Greetings from the UK - need guidance on amp upgrade for ESL X

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OldJazzer

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Background... moving house a couple of years ago meant I could dig out my Final electrostatics (wife issues - music room now!). Unfortunately, they were no longer happy with my Naim 250 which kept cutting out. Naim 250 serviced and recapped, but no change, so time to replace the speakers, and settled on a pair on ESL Xs.
I've had them for 4 months now and they are really not happy on high energy/ female voices - sounding somewhat hard and brash. It appears MLs capacitance makes them highly demanding of amps!
Fortunately, they are great on low energy jazz trios for example.
I need to replace my amp.
Having heard the PrimaLuna last year when I bought the MLs, I was going that way but have read up on newer "digital" based units from Anthem and Devialet which has got me really interested.
I can't hear them all together at my place unfortunately :-(
I need guidance please
Anyone using that kit that can give me feedback?
Thanks,
Lockdown Bob
 

twich54

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Bob, welcome to the fold !

As far as PrimaLuna, while I'm sure they are fine products I prefer 'Made in America' when it comes to affordable tube audio ........ Rogue.
I had a pair of Rogue M180's up against my Spire's when I had them and they performed superbly.
 

RAH

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I have not had the pleasure of listening to your model of ML’s. Compared to ESL 9, ESL X I have read are forgiving of poorly recorded source material and source equipment. ESL X is a forgiving load for most amplifiers.

I think you need to buy a new amp. Good idea to acquire integrated tube amp. Anthem sounds good but I guess integrated from Primaluna will sound far better. Primaluna integrated operations not based on software and is not complex like Anthem STR.

I had little choice when buying Anthem. I could only choose from Denon, Marantz, Quad, Anthem and Macintosh. MC275 good choice to drive panels but was priced above Anthem STR. Compared to ESL X, ESL9 is a less forgiving load for amplifiers. I would still need to buy a preamp for volume control and delicate signal preservation and amplification.

If possible acquire solid state Anthem MCA 225 for driving woofers and Primaluna for panels.You have to match the gain of both amplifiers.

Have fun listening to music.
 
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OldJazzer

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Hi Dave.
Nice system you've got there - not quite in that price bracket.... mind you, if I sold the cars, motorbikes and wife..... :)
 

ttocs

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Add my vote to Tube Tops, and Solid State Bottoms.

Keep the Naim for the woofers.
 

twich54

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Hi Dave.
Nice system you've got there - not quite in that price bracket.... mind you, if I sold the cars, motorbikes and wife..... :)
Bob, assuming the wife can cook............ keep her !
 

RDC

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Hi Bob,

I used a Cambridge Audio 851W solid state power amp and a 851N as digital pre-amp combination with ELS's for a week. It sounded great. It was my first hands-on experience with electrostats. But I ended up with the Montis. Which worked fine with the Cambridge Audio combo. Then I got curious and switched to a Primaluna Integrated, the Dialogue Premium HP. The Primaluna was almost three times as expensive as the 851w, so it might not be a fair comparison. But the Primaluna sounds far better and surprisingly, to me at least, produces far better bass than the 200 Watt solid state could.

You mention female vocals. With either EL34 or KT77 valves in place I never heard more pleasing female vocals.

I have no experience with the non-HP version of the Primaluna, which are a bit cheaper and easier to get your hands on. Especially if your willing to get one second hand. But try to get a demo model if possible. Make a few phone calls to the dealers. Who knows, they might have a great deal on the old stock or demo models as the new Evolution series is just out.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Good luck in your hunt.
RDC
 

Lightloopy

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Hi Bob,
Welcome back to ESL fun. I have had SL3's since 1998( panels replaced once). My amplifier journey was a CJ MF2500 to Classe CAM 350 for several years. I was always interested in tubes but concerned about the maintenance issues. I bought a used MFA D75 and liked what I heard. About 2007 I purchased a pair of used VTL MB 250's (complete shot in the dark) and sold the CAM 350's. I learned how special these are when they went down this January and was trying to get them repaired. I brought home Rogue M180's (highly respected amps) and Raysonic M100's. My repair person who fixed the VTL 7 yrs earlier fixed them but they went down again a few days later. Said they were just too old and would not be worth repairing.

A good friend said let him try - no promises. He returned it with a bag o parts and lo and behold- back in audio nirvana. My non audiophile wife actually confirmed that now the sound was right.

My impression is that (at least in the SL3) something magical happens at 250 watts triode or other Hi Watt tubes The problem is that there are not many affordable choices in that realm. The new VTL's are 20K and I'm not sure they would sound the same with all the new bells and whistles. Used big VTL's are rare on audiogon and you still have the issue that they are old.

I have heard the new ESL's do not require such high power.

Just my experience so far. I actually considered leaving stats because I couldn't afford to feed it what it needed to sing. Perish the thought!

Thanks to Tom for saving this amazing site!

Best
 

OldJazzer

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Hi Bob,

I used a Cambridge Audio 851W solid state power amp and a 851N as digital pre-amp combination with ELS's for a week. It sounded great. It was my first hands-on experience with electrostats. But I ended up with the Montis. Which worked fine with the Cambridge Audio combo. Then I got curious and switched to a Primaluna Integrated, the Dialogue Premium HP. The Primaluna was almost three times as expensive as the 851w, so it might not be a fair comparison. But the Primaluna sounds far better and surprisingly, to me at least, produces far better bass than the 200 Watt solid state could.

You mention female vocals. With either EL34 or KT77 valves in place I never heard more pleasing female vocals.

I have no experience with the non-HP version of the Primaluna, which are a bit cheaper and easier to get your hands on. Especially if your willing to get one second hand. But try to get a demo model if possible. Make a few phone calls to the dealers. Who knows, they might have a great deal on the old stock or demo models as the new Evolution series is just out.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Good luck in your hunt.
RDC
 

OldJazzer

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Hi RDC, My very helpful dealer here in the UK (can't praise them enough - HiFiLounge .co.uk) has lent both a PrimaLuna EVO 400 (equivalent to Dialogue HP) and a Devialet digital amp to try against my ESL Xs, So far the PL is the winner but it's still not right, which points to the effects of the room. There's not much I can do to the room but I will try Roon's room equalisation... if I can get to grips with it! A have a nagging doubt that the energy coming out of the rear of the ESL's panel and the rear firing bass driver might be contributing so I'm picking up some big old Celestion speakers with all the drivers on the front to see if that guides me as to the cause. Maria Muldaur's Work Song on vinyl and Tidal really highlights the aggressive sound I'm getting. let's see how I get on....
 

RDC

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Hi Bob,

Nice to hear you like the PrimaLuna. It's getting very good reviews.

About the bass, I see it has a downward firing bass port. You might want to try something under it. Like a piece of carpet. Or directly in the port itself, like a rolled up sock. Just to see what effect that has. I probably will get a virtual kicking for suggesting the sock thing. ;)
But it's just to see the effect. I also found that the ESL (not the X) was a bit too heavy on the bass for my liking. I run my Montis' in my fairly small room at -2dB (set at the back of the speaker).

You say you can't do much to the room. Do you mean that you are unable to place absorption panels behind the speakers? Because that would probably be the preferred way to go to tackle the energy of the rear wave. I myself use a diffuser behind them, but absorption seems to be the most popular solution.

Maybe you can let us know what you might, or might not be able to do to the room, Carpets, wall-mountings, etc. That way we can advise you to get the best sound possible in that room.

And please let us know how the Celestions compare. I would love to hear your opinion.
 

Hear Here

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Background... moving house a couple of years ago meant I could dig out my Final electrostatics (wife issues - music room now!). Unfortunately, they were no longer happy with my Naim 250 which kept cutting out. Naim 250 serviced and recapped, but no change, so time to replace the speakers, and settled on a pair on ESL Xs.
I've had them for 4 months now and they are really not happy on high energy/ female voices - sounding somewhat hard and brash. It appears MLs capacitance makes them highly demanding of amps!
Fortunately, they are great on low energy jazz trios for example.
I need to replace my amp.
Having heard the PrimaLuna last year when I bought the MLs, I was going that way but have read up on newer "digital" based units from Anthem and Devialet which has got me really interested.
I can't hear them all together at my place unfortunately :-(
I need guidance please
Anyone using that kit that can give me feedback?
Thanks,
Lockdown Bob
Hi Bob

Good to read the ML issues of a fellow Brit!

I have ML 13As (now for sale) but I experimented with numerous amplifiers and could share my experiences. I think you're right in looking at Class D - they are now challenging the best of conventional ss and tube (let's call them valve) amps.

In fact I bought a Sanders Magtech amp specifically to power the 13As, but the Gamut D200 Mk III was at least as good. However, I would seriously suggest you look at NAD's Master Series range, distributed by Sevenoaks here in UK, although available elsewhere too. I have an M32 which is a superb amp that includes a DAC and optional BluOS streamer board. It has lots of adjustments regarding treble and bass level (this may help with your problem) and offers a great sound. Lots of awards, so don't let the name NAD put you off. It used to be a rather more mid-fi than hi-fi brand but the M series is great.

If you are looking for used stuff, there should be M32s coming up soon (including my own) as the newer M33 is about to be released. This will have the ultimate digital amp module (Purifi), the streamer facility built in, a bigger and better LED screen and even Dirac room correction. This may also help your problems if you are looking to buy new for the bargain list price of £3999. I'm just waiting for this model to arrive!

PM me if you think I can offer more help - or want my M32 or 13As! Peter
 

Nopiano

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Bob, I’m pleased you’ve a good dealer in Hifi Lounge. Have you ever heard the speakers working as you’d like, anywhere? I’m wondering if there’s something not quite right with them, or within your room. I had two weeks trying to get the standard ESLs working in our 7m x 3.5m room, but for me it was the bass that overwhelmed everything else, even when in the middle of the room. Conventional ATCs worked perfectly, however.
Devialet has SAM which may help room matching. I’ll try the Maria Muldur later, because I don’t think it’s wise to base a system around a track that might not be great in the first place! What does well recorded orchestral and solo piano, and voice sound like? They’re all natural sounds, unlike studio created ‘pop’.
 

Lightloopy

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Bob,
I forgot to mention I did hear a Devialet/ Steinway Lyngdorf presentation at my local store several years ago which was quite impressive. I would definitely put that on the consideration list. I recall a lot being made how it could be adapted to different speaker brands.

Best
 

OldJazzer

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Hi all,
back again after laptop disk failure :-(
- great to have such experienced advice from you all.
Having had time to play with both amps plus some passive ATC, Kudos and ancient Celestion Ditton 25 speakers, it became clear my room was the problem!
With the agreement of Wifey, we've rearranged our dining room, I've moved the 8 (don't ask!) guitars out and also the sub I was using with the Kans, meaning I was able to move the speakers 6ft from the front wall, move my listening spot 7 ft from the back wall and about the same from the speakers.
Significant improvement! Got a number of the absorption panel up where practical (wall behind the speakers is not possible)
The difference between amps was less the quality & detail of sound, but more the warmth of the tube amp and the clinical nature of the Deviavet.
Still not right enough though.

The lockdown allowing me the opportunity of extended home demo time, I wondered whether my digital source (Cocktail Audio X10 Pro running Roon) wasn't up to it.... in came Innuos Zen and Zeniths.
Each step gave tangible improvements with the MLs, less so with the ATCs but a larger improvement with the Kudos Titans.
We were getting closer to the sound I was after, but my wallet had a fit and left home at the thought of Zenith streamer £3k, PrimaLuna £4.5k, Kudos Titan £10k (ukp) having already spent nearly £5k on the ESL Xs at Christmas time!
Jack at the excellent Audiobarn in Harlow (not an ML dealer) suggested active ATC SCM40s so a home demo was arranged.
By this time, my place looked a bit like an Amazon warehouse.

Well, they were a revelation. All they lacked was the ML's sheer transparency at low volume.
Driven direct from my RME dac or through modified Naim 32 pre, they had real control and clarity. The midrange (where the ML excelled at low volume) was exceptional. Being non ported, all the sound was essentially coming from the front of the ATCs and shrugged off a lot of the negative room influence that so upset the sound from the MLs.

Bottom line, the active ATC SMC40s are on order (cheaper than moving house!)
Only disappointment is the poor trade in value for the ESL Xs which I shall have to sell privately as the Audiobarn are not ML specialists.
I will of course have a recently serviced Naim 250 power amp to sell as well.

So a lengthy path to finding out just how important room interaction is, and arriving at the right combination to suit the room.
 

OldJazzer

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Not heard of them before... look interesting, but..... rear firing bass will likely give me the same issue as that in the ML
Thanks,
Bob
 

RAH

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Do not have rear firing bass. At the rear is a passive bass radiator. Is a three way design. Tweeter, midrange and woofer all on top panel. Acoustic suspension or sealed box. Never heard a greater musical loudspeaker. The sound is out of this world. My first choice. Unfortunately not available where I live. Heard this loudspeaker in Vienna. My advice prior to you buy anything else do give the Arc or Obelisk a listen. Both out of this world. They create music in a way that everything sounds appealing through them.
 

roberto

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Hola Bob,

Living in GB, you have a lot of tube integrated amps brands there that your ML Electromotions X will love. This Martin Logan model is very easy to drive. Just use the 4 ohm tabs and you are ready to go. Here is a little power amp guide made in GB:

If you like a non bleeding ears SPL, just a normal listening level, you are safe with 40 watts and up to 300Watts per channel. Your ML handle this power...I would say that my choice would be the Caying A-55t. Just try it, buy it used, and re-tube it and you are done. You can use the KT-120 tubes with this amp. I do love the KT-120s!

Happy listening!
 

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