So... help me get started on tubes... $500 for integrated or pre/power, help me pair!

Discussion in 'Power Amps' started by Johnny Opps, Nov 13, 2020.

  1. Johnny Opps

    Johnny Opps Acquaintance

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    Hi-

    This is such a n00b question, but I finally worked up my courage to just out and ask it.

    I’ve got my main (office, nearfield) 2 channel rig up to where I like it. It’s decidedly mid-fi (Tidal->Modius->Emotiva A-100->Kef Q150s and occasional HD-6XXs) and it makes me very very happy. I could just listen to music forever. I’m sure I’ll get impatient at some point, but for now I just like it, and it gives me the time and space to write & work vs. tinker. So that’s great.

    But when I got the Q150’s, they displaced my much loved Paradigm Atom v5’s, which have certain characteristics that I love and miss. And I decided I wanted to set up a 2-channel rig in my workshop. I also wanted to take the opportunity to give a shot to a new chain. But (as you can tell from my budget above) while I can afford to get reasonably priced gear, I’m not throwing around $1,000s just to get incremental performance.

    So if I was going to spend <$500 on an integrated tube amp (or feel free to tell me I should get separates) to pair with my Modi 3 and Atoms, what would you do? I realize that a lot of folks will say “well, that’s a dilettante budget and this (tubes) is not a dilettante sport so it’s an unsolved and unsolveable problem given your constraints.” I’m ok with that in theory, but in practice I’m super happy with my solid state amplification path above, so it’s either got to be possible to “experience tubes” in a meaningful way at my budget, or I don’t understand something about the technology. I drink very expensive bottles of wine at friends’ houses, but dig $10 TJ’s best at my own. They come over to my house for single malt, and mock me for spending the $$ I do on music, but they enjoy it. It’s got to be possible to solve, and I welcome your advice.

    -Johnny
     
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  2. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    If you keep a patient eye out you'll likely (eventually) find an all-tube Jolida integrated on the used market in that price range.

    For new gear, Monoprice has some tube integrated stuff that should be in your price range. I have no experience with their tube gear but reviews and product research are your friend, and you can always return it if you hate it.

    With any of the above though, you'll likely want to figure tube cost into the equation sooner or later. On the sooner end, budget tube stuff tends to come with not-the-best tubes. On the later end, tubes wear out eventually. And looking on the bright side, you don't have to buy $$$ NOS tubes to get decent sound.
     
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  3. Johnny Opps

    Johnny Opps Acquaintance

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    That's super helpful. I spent some time looking around, and seems like the 302A/302B are the models that get the most love. Not sure if that's accurate, but the more entry level FX-10 sounds like it's got some issues. Just doing a quick read... Thank you for the guidance.
     
  4. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    302 and 502 are both good. They both have reputations for punching above their price point, and can be upgraded later if you want to squeeze every last bit of sound quality you can get out of them. I have a modded 502 I've been very happy with. From what I've seen, to get something better I'd seemingly have to spend way more money or luck into an incredible deal. I haven't felt it's lacking in any capacity, but it's probably one of those things where you don't even know you're missing out on better sound quality until you hear better gear elsewhere and have an "ohhhhh, I see" moment. They're good bang-for-the-buck.
     
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  5. bixby

    bixby Friend

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    The first thing I would ask is what do you want from tubes that you are not getting from solid state? You know how the Modi 3 and Atoms sound with the SS Emotiva, what are you trying to change?

    My experience is that many under $500 tube amps for speakers are just not that great. Will they sound different than SS amps in that price range, yup, better, not really. You really do not have much to choose from under $500, maybe some EL 34 stuff from China but in my experience these amps may not be that resolving. I think you have to go up significantly in price to get some really nice sounding tubes, like a new Dynaco kit or the like. A used Jolida may work.

    Now if you really just want to change the sound of the Atoms, a big bang for the buck way, is to work on the room. Some front wall treatments can dramatically alter what you might hear vs untreated. And then there is EQ if using a player that can implement it.

    In the end, if you just want to continue your journey with some tube experience, then that is cool too.
     
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  6. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    I wonder if a tube pre like the Schiit Freya (a bit above your budget new, but within used) is not the way to go for you, particularly since you looking to drive inefficient (i.e. they need power) bookshelves on a budget

    edit: I know how that Emotiva A-100 sounds, and a bit of tubey goodness in front of it would be something I would prefer. Of course tweaking a, let's call it 'limited' amp, with some tube coloration is not the path to certain technical gains like resolution. Still at this price level you are probably not expecting more than 'mid-fi' in certain areas. However like others have said any pure tube amp in this price range is not going to get you anything more than a "I like this difference" side grade anyways.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 13, 2020

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