Moving from integrated to separates

So far, I have mostly owned integrated amplifiers. The only time I owned separates was when I had Parasound A21 and Parasound P6. Since then I have bought many integrated amps, and they have all been excellent for the most part. My current amp is the Audio Hungary Qualiton a50i which is by far the best integrated tube amp I have owned. It is a pure class A amp that is surprisingly powerful even though it provides only 50 watts. However, I recently bought new speakers -- Joseph Audio Perspective2 Graphene (which are replacing Harbeth SHL5+). Given the low sensitivity, I was expecting the Qualiton won’t be able to handle the speakers, but I think the rather benign (relatively speaking) impedance of the speakers helps, and to my surprise the amp is driving the speakers quite well. Even the bass is quite tight and punchy a far as tube amps go. To be very honest, I can easily live with this amp for a long time. But what’s the fun in being an audiophile then :)

That being said, I realize that 50 watts are 50 watts. I have a feeling that the Perspective2’s will scale even better with more power. Instead of looking for another integrated, I think I’m ready to give another shot to separates. But what is not negotiable at this time is that I simply won’t move to solid state, not even hybrid. I have tried a few integrated SS amps (last one was Luxman 590AXII), and while most of them were amazing in their own right, I have realized that I am at heart a tube guy. I’m not naive and I certainly understand the negatives associated with tubes (less bass, some loss of dynamics, etc.), but for now I’m looking for an all-tube solution.

So fellow audiogoners, please provide suggestions as you see fit. A few key asks:

1. Both the amp and pre-amp must be tube-based. No hybrids at this time. If you suggest an amplifier please also suggest the accompanying pre-amp that mates well. I’m not very savvy when it comes to matching the components so feel free to educate me :)

2. I’m also open to mono-blocks, but my budget might be a limiting factor. Total budget is $12,000 (for both pieces). To get the most mileage I think I will have to buy used.

3. I’m not a fan of the ’modern’ tube sound. I owned Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II and thought it sounded more like an SS amp at times. However, this does not mean I’m looking for the vintage ’romantic’ sound of the past. My Qualiton a50i is a good example of straddling the fine line between sounding too modern and overly lush or romantic. Something in between is highly desirable.

4. I love my Qualiton a50i and don’t plan on selling it. I’ll move it to my second system. The only reason I want to try out separates is to get more power. I’m thinking at least 100 watts if not more - preferably in class A but not carved in stone. However, more power should not come at the expense of losing the ’magic’ of tubes.

5. I don’t need any built-in phono, DAC, tone controls, etc. in the preamp. But a remote control is a must.

6. And lastly it has to look good. I know, I know ... looks should be secondary to SQ, but what can I say. Maybe I’m vain when it comes to audio.

I really appreciate any recommendations. I know I’m asking for a lot and maybe you guys will tell me that $12K is not enough given the desired attributes. Since I’m buying used I’m prepared to create a short list of maybe 4-5 suggested combinations and buy as and when the components become available in the market. Also, feel free to educate me as to what to look for to create the right synergy between the preamp and amp beyond just the technicalities.

Thank you in advance for your help.


I would be helpful to know how close you now come to running out of clean power.  With tube amps, you don't get the shrill, harsh output from the tweeter that you get when solid state is running out of gas--you tend to first experience compression (you turn up the volume but it doesn't get much louder), followed by a muddled sound lacking in clarity and imaging starts to break down.  If you hear that at very high volume levels, you have to decide how important reaching such levels really is to your overall listening enjoyment (I don't like to listen at high levels, so I don't give high volume capability much priority, but, you may differ in your needs).  You could also get a cheap meter that measures how many watts are being delivered to your speakers.  At a fairly high volume level, you generally want to stay below 1/4 of rated power of the amp, except for the very occasional peaks.

Most people grossly over estimate how much power they really need and end up chasing the wrong thing in their quest for better sound.  Nelson Pass created a company dedicated to making really good solid state amps optimized for delivering great sound at lower power levels--the company name "First Watt" reflects its philosophy.  As that company put it--"Who cares what an amp sounds like at 500 watts if it sounds like crap at one watt?"  I've heard a couple of these First Watt amps and they are among the best solid state amps I've heard.  I think the same can be said of tube amps.  Most of the very best I've heard were low powered.  Unfortunately, low-powered tube means REALLY low power.  I own three tube amps, and the one with the highest rated power is the Audio Note Kageki at, I believe 6.5 watts per channel.  My current favorite amp that I own is a 5.5 watt per channel pushpull 349 amp.  My all time favorite amp is a custom built OTL amp that I think is rated at something like 20 watts (maybe more) that a friend owns.  

I don't know if the price have moved but you might consider the McIntosh C22 preamp and MC275 power amp.  This is very good sounding gear and I think it looks really good.  The MC275 is not be all end all in terms of detail but on budget, for new gear....

I am not a Mc dealer so I am thinking of prices from before inflation.  Hopefully this is still in that range.  Definitely will be used.  

BAT VK-75 or 75se could be a strong contender. You could pare it with BAT VK-30 or 31se to get fully balanced brand synergy. Oh, and it definitely will be in your budget range. 

Check out the Manley Snapper and the Jumbo Shrimp!

Manley Laboratories – Upscale Audio

^This^ reminds me of the Irish Spring soap commercials… 😃