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Entry Level Tube Recs


gigantic
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Refreshing my H700 Heresies has rekindled my audio obsession. I'm currently using a Marantz AVR with an Alesis RA-100 power amp slaved to drive the Heresies. I have been mulling over getting a tube amp to drive them, instead. My budget is $1000 ballpark, I could conceivably spend a little more, but I'd rather spend less. Available near me are a slough of Dynaco ST-70's in various states, ranging from untouched to recapped & tubed in the $700-1200 range, a Boyuurange A50 Mk III 300B for $500 and tube rolled Willsenton R8 for $1400, as well as a number of HH Scott & Fisher tube amps in the $700-$1000 ball park. what should I be looking at & what should I avoid? I do have a modicum of solder-singing experience, but I'd rather not buy something that needs work before I power it up...
TIA,

Lance

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13 minutes ago, gigantic said:

Refreshing my H700 Heresies has rekindled my audio obsession. I'm currently using a Marantz AVR with an Alesis RA-100 power amp slaved to drive the Heresies. I have been mulling over getting a tube amp to drive them, instead. My budget is $1000 ballpark, I could conceivably spend a little more, but I'd rather spend less.

 

 Have you considered a Tube Preamp? I recently bought a Schiit Freya Plus and wow it really added the holographic imaging I was looking for with NOS Tung Sol GTB tubes without sacrificing anything. If you buy the unit new without tubes it will run you about $900 after shipping and taxes, I was able to find a couple matched Quads of NOS tubes for about $150 each to my door. Lots of great reviews all over the web and on youtube. 

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Just now, jjptkd said:

 

 Have you considered a Tube Preamp? I recently bought a Schiit Freya Plus and wow it really added the holographic imaging I was looking for with NOS Tung Sol GTB tubes without sacrificing anything. If you buy the unit new without tubes it will run you about $900 after shipping and taxes, I was able to find a couple matched Quads of NOS tubes for about $150 each to my door. Lots of great reviews all over the web and on youtube. 

a tube pre is less than ideal for my setup. I'm using my AVR for 7.1 channel audio and using the 2nd amp to drive the Heresies as my main 2 channel speakers, but also part of the 7.1 system, about 7-8 feet apart, with a pair of smaller bookshelf speakers at 10-12 feet apart for wider imaging. currently, I'm listening about 80/20 digital/vinyl with the onboard DAC doing the work digitally. I'd have to reconfigure more than I want to add a tube pre; a tube power amp or attenuated tube integrated would work better for the setup I have.

 

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3 hours ago, Shakeydeal said:

Whatever you decide, I wouldn't use the AVR as a preamp. Get an integrated and just do a cable swap when you want to listen to two channel. But using an AVR as a preamp into a good tube amp negates what you are trying to accomplish.

 

 

I'm not sure I'm buying that, since the tube power amp will be doing the lion's share of the work. I could see bigger issues if it were reversed, particularly with matching pre output and amp input impedance or a SS power amp potentially sterilizing the tone of a tube pre. At any rate, I'm not interested in switching cables, I'd rather sit on my *** and use my remote ; I want the added color of tubes to drive my Heresies, while using my AVR to drive my subwoofer and second pair of front speakers for 2 channel audio and occasionally, 5 or 7 channel. 

 

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21 minutes ago, gigantic said:

I'm not sure I'm buying that, since the tube power amp will be doing the lion's share of the work. I could see bigger issues if it were reversed, particularly with matching pre output and amp input impedance or a SS power amp potentially sterilizing the tone of a tube pre. At any rate, I'm not interested in switching cables, I'd rather sit on my *** and use my remote ; I want the added color of tubes to drive my Heresies, while using my AVR to drive my subwoofer and second pair of front speakers for 2 channel audio and occasionally, 5 or 7 channel. 

 

 

Ok, it's your ball game. But I think you are underestimating the importance of the preamplifier. You will probably change the sound somewhat by adding a tube amp as you suggest. But I'd estimate you will only get about 60% of the available performance out of the amp this way. But it sounds like you are willing to accept that tradeoff.

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the unquantifiable qualities of toobs that we seek not withstanding, I like the tone of my AVR, and it also provides the option of bypassing the preamp circuit processing, so guess I'm still not seeing the tradeoff. I guess I could see your point with using a Dynaco ST-70, but how would it be an issue with an integrated amp such as the Boyuurange A50 300B or the Willsenton R8, which has both main in and integrated circuits? 

 

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I alternate between an RA-100 and Crown D-45 on my Heresy IIs. The RA-100 is a nice amp and not on many peoples radar. You can also pick them up for little money.

 

As much as the Dynaco amps were good in the day, (I have one the I got in the early '70's, from a friend who built it from a kit, and I've put a new driver board in it and have a second driver board to try) I think your money could be better spent.

 

How loud do you listen? 300B amps may be great for you. I had used 2A3 amps in the past, but am currently all SS except for my preamp, which is a simple linestage. So many choices. Depending on your 2 channel listening involvement, you may be fine with what you have now.

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1 hour ago, Marvel said:

I alternate between an RA-100 and Crown D-45 on my Heresy IIs. The RA-100 is a nice amp and not on many peoples radar. You can also pick them up for little money.

 

As much as the Dynaco amps were good in the day, (I have one the I got in the early '70's, from a friend who built it from a kit, and I've put a new driver board in it and have a second driver board to try) I think your money could be better spent.

 

How loud do you listen? 300B amps may be great for you. I had used 2A3 amps in the past, but am currently all SS except for my preamp, which is a simple linestage. So many choices. Depending on your 2 channel listening involvement, you may be fine with what you have now.


I've ruled out the Dynaco amps and amps derived from their circuitry, if only because without a tube pre, I don't think they'll impart enough character to make it worth the investment. I do think a 300B amp would be ideal, along with an amp switcher to switch between tubes and the RA-100 for 2 channel and movies. I live in a condo, so 70 dB is about as loud as I go; with the Heresies at 99 dB efficiency, I only need a few Watts. Frankly, the RA100 driving my Heresies and the Marantz AVR driving the Jamo I/O speakers on the front channel of the surround system sounds really pretty great. I agree that the RA-100 is a seriously underrated piece of kit- I picked mine up for under $100 to drive a pair of near field monitors in my bedroom recording studio, but when I pressed it into service to drive the Heresies, slaved to the Marantz AVR pre, it really shined. I probably am fine with what I have now and I'm not disappointed with what I have, but I also have a bit of FOMO and what we call in the guitar world, GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and want to see if a tube amp would make something that's really quite good, even better.

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1 hour ago, gigantic said:

...and what we call in the guitar world, GAS (gear acquisition syndrome)

I understand that all too well. I have three guitars, four RTRs, an ADAT and DAT, three usb interfaces and I would need to look in the storeroom to remember the rest.

 

 

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Unfortunately, recommendations don’t usually work out.  The only way to make a judgment is to audition an amp in your own system.  Perhaps there are forum members in your area who have tube gear which they can bring over.  Lacking that, buying from a dealer or company which allows returns (like Decware), is another possibility.  Remember, your hearing is unique and only you can judge what will provide the greatest listening enjoyment.

 

Maynard

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3 hours ago, Marvel said:

I understand that all too well. I have three guitars, four RTRs, an ADAT and DAT, three usb interfaces and I would need to look in the storeroom to remember the rest.

 

 

Yeah, I currently have around 20 and build and finish guitars at http://instagram.com/sparklemotionguitars to support my habit. Any money I make gets funneled back into more gear. 

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Considerations for a Tube Amp would include:

 

-purchase price

-sound quality

-Cost and availability of replacement tubes

-reliability

-power output and distortion

-age of the small parts and capacitors

-appearance

-synergy with a specific speaker (and associated electronics)

 

 Some of that is subjective and some is objective. Sound Quality is about like recommending wine, or clothing to someone you don't know. "Sounds great" is a woefully inadequate recommendation. 


A sensible fallback is to use a popular reference as a starting point. For example, MILLIONS of people have owned and enjoyed Dynaco ST-70s. There's a good reason---it was a sensible, solid design with Chevrolet level capability and reliability. Not a Porsche, but not a Nash Metropolitan either. Once heard, it can form a baseline reference that millions of others can relate to. It makes upward moves easier to calculate. Even some one says, "I like the ST-70, but I wish it were faster sounding" people with ST-70 experience can relate that comment to their experience and go from there. 
 

You could do a heck of a lot worse than a proper ST70 as a "entry level starter."

 

 Good luck!

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On 10/16/2022 at 11:20 AM, gigantic said:


I've ruled out the Dynaco amps and amps derived from their circuitry, if only because without a tube pre, I don't think they'll impart enough character to make it worth the investment.

 

Never heard a Dynaco (but have owned many other tube amps), but you have mentioned not getting enough character without a tube pre, I'm not sure I understand what you mean???  I use solid state preamps with my tube amps, I have seen a number of others that say they do also, we obviously feel we are benefiting by using a tube amp.

 

FYI some tube "integrated amps" are no more than a tube amp with a volume pot and extra inputs.

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17 hours ago, 82 Cornwalls said:

 

Never heard a Dynaco (but have owned many other tube amps), but you have mentioned not getting enough character without a tube pre, I'm not sure I understand what you mean???  I use solid state preamps with my tube amps, I have seen a number of others that say they do also, we obviously feel we are benefiting by using a tube amp.

 

FYI some tube "integrated amps" are no more than a tube amp with a volume pot and extra inputs.


I think I'm leaning towards a low power, single-ended triode amp rather than an ultra-linear one.

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On 10/16/2022 at 5:03 PM, gigantic said:

Yeah, I currently have around 20 and build and finish guitars at http://instagram.com/sparklemotionguitars to support my habit. Any money I make gets funneled back into more gear. 

 

Nice! I have a few guitars, and a recently acquired original 1968 Fender Dual Showman Reverb amp with the 2x15 JBL cabinet. Bigness lives here.

 

I've been through Heresys, Chorus IIs, and now vintage La Scalas, and now have a little stash of stereo tube audio amps. I would definitely start with the Willsenton R8. It will save you time and expense.

 

 

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32 minutes ago, pcbiz said:

 

Nice! I have a few guitars, and a recently acquired original 1968 Fender Dual Showman Reverb amp with the 2x15 JBL cabinet. Bigness lives here.

 

I've been through Heresys, Chorus IIs, and now vintage La Scalas, and now have a little stash of stereo tube audio amps. I would definitely start with the Willsenton R8. It will save you time and expense.

 

 

I commissioned a Lux Plus from Strange Audio Experiments this spring that should be ready for delivery soon. It's basically a modded 5E3 Tweed Deluxe, with an interesting cabinet design.

I'm leaning towards the Willsenton R8 or R300 because they're ready to go without mods. The R300 is desirable for its 300B tubes, but tube rolling may prove cost prohibitive; I like that both have main in options in addition to their Integrated amp ins. There's currently an R8 that's already been tube rolled available in my neighborhood for $1400; it's been listed for a month, so I might be able to get it for slightly less. I also have options for returned R8s on eBay; it's a bit riskier, but for only $1000, that eases it somewhat. Only hitch is that I'm waiting on a small inheritance which may arrive at some point in the next week to several months, so I can't sn@tch anything up right away, but I also have a check from some side work burning a hole in my pocket and could grab a Reisong R50a Mk III right now... the latter requires some mods to be optimized, so I think I'll hold out for the Willsenton; incidentally, the seller of the R50A is selling because he bought an R8, which tells me that holding out is the right thing to do...
 

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