And yet again, after saying I was done for a while, 2021 brought another change.  But just one.  I swear.

I had been happier than ever with my system this year, with my turntable really bringing out the best in my Shindo and Thor Audio upstream components, and the shootouts with albums switching back and forth between the Merlins and vintage JBL speakers is really too much fun for words, and the Thors drive both sets of speakers easily, although the JBLs are horns and so I did have in the back of my mind a desire to hear what they would do with a low powered SET amp.

Then, a custom used Toolshed 2A3 amp came onto the market.  I had never owned speakers efficient enough to run a 2A3 amp, but had loved their sound at audio shows.  So I bought the Toolshed, and now can switch back and forth using the same switching device between either set of amps or speakers (although the Toolshed can't drive the Merlins). 

The end result is the sound I've been trying to create forever.  So this time maybe I'm done changing things...


Room Details

Dimensions: 18’ × 28’  Large
Ceiling: N/A

Components Toggle details

    • Merlin Music Systems VSM Black Magic edition
    2-way floorstanding speaker with single ended RCA Master BAM
    • Oppo BD-105
    Silver, Darbee edition of this universal CD/SACD/Blu Ray and DAC
    • Ortofon SPU Royal GM mkII
    • Shindo Labs Monbrison
    • Kyocera PL-910
    Yes, I broke down and sold a bunch of stuff I wasn't really using so I could pull the trigger on one of those turntables you always want to try but rarely get the chance to try.  This is a beautiful sounding and looking, meticulously crafted and very unique turntable from the mid-1980s.  Around 150 ever made so I jumped on this one when it came up for sale.  Using an SME 3009R arm.
    • JBL Apollo C-51
    Vintage horn speakers from around 1960 which I restored during COVID inside and out.  The hand-carved wood lattice grilles are pretty unique, and the speakers sound great, particularly with the addition of the Tannoy supertweeters to add just a little juice to the top end.
    • Thor Audio TPA-30
    Push-pull EL34 monoblocks, which sound great with both my Merlins, which I think work best with about this much power or more, and also with the vintage JBLs, which could get by with less power but seem to like these amps too.
    • Tannoy ST-100
    Some of the coolest supertweeters I've ever seen, which I thought I'd try because they matched my vintage JBLs perfectly and I thought the JBLs could use a little extra help in the top end.  I know the whole subject of supertweeters is controversial, and these are the only ones I've ever used, but they definitely made a difference particularly with cymbal sounds and general sparkle and shimmer.  These certainly dip well into the audible range as you can hear them in action, which I understand is not the case with some supertweeters.

    And it's fun when people ask what are those "things" sitting on top of the beautiful JBL cabinets.
    • Otari MX-5050
    Finally, a reel to reel that can play 7.5 and 15ips tapes.  Sounds so rich.  I just wish tapes weren't so expensive so I could have more of them.
    • ToolShed Amps Transcendence 2A3

Comments 39

Ok I think I'm done for a while.  Now I have a 2A3 SET amp driving the vintage JBL horns, and am still using the Thor Audio amps with the Merlins (and sometimes both, as that makes it easier to switch back and forth), but, seriously, I don't need to change anything.  For now...

I added pictures of the new amp and final(?) system.  


At it again.  Major changes over the last 6 months.  I finally got around to posting new pictures.  New amps, a new (old) turntable, and the addition of a second set of speakers, a vintage pair of JBL horns that I restored during my extra time home for COVID.  

Really happy with everything, at least until I get the upgrade bug again.


Thanks for your thoughts...For now I am using the newest Ars Sonum Filarmonia SK with my Merlins and they sound incredible. Please let me know what you liked and dislike about the PL combo? I am always interested in honest and unbiased opinion.
Appreciate it!



Ok I lied.  Well, not really lied, but I had been curious what an S.E.T. amp with a little more power than the Art Audio Diavolo had would sound like with my Merlin VSM speakers, as the Diavolo's 13W, at least on paper, was a little low, and definitely distorted if I turned it up too loud.  I rarely listen to music over 90db, but when I did, I was clearly pushing the boundaries of the amp.

And along came an opportunity to get a good deal on a gently used pair of Sophia Electric 206 drives 845 monoblock amps, with precisely double the S.E.T. power at 26W, so I pulled the trigger!  It was very sad saying goodbye to the Diavolo, which did sound marvelous, but so far the Sophia is very much to my liking.  The amps and tubes need more time to fully break in, but so far they sound great and have lots of midrange magic as did the Diavolo, but they have a slightly more dynamic sound overall, and I have cranked them all the way up to 100db with no distortion whatsoever.

If the Sophias continue to open up as the tubes break in, look out, I may be moving closer to audio nirvana...



Despite my promises to keep my system as-is this year, I jumped on the chance to get a used Shindo Monbrison preamp, and that replaced my Allnic L-3000 preamp and Allnic H-1201 phono stage.  I loved the Allnic gear and enjoyed my time with it, but had always wanted to try out some Shindo gear.

The Shindo has not disappointed so far.  It doesn't blow the Allnic equipment out of the water in any respect, it's more of a different flavor of greatness.  A little warmer and smoother and more forgiving on some of my less-well-recorded music.  Still tons of detail and dynamics, and an incredible soundstage. 

And of course, although I think the Shindo pre-amp pairs nicely with my Diavolo SET amp, I'm saving up for a Shindo amp because I need to hear how that would sound...



I guess I haven't checked this comment thread in a while.  Sorry I missed your question arturgorniak!  Yes, I had a Primaluna Dialogue Premium integrated that I think paired very nicely with the Merlin VSMs.  I did an extensive tube shootout, and preferred the warmer sound of the EL34 tubes over the KT-88 or KT-120s, and with EL34s they still had plenty of power for the Merlins. 

I'm happy to talk more about my experience with the Primaluna.  I replaced it with the Art Audio Diavolo SET with EML 300B XLS tubes.  I love the current pairing, but the Primaluna was nearly as good and could drive them a little louder than the Diavolo.  Something about that SET magic midrange sound, though, has completely seduced me.  I heard a couple of 2A3 amp setups at RMAF last weekend and was seduced even further.  Of course, those can't power the Merlins, so I'm going to stick with the Diavolo for now.  Until I can afford a Shindo amp of course to pair with the Shindo preamp...oh this hobby.


Sweet system! You have mentioned somwhere that Primaluna integrated used to drive your Merlin. Can you tell me more about that combination? I am considering the Dialouge Premium HP for my VSM MME. Thank you - any help greatly appreciated!


Time for a secret account....


Thanks very much.  I would love to hear the Merlins with Joule, or with an Ars Sonum, or with an Atma-Sphere.  For now the Art Audio amp fed by the Allnic pre-amp are keeping me very happy.  I'm kind of itching for a new turntable and/or maybe a phone pre, even though I've only had those for about 2 years.  But I also may have told my wife that it would be several years before I needed another upgrade...what was I thinking?


Beautiful system.  I used to own Merlins (great speakers) and always wondered what could have been with Joule Electra in the chain.


System edited: I realized that the system pic was still one from before I added the Art Audio amp, so I added a new one the way it looks now. The white vinyl spinning on the turntable is the German DMM white vinyl version of the Beatles White Album. Sounded great tonight!


Albert, thanks for the kind words.

And Schubert, I wish I could take credit for the alcove idea, but the reality is that I bought the house a year ago and that was already a dedicated media room, but it was build in the late 80s. The reason they did it that way was to accommodate the big, heavy TVs of the day, before there was such a thing as a flat screen. But I find it to work great to put the components there and then hang the TV on the wall. I added some can lights in the ceiling in the alcove so I can see what I'm doing, but that's it.

And thanks also Charles and Glen for the compliments. It's been 27 years in the making but it feels like it has finally come together the way I always imagined it could. I've come a long way from the days of pawn shops in college in Austin, Texas, where my first real stereo was born.


Beautiful !


That alcove idea for equipment is outstanding !
Did you have it custom made ?

To Merlin VSM owners in general, how do those pups do on symphonic music?
I've long thought they are among the most elegant looking speakers around .


I think "natural" is a good word to describe the way it sounds to my ears at least. I woke up this morning a little earlier and have the house to myself, so I decided to start the day with Neil Young On the Beach on vinyl, and was thinking about how natural the instruments and vocals sounded.

I'm sure some kind of upgrade or experimentation bug will strike again (someday I'd like to hear an OTL amp in my system), but for now I'm just enjoying the music.

Charles, I find the Allnic and Art Audio pairing to work quite well.


Hi Dazzlingmd,
I'm with Glen and believe your system truly sings given its makeup. I'm
intrigued particularly with your Allnic and Art Auudio pairing, nice! You
must achieve a very "natural" sound. Upgrade? No need from
my perspective, just continue to enjoy what you have.


Ryriken, the upgrade was not a waste of money at all in my view. I wouldn't describe the difference as dramatic overall, but I definitely hear a difference, particularly in recordings that sounded harsh in the high end. For example, in my 30th Anniversary vinyl pressing of Pink Floyd DSOTM, while the album generally sounds great, David Gilmour's guitar solo on Time was quite harsh to the ears before the upgrade, and the difference was striking after the upgrade, with everything now sounding perfect and in balance. No loss of detail, but just a little extra smoothness in the highs particularly on harsher recordings. The bass is also a little more full than it was before. Those were the 2 main differences I've noticed.

I hope you enjoy your upgrade too!

And Glen, thanks for the comments, and yes, it's really singing right now! I promised my wife no upgrades for 2 years. We'll see if that holds, but so far I'm just enjoying listening to everything, which may well be a first!


Some primo gear, bet it all really sings. Enjoy.


Well how was the upgrade. Did it improve sound. I have my TSMX speakers in for the Magic Mod, will get them back in a few weeks. What you say of the mod? Did I waste my money.


Thanks, Matt. I guess I can be done for a while depending on the definition of "while." Solving the bass issue was huge, but now life is good.


LOL ...done for a while. That's funny. So am I :-) Glad to hear you got rid of the bass issue. System looks awesome.


System edited: Ok, I finally broke down and upgraded my beloved Merlin VSMs to the current Black Magic edition! Bobby at Merlin can be very persuasive. So far they sound great but they are still just starting to break in so I'm reserving final judgment for now. And I solved the "boomy bass" issue that I had described earlier with some GIK bass traps and an old school analog equalizer from McIntosh (MQ-107) along with the help of an XTZ room analyzer pro, which diagnosed a huge bass node at 40hz. What a relief to knock that out after obsessing about the boomy bass for a few months. And I don't think I mentioned earlier that I added the Art Audio SET amp about 6 months ago, which I also love. Things are really sounding great to my ears! Maybe I'm done for a while? Of course, I always say that...


System edited: Finally tried an SET amp in the system. Loving it so far.


Thanks M and Tboooe. It's been a 25 year progression but it's come a long way.

Those are Audio Technica AT-605 leveling and isolation feet under my Amadeus. They are great and they don't make them any more, but they show up on ebay fairly regularly. The come with a bubble level which I really like too. Much less expensive than the current options for leveling feet that are still on the market, and they seem to do the trick just fine.

I love the Allnic stuff. Their integrateds look great, but I haven't heard one. I would eventually like to upgrade my amp to one of theirs but they are SO expensive!


Nice! I am envious of your Allnic gear. I want to eventually get one of their integrateds. Congrats on a great system!


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