First Tube amp suggestions

I am thinking of buying my first tube amplifier and really have no idea where to start.  Years ago I listened to a Sophia Electric  el34 amp (SET) driving a pair of Joseph Audio rm7si bookshelf speakers in a very well set up room and could not believe how sweet they sounded together for the price. (It really felt like James Taylor was in the room).  I regret that I never pulled the trigger on that system and do not know what a good entry level system would be nowadays.  I listen  mainly to male and female folk rock and an occasional classical or jazz album (Cd's and streaming from Tidal)  My current speakers are Triangle Borea BR03's  -90 db but am open to swapping them out. and the listening room is 14' x 20'.  There is a lot of internet chatter about low cost tube amps like the Reisong A12 and the mid priced Williston R8.  Are these amps worth buying or where should I start?  Thanks in advance!


What amp do you have now, what sound characteristics are most important to you and what specific improvements are you looking for, and what’s your budget?

I own the R8 as well as the Bro 3's. Works great and they are not harsh sounding. No need for a sub in my 15x15 room

I haven’t heard it, so can’t comment on it first hand… but I’ve been researching similar options for my dad who has expressed interest in an entry level priced tube integrated.

The LSA VT-70 sold by Underwood HiFi seems to get universal praise for the price….which is about $1200 I believe.

It’s a Chinese amp built by a former lead engineer at Line Magnetic (Chinese tube amps that also receive lots of praise)



Before you buy anything watch this video about Black Ice Audio entry level tube amp:

@soix I currently have an NAD C338 integrated.  My main goal is to try to get closer to a "holographic" soundstage that is not fatiguing.  My  system right now is not bad to my ears, I just want to try to take a next step towards that being in the room with the artist feel. My budget is $1,000 - $1,500 depending on if I keep my Triangles.

Great info and thanks for sharing.  I think the recommendations for Black Ice and LSA amps would be well worth looking into given your price target and what you’re looking for.  My best advice would be to read all the reviews you can, and best of luck. 

If you think of changing speakers… I would start there. They are the first determinate of the overall sound of your system and will determine the kind and quantity of the rest of your system. It is usually best to think first as your system as a system, not a collection of


If you want beautiful, emotional, beautiful midrange with great imaging. I would audition an Audio Research I/50. It will power your speakers. I remember the first time I heard it… I just fell in love. I recently compared to Pass and Luxman… and I have a PrimaLuna integrated… I’m pretty sure it is the sound you are looking for. Even if it is not within your budget I recommend listening to one. It will give you a good reference point.


Of course there is PrimaLuna… but not nearly as engaging.

Aric Audio makes fantastic tube gear! Every piece is hand made, point to point wiring at an approachable price. Visit his site and/or call him.

I'd start with speakers - buy something reasonably efficient used, either locally or from someone here or US Audiomart with a good reputation.

Next: While I don't know Black Ice tube amps, I love my Black Ice tube DAC so I can vouch for their quality/price/performance and customer service.


The first tube amp foray for me was a Yaqiun MC13S - or something like that. It was a - I wonder if this is any good - moment. I still have it. 40 wpc push pull, El 34 design. Nothing bad to say about it other than it ran through power tubes pretty quick (1 tube yearly, tx runaway, pretty scary). It does not give the SET magic, but it was fine for 88db sensitive speakers. Lots of bass - though that could be the PP design as much as the manufacturer.  

That being said, it can’t match my Decware, Sophia Electric, or Tektron amps. It’s been relegated to bass duty in a bi-amped 5th system - for which it is perfectly suited. Sad to think of all those htz getting tossed.

I would consider long term and where you want to go with this - SET or not. Maybe take a look at Icon Audio. You can find similar designs, B stock or discounted sometimes. They are production type amps, but built to David Shaw’s specs. I had an issue with a European model being sent to me and he was dealing with it personally within a couple hours of reaching out. I also second Black Ice, although I too only know their Tube Dac and not their amps. 

Last word of warning.  You’re dipping a toe in uncharted territory. The worst that could happen is you enjoy it too much.

It's more of a short-cut to decide if you are keeping or replacing your current Triangle speakers before you go down the tube amp path. 

Also highly recommend going to YouTube and looking for videos of techs tearing some of the low cost amps apart, and seeing what they test and replace to help eliminate noise and such. 

Another vote for Black Ice. I have their 3502S Integrated (when the were called Jolida) with NOS tubs - it’s amazing across whole spectrum of music styles.

loved it so much I added their tube DAC which improved all digital sources. And then replaced phono with their F159 

Just tried the cheap and ok Bouyrang Reisong A50 Mark III Set 300B for $800USD. It was ok but couldn’t really push my 98dB sensitive horn speakers because of the twin 12” woofers. I’m not into soldering so I sold the amp to someone who might if they choose to upgrade. He was matching with Tannoy Gold 15” with 92dB sensitivity.

Overall ok, nothing super special just not enough power.
The best tube amp I owned was a KT88 integrated from Singapore 🇸🇬. Powerful bass and clean mids. I’ve also had Line Magnetic 518ia 845 tubes that was disappointing again not enough power to drive the PMC Twenty26 speakers of 86dB. And the Finale 805 tube amp was quite uneventful too. And the Primaluna Dialogue Premium was good but not masterful. I miss that KT88. But none had the impact and control that the PassLabs XA25 has/had. Synergy is critical with speaker matching a very important factor in getting the most out of your interest in tubes.

Congratulations on considering your first tube amplifier! Tube amps have a unique and warm sound that many audiophiles appreciate, especially for genres like folk rock, classical, and jazz. Given your musical preferences and room size, let's explore some entry-level tube amplifiers that could suit your needs.

1. Reisong A12:

The Reisong A12 is an affordable and popular option among budget-conscious audiophiles. This integrated tube amplifier features EL34 tubes and provides a power output of around 12 watts per channel. While it may not be as powerful as higher-end tube amps, it can still deliver a pleasant, smooth sound signature that complements folk rock and classical music well. It's a decent starting point for those new to tube amplifiers and can be paired nicely with your Triangle Borea BR03 speakers.

2. Williston Audio Labs R8:

The Williston R8 is a step up from entry-level options and offers a power output of around 20 watts per channel. This extra power can provide improved dynamics and control over your speakers, resulting in a more engaging listening experience. The R8 is known for its balanced sound, making it suitable for various music genres, including folk rock and jazz. With its build quality and features, it could be a great match for your musical preferences and room size.

3. PrimaLuna EVO Series:

If you're willing to invest a bit more for a higher-quality tube amp, the PrimaLuna EVO series is worth considering. These amplifiers come with different power output options, and the EL34-based models, in particular, are known for their musicality and rich soundstage. The PrimaLuna EVO series has garnered praise for its versatility and ability to handle various genres with finesse. While they might be on the higher end of the entry-level spectrum, they offer an upgrade in performance and build quality.

4. Vincent Audio SV-200:

The Vincent Audio SV-200 is another solid option worth exploring. This hybrid tube amp combines tubes in the preamp stage with a solid-state power amp. It provides a clean, powerful sound that can cater well to your musical preferences. With its versatile nature, it can handle folk rock's intimacy, classical's intricacies, and jazz's dynamic range. The SV-200's hybrid design might appeal to those seeking a balance between the smoothness of tubes and the control of solid-state amps.

Before making a decision, I recommend auditioning these amplifiers with your Triangle Borea BR03 speakers if possible. Visit a local audio store or explore online forums where audiophiles share their experiences. Additionally, pay attention to the power output of the amplifier and ensure it is sufficient to drive your speakers effectively in your room size.

Remember that personal preference plays a significant role in audio equipment choices, so trust your ears and go with the combination that brings you the most joy and satisfaction when listening to your favorite music. Happy listening and enjoy your journey into the world of tube amplifiers!

Look for a used Dennis Had Inspire KT88 Firebottle on audiomart sites.  He hasn’t built many, but for $2k you get the performance of a $10k SET amp.  He built me one last summer, it blows away my Willsenton R800i and Oldchen EL34 for texture,  tone and layers of holographic imagery.  

I own Jolida separates and if the upgrades Black Ice claims are real, you can’t go wrong for the price. 

I’m not an expert, but the impedance graph I found for your current speakers seems to indicate it might need a bit of power.


Triangle Borea BR03 Speaker Measurement impedance and phase.png

Look for a used Dennis Had Inspire KT88 Firebottle on audiomart sites. He hasn’t built many, but for $2k you get the performance of a $10k SET amp. He built me one last summer, it blows away my Willsenton R800i and Oldchen EL34 for texture, tone and layers of holographic imagery.



Hey, FYI - as a former owner of Dennis’ Cary and Inspire amps both, I would NOT strongly recommend the Inspire SET or SEP amps to someone with 90db speakers unless they were at least 8ohm nominal impedance, and only wanted to listen at lower volume levels. I ran my custom 93db speakers with Dennis’ Inspire Hot Rod KT150 amp, 10wpc and it was simply NOT enough drive for even low volume level listening. I moved to Quicksilver Mono amps and it was like somebody turned the light on the room by simply having bigger transformers and a bit more power.

Speaker matching is critical with the little mighty Inspire amps, imo.

Great amps with Inspire, yes, but I’d be running 96-100db or more speakers with the little Inspire amps. Some of the higher impedance Proac speakers, 8ohm+ do okay, but you still have to crank it up a bit much.

My audio buddy (SETDude) in FL has two Inspire amps (SEP KT88, SET 45) amps in rotation right now - he’s replacing both with a Cary SLI-80 integrated amplifier which runs 30wpc Triode into his Klipsch Hersey IVs at 96db. Told me this week it is more effortless drive than his little Inspire amps have. Worth noting for someone who is looking for an Integrated amp for 90db sensitivity speakers like the OP with Triangle speakers. Maybe some better options out there for the OP imo. Opinions vary.

Black Ice Audio:

Jumping on the bandwagon, I would also like to put in a good word after helping two friends who had 89/90db 4 & 6ohm speakers and wanted an integrated. While the parts are made overseas and final build in the USA is the case, the folks at BIA are to be commended for their service and support. It’s as close to dealing with the MFG as you can get, in the USA. If you are good with the looks of their amps, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for the price and sound - and if you want USA direct service. A few friends have tube rolled new production tubes in their amps too and done well. I’ve been helping friends since old Jolida days, and the new Black Ice Audio amps are another great option to consider, nice integrated amps for the $.



@tritube Looking at the impedance curve that @hilde45 provided, its obvious to me an SET will not do the job.

You need an amplifier with a low output impedance, otherwise your system will have colorations. SETs have a high output impedance. If you really want that 'artist in the room' imaging, look elsewhere.

The efficiency is also an issue for an SET. You need more power than they can provide on a budget! Since you are looking for budget tube power, I think you are better off looking in the used market, possibly for a refurbished Dynaco ST70, which can make 35 Watts/channel.

Now if you are open to replacing the speakers as well, if you really want an SET, the speaker has to be more efficient than most internet posters will have you believe. SETs really only make about 20-25% usable power; above that distortion becomes so high that the amp takes on a 'dynamic' quality and at higher power levels tends to sound loud or shouty. This latter bit is why so many SET users think their 7 Watt amp is enough power- it isn't! If they had clean power they would figure out that they are playing much higher volume levels without the system sounding loud. IOW distortion is what makes SETs sound loud. 

High efficiency speakers don't tend to be inexpensive since the magnet motor requires considerably more precision to execute and that costs money. You also sacrifice bass unless you really have a large budget or can afford subs.

That is why I think a refurbished older amp is your best bet.



Tubes4Hifi offers the VTA amps in kit or complete.  These are power amps, not integrated amps, so would require a separate preamp unless your NAD has pre-out capability. 

I added the VTA mods to my pair of Dyna 70s about 3 years ago, and have been extremely pleased, and feel I'd be remiss for not mentioning them.  I also listen primarily to folk rock, jazz, male/female vocals, and find that they drive my 89db sensitivity speakers nice in even in a large room.  A completed VTA 70 (35wpc) is just about within budget, and is definitely within reach if you're willing to solder.  

Either way, I hope you find the same magical midrange that many tube lovers do.  

The Black Ice FX10 looks like a good/budget bet (heard the Jolida version years ago).

The "SET " designation for the Sophia push/pull EL34 amp mentioned stood for Sophia Electric Technology (or something like that) and had nothing to do with "Single Ended Triode". 



A el34 push pull in ultrralinear mode should work well with the OP’s speakers. I belirve the Black Ice or the LSA as aforementioned. 

Rogue Audio is a solid company.

Great for tube rolling which would be advantageous  to the Holographic Effect you are looking for.

I was a first tube amp hunter here about three years ago, got many fine recommendations and researched them all ending up with a Decware UFO 2.1 amp, preamp not needed. Very fine amp but wait time now is up to about 2.3 years. Can be found for sale on Decware forum ads and Audiomart if focused and ready as they go fast. Since have paired with a ARC LS 25 MKII Pre and very happy, thanks GD….

Tubes are definitely the way to go. Consider avoiding entry level tube amplifiers because as soon as you get it you’ll have an urge to upgrade. Some people are perfectly happy, but I sense you probably want more.

If possible make an aggressive purchase in the mid range of the product lines you wil pursue.

Room size is a good size.

If I had to do it again I would pursue speakers that don’t require a lot of power so you can take advantage of lower wattage tube amplifiers, and there are many gems out there.

I’m currently using 300 w mono amplifiers.

I started my tube journey 2 years ago, having the urge Iike yourself. I purchased a used Jolida JD302B with a good set of tubes for $800, and hooked it up to my 40 year set of Cornwalls , sounded very nice The seller had this hooked up to a set of Ohm Walsh 4’s, which I had never heard of, but curiosity got the best of me…

Within 6 months I bought a pair of well used Ohm Walsh 3XO’s. Since then I have had the Ohms fully factory rebuilt ( Talking to john @ Ohms was great BTW) and did some tube rolling and the sound was fantastic. 

I had been watching the Black Ice product emerge and grow and reached out to them for advice on which amp they would recommend for my OHM’s if I were to switch. The CEO Jerred responded and asked me to call him when I had a chance, which I did the next day. Very enlightening to say the least

I now own a Black Ice F22, with a great set of Mullard KT88’s and Mullard 12ax7’s, that Jerred offered at a great $$….the Bass is well above the Jolida and he soundstage is expanded as well, and just has a “cool” look to it, black glass and black carbon fiber with glowing logos and tubes

I have 45 days to decide if I want to keep it or not, which is standard for them, as well as some other mfgs. Jerred and Black Ice are passionate about their products and their customers satisfaction, as is John @ OHM speakers. How many other companies can you call and talk to the CEO,often they are the ones picking up the phone. Great affordable equipment with no BS….not going to get that from an Amazon seller

Hope your journey is as fruitful as mine 

Alot of recommendations for the Black Ice amps and I don't really understand why (perhaps being US designed?).  The only model in your price range is their entry level FX10 which won't have the power to properly drive your speakers.  Stretching the budget and stepping up to the F11 gets you sufficient power but there are much better values at that price point.  You'd also be stuck with el84 tubes. 

The Willsenton R8 on the other hand goes for under 1500 on Amazon, allows you to choose el34 and KT88 power tubes, is switchable between triode and ultra linear (a must for a push pull amp imo), and also weighs 60 lbs thanks to some beefy transformers.  Even if you stepped up to their top integrated, the F35, you still wouldn't get the triode mode and it weights about 10lbs less, while being more then 2x the price.  The R8 is a perfect choice if you are ok with "Chi-Fi".   

@perkadin "The R8 is a perfect choice if you are ok with "Chi-Fi". "


Self trouble-shooting skills -or- a willing local repair technician with replacement parts may be required. For awareness, quote "Bias board issues, channel issues, loud cracking issues, fixing lead dress, and grounding faults", no circuit diagrams to diagnose it’ and fix it"...

Look around carefully before taking the initial low cost leap.


The Black Ice amps, heck tube amps in general, may have many of the same issues, several of those you just described are mentioned in Black Ice’s Troubleshooting section of their website. It did look like there were responses from the manufacturer so perhaps the issues in both cases were resolved, albeit with some frustration.

But you bring up a good point and that’s what I meant by being ok with Chi-Fi. You have to be ok with the idea that you are buying direct from China and you may not have a phone number to call for support and will likely end up swapping emails. If an issue does arise you may even have to find an independent repair shop. I think Black Ice does a much better job supporting their products and offer a 1-800 number. It’s up to you to decide if that’s worth the added cost.

The good news is that these are very low tech items, very reliable, and one of the few types of consumer electronics that can be repaired. Youtube channels like Skunkworks are great for DIYers. Check out Danny from GR Research, that guy rips nearly everything lol. I personally would never mod a speaker, but I’m glad there are people out there that still repair, fix and tinker. It’s becoming a lost art. .

Thank you everyone for such great information. I spoke with the kind folks at Black Ice yesterday and they were very helpful and patient. I think I will be going that route (I am now deciding on the fx10 or pushing my budget to the f11) I can already see this hobby is going to be an expensive one, but am excited to chase the sound I think many of us look for. Thanks again and will post how the my Triangles pair with whatever I end up with!

The most expensive route will be trial and error, buying, selling returning etc. My advice would be to include the speakers into the decision making process and think of them as a system. Low power tubes will sound best on high efficiency speakers, so money saved with the F10 may end up costing more on the speaker side. I’d recommend something in the high 90’s db efficiency like Zu Dirty Weekend or Klipsch Heresy. Again if you want to use your triangles skip up to the F11 at minimum. Even that will have some issues delivering bass, but it does come with a sub out connection. 

Not to muddy the waters here, but a lot of the 3D magic you heard with the SET amp and RM7si speakers was probably not in small part due to the excellent imaging/soundstage capabilities of the speakers as it’s just a core strength of the brand (although I’m sure the amp contributed as well).  Another option would be to try these RM22XLs and see if they recapture a good portion of that magic with your existing amp, and if not you can likely turn around and sell them for little/no loss.  Just another option to ponder FWIW.

@perkadin Thanks- yes the sub out is a consideration I am mulling over.  I have an older Adire Audio Rava sub I could put into the mix for now if I am missing the very lower end.

@soix I have been eying those RM22xl's and I heard them at the same dealer that I heard the RM7's years ago.  They are definitely more weighty , but I remember them  less holographic if that makes sense- Could be my memory.  they were hooked up to different amp though - cant remember which.  Thanks for the suggestion. As stated above, starting down this road will be an expensive but enjoyable journey!

@tritube Thank you everyone for such great information. I spoke with the kind folks at Black Ice yesterday and they were very helpful and patient. I think I will be going that route (I am now deciding on the fx10 or pushing my budget to the f11) I can already see this hobby is going to be an expensive one, but am excited to chase the sound I think many of us look for. Thanks again and will post how the my Triangles pair with whatever I end up with!


Jarred at BIA is helpful and you deal with him on issues. No need to worry about email swirl, non-answers, or worrying about having to send the amp back overseas just to get someone to deal with it [or not], on the other low-coast amps that is. 

Some local techs won’t even touch junk any more, not wanting it to come back again for other part failures they had nothing to do with on the first repair. You do get what you pay for on those [other] cheap amps, cheap parts. Some of us call them disposable amps. When they break, you simply throw them away, and buy another. A waste of good money imo.

[integrated] is what you said, right? Well, imo you have to spend up a bit more on integrated amps to get good ones with good parts. If you want to take it next level, some times you can [shop with patience] to secure better quality [used] amps and preamps if you choose to go separates, adding 30% to your budget - but it can pay off later. Many times can resell them for what you paid for them or more years later, only IF they are HIGH in QUALITY build and parts. Not that you want to, but it opens the door up more as another consideration fwiw. Best of Luck.

If the Black Ice doesn’t work out, I highly recommend the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum 3. I believe it’s among the best “first tube amps” out there. It’s integrated and has 4 inputs plus adjustable and killer phono stage. The headphone output sounds wonderful and thanks to the robust power supply it has many tube rolling options. There’s even a switch for Ultralinear or Triode mode. 100wpc if you can find one with the KT120s or roughly 90wpc with KT88s. Biasing is crazy easy and it looks cool. I often see it compared to the Black Ice and they’re usually neck and neck. Similar price too I believe. I’d suggest taking a look at least. Either way welcome to the tube club! Good luck. 

@tritube whether you go Black Ice Audio, or Rogue Audio, or Quicksilver Audio integrated [for example] or any of these USA manufacturers or distributors, at least you have 1) people who know how to repair the amps in this country, 2) shipping back to the factory is also a more viable option, 3) some of these MFGs will actually still talk to you on the phone - imagine that.

Something to be said about same-country customer service should something go sideways, and usually not. This is what I think most of us are sharing so you have a good tube amp experience. And, these three companies dont get a lot of failures or returns. Since they sell all over the world, they try to engineer out failures with specific parts selection too.

I second the rec for a pre-owned Cayin, specifically the A88T. They sound excellent, are bulletproof, and can run 6550s, KT88s, El34s and even KT120s. They are quieter than some tube amps costing many multiples more. Since the circuit is point-to-point and largely based on the Mac 275, any good tube amp tech should be able to figure out how to service it.  

The same candid salesman who turned me onto the Cayin brand (who didn’t sell Cayin at the time) once told me that Jolida (Black Ice) products don’t perform very well. Maybe the newer stuff is much better but his words were the Jolidas “are POS.” FWIW….

Anything made by Quicksilver Audio,

I have owned a lot of their amps, preamps, and they all sound great.

I am not affiliated with them, just a happy user of their equipment.


Amplifiers – Quicksilver Audio

When you just go out and buy an amp, what you have is a compromise constrained by your budget, compatibility, etc.  Those little SET amps have no juice and unless you're running K-horns, will have no head room or depth.  Pbfffttt...

It's a totally different experience when you build a kit amp, like one of the VTA amps.  You get enormous satisfaction from the build and you learn a great deal about operating and maintaining an amp.  You don't get an ounce of that buying a standard commercial product.

With a kit amp, you get to choose what components go into it. Maybe you want to spend a little more on your coupling caps, or any number of other little improvements.  You're much, much more involved in your gear and your system when you build from a kit.  And lest you think it's not as good as a pre-built commercial product, remember that it was designed by a professional audio engineer.  The VTA amps are extremely well thought of and rarely come up on the used market for a reason.

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Don Sachs' amp, he's no longer making them, would cost at least $10K if not more. You can find them used for about $2500 I think, and it will smoke most amps under 20K. I use SS, with his DS2 preamp, but were I going to run tubes, it would be his KT88 amp. I believe it runs 55 or 65 watts, less in SE of course it is much lower. This man tricked out Citation and Macintosh gear for years before he began building his own. The transformers are a large part of the magic, no one I know of uses anything as neutral. You would do well to look into them before jumping on anything.

Unless you are planning on using easy to drive high efficiency speakers, which many like, I would not want to limit myself to a low watt amplifier.  If going the Black Ice route, I would opt for the F22 integrated at 50-60 watts per channel, only because the first two integrateds in their line are 10 and 18.5 watts.

Even my Dynaco ST-70 is 35 watts per channel.

Not to mention the Dynaco is the highest selling tube amp ever made (sorry, couldn’t resist).