Shootout-- Primaluna Dialog HP Integrated/Carver Crimson 275/Elekit 300B

Hey All, 

I'm involved in my own personal shootout between these three amps.  Because I don't have a separate preamp on hand (I'm building one similar to SP14/Don Sachs), I can only accommodate digital across all three units right now.  My Manley Chinook cannot be hooked up to the Carver yet. 

The system will be: 
  • Source -  Tidal -> Roon Nuc Endpoint 
  • DAC - Doge Audio 7 DAC (all tube).  If you'r not familiar with this DAC, you may want to read up on it or watch this :
  • Loudspeakers - Klipsch Cornwall IV
  • Power -- Torus Tot Power
  • Cabling -- Analysis Plus power/ Chord Single Ended RCAs
[When I get the preamp done, the Vinyl end is: Technics 1200 GAE, Kiseki Purpleheart, Manley Chinook]

I had to try this shootout/personal review because there are simply too few reviews of the Carver 275.  

This is going to be a great ride!  Each one of these amps is impressive in its own right.  I'm eager to learn of differences.  When I'm done I'm going to sell one of the three amps and keep the best two for my needs.  Stay tuned!

Don’t you mean a TWEAKED PL HP?

I would imagine the Carver and Elekit 300B will have their own unique personalities. Without hearing any of them, I probably would be fine with any of them. The only thing I would miss is the PL’s ability to use many power tubes.

That might be a no issue with the other 2, since they are good amps.
Current set up is Carver Crimson 275 / Primaluna Prologue Premium Preamplifer / Sutherland Little Loco phono preamp / VPI Scout 1.1 w/Hana SL MC cartridge / Goldenear Triton 2 speakers / Nordost cabling throughout / Richard Gray PC 1200. The preamp has been modified with Genelex 12AU7's & Telefunken 5AR4's. The Carver with Genelex 12AX7's and 12AT7. Left the Tung-Sol KT 120's after experimenting with various brand KT-88's. Took a while to get here but for the first time in a long time (with these old ears) I'm completely pleased with the sound coming from my vinyl. Give the Carver time to burn and I think you will be amazed. Good luck on your journey!  
Thanks motorway for your story!  I bet the Carver 275 mates well with the PL preamp! 

Each of these three amplifiers in my shootout are wonderful.  I hope folks know the point is just to have fun.  All of them are worthy of my long term listening room. 

I'm 24 hours in, and I promise to hold back my subjective review until I can run through the same recordings with all 3 amps.  I will, however, say the Carver 275 surprised me.  It is super special.  
It has now been a month (about 5 weeks) living with these three amplifiers under the same roof.  I have owned the PL since 12/16 and the Elekit since 12/17.  

The PL has superb build quality, customer service, and features.  It's sound in my system is so big and full.  In fact, it can be huge.  Bass is big and has much authority.  Midrange is really nice, but better with some power tubes than others.  I know folks always say the PL sounds best with EL34s.  It does sound great.  However, I think it sounds great with KT150s.  

The PL crams a ton of stuff into the case.  There's virtually no room to leave a pencil inside of the chassis.  Packed.  The PL is back breaking.  It weights some 55 lbs--maybe more, I haven't checked in a while.  The PL has a dizzying amount of power tube rolling possibilities!  Huge selling point.  The PL uses 8 power tubes and 6 preamp (2 gain/4 driver) tubes.  Re-tubing and rolling is a pricey endeavor.  

The Elekit is virtually featureless.  It's designed as an integrated, but has no remote volume control. It has one pair (yes, just one) of single ended inputs.  To say the PCB is thoughtfully laid out is an understatement: It's amazing.  The Elekit design is really interested.  It's solid state rectified, including mosfets!  In a tube amp! Blasphemy.  And, it has a touch of negative feedback applied.  

The Carver is featherweight.  I can lift it by its chrome protective tube bumper with 1 finger!  It defies logic.  The Elekit is no featherweight either.  Those Lundhaul transformers weigh a ton.   

The Carver has a nice piano gloss paint finish.  I like it better than the PL and the spartan Elekit.   All 3 amps have nice binding posts.  The RCA jacks on the Elekit are not great.  The Carver, while arguably nicer in chassis than the Elekit, is not nicer overall than the PL.  But the PL is not a looker--in my humble view.  The Carver, while not cheap, is simple and without adornment. 

The Carver is the only one of the 3 that needs to be biased or isn't auto biasing.  I was surprised at how easy it was to bias.  The manufacturer says its fine to set it as low as 60 ma or as high as 120-the lower you go the more it is supposed to sound tubes and soudnstage is supposed to increase.  I think that's a fair statement but I didn't hear dramatic differences. 

On the PL, I dislike that the default setting is Ultralinear and you must have the remote to change it.  My remote died and is out for surgery/replacement.   As stated above, the Elekit's 1 set of inputs for an integrated is really a big sin of omission.  It really needs to be an amplifier if it's only gonna have 1 set of inputs.   I see no faults with the Carver on features.  Build quality is solid, but maybe not as substantial as the PL. 

Now onto sound.  I'll try to put it into only a few key statements--rather than go on and on with audiophile adjectives. 

The PL-- Easy to like. Big sound.  Bold.  Rounded edges here and there. Plenty of weight.  Overall smooth, but it's not particularly detailed.  It is, however, pretty musical.  It's an easy choice.  It doesn't offend and makes great music.  

The Elekit--Super clear.  If you stay well within the amps 9 watt limitations, it is super transparent and clear.  Vocals and jazz sound amazing.   It resolves detail wonderfully.  It has a good size soundstage.  Top to bottom, the sound is even, clean and understandable.  It, too, is musical, and not super analytical despite its high resolution ability.  I wish it had more oomph.  Even though my speakers are around 100 dB efficient, they could use a bit more to get them running into stride. 

The Carver--Sweet.  My listening notes use the words "sweet", "boogies", and "this little amp" repeatedly.  The bass is strong and well defined.  There's more of it than the Elekit and it's better defined than the PL.  Midrange is seductive.  The highs swing and don't offend.  I was surprised.    Like the Elekit (but with more authority) the Carver has something lifelike about the sound.  It's not that the PL sounds "fake" or bad in any way whatsoever.  The Carver's sound (and pardon the bizarre metaphor) made me think the music was delicious on many listenings.  I could eat it!    My descriptions of listening session in my notes contain words like "juicy", "sweet".  

I really like all three of these amps.  I think the PL is a safe, solid choice-especially for my first tube amp in 2016.  It's feature-rich, has unreal build quality, and sounds fantastic.   The Elekit is a more specialized tool. If the PL is a nice daily driver and party amp, the Elekit is more intimate and for special listening sessions.   The Carver is really something special.  Personally, I like it a bit more than the PL and it has more versatility than the Elekit.  

Each amp is a delight.  I was a bit tepid that Carver could make a tube amp with transformers be this light and have this type of sound quality.  If you're out there thinking about the Carver, don't let the lack of pro reviews steer you away.  Buy from a dealer with a good return policy like Jim Clark or Music Direct.  

thank you for sharing your experiences with the shootout... excellent info indeed

i can’t help but wonder how the three amps would compare if driving a more challenging set of speakers... certainly the cornwalls are a breeze to drive, a great strength (... and using the primaluna d-hp on them is like using a jackhammer to open a bottle of wine LOL! )

couple q’s reading your post, if you don't mind --

1 - with the pl d-hp... did you upgrade the small signal tubes? how did it sound ultralinear vs triode in comparison to other two? i agree with you in my experience this amp has a big and bold sound with excellent foundation but it needs help in tube selection get all the transparency it can muster

2 - what tubes were run in the carver (make and type)? as you know i have been curious about the carver... and wonder whether it can maintain its composure and character you report if driving somewhat more challenging speakers -- i trust you found it more resolving than the primaluna?

@jjss49 , yes you are exactly right.  First, the PL always felt like it could be a super amp.  It's Godzilla in size--well nearly.  It's bold and refined.  But, it wasn't that resolving--or at least with my stuff. It has always been thoroughly enjoyable. 

I swapped out dozens of tubes with the PL.  I spent too much.  

As to triode v. ultralinear, I enjoyed both.  I always wanted a variable dial that I could turn up/down to adjust feedback or bias. Having the UL/TR button was a gift. While I spent too much time debating which one I liked better, it was nice to have the switch as I sometimes simply used it as a "Loudness Button"--a la 1974.  It just sounded lovely at low volumes in UL. 

The Carver is running Tung Sol KT 120s--the only maker. The driver tubes are basic Electro Harmonix, 12AT7, and gain tube is 12AX7, Tung Sol.  No fooling. Nothing special. 

And to your point, can the Carver drive speakers with much higher demands than Cornwall IVs?   I'd be more cautious as sensitivity drops as well as impedance.  I would question that this thing could drive a medium plus load in a good size room.  But, who what do I know?  If I was in a smallish room I'd try this amp with any loudspeaker within reason....just to see because it's a sweet little amp that begs to be auditioned with all sorts of equipment.  

Finally, yes, I think the Carver is more resolving than the PL.  Mainly, I think the Carver has more texture and open space, while not sounding too airy, or something bloated.  

thank you!

the carver stays on my ’to try’ list... one of these days...

i am a sucker for featherweight tube amps that bring the goods with decent output

right now i am so happy with my lta zotl40 ref i am feeling zero urge to try others... as yet... :)
Interesting read.

Carver is one of the  brands never or rarely mentioned as having a bland/boring sound.

Is it safe to say this reinforces all the PL hype of value-cost/build/performance?

Yes, the Carver sound is not bland or boring here.  It is, however, well behaved at all times.  I haven't experienced any harshness.  There's a special smoothness on the whole spectrum that sounds very sophisticated.  That would be a turnoff if the amp didn't have such a high boogie factor to round that out.  Marry those two together and it's a beguiling sound that romances me.  

My sense is that Bob Carver really knows how to voice an amplifier.   His amp really won me over with soundstage, imaging, and texture.  Those three things come together in a holographic picture that I love.  

Honestly, I cannot knock Prima Luna.  It is such a wonderful product.  Personally, I don't think that I need to pay for that build quality because I wouldn't keep the amp for 20-30 years.  I'll also note, my only real knock on PL is subjective--I think their casework is strong and well thought out but not attractive. Personally, if I want to love a product for the super long haul, it has to have compelling/charming aesthetics.  The PL just looks like a big boring black box to me.  It feels and operates great.  In the looks category I'd give it a solid B or B-.   Again, this is my own subjective view. 

I buy hifi from anywhere it is made.  But, it's nice to know though that Bob Carver has his amps made in California--likely at the Wyred 4 Sound facility.  

JJSS49's point about my speakers is a fantastic one--they are super easy loads.  It would be interesting to hear the Carver with more difficult loads/less efficient offerings.  The PL shines in that department.  It can drive anything.  I just don't know what the Carver can do in that area.  

"Round", "smooth", "clean", "party", etc. I read this as all three being bad amps. For some reason people like to call lack of dynamics "smooth", "laid-back", etc, as if it's a matter of taste between positive traits and not simply that it sucks. I keep hearing disappointing comments about PL.
@madavid0, it's not accurate to say "it sucks" so I didn't say that.  Trust me, if only this hobby were so simple.  I wish it was as easy as, Amp A sucks, and Amp B doesn't. 
The previous posters name and history says it all...

Same rants in all threads. Poor guy, his world sucks!

good call, right on the money


please don’t waste your breath time and energy responding to that poster... professional grade naysayer and pot-stirrer

And yet no one wants to address the apparent lack of dynamics? Professional reviewers like everything. Any differences between amps never makes them better or worse, it's just a difference in taste. If something is bad, they'll couch it in a positive light (ie, "smooth") or they'll just ignore it. For example: the complete lack of mentioning imaging performance. Just a few words for the soundstage, but nothing about the crucial imaging performance. Mind you, that's probably because he's using digital volume attenuation and so imaging is probably gone, and I doubt there is good soundstage. But, instead calling out those problems he just ignores it.  Pro reviewers do that because no one likes negativity: not the manufacturers and not the readers who for the most part don't actually want to hear anything bad about their purchasing decisions. This psychological issue seems to be mostly present with those with limited finances and so want to be told that their cheap, low-end amp is great.
Not everyone thinks imaging is crucial. When I go to the symphony and close my eyes, I hear a sound that fills the space but I don’t hear pin- point imaging. 
@crouse99 ,  I agree.  I like it but I'm not a junkie for it.  Before I got into horns and tubes, I was down the path of low efficiency, slick modern speaker designs that seemed to specialize in imaging and detail retrieval.  It got to the point, in my system, where it started feeling like a parlor trick or gimmicky--well maybe not that bad, but you get the point.  
jb and crouse

my take on imaging is that the notion of pinpoint, highly 'separated' imaging is definitely and mostly a hifi-manufactured notion... most live music performances don't have highly specific imaging

but that being said, i think good systems have a depth of field -- singer placed in front of drums and acoustic bass, and then, the various instruments (and voices) need to have an appropriate sense of scale, piano vs sax vs guitar etc etc

@jjss49 ,  once again I agree with you.  Put me on your mailing list!  

By the way, the Carver is staying in my listening room.  Since the Elekit is such a specialized piece of equipment it has a place here.  The PL is going! She served me well.  

i picked up a used crimson 275 at a decent price... just received it, will report on how it does with my spatials, harbeths, proacs etc etc

very well written owners manual and well executed box and packing

they put some real care and thought into these modern carver products it seems 👍👍
@jjss49 , I would think the Carver 275 and the Spatials would mate well. I'm curious about your Harbeths.  I cannot comment on compatibility of the amp because I'm driving the Cornwalls at 100dB sensitivity.  
I was using the carver with Spatial X3s and that sounded very good indeed.


reporting back -- have now had a full week with the carver crimson 275 tube amp, bought used, with original russian kt120/12at7 drivers and single ge old stock 12ax7 input stage (potentially a prior owner upgrade)

ran the amp driving spatial m3 sapphires, proac d30rs, harbeth c7, old trusty spendor sp1, and against competing (pricier) amps linear tube ref zotl40 (with mullards), and arc ref 75 (running kt120’s), also checked against very sweet solid state pass/first watt f6…

sources are streaming via sonnet morpheus fed direct to amp, and wtl amadeus tt/benz glider sm/ayre p5xe/cj et5...

key findings:

overall an excellent amp, lively/well detailed, powerful presentation/voicing, plenty of oomph but with good, if not great, tact and subtlety as well… tremendous performance and value at 2500-2750 new (not to mention used)

-- treble is fairly extended, refined and quite detailed (for a tube amp, I would say more extension and microdynamics than most p-p tube amps)

-- midrange is lovely, fleshed out but tactile/fast not at all lazy

-- voiced to have a full, forward and fast midbass (reminiscent of top primaluna’s) and very good deep bass - great, and i mean great sense of drive through the bass - so this one does what many lesser tube amps fail at -- which is come across as having tubey goodness but with clarity and some serious ‘cajones’! - something with the trick output transformers used here, working very well with the KT120’s in the design - very impressive!

-- soundstaging is very good - wide tall deep, good edge definition and proper relative scale of piece parts

-- a minor weakness is a slight electronic glare in the treble and on transients (reminiscent of the arc vt100 series)… i think this is the tradeoff in the voicing of a more forward. lively treble than most tube amps (the ying to the yang of the first sub point above i think) - maybe this can be tweaked out with better small signal driver tubes (modern russian and chinese small signal tubes are notorious for this artifact) - i ordered some old stock at7’s - they are incoming - the other nit is a fairly low level power transformer hum (its not my power, no hum with other amps used)...

-- finish and quality is good to very good… pcb board at base of tube sockets a little ‘give-y’, and the stupid rca input jacks are smaller than normal diameter, making most cables seem ‘loose’ - at this price not a major complaint - biasing is fixed/user adjustable (not autobias), holds very steady and is a breeze to do with onboard meter

-- amp is quite small and quite light for a tube amp… this is very much appreciated!

-- main sonic gap to better (and more expensive) tube amps is the slight, subtle hash in the treble and upper mids (still working on that with tube rolling), but the luscious excellent midbass is somewhat compensatory -- zotl has more refined treble a more sophisticated overall velvety sound, if slightly less midbass impact; ref 75 has bigger deeper stage, bloomier mids, both have slightly lower noise floor than the carver

net net i like this amp alot... at its price it is outstanding 

@jjss49, Wow!  Great assessment.  

I agree with so much of the detail you pointed out.  Wonderful review you did.  

You put into better and very specific words what I was calling "delicious"--that midbass and midrange are seductive. 

And, you are dead on in your observations on weaknesses--low level transformer hum (I actually called the company and swapped out units on this issue), RCA jacks are decent but not stellar, and if you really "look" closely the treble is A- but not A or A+.  I should add, I can live with those things because this amp really swings and the treble and midrange are lovely in their presentation. I don't get tired of it at all.  

Now, the question is (and it's a pricey question), if the Crimson 275 is 75-80% of the Crimson/Raven 350, what do those mono blocks sound like for $10k?  

I'm glad you took the time to perform such a detailed review with different loudspeakers.  I have only run the amp with Cornwall IVs, which are so easy to drive an alarm clock FM radio could power them.   

Thanks for the very informative listening notes jjss!

I have been considering the Carver Crimson amplifier along with ones from Rogue and Primaluna.  I think your observations are helping me decide.

Could you comment on whether you felt the Carver had plenty of power reserve to drive the Harbeths?