Audio Research VT80SE amp vs Prima Luna EVO 400 or 300

It’s time to get a newer tube amp after years of happy listening to vintage mono tube amps- MFA M-120 to be precise. I will mate the new amp with my upgraded/updated MFA Luminescence preamp and power Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage speakers. The Lumi is deservedly a legend and has a fabulous phono stage, to boot.

I’ve read many reviews and comments about both the ARC and the Prima Luna gear but would greatly appreciate a response from folks who’ve had experience with either one or the other or preferably both.

My musical tastes are quite eclectic, but primarily "classical" and do not include heavy metal, nor much R+R or pop at this stage of my life. I’m partial to what some might call warm, romantic and "euphonic," and from what I know, Audio Research tends to be less "euphonic" than some other tube components. At the same time, I enjoy listening to subtle details that more syrupy components can obscure. Unfortunately, I cannot audition anything prior to purchase, neither in my home nor at a dealer.  After much experimentation, I am convinced that SF GH's LOVE tubes!

Thanks in advance. Stay safe. Be well.


Oy....I guess I am a bit late here to this discussion, but here goes. 

It really seems like a no brainer, the PL-Evo 400 vs the AR-VT80, or 80SE.   I would say read the reviews, but I know how some of you feel about that. 

While I have not personally owned either of the amps being discussed here, I have owned the AR-Ref 75se, bought as a Ref 75se, not upgraded.  Before I bought the Ref 75se, I read all the reviews on the earlier Ref 75.  The reviewers gush and gushed about it, so I was intrigued:  I bought one. However, before it was shipped to me by the dealer I bought it from, it turned out to be a stolen unit.  The dealer informed me, and the sale was canceled. 

Never-the-less, I was still intrigued, so I continued my search.  Since time had passed, I began seeing reviews of the AR Ref 75se, some by the same reviewers who had spoken so fondly of the 75:  They gushed and gushed about how great it was, and how much it was an improvement over the previous 75.  Me, I just almost vomited. Yet, as I noted, I obtained the amplifier. 

While the 75se was a decent sounding amp, I could not understand what all the hype was about.  The 75se had no auto biasing circuit, so every time I turned it off to turn it on again later, I had to rebias it.  It never exactly held the bias from turn off to turn on, though while it was on and the bias adjusted, then adjust again an hour later, then adjusted again a hour or so later after that, it usually held the bias as long as it was on.  When I say on, I mean sometimes I had it on without turning it off for a week at a time. 

But again, what was the big deal?   Biasing was a pain in the posterior too, what with that stupid tool:  Further, the amp seemed rather flimsy, and while inserting the biasing tool into the biasing holes, I was always afraid I would push the little plastic dials in; and the tool was hard to align with the slits in the little plastic dials.  In so many ways, It really was not, except for its physical size and those meters, a particularly impressive amplifier.  The VT80/80se at least has auto biasing, but uses the same two KT 150 tubes per side as the 75se to produce 75 watts per channel, so it probably sounds similar to the 75se, abet, easier to bias, or not bias.

Now take the PrimaLuna.  All the reviews I have read about it suggest it is an excellent sounding tube amplifier.  They say it is definitely a modern sounding amplifier, but still has the flavor sonically of a tube amplifier.  They don't gush and gush and gush about it, vomit, vomit, but the reviews are good.  Then too, just go to their website and check out all the information they give you; and check out that point to point wiring.  Talk about tube amplifiers! 

You know, I am 65 years old, and getting older.  I have been playing with tube amplifiers since I was 9 years old when my father bought home a Marantz 8B with a pair of AR3 speakers.  I was even partners in an audio store with a buddy of mine and his father for more than 15 years.  I have heard so many tube amplifiers, and really, I would bet you in a blind test that many people here could not tell the difference between a HK-Citation Two and a AR-Ref 75se; if they could, they might find that they preferred the sound of the HK, or even an older AR tube amp.  You know, this hobby is more about the phycology of boredom and familiarity, then it is about anything else.  But getting back to the jist of this discussion.

A brand new PrimaLuna Evo 400 will set you back about 5g and change.  A brand new Audio Research VT 80/80se will set you back in the neighborhood of around 10g and change, not withstanding any possible discounts available regarding either amplifier.  Again, this is, as I said, a no brainer even if you are considering buying one used. 

One last time, go to the PL website and see.

AR-VT80/80se:  Two tubes, KT88s, per side for 75 watts a channel output.

PL-Evo 400, four tubes per side , 6L6Gs, 6L6GCs, EL34s, KT66s, KT77, 6550s, KT 88s, KT90s, KT120s and KT150s, per side for 70 watts/channel output.

AR-VT80/80se:  Auto Biasing, with fuse protection on each output tube.  If tube goes bad, you must physically replace it: Get out the soldering iron, or call AR and let them know its coming.  And while you at it, give FedEx/UPS a call too.

PL-Evo 400: Full adaptive auto biasing with constant tube monitoring.  If a tube goes bad, aab shuts down the amp and points you toward the bad boy.  Just replace it.  Thank god because I misplaced my soldering, and my FedEx/UPS account is in arrears because I spent all that money on an amplifier.

Need I go on.  I'll say it again, this really is a no brainer.  Go to the PL website, that's all you need to do.  And if this hobby is as much about boredom and familiarity as I think it is, which amplifier do you think is going to keep you engaged the longest?

Score PrimaLuna Evo 400! 

PS: Don't get me wrong I really like AR.  I've owned quite a few of their vintage tube amps, and as of now my preamp is the AR LS26.  Its is back at Audio Research at the moment though, for some trouble shooting and upgrading.

Inaddition, I've owned countless tube amplifiers from so many different manufactures.  I would also suggest, if you're looking for a modern tube amp with all the bells and whistles, you might consider an Ayon Triton 3 Gen 4. I believe it is Gen4. 

Anyway, I bought one not more that a year or two ago for about 5 grand.  It was a 20g amp new.  A ridiculously big, heavy and beautiful amplifier, with 4 KT 150s per side, and huge, gorgeous, shinny transformers.  Regulated and controlled everything: auto biasing, high and low voltage supplies, regulated filament (heater) supplies, etc.  The amp is a frigen thrill to behold while just turning on and off.  It goes through all these checks and biasing tests, clicking on and off sections, low voltage, high voltage, filament voltage, etc., in stage.  I miss that amplifier, but I still have access to it.  Buddy of mine has it with instructions not to sell.  Anyway, like I said, it is a ridiculously big and incredibly heavy, so what I am lusting after right now is the PrimaLuna EVO 400.  Pretty much like the Ayon but on a smaller scale.  Its going to have to wait, though, because right now I have too many amps and must sell some frist

Score Score PrimaLuna Evo 400! 









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my 2 cents

if plenty of cool features, an excellent website, and value for $ is more important to a user than ultimate sound quality, primaluna offers a lot

otoh, audio research reference series is still superior for most applications when it comes to sound quality (somewhat to significantly superior, depending on speaker matching and system resolution)

primaluna has definitely taken a big bite out of arc’s business on the lower end of the tube amp market (as seen by arc, and as such under renew ownership they are trying to implement more convenience features etc etc), but this is largely a function of high and ever escalating prices of the arc gear - that said, arc’s sound quality remains unimpeachable, and a cut above

no affiliation to either arc or pl - but a current owner of amps from each maker