tube integrated amp recommendations?


Hi folks,

I'm looking for an inexpensive (around $1000) tube integrated amp for a second system, and thought I would ask for opinions on what I should be looking at right now. Used is OK to consider for this amp. Here's what I want (I think)...

I would like an amp that I can possibly swap driver tubes in to play with the sound a little. Or maybe one that I can switch from pentode to triode modes. I'd like it to use inexpensive (in the scheme of things) driver tubes so I can try things out (so the 300B or 211 are probably out of the question).

I want a remote control in the unit. I have a Mcintosh MC275 in my main system, so I'm familiar with KT-88 tubes, and wouldn't be adverse to having them in this secondary unit, but there's a lot of other tubes out there to try!

I have a pair of B+W 602's to use on this system (at least for starters). It will be driven mostly be a Sonos and maybe a decent CD player and possibly FM radio. I don't listen to loud music, but I do listen to a wide range of styles, from classical to rock. So, I don't think I need a lot of power in the amp.

So, I'm looking for suggestions on a decent sounding product that has all or most of these things from the list. Maybe more importantly, I'd like to hear about what tubes I should be considering. All input is appreciated.

If I can't seem to find a suitable tube solution, I'll probably get a Audio Decco to run in the system...

---Michael
mjm6
I bought a Cayin A50T back in Feb '08. It was my first tube amp and it sounds terrific. I'm using it with a Marantz SA-8001 w/King Cobra ICs. VERY smooth, (no fatigue) and detailed sound. It sounds best after 15-20 minutes of warm-up. I run a pair of tapered quarter-wavelength pipes that are 94 dB efficient, so 16 watts of power isn't a problem. How efficient are your speakers?

I definately prefer the triode mode over the ultralinear mode. There is more space around the music and it sounds richer.

I highly recommend this amp.
I owned a Cary SLI-80 and still have my Cayin A-88T. I have never heard a McIntosh MC-275. The Cary and the Cayin do not sound remotely alike. To compare them, would be a little like comparing Roast Beef with Cake. Neither attemps to convey the same sound signature, and which is better is largely personal preference in what type of sound you like to hear.

The Cary SLI-80 is a very detailed and somewhat linear extended sounding tube amp with relatively close to solid state presentation, and a very nice tube blush to that.

The Cayin has a warmer more forward midrange, is more dynamic and immediate sounding, and has a little less extended presentation. The Cary is more mid-hall, the Cayin is more of a vibrant front row center sound. The Cayin, however, is not like what I consider to be overly lush and artificial sounding like some older Conrad Johnson gear.

I personally preferred the Cayin myself. I like it best with SED KT88 tubes, RCA VT-231 (6SN7), and Mullard CV569 (ECC35/6SL7) tubes. The SED KT88s have a very vibrant dynamic open sound with a forward textured midrange and great bass and very good highs.

The Cayin A-88T is very sensitive to tube rolling. You can choose almost any sonic signature. Those who want the Cayin to sound more warm, almost as warm as older CJ equipment, can put in SED 6550 tubes which sound beautiful in the mids, although the soundstage consticts a little. Those who want a more detailed extended sound, but still want to hear some warmth in the mids, can use GEC Reissues (I liked the Chinese KT88s, haven't heard the JJs). I liked the GEC reissues more than the EH or the Genalex Lion KT88s, which to me were a little too extended and not warm enough in the mids for me with the Cayin.

My only quibble with the Cayin, was that with my personal preference in tubes, I hear a very slight hardness in the upper mids (which went away with the other tubes by the way). But what I hear with my preferred tubes that makes it all worth while, is a very dynamic vibrant open real sound - as if you are sitting in with the band.

So, it is apples and oranges whether you prefer the Carry or the Cayin amps. They are two completely different amps. The Cayin has been applauded by all professionals who have reviewed it as being extremely well built. Its detractors are a little too caught up in the China makes junk stereotype. No doubt, some of it is junk. However, the Cayin with its point to point wiring etc (unlike some newer McIntosh tube amps) is definately not! I teamed mine up with a Joule LA 150 MKII Preamp and they made great music together.
I also have heard cayin amps and enjoy them all. i like the flexibility of most of the having pre-ins and the clean look and the quality remote with a bunch of functions.

the insides of the cayin also are very nicely laid out point to point and clean.

the sp3/8 has a MUCH warmer sound than the cayin, and because of that it looses alot of top end extension compared to the cayin.

good luck in your search
I currently own and use the following integrated Amps:
Mac 2275
Audio Research CA50
Cayin A70T (very similar to A-88T but with different front end tubes and Quasi Tube rectification)
Cayin MT12A
Jolida 102B with JD50a remote adapter (in reality a passive preamp)

The Cayin A70T and the Mac are used with a pair of B&W 805S monitors.
The CA50 with a pair of AR S310HO floor standing speakers with Sequerra T9 ribbon tweeters.
The Cayin MT12a and Jolida 102b with Sequerra MET 7's,Radio Shack Lineaum tweeters and a powered subwoofer.

With all that said:

A).The CA50 was not a good match with the B&W's (or any Low Efficiency speakers for that matter). With the high output AR's it is superb using Tungsol reissue 6550's

B). The Cayin and the Mac have no problem driving the B&W's to more than reasonable levels in a 27'x18' cathedral ceiling carpeted room (log walls). The Cayin even works well in the triode mode since I went Gold Lion KT88's for the outputs. Overall I slightly prefer the Mac but it's close and the price differential is substantial.

C). The EL84 amps (Jolida 102B & Cayin MT12A)may work in a small room at restricted volume levels like a bedroom or office. Even in this type of venue the subwoofer is really required to get sufficient bass.

I hope this helps, good luck.

Jerry
As a follow up to my reply above the tube complement of the listed amps is as follows:

Mac2275- Tungsol reissue 6550's, Mullard CV4024's(12at7 driver position), Sovetek 12ax7lps phono preamp, Mullard 12ax7 reissues in the tone amp position.

Audio Research CA50-Tungsol reissue 6550's, EH6922's

Cayin A70t- Telefunken 12au7's,Mullard 12ax7 reissues, Gold Lion KT88 reissues, Sylvania 5AR4 rectifier.

Jolida 102B-Russian 6n14P (EL84 eqiv),Mullard CV4024's(12at7 driver position,Mullard 12ax7 reissues

Cayin MT12A - Telefunken 12au7's,Mullard 12ax7 reissues, JJ EL84 outputs