Buying a COMPLETE Tube Amp System for Living Room

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by XUR, Jun 26, 2019.

  1. XUR

    XUR Active Member Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    Hi All,

    I am in the market for and researching a complete sound system package. I would like it to be centered around a Tube amp with tower speakers.

    Initially, I was intent on finding a vintage setup to match a vintage tube amp, but I feel like that is too limiting of a path and not necessarily a core value for me. I just want a setup that is well known from a brand appeal and resale standpoint, has good aesthetics, and of course, has excellent sound.

    Since I am new to this, I'm most nervous about finding a package with components that synergizes well with each other and ultimately leads to good sound. It's hard to find these components to begin with, let alone test them out in person. But my goal is to try and buy a "vetted" package once and hopefully end up with something awesome in one go.

    With that, I'm hoping to seek the expertise of this forum on the following packages I have the opportunity to buy. I want to keep my budget for EVERYTHING, all said an done, under $8k at most.

    Option 1:
    Speakers: B&W 802D
    Preamp: B&K Reference 20 or Nikko Beta 20
    Power amp: Nikko Alpha 130
    Phono preamp: Bellari VP-130

    Unfortunately, there is no room for a tube amp in this budget.

    Option 2:
    Speakers: B&W 804S
    Preamp: B&K Reference 20
    Power amp: McIntosh MC275
    Phono preamp: Bellari VP-130
    Turntable and accessories: with money left over

    Option 3:
    Speakers: McIntosh XR7
    Preamp: Cary SLP-2002 tube preamp
    Power amp: McIntosh MC275
    Phono preamp: Bellari VP-130

    What do you guys think of these 3 options? Also for the MC275, which is quite expensive, it's the current model with the LEDs and not the vintage one... what's a good used price for this amp?
  2. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    My system is in the $8K range.
    Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum
    Magnepan 1.7
    Rega Planar 5 with a Benz-Micro Glider SL
    Musical Surrounding Phonomena 2+

    Even if you go with updated new gear, you are about $8K.
    Rouge CM MkIII ($3000)
    Magnepan 1.7i ($2000)
    Rega Planar 6 ($1600)
    Phonomena 2+ ($750) (mine was $650 with a $100 coupon off eBay)
    I bought the Glider off Audiogon ($700)

    If you don't like the Maggies, you could go with maybe Vandersteen Model 2 Sig II for ($2700). This would require you to go with a used CM, maybe a MKII for closer to $2000.

    Something to note about the CM. You only really need to play around with the center tube for rolling. It's a 12AU7 tube, so you can affordably purchase even NOS tubes without getting in too deep.
  3. Vinyl Archaeologist

    Vinyl Archaeologist Forum Resident

    Personally I look for clean used or demo gear. The big B&W speakers thrive on power and might not be the best match for tubes. I'd look toward Line Magnetic and more sensitive speakers. Something like a Lm-518ia (there may still be one in the classifieds?) and Tannoy Arden. Also even if you listen to records casually the Belarri is pretty awful (I used it briefly in a secondary system) and you will see big gains from upgrading that to something else.
    olson, Jvalvano, trd and 4 others like this.
  4. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Forum Resident

    There is a massive bottleneck in the phono preamp. If you're even half-serious about spinning vinyl, that'll unfortunately hold your entire system back in a big way.

    With that out of the way, I have to ask these questions because there's not enough info to go on.

    1. Why do you absolutely want separates instead of an integrated amp?
    2. Why are these the only packages you're considering?
    3. What kind of sound signature do you like? Neutral VS warm, laid-back VS forward, etc.
    4. What kind of music are you planning to use this system for?
    5. How big is the room the system will be in?
    6. Are you opposed to buying used? You'd save a *bundle* (as in thousands) doing that!

    The reason for all these questions is to ensure what you end up with has a much higher likelihood of suiting your environment and your tastes... and also for you to end up with the highest possible sound quality for the price.
    somnar, james, trd and 3 others like this.
  5. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I am pretty much with you on this one.

    The big B&W speakers do thrive on power and I would use something in the 100-Watt range, like the Rogue Cronus Magnum, not the MC275, which is not that steller of an amp and (IMO) is way overpriced, for what it is.

    The Bellari VP-130, is not a good tube type phono preamp, or even a good phono preamp period.

    There are many better options out there, even SS in the lower priced phono preamps.

    I also agree on the Line Magnetic 518iA. If you find some reasonably priced speakers, then it would be a far better performing amp for you, due to its higher power and SET design.

    I owned one a 518iA, and it is one of the best sounding amps I have ever heard and at 18-Watts, you have a greater selection of speakers available to you than with a more typical low watt SET amp.
    thomaskong and Echoes Myron like this.
  6. spartree

    spartree Forum Resident

    Find yourself an Audio Note dealer. System synergy is this company’s bread and butter. My suggestion would be a pair of used/demo AN-E speakers (about $5000 used) with a used/demo OTO Phono SE integrated amp (about $3000 used). The OTO is a fully tube amplifier with tube phono stage.

    Or if you can settle for a somewhat smaller speaker than the AN-E, consider the AN-J (about $3000 used) and you’d have a bit of cash left over for a turntable such as Audio Note’s TT-1. As a budget option that always punched above its weight, I’d consider keeping an eye out for a Systemdek IIX, which is basically the same turntable as Audio Note’s TT-1.

    Again, synergy is what this company is all about. They sell complete systems and rate their components at various “levels” to make choosing the right system easier. And their stuff holds its value like crazy.

    AN-E + OTO:
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
  7. XUR

    XUR Active Member Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    Thanks for the replies. The 3 options I listed are actually used and compiled by a local seller. It would be easy to pick them up but I wanted to gauge your thoughts on the level of the setups and if they were good matches
  8. saturdayboy

    saturdayboy Forum Resident

    Tube amps work better with more efficient speakers imo
    olson and bajaed like this.
  9. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Forum Resident

    Answering my questions will give us far more to judge whether they'd be a good fit.
    bluemooze likes this.
  10. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    As others are noting, the Bellari does not have a good reputation.

    Please consider auditioning various speaker brands before committing. The options you got are mostly B&W. If that's the presentation you love, fine. But there are many speaker 'schools' if you will, and B&W is just one of them. You may vastly prefer others, such as BBC-style speakers (Harbeth, Spendor, Rogers), Audio Note (as suggested above), other British designs (Proac, ATC), or continental European designs from Dynaudio, Audio Physic, etc. Or American brands like Klipsch or Zu (horn designs), which represent a rather different approach to sound reproduction.

    If you go B&W, forget about tubes. They require high quality, high power solid state amps (150 W/Ch @8Ohms and beyond) to sound as intended by the engineers. So, at least on paper, I don't agree with the 804s/MC275 combo in your option 2.
    tmtomh, Bananas&blow, timind and 4 others like this.
  11. jlykos

    jlykos Forum Resident

    Parts Unknown
    Some random thoughts:

    The Bellari phono preamp that you have cited is not even a real tube preamp. It's all solid state with a tube buffer to give it some distortion. Almost all "tube" phono preamps under $1,000 fit into this category (yes, I realize that there are exceptions). True tube phono preamps are not cheap and it can be hard to find a good one to complement your system under your budget. You may want to look at solid state options like a Sutherland 20/20 (or anything else by Sutherland), which is an outstanding value.

    B&W speakers love power. I auditioned a pair of the 805s with 25 watt / 45 watt PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium and it sounded terrible. Switched to a 100 watt Anthem and it sounded far less terrible (but still terrible - I really don't like the 805s). You just can't power B&Ws adequately on tube power on your budget. The suggestion for a Line Magnetic 518 IA is a good one (I have one myself and love it), but you will need to find more efficient speakers or ones with not so hard of an impedance load to drive. I have a pair of Canalis floorstanders and while they are not terribly efficient at 86 watts, they are very easy to drive because their impedance stays above 8 ohm for virtually the entire frequency spectrum and only dips to 6 ohm for short periods, with gentle curves.

    If you want a tube system, I would add Devore speakers to some of the recommendations listed above. I also liked Harbeth and Audio Note speakers a lot when I was auditioning them with tubes.
  12. Echoes Myron

    Echoes Myron Forum Resident

    The LM518IA in the classifieds right now is 22 WPC and the best amp I have ever heard. SET magic. That would make the centerpiece for an amazing system.

    Go used on the speakers...get $4k retail speakers for $2k. 87DB sensitivity and up. That still leaves you $3500 for a $2k TT (new) and $1500 phono pre (i would also go used on the phono). Could be a truly world class system!
    HiFi Guy and SandAndGlass like this.
  13. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I have no specific first-hand experience with any of those particular pieces of gear but a couple of points to suggest you keep in mind:

    Most importantly, matching speakers and tube amps is not the same as matching speakers and solid state amps. Solid state amps tend to be relatively powerful, with very, very low ouput impedances, can deliver a fair amount of current, and, within the limitations of their power supplies, their power output increases as the speaker impedance load decreases.

    Tube amps are totally different. They have relatively high output impedances, can bump up into limitations with low impedance speakers that demand a lot of current, and the more the the speaker load deviates in either direction from the flat impedance the amp expects to see, the less power the amp will deliver. In other words a tube amp likes a relatively high impedance speaker, and an impedance that's very flat, and a phase angle that's very flat, and since very high powered tube amps tend to be expensive to buy and run, also pretty efficient speakers.

    Most speakers today are NOT build to be "tube friendly." They have multiple drivers, complex passive crossovers, impedances that swing wildly form 3 ohms to 20 ohms, and often impedances that are low and phase angles that are turn pretty steeply capacitive in the upper bass/lower midrange, where there is a lot of musical energy and so those speakers demand a lot of current.

    Tube amps may have trouble driving these sorts of speakers, leading to frequency response alterations, dynamic compression, even distortion.

    Something like those B&W 802D speakers -- with an impedance of around 3 ohms through the upper bass and lower midrange, and a 4 ohm impedance a -50 degree phase angle at 60 Hz, then a wide and steep swing up in imepdance above 20 Hz through the highs -- is exactly the sort of speaker that really ins't the sort of design that would be typically thought of as "tube friendly."

    I don't know about the 804S but the Stereophile measurements for the 804 Diamond look pretty similar in terms of steep phase angle and low impedance through the upper bass and lower midrange. I would think those would be speakers that would be pretty current-hungry.

    You might be fine with the MC275 and those speakers -- that amp has a 0.33 ohm output impedance on the 4 ohm tap. But as you're considering and trying out different options you might not want to try to drive those speakers with a single ended triode amp with a 1 or 2 or 3 ohm output impedance, and lighter power supply with less power output. Something like that Line Magnetic integrated that someone suggested quite likely would not be an idea amp to drive those speakers.

    If you do have a good dealer nearby and you can demo these things, I'd try matching the amps and speakers, comparing how SS and tube amps of similar power output sound with a given set of speakers, and use some dynamic music with lots of upper bass lower midrange energy for the demo.

    Second, I'd say, if you're really committed to a tube system, I believer that that the Bellari VP-130 is a hybrid tube/solid state phono pre with tubes and op amps both in the amplification/RIAA equalization circuit. Nothing wrong with that. But some people who are committed to a tubes want an all-tube amplification chain, with no solid state amplification or buffering devices in the signal chain (people seem to take less issue with solid state diodes and regulators and power supply elements, but some tube aficionados would certainly only accept tube, not solid state, power rectifiers too).
  14. XUR

    XUR Active Member Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    Thanks for the breakdowns, I'm learning a lot just from these replies alone.

    If these 3 options I'm pursuing used locally are not the best matches, what's a better place for me to go find the ideal setup to buy? Where can I find used demo gear of tube amps, etc.?

    1. Why do you absolutely want separates instead of an integrated amp? Not a firm requirement, just needs to have tubes
    2. Why are these the only packages you're considering? Curated by a Local seller, Used
    3. What kind of sound signature do you like? Neutral VS warm, laid-back VS forward, etc. Haven't listened to enough yet to quite comment accurately
    4. What kind of music are you planning to use this system for? A broad range so ideally I'd like a versatile system
    5. How big is the room the system will be in? About 20 by 15 ft, quite open in space with glass windows
    6. Are you opposed to buying used? You'd save a *bundle* (as in thousands) doing that! I want to buy used
    Strat-Mangler likes this.
  15. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    Just an opinion but most tower speakers, as specially large tower speakers, ave voiced for today's SS amps and like a lot of power, even reasonably efficient ones.

    I think that you would be better off with large SS amplifier, if you go the B&W route. If you reconsider your choice of speakers and go to something a bit more tube friendly, you will enjoy your new tube based system a lot.

    It is a myth, that replacing a SS amplifier with a tube amplifier is somehow going to bring magic to a system with speakers that are better served by SS amplifier's.

    This part is so critical to tube enjoyment, get speakers that pair well with tubes and you will be rewarded.

    While I use a separate tube preamp, that is so that I can use different tube power amps.

    I've owned Line Magnetic, Rogue and PrimaLuna and they are all nice tube amplifier's. I see no reason for you to need to purchase separates, You are better off buying one of their fine integrated tube amplifiers, thereby saving the extra expense for a costly tube quality preamp.

    Put this money that you save in the preamp into buying better more efficient speakers.

    The better quality and more efficient speakers that you buy, the more that you will enjoy your tube system.

    The more efficient your speakers are, the greater your choices can be with your tube amplification and options like lower powered SET amps become a possibility.

    The Line Magnetic being a 22-Watt SET can be used with a greater selection of speakers then similar low powered SET's.


    Although I do have a tube phono preamp, I have also owned very nice sounding SS phono preamps.
    hifisoup, tmtomh, russk and 2 others like this.
  16. stereoguy

    stereoguy Its Gotta Be True Stereo!

    Consider a pair of tannoy saturn floorstanders.

    They are efficient enough to work with tube amps 20 wpc and up and they sound fantastic.
    HiFi Guy and SandAndGlass like this.
  17. ZenMango

    ZenMango Forum Resident

    Need more info. Objectives?
    B&W just not an ideal match for the electronics you mention. Then again you’re working w a dealer so take the time to listen and make your decision.
    Listen with your heart, not your brain.
    Your answer to question #3 is telling... knowing will save you from future regrets. Take time, listen. And don’t limit yourself to the systems you asked about. Why “must have tubes”? I’m a tube guy but there’s plenty of great SS gear out there.
    Sounds like you need to explore a bit more.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  18. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    You're in SF - there are plenty of audio dealers in the Bay Area. Get out and listen to as many system types as possible. Don't worry about budget for now, just figure out what best suits your taste. Once you've done that, take note of all the components and return here for further guidance.

    I'm sure there are also some forum members in that area who would extend an invitation for an audition at there home. I'd be surprised if there isn't an audio society out there you could join - many opportunities for figuring out where your preferences lie. In some regards, you're very fortunate to be an audiophile in that region.

    I believe Fritz Heiler of Fritz Speakers is in the Bay Area - you should definitely look him up - a great guy to speak with and you might discover how overrated many towers are.

    Yes, this approach takes more leg work but you'll be much happier in the long run.
  19. thomaskong

    thomaskong Forum Resident

    Washington State

    I keep Vaughn Cabernet as reserve for my Lansche 4.1.

    This one works well with tube amplifier like Cronus Magnum II that I have.

    If you are interested, then I can give you a chance to audition the speaker with Cronus Magnum II for 2 weeks.

    For details, please PM me.

    After tube rolling with Telefuken 12AX7, Amperex 12AU7, Cronus Magnum II sounds very nice.

    Of course it will be nice if you could get good SET tube amplifier, but it will be over your budget.
    dogilv, Echoes Myron and SandAndGlass like this.
  20. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    What a beautiful setup! Is that your own listening room?
    Echoes Myron likes this.
  21. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Golden Gate
    Good to check in here, but in SF at least visit and chat here:

    Hi Fi Home Theater San Francisco High End Electronics AV Projectors Highend Speaker Systems Loudspeaker System

    Haven't ever been to that last one. They look pricy, but they might have nice items on consignment (used).

    You need to discuss and be open to some alternatives, and these retailers are a good place to do that, esp AudioVision. They're plain-spoken and helpful.

    Your wish list is restricted and at odds with the budget, at least for now. Tubes and vinyl aren't cheap. Look at and/or audition integrateds. And a zillion other speakers.

    If your wish list and budget are firm, go used.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  22. spartree

    spartree Forum Resident

    Agreed, it looks great, but no it’s not my room. That is an Audio Note dealer’s room. This is mine:
    hifisoup, nectar, tmtomh and 10 others like this.
  23. John Mee

    John Mee Well-Known Member

    As several members have noted, your suggested combination may not be the best choice, howerver I have noted a wealth of sound (excuse the pun) advice to help you make an informed decision. In addition, I am not sure why you have decided that tower speakers are a requirement. I (and others) suggest that you look at a combination with good synergy, that fits your music tastes, environment (sonic, decor, et al) and budget.

    As Spartree suggested, you probably should visit several dealers. In addition to the ones noted by GD0, there are two Audio Noted dealers in the Silicon Valley area who can talk to you about the synergy of the Audio Note line of products. Both of them will be at the California Audio Show next month (see below).

    As Helom noted in Buying a COMPLETE Tube Amp System for Living Room , you are in SF, so I suggest you take a day to visit the California Audio Show on July 26-28 in Oakland so you can hear a variety of systems and talk to several vendors.

    SparTree suggested that you find a pair of AN-E speakers to listen to. The Audio Note room (5226) will have a pair of AN-E-SPe HE speakers. While the amplifier on show will be the new Meishu Tonmeister, not an Oto, I suggest you plan on taking some time to listen to these. Bring music that is representative of the music you would play on your new system and that you know well. The AN room will have both CD (Redbook) and vinyl (via the new TT3/Arm III/IQ3 turntable combination), but will probably not have USB or streaming capability.

    Audio Federation (the other Bay Area dealer) will not have AN speakers, however they will have very high-end Audio Note CD playback machines, which may not be relevent to your exact needs. Listening to a variety of systems, across a variety of price points will help you begin to understand what can be achieved for a given set of factors.
    XUR, Anton D, Helom and 2 others like this.
  24. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Forum Resident

    I prefer yours. When can I move in? :D
  25. Anton D

    Anton D Forum Resident

    Chico CA
    This is perfection.


    Another vote for meeting Fritz, he is in Fairfax, I think.

    Fritz Speakers Loudspeakers Sound System Designs

    SF Audio Club....

    San Francisco Audiophile Society – Inspiring Bay Area Enthusiasts Since 1995

    Go to Audiovision and check the used gear. Ask for Marlon.

    Hi Fi Home Theater San Francisco High End Electronics AV Projectors Highend Speaker Systems Loudspeaker System
    Helom likes this.

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