Which is the best SET integrated amp under $1500?

Hello, all. I wanted to purchase an integrated SET amp. My budget is under $1500, and I was wondering which company, or which model in particular would be a good one. My speakers are Axiom M80tis, with a 4 ohm impedance, and the SPL In Room 1w/1m is 95dB and the SPL Anechoic 1w/1m is 91dB. I listen to all types of music, and I prefer an amp that can give me the most "lifelike", natural, sound possible. There are so many companies to choose from, and so many different models that I am confused as to which one to get. Does anyone have any suggestions? Please feel free to go into as much detail as possible, because I really need to learn a lot, and I could use the advice. And also, do you know of any websites where I could learn more about the different types of amps there are out there--such as SETs, 300Bs, monoblocks, etc., etc.,? Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thanks to all who reply.

Ditto to the above, I'm interested in the advice given.

Checkout a Decware (www.decware.com); they love low impedance loads and offer a thirty day money back deal. Maybe not enough power for your speakers but check it out and give Steve Deckert a call to discuss. Other than that you are looking at used. A pair of Wright 300b monoblocks is in your budget used and within a few hundred new; good stuff for the money but the chassis is cheap (good chassis cost a lot).
YOu might look at Almarro.They have a model that uses the 6c33cb tube single ended for about 18 watts.
It depends on your musical tastes, room size, volume level, and a few other things. It also depends on what type of tube sound you are looking for - lush and velvetey or more neutral.

A few that I can recommed right off the bat - Almarro A205A(5 wpc) & A318A(18wpc), Antique Sound Lab MG- SI 15 DT (15wpc in Ultralinear, 5 wpc in triode), ASL Orchid 2A3, Sophia Electric Set Music Baby.

I've got the A318A(3 inputs) and it has many great traits going for it besides fantastic build and cosmetics. It is ballsey yet neutral as far as SET amps got. It does a lot of things right. Not in the same ballpark as my Welborne DRD 300B monoblocks, but totally different output tubes and intended use.

How about some more info on what you are looking for and listen to? Also, how big is your room?
Thank you for responding Darkmoebius, I mostly listen to a little bit of everything--classical, rock, pop, jazz, etc., and I prefer a more neutral, lifelike, natural, sound over a lush one. My room is big, my system is in my living room, and so it is a fairly large size room, and so I am looking for a lot of power as well. I am mainly looking for a good amp in terms of sound quality, the best that I can get at this price point.
Leroy, I was on a similar quest so I'll chime in here. Darkmoebius mentions the ASL Orchid, a 2a3 based set integrated. His recommendations and suggestions are spot on. I have one in my office system and I can say it is beautiful sounding and extraordinarily clear. However, I have doubts it will drive your speakers well. With 3 watts, I'd expect your speakers to sound a bit anemic given their low impedance. Really would mate best with speakers close to 100db/watt with an 8+ohm rating.

In my home rig I have an Audio Note Kit1 amp. This may be a great option for you. It is a kit so you must build it, but for me that was a plus--fun, actually! Anyway, it's a 300b amp that retails for $1399 for the kit. Really nice quality components and should drive your speakers surprising well considering it's only 8 watts. Where it will be lacking will be at high volumes and low bass. Highs may also roll off depending on the impedance curve of your speaks--the flatter the curve the flatter the frequency response will be using an set amp.

The kit1 has only 1 input, so it can only handle one source at a time. Other than that, it's considered an integrated since it has a volume pot.


If you decide on the kit1, join the forum at audioasylum.com it's a great place to get more info and share your experiences.

Hey Leroy,

At 95dB, your Axiom's give you a pretty wide open choice of output tubes. My C&C IM-Bens are also 95dB and I found the 7 wpc of my Welborne DRD's(monoblocks) to be more than enough for all forms of music, including the heaviest of hard rock that I like to blast occasionally.

I just bought a used Audion Sterling ETSE integrated off A'gon today. It's a 12wpc EL34 and so far I like it. Not as holographic as my 300B's + TVC, but it still is doing a terrific job judging by the first few hours. It has mediocre Russian tubes in it, so who knows the true potential.

If you want power reserves, consider something in the 8-18wpc range. But, on my 95-97dB speakers, I really can't tell the difference, powerwise, between my 18wpc integrated and 7wpc monoblocks. It gets too loud long before I get past 5 watts.

As for dynamics, that is probably far more a function of power supply than overall output rating. I've had 20 watt outspeed 75-100 watt amps in that trait.

My suggestion is that before buying a new integrated, keep your eye out for some good deals on used amps here on Audiogon. That way, you can try it out and resell it without losing any or much money if it is not to your taste. Start with used integrateds in the $500-800 before jumping to your max range. Get one, listen for a month or so, sell it, get another. I'm on my 3rd and have learned a lot between them without losing any money. Sounds crazy, but it's better than going for broke on an unknown.

There is no way to know what's right without experience. Some people swear 300B tubes are the greatest, others the 45, KT-88, KT-90, EL34, EL84, VT52, 2A3, etc.

Unfortunately, you are going to have to take the same silly journey the rest of us are taking through components before finding bliss.

The demo ASL MG SI-15 DT that Jeff's Sound Values has for sale at $765 could be a great intro.

Darkmoebius, we must have similar tastes--I have C&C single Bens. Thought about the IMs and have had second thoughts more than once...looked at your system and really am impressed. How do you like the Baileys? I considered them and decided on a single ACI Titan as it was easier to place. There's a bit of a hole in the upper bass that I'm thinking the Baileys would fill in. Have you tried your IMs with other subs?

On another note, a friend had an Audion Silver Knight, so I'm familiar with the sound--I bet your rig is extraordinarily textural. Really what I like!

Back to the thread, Leroy--sage advice from Darkmoebius: buy used and listen. Each tube has its strength and you've got to try to see what you like.
Hi Doug,
Thought about the IMs and have had second thoughts more than once...
Aaaah, speaker envy, it's a terrible disease. You know "But, the grass might be greener over there..."

To tell the truth, I actually second-guessed myself more than a few times about not having the Single-Ben or Double-Bens. Both have wider and deeper cabinets with the larger 208mm driver resulting in greater efficiency and deeper bass response.

AND, the Single-Ben is nowhere near as visually imposing. When I got them in my house(absolutely proud as can be), my girlfriend walked in, took one look, and said "They're big and hideous". Then, walked out the room. Luckily, she has her own house because I yelled down the stairs "Get used to them because you're going long before they do". That got good a pretty good laugh out of her. My borther's wife loves them, though. Go figure.
How do you like the Baileys? I considered them and decided on a single ACI Titan as it was easier to place. There's a bit of a hole in the upper bass that I'm thinking the Baileys would fill in.
They are fantastic and I cannot picture having the IM-Bens without them. Although rated down to 40Hz, the Bens are fairly lean in the lower regions. Adding a sub (or two) really fleshes things out beautifully and adds some much needed body.

Right now, I'm trying to find the right amp because they are passive. I had a pro amp - Samson Servo 550(Samson's top of the line) - that was 175wpc into 8 ohms and it simply could not do the job. Not that the Baileys require a lot of power/current, just that the Samson was a weak, muddy, sounding amp without any dynamic power. I'm currently looking at one of the big Hafler amps, those were definetly designed to contol bass.

Not that I will ever get powerful bass out of the Baileys, that's simply not what they were designed for. In that sense, your ACI will probably outperform them by a long shot.

Yesterday, when I picked up the Audion integrated, I had the chance to listen to the guy's system which featured $18k ATC 100 (litre) active monitors. He tossed on some traditional Japanese drumming and I realized that I will never get that type of deep power and authority out of my C&C system. Not the kettle drums, no way. I can have the speed, transient attack, and dynamics, just not the volume bass of energy.

But, once I throw on some Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Andy Bey, Joh Kelloway Cello quartet, etc. none of that matters. Such is the great audiophile tradeoff.
On another note, a friend had an Audion Silver Knight, so I'm familiar with the sound--
The Audion Sterling currently has fairly cheap Russian tubes in it, so who knows how much better it can get. The first thing that gets changed, though, is the Alps volume pot. I've found that the new, fairly cheap, PEC carbon pots blow them away in clarity or transparency - like throwing open the curtains on a sunny day.

After that, I'll start implementing some of recommended Audion upgrades like removing the PCB and hardwiring the simple circuit point-to-point. Also, swap in some better capacitors and resistors in the signal path. Then, the power supply if the potential is there.
I bet your rig is extraordinarily textural. Really what I like!
Yep, there are times when I am actually awed by the texture of vocals and instruments. The body of cellos or piano. The throatiness of chestiness(are those words?) of singers. The delineation of individual instruments within a work. Or, the space between performers on good live recordings.

But, most of all, the smooth, seamless, coherence of the overall soundscape by a great single-driver. There is absolutely nothing like it. I was playing with toe-in yesterday and came to realize that I am willing to trade off "leading edge" energy of a severe angle for the greater smoothness and soundscape of a nearly straight forward placement.

And I've yet to tame my living room resonances, so all that will be magnified exponentially once I get proper treatments placed. I'm just hearing the tip of my systems full potential right now.
The Almarro A205A MkII integrsted is very high on my list of SET integrated amplifiers regardless of cost, even though it's really a single ended pentode EL-84 integrated. Still, it possesses the virtues of modern SET designs with great dynamics, that "you are there" holographic soundstage and imaging, and vacuum tube liquidity (not to be confused with bloat or warmth). For $800 for this little gem, you can invest in some really great NOS 12AX7 and EL84 tubes and upgrade the coupling capacitors to Teflon or Paper-In-Oil (PIO) caps like V-Caps or Jensens. Even after that, you'll still have money to buy LPs or CDs. For Hiro-San of Almarro to sell this amplifier at that price is an economic miracle. The build quality is superior and the benefits are out the roof.
I agree with Rhing,

The A205A is that rare beauty that defies both price and power rating. In many ways, on sheer performance alone, I would choose it over $2k-3k amps I've heard. It may look like a Datsun B210, but sounds like an Austin Martin.

It has a tonal purity that is really startling, instruments just sound perfect. And as Rhing points out, it has this spooky holographic presentation that is a hallmark of the best SET's. You just can't go wrong with that amp if speakers are sensitive enough.
I have an Antique Sound Labs MG-SI15DT integrated tube amp. It has a switch so that you can choose between 5 watts SET and 15 watts in pentode. It uses 2 KT-88's as power tubes. Has 3 imputs and a subwoofer out, and comes with a nice wooden remote control for volume. This amp has a great sound, does not get overly warm and should drive your speakers quite well. It priced out new at $1000.00.
Another thing you might like to try out is the sonic T super amp. I think you will be amazed at what this little digital amp can do for $139.00.