Electronics for Harbeths -- $5-10K

I've been looking for an amp/preamp or integrated to pair with my mid-sized Harbeth speakers (86dB sensitivity, minimum 6ohm impedance, ~50Hz crossover to a powered sub).

I've dug deep into Pass Labs, ARC, Levinson, HiFi Rose, PrimaLuna, Ayre, MF's Nu-Vista line, Hegel, etc. -- the usual suspects. But I haven't found a perfect fit, b/c I have a few constraining requirements:

- weight not much over 40 pounds

- an HT Bypass input and at least 2 line-level outputs (for powered sub & headphone amp); no digital inputs required

- I love well-designed tube gear, but in this case, I'm restricted to SS

In terms of sound -- the most important factor, of course -- I rarely't exceed moderate listening levels in a smallish room (10 ft to seating position).  I do, however, enjoy a large, three-dimensional presentation & uncompressed dynamics, and sonics more like the sweet, tubelike house sound of ARC & Pass than the "analytic" superdetailed sound of Luxman or Levinson (both outstanding companies, but just not the right fit in this case).  One motivator is that after recently switching to more revealing Analysis Plus Silver Apex cables, I find I can no longer stand the sound of my last-gen Class D amps.

A Pass Labs XA25 amp + SP-12 pre combo comes pretty close, but doesn't have quite enough power. MF's new NuVista 800.2 would be perfect if it didn't weigh nearly 90 pounds. 

Then there's Ayre's new VX-8 amp, or EX-8 integrated, sound great on paper, but which I know almost nothing about, aside from specs & a Stereophile review.  Anybody own one of these?

I have no opportunity to demo any of this gear live -- disabled & don't get out much -- but if anybody would like to recount their first-hand experience finding a soulmate for Harbeth speakers, I'll be listening. 



I know you said you want solid state, but given the sound qualities you’re looking for I immediately thought of a hybrid integrated amp and specifically the Unison Unico Due.  It’s only got a couple small tubes in the preamp section and is very low maintenance, and the amp section is high biased to provide some Class A-like sound qualities that I thought you’d also like as the Pass amp seemed to really appeal to you.  And obviously you have the opportunity to swap tubes to dial in the sound best to your liking.  It’s got plenty of power (100+100W RMS into 8 Ohms, 180+180W RMS into 4 Ohms, 290W+290W RMS into 2 Ohms) and at about 35 lbs. it comes in under your weight requirement.  It’s available from places like Sound Approach and The Music Room who offer a return policy if it doesn’t work out for some reason, which is nice and while not free is certainly a nice option to have.  Just another option to ponder FWIW, and best of luck in your search. 


... than the "analytic" superdetailed sound of Luxman ...

May I ask how you reached this conclusion? Is it based on what you've been hearing or did you try a specific Luxman model and found that to be the case?

Dudes the OP has a 40lb weight limit requirement.  

@cundare2 can you go tube preamp solid state amp?  

if so, try a Cary SLP 98 tube preamp with bypass and then a Bryston 3b3 power amp.  Each are under 40 lbs.  The Cary is super transparent with a spectacular atmospheric sound stage and fast life like dynamics.  

The new Brystons are super smooth and powerful, the 3b3 has 200 bona fide watts per channel.  It also has adjustable gain, the lower 23db setting a perfect match with the Cary.   I get excited thinking about how amazing this pairing would sound with your Harbeths!

Oh boy -- woke up this morning to find all these reeplies!  Thanks, everybody!!

Hope I don't miss anybody:

Jimmy: I'm up in the air re: Benchmark.  I hear so many good things about both models, but I still wonder: At that price point, could they possibly be in the same league as the $10K boxes I've been looking at? (And yes, you don't have to point out how ludicrous that question might be, but, you know...)

arafiq: my characterization of Luxman's house sound was culled  from many comments by Luxman owners on this & other online forums; plus hints garnered from remarks in published reviews from trusted authors.  As with almost every other component mentioned here, I have no way to hear anything first-hand since the only audio showroom in my state closed some years ago (a matter of continuing frustration for me).  But sure,  I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise if you have a different perspective based on live auditioning with speakers similar to mine.

soix: THx for the recommendation, but I am locked into solid-state.  You don't have to sell me on tubes -- I'm a tube roller from way back and when my hands used to be steady enough to hold a soldering iron (today, they shake so much I sometimes have trouble using a mouse), I loved building, refurbishing and modifying tube gear.  Unfortunately, tube electronics simply wouldn't fit my room configuration & physical constraints this time around.

dweller: You know, I haven't checked out BAT, but I will at your suggestion.  Have you heard the equipment described at your link with Harbeths?  Again, what I'm interested in is synergy -- not the "best" there is, but the best for my particular system.

avanti: Thanks for reading every line in my post!  You know, I have looked breifly at the Bryston cubed line, but never followed through for reasons that elude me right now.  Unfortunately, again, tubes are not an option, although I've certainly heard great things about the Cary preamp.  Maybe it's time for another look ath the Brystons, though.

One new candidate is Ayre Acoustics's Series 8 line. More on that in a separate posting.


One new candidate is Ayre Acoustics's Series 8 line. The new VX-8 power amp just got a great review in Stereophile, although the corresponding preamp may not be a great fit.

However, the updated EX-8 2.0 integrated looks pretty close to a perfect match, at least on paper.  The $8000 analog-only version (it'll sit behind an external DAC/streamer) weighs a mere 25 pounds, pumps out about 135wpc into 6ohms, has all the connectivity I need, including HT bypass & sub out) as well as unique features like the ability to disable individual outputs. 

That last function is especially important because the Harbeths will also be used as the FL & FR speakers when playing multichannel content.  That is, a multichannel source will be decoded by an existing A/V receiver that will forward the front-channel signals to the new amp.  This means -- think about it -- when playing stereo content from a turntable, Tidal, or SACD, the new amp will drive the sub.  The receiver wouldn't even be on.  But when playing surround sources, the sub will have to receive a multichannel-mixed LFE signal from the receiver & the new amp should not be sending a second signal simultaneously to the sub. (I have a powered MartinLogan sub that can autoswitch between any of three line-level or amplified input signals, but should never receive two inputs at the same time.)

So from a functionality standpoint, the Ayre is the only option I've found that can do everything I need.

What I don't know -- and yeah, this is the same old problem -- is whether the EX-8 2.0 is a good fit with the Harbeths sonically.  Stereophile's review of the original & 2.0 versions are pure raves -- praising even the built-in headphone amp, to my surprise -- but hey, so are half the reviews in the magazine. 

So although I've made progress finding a credible candidate re: functionality, I'm still at Square One re: sonics.

Maybe I need to start another thread with a title that specifically asks about the Ayre/Harbeth combo.  Unless any of the people here have tried that pairing themselves.