Tube, hybrid or solid state for Merlin TSM-MMs?

Dear Audiogoners and/or Merlin TSM owners,

After listening to my HT for years and I finally decided to build a second stereo only system. I consider myself still a novice and would much appreciate any recommendations for my project with limited budget (<$2000 excluding speakers). I am planning on getting used equipments on Audiogon.

I started by acquiring a pair or merlin TSM-MMs. I love them even with my Aragon 3 channel amp. I am considering getting a integrated amp to drive the TSMs and a CD player. I started shopping and I am overwhelmed by the vast number of products, they all seem to have rave reviews. Based on the budget of $2000 for both amp and CD player, My questions are as follow:

AMP (<$1000 - $1400 used):
1) should I go integrated or separates? Tube, hybrid or solid state?

2) Will tubes with less than 30 watts output be sufficient to drive the TSMs?

3) I kind of narrow down to a few models: (I realized the choice of going separates is very limited based on my budget, hence I've browsing at the integrated amps.)

Tubes/hybrids - Shanling STP-80; Jolida 502B: Onix SP3; Pathos Classic One MKII; Unison Research Unico.

Solid State - Krell 300i; Musical Fidelity X150; Arcam A32, A90; Classe CAP-101, CAP-151.

3) Some of the Chinese made Amps look pretty good (such as Shanling, Consonance and Dared), but are they any good?

4) Are there tube integrated amps on the market that come with pre-outs? In case I want to get a separate amp when I have more budget.

CD Player (<$1000 used):
1) Any recommendations is welcome. I kind of like the Rega Apollo and Jupiter. Anyone has experience with them?

2) Should I go with a transport and an outboard DAC (such as the Audio Alchemy combo)?

By all means, I am not limiting myself to the above choices, any other recommendations are welcome and much appreciated. Perhaps there are already existing threads on the subject, if so, would someone please point them to me?

The easy solution would be to simply call Bobby at the factory. He can answer ALL of your questions and provide plenty of insights based on your music and listening preferences. If you've never spoken to him, he's extremely friendly and helpful and always willing to chat.

Bobby @ Merlin can give you the best recommendation for an integrated, alot will depend on room size and musical taste. For cdp, you might consider a used Audio Aero Prima. I would not think that a dac/trans combo at that price range is a good choice, you are going to need at least one digital cable and perhaps 2 digital cables and a de-jitter device.
I'll let others with more experience with Merlin speakers and amp combos help you, but I just want to say that if you decide on getting an integrated, I would really think twice about adding an amp and using the integrated as your preamp. In my experience, the preamp section of an integrated is usually the weakest part. It's also why it's easier to find a good sounding budget amp than a good sounding budget preamp IMO. If you only have a source, you can consider getting a passive volume control and use the rest of your budget on a better sounding amp.
Swampwalker, thanks for your advice and pointing out the missing info. The size of my listening room is about 25 x 18 with a 14 ft. cathedral ceiling. Unfortunately it's a very 'live' room, hardwood floor with minimal furnishing, just an area carpet, a sofa and a coffee table. The listening position is about 12 - 14 feet from the speakers. The speakers will be situated against the short wall. Regarding music type, I listen to Jazz, string instruments(guitar, piano) and Pop vocals. I hope Bobby will be able to respond to this thread. Thanks.
Just send Bobby and email even if he dosen't respond here. He is a great guy who will gove you all the personal help you need. You can contact him through the contact email on the Merlin web site.

2K for both is fine for starters,but low for the finish.If you can continue to use the Aragon,do that and spend all the money on your source and cables.If you need the Aragon elsewhere,then try a Sony 333,555,or a Marantz 8260.Those will cost from 350 to 700 roughly.With the remaining money,look for one of those Italian tube integrateds maybe as Bobby likes tubes.Thats just one of several ideas.Nice room,have fun,good luck,Bob
you should give me a call at the merlin plant, kilsho.
585 367 2390
i will try and help you because there are a number of things mentioned that will not be right for the job but i will not mention them here.
bobby at merlin
Based on Bobby's recommendations, I put together a great combo at similar price points to use w/TSM-MXs.
Audio Analogue Puccini ss integrated
Bel Canto DAC2
Pioneer DVD player as transport.
We used Signal Cable all around (my recommendation to my buddy).
This is a great combo, and although you might have to hunt a bit to find a Puccini, it might be worth it.
Of the ones you list, IMHO the Classes are likely to be okay. I'd stay away from the Krell KAV series; too bright, and the Merlins will expose that fact. Heard good things about the Pathos, but haven't listened to it. It's pretty...Cheers,
call Bobby and Merlin and ask him about this unit ... I have one for sale here on AudiogoN. That is all I will say ... CALL BOBBY and ask about the Joule!

I had the oportunuty to demo the Pathos classic one MK2, and personally didn't like what it did with my TSM-MX. Thin, and bright, is how I would describe the sound at times. I was kind of disapointed because I had heard the Pathos on a pair of De Capos speakers, and they made great music together.

The Stingray in my opinion is a great choice, I had them for a while on the Merlins and it was very nice, involving, warm, and enough juice for the TSM. The Stingrays are being shipped now, with a triode/tetrode switch, which I think is a nice addition.

Good luck

That's a pretty big room. You are going to need some power. HOwever, the Merlins are a pretty easy load. Right now there is a Jadis Orchestra integrated for sale for $1500 which is a bit of a stretch but is reported to be an absolutely great sounding integrated. You might want to call Bobby about that amp; if its a good match, I would jump on it.
Thank you all for your helpful inputs. I will definitely talk to Bobby.

After reading your inputs, I am leaning toward tubes now. I am thinking about getting an amp(not hybrid) with a volumn pot and hook up the CDP directly to the amp since I only listen to CDs. Any thoughts on that?

Sbank, I agree with you regarding the Krell amp after I heard a Krell(can't remember the model) coupled with a pair of B&W 803s at my friend's. Not sure if it's the B&Ws or the Krell or both. The highs are kind of cold and somewhat piercing to my ears. But my friend loves it, I guess it's a matter of taste. Thanks for showing me your setup.

Swampwalker, I realized it is a relatively big room but surprisingly, the TSMs were filled the room without any problem, except that the vocal seems to be a bit thin and scattered if you know what I mean. But the soundstage is huge no matter where I am in the room. I will definitely do some more research on the Jadis.

Toudou, thanks for the feedback on the pathos, I will scratch that from my list and I will research on the stingray.

Jrinkerptdnet, you are talking about the Joule VAMP integrated? I have one as well and will be pairing it with a pair of TSM-MMs soon. Looking forward to it.

Kilsho, in years past Bobby had two rooms at the CES. One had the Merlin VSMs in it with the Joule preamp and usually Joule VZN100 mono blocks. In the other, smaller room he would have the TSM speakers setup with a more "modest" system. One year he had the TSMs with the Joule VAMP integrated amp which was something new from Joule. This was when the integrated craze was starting to hit. It's a hybrid integrated with a preamp section similar to the LA100 and mosfet outputs. The unit is made to order for the TSM. Those that heard it thought it sounded wonderful with the TSM and I guarrantee you that if it didn't it wouldn't have been in that room. Jud only made them for a short while because he lost money on them...and as I recall they were priced at $3,500 - so that gives you some perspective for what goes into this thing. Point to point, hand wired. Built like a tank. I suspect some people think that because it's being made anymore that it wasn't good. In fact, it's an absolute steal for the prices you can get them for. A no brainer.

is what I was referring to and what I have offered for sale ... beautiful unit and perfect for the TSM but runs too hot for any enclosed space (which my re-decorated living room calls for)

Thanks for your post and the boost to the VAMP!

like the Onix. I'd stay away from Classe - I've owned Classe before and did not like it - too homogenized, while at the same time 'glary'.. Strange combo of attributes..

I much prefer a warmish but clear sound with a sharper edge to the transients.