Picking a Tube integrated amp

Hey all. Trying to figure out my amp situation and am looking at a few integrated to upgrade to. 

I currently have a McIntosh integrated and want to move to tubes. I have the vivid v1.5speakers and a Clearaudio Concept. Looking at the following:

—Primaluna Dialogue premium or HP.
—Audio Research VSi60
—Octave v40SE

Question...does the AR still hold up? It’s likely it will be a used model, but curious if it’s still competing with the others I listed. Any others to consider?  


I have owned my PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium integrated for 3 years now. Trouble free and built like a tank!
For a great integrated you need to add the VTL IT85 to your list, it is an el34 based ST85 with the VTL 2.5 preamp incorporated and makes for one hell of an integrated amp. There is one used on another site and VTL still sells new ones.
ruby tuesday-

Give this thread a read:

PL HP owner here. I attended this shootout of the ARC VSI60 vs PL. It wasn't surprising to me the PL was the listeners choice.

Pound for pound-sonics/build/overall value, the PL lineup is tough NOT to consider. Unless you need the Made in USA label or Euro pedigree, the PL is a  contender.

I just happen to be spinning my copy of "Between the Buttons" mono press, on the table... "Ruby Tuesday" sounds fabulous.
Your speakers are only 89 db , and according to at least one review are not a flat 8 ohm, will these amps deliver the power you need for your listening levels and preferred genres?
Thanks for the responses.  Facten, i don’t really listen at all that loud levels, so I am pretty sure these amps will all work for my needs. Most of my listening is light rock and mostly jazz.  

I guess my question is more around whether a 6-10 year old amp like the vtl or ARC will perform at the same level as a PL or Octave from the last 2 years.  

Even more difficult is the Octave v PL. Apples to apples?  Does it just come down to personal preference?  Or is one a hands down more musical performer?  What would be a good synergistic match to my speakers/source?  I won’t be able to hear any of them with my speakers until I get them home. 

I guess my question is more around whether a 6-10 year old amp like the vtl or ARC will perform at the same level as a PL or Octave from the last 2 years.  

Does it just come down to personal preference?  Or is one a hands down more musical performer?  What would be a good synergistic match to my speakers/source?  I won’t be able to hear any of them with my speakers until I get them home.

These are good questions. It would be good to learn the answers from members who own integrated amps.
I've never heard any of the amps you mention but I just read this review today that's germane:


I'm a fan of Christian Punter and Hifi Advice he seems to be a pretty straight shooter and really comprehensively tests gear in different combinations. In the above review he even tests the Primaluna with a pair of the larger Vivid speakers. Good luck!
I have had a  MYSTERE integrated tube amp and been very happy with it driving a pair of monitor audio gold v.2.  It is a sister company of Primaluna.  Upscale audio is having a sale on them.  If you have a dealer nearby this amp is worth a listen

good luck!
There is a VAC 160i listed from a reputable dealer.  Given the pedigree of your speakers, the 160i would be a viable option.  I am a long time satisfied VAC owner.
I would pick the Prima Luna HP Integrated.   The sound is breathtaking.  
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"Even more difficult is the Octave v PL. Apples to apples? Does it just come down to personal preference? Or is one a hands down more musical performer? What would be a good synergistic match to my speakers/source? I won’t be able to hear any of them with my speakers until I get them home."

rubytuesday-a look at the Octave site indicates it is NOT. It is similar to the Mystere, previously mentioned. Both are configured for Pentode output. The PL Dialogue series is UL/triode via remote.

A review read, suggests the Octave is a great amp-but it's  $1k more than the more powerful(almost twice the wattage) PL HP. You could have an HP with KT150's close to the same price! The Octave is manual bias vs. auto for the PL. A nice feature if you don't care to fiddle with stuff.

Compared to the non HP, with the same wattage output, it's $1700.
Not being able to audition, and go strictly by forum reviews/ mags is essentially a leap of faith,which is something I've had to do now and then. 

Based on the reviews, the PL will drive your speakers for your requirements. A read of the PL site shows reviews of PL driving difficult speakers. It's mentioned their transformers are the reason for this. I have average(89)sensitivity  speakers and they don't sound underserved. A review I read,did an actual sensitivity reading which indicated the stated 89 was really more like a 87-86!

Good sonics ultimately, is subjective. Your ears are the judge. The Octave looks nice, you get a German pedigree.....but at a cost.

The PL may be more versatile, since it offers UL/ triode. More sonic choice.

I would read everything possible before pulling the trigger.

What about Cayin integrated amplifiers? The A-50T is getting great reviews. Anyone with experience and how it compares with PL?
I would also add the Conrad Johnson CAV-45 to the list. Smooth highs and a detailed full mid range.
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Prima Luna is made by Cayin in China (Cayin goes by Spark in China).

You asked about the Cayin A-50T. I've had one for a few months and am very impressed, great build quality and great sound. I think it's better than any of the three tube amps I'd had before, a Cary/AES AE-25 Super Amp with an AE-3 preamp, a Cronus Magnum and a Cary Sli-80 F1. It's especially impressive considering its price but I still think it sounds better with my gear than any of those amps, even the Sli-80, which cost multiples of the A-50T
You're limited to El-34 or KT77 power tubes but even the stock Cayin El-34s sound good and the RFT/Siemens tubes I have are even better. I'll probably get some Gold Lion KT77s to try because I was very impressed with them in the Sli-80 and should have kept them when I sold the amp.
Since they have not been mentioned (in alphabetic order):

- Audio Space
- Ayon
- Line Magnetic
- Lyric Audio
- Melody

I recently ordered a Lyric Audio integrated...I’ll post early impressions once it is in system.
 I have added the VTL to the list of contenders.  David, I’ll look into those as well. 
@rubytuesday  We live in a time, where there are an abundance of great choices. Whichever 'brand' you choose will perform well, the restrictions being the synergy within your system and your unique preferences.

I've never heard a Lyric component before, but I took the leap. Even had I heard it before, it would have been under circumstances likely much different than my own...just saying that ultimately, most of our choices involve a leap of faith. The good news is that so many designers and builders are putting terrific products on the market.

It will be interesting to learn what you end up choosing and how you react and respond to it's performance, once in your system. Enjoy the journey of discovery.
@david_ten thanks for the advice, I’ll update when I do make a decision.  It’s funny how what sounds good to you may be awful to me. I listened to a $4500 pair of Dynaudio speakers and had to turn them off after a few minutes. Tried three different models with different sources/amps. Dynaudio just doesn’t sound good to my ears. That’s the risk in buying sight unseen (or unheard). 
Exactly. : )

There is much more variability across speakers, but even with speakers  I (NOW [emphasized]) take a system level assessment of the sound. With amps, there is variability, but generally speaking does not result in a reaction like you had with the Dynaudio speakers you auditioned, unless there is a major mismatch with the speaker (technical reasons). 

I encourage you to reach out to @almarg once you have a couple of final choices. Run the specs of the amps and your speakers by him and he should be able to comment on whether / if there is a mismatch.
Thanks to you @david_ten for the compliment, the lyric sure is gorgeous.  I bet it sounds great. And thank you @mountainsong for introducing me to yet another drool worthy amp. ;)
@david_ten I have to say, I really went back and forth between the vivids and the spendor sp2/3r2. 
@oddiofyl I just don’t know if I’d miss having a remote. Might be a deal breaker. 
Understood..... I thought the same thing before I bought my cj Classic preamp.   That is a great integrated amp for the money.  
I have a Raven Reflection MK2 Integrated tube amp that powers Sonus Faber Amati Tradition Homage speakers.  Outstanding sound, beautiful pieces to display.  You should look up Raven Audio and call Dave the owner.  You did not indicate what your budget level was.  Raven have a couple of integrated options.  He also uses a lot of rare tubes in his amps.  Plenty of power! 
Be careful if you buy a used VTL.....  they don't treat you like a "real" customer if you need support.

Prima Luna is made by Cayin in China (Cayin goes by Spark in China).


Cayin is owned entirely by the Chinese government so all profits will go to them.  Prima Luna is only made in factories owned by the Chinese government in partnership with Prima Luna. 

If this kind of thing bothers you, then it is something to consider.  If not, just a "fun fact".
You should also consider (as mentioned above) Cayin and Line Magnetic. Both are Chinese brands, Cayin being a government owned company and LM a private one. 
Both Cayin and LM are the makers of several respected western brands, like Primaluna and others. 
I own one amplifier from Cayin (MT45 MkII - push-pull) and one from Line Magnetic (LM219ia - SET). Both are superb in terms of sound, design and built quality. And much cheaper than the equivalent western brands. 
Up to you. Go have a listen if you can. 

Cayin, Primaluna and LM do not bother me.

However, I do avoid food/pet food, cookware/dishware, vitamins, personal care products, clothing and pretty much anything made of plastic/including car parts from China. 

I listened to an "updated" Cayin PP integrated amplifier a long time ago and thought it was pretty good.

Other than upgraded caps it had a triode switch and a pot/knob that somehow seemed to adjust the damping factor.

Forget who did the mods, but it wasn't Upscale.


I have also been thinking about the Primaluna Dialogue Premium integrated amps.  If op doesn't mind, I would like to ask a couple of quick questions.  It appears from their website and manual that only the HP model will safely use the KT150 tubes, is this correct?  Also, in its theatre bypass mode, or otherwise, can only the amplifier section of the integrated be used if one has a separate preamplifier?


@jetter , If you go by the comparison matrix on the website, you can see that the Dialogue Premium (non HP), can also use KT150s, and the only apparent difference is the lack of a headphone amplifier. Although as per some topics I've perused, the HP might have a bigger power transformer and other variations.

@david_ten , which Lyric did you go for? I've really been curious about their amps, and the 140 MK2 or even the 100 Class A version may suit my purposes. They are gorgeous! Please share impressions once you get it.

No love for Rogue?  Made in the U.S. of A.

If the Cronus Magnum II isn't enough, consider RP5 preamp + Stereo 100 power.

Thanks nitewulf, I missed it before.  Does anyone happen to know if one can use a separate preamp with it, i.e., just use the amplifier section of the integrated.
I have a Lyric KT150-based integrated in my smaller second system (Lux D05u with Von Schweikert UniField 3 MkII speakers) and cannot imagine be more satisfied with this set-up, very much worth your considering.
@rpeluso   Good to know! PM sent, for specifics on your Lyric, so as not to go off on a tangent within the thread.
Transformers are one of the keys ,if you have the funds Air tight has a excellent  anniversary integrated .  They used Tango          trans formers no linger made but available.  You didnot mention 
Speaker efficiency this will help determine  compared to integrated like Prima Luna, in another league for example. Ayon make some very good ones, border patrol,  Decware make Very nice custom 
Models you choose the options.  These are mainly under $10k 
AIRTIGHT is more.  This is a good start ,  also VAC, BAT.
I'm very familiar with the original VAC Avatar, which has four things going for it: 1) Switchable between triode/ultralinear, 2) great el34 tube sound for voice/midrange, 3) it's a VAC, which means great sound and good investment at used prices, 4) not really any advances in tube sound since it was made, and VAC still supports them.

The subsequent Avatar models might be better in some ways, but I've never heard them, and you lose 1) and 2) above.
I too am interested in an integrated change. I recently got the Vivid 1.5 as well. I have a Cary SLI-80 Sig F1 and I am wondering where to go for an upgrade without spending too much, so all thoughts are welcome. One possibility would be the Dialogue Premium without the HP but putting in the KT 150 tubes. Any thoughts? Has anyone head the synthesis 100 watt integrated with built in DAC? It sounded quite good to me but is not well known and is pricey. Thoughts on T+A would be appreciated.