Which Tube Amp?

Ok all you tube-O-philes, I have a question!

I am thinking of getting back to a tube amp(s), maybe.
(I used to have a C.J. MV50 many years ago.)

What is the best tube amp, or monoblock tube amps, for me?
Please note that I know that I am NOT a tweaker, so the qualifications for the tube amp I want are:

Easy to no tube biasing. (Either so easy a monkey can do it, without special tools or meters, or automatic biasing.)

At least 100W/ch, and preferrably up to 200W/ch. (I need the power to drive my Revel Studio Speakers.)

While I want that nice tube sound, I don't want too much.
(I.e I don't really want that classic C.J. "tubey" sound.)

Price: Well, give me a ballpark figure for what you suggest (Used Price). I figure I can go up to $4-5,000.

Reliability: I like my ARC LS-2 preamp as it is rock solid, as is my current SS amp, a Mark Levinson No. 23.
Therefore, I want something with good build quality.

Tube Availability: I want a tube amp that can go with cheaper tubes and still sound good. (I don't want something that I have to spend thousands of dollars on everytime I retube it.)

Preferably with cages, as I have a 3 year old daughter, who while being very good about not touching my system (so far at least), she does have friends over, who would probably love to touch the "pretty glowing lights", (and whose father would then sue me (and thus take my amps!) for allowing his daughter to get third degree burns on my equipment!)

Please list all that you are familiar with, and would recommend. If you disagree with someone else's recommendation, please state that as well, (especially if you have personel experience with the offending amp!)

Some that I have considered, but tossed out include:

Any ARC tube amp, as they are all bloody espensive to retube!

The Kora Cosmos. Nice sounding, but way to much trouble to bias.

Any older C.J. amps, as they sound too tubey. (I will admit that I have not heard the latest C.J. amps, so maybe they sound different.)

Antique Sound labs "Hurricanes": (This is a maybe, because of the reliablity issues I have heard about.)

Thanks in advance for your input!
Aronov Audio LS-9100 monoblock amps are rock solid, extremely natural sounding, with their ability to optimize a speaker's bass reproduction as icing on the cake. I have been running their baby product, the integrated Aronov Audio LS-960i, which itself is splendid sounding within its power rating. I disconnected a subwoofer when the bass output of my Duntech monitor speakers became so deep, pitch accurate, and soul satisfying that it fully energized a moderate sized room. These amps are very attractive when the logo becomes backlit while powered up. No way any child or pet can get close to the hot tubes, or any other important parts. Check out their minimalist website, although the images really don't do justice to the aesthetic appeal of their components.
BAT and Wolcott both have auto bias and are good products. BAT uses 6C33C tubes and Wolcott uses EL34. Both have their strengths. The Wolcott at 220 watts is more powerful and may be found in your price range used.

Most other tube amps need a VOM, patience and a screwdriver to bias, which you said you did not want to do.
Sonic Frontiers Power 2's or 3s. Works well with current production tubes, easy to bias (built in meter) just turn the screw for each power tube, good, powerful, and neutral sound. If you want a slightly warmer sound, the preceeding model SLM 160's can be had for less than $2K if you can find a pair.
The new Conrad Johnson Premier 140 would be a great choice.
It has 140 watts per channel, but sounds much more powerful than that. It does not have the "old" CJ classic "tubey" sound, (which disappointed me at first!). Instead, it is just very transparent and open. It comes with a cage that you can put on whenever young children and/or pets might be around, and then take off when those conditions are not present and you want to enjoy the warm glowing sight of tubes! Biasing is very simple. You might be able to find a used one near $5k. but there aren't many who want to part with them.
Good luck.
Check out the VAC line of products.
The Mcintosh 2102. easy maintenance - great looks - fantastic sound.
Try Something from VTL. The ST-150 will wipe the floor with any series Audio Research VT 100 amp for about 40% less money. Luke and the gang at VTL do not build the "tubey" CJ sound. I had a Premier 4 by CJ for over 2 years and then graduated to a pair of VTL's 125 Monos. I now own a pair of fully updated MB 300s and a pair of the fab Tiny Triodes. The VTL line is (at least now) bullet proof and easy to use. Bias is done once every 6 months to a year and just requires a Vu meter and a screw driver. For your 4-5K, you should be able to get a pair of 300+watt monos fairly easily from the older run or even consider a new St-150 or MB 125s.
Have you heard the new Levinson equipment. I would go there first. Then find one used on Agon.

The Music Reference RM200, the RM-9 mkII, BAT maybe a little too dark, your ears hear what your ears hear.

Maybe the OTL's have a listen with your speakers is possible, despite the new buzz about impedance proof, I would still have a listen.


I have VTL MB-450s. They have all of the power you will need. They are a bit liquid but in no way syrupy. The have excellent bass, a wide/deep sound stage and very palpable images. I have little, curious ones, too. They have cages over the tubes. So, they are safe. They use eight 6550s per side. Svetlanas or JJs are about $30 each. The 12AT7s (1 per side) can be improved for as little as $80 total. I have had them for 6 months and I have not needed to rebias. A meter and a screwdriver is necc..
I had similiar requirements and am awaiting the return of my Counterpoint SA20 which is undergoing an upgrade. This hybrid amp has 220 WPC. The upgraded version has one rectifier tube and two SA-9 tubes-no biasing necessary.

Tube rolling is not cost prohibitive. You can read all about it at altavistaaudio.com. This site is maintained by the designer of the original amplifier. It it also a recommended component at http://www.high-endaudio.com/ where a number of amplifiers are reviewed.

You can buy a used one and have it upgraded for far less than you are budgeting and have lots left over for premium tubes and music.

Just my $.02- good luck to you.

i strongly second Ljgi on the McIntosh 2102.
I spotted some of them available at a local authorized McIntosh outlet selling for just under $5,000.00 with full warrenty. I don't know how universal this discount is but the 2102 is worth every penny even at full price.
The new CJ's are way better than the 50 you owned, try a 60 or 140, Some of the tube amps out there sound so solid state, why bother with tubes if that is the sound you want.
Hi Kurt,

Like Michael above, I had a Counterpoint SA100 completely rebuilt (Premium Gold version of the NP100) by Mike Elliott. It has two 6SN7 tubes that never need biasing and is 100wpc. The NP220 has twice as much power. If you want something that sounds just as good or better, looks a lot nicer, and costs more, check out his Aria amps (Aria Audio?).

Like Michael states above, the maintenance is non-existent. The tubes are self-biasing and there are only a few. They are a hybrid design, so the tubes are in the input (adding tube traits), while the SS output adds some beneficial SS characteristics like stronger bass, etc. They sound great with cheaper new tubes, but the extra $100-$200 for two NOS Sylvanias is well worth the money. I have been using my first pair for 2-3 years and they still sound great. More benefits...the amps don't run hot at all and the tubes are well protected (both in the Counterpoint and the Aria).

The amps are pretty neutral on their own, so you can experiemnt with different tubes to tailor the amps sound (if you want to). I think my NP100 portrays every recording accurately, but still gives me a feeling of musicians playing music...something more than a technical reproduction. The bass is very strong, the mids and highs are perfectly balanced, and the dynamics are great. It manages to be detailed and extrememly musical at the same time. I use mine with Merlin VSM-M speakers, TG audio speaker wire, and a modded Counterpoint SA5000 pre and have been listening happily for several years now. I occasionally feel like upgrading my CD or turntable, but have lost the urge to look for other amps.

That said...I would check out the David Berning OTL amps as well. :-) They seem to be a great design with many of the benefits of Mike Elliot's designs, but even smaller and lighter. They are also OTL amps which are supposedly quite special sounding (and I agree, based on my one listen to a pair of Atmasphere OTL amps with some Merlins). They have the palpability and feel of tube designs, but are not "tubey" in the least.. I believe the Bernings sell for $4000-$5000.

I am sure the Bernings would sound different than the Mike Elliott designs, but I recommend researching both (as well as many listed above). Good luck! You should find an amazing amp with your budget.
I just replaced my Levinson 27 with Rogue M-150's. They should be on your list.
The Audio Valve Challengers are wonderful. They auto-bias
You should not toss out the ARC amps so quickly. My VT-100 Mk III has never needed rebiasing, has a solid top plate so hot tubes aren't exposed, and has not yet needed to be retubed after 4 yrs of light/moderate use. If you buy replacement tubes from ARC, yes, it is very expensive, but if you buy the 6550's from Upscale or some other reputable dealer and use the biasing screw tool ARC gives you, it is affordable and easy. The sound of the VT-100 is great, as is its reliability. You can find them used for very good prices on this site.
The 'connoisseurs of coloration' notwithstanding, if you want accuracy to get as close as possible to 'true to the original' then you CAN go by the specs.

There are a few low power Triode amps with distortion <0.1%, but not many, at any price (check out Rogue). The guys like a warm blanket to cover trashy highs either in the CD or another component, and believe, 'its not the specs, its how it sounds' rethric that is necessary to sell very expensive yet inferior audio products.

However if you play a sonically superior, well engineered, not over-mixed CD, when componenets are not the problem, you will never hear that superiority (the warm blanket ---you may as well actually cover your speaker with a real blanket :-)

Also note, Audio Artistry, for instance, recommends for its say 'Dvorak' main panel: 100wpc minimum. OR, 25wpc tube amp.

Do not believe what is said, but what you hear. Beware the 'psycho-acoustic' phenomenon (aka: gullibility through suggestion :-) and compare your best recollection of real live sounds to what your system, or the source material, is producing. That is the best ANYONE can do, regardless of who is paying them to say it.
get the VTL 450 SIGNATURES and learn to use the screwdriver and meter once every six months
Has about 100 watts; easily replaceable tubes made currently; simple bias system that never goes out anyway; good slam; should work well with your speakers; Stereophile class A
I would suggest a set of BAT VK 60 monoblocks. You can order a tube cage direct from BAT. They auto bias and provide 120 watts per side. Heaven for your setup might be a set of BAT VK150SEs, they will cost more than your budget even used, but they are in the select group of they very best money can buy

If it were me, I would investigate further on the Hurricanes, they are just so much amp for the money. I know a very fussy audiophile who knows his stuff and after owning tons of mega buck stuff he is using the Hurricanes now. You could be way below your budget even for a new pair, leaving you with lots of money to retube them as needed
Another vote for VTL MB-450 has cage, and rebias every six months.
Blue Circle BC28. 120 watts per side, 2 6922 tubes (even good NOS are relatively cheap). Lots of good inexpensive new 6922 tubes available. No biasing. This is a hybrid amp with tubes in the input stage and a solid state output which give you a nice neutral mix of warmth and "pop". Available for less than 5K new. There is a recent review on Sound Stage I believe.
If you are going to consider a hybrid, consider the Llano Trinity or Phoenix amps. Tube voltage stage, SS current amp, uses one tube per channel, no biasing, no exposed tubes. Tremendous wattage and current delivery; can be configured as monoblocks or stereo. Built like a tank. My Trinity sounds pretty awesome with NOS 12AU7s at about $50-$100/pair. Each pair should last years and years.
Thanks to all of you who responded to my thread!!!

Unfortunately, my wife has thrown me a curve, and has knocked my budget down to $0. (Of course, I can always sell something to get the money, so I figure my budget is now around $2K, which is what I figure I can get for my Levinson No. 23.)

Using this figure, I have calculated that most of your great suggestions won't work. In addition, she wants the amp to be inside the stereo rack, so monoblocks are out, at least for now (So that eliminates the BAT, Wolcott and VTL suggestions). The MacIntosh does not really fit my decor. My brother and I have owned Counterpoint before, and to be honest, the build quality was lacking somewhat. (Both he and I had to have repairs done to our units. But they did sound good, I will admit that!) Therefore, I have settled on the Music Reference RM-200. (While it needs biasing, it only has a few tubes, so it should be faily easy to do, and the tubes seem to be cheap enough.) If any of you have any thoughts on this choice, please let me know what you think.

By the way, I am not disappointed with the Levinson amp, I merely want something different, especially after my friend upgraded to tube amps from his Classe amp. It really sounded good. He bought the BAT 150 monobolocks after having the Kora Cosmos.

What year is your Llano Trinity? Is it in excellent condition? If is's gathering dust how much do you want for it? Whatever happened to Randy White?