I ended up with AX-7e + Rega Saturn. I will get a pair of Harbeth SHL5 when I get around to it. Anyone compared Cx-7e to Saturn directly? I compared Saturn to CX-5e and the difference wasn't worth the price.
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Got to second the recommendation for the Ayre AX-7 integrated (or AX-7e if you can find it used). The synergy (with balanced cable) between the CD player and amp is just incredible. There is more than enough power in the Ayre amp, it sounds like a lot more than 60 watts, typical of Ayre. I use this setup with ProAc 1SC's and it is really wonderfully musical, wide soundstage, detail, good bass, everything you could want.
I am using mine with a 15 Watts Leben CS300X and it is excellent. My friend has also the 5HLS and he had the Leben and the Cary 805AE and didn't know wich to keep, since I was in the market for an amp and having the same speakers, I came over and honestly neither could decided wich was the best combination. In absolut terms, the cary has more grunt and bass but to my ears it is only noticeable when the music is very loud. At normal listening levels the difference was not that much. Also the Cary has a better soundstage. I chose the Leben because I live in an apartment and I don`t really need more power, the presentation is very natural and also because it has a feature that lets you add 3 or 5 decibels under 100 Hz. this is an amazing feature specially when you are listening late at night.
I have a McIntosh MC2102/C2200 driving SHL5s in a large room (21 x 20) and am very pleased with the sound. Lush vocals and plenty of slam when needed. Since the Mac 2275 (75 watts)is very similar, I would think worth considering if you do not mind changing power tubes every ~3 years. McIntosh has balanced inputs, but not sure if the signal is truly "balanced".
Drubin - I think we may have had this conversation before - I liked the sound of the Lavardin - what I didn't like was lack of a remote with a unit that expensive. At 55, I think I've earned the right to make volume adjustments from my easy chair.
The Ayre Integrated may be an obvious choice but I am a little concerned about it being only 60 watts, and I haven't had a chance to audition it.
I've heard both good and bad regarding the Nuforce. Seems like it's a love it or hate it situation and none of the dealers I've visited carried it.
Anyone else care to offer a suggestion?
As a Harbeth owner, I have a few suggestions. I'd probably start with the Ayre just to optimize that interface. Plinius is a perennial favorite with Harbeth, but I didn't like the 9200 with mine. I've had pretty good luck pairing Harbeth with Class D amps from Rowland and Nuforce, both of whom make integrated amps that support balanced inputs (I think the Nuforce does, but Rowland definitely does). The older Rowland Concentra, which is not Class D, would be a good match I am sure.
Then there are tube integrateds from the likes of Cary, Cayin, PrimLuna, etc.
How did you like the Lavardin? I have really wanted to hear that piece.