Getting into tubes

I'm thinking about getting my first tube integrated amp and been reading all I can about them. I've narrowed my list of manufacturers down to four: Raven Audio (Blackhawk/Osprey), Primaluna (Dialogue Premium), Ars Sonum Filarmonia and Decware (Zen Mystery Amp). All have their pros and cons. First, a bit about my system:

Merlin TSM Black Magic Edition
Sunfire True Sub Mk2 (and oldie but still runs well)
MSB Analog Dac 
Macbook Air streaming Tidal through Audirvana
Spectral SDR-3000SL running into the MSB

Room is small, about 10 X 11. I listen to jazz ( mostly trio's and female vocals) and some classic rock. 

My laundry list for what I'm looking for in a tube amp is as follows:

1. Obviously they have to sound great. From what I've been reading, seems like all these amps all sound fantastic to various individuals that have used them. 
2. Ease of use: self biasing tubes. Don't want the fuss of having to bias the tubes myself. I know that with the Decware ZMA, you have to bias yourself but it appears to be a simple process.
3. Overall build of the unit. Each of the manufacturers all look to have excellent build qualities. I've seen pictures of the insides of all units. Looks like the Primaluna is built like a beast on the inside. Also the ZMA is all point to point, no circuit boards of any type. That's a big plus.
4. Remote control: now this is a semi big one for me. I do a lot of late night listening and am constantly changing the volume. Raven Audio and Primaluna checks this box off but the Filharmonia and ZMA doesn't. However I have a DAC (MSB Analog) that has a volume control built in that I believe may work?
5. Subwoofer output. It would be nice to have a dedicated sub out for ease of connecting the sub. I know that there is the option to connect the sub through the speaker level inputs, but I have read its difficult to do that with the Filarmonia and ZMA if the spades are too thick. 
6. Reliability and after care service.

For those that have experience with any of these amps, any advice would be greatly appreciated! I've been going back and forth trying to decide. Thanks!
You have a nice list of options and there are many more but if it were me I would not let the absence of remote control, specially in a room that size, play a big factor in your ultimate choice. A remote control usually implies a motorized volume control and many “boutique” smaller builders with great products tend to skip that design option. Good luck.
Just an opinion, FWIW.
I have auditioned the Primaluna and owned the ZMA for a few years. The ZMA in my opinion sounds better than the Primaluna and they don’t get any sturdier or better built than the ZMA, maybe that’s why they have a life time warranty. The bias adjustment design is brilliant and easy to use.

my love for the ZMA ended when I heard a David Berning designed Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40. It made the ZMA sound broken when used with electrostats. I now own a preproduction ZOTL UltraLinear and it surpasses the ZOTL40. 
Check out this Rogue Audio integrated. It is not self biasing but manual biasing is not a deal. It is made in USA and has great customer support!
I would look at the Rogers 65V-1. Excellent integrated w/a lifetime warranty. Self biasing and can use either EL-34 or KT-88 tubes. When you order you tell them what tube you want. When Roger was at my dealers store he said if there is a problem w/the integrated he will have the unit turned around within 24 hours after delivery. Heard the unit w/Harbeth speakers and an Acoustic Signature TT. If you want to add a sub go w/a REL just connect to the speaker terminals on the integrated. Also they burn in the amp for 100 hrs before sending to the customer.
I could be wrong but wasn't the Ars Sonum Filarmonia designed to go with Merlin speakers? I feel like I read there is some sort of connection though I could be mis-remembering.

Thanks for the responses!

@kalali Great point and one I've thought about. I've tried to experiment without using any remote, not as much of a pain as I thought it would be, but still would be nice to have the option of the remote.

@lancelock Looked at the LTA website and am impressed! How does the ZOTL Ultralinear compare with the Berning ZH-230? I've heard the Berning mates very well with the Merlins.

@yogiboy Thank you for the recommendation. I've looked into Rogue Audio before. The CM2 looks like a solid tube amp, but always wondered why there are so many of them on the used market? In any case, its one to consider given the price point.

@linnlingo The Rogers amps look really well built and I'm sure they sound amazing. The only downside is the price. Much more than I am thinking of spending. Thank you for the recommendation though.

@jond You are correct, the Filarmonia and Merlin are very synergistic, or so I've been told. Two strikes against it....lack of remote and I've heard its difficult to connect a sub to the Cardas binding posts (connecting two sets of wires to the post). But its still in the running for consideration!

If you ever plan on tube rolling, scratch Rogue off your list. The tube sockets are placed directly on a PCB. The more twist and turn, the higher the chance of failure. Stay away from PCB, and go for PTP wiring.....
No Remote but if you have eff speakers Decware has some nice tube int amps.  Used is the way to go.

I have owned Primaluna PL2. great amp but the decware has depth

@jzzmn88 , I did own the Berning ZH-230 and sold it after I bought the ZOTL40 because I have many quads of EL34 tubes to roll and the ZH-230 used TV sweep tubes. The ZH-230 and ZOTL40 sound similar until you put some NOS Mullards in the ZOTL40 and then it’s another level. I have heard there is magic with Berning and Merlin but I have not heard them myself. The class A UltraLinear is Better than the class AB ZH-230. The UltraLinear is Berning making a statement. The production model should be available any day now. Just give Mark Schneider a call. He is a great guy to deal with.

Stop. Don't do it…sure, they might "sound" better, but you're entering a rabbit hole of tube rolling and possible tube obsession that is often impossible to escape. There simply is no cure...purveyors of solid state amps generally say "Hey, our stuff is great and sounds like TUBES." Get out while you still can because, sadly, I can't.
Don't be scared of an amp without auto-bias.  If you can set the time on your wristwatch, you can bias your amplifier.
There is a lot of fine gear named here.  One line not pushed at all in these forums,  but I have heard a few of their pieces and quite frankly was overly surprised and almost shocked on occasion of how good they can sound with good tubes is Yaqin.  The stuff is inexpensive,  They make KT88 amps, EL34b amps, 6v6 amps.  So a real power range and these integrated amps all have remotes.  I'm sure that there is better, but these budget priced amps are quite surprising. 
The Merlins are designed for tubes FWIW. Bobby showed with Joule Electra when he did audio shows- we showed with Merlins as well.

The TSM works well with our smallest amp which is a 30 watt OTL. So it is an easy speaker to drive.
Cary Audio SLI-80 or if you want Single Ended Triode Cary CAD300SEI.  Both are Point to Point wired and you can tube roll to your hearts content. 
Thanks for all the responses so far and lots of great advice and feedback. Lots to consider.

@lancelock I have to admit, I am getting very intrigued by the LTA offerings. Definitely going to look into them more, more so with the sale going on for the ZOTL40 on their website.
Regarding the differences you heard between the new Ultralinear and the ZOTL40, can you elaborate more on that? Thank you.
@atmasphere Your amps look incredible. Love the video on your home page. Now that’s point to point wiring! Are you referring to the S-30 amp? The only issue may be how much heat it produces. I see it draws 400 watts and assuming much of that gets disappated. My room is small and heats up quickly, plus I live in Southern California where it really doesn’t get that cold at night. Anyhow, would love to audition your amps sometime. 
@jzzmn88 , the differences between the ZOTL40 and the UltraLinear besides a power difference is very small when I’ve compare them using my Janszen zA2.1 electrostats speakers. The ZOTL40 pairs extremely well with Stats but the synergy doesn’t show up with some other speakers I’ve tried strangely. The reason for a so so absolute sound review not too long ago.

The UltraLinear just kills it with every set of speakers I’ve tried so far. It’s the outright best 20 watts I’ve ever heard. The sound to me has the best elements of tubes and solid state.

The Atmas-phere is a great choice. Another integrated I recently heard with a pair of 12k monitors that made them sing was the new Quicksilver. 20 watts should work quite nicely with those speakers in that room of yours. Priced right at 1995.00. I really like this one, amazing value. Berning is another good choice but a bit more. I owned the VSM with a ZH-270 for many years. 
I heard the Merlin VSMs at an audio show in NYC years ago with the Ars Sonum Filarmonia as per Jond above. The sound was superb. I spoke to Bobby Palkovich at the show who told me how the Ars was his personal favorite amp with his speakers. He liked the electronics so much that he was, to the best of my recollection, either looking into distribution for Ars Sonum or already distributing them himself. Bobby was a very good guy.
Are you referring to the S-30 amp? The only issue may be how much heat it produces. I see it draws 400 watts and assuming much of that gets disappated. My room is small and heats up quickly, plus I live in Southern California where it really doesn’t get that cold at night. Anyhow, would love to audition your amps sometime.
We really don't get complaints about heat with the S-30. The 400 watt figure is at full power.

Any of the tube amps mentioned here will be a challenge if heat is a concern. But if you vent the room near the ceiling, the room won't heat up.
I emailed Mark from Linear Tube Audio and asked about the possibility of pairing the Merlins with the ZOTL40 and this is what he had to say:

"I only know one guy with Merlins, David Berning. He has his own custom sub.The ZOTL40 drives them nicely. I am using one ZOTL40 at home driving my 86db maggies in my 35 foot bedroom. Typical listening is 11-1 o'clock and very loud is 3 o'clock.I am also using it with a MZ2 of course. You do get more gain with a preamp."

Good to know that David Berning himself uses Merlins for his designs!
I will give a +2 for Ralph's (atmasphere) amps and preamps.
Great sound and very reliable performance.
You might want to add Line Magnetic LM 518ia or LM 508ia or LM 219ia to your list. Great value for the money.

Happy listening!
We just helped a customer retube a Cary SLI-80, so we have to dig deep into the amp's design. Most of our experience with Cary before this amp was preamps. Mark at tech support was super insightful. The amp is amazingly well designed and versatile - excellent audio path 6922/6SN7/KT-88s but Cary overdesigned the power supply (a very good thing) so it can accept KT-120s and 5AR4s. Only 1 cap in the audio path! It acts as an integrated and even comes with a remote! Highly recommended,
If you have never considered headphones, it might be time to buy a Bottleneck Crack w/Speedball upgrade or a Darkvoice 336. Both are available for under $500 and sound great with a pair of AKG K7xx (still available for $199 on Massdrop) or a good used pair of Sennheiser HD600, HD650 or HD700s for under $500. I believe you will be surprised what you are not hearing and you can easily roll the tubes until your ears are content.

PS - I own a top-end Meridian system with an Oppo 205 that I seldom listen to anymore in favor of the headphones.

Best, JS
If you want the BEST, why don't you give Berning a call and order his one-off push-pull 6B4G, pure class A.  This is the amp he uses in his rig with the Merlins.  If you want more power, he'll build the same amp but with 300Bs.  You can order it as a "control" amplifier with a 47 step attenuator for the ultimate performance (eliminate a preamp) if you only have a single source.  He builds these himself in a prototype chassis - an upgraded anodized aluminum chassis is optional.  
Well, I’m going to go against the majority here and say that for smaller speakers with under 90 dB sensitivity, I personally prefer solid-state amps... especially those that are biased heavily into Class A. Great results have been reported for your Merlins with both tube and solid state amps, but if it were me, a Pass Labs or Sugden integrated would be at the top of my list. The Positive Feedback review of your speakers mention that they achieved the best results with Pass Labs mono-blocks, which does not surprise me. Good luck and let us know what you decide.
I use a Cary SLI 80 F1 with Merlin TSM speakers in a secondary system and the combination works very well. With the choice of triode or ultralinear at the flip of a switch, plus a tube rollers dream, you can tailor the sound to your specific preference. It is also bullet proof with point to point wiring.
Lot's of good suggestions. I would like to add Octave Audio. I have the V110SE with the Super Black box. This is an expensive combo but the sound quality is superb. The V110SE comes with additional input tubes to match the amp to your speakers and they can handle pretty much any speaker. The Black Box is loaded with Super capacitors to provide instantaneous and huge amounts of power. Read about it on their web site. While other tube amps can certainly drive your 86db speakers, the Octave with black box will excel at it and will grow with you if you ever change speakers. I'm using the Octave with Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grands, a beautiful match.

Let's do your check list:
1. Check, Great sound. I've only compared it to one amp on your list, Primaluna Dialog premium, and the PL is not in the same league as the Octave.
2. half Check, while not actually self biasing you just turn a screw and lights tell you when it is biased correctly, no meter needed, takes about 45 seconds to adjust all 4 tubes and once the tubes settle in you won't need to adjust more than once every few months, if that.
3. Check, great quality
4. Check, high quality remote for volume control.
5. Check, it has pre-out for subs.
6. Check, my Super Black box died after about a week, they replaced it, no questions asked and very quickly. The system has been flawless since then, about 16 months now.

jzzmn88, I was friends with Jud Barber of Joule-Electra (we are no longer in touch) and attended the CES multiple years.  Jud and Bobby greatly respected one another and demoed their gear together.  The point of that was that Bobby chose tube electronics for his demos.  So that alone suggests you are on the right track.

Many good model suggestions have been made here.  Unfortunately none of us can say what you may like best.  So if you can narrow your candidate list down to a practical number (2 or 3) and arrange auditions with those I'm certain you will end up happy.

Regarding your laundry list, two comments. 
*  In a room that small it should be easy to place your components next to your listening seat so within easy reach.  That could eliminate the need for a remote control (which I otherwise appreciate).
*  So long as the manufacturer provides test points and adjustments on the top plate, biasing should not be a big deal.  It can be easy, quick, and infrequent in a well-designed amp.
If I am going for  tube sound I want to do just that which means tube rectified and not s/s rectified which is what many manufacturers do.  Decware uses tube rectification and I have held on to my Taboo EL84 based tube amp.   From what I recall tube rectification operates in a more of a synergistic  and less complicated manner within that topology.   Not to mention half the fun is trying out different power tubes,  input tubes..  AND  rectification tubes  or why bother.     The special rectifier tubes I have collected over the years  are Bugle Boy 5AR4,  Russian made 5U4G ,   Bendix  6106 (5y3 equivalent?   And of course the famous Russian Melz  6sn7 equivalent if you can find the real Mcoy.    Yep,  dont leave out tube rectification.      
I currently own Quicksilver, Allnic, Unison, LTA and love them all for different reasons. 4 very different amps with tube rolling that sound different again. Welcome to the mania. I like self biasing as breaking in tubes properly is easier. Don’t live without a remote, though you can put up with it ... don’t. As far as recommendations .... just listen for yourself. Tube amps have a lot of personality and those you mention are strong personalities. Your personal tastes and demands will be unique as will be the speaker interaction. Sorry to be of so little help
Thanks once again to all those that took the time to respond! Really appreciate all the various opinions and advice. So many things to consider and there are a plethora of types of tube amps I never knew existed or considered before. That’s why this forum is so good to learn from!!

My laundry list is not concrete by any means, just what I would like to have. Seems like there are only a couple of amps that check every single box. But now am reading more after people post about tube amps I would have never considered and learning more about their designs. I think I will have to try and audition as many different tube amps as I can, although I’m not sure how realistic that will be. Doesn’t hurt to try :) It’s the journey that is the fun part right?
Would love to hear from Raven Audio owners and their experiences with them, especially the Blackhawk and Osprey models and if there are any huge differences between the two. 
I priviously owned the Merlin TSM. They were great with a Quicksilver Audio ,60 watt , EL34 monoblocks. They are available on the used market.  Quicksilver new products range from 25 wpc, 40 wpc, 120 wpc, 170 wpc tube amps. I loved the Merlins with EL-34 tube amps.
The first tube amp I had was a Rogue Cronus Magnum +, which I bought 2nd hand. I was immediately hooked, and after I sold it to it's 3rd owner I received an email stating: "Love the sound, I am hooked on tubes!" The Rogue was running KT120 tubes.

The amp that replaced the Rogue cost many times more, and sounds it. It's an Ayon KT88-based integrated. It is an incredible sound with a pair of Avalon speakers. 

After the Ayon was here for a year or so, I decided to replace my stereo in my home office from a solid state system to a tube system. I happened to meet the owner of Raven and loved the sound of the Blackheart LE which runs 6L6 tubes. This amp came home with me the first time I heard it.

What I can say is that tubes are an adventure, I love both the KT88 sound in the AYon as I do the very different 6L6 sound in the Raven. The Rogue amp had a time amount of noise in it, but it's KT120s also sounded wonderful to me. They are all quite different, but I like the differences -- I do know that many have their favorite tubes and sometimes like to "savage" the sound of tubes they don't like. 

If I were starting out, I think I might buy a nice kit from bottlehead or that great British firm and build that... something to consider.
Hi, My name is Mike and I’m a Tube Addict ! It started with a little Dynaco when I was 14. I tried to stop , but I couldn’t . I went to SS rehab for about 15 years , but I relapsed. Now I’m 60 years old and I hide tubes from my wife . Some days I go to town and hold a sign on the street corner . It says “ Hungry , will work for Telefunken “. When I’m depressed I use Bugle Boy, when I’m manic , I fix with Mullard . I traded my dog for NOS power tubes . When I have trouble sleeping , I count Vinyl . But seriously , jump in with both feet and enjoy . And don’t be afraid of that little bias adjustment , It doesnt hurt . And when I was a child , I was the remote 😝. Enjoy your journey, You will be rewarded. Cheers , Mike B. 
Sorry to hear you fell off the wagon after all these years. You best find a tubes anonymous meeting and get back on the track. It’s a tough haul but you can do it. 
One day at a time!
I've owned TSM and VSM, and the speakers can sound lean with some amplification and cabling.  In my experience, Merlins sound best with something more lush to present themselves best.

As pryso mentioned, Joule Electra often mated with Merlin, and the result sounded excellent.  As they have ceased operation, and have always needed a lot of maintenance, I think it's best to go in another direction.  Bobby imported the Ars Sonum Filarmonia integrated from Spain, and they really make a great combination, as well.  From what I understand, Rick Brkich of Signature Sound has taken on that responsibility, and I believe you will find yourself in excellent hands there.  As the amplifier is based on the Dynaco ST70, that's something else to consider.  Jadis also works splendidly.  Though I haven't heard the combination, I think a Cary would also work very well.  For cabling, the warmth that many Cardas and JPS cables possess has also always gotten a lot of recommendations
jzmm88, I’ve owned Joule-Electra as well as several other major brand tubed components over the years. It was not my experience that Joules required more maintenance than the others. I didn’t suggest them because you specified interest in an integrated and while Joule may have offered an integrated (Stargate?) I had no familiarity with that.

But the mention of Rich at Signature Sound is a sound (!) one. He was a dealer for both Merlin and J-E and knows both products as well if not better than anyone today. Plus he is a good guy. Contacting him should be well worthwhile.
Hmmm. First of all I wouldn’t worry about biasing or remotes. If you’re going down this rabbit hole many meaningful options will include neither. Most of the suggestions here are good, but you will want to audition them. Many of the options mentioned are from firms that are out of business, so you can buy them cheap and likely resell them for what you paid for them. You will find something used in the $2k - $3k range that will complement your Merlins. Pay more and it will sound better, but you won’t get your money’s worth with the Merlins. The Ars Sonum Filarmonium (I have not heard it but I built and modified several ST-70s back in the day), would be a contender for me. I would also look at Rogue, Cary, Line Magnetic (along with the ones you narrowed down). Bottom line - you can’t tell unless you hear them in your system (or at least with your speakers).

That said, I would consider solid state amplification. You can get a lot more oomph to drive your speakers for less money than you would spend on tube amplification (and with a lot less bother). At the under $10k price range, I’ll bet SS sounds better too. Check out the Odyssey Cyclops. If you really need a tube to fiddle with, look at the Rogue Sphinx. You could burn your CDs, ditch the transport (nice piece of kit, but unnecessary today), and have several thousand dollars left over to buy music!
@trelja and @pryso Thank you both for your suggestion with contacting Rich Brkich. I do have experience with him as he upgraded and basically built from scratch, my Merlin TSM’s to Bobby Palkovich’s final specs for the Black Magic Edition. This was done last year and it was a wonderful process. I can attest to Rich’s detail, honesty and exemplary workmanship! Bobby would have been proud of him.

Anyhow, I have been in contact with him regarding the Ars Sonum Filarmonia and he has been patient in answering all my questions. While I know that there is a synergy between the Merlin and the Filarmonia, the amp doesn’t quite check off all the boxes for me and that’s why I am taking my time to see if there are any others that may work for my situation. I must admit I love the retro looks and the simplicity of the Filarmonia. It is very much in contention.
Another minor drawback of the Filarmonia is the inability to tube roll which, to me, is one of the advantages to owning a tube amplifier that can accept various tubes. Although I’m not much of a tweaker when it comes to my system, I could see myself experimenting with different tubes over many years for the fun of it.
If I am going for  tube sound I want to do just that which means tube rectified and not s/s rectified which is what many manufacturers do.  Decware uses tube rectification and I have held on to my Taboo EL84 based tube amp.   From what I recall tube rectification operates in a more of a synergistic  and less complicated manner within that topology.   Not to mention half the fun is trying out different power tubes,  input tubes..  AND  rectification tubes  or why bother.     The special rectifier tubes I have collected over the years  are Bugle Boy 5AR4,  Russian made 5U4G ,   Bendix  6106 (5y3 equivalent?   And of course the famous Russian Melz  6sn7 equivalent if you can find the real Mcoy.    Yep,  dont leave out tube rectification.
The thing with tube rectification is usually there is less noise. But if the solid state rectifiers are properly snubbed, they can be just as quiet, and they offer less power supply sag (which is nice in a guitar amp, not so nice in a hifi amp). HEXFRED rectifiers are a good example of a rectifiers that is low noise (super fast/super soft recovery) and can be easily snubbed for noise as low as tube but much more reliable.
@jzzmn88 thank you for sharing your thoughts.

It's encouraging to hear that Rich upgraded your Merlins to Black Magic Edition. Beyond the help he often lends in the forums, he attended the shows Bobby, and always came across as a really good person. How do you find them, and what improvements do you hear after the modifications?

Every product has weaknesses, that's true. So it's easy to understand the Ars Sonum Filarmonia doesn't tick all of the boxes for you. If I may, what about the amp misses the mark?

I think you would actually have a lot of fun tube rolling with the Filarmonia. I met the builder at one of the aforementioned shows (I think in NYC), and there and in print, he's mentioned the Dynaco ST70 serving as the inspiration and starting point for this amplifier. My experience with the Dynaco and other similar products shows a simplistic circuit quite reflective of the tubes used in it. Given the Filarmonia uses EL34, 12AU7, and 6922, that provides a lot of opportunity for tuning sonically, and keeping you busy for a while. As the included JJ E34L tubes already sit among my most favorite, though I often start with output tubes, I'd begin with the small signal tubes in this case. And as the E34L tilts more to the (glorious in the right amplifier) midrange and less toward the low-end, if you felt you needed a different balance, the JJ EL34 or Shuguang EL34B give that, at the same great value pricing
@trelja Unfortunately I cannot tell you the difference in the improvements from the previous version because I bought my pair of Merlin’s directly from Rich after he upgraded them. But what I am hearing now is incredible. Very smooth, non-fatiguing, deep soundstage. I’m currently using an older Plinius 8200, and if it sounds great now, I can only imagine what it sounds like with tubes, which is apparently what Bobby Palkovich designed these to work well with.  

A couple of minor things with the Filarmonia that don’t check off the boxes: lack of remote and lack of a sub out. As some have pointed out earlier, I listen in a small room so it wouldn’t be a stretch to get out of my chair to adjust the volume. But I do a lot of late night listening and am constantly adjusting, so I can envision it becoming somewhat of a pain. As far as a sub out, it would be simpler to hook up a sub that way. The other way to hook up the sub is through the high level inputs but with the Cardas binding posts, I hear it’s difficult to double up on spades lugs. 

Thats good to know one can tube roll with the Filarmonia. I was under the impression it couldn’t be done at all. 

I really appreciate your thoughts and opinions!
@jzzmn88 well, when it comes to your Merlins, you got in at the perfect place, the top!

Thank you for laying out the issues you have regarding the Filarmonia. Everything makes sense, really. The subwoofer connection can work, as a couple of options exist.   Unfortunately, remote control looks more or less a dealbreaker, and understandably so.

I think a lot of us tend to recommend tube amplifiers out of hand.  And though a definite pleasure of ownership often comes with them, I don't want to come across as someone who feels solid state amplifiers lack merit, or even cannot represent the best solution.  As previously stated, I feel Merlins sound best with more rich and full-bodied partnering amplification.  Plinius has just that sort of sound. Tubes don't always come across that way. Maybe trying one to scratch that itch will satisfy your curiousity, but don't sell the Plinius until you see what really works best for you. In complete honesty, I think your Plinius most probably makes an excellent mate, and I'm not sure it shouldn't stay