Getting Back In - But Doing it Sanely

Hi everyone!

I was once an active buyer here, but after a couple of decades of kids, it's time to get back in. This time, however, I'm doing it with a sense of sanity. I could use your help! I'm in the USA.

I kept my Merlin VSM speakers, which are 8ohm 89db sensitivity speakers that were great with tubes. I would like to use them in my new system. I also purchased a Wiim Pro for a source - I'll be using Apple Music or another streaming service. No video / theater system connectivity is planned or wanted!

My listening room is 20’ x 18’ with high 10’ ceilings. I live in a townhome and can't blast the music, but I want to enjoy it at casual listening levels. Music in like is acoustic, folk, singer songwriter, and some top 40.

I need a preamp/amp, preferably integrated. No monoblocks, for sure. Fine with tubes. Fine with digital.

I want to spend less than $4k used. Preferably under $2k!

Can anyone make suggestions?



I am very familiar with the Merlin. For your price range I would look at a used Audio Research I-50. Should be able to find one close to your price… warm, natural, musical sound.

If you are willing to live with ONLY streaming and no subwoofer, then I think it is hard to beat a modded Peachtree GAN1. Mods cost $500 done by, Total cost is under $2k. You need a streamer with SPDIF out. If you want to go this way, I can offer a few suggestions for streaming to the GAN1.

I have this modded unit and can compare side by side with my other much more expensive gear. It is an amazing unit. You will not need interconnects, preamp, amp, or DAC if you got the GAN1.

GaN 1 | Peachtree Audio



Prima Luna, Rogue, Raven Nighthawk are all well regarded. The latest Willsenton gets good marks too, and has addressed some former issues with earlier versions.

If you're willing to pursue separates, the VTA amps represent great performance for the money.  

What you like is always subjective, but rolling tubes is a fun way to dial in exactly what you like.

Enjoy your Merlins! Bobby Palkovic was a friend of mine, and taught me a lot about speaker building....had several pairs of earlier Merlins.


I'm liking a Hegel H190 at the moment.  However, a ARC I-50 for tubes would also be sweet.  For tubes I use a ARC VSi75.

Most of the amps mentioned might lack the refinement to get 100% out of your Merlin loudspeakers. The Mastersound 845 Compact is over your budget but might be an amp to consider and even demo. The 845 has a liquidity and sense of ease that most budget amps lack. Another positive is the 845 can survive many speaker upgrades. If you consider a SS amp in your price range the Belles Aria should be on a short list. I picked this amp for my sister’s budget level system. The Aria has that non mechcanical flow/liquidity that few(if any) amps at this price can claim. If there is a weakness with the Aria it’s more of a finesse amp when compared to a Hegel, can’t have it all for $3k. Had a brief listen to the Denon PMA A110, the potential is there.

@dayglow Yes, a $2,000 int. amp will not have the refinement that a +$10,000 amp will have.

But that’s a limitation of the OP’s budget, not of any of the other amps listed.

FWIW, the Yamaha would hold up against the amps you listed in the OP's price range. Hearing is believing.

Look into the Hegel 95 ($2000) or the 120 ($3000). Both have internal DACs to simplify system.

The Merlin’s were on my short list a long time ago - they look so classy. This isn’t a recommendation since I have no idea on how the combination would mesh, but if I were in the market for speakers I’d be really curious on how an Aric Audio Transcend Push Pull running either EL-34s or KT-88s would sound. With acoustic, folk, singer songwriter, I’d probably run this amp in triode mode with no negative feedback (it’s variable). There’s one currently listed here. I’m really curious to see the future review of this amp; it’s been wonderful in my system.

Aesthetically, love the look of both the ARC I-50 and the Mastersound.

Signature Sound is the place to go for all things Merlin. They service Merlin speakers. They also sell Atma-Sphere and ARS Sonum, which would be a good match for Merlin speakers. I had VSM’s for 8 years. Nice speakers.