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Recommendations: Tube Preamp


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Greetings,

 

My system has gone through a few changes over the last 3 months for a variety of reasons. It's currently made up of the following components:

 

Speaker - TAD CR-1

Subwoofers: 2 x SVS SB2000's 

Headphones - Abyss 1266 TC

DAC #1  - Reimyo DAP-999 Limited

DAC#2 - Audio Note DAC 5.1 Signature (on its'way from Melbourne)

D2D - Two Schitt Eitr's 

Preamplifer - Xindak 8250 (Temporary)

Amplifier #1 - March Audio NC1200 Monoblocks for the TAD's 

Amplifier #2 - Ghent Audio GA-M500P Monoblocks for the Abyss TC's

 

I'm looking to reintroduce a pre-amplifier back into the system and I'd like to try one with tubes. I'm hoping to achieve the following:

 

1) Introduce a hint of sweetness/euphonic tonality in the upper registers

2) Introduce some holographic imaging and sound-stage depth 

3) Maintain the black background and low noise floor I'm enjoying with my current solid state setup

4) Maintain the transient speed and low frequency impact and definition I'm enjoying with current solid state setup

 

Inversely I want to avoid the following:

 

1) Overly warm and syrupy tonality

2) Losing system agility by way of PRAT

3) Introducing an audible noise floor

4) Losing bass definition and impact 

 

My budget is around $AU10K - possibly a touch more for the right pre. Some options I'm considering at the moment:

 

1) Second hand Audio Research Reference 6 

2) Audio Note Kits Mentor Level 5

3) Reimyo CAT-777 

4) LAMM Level 2

5) EAR 912 

6) Herron Audio VTSP-360

7) Supratek 

 

 

Tube's are something I'm not familiar with. When I first got into the hobby I enjoyed a tube integrated with some Lenehan ML1's and later used a Manly 300B neo-classic as a headphone amp. 

 

I was hoping to get some advice, specifically answers to the following questions:

 

1) Will any of the pre's I've mentioned be a poor match for my system by way of impedance matching and gain?

2) Are NOS tube's readily available?

3) Anything else you feel I should consider.

 

Lastly, I'll be introducing the following into my system over the course of the year:

 

1) Dirac DSP probably via MiniDSP Studio

2) PS Audio P10 Regenerator

 

I think that's it guys! Thanks in advance re: any help. 

 

Cheers,

GS

Edited by Galactic Soap
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I have found the Tron Seven preamps to be excellent. Extremely quiet, great dynamics, tonally saturated and colourful, but not syrupy. I much preferred my Tron Seven to an EAR 912 I owned for a while. In the unlikely event I decide to go back to pre/power amps (I currently use the Ayre AX5 Twenty integrated) I would probably start with a Tron preamp.

 

The only downside is that there is no local distributor, no ability to audition one, and no local support. Like most British cottage hifi manufacturers, Graham Tricker can be slow and temperamental, but his work is meticulous and the product is outstanding.

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I will be listing my as-new BHK preamp for sale very soon. There are numerous outstanding reviews on this current model item online.

 

The BHK is a tube / hybrid preamp. I have installed a pair of Tungsram 'Hungary' tubes that have lifted its performance substantially. The sound is clean, defined and dynamic, but wonderfully smooth and tonally rich. I have previously owned two Accuphase pre's, and this BHK is as good as or better in most respects.

 

Please PM me if you have queries / interest. (These currently retail at around $9k)

Edited by gemini07
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Would add the Primaluna EVO 400 preamp to the list. Here is a link to the USA site which has the best info

https://www.primaluna-usa.com/preamplifiers

Also have a look at the videos

https://www.primaluna-usa.com/videos

Kevin Deal can be hard to watch but he makes a lot of sense (to me). There is no video of the EVO 400 preamp, but the Dialogue Premium preamp plus the EVO 400 Integrated videos will give you a good idea of why I rate this highly.

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The ref6 will fit all your criteria, but you may be hard pressed to find one at 10k. That said, the 6SE has just come out so the 6s may start coming up at a cheaper price. The Suprateks will fit most of your criteria, but the noise floor is not as quiet as the ARC (I've used both and went with the Supratek). The Supratek's output impedance is a little higher but unless you have a low input impedance power amp (<20k) it shouldn't be a problem.

If you introduce miniDSP for Dirac Live duties, you will be compromising the DA performance you're used to with separate DACs unless you go with a digital only version, such as the SHD studio since the rest of them will do their own digital to analogue conversion.

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4 hours ago, Galactic Soap said:

Tube's are something I'm not familiar with. ...

 

2) Are NOS tube's readily available?

Once you are into tubes, you may catch a virus called tube rolling and spend lots of time, effort and money chasing the next tweak and tube.  I even found myself liking a distorted sound which I did not realise until I compared it to another system. A tube change can radically change the sound.

 

Some NOS tubes are cheaper than others. The 12AU7 on the Primaluna has a wide range, but others can be limited and very costly.  I bought my NOS tubes locally and from members here whom I trusted. But I avoided eBay.

---

The other thing you should consider is whether you want a hybrid tube preamp or an analog tube amp.  The Supratek and Primaluna are analog only devices. 

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Trafomatic Reference Line One could tick all your boxes. @Krispy Audio in Berowra stock Trafomatic. Rrp is just a little over your budget.

A Perth member had one for sale on here for a while. Not sure if he still has it or not.

I see your amps have a 94k ohm input impedance.

That makes life easy when looking to go with the valve-ss combo. Have fun!

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@rossb - Thank you mate, particularly on the comparison between the Tron and the EAR. 

 

@Ittaku - Indeed re: the price of the AR Ref 6, it'll be a stretch. Hifishark suggests that there were a few Australian units that sold in December for between $12K - $13K. I desperately wanted to consider the Supratek's but an audible noise floor unfortunately rules it out. It's a pity as I hear they are beguiling. RE: The use of the Minidsp - yes, it will be the Studio as I'd want the digitally corrected signal to be converted to analogue via my DAC's.

 

@gemini07 - Noted and thank you! I'll definitely do some research. 

 

@deanB - Thank you mate, great to know that my amps shouldn't pose an issue. The Traformatic Ref One does indeed tick all the boxes. I reached out to the seller and he mentioned he's decided to hang onto it. Pity. 

 

@Snoopy8 - You make an excellent point re: developing an affinity towards harmonic distortion. The last 3 years in this hobby has seen me build a system that IMHO was highly resolving: Chord digital front end, silver interconnects etc. It was great and enjoyed the experience greatly. This year I want to explore a slightly different sound. My first decisive step has been the purchase of the Reimyo DAP. I believe it doesn't measure well off the back of a scathing ASR review, but to my ears its musical and gets my toes tapping. I'm looking to double down on this with the Tube pre! :) Catching said tube rolling virus looks like an inevitability. I'll be sure to double check before pulling the trigger on the availability of NOS tubes at a reasonable price before making my final decision.

 

Cheers for the CJ ET5 suggestion @Brett 10 - I think there maybe on special at the local distributor. Thank you @pulinapfor that insight - I wouldn't have thought that smaller valves offer more coloration. I would have though the inverse to be true. 

 

Can I ask gents re: using a single ended amplifier with a balanced power amp. Would it be better to go for a pre with multiple balanced inputs and outputs so I benefit from the coloration of the tube, while leveraging the noise reduction benefits of a balanced topology? Truth be told it's pretty much what's holding me back from committing to the ANK Level 5 Mentor pre in the classifieds. 

Edited by Galactic Soap
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On 12/02/2020 at 7:48 PM, Galactic Soap said:

 

Can I ask gents re: using a single ended amplifier with a balanced power amp. Would it be better to go for a pre with multiple balanced inputs and outputs so I benefit from the coloration of the tube, while leveraging the noise reduction benefits of a balanced topology? Truth be told it's pretty much what's holding me back from committing to the ANK Level 5 Mentor pre in the classifieds.

 

 

I suggest you've been imbibing the 'Cool Aid' if you think balanced components deliver unique noise reduction benefits, in a domestic hifi environment.  :P

 

Andy

 

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1 minute ago, andyr said:

 

I suggest you've been imbibing the 'Cool Aid' if you think balanced components deliver unique noise reduction benefits, in a domestic hifi environment.  :P

 

Andy

 

Andy. I'm too lazy to PM. How's the health going?

 

@Op. 10K?  Maybe head to AG for recommendations as well as here. You inhabit a different strata with that need and AG's strata tends to have a lot more depth than here when your going high end.

Speaking of high end...talk to Boris at Absolute High End.

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2 hours ago, Luc said:

 

Andy. I'm too lazy to PM. How's the health going?

 

 

Going well, Luc - thanks for asking.  :)

 

Today is exackly 12 weeks since the op - and I'm already back to swimming!  :thumb:  I did 400m today and - for the first time - didn't need to stop at the end of every 100m, to catch my breath.  :)

 

Plus I've had a few sessions at the gym - lower weights than pre-op ... but I can complete the same exercise regime.

 

When are youse coming down to visit your daughter?  :)

 

Andy

 

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On 12/02/2020 at 7:48 PM, Galactic Soap said:

Can I ask gents re: using a single ended amplifier with a balanced power amp. Would it be better to go for a pre with multiple balanced inputs and outputs so I benefit from the coloration of the tube, while leveraging the noise reduction benefits of a balanced topology?

Wouldn't let it enter the equation. After decades of end to end balanced systems substituting a SE pre (RT-2, albeit with pseudo XLR inputs) into the chain gave me an even clearer and quieter window into the music, especially on vinyl where even the merest hint of  barely audible hum disappeared from the system.

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22 hours ago, andyr said:

When are youse coming down to visit your daughter? 

She's on the Continent at the moment on business, swanning about in business class and Italian fashion shows so I wont be down anytime soon but hope to make the show this year.

 

Would be nice to come down before that though!

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Apologies about the delay updating this thread everyone. As always, thank you for taking the time to contribute.

 

@blybo - Thank you for that, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted when it popped up for sale. It certainly has absolutely everything I could want by way i/o. I understand as Tube Pre's go the Pynx is on the fast and neutral side of the equation. No doubt showing my lack of understanding here, but to my mind when I think fast and neutral I think solid state?

 

@analog brother - Indeed! I should absolutely keep an eye out for the 5SE. A recurring theme when I hear people talk about AR's reference line of pre's is that they can come across as forward, and a few have used "aggressive" a few times. I must admit that has taken me by surprise. To be honest a tube pre that has harmonic density but isn't afraid get up and dance by way of PRAT sounds exactly like what I'm looking for.

 

On 17/02/2020 at 6:46 PM, andyr said:

 

I suggest you've been imbibing the 'Cool Aid' if you think balanced components deliver unique noise reduction benefits, in a domestic hifi environment.  :P

 

Andy

 

LOL! Guilty! I think I've gone deeper down the rabit hole than I realised as I've read reports of Tube pre's that sound quieter via there XLR inputs & outputs than via RCA's even on longer runs. Nonsense I know!

 

@PicoWattson - Thank you mate. That puts my mind at ease. 

 

@Luc - Good advice. I'll post something about on the Gon shortly.

 

As a further update I'll be picking up a well regarded Chinese built pre on Friday for an in home audition. I can't wait. As it'll give me an insight into how a well engineered tube pre will sound like. 

 

There are also quite a few solid state pre's that are well priced that have come into my orbit. There is the Luxman C700u at Frank Prowse listed at just under tick under $7K, then there's an Accuphase C2420 that I can get for about $6,200....

 

Lastly a close friend is flying down from Singapore next week and has said he's happy to buy something and bring it down which opens up a whole world of options!!!

 

 

 

 

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45 minutes ago, Galactic Soap said:

As a further update I'll be picking up a well regarded Chinese built pre on Friday for an in home audition. I can't wait. As it'll give me an insight into how a well engineered tube pre will sound like. 

 

 

Not sure that "Chinese built" and "well engineered" necessarily go together in the same sentence! :lol:  (But, sure, they might.)

 

Good sounding, to me, relies on several things:

  1. a good circuit design - certainly, easy to copy.
  2. good engineering - ie. how well it is put together.  To me "good" engineering requires several things which a lot of Chinese-origin gear lacks.
  3. high quality - and genuine - components.  Trouble is - these can cost a lot ... and one buys Chinese gear because it is cheaper!  :lol:

Andy

 

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20 minutes ago, andyr said:

 

 

Not sure that "Chinese built" and "well engineered" necessarily go together in the same sentence! :lol:  (But, sure, they might.)

 

 

 

Let's say you have't seen or heard much....... 

 

This is what Greg Osborne told me...(quoting verbatim)

 

" The Linear 1 is a fantastic Pre and easily beat all comers until the AMs arrived. They blitz it. The RT-2 is clearly better than the CAT Legend ($24,000) which is widely considered the Worlds  best pre. It makes it very hard for me to sell CATs. I am pretty sure the only preamp available at any price to better it, is the RT-3. "

 

They used to say the same about Japanese TTs (and electronics in general) back in the day specially when the UK kitchen table TTs (i.e. Linn) coudn't compete with Japanese super TTs........

Edited by pulinap
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6 minutes ago, pulinap said:

Let's say you have't seen or heard much....... 

 

This is what Greg Osborne told me...(quoting verbatim)

 

" The Linear 1 is a fantastic Pre and easily beat all comers until the AMs arrived. They blitz it. The RT-2 is clearly better than the CAT Legend ($24,000) which is widely considered the Worlds  best pre. It makes it very hard for me to sell CATs. I am pretty sure the only preamp available at any price to better it, is the RT-3. "

 

They used to say the same about Japanese TTs (and electronics in general) back in the day specially when the UK kitchen table TTs (i.e. Linn) coudn't compete with Japanese super TTs........

 

Sure, P - I didn't say it was impossible for a Chinese component to sound magnificent ... merely that your normal Chinese gear (which people buy because it is cheap) doesn't.  For instance, I know for sure the Doge 8 preamp sounds great - and has a wonderful MM phono stage.  :thumb:

 

Andy

 

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1 minute ago, andyr said:

 

Sure, P - I didn't say it was impossible for a Chinese component to sound magnificent ... merely that your normal Chinese gear (which people buy because it is cheap) doesn't.  For instance, I know for sure the Doge 8 preamp sounds great - and has a wonderful MM phono stage.  :thumb:

 

Andy

 

Not really....

there are quite few members here who sold their much expensive 'European' well made dacs to Chinese cheapies....

The world is a different place..... 

 

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