Best Pre/Amp or Integrated for Zu Essence

I am in the midst of upgrading my system. Current gear features Rega Saturn cd, Regar Elicit integrated with mc phono stage, and Pro-Ject Debut III turntable with Ortofon Salsa mc cartridge (just getting started in vinyl), Zu Libtec speaker cables, Zu Gede interconnects, and Zu Mother and Zu Bok power cords.

I just traded my WLM La Scala monitors for the Zu Essence floorstanders. Love the added dynamics and bass extension from the Zu's. I'm happy with them. I also like the La Scala's but appreciate the extra dose of vividness from the Zu's.

I am now looking to optimize my amplification. The Rega gear sounds pretty great with the Zu's, but I have been informed that tubes may have more synergy with the Essence's.

I am considering the following:
Audio Electronics AE3-DJH paired with Six-Pacs monoblocks,
Quad QC-24 paired with Quad II-Forty's monoblocks,
Cary 300SEI,
Primaluna Prologue 2,
Primaluna Prologue 3 paired with Prologue 7's

Any other thoughts? Budget is $4500. Since this is my first venture into tubes, I would like to stick with something that I can get on dealer demo or new.

I listen to a variety of music from small-scale classical to jazz to indie to electronica.

I am not as concerned with accuracy as much as I am with the "in-the-room" experience.


If you can get the AES as demos or new go for it. Then roll the AE-3's 6SN7s to 1940s-50s Sylvania GTs you can get them installed if you get the pre from Upscale. You might want to mix and match using the Primaluna monoblocks for the power amps instead of the 6 packs. Your budget should cover this combination.
ARC is very transparent and can give you that in the room experience with the right cables, etc. I can't say that I would personally go with an ARC/ZU combination because both have a very extended top end. Maybe too much of a good thing IMO??

I found the ribbon of the Essence bright with a VAC tube amp so for me, I would look for something rolled off and give up a little of the top end characteristics, but it seems we have different priorities. Also found a Luxman with EL84's (great little 8 watt amp)bright with the Zu's.

Throw a Mastersound 300B amp on your radar too. It would have to be used but I wouldn't worry too much about that.
Bjesien, thanks for the info. Very helpful. Based on the feedback so far, I am leaning toward either the Cary 300SEI, the Audio Electronics gear, or the Quad gear. I am familiar with the Quad house sound, but haven't heard these units in particular. Sounds like the Audio Electronic gear wouldn't be that bad either since it uses EL-34 tubes, and I guess it doesn't get much more buttery than the 300 SEI.

I am a little concerned about a 300SEI as I have heard they can sound a little "slow". I've heard that the Quad gear is particularly great in the midrange with a decent foundation. My understanding is the the Audio Electronics gear has a very "meat-on-the-bones" presentation-- lots of weight.

I am most concerned about dynamics-- the snap of a snare or the leading edge of a trumpet, for example. I don't want an amp that is too soft in this regard.

I have also found the Essence to be a little bright in the range of the supertweeter. Too extended with inexpensive solid-state gear. Not that bad with the Elicit, but definitely fatiguing with my Cambridge 340A that is in place while the phono card is being checked in the Elicit. Using the tone controls on the Cambridge unit works well to deal with it. Also, toeing out the speakers helps as well. I pretty much have the speaker placement figured out.

- threat 1st reflections on your side wall with acoustic threatment. Wall directly behind the speakers could possibly use some acoustic treatment as well. In your case, absorbtion should work better then diffusion to help with high freq. It doesn't have to be necessarily a professional product. Common household item works and can be used as substitution for pro grade treatments.
- use copper wire for speaker hook up and interconnect.
- do not aim tweeters directly at your listening position.
- amps that are reported to work with Zu speakers are listed on their website. But you can also look at these:
Solid state - Nelson Pass, Dayens Ampino integrated amp, RWA, Modwright.
Tube - Atmasphere, Melody and others.

I personally will use custom 300b PSE monos but Cary you mentioned should be a fine choice as well. Also check out 300b Audiospace integrated or Manley Labs.
Used Canary CA-306 would, I imagine sound awesome with the Zu's. 24wpc of 300B push/pull power.
I have Canary 339's and they sound unbelievable driving a pair of Tekton Uruz speakers which are VERY similar in design to the Zu's.
Preamps from Supratek, Modwright, Dodd Audio and few others work wonders, however. Integrated amp might be the answer.
If you end up with extra funds, try external DAC with your source (not that there is anything wrong with it). That might also help out with overall sound characteristics/presentation. NOS DACs are usually thought as "musical" as opposed to sterile, hifi-ish sounding. Presentation of these DACs is usually warmer, a bit recessed, more analogue sounding but often compromised by lock of resolution and detail retrieval. Ofcause this is broad generalization and there are exceptions to this description.
If you can find manufacturer or dealer to provide a demo unit or offer in home trial, I'll say go for it and educate yourself with what's out there as far as digital reproduction is concern. Few ideas - RWA, Wyred, Lampizator DAC, Tranquility DAC (if you want to try USB audio done right) and few other that escape me at the moment. I believe all these brands offer in home trial.

And finally........
Good luck and have fun
I tried an ARC VT50 with my Druids and found it a cold mixture, thin and bright but extended in the bass regions. I now have Manley and it sounds great everything ARC had but warmer Mids and smoother treble...... Voices and guitar really bounce out in front of the speakers. I have the Mahis but you could try the Snappers with your budget.
Your consideration of the Cary 300b amp is well founded, given the optimal load and sensitivity of the Zu speaker. A 300b tube amp can be slow, very fast or any where along this spectrum. Much depeneds on the power supply/ transformer quaility( which should be good with the Cary). Another important variable is the choice of which 300b and driver tube you choose(they make substantial differences in sonic presentation). 6 moons has done very detailed comparisions and found fundamental character changes based simply on which tube was osed. They also found that the driver tube impacts the sound as much/more than the 300b output choice. I can tell you from personal experience that a properly implemented 300b amp can be quite fast and dynamic, yet still provide uncanny realism and presence. Read the 6 moons review of the TJ Full Music SE 300b/6sn7 driver for an example.
Thanks for the reponses so far. I have found them very helpful.

A couple of clarifications. No used equipment unless it is a dealer overstock or demo. I don't want to invest in something that will require retubing or repairs down the road.

Leaning toward:

Quad II with QC-24 pre or

Cary 300SEI or

(darkhorse) Pathos Classic Mkii

Further thoughts appreciated.

Thanks for the feedback. Just took the plunge and ordered the Quad setup. I am hopeful that this will lead to many happy moments.

I use the Cary Audio SLI-80 upgraded to F1 triode only from Upscale Audio with my Zu Essence speakers and it sounds amazing.
I'm using a Decware Torii 3 with my Soul Superflys and it is leading the pack as far as all amplifiers and topologies I've tried. I am planning on trying it with a Shindo Auries-L (today actually) and my suspicion is that it will be an outstanding pairing.
Theres no question about a synergy between tube amps and the Essence. I've run my Essences on at least seven different tube amps ranging from 2A3 SETs to the ARC Classic 60, and all did very well. For a different perspective on life, try a Unison Research Unico P. 50 watts of very capable Class A biased output fronted by a 12Au7 in the pre. An extremely well constructed amp that performs very well and squeezes a bit more bass from my Essences than some tube amps. It's price won't add to the deficit either.
As an update to my prior post, I love the Shindo, but it is not the pre for the Torii. At least not for my amp in my friends system. The torii is still extremely highly recommended.
I think you will enjoy the Quad set-up. While I don't own the Quads, I have heard them numerous times as its one of the prime demo setups at a local dealer where I spend a lot of time. It's tonal quality is in between the very neutral ARC and the more lush AES & Cary's. I had the Essence a few years ago and thought it a very nice all around speaker from Zu. I thought the Druid was better (more energetic and visceral) for rock but the Essence with the ribbon was better (more detailed and nuanced) for jazz and Classical. A nice affordable high efficiency speaker. To do much better you will need to get into the much more expensive AER/PHY type drivers IMO.
It would be nearly impossible to top one of the following suggestions: Melody 2A3, Astro Black 22 (22 Watt pp, but great), Audion Silver Night (300B) or Decware Minitorii or Zen Integrated mod 3 out in March. These will all come in under 4,500 and will kill most nearly everything else. You may not like the tubes offered with each unit. Most can be tried at home so go knock yourself out and send me the savings so I can buy more gear ;-)
My first suggestion is, buy whatever Audion tube amp you can find up to your spending limit. The synergy between Audion's fast, expressive sound and Zu, including Audion's tonal completeness and their ability to civilize the ribbon supertweeter makes that brand a first choice. 300B SET, or KT88 SE Tetrode, or even the 300B push-pull integrated for more bass discipline than the SET amps offer, will be great.

If you can find the Quad Classic II Integrated either discounted or used to fit your limit, it's a real option. It uses power amp circuity inspired by the original Peter Walker design, but it's a Tim deParavicini rework to use the KT66 pair for 25w/ch output instead of 15w. It sounds beautiful and strong, and generally I like the quality of today's production KT66 copies, than current KT88s and EL34s. The Shuguang Treasure KT66 is excellent, and the basic Shuguang Genelex copy is not only very good but are available cheaply with cryo treatment and they are also excellent. Otherwise the Quad II-Forty route is excellent, though you can (and should) consider a better preamp than the QC24 -- that line's weak link.

In solid state, consider the Lavardin Reference 30, or the LFD below the reference model. Neither will sound transistory on Essence.

Others: Melody AN211. 16/16 SET watts but lots of drive. Also anything in the Melody Astro Black series that captures your imagination. The 22, 40 or 50. You can also come in lower, with the Mystere ia21 integrated. Or go separates with the Mystere ca21 preamp + a pair of Quad II Classic monoblocks. You have a lot of option today, given the tube amps coming out of China. But let me add another ss option:

Luxman L550A II or ax. Class A, 20/20w, lots of drive; beautiful. You only have to stretch a bit to get one new.

I indulged in Zu's recent promo for the Essence. I have a small Class D Audio Virtue ONE, and I've read that it won't pair well with the Essence. The recommendations I find are above my budget, which is <$2000. I don't really need an integrated or pre as long as the amp has stereo input and a volume control (although I could use the digital input to control that as well). Any thoughts? I also like to buy direct and made in USA.
Revised recommendation. After spending some time with other gear, I don't recommend the Torii as highly. I DO highly recommend the Melody AN211 Phil mentions above and am using it with a pair of Zu Definition speakers myself. The Torii isn't in the same stratosphere.
$4500 will buy you a nice integrated. I would consider Leben,
Triode Co. or LM Audio.
I've owned the Tri 845 integrated amp- not recommended for Zu. I hope to hear the Melody version at some point in the future
Is the Melody 211 SET really that much better than the often praised Decware Torii? That`s interesting.
This is the list I received from Zu. Not much in the $1000-$2000 price range. Any other suggestion please?

* Audion Black Night 845
* Allnic A-6000 (with 16 ohm transformer)
* Allnic T-1500
* Art Audio PX-25 (with 16 ohm transformer)
* Bryston LP2
* Denon PMA2000R Mk4
* Dynaco ST-70
* Leben CS-300
* Luxman SQ-38u
* Manley Mahi/Mahi
* MastersounD 845
* McIntoch MA6600
* Melody I-2A3
* Melody M-300B (with W.E. tubes)
* Panasonic XR-25
* Peachtree Nova
* Yamamoto A-08S (with 16 ohm transformer)
* Virtue Audio, with tube buffer
Yes, the an211 is much, much better then the Torii. To be honest, I also preferred the entry level Melody MK88 to my Torii 3.

The Torii was nice, especially paired with a good active preamp (tough to get this right) but as with many things in this hobby, the hype gets a little out of hand.
The last one on the list, the Virtue Audio with buffer is quite good. One shows up every week or two on the Audiocircle website. I heard one with my essence a few years back and it was great. The Decware Mini Torii was quite nice with the Omen Defs I had last year. Those three along with the Melody 2A3 are your best bets in your price range.
Leben CS600 gives you flexibility of tube rolling all types which can help tame the lively treble the I have heard Zu owners talk about.
Hi Morganc,
I have a Virtue Audio ONE with the 30v/130w Power Supply. Thoughts on how I could add to this instead of replacing?
A good start would be adding in a tube buffer. The buffer can be used in almost any system so even if you later upgrade the amp, the buffer will still be useful. The Dodd Buffer is the one generally paired with the Virtue amps, but there are others.
I haven't listened to a Lavardin in close to a decade but it was an unusually copasetic solid state/Zu pairing when I last auditioned both in my own house. Lavardin has made some updates to their circuits so based on the first years of hearing their updates yield real sonic improvements, I have confidence the current generation are better still.

Into the Zu Superfly 16ohms load, the Lavardin will likely sound sweetest and cleanest driving that impedance, compared to 8 ohms or 4 ohms, though any difference you perceive won't be vast. But for the 50 and 55w/8ohms rated models, Superfly will cut the output to 25-30w, with decent dynamic headroom. That will be fine in most normal size domestic rooms, but if you have a large room or just want some added dynamic elasticity, you can from Zu 25 ohms/10w resistors to run across the speaker inputs to yield a load just under 10 ohms, to get back most of the 8 ohms-rated power back.

Lavardin has a US distributor again, so good luck. If you're specifically seeking a solid state amp for Zu instead of tube, and want to consider alternatives, I can suggest others if I know what you are hoping to pay.