Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)

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hilde45

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Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« on: 25 Feb 2020, 11:51 am »
Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)

I'm looking forward to trying out some WOW1's in a month or two. In the meantime, I've been reading and researching amplifiers, and doing some local auditioning. I've found that tube amps sound good to my ear. I enjoyed the Quicksilver http://quicksilveraudio.com/amplifiers/ Integrated amp (20wpc) with another low sensitivity speaker (84 db, 6 ohm Dynaudio Evoke 10's). I'm considering larger Quicksilver amps. I'm excited to get my Salks and find the right amplifier. Jim suggested 100 wpc for solid state or 30 wpc for tube — and he said that more is better.

I'm trying to figure out "how much more" to get, amplifier-wise. It gets quite expensive, fast, and the review I read of the WOW1's had decent results with a 12wrms tube.

QUESTION: So, I'm looking for folks' experiences — with the WOW1, especially, but also with other Salk speakers which are fairly low db sensitivity. Others with experiences with other low-sensitivity speakers (such as the Dyns) who have found the right synergy with tubes are encouraged to let me know what worked. If you think a hybrid approach or a solid state is a better match, I'm open to hearing that. So much depends on *which* amp it is, I realize.

I realize that so much depends on actual listening — and I'll do that. But I need to have a reasonable short list of amps to try. I'm willing to spend up to $5k on good amplification, though my sense is that may be *way* more than is necessary. I'm comfortable with the idea of future-proofing for additional or different speakers, down the road, but within reason.

For what it's worth, I'll either be listening nearfield at my desk or in a room that's about 450 sq. feet (listening distance about 2 meters). I won't want it much louder than 85 db for average listening, though occasionally I'll want it a bit louder. Music sources will be digital and I'll be listening to jazz, classical, rock.

JLM

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #1 on: 25 Feb 2020, 02:23 pm »
Even though your listening demands are quite low, Jim is right - the more power the better on two counts:

First, the commanding grip from the bigger amps improve dynamics, detail, and imaging resolution.  Years ago paired 90 dB/w/m, 8 ohm, 30-20,000 Hz speakers to a 7wpc Tripath (solid state) amp.  It powered the speakers amazingly well, as did a 12 wpc Decware integrated (although the Decware had wonderful tube palpability it's poor damping produced flabby bass).  But moving to 40 watt, 70 watt, and finally 100 watt Class D (solid state) amps was a significant step up. 

Second, you want to avoid clipping the amp.  83 dB/w/m is very low efficiency considering that jazz/classical peaks are stated to be 105 dB.  From your desktop you'd need roughly 20 wpc to reach that and from 2 meters away about 100 wpc to hit those peaks.  Tube amps clip in a "softer" manner so you can get away with fewer watts versus solid state amps, as Jim stated, which typically "hard" clip which can cause speaker driver damage. 

So on both counts best to over size any amp for the expected job.  Or find more efficient speakers.  IMO the sweet spot for speaker efficiency is around 93 dB/w/m.  More efficient speakers are more dynamic without revealing system noise or adding excessive colorations and compared to the WOW1's would need 1/10th the power. 

hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #2 on: 27 Feb 2020, 03:48 am »
I very much appreciate your reply. I ordered the WOW1's for many reasons — great reviews, perfect size for my desk but also another room, and the front ported vent. I am still excited about getting them. But as I am waiting for them, the investigation into amplification has been altered by the sensitivity of the speakers, which I never really paid attention to. They're actually 84 db, by the way.

So, I'm wiser now and I'm trying to figure out if I've put myself in a box.

I do realize, though, that there are other speakers Jim makes that are higher sensitivity — even 90 db — the SS 6M monitors.  Now these are much more than the WOW1's but I wonder if I got those instead (would need to see if that would be ok), whether I'd then be able to bring down the amplifier price and it might all even out.

The question I'd ask you (if you would entertain it) is this: Would I spare myself a lot of amplifier expense by gaining 6 db of sensitivity on a different pair of Salks? Would that be enough?

Thank you so much for considering my question.

JLM

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #3 on: 27 Feb 2020, 02:12 pm »
Yes, trading speaker cost for amp cost, especially if you're after tube amps, can make financial sense.  BTW 83 dB/w/m vs. 84 dB/w/m is quibbling (barely discernible to the ear and well within the range of how speaker efficiencies are measured).  From my example above you'd need 5 wpc at the desktop or 25 wpc at 2 meters away with the SS 6M to reach jazz/classical concert peaks. 

But I would back up and ask yourself why you choose Salk?  Jim's a wonderful guy and he has created some amazing veneer work.  And the WOW1 has strong reviews, but you're talking about tripling the speaker budget!  I see the WOW1 as a desktop or in-room speaker, but the SS 6M as too tall to go on a desktop.  Do you know what you want?  Have you auditioned either the WOW1 or the SS 6M?  Have you discussed this with Jim? 

IMO the speaker should be selected based more on sound than its efficiency.  Pick the speaker, then find a synergistic amp. 

Rusty Jefferson

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #4 on: 27 Feb 2020, 05:35 pm »
....For what it's worth, I'll either be listening nearfield at my desk or in a room that's about 450 sq. feet (listening distance about 2 meters). I won't want it much louder than 85 db for average listening, though occasionally I'll want it a bit louder. Music sources will be digital and I'll be listening to jazz, classical, rock.
The last show I went to Salk was paired with McGary amplifiers and the rooms sounded very good.
https://www.mcgaryaudio.com/shop/

There's a big difference between a desktop 2 way near field and a 450 square foot room even if you're still in the near field. 

Some of the Salk floor standers are lifetime speakers in my opinion, and if you think ultimately you'll need speakers in a larger room, I'd advise against buying too little speaker. You can always put together an inexpensive desktop system that will sound fine, but investment in good speakers and amplifier(s) will be better rewarded in the larger room. I covet the Song 3 BeAT.  Great loudspeaker.

birbygdad

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #5 on: 27 Feb 2020, 09:06 pm »
I received my WOW speakers a few weeks ago. I am using an Aegir power amp and Saga preamp with them. The system is desktop and thus very near field which may obviate the need for big power. The system has detail and warmth. I can’t comment on the class A/continuity element because I have no way to compare precisely and little desire to do so. But the amp/speaker combo sounds great to my ears and I like having such a well made amp (for $799) to go with the two little chunks of perfection from Jim and the crew. I have Song3s with Van Alstine electronics in my main system. I appreciate the Salk way of doing things which is why the WOWs are on my desk. Good luck on your search.

abd1

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #6 on: 27 Feb 2020, 11:27 pm »
I also have Wow1's on my desktop. I've used them with an Odyssey amp and an Optoma STA200 amp. I listen at very low to moderate volumes as this is in my office. Neither amp has an issue. The whole system is probably overkill, but the speakers are great, smooth, detailed, good bass.

I do have a tube amp at home, but I've never hooked the Wow 1's. I also have Song3's hooked up to the tubes and its amazing. Its a Line Magnetic LM508 integrated. Which is a Class A SET, but with 48wpc, so it has balls. I think if I were looking for a tube amp for these that was a modest price I'd look at one of Line Magnetic's push/pull amps or a Primaluna Dialogue series. I had a Dialogue One and it had some grunt. I used it to drive Totem Hawks, which aren't too efficient, and it had no problem and sounded great. Or, try a tube preamp and solid state or class D amp. Might be a good combo.

hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #7 on: 28 Feb 2020, 04:07 am »
@JLM Fair questions, and I didn't mean to quibble. I thought 1db might mean something in the discussion. Thanks for correcting me.
My goal was to begin with the speakers first. Why did I choose Salk? Amazing reviews, great form factor for what I was looking for. Have I ever auditioned them? No (don't know where I could do that in Colorado), but based on what I read and the ability to try at home, I thought they'd work out well. I still think that's very likely to be true. The form factor seemed right because I started with a desire for new desktop monitors, nearfield listening.

I assumed I'd use solid state. But, while I was waiting on the speakers, I did more research and really started researching amplifiers. I  went to listen to some and discovered how much I loved tubes. Did I discuss with Jim? Sure — I emailed and asked for amplification recommendations. He's a super nice person and I'm grateful for the opportunity to try his stuff. I really don't know what a difference an increase from 84-88 or 90 db would make when combining his speakers with tube amps. People who love tubes all recommend 93db and higher.

When I ordered the speakers, I didn't comprehend the implications of sensitivity. That's one reason this has gotten more complicated. The reason I'm considering the SS 6M's is that they're more sensitive and might work with tubes — and I'm now reconsidering the room in which I'll listen. I am now open to a room that could work with both the WOW's and the SS 6M's.

I'm not a wishy-washy or indecisive person; I tried to get into this building a system project carefully — but I've learned things, and I've realized how much more is at stake, amplifier wise than before. I'm a bit embarrassed by how dumb this makes me look, but I'm glad to have some folks who are willing to share their experience and knowledge.

@Rusty Thanks for your link to McGary and advice about the room. As I mentioned above, I found myself transitioning to the idea of a listening room — and I'm getting the go-ahead nod from my wife, so that's great. I definitely don't want to buy too little speaker; it was just daunting to get into audio with too must gusto. I didn't know it would catch fire with me, but it has.

@birbygdad Thanks for the Aegir/Saga rec's. I've looked at them and they're interesting. Van Alstine might be just the ticket, too.

@abd1 Great idea about the tube/class D! Maybe that's the way to go.

Rusty Jefferson

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #8 on: 28 Feb 2020, 04:32 am »
I've never heard the SS 6M speakers but would like to.  They use the same Satori beryllium tweeters that the Song 3 BeAT uses.  Best dome tweeters I've heard.

We all have a tendency to adapt to our situation.  If you have discovered a preference for tube amplifiers, you will likely be happy using one even if you can't play music quite as loud. It's a completely reasonable compromise to be more engaged with the music and not get maximum sound levels. I have many friends who have made this compromise and are quite happy.  Pick the best speakers you can for your needs and pocketbook, then build from there.


JLM

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #9 on: 28 Feb 2020, 11:51 am »
Understand where you're coming from.  The patient hunter is the most successful.  Too bad you didn't attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, which has been held in Denver the last several years.  Ask around, Audio Circle has members that live in Colorado, maybe one of them owns Salk. 

Agree with Rusty about buying speakers first, then finding an amp.  If you're like me and listen mostly at modest levels (for me it's small ensemble jazz/classical) you should be satisfied with a smallish tube amp.  Note that old school tube amps were designed for classic speakers that lack deep bass, so with modern speakers can exhibit flabby bass (what is called poor damping factor). 

If you're moving more towards in-room listening I'd lean towards the larger, more efficient, more bass capable, and higher output SS 6M.  Or as a fan of active design, the much more affordable Salk PowerPlay Monitors that have built in DAC, power amps, even remote control (and no preamp needed).  Again you must decide what you want (and talk with Jim ASAP).

hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #10 on: 28 Feb 2020, 12:57 pm »
Thanks, JLM. That's good advice. It may be that I'm inventing trouble for myself — that the WOW1s will be just fine with more modest tube amps. I don't need to blow the room open - and I do own a sub. Then again, it may simply be that it's clear that a slightly larger speaker is already indicated by the shift in room size. I'll talk to Jim. It's a huge increase in the price of the speakers for me, but if I'm going to do a trial of his speakers, I want to do a trial of the right ones. And the *last* thing I want to do is create any problems.

HT cOz

Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #11 on: 28 Feb 2020, 03:32 pm »
I owned the WOW1 and for a desktop or small room they are great.  As you play them louder, the small woofer has to work hard to produce the low frequency information and is likely impacting the quality of the upper ranges.  I really like the tweeter and driver combo but think it would work better as a three way.

My system philosophy is to spend the most money on the speakers, followed by source, and then amplification.  Since this thread is about amplification I would take a serious look at this https://www.audiophonics.fr/en/power-amplifier/audiophonics-hpa-s400et-amplifier-class-d-stereo-purifi-2x400w-4-ohm-p-14393.html  I like tubes best in the signal path. 

Since all threads are better with pics, here are a few

My Salk WOW1 - purchased used, enjoyed for a few years, sold total cost ~$250


Pic of my tube amp, never used anymore but can’t bring myself to sell it


Tube amp in action, back in the day




hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #12 on: 28 Feb 2020, 03:43 pm »
I agree about your spending priorities.

Thanks for the post and photos. Did you ever consider using something to control the crossover and send the rest to a sub? I was thinking about a Parasound preamp because it does that, but have been drawn in by tubes and so I think that option is out.

The Audiophonics looks good. I was considering a PS Audio S300 as an amp, too, but I'm not sure how to match tube pre with it. I could ask them for advice; they're very helpful.

What speakers did you get replace the Wows with? What is your current tube pre?

HT cOz

Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #13 on: 28 Feb 2020, 04:14 pm »
Here is a build thread on my current speakers https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=159595.0  I run a Modwright Transporter and a Pass Nutube pre amp.  I’m currently using a Dayens Ampino for amp, but that is relatively new.  I’m not sure what my long term power amp will be.  I have a lot of DIY options that I’ve worked on.  It takes time to figure out the right synergies. 

I like some of the new Salk speakers especially the Song BeAT!!!  That looks awesome.  We have so many great options today.

Hydro

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #14 on: 29 Feb 2020, 04:00 pm »
I have Salk SS-10's that are 84db efficient. Tried a number of amps that all sounded great but finally ended up with Bob Carver Black Beauty 305's. Got them used for about $4500. Had a great time finding the right input tubes. These amps are large but don't put off as much heat as most big tube amps because of the variable bias circuit. The variable bias system also extends the life of the tubes to about 10 years. They would probably be overkill in your situation but he has some smaller amps built around the Kt-120 tube such as Cherry 180 and the 275. These amps have a midrange and bass to die for but aren't as bright sounding as a transistor amp. I am a imaging freak and the sound stage is incredible. The nice thing about tube amps and preamps is that you can custom tailor the sound to your preference by using different tubes. I also have a set of 84db Salk Ht-3's that I run on a Van Alstine 400R amp that sounds fantastic, this gives you the sound of tubes with out any of the hassles.   

hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #15 on: 29 Feb 2020, 04:03 pm »
Thanks to you both for your reflections and reports!

mresseguie

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #16 on: 29 Feb 2020, 08:19 pm »
Hilde45,

Hello. I've been pondering responding for a couple days now (been kinda busy), and decided I might as well offer a couple ideas.

'abd1' suggested looking into trying a tube preamp with a SS amp. This is the route I chose when I first began my tube experience. I have tried three tube preamps to date - one is a Don Sachs Model 2 (6SN7). I love this preamp. There's a long thread with input from multiple owners on AC (myself included) that discusses this preamp. Don is a one-man operation, so there tends to be an approximate 2(?) month wait for one's new baby's delivery. The first tube pre I tried was a used AVA pre. I think it was a T8. It introduced me to the tube sound, but after less than a year, I had sold it and moved way up the ladder the the Model 2. The third tube pre is a model that probably doesn't exist outside of Asia. It is manufactured by Kwan Chiu Radio Mfg - a company based in Taiwan. [http://www.kcr.com.tw/archive/image/edcontent2/editor/A3055.png]  China and Taiwan account for most of their sales. This pre is 6299-based. It definitely has a tube sound, but it hasn't matched well with that particular audio system as it imparts a bright sound to my music that I do not love. I'll likely sell it later this year.

Anyway, a couple advantages to this tube pre/SS amp strategy is <nominally> SS amps are less expensive than tube amps (of course, there are exceptions), and you do get some of that tube magic in your music. I so loved that tube magic that I went ahead and bought a Don Sachs Kootenay 120 KT88 amp. The combination of the 6SN7 pre and the KT88 is wonderful IMVBO (in my very biased opinion). The KT88 can pump out 65w/ch or about 35w/ch in Triode mode. My current speakers are 96dB efficient, so I run the amp in Triode mode and dial back both channels of gain to '11'. It's heavenly.  8) I have powered several different speakers from 86dB (not in Triode mode) to 98dB, and the KT88 amp had no issue driving them in a larger room than your system will be in.

There are lots and lots of options out there. Take your time, and accept that your first couple of choices may not live up to your expectations. I agree that it is better to first decide on which speakers you want followed by getting an amp. That said, I did not purchase my main speakers until after I had already purchased my amp and preamp because I couldn't afford my speakers until fairly recently.

My amp and preamp are pretty good sized and the amp weighs 56 pounds. Do consider where you would place such monsters if this is for a desktop system. An integrated (with or without a DAC included) might be a more fitting choice.

Oh. Lastly, I own a pair of two-ways that are ~83db, and I once tried to drive them with a class D 100w integrated amp. Meh. It wasn't a good pairing. Yes, I got music to come out of the speakers, but they did not 'sing' if you know what I mean. It wasn't until I drove them with a 400w amp that the speakers showed me what they were capable of - again, in a bigger room than you seem likely to use your WOW1 speakers.

I hope this is helpful, and enjoy the journey. I've had a blast since I got back into the addiction...er...hobby in 2014.

Michael


hilde45

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Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #17 on: 29 Feb 2020, 08:49 pm »
Thanks so much Michael for your post. Very helpful. I'm likely to make a shift in Salk speakers that will have better db sensitivity — mulling it over for a day. That will open up options. Don Sachs appeals to me a lot; he wrote me a really nice series of notes via Audiogon. Gentleman.

I am getting a sense of Class D amps as not being the greatest, but I don't want to start a fight about that. (Or anything!)

The one question I'd ask Salk folks is how they feel about Class A amps (such as Pass Labs) as combining with Salk speakers of one kind of another.

An integrated might be the way to go — agreed. But I'm in my 50's now, and the wife has given the green light, so maybe it's time to Let My Freak Flag Fly. (Ahem.)

It has been addictive, but I've just been at it for a month or two. The OCD stuff goes away, right? Right?


WGH

Re: Finding the right (tube?) amp for Salk WOW1s (83db)
« Reply #19 on: 29 Feb 2020, 11:04 pm »
The hyper expensive integrated amps look impressive. Class A runs hot, into a 84dB or even an 88dB speaker sounds really hot, it depends on where you live, in Tucson it's a no go in the summer.

A friend just got a Luxman L-509X integrated, 120 rms/channel ($9,495.00) to drive his Joseph Audio Perspective 2 speakers that are also 84dB and use Seas drivers. The Luxman is beyond pretty, unfortunately I haven't heard it yet, but I can.
http://www.luxman.com/product/detail.php?id=26


A Don Sachs tube pre with a Van Alstine SET 120 might work for a desktop system. I believe Jim used AVA electronics to voice many of his speakers. Salk speakers are so well designed they sound great with any amp but there is an undeniable synergy when paired with Van Alstine electronics. AVA electronics have matured nicely, early models had a slight mid-bass lightness but the current SET solid state designs nail the tone very well.

The SEAS drivers like a lot of oomph driving them. I have the Salk HT2-TL with the Seas W12 big brother, the Seas W18. The AVA SET 400 sounds darn near perfect. We recently compared the SET 400 to a Odyssey Kismet Reference amp. The Kismet was very slightly brighter, a more energetic presentation, more rock-and-roll. In comparison the SET 400 was relaxed, not lazy but more tube like, easier to hear into the music. I liked it better.

There happens to be an AVA SET 120 in the trading post, $675 seems like a fair price.
https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=168452.msg1785712#new