SuperBAF Cheap Tube Amp Guide ~$1200 or less

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Sep 13, 2016.

  1. powermatic

    powermatic Friend

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    The Rega may be your last turntable, but from my experience that Sumiko BP will be the first thing you replace. Listen for yourself and report back.
     
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  2. ohshitgorillas

    ohshitgorillas Almost "Made"

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    Maybe so, but I've never had a MC cartridge before. I have been using a Music Hall mmf2.2 with an Ortofon 2M Bronze I got used for a good deal at the end of its life (I held onto the cartridge), then once that died I swapped on an old AT cart that a friend of mine gave me, which was decent, but didn't survive moving cross country so now it's a Shure M97xE. Is the Sumiko end game? No, but I suspect it will be a big step in the right direction compared to what I've been using.

    Now, to keep this thread more on topic: I had never heard of Elekit before, but their kits look really really nice for a lot of reasons. I will need to dig more into some reviews to see if they're for me, but I've heard lots of wonderful things about the 300B and I love that they leave room for cap upgrades on the PCB. The price tag is a bit over my stated budget, but said budget can be stretched for the sake of DIY.

    It's far easier to explain to someone "I built this $1.5k tube amp for my headphones" rather than to say "I paid $1.5k for this headphone amplifier"...
     
  3. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    Only if you value your labor at zero.
     
  4. AllanMarcus

    AllanMarcus Friend

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    I disagree. It's a value thing. If one pays $1.5k for a headphone amp, that is what you are getting. If one builds a $1.5k headphone amp, one is likely getting a >$1.5k amp for $1.5k (plus labor). One gets an amp that assumedly is worth more than the sum of the parts. To the average person, hearing that someone built something tends to negate the initial capital expense as necessary for the enjoyment of the building, and the assumption that the expenditure returned a higher value, both in the fun of building it, and in the final results.

    My next amp is a Mainline, then probably a Masterpiece or EleKit. The journey is the reward (for me).
     
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  5. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    Respectfully, I don't think the elusive "average" person would understand the additional $1500 ticket for the "journey" if one can arrive at the same destination instantly for $1500 less. Maybe someone who is already a diyer in some other area and an audiophile. I'm not questioning the value for someone who enjoys that sort of thing, just the assumption that it makes the spend "easier to explain," especially to the "average person." If the construction of a kit that costs 1500 results in an end product that is worth more than that sum, then the delta is by definition the value that person has placed on their labor. Simple economics. But the value of the journey itself independent of the end result makes it more, rather than less easy to explain to the "average" person, who is neither an audiophile or a diyer.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  6. ohshitgorillas

    ohshitgorillas Almost "Made"

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    lmao I think you're putting way too much thought into this, man

    If I told any of my friends "I paid $1500 for this amplifier" they would ask me "why? what makes it so special" and I don't have a good answer that they would understand. If I said "I built this" their response would be "that's pretty cool. what makes it so expensive?" or something similar which is an easier answer. Besides that, I think the idea that building something that costs a lot of money for the end result and the satisfaction of building/learning is not a foreign idea to anyone I know. I don't think a single one would respond to "I built this" with "hm well what was the delta on your return though? can we talk about the labor cost aspect of this amp for a minute here. let's say there was a non-DIY product costing the exact same amount" because my friends are human beings and not calculators

    edit: I should mention, since this seems to be a topic of great importance for the moment, I just moved across the country where I don't have any friends in the first place. this scenario is entirely hypothetical to begin with. maybe I will meet someone someday who will gladly nitpick the economics of my DIY amp purchases, who knows? I'm open to it.

    PS I bought a Vali 2 (something on topic)
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  7. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    Sometimes I forget how much people dgaf about economics. Mea culpa.
     
  8. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    Eco-nom-ics... Isn't that the study of earth friendly vegetarian food that tastes good?


    nom nom nom
     
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  9. ohshitgorillas

    ohshitgorillas Almost "Made"

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    I think that lots of people give a fuck about macroeconomics despite not knowing a damn thing about it. I forget where I read "The worst thing about economics is that everyone has an opinion on it. No one ever goes up to a geologist and said 'Hey, man, igneous rocks are bullshit!'". (Well, as it happens, I am a geologist and having taught introductory geology, plenty of people think igneous rocks are bullshit, but I think that's besides the point.)
     
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  10. JimL

    JimL Tongues KG's hairy starfish for fun

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    Maybe I missed something, but when a component is available as both a kit and in assembled form, the kit always costs less. Back in the 1950s and 60s, for example, you could buy a Dynakit for, say, $80 as a kit, or $100 as assembled. BTW, that $20 difference in 1960 works out to about $170 now, so figure a few hours to solder a few wires and attach a couple circuit boards, that works out to around $50/hr, which ain't nothing. So there is generally some economic value for doing the assembly yourself.

    Whether the difference in cost is worth the time in labor is rarely a totally economic consideration - for some it's a matter of pride in building it yourself. Or perhaps building things is your hobby, in which case you WANT to spend the time doing it. Or perhaps you want a design that is not in commercial production, so if you want one you have to DIY. An example of this is the T2 DIY electrostatic headphone amp which costs several thousand dollars in parts and chassis, ultra-complicated, lethal voltages - but is generally regarded as the best stat headphone amp design ever.
     
  11. nachocheese70

    nachocheese70 Almost "Made"

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    I think people are overlooking the real purpose of serious DIY. The above examples of buying and assembling a “kit” as exactly kitted are generally for beginner DIY, and part of the value proposition is the learning (think internship or apprenticeship in the professional world). Or the kit is priced good enough for most of the components an experienced DIYer wants, and then swapping out specific parts.

    Coming from the guitar side of the audio world, I knew many people (including an uncle) who were serious guitar tube amp and pedal DIYers. They would start from preexisting schematics but after that it’s experience and the internet for the parts. They roll and cherry pick practically everything. Note, at this point it’s not about an absolute better, but chasing the sound that they themselves want. You can’t easily put a value on hitting that exact sound you want.
     
  12. ohshitgorillas

    ohshitgorillas Almost "Made"

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    Yeah, part of the reason I am into DIY is because there's a little voice in the back of my head saying "build your own TOTL tube amp! you can do it! no one makes the amp YOU want anyway!" This is total Dunning-Kruger on my part, because as it is I have no idea what goes into a good tube amp besides high-quality components and clean power. I have a tenuous grasp on the fundamentals of the circuits and am nowhere near being able to design my own or come up with my own modifications to anyone else's (besides "what if I replace that cap with a better one?"). As simple as they seem from my current vantage point, the idea that I could ever put together a tube amp on the level of TOTL designs by actual electronics engineers with decades of experience admittedly feels delusional. I am years away from even attempting such a thing, but I have a few books on the topic scoped out, and am learning more with every chance I get. (Also, I would 100% settle on modifying someone else's design to fit my own tastes.) In the mean time I am seriously considering a TU-8200 kit because it looks amazing for learning (auto-biasing? noice. switchable between 3 different topologies? noice.) and I'm curious how well it would hold up to a pimped out Crack.
     
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  13. allegro

    allegro Friend

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    Here is a TU-8200 that a very experienced builder finished in less than 7 hours http://www.kenrockwell.com/audio/elekit/tu-8200.htm#construction

    If you are new to kits probably triple the time. A Bottlehead Crack would definitely be an easier kit for a new builder. Good luck and have fun.
     
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  14. ohshitgorillas

    ohshitgorillas Almost "Made"

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    I have already built a BH Crack, and pimped it out, and am going to be rebuilding it soon because I know how to solder 1000x better than I did when I built the thing. It was a great beginners kit, considering it turns on at all with all the cold joints I put in there. I have since learned that extra flux makes all my joints beautiful and perfect. All said and done I think I have taken on five DIY projects, the Crack is the only tube amp though. I think I could knock out the TU-8200 in one very caffeinated weekend day.
     
  15. Lasollor

    Lasollor Friend

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    I built my tu-8200 about 6months ago, it took me one whole Sunday and then a week of 1-2 hours after work but it was my first diy ever and basically I was learning how to solder while building the amp.
    Then it took an other 2 weeks waiting for parts and tinkering to do almost all upgrades possible to it. For me the learning part was a big plus. (I could buy the kit for very cheap here in Japan, so that was an other).
    It gave me confidence to buy and recap some speaker amps. Btw I love this amp, sold all the other amps I had.
     
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  16. JimL

    JimL Tongues KG's hairy starfish for fun

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    Honestly, the really smart electrical engineers in general haven't gone into audio electronics for a few generations. Among the pioneers in High Fidelity in the 1950s, David Hafler learned electronics as a communications specialist in the Coast Guard, Saul Marantz was a graphic designer with an interest in music, Avery Fisher was an amateur musician. None of them was an electrical engineer, as audio electronics even then was something of a backwater. Even back in WWII, the really smart EE guys were working on radar, not audio. By the '70s the hot areas for electrical and electronic engineers was computers, integrated circuits, etc. Having gone to college in the late 70s, I can tell you they didn't teach you about vacuum tubes in EE, that was mostly obsolete except possibly for Class C radio transmitters, nor did they have courses in audio electronics design, nor did the top EE grads aspire to design hi-fi components. Maybe that's something they would build in their spare time.

    Coming closer to the present, the late Allen Wright of Vacuum State Electronics got his start as an electronics tech, as did John Curl. The point is, there's lots of people doing audio design who never graduated with an electrical engineering degree, so you are not as far behind as you may think.
     
  17. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    Thank you SBAF for having me purchase a Bottlehead Crack. Best kit ever for a HD650(which I need to mod now after reading up on them, lol). Currently using Winged C + Mullard tubes on my Crack, but hoping to upgrade to a Sylvania 6SN7GT +5998 Tong-Sul. I wonder what the expensive tubes will bring to the table.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2018
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  18. Ringingears

    Ringingears Honorary BFF

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    Thinking this list needs updating at some point. 2016?
     
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  19. adydula

    adydula Rando

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    I have 10+ headamps that I have either DIY'd or purchased from a variety of vendors. I have been a EE type for 40+ years in hardware development and software compatibilty and audio, 2ch has been my hobby for most of these years...in the past 5-6 years I started to muck with headphones and their associated amps and dacs etc....with the advent of the PC, ripping, Flacs and the overall convience of having a pc with a database and music player it became enticing to me to see what and how audio progressed with all this new stuff, to me.

    When I went to college we learned vacuum tubes, drew loadlines, built amps in labs, and started to learn about Bell Labs and their new fangled germanium transistors....

    I went thru all early solid state advances and chased the lowest subjective numbers and performance stuff ad nasuem.

    Now here at the more mature part of my audio journey I am going back and revisiting those good ole glowing orbs, the vacuum tubes!

    I bought some high dollar 2 ch amps from reputable vendors and built a BH Crack w/Speedball, recently a BH Mainline, a few O2's (modded with a lot of "stuff")...and after all this listening and testing (A/B) the latese tube amp from BH, the Mainline which I read some are not enamored with has stricken me with hey, you dont have to spend more to have some really, really good sonic experience that what this amp can provide.

    I have compared it with several Schitt stacks, Lyr, Asgard, Vahalla 2, and several DIY SS amps...and this amp for the price really shines to me in comparison to the others, many of which are good as well.

    But this Mainline to me, is indeed special....I got it on sale for less than $1K...I was close to a Woo Audio WA6SE but the sale broke the tie and I like to build stuff and learn.

    I spent two weeks listening to all of my amps for several hours at a time with a variety of music and found myself subjectively wanting to listen via the Mainline over all the others...

    Why?

    I guess being an objective EE type, the subjective side lately is saying its just more enjoyable to listen to....so the word that comes to mind is "muscial"...its tonality etc....details, great soundstage....just works so well.....

    I am sure that there are a few other tube amps mostly more in cost that probably sound as good or maybe a bit better. But IMO for the cost this is indeed an TOTL amp in this price point.

    Most of the dozen headphones I use are higher impedance 250 ohm and higher so the Crack and this Mainline work well with them as designed...

    I think what makes these BH amps so neat is the simplicity of the circuitry....minimal parts, great layout. The signal tubes in the Mainline, 6C45PI have very few replacements so its not a real tube roller type of amp....but the tube is indeed a very special, very linear tube running at fairly low tube voltages as tube circuits go....I think this is the main reason for the Mainline sounding as good as it does to me.

    So for an a cheap amp <= $1200 I would highly recommend it and you will have a really nice amp.

    Alex
     
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  20. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    [​IMG]

    After reading through this thread and listening to some tube amps, I picked up a Valhalla 2 about a month ago. Thanks for the posts guys, they were helpful!

    I'm still getting familiar with it, but paired with the HE1000 it's been a ton of fun. Need more time with the HD650 and Utopia pairings.
     

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