tube integrated amp recommendations?

Hi folks,

I'm looking for an inexpensive (around $1000) tube integrated amp for a second system, and thought I would ask for opinions on what I should be looking at right now. Used is OK to consider for this amp. Here's what I want (I think)...

I would like an amp that I can possibly swap driver tubes in to play with the sound a little. Or maybe one that I can switch from pentode to triode modes. I'd like it to use inexpensive (in the scheme of things) driver tubes so I can try things out (so the 300B or 211 are probably out of the question).

I want a remote control in the unit. I have a Mcintosh MC275 in my main system, so I'm familiar with KT-88 tubes, and wouldn't be adverse to having them in this secondary unit, but there's a lot of other tubes out there to try!

I have a pair of B+W 602's to use on this system (at least for starters). It will be driven mostly be a Sonos and maybe a decent CD player and possibly FM radio. I don't listen to loud music, but I do listen to a wide range of styles, from classical to rock. So, I don't think I need a lot of power in the amp.

So, I'm looking for suggestions on a decent sounding product that has all or most of these things from the list. Maybe more importantly, I'd like to hear about what tubes I should be considering. All input is appreciated.

If I can't seem to find a suitable tube solution, I'll probably get a Audio Decco to run in the system...

Well I am going to suggest the Primluna PL2, although it does not have a remote (the Dialogue series does) or switchable to triode mode. But it does sound very good, can take a wide range of power tubes KT-88: 6550, KT-90, EL-34, 6L6GC, 7581A and KT66. I switched from KT88 to EL34 for a warmer sound.

Used they are going for around $900. I used it my with BW 602 s3 and really liked the sound.

Thanks for the feedback. Maybe I don't need a remote...

I didn't realize it would take all those tubes. I'll have to look at that one a little more closely.

Comparing the PL2 with a similar Jolida or Cayin... can you comment on the sound quality? I've not listened to any of these amps, and I'm somewhat spoiled by the McIntosh and the Pass amps I've had in the past, so I know they won't compete, but I'm trying to get a general sense for them...

I went with the Cayin A-50T with B&W 685's and really like the sound. Amp has a remote (Trilinear to ultralinear) and I think I paid a grand new (4 single ended RCA inputs, no tape loop, 4ohm & 8ohm taps). It's for my PC system (18 watts/35 watts). The ultra linear mode works best with the 685's (very similar to your speakers) due to the effeciency. I heard great things about the Prima Luna as well. The Cayin doesn't take long to warm up; nice base and soundstage and the midrange is just lovely. VERY transparent. I was very impressed with it. (sources-PC/MonarchyDIP/Musical Fidelity DAC 3 w/PSU), Faroudja DV1000 for CD & Meridian 508 tuner). Sometimes I just can't believe how good this little rig sounds. I have a pic under my system/PC.
This is my first tube amp and i have not had the pleasure of listening to too many others (did hear a Dyanco at a store) but i looked at Jolida and Cayin and googled and search for all kinds of info.

What i liked about the Primaluna was the auto biasing, the solid build, the clean innards, and the resale priceas well as the sound. I figure if the used price holds up well and the sell fast on A'gon then there is a demand for it. Someone here (Raul?) said the Cayin sounds very different from the Primaluna even though the share some build charateristics. I have really nice rich smooth sound with decent bass (Triangle Comete speakers). Never was a subwoofer guy-THUMP
Listening to Son house or Lightning Hopkins or Leo Kottke play guitar is magical. It sounds like they are right there and the strings seem to vibrate.

Is it the best Int Tube amp out there, probably not but for the price it is tough to beat. If i had $1300-$1500 and i was going to buy a another used amp I might get a Cary SLI80 or a VTL IT85 but I'd rather plays with some speakers like single driver or a pair of Reynaud Twins or DeCapo's.

I never need a remote. Turn it on and go. Wish i had a remote for the turntable though LOL. I listen to lots of blues, some rock, mostly vinyl, lots of Public Radio and soem cd's and love the sound.

Dont use JJ EL34's they can cause arcing in this amp. I had this problem, talked to some dealers who comfirmed that i am not the only one this happened to. I have the mullard reissue EL34's and SED's and both sound great. I did send my amp into Mitch Singerman to look it over and replace the tube socket and he saw no damage to the amp everything checked out fine. It seems the JJ's pins may push the metal tabs in the socket out more than others.

My friends are amazed at the sound from this thing. I am tempted to try some set or other amp but why bother :)
The Audio Research CA-50 is very good sounding for the money (they are usually available for around $1,200 used). It has a remote.
I also recommend the Cayin A50T ( EL 34's). I own the 55T with the kt88 tubes but the sound/music the A50 makes is more to my taste. I also play around with tubes in my Leben CS600. Maybe you can find a Leben CS300 pre-owned in your price range. The Leben is very special !!
But price-wise the Cayin is the winner. ( better then Primalina if you ask me). Biassing the Cayin is really simple and it also gives you more control over the powertubes. Cayin remote really works great!! That's what I miss on the Leben.
The SQ-88, 55 watt integrated may be worth a look. Remote control of the volume, three inputs. Self bias. Very well put together. More info can be found at Quest for Sound. Fun hunting.
I certainly hope you find what you want. I know you definitely can. Don't rule out KT-88s until you have tried the reissue GEC Gold Lons I am a dyed in the wool EL34 afficianoda who was told by a tube guru that this tube would be just what I want. In fact it is it sounds like a potent EL34. e-mail me, you will be surprized.
I have to echo Grinnell on the PL 2 , it really is a good piece !

I have owned a Cayin 88T . It is nice but the PL will give you a better defined presentation due to more detail and top end extension . It will also give you a better low level sound if you listen in the near field . Where the Cayin outshined the PL was in the lower registers . The PL was a little thin in the mids and did not go quite as low as the Cayin . However , when I rolled the input tubes , the mids filled out nicely and the lows were as deep as the Cayin but more defined . These were compared on my present De Capo i speakers .

I have also auditioned the Cary SLi-80 against the Cayin on VS speakers. I would say that the two had a similar sound with the Cary having better definition/detail . I have often refered to the Cayin as a poormans Cary . The Cayin can be switched from Triode to Ultralinear via the remote whereas the Cary had the switch mounted on the amp itself .

All of the comparings were done using the same equipment with the only changes being the integrateds .

Good luck .
Thanks for the feedback everyone. I'll look into all of these a bit and see what I can come up with. It looks like there are a bunch of viable options to consider.
What about the Onix SP8 Tube Integrated amp at/by AV123? Ballsy EL34-based 45 wpc and marked down from $999 to $599 new w/warranty. Very retro-cool looking, too.
I bought a Cayin A50T back in Feb '08. It was my first tube amp and it sounds terrific. I'm using it with a Marantz SA-8001 w/King Cobra ICs. VERY smooth, (no fatigue) and detailed sound. It sounds best after 15-20 minutes of warm-up. I run a pair of tapered quarter-wavelength pipes that are 94 dB efficient, so 16 watts of power isn't a problem. How efficient are your speakers?

I definately prefer the triode mode over the ultralinear mode. There is more space around the music and it sounds richer.

I highly recommend this amp.
I owned a Cary SLI-80 and still have my Cayin A-88T. I have never heard a McIntosh MC-275. The Cary and the Cayin do not sound remotely alike. To compare them, would be a little like comparing Roast Beef with Cake. Neither attemps to convey the same sound signature, and which is better is largely personal preference in what type of sound you like to hear.

The Cary SLI-80 is a very detailed and somewhat linear extended sounding tube amp with relatively close to solid state presentation, and a very nice tube blush to that.

The Cayin has a warmer more forward midrange, is more dynamic and immediate sounding, and has a little less extended presentation. The Cary is more mid-hall, the Cayin is more of a vibrant front row center sound. The Cayin, however, is not like what I consider to be overly lush and artificial sounding like some older Conrad Johnson gear.

I personally preferred the Cayin myself. I like it best with SED KT88 tubes, RCA VT-231 (6SN7), and Mullard CV569 (ECC35/6SL7) tubes. The SED KT88s have a very vibrant dynamic open sound with a forward textured midrange and great bass and very good highs.

The Cayin A-88T is very sensitive to tube rolling. You can choose almost any sonic signature. Those who want the Cayin to sound more warm, almost as warm as older CJ equipment, can put in SED 6550 tubes which sound beautiful in the mids, although the soundstage consticts a little. Those who want a more detailed extended sound, but still want to hear some warmth in the mids, can use GEC Reissues (I liked the Chinese KT88s, haven't heard the JJs). I liked the GEC reissues more than the EH or the Genalex Lion KT88s, which to me were a little too extended and not warm enough in the mids for me with the Cayin.

My only quibble with the Cayin, was that with my personal preference in tubes, I hear a very slight hardness in the upper mids (which went away with the other tubes by the way). But what I hear with my preferred tubes that makes it all worth while, is a very dynamic vibrant open real sound - as if you are sitting in with the band.

So, it is apples and oranges whether you prefer the Carry or the Cayin amps. They are two completely different amps. The Cayin has been applauded by all professionals who have reviewed it as being extremely well built. Its detractors are a little too caught up in the China makes junk stereotype. No doubt, some of it is junk. However, the Cayin with its point to point wiring etc (unlike some newer McIntosh tube amps) is definately not! I teamed mine up with a Joule LA 150 MKII Preamp and they made great music together.
I also have heard cayin amps and enjoy them all. i like the flexibility of most of the having pre-ins and the clean look and the quality remote with a bunch of functions.

the insides of the cayin also are very nicely laid out point to point and clean.

the sp3/8 has a MUCH warmer sound than the cayin, and because of that it looses alot of top end extension compared to the cayin.

good luck in your search
I currently own and use the following integrated Amps:
Mac 2275
Audio Research CA50
Cayin A70T (very similar to A-88T but with different front end tubes and Quasi Tube rectification)
Cayin MT12A
Jolida 102B with JD50a remote adapter (in reality a passive preamp)

The Cayin A70T and the Mac are used with a pair of B&W 805S monitors.
The CA50 with a pair of AR S310HO floor standing speakers with Sequerra T9 ribbon tweeters.
The Cayin MT12a and Jolida 102b with Sequerra MET 7's,Radio Shack Lineaum tweeters and a powered subwoofer.

With all that said:

A).The CA50 was not a good match with the B&W's (or any Low Efficiency speakers for that matter). With the high output AR's it is superb using Tungsol reissue 6550's

B). The Cayin and the Mac have no problem driving the B&W's to more than reasonable levels in a 27'x18' cathedral ceiling carpeted room (log walls). The Cayin even works well in the triode mode since I went Gold Lion KT88's for the outputs. Overall I slightly prefer the Mac but it's close and the price differential is substantial.

C). The EL84 amps (Jolida 102B & Cayin MT12A)may work in a small room at restricted volume levels like a bedroom or office. Even in this type of venue the subwoofer is really required to get sufficient bass.

I hope this helps, good luck.

As a follow up to my reply above the tube complement of the listed amps is as follows:

Mac2275- Tungsol reissue 6550's, Mullard CV4024's(12at7 driver position), Sovetek 12ax7lps phono preamp, Mullard 12ax7 reissues in the tone amp position.

Audio Research CA50-Tungsol reissue 6550's, EH6922's

Cayin A70t- Telefunken 12au7's,Mullard 12ax7 reissues, Gold Lion KT88 reissues, Sylvania 5AR4 rectifier.

Jolida 102B-Russian 6n14P (EL84 eqiv),Mullard CV4024's(12at7 driver position,Mullard 12ax7 reissues

Cayin MT12A - Telefunken 12au7's,Mullard 12ax7 reissues, JJ EL84 outputs