Line Magnetic 518IA Integrated Amp and 502CA DAC

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by IanL, Dec 25, 2015.

  1. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I recently made a big change to my system, which is based around a pair of Harbeth C7es3. About a year ago, I traded in my vintage McIntosh system (MC240 and MX110z), mostly because I was sick of getting it repaired and little things going wrong here and there. I also knew it was not an ideal match with my Harbeth speakers and I was looking for some more speed and bass impact. I had that McIntosh tube system since 2005 through a bunch of speakers and and other components. So last year I traded it all in on a solid state integrated, the McIntosh MA6300, which is 100 wpc. The 6300 did give me more speed and more bass, but after living with it for almost a year, I was just not happy with the sound of my system. I missed the tubes and non-fatiguing sound, and I never felt that the 100 wpc integrated was nearly enough power to drive my Harbeths.

    Over that time I had been doing a lot of research, along with lots of reading here. Several brands seemed to keep popping up (Audio Note, Shindo) but one was actually in my budget for the amount of power I wanted. Line Magnetic. So I was very curious about them and reading everything I could (which really is not that much) and then that review of the 518IA by Herb Reichert in Stereophile came out and it really focused my search.

    I don't have a Line Magnetic dealer near me, so I reached out to Taylor at Goldprint Audio, who is a member here. I worked with him to purchase a 518IA integrated, and by that point, I had also decided to move away from the Rega DAC in my system as well, so I also purchased a 502CA tube DAC. I want to thank Taylor for all his help and great service. I feel like I asked him a million questions during this process, and he answered every one, and contacted the importer for answers as well. I highly recommend Goldprint Audio.

    I now have this system in place: Line Magnetic DAC and integrated amp, Rega P3 turntable/Dynavector 20x2L/Dynavector P75mkII, and the Harbeth C7es3 speakers.

    I have been listening A LOT since I made this change, about a week ago. I am still gathering my thoughts about the change, but all early impressions are positive. In fact, I know I have found my long-term solution. I had concerns about moving from a 100 wpc solid state amp to a 22 wpc tubed SET amp with my speakers. It turned out to be an amazing move. The Line Magnetic drives the Harbeths better than any other amp I have heard with them. The bass is tremendous and articulate and I have never had the volume over 10 o'clock, usually around 9 o'clock for non-late night listening.

    I am also in the process of rolling tubes throughout both units. So far I have swapped out the 5AR4 rectifier in the amp with a NOS Phillips tube recommended by Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio. The improvements were not subtle. That one really surprised me. And now I just swapped in some NOS Mullard 12AU7 tubes in the DAC. I am still evaluating that change, but first impressions are the bass is deeper and more complex, and electric guitars are very very sweet-sounding.

    I'll post more about the overall sound soon. And continuing tube rolling changes too. I have some NOS Telefunken smooth plates coming for the 12AX7 preamp tubes in the amp. Also some NOS RCA blackplates and GEs to play with in the 6L6 sockets of the amp. If anybody has any questions about these units I'll be happy to try to answer them.
     
  2. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Good stuff. Thanks for your report.
     
    IanL likes this.
  3. sportzdad

    sportzdad Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Athens, GA
    I look forward to hearing more about this!!
     
    IanL likes this.
  4. russk

    russk Forum Resident

    Location:
    Syracuse NY
    Nice sounds like a great system. I've always preferred Mullard EL37s and the Sylvania KT66 in applications where 6L6s were called for.
     
    IanL likes this.
  5. james

    james Forum Resident

    Location:
    Annapolis
    excellent!

    Be sure to experiment with the 4/8/16 ohm speaker outputs. I moved the speaker wire over to the 4 ohm taps for a bit to run LS50's and Vienna Acoustics Bach Grands, put the Snells back in the system and forgot to move them back to the 16 ohm tap. This morning, after wondering why everything wasn't moving me like it had been for the past few months, I remembered about the impedance switch, put them back to 16 and everything was back to normal.

    I think I'll try that Phillips 5AR4. thanks for the impressions
     
    IanL likes this.
  6. GoldprintAudio

    GoldprintAudio Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lexington, NC
    Awesome! Thanks for the report!
     
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  7. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    The rest of my tubes came today. First I installed a NOS Sylvania 6X4 to replace the Chinese 6Z4 rectifier tube in the DAC. Hooked it all back up, and .... nothing. Switched the output over to transistor and it worked fine. So it must be the tube. I unhooked it and opened it up again to put the 6Z4 back in there, and I realized there are two jumpers that need to be changed in order to use a 6X4 in that slot. I only saw one the first time. With that remedied, everything worked again fine.

    I replaced the preamp tubes in the amp with NOS Telefunkens, and replaced the Chinese 6P3P tubes with a pair of gently used, but matched GE 6L6GC. My first impression with all these changes is that it lost some slam. I don't know if that is the GE's, or just some NOS tubes that need to settle in, or what.

    So far I can say the first tube I changed, the 5AR4 rectifier in the amp, was no question a big improvement. It removed a little bit of grunge that I didn't even realize was there, and it further solidified the bass. After that, the jury is still out. I need to spend more time listening!
     
    Dave likes this.
  8. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I've read a lot of people share that opinion. I went with the 6L6GC's because I was familiar with them (particularly the GE's) from my years with the McIntosh MC240. Once I get a handle on what tubes are doing what, out of what I have now, I may explore the other tube options in those slots.
     
  9. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I forgot all about those output options. I hooked it up on 8 to begin with. I think my Harbeths are 6 ohm. I'll have to experiment with the other options at some point.
     
  10. james

    james Forum Resident

    Location:
    Annapolis
    Atkinson's measurements said the 16 ohm tap performed the best on paper, for what it's worth
     
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  11. Ellsworth

    Ellsworth Forum Resident

    Sounds like a really great system. I will be interested to hear further impressions on the sound - especially the LM DAC. That is an interesting piece.
     
    IanL likes this.
  12. Don Parkhurst

    Don Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vancouver, BC
    That sounds like a great system to enjoy music with for a long time. Enjoy!
     
    IanL likes this.
  13. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    Congrats! Patiently waiting for PICTURES!
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  14. JMAC

    JMAC Well-Known Member

    Location:
    PDX, OR, USA
    I'm considering a similar move (from Mac MX-110z to LM 518ia), so I'll be watching this thread.
     
  15. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    Thanks for all your nice comments. I have been giving some of these new tubes time to break in before describing the sound too much. They all change the sound, and most of them are NOS, so they need a little time. I have been swapping too much to experiment, and I realized I need to just stick with a combo for a while and let it settle in. At one point I went back to completely stock in both units, and it is pretty obvious this gear was voiced incredibly well with the stock Chinese tubes.

    I will take some photos to post as well, but I don't think anything I take will beat the wonderful photos from Pitch Perfect Audio of this gear...

    https://pitchperfectaudio.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/502ca-on-table.jpg

    https://pitchperfectaudio.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/lm-audio-518-angle.jpg

    https://pitchperfectaudio.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/lm-audio-518-front.jpg

    or this Steve Huff photo: http://i1.wp.com/www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/DSC_0233.jpg
     
    SandAndGlass, Tullman, Dave and 2 others like this.
  16. CARPEYOLO

    CARPEYOLO Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I'd like to see the entire system...sounds like a real beaut. Love the look of the LM amps. You can also post it here http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/post-photos-of-your-systems-rooms-here-part-15.426744/
     
  17. Radiotron

    Radiotron Tube Designer

    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
  18. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
  19. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
  20. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
  21. james

    james Forum Resident

    Location:
    Annapolis
    Siket Disc!
     
    trd likes this.
  22. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    Yeah, that just arrived recently. I had never heard it before. But I love all the vinyl reissues that Phish has been putting out, so I figured I better not miss out! I've still actually only listened to side 1. I have been listening almost exclusively to digital since I got the new DAC.
     
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  23. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I've been listening to music in most of my free time over the last week and a half. Since I have been on vacation that whole time, it has been quite a treat to be able to listen so much. I wanted to add a few more notes about the Line Magnetic gear...

    First of all, the sound of the 518ia with all stock tubes: I found it to be VERY fast. Faster than any solid state amp I have ever heard. Very well balanced from top to bottom. Nice bass. Vocals, particularly right out of the box, seemed slightly pronounced overall. That was a very nice effect though. Tons of texture and color in the vocals. Also, a very airy sound; I was very aware of the space that a recording was made in. The size of the room, etc. Like nothing I have ever heard. Really had my toes tapping and my head bobbing the whole time. I could have been very happy with that sound... except that I ordered a bunch of NOS tubes before I even received the amp, so of course I wanted to experiment with swapping.

    Here's where I ended up (so far): In the 518ia I have Telefunken smooth plates in the two 12AX7 slots (preamp tubes), RCA black plates in the two 6L6GC slots (driver tubes), a Phillips 5R4GYS in the 5AR4 slot (rectifier tube), and the original Line Magnetic-labeled 845 tubes (output).

    In the 502CA DAC, I have two Mullards in the 12AU7 slots, and a Sylvania 6x4WA in the 6z4 rectifier slot. I also have a Shunyata power cable on the DAC.

    It took a while for the NOS tubes to sound good. Perhaps they are not fully there yet. The Mullards and the Phillips were cryogenically treated. I am not sure if that has any effect, either on sound, or on how long it takes for them to break in.

    With all the rolled tubes in there, the sound is definitely different. Right off the bat, I would say that the amp sounds slightly slower (still very fast), and the overall presentation is a bit darker. In fact, when I first put the new tubes in, things seemed a bit muddy in comparison with the stock tubes. Over time, however, that mud has turned into the most incredible and addictive bass performance I have ever heard. The detail, texture, nuance, and "groove" that I hear in the bass is remarkable. I was listening to a CD I have been listening to since my college days, the early-mid 90s, the Grateful Dead's Two From the Vault, and it was a new experience. Phil Lesh was on display. Really incredible playing too, and I must admit that I was never really aware of it before. The performance on electric bass and upright bass is insane. Thom Yorke's Tomorrow's Modern Boxes was pretty incredible. The Roots' first album. Phish's Ghost. Anything with awesome bass knocks your socks off. And stuff that I don't think of as having especially prominent bass, like Paul Simon's Negotiations and Love Songs, sounds like an audiophile mastering.

    The other difference is things like vocals, electric guitars, things in the mid- to upper-registers have taken on a very refined, very sweet-sounding presentation. I first noticed it, pretty much immediately, while listening to Dire Straits. I have been listening to their first album since high school and often use it to get a handle on what is happening on new gear. The guitars always sound awesome, this music is very well-recorded as well. But I could tell the difference in the guitars right off the bat. And combined with that rock-solid bass presentation, it is quite an effect.

    I think the NOS tubes brought a level of refinement to this gear that was not quite there before. However, it took me a while to appreciate it. Those original tubes are so well-balanced, and like I said, so fast. I don't think this is a case of better or worse. Just preferences.

    All those comments are based on FLAC files of different resolutions (mostly just ripped CDs) played through the DAC. But I have been listening to vinyl too, and that has been at least as impressive. But more notes on that later...
     
  24. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    Forgot to mention, that incredible bass performance also started to emerge around the time I tried the 16-ohm speaker taps. I switched back to the 8's briefly, and it softened up ever so slightly, so I switched back to the 16's and left them there.
     
    james likes this.
  25. james

    james Forum Resident

    Location:
    Annapolis
    Did you roll all the tubes at once or did you swap them in one at a time?
     

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