System Two

I am on the hunt for some new speakers. No, I’m not ditching the Magnepans … at least not yet (wink, wink). No, seriously, I’m not talking about that system at all. I’m talking about another system, a separate one. Let’s call it System Two.

What? A second system? Why have a second system at all?

Hello there! I’m an audiophile, how are you? Pleased to meet you.

Okay, just kidding a bit, but yeah, it’s not like I really need a reason. I mean, I have one and all, its just that I don’t need one, other than noting that I have this fetishistic approach to audio gear, and really, that’s pretty much all one needs to say, isn’t it? Anyway ….

So, yes, my reason: I want something to compare and contrast with. I have a “big rig” — Plinius separates that usually spend their time pushing gobs of current at some spectacular Magnepan speakers, but are, right now, providing that service for some even-more-spectacular speakers from eFicion. Yeah, I’m covered there.

But that’s kind of a limited sample pool to write reviews from, much less, base comparisons on, isn’t it? And a second system would keep things a bit more interesting. Especially if it was, well, different. Tubes, instead of solid state. A different approach to speakers, maybe (though not sure what, exactly, that would mean). Maybe a second DAC, too, again, for comparisons. Yeah.

Oh, and did I mention I have a seemingly uncontrollable urge to acquire gear? It’s a problem.

I already do have this other system, you see. It’s on my desk. Admittedly, it’s occasionally more appropriate to run that system than System One. Not usually, but sometimes. So, what if I upgraded that system?

Smashing idea.

So, here’s what I have. I have some Audioengine P4 speakers. A first-gen Streamer II+ from HRT that I’m using for a DAC. I’ve also got a tiny Miniwatt N3 integrated that is as fun to play with as it is desk-friendly.

I also have a pair of Model 1 Signatures from Totem that I pulled out of the home theater rig (a center channel is around here somewhere, too). Those’ll eventually go up for sale, but for now, I’m using them with my loaner Signature 15 from Red Wine Audio.

So, System Two Mark II is kinda already underway. I’m just … tweaking it.

So, starting from the source, there’s really only one DAC that’d I’d be seriously interested in entertaining. Just one. And yes, it’s the Lampizat0r. But that thing is crazy-expensive ($8k with all the options), so we’ll have to wait for divine intervention there. Or maybe not. Hopefully, I’ll have more to say about this soon.

But here’s what I’m thinking. I need a pair of speakers that are reasonably easy-to-drive, fast, detailed, and are relatively compact. They’ll sit on angled, isolated stands right there on my desk. But they’ll also be good enough and beefy enough to head out to the main system to sit on a pair of height-adjustable (in case I bring in other speakers of differing sizes) stands. And yes, I still do have those Rythmik F12G subs and a Velodyne SMS-1 equalizer in case I need to get all fancy.

I’ll also need a heftier tube amp. My little N3 is a spectacular performer, but 3.5wpc is simply not going to cut the mustard with a wide range of, well, anything. It is a suboptimal match for the Audioengines as it is, and outright poor with the Totems. But I still want tubes — again, for variety, but I do really like the footprint. So, for the sake of my dwindling real estate, and in an effort to be more friendly to my wallet than separates are likely to be, I’m leaning toward an integrated.

Here’s a wrinkle. The speakers and integrated can’t be outliers or total unknowns. This is more a professional courtesy, than one of particular preference — it’s so you folks have at least some idea of where my reviews are coming from.

Yes, I’m doing all this for you. You see how this sickness works? Very deftly done, I might add. Bravo, subconscious!

Anyway, some more well known brands would be better than the wonky or the relatively unknown. I’m not saying I have to stick to B&W, Wilson, Harman, JBL or Bose, but custom-made designs are probably not going to cut it. The goal is to identify a new reference that I can use to write intelligently about how other products differ from it.

Notice that I didn’t say, “sound worse”, but rather just different. A reference is just that. It’s a baseline. It can (and usually is) perform at quite a high level, which is useful to point out shortcomings. But it doesn’t have to be “best in class” or even “best in my experience”. It’s just a reference, that is, something I’ll be referencing when talking about other things. It’ll help us both if you, Mr Joe Average Reader, has some idea of what I’m talking about when I trot it out in conversation.

Another thing worth mentioning: it shouldn’t be crazy expensive either. The fact that everyone reading this page has probably heard of, if not actually heard, a Magico Mini (now upgraded to the Q1), doesn’t mean that my using that extremely well-regarded monitor speaker as a reference actually helps. It’s like trotting out observations about a Bugatti when talking about an Acura, or a Honda. If you have no idea what a Bugatti is, try wine. If my reference for Pinot Noir happens to cost $1,000 a bottle, and I reference that wine when talking about a bottle that costs $20, you’re likely to be a bit nonplussed. How many of us have actually tasted $1,000-a-bottle wine? So how is that useful as a reference — except as a way to show that I’m some out-of-touch rich asshole that doesn’t think before making $10,000 bets?

So, where to go from here? Well, let’s start with speakers.

The Ideal and the Bookshelf

Again, we’re talking “bookshelf” speakers, aka, “monitors”. I prefer “compact”, but you get the idea. For my use-case, I’m looking for something that probably qualifies as a “mini-monitor” because I’m not really all that interested in putting an 18″ tall speaker on my desk. It’s just too big. Similarly, a 12″ wide speaker will be inhospitable. So, we’re talking “less than 15″, though even that may be pushing things.

I also prefer two-ways over single-driver speakers. It’s a bias, I know. I simply haven’t heard much in the way of a single driver speaker that manages to do a great job of the entire frequency range. If ever I find a single-driver speaker that makes me change my mind, trust me, you’ll hear about it here.

I mentioned that I want a speaker that’s going to be relatively easy to drive. This is for the obvious reason — I want to run it with a tube amp. This means no 4ohm (nominal) speakers, and no speakers that have crazy dips (no speakers that dip to 4 ohms) in their impedance curve. Personally, I think these performance characteristics tend to indicate sloppy design, but perhaps that’s just me. Anyway, I want a speaker that can be easily driven by a wide variety of amps, including (but not limited to) low power SET amps.

Given that we’re talking about a compact monitor, we’re also talking about a speaker that doesn’t have a high sensitivity. Turns out that small-cone speakers just have to work harder than their larger siblings, and sensitivity goes down as a result. So, while I’d love find an awesome sounding speaker that has a 95dB sensitivity and is only 13″ tall, I haven’t managed it yet. 90dB, yes.

Let’s chat about DeVore Fidelity. Let me say this up front: I’m a fan. At every show I’ve been to that DeVore has been showing at, their room has been a pleasant stop. John DeVore is a fine fellow to chat with, and one can’t help noticing that he only shows his speakers with tubes. Now, while not exactly mainstream, DeVore has something of a cult following — enough to make this brand something of an audiophile legend. I mean, it’s not like the Merlin Music fan club or anything — those folks are nuts — but it’s pretty established, and DeVore’s speakers have been reviewed by some of the heavy hitters in the industry, and usually to a chorus of approval. The speakers, at least to me, tend toward neutral, and check the usual audiophile boxes. Speed, detail, imaging, yep, all there. The 3XLs are DeVore’s current thinking around the monitor speaker — and 90dB to boot — but at a hair over 15″ tall, they’re a touch big for my application. That said, I may just suck it up and re-arrange to suit. Yeah, I’m fickle like that.

Next up is Proac. Again, not necessarily as mainstream as PSB or Paradigm, but I think it’s up there with Harbeth and Spendor. Kinda. Whatever, it’s hardly unknown. But it’s also a brand that is fairly well known for being “tube friendly”, which brings me to the latest iteration of their tiny monitor, the Tablette Anniversary. 11″ tall, 86.5dB sensitive and an 8ohm load, the Tablette might be perfect. Like the DeVore’s, the Tablettes are very hard to get my ears on as there really isn’t anything like a local dealer to me (not sure I consider Washington, DC to be “local”). Compared to the Gibbon 3XL, the Tablette is about 1/3 less expensive, considerably smaller (which is good and bad), and significantly less sensitive.

Another interesting contender is the Dulcet from Reference 3a. Considerably smaller, and therefore more manageable for my use-case than the MM De Capo I’s, which I absolutely love (but are huge), the Dulcet is 88dB sensitive, 12″ tall and is crossoverless — that is, very easy to drive. It’s a bit harder to drive than most of the Reference 3a lineup at 6ohms (instead of 8) and the main driver is a bit small. Rumor has it that, like all of the speakers in the Reference 3a lineup, the Dulcets “don’t do loud” as they tend to compress at high SPLs. I have no real personal info on that, but I do know that Paul Candy of 6moons wrote something to that effect back in 2004. I also know that all of the speakers in the Reference 3a line have been significantly tweaked over the years, so who knows where things stand currently. Whatever the case may be, at regular (to a bit high) listening levels, my personal experience with the Reference 3a “sound” has been far better than merely satisfactory. I’m a fan. The question I have is whether or not this speaker is mainstream enough for the purposes of a review. I’m not sure.

Definitely hewing closer to deep audiophile waters is the little Harbeth P3ESR. In fact, this was the speaker I was most recommended. By a lot. I’m sure it’s a great speaker, but I sadly have yet to hear it. Said to have an unearthly mid range, the baby of the Harbeth lineup also has some pretty daunting specs. I think the bass rolls off somewhere around 70Hz or so. The treble rolls off well below 20KHz — not that I can hear that, but that high-treble extension also directly translates into “airiness” and “spatial cues”. Detail retrieval and overall imaging is, reportedly, very high quality. While “everyone” says that Harbeth are easy to drive, presenting a minimum value of 6ohms to the speakers with the rest of the range much higher than that, there is an overall 83dB sensitivity. What this says to me is “tube friendly” where tubes = high output tubes. SET and amps with single-digit output will work fine, but will simply never play loud — or even loud-ish — without compression. And then there’s that bass … a sealed box design tends to mean that what bass there is will be of higher quality (faster, more tuneful, &c), but 70Hz is pretty high. I mean, we’re not talking about a THX compliant receiver here. Anyway, I’m pretty convinced that these just won’t work at all.

A speaker that I wish would work is the Amphion Argon 3. This speaker not only offers superlative bass and a fantastic lateral dispersion, it also sounds amazing — yes, this one I’ve actually heard live and in person. However. It’s a bit big at 15″ tall. It’s also unclear how responsive this will be to lower-power amps, especially tube amps. Again, not that I have any — but I might need to bring some in to write up. Anyway, most reviews of this speaker are most likely done with solid-state amps for a good reason. A real pity, but this is also the problem with a large variety of other contenders, including speakers from PSB, Paradigm, B&W, Focal and Usher. All of them look far more friendly on paper than they are in real life and many of them are downright hogs when it comes to power. Even the much beloved (by me) Pulsars from Joseph Audio fall into this category. Again, this is not a ding on the speakers, their owners or their sound quality — but that does mean they’re all out of scope of this little project. Lastly, the Amphion name is hardly household, if you know what I mean. [sigh]. Oh, well.

Okay, let’s move over to amps for a bit.

The Power and the Glory

For amps, my needs are very similar to those of the speakers. The name should be at least familiar to the general audiophile, or at least rather well reviewed and/or thought of. It should also play well with a variety of speakers. This rules out SET speakers and most low-power designs as a matter of course. Look, this isn’t to say that a given design can’t or won’t be able to drive a particular speaker — it’s just that if that speaker happens to be at all difficult, it’ll be an open question as to whether or not the SET will do it justice.

So, we’re talking really big SETs, like a 211 or 845. Which are really big. And really hot. Really hot. Which isn’t gonna cut it. While I do like the SET sound, most SETs are built around tubes that don’t really play well with frequency extremes. It’s just a sad fact. Again, what my personal choice may have been might not be the best for a reviewer. Hmmpf.

Now, before we wander off in a snit, believing we have to settle for second best, a compromise doesn’t have to equate to crap. That’s simple purist bullshit nonsense. The fact of the matter is that there are a great many designs, including push-pull, that can and do sound amazing. It’s all about the implementation.

So, what to look for? I’m thinking somewhere in the EL34 lineup. This will get me in the neighborhood of designs that can push out bit more power than the average SET and still retain quite a bit of that “tube magic”. Without a lengthy digression into power-ratings and SPL/gain, let’s just say that I’m looking somewhere between 30-50wpc. More would be great, but tends to be larger and hotter. So, what do we have in that spot?

This is the amp I want because I’m a retard. The Leben CS-600 is very expensive ($6500), especially relative to the speakers I’ve been mentioning. Too much so? Hard to say. But the design is compact and sports a sweet head-amp, too. Sitting at the bottom of my recommended power range, it has taps that support a wide variety of impedances — very handy — and it’s got a great sound (or so I’m told). It also has gold knobs. Not “gold finish” but real gold. Yeah, that’s how I roll, sucka.

The Luxman SQ-38u is another little desktop friendly beauty. Very similar in aesthetic to the Leben above, the Luxman is apparently voiced more for smooth luxuriousness in the mids and bass. Like the Leben, the Luxman also sports a head amp, and adds to that a rather excellent phono stage, too. Either one of these would be great. They’re both priced in the same neighborhood, so this may well come down to which I can get a better deal on.

Coming a bit down from the prices of the Leben and Luxman is the VTL integrated, the IT-85. Unlike both the Luxman and Leben, however, this one I have actually heard and played with. It’s tiny — and still cranks 60wpc and can drive some pig speakers. Okay, the Magnepan Minis are hardly pigs, but at 4ohms, they’re in no way kind to amps. Interestingly, the VTL is actually built to a 5-ohm standard (just like the Manley amps, for obvious familial reasons), which means that they’re pretty much designed to run tough speakers. But since there’s no switch to change this setting on the amp, this also means that they will have less power on tap for an 8ohm speaker (as much as 30% less). Of course, a higher impedance speaker will probably need less power to run well … assuming the sound quality doesn’t change along with the change in impedance load. For what it’s worth, I prefer the multi-tap and/or switched approach. Not that’s it’s better or worse, it’s just more widely useful. Oh, and this amp isn’t auto-biasing, either. Sounds like I’m talking myself out of this one, doesn’t it? Hmm.

There’s a bunch of other amps out there, too. The Triode Corp of Japan has a pretty decent EL-34 amp, the TRV-35se. Line Magnetic Audio has the 211ia, which doesn’t actually use a 211 tube, but an EL-34 set instead. But I’ve heard neither of them.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten to this point. The investigation continues.

What’s next

I need to do some more listening, obviously. And some more investigations. There’s this crazy speaker from Marten Designs called The Duke that looks really interesting, but it’s expensive and a bit large. So, if I’m gonna go big anyway, why not just get some MM De Capo I’s and be done with it? It’s a valid question.

Got some suggestions? Feel free. I’ve taken a look at Silverline, Nola, Coincident, Sonist, and half-a-dozen other speakers. Hell, I have speakers from Sjöfn HiFi queued up for March, a pair from Teresonic supposedly coming this summer, and a pair of Vaughn’s that are actually being carried across the country by FedEx as I type this. But if you think I need to widen my net, comment away.

More to come, for sure.

58 comments

  • Hi, and first of all, congratulations for this nice blog that I just discovered.

    I have been enjoying for more than a year now the Amphion Argon 3L (floorstanders, but otherwise extremely similar to the Argon 3 bookshelves), driven by a Copland CTA-405 (full tube, KT88, 50 wpc), and all I can say is that the result is simply amazing (specially considering the price when compared to some more “exotic” gear).

    I also had the Amphions paired with a Copland CTA-402 (full tube, EL-34, 35 wpc) with very good results.

    The Amphions are well suited for tube gear, given its extremely flat impedance curve.

    And sound great !!!

  • I’m interested in a new pair of monitor speakers as well, but they need to be able to sit on a shelf not a stand. I currently use a pair of Linn Tukans which sound lovely but are a bit long in the tooth. Do any of the above speakers work (a) not on a stand, and (b) close to the wall… say 12 inches away?

    • Part-Time Audiophile

      If you can get to within 6″ from the back wall (and stick 2″ of padding right up on that wall), I think you’d have a perfect fit for (the clue) speakers from Sjofn Hifi. They’re relatively inexpensive and sound outstanding.

      • thanks the idea!

  • Pingback: System Two, Part Two-ish | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile

  • Guru Audio QM10!

  • I wish I had your problems. One thing you haven’t really addressed is your potential budget. Would I like an Ongaku at nearly USD $80,000 ? I’m sure I’d love it. And I’d take Audio Note/Kondo’s recommends for speakers too (probably $40k). Reality is a long way off though.
    So how about it? At least give us a rough budget for the speakers and integrated amp so we stand a chance. I can think of a bunch of ways to spend $120k, none of them related to audio (a friend just received his perfect ’70 Superbird, so at $120k I could afford a half of one:)). Cars wouldn’t be involved either.

    • Part-Time Audiophile

      I never did say, did I. Hmm. I guess I was hoping to do “everything” (speakers + amp/pre|integrated) for under $5k list. Way under would be best. If it’s over, it would have to be amazing — and justifiable.

      As I was doing this, it occurred to me to see if I couldn’t pull something together for half that. Or double that.

      No, I’m not made of money. I’m pulling cash from “elsewhere” in order to make a bit of an investment in this whole audio-writer thing. Gives me a little more buck in my bang. But not a lot.

  • Yes, I agree on all points. Seems the Gibbon is really the only one that qualifies at this point.
    Regarding the SF & Harbeth, “That SF is a 4ohm, the Harbeth is 83dB.” Yeah, I know. Those were picks based on the idea of going with a different type amp. Can think of nothing sweeter than to have a Leben on my desk though.
    Good luck

  • Great site! Enjoyable reading. Keep up the good work!
    Seems the small, tube, integrated, decision is severely limiting speaker options. Really only 1-2 speaker choices, it seems. My two cents… How about a larger tube amp, or nice class A amp, placed on the floor, under the desk, then a small DAC/pre on the desk? Leben type amp would also be useless when other speakers stop by to visit. Unless, of course, they happened to be 8ohm/90db+ spec’d. If small tube integrated limitation was lifted, you’d have pick of the litter!
    My vote;
    1) Sonus Faber Auditor Elipsa
    2) Harbeth P3ESR
    3) Spendor SA1
    Not really mini monitors’, and pricey. But, I couldn’t resist;
    Focal 1008BE
    Dynaudio C1 (ugliest speaker ever made)
    Focal Diablo (you only live once)
    Good luck and can’t wait to see what comes.

    • Yeah, it’s limiting. Perhaps its an exercise in futility? Dunno. I think I’m gonna follow reader advice and go for the Gibbon 3XL. I just wanted an easy-to-drive speaker that I could use with tubes, but not that I had to use with tubes or had to use with solid state, you know?

      That SF is a 4ohm, the Harbeth is 83dB. But the Spendor is fine, it’s just not terribly well-known these days. Focal is fine, but they and the Dynaudio, really need and want more power, regardless of what their ratings say. A light hand there, as it were, just don’t really get those dogs to hunt.

      Appreciate the feedback and the kind words, though. Much obliged!

  • Silverline Minuet, NOLA Boxer, Spendor SA1, Habeth P3SER, Proac Tablette, Totem The One (used), Audience The One, Devore XL3, Merlin TSM, NHT Super Zero, ATC SCM 7 or 11, Dynaudio X12, Linn Majik 109, PMC DBi, B&W PM1, ACI Saphire XL, Epic 1, Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk 3, how about the new Raidho C1.1 give Wolfman a run for his Q1 money just kidding. Going through the same selection process myself – Devore in bamboo with bamboo stands may be the best pick here, bit pricey but sweet, NOLA looks nice in Cherry though decisions decisions…..

  • FYI there’s a pair of Pulsar’s for sale on Audiogon.Price seems right.You know you want ‘em and I’m sure they”ll work fine with tubes if not set’s.

    • I’ve heard them kick ass all over the place with tubes. And yes, I want them. Me me me!!!

  • I’ve heard both, but I’m unable to describe their sound. Anyway, in most regards belong to the same ‘family’ of sound to me.

  • Scott,

    for your purposes another option might be the Spendor SA1, great reviews and known. Only 85db but minimal impedance about 6ohms, so might work with valves. Moreover, it’s closed and seemingly no complicated with location.

    • Saw those! Not sure how much different from the Harbeth P3ESR, though?

  • If tubes then a beautiful looking one is Air Tight ATM-1S with cd direct inputs. American brand I own a VAC 300.1a tube amp and it is awesome so i imagine vac 160i is special and can drivevany of the speakers you listed.

  • Exactly, the ART monitors. I liked so much the big RA model in a show in Madrid that these monitors look very attractive to me. BTW the other ones I’m considering are the Amphion Argon3.

    here are Marc’s answers to my questions

    http://thevinylanachronist.blogspot.com/2011/04/trenner-friedl-art-monitors.html

    Best.

    • They look great. Really deep, too. I think that Trenner & Friedl are an interesting audiophile brand, but not sure as to their utility as a baseline/reference (as in, “this is the product that I’m going to reference in a way that will be familiar and meaningful to the average reader”). Very interesting nonetheless.

      • Then what about the Aulos Bookshelf?

        I posted the synopsis of the French review. The famous Heil HF driver keeps impressing.

      • I think the Aulos looks very interesting. Not sure if it’s mainstream enough to use as a baseline/reference (as I mentioned, above: “is this is a product that I’m going to be able to use as reference in a way that will be familiar and meaningful to the average reader”). As you know, I’m a fan of the AMT, though.

  • Norman,

    well, I rectify my previous post. I asked directly to Marc Phillips at his blog, and seemingly are tube friendly. Can’t wait to demo them.

    Best.

    • Are we still talking about the Trenner & Friedl ART speakers? ;-)

  • Norman,

    85db sensibility and 4.2 ohms minimal impedance probably don’t make them very tube friendly…

    • Well, there’s “tube friendly” and “tube friendly“. Or something. Any speaker that presents as 4-5 ohms is probably not a SET-friendly load. You’re gonna want some power at those impedances, so, I’m thinking 20wpc or more, and push-pull with giant transformers will be better than single-ended, and maybe even power tubes (pentodes) over triodes. But if the load doesn’t go below 4ohms, most amps will be able to make them work, tube or not. The question will then be “how well”. Interesting question, actually. Anyway, FWIW, there are at least two tube amp brands (Manley and VTL) that make their amps to a standard 5-ohm load, which works great with most 4ohm minimum/8ohm nominal speakers. Not sure if Marc agrees with this or not, but, well, that’s just me spit-ballin’. YMMV.

    • That is why I am advocating the Primaluna D2 as a match for this.

  • Trenner-friedl

    wow!, those are one of the fews I’ve really heard, in a audio show in Spain. I listened to a big model (RA model I think) amplified with Jeff Rowland and was really impressed. Indeed it was the one I liked most on the show, better than some Avalon and evolution acoustics. Timbric was amazing, piano notes were real. However I lack the experience with these expensive speakers to know whether it’s the best one can get about 15k euros. Anyway, I think they are not famous enough based on how good they sound.

    Best.

  • From Europe:

    http://www.trenner-friedl.com/index2.php?menu=art&sprache=en

    (amazing feedback)

    http://thevinylanachronist.blogspot.com/2011/04/trenner-friedl-art-monitors.html

    info:

    http://www.trenner-friedl.com/download/ART-2008-info-sheet-preview.pdf

    €3,000 a pair
    Also, these sound amazing but cost €10K a pair (Lindemann Birdland BL-10)

    http://www.lindemann-audio.de/en/products/birdland-series-loudspeakers/bl-10/

  • I’ve got a pair of tube integrateds that I really love–the original Manley Stingray and the Synthesis Ensemble. The Ensemble is a little sweeter sounding while the Stingray packs more punch–both real world amps that are not going to break the bank, and both work well with my Boxers.

    • Vu over at Deja Vu in Northern VA recommends the Synthesis Ensemble very highly. Of course, he prefers the Proac to the Nola, it seems, but then, he is a dealer for Proac and Synthesis, so that makes sense. ;-)

  • Scott,

    I’m in the same search as you, but in my case I’ve to make a decision in few weeks and lack much the necessary experience… Anyway, for the integrated: have yo considered the Cary SLI-80, some people swear by it.

    As for the speakers, I’ll go to the Bristol audio show next week, and hopefully be able to heard the Amphion argon3. I’ll be able to ask the amphion guys about the tube amplification. Let’s see.. if

    Best. Santiago

    • I have serious doubts about the Amphion’s tube-friendliness. I’ve heard the Argon 3 (they have it on display at Evolution AV down in Tyson’s Corner VA) and quite liked it. But that was when it was fronted by a big Audio Research amp. Tubes, yes, but not quite what I had in mind.

      I like Carey, but haven’t had much opportunity to try any of their gear.

  • You have already chosen some excellent candidates. I was thinking Sjöfn HiFi based on your RMAF comments until I got to the last two sentences.

    You may want to consider AX-2 Signature, Aperion Audio Verus Grand Bookshelf, LSA .5 Mini, and for something more up-scale, maybe the Joseph Audio Pulsar.

    I also lke your amp selections so…the PrimaLuna Premium Integrated: It comes stock with KT88s, but you can use 6550, KT90, EL-34, KT77, 6CA7, 6L6GC, KT66, 7581, EL37, and any of their equivalents. It has what they call Adaptive AutoBias.

    Not EL34, but maybe the VAC Sigma 160i Integrated is worth a look.

    • Thanks, Mike!

      • So, how ’bout them Pulsars :)

      • Part-Time Audiophile

        Love ‘em. Want ‘em. A bit spendy ….

  • Have you thought about one of the Peachtree Audio integrateds?
    Not too expensive with a DAC, have both digital and analog inputs. Love to see you get one and run it with all your various speakers (especially the 3.7′s).

    • Actually, I hadn’t — until yesterday. I called up David Solomon and asked to get into his review queue. Not exactly what I’m looking for (which is tubes), but they do make great gear, and they have a whole bunch of brand new products based off a new type of Class D amp tech. Sounds very different … and very good!

  • What about the Merlin TSM’s are they not worthy?

    • I have nothing bad to say about Merlin, but as a past owner, I’m pretty confident that I can find a compact speaker solution that’s more resolving.

  • I’d consider the shindo appetite as well. On Devore super 8′s it was more musical than the leben. Smaller chassiss as well. For high effiency smallish speakers consider omega. I have a pair with a Sophia baby amp and it’s a great cheap system.

    • Shindo is awesome stuff, but I think the wait list is something like 2 years …. My ADD will never let me wait that long to satisfy the urge ….

  • Small relatively sensitive speakers-
    Let us start with baseline-
    Klipsch RF series (quite a few people would have heard them so easy to reference them and then add or subtract from their qualities) and then their Palladium line.
    Anthony Gallo- relatively easy to drive, images fabulously,
    Rega book shelf- good small affordable all rounder
    Omega Speakers- slightly large for book shelf or desk top
    Zu Cradenza- thick hooded full bodied sound with little by way of micro dynamics

    For amp
    Leben CS 300x (I think that is the full name)- 15 watt, great sound.
    You already have RWA.
    Almarro the 5 and the 18 watt versions
    Glow audio 5 watt- sounds beautiful
    A chap called Eric McChanson makes supposedly great amp sold on Ebay, spoken highly in John Darkos reviews, sells for under 1000, slightly lower than 15 watts.
    Wanna try some Mingda or Grant fidelity or Dared amps to let us know how far our money can actually take us when outsourced completely?

    I have often visited your site and it has been very helpful to me in making some of my buying decisions, hopefully I have helped you a bit in return.
    Refreshing writing style btw, clean and concise.

    • Thanks for the kind words! Thanks for tuning in.

      I think the Leben is a fine amp, but I’m probably going to need more power, so that CS-600 is topping my list currently. The Almarro is very hard to get and while very lit up, I hear that it’s both extraordinarily hot and not very revealing/detailed.

      As for speakers, I used to own Klipsch and I’m looking for a slightly more refined and integrated sound. Gallo is awesome — but definitely best with solid state (that tweeter is tough to run). Zu is a lot of fun, but big and not terribly “hi-fi” (not a good or a bad thing, just a thing I need at least a dose of for the sake of reviewing).

      I need to chart a course for “mid-channel” products, if possible. That is, stuff folks will recognize and be able to relate to, which makes niche players or low-profile gear a bit tough to use this way. Not saying they’re not great, and I’d be happy to (and perhaps even plan to) bring it all in — I just need a baseline to “judge” from, if that makes sense?

      Great selection though. Much appreciated.

      • Why are Zu bookshelfs not hi-fi enough, if you don’t mind me asking. I’m considering audioning a pair of the current range, as well as a Fritz.

      • Part-Time Audiophile

        I think that Zu has quite a few nice offerings, and I’m a big fan. I’ve never heard their bookshelf speakers, though.

  • Integrated amps:

    - Pass Labs class A Int30
    - new VAC tube integrated 160i
    - accuphase class A integrated
    - Conrad Johnson CA200 (I love my Premier 350)
    - I heard the new Decware Zen Torii mk3 and it was amazing … Impedance controls for HF and LF and tube rollers dream ,,,,HUGE value

    • I think the Decware is probably a good choice. Not sure how well known it is, so using it as a recognized reference might be a bit tough. Love Pass and Accuphase, and CJ too, but none are really tubes.

  • Also if you really want to get crazy the Kiso Acoustic HB-1′s

    • Why crazy?

      • Well only if you consider ~$20K for a small monitor based on the resonant enclosure concept crazy. Does fit your size profile.

        http://6moons.com/audioreviews/kiso/1.html

        Beau

      • Missed that. Ouch.

  • Evolution Acoustic MMMicro One”s?

    • Are those shipping yet? I think those are pretty good, but they’re also a bit big @ 18″.

      • They say first week of May. Stunning reviews online!

        Also, Precide (Heil AMT) in Switzerland will put out a floorstanding Version to their Heil Speaker, their first 3 way!.
        Similar to the Aulos Bookshelf, but it will have 2 woofers with the big magnets. One will be a mid/woofer and the other a subwoofer that only goes to 100hz.
        Freq response will be 35hz-23khz +/- 3db.
        I expect it will be a stunner.

  • How about those wonderful handmade fritz monitors?

    • They’re really tall.