithmundy- Leaning toward any of the suggestions this far?
Well, I did talk to the VTL people yesterday. There's an older 450 on Gon that I thought might be a good deal but it turns out the older 450 cannot be upgraded to the series 2 so...

I left a messsage with the Atma Sphere guy but haven't heard back yet.

I looked at the audio valve website - very nice - Germany made - I like that.

With these darn tube amps, though, I'd almost like to buy from someone in CA. Canary, VTL and Manley are all here in CA.

I don't know? Still look-in. Unfortunately, I have to work for a living too! Darn job gets in my way sometimes!

thanks for your help

Hi Keith, our email server has been down the last 2 days, so I will answer your question here:

Most of our Vandersteen 5/5A customers run the MA-1- and they say its spectacular! It appears that the M-60 should be able to drive the speaker too (the speaker appears easy to drive), but to date no-one has tried it. I think a lot depends on the room size- most of the 5/5A installations we've seen have been in bigger rooms.
> Just bustin' your chops, Gallant, sorry

Bustin' my chops? LMAO, haven't heard that for long time.
Fplanner2000, my buddy just replaced his VTL 450's with a pair of the VAC Phi 300.1 monos and as you say, they're wonderful. Right out of the box they stomped the 450's in every sonic area I can think of and they continue to improve with breakin. Of course at $18k each retail, they should be good.

As Atmasphere says, the M-60s would probably work well and I almost went with them but in the end I figured if 60 watts was good, 140 would be even better. They are quite "spectacular."
Rfogel8 - Your friend is in for a real treat as the VACs break in. Catch them after they've broken in a while and you might be looking for a way to afford them yourself.... ;-) They really are pretty special.
I also have a high opinion on the VAC.
Besides the VTLs are rolled from the top
rogue audio appollo monoblocks, killer amps , great bass, even with revel speakers, ie hard to drive. 10k new, good luck, chris
04-29-09: Gallant_diva
I also have a high opinion on the VAC.
Besides the VTLs are rolled from the top

Do you believe the Tube Research are "rolled from the top" as well?

If I'm not mistaken, one of the pair of Tube Research that you tried (or bought) for your system were my old units. They were magic when over biased with EL34 Mullards but sucked with KT88 and 6550 (which were needed to reach any kind of reliability).

I really get irritate with people knocking the VTL 750 when several industry insiders and at least three reviewers consider them the industry standard for performance.
I'll agree with those who suggest VAC amps,but I favor the renaissance 140's. I have seen them sell for 5k to 6k but retubing these beauties can be expensive. Well worth the investment though. I use Sophia carbon plate 300's with the Brimar CV1988's and the sound is glorious.