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Chi-fi / entry level integrated tube amp for Cornwall IVs


dbenway
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Hello all, hope you're doing well.  I've been lurking on this board for a while now, and now I've finally managed to get myself a pair of Cornwall IVs.  Currently paired with my older version Rega Brio R, which is doing a pretty admirable job a lot of the time, but I definitely feel like those speakers deserve a little more.  Not exactly blown away by the kind of bass I'm getting with most material, although I've only had them a week so probably placement will need working on.  I listen to a broad range of stuff, but soul, jazz, house and techno would be mainstays so I do want an amp that can hold its own in the low end.

 

I've had my head turned a bit by the Luxman SQ-N150, which seems more like my kind of sound, I find McIntoshes on the rare occasions I've heard them seem a bit Harley Davidson for my tastes.  However, I probably will have to wait a little while before putting down €4k on an amp, so for the moment I'm looking at relatively budget friendly options to try out tubes, which obviously includes a lot of Chi-Fi options.  Been doing plenty of online research but seeing as it's quite difficult where I am to try any of these out, I'm interested in getting some opinions.  Sorry if this has been done to death, although to be honest part of my reason for posting is that I haven't seen a thread that goes through some of these options and how they work with Klipsch, but also to organise my thoughts, also hopefully my research too far will also be helpful to someone else, at least as a starting point.  So, here are some of the options that I've been tempted by, would appreciate if anyone has any insights or alternatives.-

 

Willsenden R8 - $893 + shipping with stock tubes - definitely an option that's towards the top of my list, online reviews seem pretty favourable, can take KT88 or EL34 power tubes, so it seems like a nice little platform to get a feel for tubes and try out different options, also switchable between triode and ultra linear modes - 25w/45w.  Downsides, I'm not wild about the look and it doesn't seem quite as premium as some of the other options I've been looking at, which of course is reflected in the price.   Also, I'm tempted by options with auto-biasing, mainly just because I've never done it before and I'm not exactly an electrical engineer or anything.  Probably not that scary once you actually do it.  Overall, leaning towards this as offering ridiculous bang for the buck, however the sound is the most important thing and I've not really heard that much one way or the other  >link<

 

Doge 10 - $1,950 + shipping with stock tubes - massively hyped online, or at least in one corner of YouTube.  Switchable Class A / Class AB, 30w/60w, auto biasing.  I like the look, seems like a quality product.  They make a big deal that these are next generation versions of Lua Sinfonia amps that were well regarded for €9k.  I have to say that I'm a bit suspicious of the Youtube hype machine here, but also the description of the sound as being about soundstage more than warmth is definitely not what I'm looking for, I want warmth and musicality first and foremost.  The manufacturer claims that they've changed the voicing a bit in their Mk3 version to find a middle ground, but I'm yet to see any independent verification one way or the other.  I'm pretty sure the price here is after going up significantly in the past couple of weeks, presumably due to all the online hype, which is making it a far less attractive option as a dabbling with tubes option.  On the other hand it does look like it might ... might ... actually be a long-term keeper.  But like I say I'm a little bit skeptical of the hype, would be very interested in opinions from outside that particular corner of YouTube. >link<  Also considering whether the Doge 5 with similar features at 24w/40w may be plenty of power for my needs at $1k. >link<

 

Muzishare X7 - $1,099 + shipping with stock tubes - seems like a middle ground between the preceding two.  I really like the look, triode / ultralinear, 25w/45w, no auto-biasing but does have a phono stage ... which I can't imagine is one you'd really use if you had any other options, so I'm not sure it's that much of a plus.  I haven't seen that much commentary on the sound, but what I have seen has been pretty mixed, so it's hard to really form a strong impression one way or the other.  It definitely seems like an attractive option, I'd just like to get more opinions from people who've heard one.  >link<

 

Line Magnetic LM-216IA - $836 + shipping with stock tubes - I get the impression that Line Magnetic are one of the more respected Chi-fi brands, but this basic KT88 amp is well priced, with switchable triode / ultralinear, 22w/32w.  Look is a bit utilitarian, but not necessarily in a bad way.  No auto biasing or phono stage.  It seems like an excellent option, but as an older amp doesn't have as much online buzz.  With that said, everything I've seen about it has been pretty positive.  >link<  Also has a slightly cheaper 15w/32w EL34 cousin >link<

 

PrimaLuna Evo 100 - €2470 (almost $3k) locally with stock tubes - speaking of cousins, PrimaLuna, Muzishare and Line Magnetic are allegedly closely related, to the point of sharing the same factory.  This is where I started my research from, but while I'm sure it's a fine amp, I'm struggling to see how it competes at entry level with the Chi-fi options above, or why if I was going this far I wouldn't just stretch to the Luxman and be done with it.  >link<

 

Decware Zen Triode - $995 plus shipping - the Yankees are coming!  I do pretty much love the idea of a 2 watt amplifier, given that most of my listening is a at low volumes.  This is the only SET on my list and probably it ultimately isn't that suited for the kind of material I'd be subjecting it to, but it does look like a great option.  Aside from the wait list, unfortunately it's probably a little easier to buy from China to Europe, although only marginally.  Probably not this time around for me, but definitely one I'll be keeping in mind >link<

 

Quad Va-one+ - around €1k used locally - Last one.  I've seen a couple of these coming up locally, 15w, nice construction, however come with a bunch of digital connectivity that I'm going to have precisely zero use for.  Quad do seem to be a pretty well regarded UK brand, though, so I'd be interested if anyone has any views on their sound >link<

 

So, these are my main runners and riders at the moment.  Unfortunately, I haven't heard any of them in person, nor is it likely that I'll get a chance to.  Would be very grateful for views / insights / alternatives. 

Edited by dbenway
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Out of the ones you have listed I have experience only with Line Magnetic and Decware. I owned the LM 518ia SET amp and it was a very capable performer. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their products. I also owned a Decware Torii II, another great choice (only in Mark IV version now).

 

Since you mentioned two amps hovering around the 2K mark, I would like to offer up another suggestion. The Aric Audio Transcend KT120 SE comes in at 2350.00. Aric Kimball is a designer of great tube amps with point to point wiring and manufactured right here in the USA. I have one of his amps in my system right now and can attest to the quality of the build and sound quality as well.

 

http://www.aricaudio.com

 

Good luck with your search. You have chosen some great speakers.

 

Shakey

 

 

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12 hours ago, MeloManiac said:

Have you considered one of the Elekit diy kits? They offer great value for money and are Japanese quality, not Chifi. 

Thanks, although to be honest my skill level is that any attempt I make will definitely end up .... below Japanese quality.  Still trying to work up the courage to do a couple of very basic modular synth projects, so it will probably be a while before I'd take on that kind of project.  Looks cool though.

 

12 hours ago, Shakeydeal said:

Good luck with your search. You have chosen some great speakers.

 

Thanks, they are fantastic.  Was pretty lucky to get them, I'd been looking for a while and was about to resign myself to paying full price (which is about $9k US here) when I found a guy five minutes down the road selling a basically new pair for about half that.  I've had them a bit over a week now and I've just stated to hit the point where I've stopped being impressed and started hearing the amp's shortcomings.  With that said, the Rega is doing a lot better than I'd expected it to, and does a pretty admirable job on some material.

 

And thanks all also for the recommendations, it's kinda amazing the amount of options that are out there now, as against even a few years ago.  The Boyuurange has also been getting some good assessments as an ultra-budget option.  

 

I have to say that right at the moment I'm still leaning towards the Willsenton R8 at the moment, mainly because it seems to be one of the most flexible options for a tube noob to try out different combinations - for those who are interested there's a long thread on an Australian website >here<.

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Just now, billybob said:

😺🤫🍀🌴🤠🦶😎☺️is an amp with tubes for sale here unless sold, just to wet your whistle.

Sorry, phone or user error but look if you want to...

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  • 2 weeks later...

We bought the Doge 10 (A model) to go with our RF63s and a Rotel CD11 Tribute CD player. It lives up to the hype!  It was around 2200 after import fees and shipping, and is fantastic, by far the best amp, and best combo, we have owned. 
Dave

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On 7/16/2021 at 8:43 PM, dbenway said:

I have to say that right at the moment I'm still leaning towards the Willsenton R8 at the moment, mainly because it seems to be one of the most flexible options for a tube noob to try out different combinations - for those who are interested there's a long thread on an Australian website >here<.

 

The Willsenton R8 is an excellent choice for you! You can even experiment with different tube preamps if you want to. Most integrated tube amps don't have that feature.

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Unfortunately Decware has something like 500 people in line for amps ....   you should really check out the Quicksilver Integrated amp.   It’s a 20 w EL 84 amp and built like a tank. Brand new $1999

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks all for the replies, been away from the internet a bit and going to go ahead and grab either the Willsenton R8 or the Doge 5 (or possibly 10) in the next couple of weeks.  Both seem like great choices - as does the Decware, but probably will join the queue on that at a later stage sometime. 

 

On 7/26/2021 at 2:55 PM, DnP said:

We bought the Doge 10 (A model) to go with our RF63s and a Rotel CD11 Tribute CD player. It lives up to the hype!  It was around 2200 after import fees and shipping, and is fantastic, by far the best amp, and best combo, we have owned. 
Dave

 

Good to hear from someone who has the Doge in real life, while I'm sure the Youtube reviewers are pretty legit I'm probably even more cautious because of how hard they've hyped it.  But it really seems like the Doge 10 really is a legit mid-high level choice?  

 

What I'm torn between at the moment was sticking with my initial idea of just dabbling with tubes - which the flexibility of the R8 plus the fact that it comes in at about €1k shipped with tubes seems ideal for - or going a little further and getting the Doge 10 which would be about twice the price for just the amp without tubes.  I suppose the hesitation is that probably going over €2.5k all in is starting to approach the ballpark price of a Luxman or the same as a PrimaLuna that I can go and demo locally.  But on the other hand I really have the impression that it's a better amp than the equivalent PrimaLuna and comparable with the Luxman which is still about €1k more expensive.  

 

So the Doge 5 has started to look appealing as a middle ground - I feel like the Doges fairly clearly have better build quality than the Willsenton and auto biasing is very attractive, the 5 comes in at closer to €1k shipped without tubes and probably has all the power I need, would probably go for Red Lion KT77s as power tubes which I gather can deal with bass extension in a comparable way to KT88s.

 

It's one of those good problems too have, I don't think I'll be hugely disappointed one way or the other, at this stage I'm probably just going to have to call and see how I get on.  And even with my old Rega I'm loving the Cornwalls even more a couple of months in, just a superb set of speakers.

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  • 1 month later...

dbenway I like the way you frame the "problem" of search. You have a very reasonable approach in my view that I can relate to. I understand the situation very well that it is problematic not to be able to hear and test the amplifiers. So you have to rely on the opinions, impressions and experiences of others. Or you have to rely on reviews or some Youtube videos. All this is not satisfactory.
Now it's been a while since you posted. Maybe you bought an amplifier in the meantime? 
If not, then I would add my 2 cents.

First of all, congratulations on the purchase of your Cornwall 4. I haven't heard them in person yet but I've known Klipsch for 45 years and I have a 1977 Lascala and a 2008 Jubilee with TAD drivers.
It seems that for the past year I have been enjoying my old Lascala again. I love passive analog and I have to say that I don't appreciate all the hassle of DSP etc so much. So you end up with a modern clean sound but the old passive Lascala move the soul, at least mine.
The Cornwalls are good classic allrounders with more deep bass than my Lascala. But I think that despite their high sensitivity, they could very much benefit from an amp that has some current delivery capability and exerts control over the bass driver. Certainly a small 10 watt amp works quite well because the Cornwall's bass driver has a hard suspension, but in a bass horn the driver is simply even better damped by the principle.
I personally also have 300B SET Audion Silvernight, the first series purchased in 1995. This is a great holographic benefit but after a while of amazement and enjoyment comes the disillusionment that the amplifier affects what I like to hear. In short more string quartet and folk and less funk and rock.

I also have a Leak Stereo 20 which could be a fantastic alternative to your shortlist. I don't know where you live, you mentioned that "here" the price of the Cornwall 4 is X dollars, so you don't live in the US? I ask because, for example, a Leak Stereo 20 or original Quad II monoblocks (which I also have) are more common (and perhaps cheaper) in Europe than in the US. 
The Quad IIs are fantastic all-rounders that literally work with any speaker if it's not too inefficient. It has "only" 15 watts but an impressive current delivery capability because it was originally designed for electrostatic ESL57. A sound that does not tire. I can say similar things about my MC275 MK4 which I have been listening to for 18 years with great pleasure on Lascala and other speakers.

To your shortlist I would like to note that it is very reasonable how you proceed. And as I said with the handicap of not being able to hear anything personally before buying. There were times when there were physical Hifi stores and where you could experience everything before buying or where you could borrow equipment over the weekend.


Since you also think economically and reasonably I would like to add one aspect. I think of my purchases also in the resale value. It would be a shame if in 5 years no one knows any Chi-fi brand that you are targeting. But...even if a Luxman amp costs double, imagine that you will always get 50% to 70% back (sometimes even more than the original price (minus inflation) if it has become a cult device) and with the Chi-fi amp I would not even be sure if it is 35%?


So in summary, a brand can be worth as much as the performance. Of course, if you know you want to keep your amp for a very long time, then the purchase price may be more important than the value retention.
I must say that I have sometimes learned to listen to my gut feeling. And I heard between the lines of your posts what your gut feeling might be. I think you have a weak point for the Luxman. Then do it. And why not get it well used from a reputable seller? Then you're on the other side of the table and you can save money significantly. New tubes are not the big financial issue if you are not in the NOS frenzy. I am very happy with my standard JJ.  

I think it is a wonderful amp. I borrowed a Luxman tube amp from a buddy 30 years ago for half a year and I was absolutely thrilled. It was an MQ68C. 
The Luxman you linked looks just incredibly good. Very purist classy and simple in a good way, almost a "Bauhaus" amp design. It matters when you surround yourself with things for many years. Just like your Cornwall 4 look super cool and timeless. They are a statement for "true" music and not "Hifi" from small boxes without body and energy (which is also important when listening quietly).

Another aspect had struck me. You got through the break-in phase of your Cornwall 4 without buying an amp too soon. You like your Rega better than at the beginning. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, KT88 said:

I like the way you frame the "problem" of search. You have a very reasonable approach in my view that I can relate to. I understand the situation very well that it is problematic not to be able to hear and test the amplifiers. So you have to rely on the opinions, impressions and experiences of others. Or you have to rely on reviews or some Youtube videos. All this is not satisfactory.

Hello Katie EightyEight! (By the way, do you have a brother named Eeyell ThirtyFour?). - Sorry! I couldn't resist. I have been looking at tubes and tube amps so those combinations just jumped out at me. Please forgive the weak humor. I'm so impressed with your thoughtful  comments on dbenway's post I want to thank you for your input. I am a little unclear about one thing you mention. You are leaning more toward the string quartet, right? I'm not too worried about differences in the musical genres we choose because I find myself listening to so many different kinds of music. Right now, for instance, I have Mike Bloomfield playing: that means blues, gospel and rock guitar and keyboard music and vocals, often with horns and strings - and that's just one example. So, I am seeking input from as many sources as I can find. As you note it is problematic not to be able to hear and test the amplifiers. So, we rely on the input of others. So, if you will allow me to ask you for some more input ....

As I said I have been looking at tubes and tube amps and, like dbenway, I am looking at some "budget friendly" options. It might be more accurate to say I'm a cheapskate and I'm considering some of the so called "Chi-Fi" amps because they cost a whole lot less. I had decided to buy a Decware amp but I want something this year and Decware wouldn't be delivering until sometime next fall. I think I want to buy a single ended triode amp (SET). So, I'm considering a few "entry  level" amps from China including a little cheapie called the "Tube Cube" sold by a retailer called "Tube Depot". This 3.5 watt per channel amp uses 2 EL84 tubes and a 12AX7B. It has gotten some pretty good word of mouth on this forum - and it's cheap. I suspect similar versions of the same basic amp are sold all over the world. I think I have seen at least one version on Amazon. Have you seen or heard anything similar?

Another Chinese candidate comes from manufacturer, Nobsound. Sold by Douk Audio, this model is named after what I think is it's power tube, 6P1. 2 of those, 2 6H8C, and a 5U4C rectifier tube complete this 6.8 watt amp. Any thoughts?

Another Chinese manufacturer favorably mentioned on this forum, Boyuu Reisong, is offering a number of inexpensive low power SET amps in different models. The A10, A12 and A50 are just a few. Have you any experience with or thoughts regarding these or any of their Boyuu Reisong relatives?

These examples are the least expensive SET tube type amplifiers I have been able to find. I wonder if there is something in or around this group that might help me decide if I will find the tube experience worthwhile. If so, I might muster all my patience and, hoping I outlive the Decware waiting list, order from this American manufacturer. Or, maybe I'll be happy with one of these Chinese manufacturer's amps.  

May I thank you in advance and ask for your thoughts?

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3 minutes ago, Area 51 said:

May I thank you in advance and ask for your thoughts?

Silly of me... I'm sorry. You should know I'm in a relatively small (approximately 15 x 20 feet) listening room in southern California. Currently using my Cornwall IIIs with a recently acquired pair of Belles on the way, I have picked up a pair of old Heresys to experiment with. They will likely replace the RP600Ms unless the Heresy Industrial Ported pair I recently purchased win out. An embarrassment of riches, to be sure. And I'll likely be using a pair of SVS subs. I've never had subs before but it seemed like something I want to experience while I can. My new place is an industrial loft type arrangement with no sound restrictions so I can listen to any kind of music any time I feel like it - so I do. 

 

Thanks again,

geo

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Hello geo. Katie back here😎.
To start with the most important of your questions, I don't know any Chinese brands and their differences. But I also have no prejudice against Chi-fi. My post before was more on principle.
Lower costs vs. higher costs and rather unknown brand vs. highly recognized brand in relation to investment on the one hand and resale value on the other. That was one point of my thoughts. By that I don't mean at all that a low cost unknown brand can't deliver good quality. A tube amp is not rocket science. The most important element will be the quality of the OTs. Everything else like coupling capacitors can also be updated in the long run...if the circuit is good. And since Chinese are best at one thing namely copying, I am not worried about them copying good circuitry. Here in Germany, tube Chi-fi is not yet so present as far as I know, but in the USA it seems to be a strong category of its own with a relevant market share. This is of course confidence-building if you are not alone with your decision and it gives a certain security in the purchase decision.

 

The other point that is important to me is the choice of amplifier circuit, regardless of the brand and its cost.
Basically, to simplify, SET vs. push-pull and weak vs. strong (starting at about 20 watts p.c.).
The camp SET is mostly ecstatic about holographic sounds and colors and transparency. The camp push-pull with more power likes the stability of the sound image and a more authoritative stable reproduction.

I favor the push-pull camp (whether triode, pentode, with or without feedback). In my experience, the characteristics of push-pull also apply to very efficient speakers. SET, of course, benefits from efficient speakers with "easy" impedance.

 

To clear up a possible misunderstanding, just like you, I have a wide range of different music that I love (BTW by chance I play a Michael Bloomfield Gibson Lespaul copy VOS). I don't like string quartet and folk any better than big band, or loud blues rock with horns and hard drums and bass.
My point was this: when I used to listen to SET tube amps then my taste in music was influenced by the amp! Suddenly it was less rock, blues, funk, big symphony etc. because the SET tubes can sound very strained to me on heavy sound material. That's when I started listening to more and more small ensembles and acoustic music.


With push-pull e.g. MC275 or Quad II mono blocks I have this serenity like a V8 engine with great torque. It is not tiring and I like to listen to any music without my taste being censored and filtered by the type of amp. Over the years I am satisfied with it even if I may not hear the very last detail.

But that's just me. My recommendation, regardless of brand and price range, is to listen to a weak or SET and compare it to a push-pull...whether Katie or Eeyell 😀 or EL84 (although those EL84 can be a bit weak if they also sound good).

Just not simply believe that SET is better in everything and you only calculate the sound pressure based on the efficiency of the speaker. This can work but you can also be disappointed if the punch is missing that you might (also) want to have.

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Hi Jeff,

I saw the R8 reviewed, quite favorably, on YouTube. $1,449 on Amazon at this moment. When I am ready to drop more than a thousand dollars I was hoping to buy a Decware amp: either the entry SET $995 "Super Zen Triode" 2 watt wonder or the $1595 "Zen Triode Integrated" which produces about 6 watts. I admit I don't have the base knowledge or experience to justify my logic or reasoning. This may not be a "logical" purchase for me. Without the opportunity to hear these amps I am trying to collect input from some of you folks to help guide me, thank you. I find the simplicity of the Decware low power amps appealing. They offer a trial period; if you don't like it, send it back. Yeah, that's pretty good. But you can't get one of those until Fall of 2022. I want something now so I am going to take advantage of Amazon's extended holiday return period to audition a few of the low dollar amps I mentioned earlier. They do offer that R8 ... Hmmmm ... maybe I could ... it's push - pull. Why do I think I would prefer to try a SET amp?  Why not? Hmmmm ...

Thanks for the suggestion Jeff. I appreciate your help. 

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21 minutes ago, KT88 said:

My recommendation, regardless of brand and price range, is to listen to a weak or SET and compare it to a push-pull...

You did not disappoint me, KT88. You're right. On paper I find the simplicity of the SET very appealing. I am fortunate to own some of the most sensitive speakers available so it seems I could take advantage of that but I suspect your analysis is spot on. I should try a push pull, shouldn't I? Maybe the R8 recommended above by JeffLebowski? There are more cheap push-pull amps available than SETs. That kinda opens up the field, doesn't it? And makes me chuckle thinking I'm gonna feel a little silly if I find my geriatric ears can't appreciate the difference between a Katie 88 and a solid state amp. Walter Egan said "the joy is in the chase" and I hope I can maintain that attitude. "I might be going to hell in a bucket but at least I'm enjoying the ride".

And you're hip to Mike Bloomfield? That "Living In The Fast Lane" album I mentioned last night led me to one of my all time favorites from his earlier band, The Electric Flag, called "A Long Time Comin'". I guess Bloomfield was tight with another one of my favorite artists, Al Kooper. I first discovered Mike Bloomfield when he was playing with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then he popped up on "Super Session" with Kooper. Although I don't play guitar I know a Gibson Les Paul when I see one but I don't recognize your model. Are VOS popular in Europe? 

Well, I'm thinking I have to open up the amplifier trials to include push-pull don't I? In my new place I have the opportunity to listen to some loud music so I do. Last night I was blasting that Electric Flag album. The low power SETs might not get it. I'll just have to try a few and find out. Thanks Amazon! Thanks Katie! Your input has been valuable and is appreciated.

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