Tube virgin looking for tube amp under $3k


I’ve never owned any tube amps or preamps and since I’ve got 95dB efficient speakers I thought why the heck not? And wow! What a rabbit hole I’ve gone down In the last week or so and my head is really spinning. For just about every amp or amp/preamp combo there’s someone who loves it and someone who says don’t bother. And then the more I dig, the more brands I find.

I’ve read about these products recently:

— Erhard Audio integrated amp 
—The various iterations of the ST-70 (Van Alstein, Bob Latino, Will Vincent, etc.)
—Music Reference RM10
—Cary (out of budget except used)
—Raven (at max budget for integrated)
—Dennis Had (hard to buy/find)
—Quicksilver Mid mono (need preamp)
—Decware (too long a wait for me at the moment but maybe one day)
—Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum III (at max budget and do I really need 100WPC with my speakers in a small room?)

And probably a few others I’ve forgotten about already. 

I have to say that the Bob Latino ST-70 speaks to me for the price of entry (about $1400) and the fact that I could get away without a preamp and only use a passive input selector. That said, would an ST-70 be the best choice or only the cheapest? 

Any ideas for a tube newb who doesn’t have a stockpile of tubes to roll in and out of an amp?




larshepping
Stretch for the Raven. It will be worth it. Forget tube rolling, you won't need it. Drool bucket, maybe, for when you hear how good it sounds. Decware is the only other one on your list I would even consider, and you ruled it out anyway, so Raven. One and done.
There is an Atmasphere S-30 for sale here. It seems to be fully decked out and seller is asking $4K. You might be able to get a few bucks off.
Though a bit more than your budget, I can only say it would be my first choice.
Bob
What speakers are you using and what is the size of the listening room?

DeKay
Thanks for the suggestions so far. Is there more I can read about Raven somewhere?

I saw the Atmasphere in the classifieds. That’s $4k without tubes and it ships from Indonesia of all places.

DeKay: speakers are Omegas. Single driver. Room is modest: 10x15 with a 10 foot ceiling.
@ larshepping
Some of those other amps on your list besides the Quicksilver will need a preamp or a passive input selector. If 20 watts is enough power Quicksilver makes a nice integrated amp for 2 grand.
Integrated Amplifier – Quicksilver Audio
The problem with adding a budget like 3k AND wanting pre and amps, gonna get pretty tight pretty quick..For SUPER sound. 
VTL, Luxman, and Mcintosh. Mac, though.. you'll look long and hard to get happy with 3k in your pocket..

Gear like Ravin, Atmasphere, certain Carys,  mercy if you could spring for that.. you would be WAY ahead.. Your starting close to the top for quality.. 20 year gear...

 Bob Latino ST-70, Good gear, old gear.. you have to do a few things to stop them from going through valves..Not expensive, BUT there will be maintenance.. SQ? El34s, Where is the bass? I'm telling you.. 6L6 or KT88 valves.. unless your gonna go SS for the bass portion on your speakers.. Fruit for thought..

Regards
Decware is out therehttps://www.hifishark.com/search?q=decware
with your 95db speakers Deware will kill
i  use mine 4 wpc Mini torii with Ref 3a de Capo i  at 92db
www.raven.com

and they have link to all reviews in the e-zines.
I own a Raven Blackhawk and it is a great amp.

I also own Pathos Acoustics equipment and it is excellent too.

I have owned McIntosh and Simaudio gear but the Raven and Pathos gear is more to my liking. 

Quicksilver or PrimaLuna. 
Maybe an easier way to dip into the tube world would be with a hybrid integrated with a tube input stage but solid state amplification.  This way you get a good dose of the “tube magic” but with less maintenance and cost, and you can still play around with tube rolling if that’s your thing.  With your speakers and room something like the Unison Research Unico Primo at $2395 new might be a great option, and you can read reviews to see if its sound characteristics are what you’re after.  The importers, Fidelis, offers a trial period but I think charge a healthy restocking fee if you end up returning it, which I’d think unlikely if it delivers the sound you’re looking for.  Best of luck. 
Talk to James at Raven, he will make sure you know everything you want to know. I’m still waiting on mine, but I’m so far I’m a happy customer. 
+1 yogiboy, russ49

I heard the Quicksilver Integrated easily drive Dynaudio Evoke 10s and 20's, much lower sensitivity than 95db. It's a great value.
Don’t overlook Rogue Audio. I’ve got the Cronus Mag III and love it. If it matters to you, Rogue is manufactured right here in the USA.
I will be selling my Cary Audio CAD 300B Signature tube amp in the coming weeks. It’s has new JJ 300B tubes and JJ rectifier tubes. It was recently checked out throughly. PM me if this interests you.
Elekit TU-8600 assembled with all the trimmings. Hit up vkmusic net. You will not be disappointed. 
I would consider Coincident Dynamo 34SE Mk2 or 3
Raven at your budget ....
or for value a Black Ice audio  F22 at 1/2 your budget.  Throw in a fx glass tube wifi dac, some vintage 50’s-60’s tubes and you have a nice low maintenance initial set up that performs way above its price point.  https://www.underwoodhifi.com/products/black-ice-audio
If you can stretch to $4,500 take a look at the Octave v40se. Incredible build quality and they have an upgrade path by adding the black box or super black box. 
+1 on PrimaLuna.  Should find a used integrated integrated in your budget. 
Post removed 
PrimaLuna integrated would be my personal choice! I am an owner/collector of vintage tube gear. PL represents the best value of sound quality/build/cost today IMO!
Audiogon has 2 Cary integrateds under $3k. Not only great sound, they are beautiful to look at. For $2,500. And $2,700.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa85jc-cary-audio-cad-280sa-v12r-tube


https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa858f-cary-audio-sli-80-sig-tube
Cary SLI80 is a great choice.  Raven should also work well.

Another you might want to consider is the Line Magnetic 34ia.  It's a nice sounding unit.

I would look for a preowned Leben 300xs.....it would be another fantastic option.
Cary SLI-80 sure is gorgeous to look at. Is 80WPC too much for 95dB sensitive speakers? Though it’s only 40WPC in triode mode so there’s that....
The Octave integrated I heard was really good. If I was looking for a tube integrated that's what I would probably buy.
If you change your speakers in the future to something less efficient the Octave will be up to the task. Ellington Hifi sometimes has lightly used ones for very good prices. Not really a classic tubey sound which if you want may not be the ticket for you. 
I'd also suggest Primaluna.  You can probably find a very good price on a used integrated.  For a first-time tube user, Primaluna is a great option.  It's easy to use (automatic tube biasing), sounds good, is built very well, and can take several different kinds of power tubes if you want to experiment down the line. 

Good luck!
Scott
High efficiency is part of the equation.  You will also want to think about your speaker's impedance curve. Some high efficiency speakers with wild impedance swings can still be a problem for many tube amps.  Also, your music preference, listening volumes, and room size  all play a part in your thinking.   Some will tell you that SET designs, especially 300b base designs, render music with an unequalled beauty.  At ~3K, you are almost at the point of thinking about something like a Coincident Frankenstein used.   Is that or a similar amp going to do it for you?  If you listen to acoustic music with modest dynamics at low volumes in a small room, an amp like that could work for you.  If you listen to Wagner operas and Mahler symphonies in a 3600 cubic foot room at realistic volumes then such an amp is certainly not appropriate. 

Personally, I'd stay away from low budget amps.  Most tube amps can't really deliver the goods without high quality transformers, and those don't come cheap.   If you go OTL, like an Atma-Sphere  S-30, watch out for that impedance curve.  You should be able to pick up a used one easily for under 3K.   The M-60's, even used, are going to be out of your price range. 
Will you be listening to vinyl? If so, you'll want a phono stage built in, else you have to spring more for that unless you already have one. I have a Rogue Cronus Magnum III and I like it a lot. It drives Heresy IVs in a small, complex space and I feel like it gets the most out what the room limits can accommodate. For the price, it has a fine phono stage, it's good looking and it is made in Pennsylvania. I listened to the LM EL34 (I have a 508ia which is a dream machine) which sounded great but again I wanted the phono stage and opted to buy American. The little Leben is beautiful and very sweet sounding but no remote (which seems silly but it really is handy) and no phono. Never listened to any Cary. 
(((—Quicksilver Mid mono (need pre amp) )))1 There is a distinct advantage to having 3 dedicated power supplies independent recovery which Separate Pre amp Mono blocks provide especially compared to an integrated amp no mater how cute si the paint job ..
 There is also a distinct advantage to having great transformers have tested many and these are some of the the finest, inter-stage transformers slow turn on for long term reliability for listening performance. Quicksilver is the easy choice in the long run.  JohnnyRQuicksilver dealer over 25 years.
I appreciate all of these opinions and insights. I guess now I have to figure out how much amp/watts is just right for my speakers. For example, those Rogue pieces are nice but 100wpc is a lot for my sensitive speakers and medium sized room. But how much that matters is now what I need to find out.
@larshelling, what you say is correct with respect to a 100 wpc amp.  A class A 100 WPC tube amp will put out a lot of heat, so much so that it may challenge your HVAC system.  The right range of WPC is kind of important with tube amps or any class A amp.   More than enough is just a bunch of wasted power ending up as heat, too little and the music suffers.   I can tell you that my M-60 amps drive my 92.5 dB efficient speakers without breaking a sweat in a 2000 cu. ft. room and go as loud as anyone is ever going to want.   My guess is that for most people in most rooms with most music, a good 30 WPC amp would be plenty for 95 dB efficient speakers. 
Some thoughts on two I've personally owned.

Rogue Cronus Magnum II (not the most current III).  My experience, others may have had very different experiences.

Pros:  Located in America, nice people, you can call them on the phone.  Very heavy and powerful amp, reasonable price, good sound.

Cons:

Attention to detail is poor.  Mine came with the center screw, that secures the top cover, cross-threaded (I had to shear it to get it off).  On the CM this is a big deal because to change from 8 ohm to 4 ohm speaker taps you need to remove the top cover.  My unit came brand new and drop shipped directly from the factory, no one else had touched it.

Quality.  Generally a noisier amp over all.  Doesn't present a silent, black background.  The input selector switch failed while the amp was sitting unused and must now be replaced by the factory.  It may or may not be related to that specific switch but when it was working there was bleed-over from a not selected input to the selected input.  I also noticed crackling sounds when moving the volume knob.  Very faint but noticeable.  Can't speak to the III, but on the II, the headphone amp is quite poor.

Other.  The amp is very large (big footprint), heavy and runs quite hot so you need a large flat open surface to sit it on.

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium Preamp and DiaLogue Premium HP amp.

Pros:  Excellent sound quality.  Wonderful mid range.  Dead silent, deep black background.  Controls work perfectly and are a pleasure to use.  Built like a tank, excellent attention to detail and build quality.  Much more attention paid to the aesthetics, overall quality, fit and finish.  Still quite heavy but not as large a footprint as the Rogue.

Cons:  Above your stated cost target.  Not the be all, end all for detail and speed.  Beautiful for the human voice, acoustic instruments, music recorded in a real space (nuances, openness, etc.) Really large scale music starts to push against its limitations.  Runs hot (all tubes do).  My room is about the same as yours and it can get uncomfortable in the summer time with extended listening.  Cost, even at used prices you might find it hard to get the separates for $3k (combined they were about $7k new).

Final thought.  I strongly suggest the PrimaLuna.  Very high quality.  Very nice sound.  Perfect amp for someone new to tubes.  It works perfectly, you can roll in any (appropriate) tubes you like.  I have had two tubes go out on me.  Both were easy to diagnose, order replacements, plug in and keep going like nothing even happened.  I suggest you watch the used market.  You can stretch your budget a bit and go with separates or choose an integrated and stay within your budget.

Hope my experience is useful info for you.
I have auditioned many amplifiers with my omega speakers and my preference is low wattage single ended triode. You are certainly on the correct path with tubes. Enjoy the speaks - they are wonderful! 
You can find the Ayon Spirit III for about 3k used.  I love the hell out of mine.  It's even better suited to your speakers than mine.
With the room size and speakers I would go for DH/SET.

I use old Bottlehead 2A3 DH/SET mono block amps with wide range single driver speakers and previously used an Audion 300B DH/SET.

The output tubes I use (Visseaux, Ken-Rad dual flat plates and RCA's) now cost more than I paid for my amps and preamp.

I'm not familiar with the new Bottlehead offerings, or anything else recent for that matter.

Of the amps you list the RM10 stands out for it's unusual but really great sound.

Think it's been almost 20 years since I listened to Decware (one of their first 83/El84 amps).

What amps have you used with the Omega's (just curious).

DeKay
Almost forgot:

Here is a link to a single ended (?) solid state integrated amplifier.

https://avahifi.com/collections/power-amplifiers/products/set-120-control-amplifier

If you click on the review link @ the very bottom of the page you will read that the reviewer mated it to a pair of ZU speakers and compared the sound to that of DH/SET.

Found it interesting.

DeKay


Quicksilver integrated and put the saved 1K into a Raven "Christmas fund"
OP if you could swing the Cary V12R and the preamp.. You would be blown away.. It has ALL the upgrades too. It is one cool amp..

I own that amp also.. You can run 4, 8, or 12 valves. You can run 6v6, 6L6, KT66, KT77, KT88, KT90, El34, and 6550s. 12BH7, 12AZ7, 12AX7, a lot of wonderful options with those valves. I can swap valves and bias in 15 min, only because it takes that long to warm up. 3 minutes for the actual work..

It can vary in wattage from 6-8 watts to 100 per channel. Single ended or A/B UL. It is the best amp I’ve ever owned for ease of repair, and sound.
It is just wonderful. The real kicker.. the cost and the LOOKS.. they are just beautiful on the outside.. You can flip the Single ended to UL, by volume down and flip the 6 switches. You don’t have to shut down.

The inside is always a friggin mess. Just lazy as all get out, the way it’s laid out.. BUT I fixed mine, somewhat.. I hate to mess with certain things.. The way the internal wire makes it sound.. I like pure silver solid core heavy point to point in a couple of places.. THAT amp, no silver other than solder an a couple bridges I built and tested.. Common rail ground look nice.. BUT Noise. That mess inside pays some dividends as far as noise reduction..

It does like a high gain low noise preamp though.. I use a Mac C20 for perfection and a C2500 for convenience.

Regards
Why do you thin k you WANT a tube amp?  Why not choose an amp that meets your musical needs and tastes?  And what makes you think tube amps are better than solid state?  It's ALL in the design.  Good solid state amps in the price range you're talking about are quite good.  And there are tube amps in that price range that are three levels below average.  

So why not just pick the best amp in your price range?  
I have to say my head is really spinning. If this site allowed stickies on forums, this should be at the top for all the newbs like me. This is a really comprehensive list of manufacturers and products. 

@bpoletti If I posted about the best amp in general up to $3k, this list would be pages and pages and pages long and I can barely process this much. 
If you’re starting down the tube path for the first time I recommend the Primaluna products already mentioned. They are autobiasing and pretty bullet proof. Each power tube will trip a protection circuit instead of blowing a resister like some tube amps if/when the tube goes bad. Less fuss for a first time tuber. For under 3k you might consider a Primaluna dialogue premium integrated. Plus they take any number of power tubes if you want to experiment. The hp is a higher wattage version but with 95 dB speakers it’s probably overkill. They are popular amps and you will see the integrated for sale quite often used. You’ll probably be able to unload quickly if you find tubes aren’t for you. Best of luck.
$3,000 is not all that much for an amp.  You should definitely listen VERY CAREFULLY before you invest.  Do objective comparisons between tube and solid state amps.  You don't have to listen to every amp on the market, but consider listening to what's available to you.

If you're going for tubes, don't forget to factor in the expense of the care and feeding of tube amps.  

I'm not trying to throw water on your vision, just trying to ground it in reality and to help you up come up with the best options at your price point.
@larshepping, I sympathize with you. I just went down the same rabbit hole with my system.  I have Spatial M3 triode masters apx 95 db efficiency as well (16ohm). I was considering Don Sachs new Kootenay integrated tube amp but he is backlogged for possibly years at this point.  I ended up ordering his preamp instead.  He actually went online and made some suggestions for good tube amps to try for my remaining $1000 budget.  I ended up getting a VTA Bob Latino ST-120 tube amp. I think a similar new one assembled by Tubes4hifi was going to cost about $1900.   Don suggested this over Prima Luna that I was considering.  The manual biasing is not a big deal and the KT88 tubes seem to provide all the power i need for the Spatials.  My room size is 15 x 16 x 8h.  I don't have the Sachs preamp in the system yet so i am using my old Adcom GFP 555 preamp and i must say that it sounds very good. Dead quiet, very good detail throughout from lows to highs. I am shocked at how good this sounds for the money.  I am really looking forward to how the system sounds when the new preamp arrives.   I was worried about power since it was suggested that the Spatials might play best with min 60 watts/channel. This may not be a concern for your speakers. You may want to contact Don Sachs and talk to him about a Kootenay.
Happy hunting!   
Bob Latino VTA-120. Best with all of the capacitor upgrades. 
I have to second the Audio Note Kits recommendation! ANK provides a build service for some of their products. Any one of the el34 integrated amps will work for you. Hope you find what your looking for.
Chris
I was very happy with my first tube purchase, a Cary SLI-80 used for $2k. I've since upgraded to Cary seperates, but if I were to build another integrated system it would definitely be Cary, though for a better power/cost ratio you could also look into Rogue Audio's offerings.