A little tube magic?

I’m looking for some ideas and impressions. I’d really like to run tubes for amplification, but my system pulls double duty for music and tv. It is on probably about 8 hours a day for one or the other.  This just seems like to much to me for running tubes. I’m looking for a way to be able to keep my solid state setup but add tubes in a manner I can switch them in and out. I have couple of ideas but I am aware neither is very ideal. 
First I thought I could add a tube preamp or maybe even buffer in the tape loop of my McIntosh C46. I know this will add more complexity for the signal to pas through. I’m not sure if I can expect gains that will be better that what I lose by adding extra cables and components.

My second idea would be to add a tube power amp on some sort of switch, something similar the the Shiit SYS. Which is basically a passive preamp with two inputs and a potentiometer. I’ve read that can use it backwards kind of and have the output be the input and run the two inputs to two different amps and then switch between the two. I would think I’d need two sets of speaker cables to make this work, and switch them back and forth as needed. I’m not really fond of either idea and hope there may be a solution I’m unaware of. I really just want tubes for music and ss for tv if it’s possible.  
A third option would be to get a tube dac for music listening, but I’m unsure if I’ll be able to get the amount of tube sound I’m after. I guess I could see it as part of the solution along with tubes in the pre or power amp as well. 
Any thoughts or ideas would be much appreciated. 
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Interesting. I had seen the foz before, but had forgotten about it. How do you feel it effects transparency and clarity? Also is it something you use on occasion or always? Basically trying to understand if you consider it a full time upgrade or just something fun to use sometimes? 
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I have a McIntosh C46 as my preamp so I don’t think I need the Lokius. How exactly do you suppose I would use the tone controls?  I’m not really looking to change the tonal balance really. More looking add the sense of space, presence, and bloom you can get from tubes. 
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Not a waste of time at all. I may end up giving the Foz a shot at some point.  Thanks for the suggestions. 
More looking add the sense of space, presence, and bloom you can get from tubes.

Then run tubes. Sheesh. The things people fret about, it never ceases to amaze
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Just buy a tube preamp and use it with your SS amp, very easy. Tube buffers are just a bandage on the problem.
That C46 and a good valve power amp will sound wonderful. I like Cary or Mac both quit different. I'm just amazed every time I fire up my V12r Cary or a tricked out MC240 that I have both are very special. There are plenty of different amps to choose from here too, 35-40 at least. 

SS that's different.. I use both valves and SS, BUT for bass management, SS. Tubes for mids and highs.. Works perfect and has for years and years.. The preamp you have, you will be surprised how well a Mac SS pre blends with a valve power amp.. Kinda' neat to tell the truth..

I would love to run a tube power amp but nervous about running 50+ hours a week. How long do most power tubes last?  It seems it could be pretty expensive swapping 6+ tubes on the regular. 
I would love to run a tube power amp but nervous about running 50+ hours a week. How long do most power tubes last?

Usually the driver/voltage amplifier tubes will last 3-4 times longer than the power tubes. But a lot depends on how hard you drive the amp. If you're pushing the amp hard for power, expect to replace the power tubes more often. OTOH, if your speakers are easy to drive so the power tubes are loafing, they might last 5-10 years. Heat is the enemy of tubes; the harder you push them the hotter they will get.

So if you really want to make this work, the key is to have speakers that are easy to drive, such that the amp isn't working hard. Then 50 hours a week is no sweat.
Are you shipping your GaN amp?.....if so, what do the customers think?.....and how much is it?  Any specs besides 100 watts?
Speakers are C7es3 XD. I listen at moderate I would say volumes. Sometimes I get peaks in the 90db range usually about 70-85 db average. I’d probably look into something that had at least 75 watts. The Mc275 would be an obvious choice with my McIntosh preamp but I’d be open others. Primaluna is another company that is appealing but my small bit of experience with Kevin Deal was a bit of a turn off.  I’ve never had or done much research on tube power amps.  I have had a few tube preamps. All of which I liked except the McIntosh c2500 didn’t float my boat really. A tube power amp would be fun to try though if I can get over tube life. I still wish there was a simple way to have both and simply switch between the two. 
The following is what I'm doing right now for the exact same issue, millercarbon's eyes will be rolling soon I'm sure (don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy MC's presence both for the experienced perspective and the entertainment value provided for free, thanks MC) .

I have two preamps in my system. The tube preamp is for music and for tv and other video is a solid state preamp. My amp is solid state. Access to the back side of my equipment is easy. I simply power down the amp and move the interconnect that is between the preamp and the amp from one preamp the the other as needed. Yes this is not ideal but, is easy.

There is one difficulty to be faced and that is overlap of remote control commands between the two preamps. Most manufacturers use some variation of the Philips remote protocol (japan makers use the NEC protocol). I get around this problem by placing an inexpensive metal bookend (Amazon sourced) in front of the remote receiver eye on the preamp that will not be in use at that time to block the remote control signal.

Yes I wish I had a more elegant solution but this does work. I tried the home theater bypass idea by feeding the tube preamp through the bypass circuit in the solid state preamp but, the HT bypass was not transparent enough to work well.
"...It seems it could be pretty expensive swapping 6+ tubes on the regular..."

A legit concern, you could go broke running 5 channels of tube amps. My opinion might not be popular but you can run a good 2 channel system for music or you can run a multi channel system for video. Doing both really well is a GPIA. 
mwh777, if you go the other way you might have better result. Bypass through the tube preamp vs through the SS. I just had to work out the bass management system for both systems without plugging and unplugging. I used a C2500, MX150, Rogers PA-1 and 124/SME, same crap with the remote. Mac is easy to assign stuff.

It’s as transparent as a preamp with tone control, a power amp and source with cables and speakers can be. Oh, oh I forgot the phono stage or streamer with a transport. I say color me slightly.. :-)

I run Carys V12r / Six Pac or Macs 240-275s, at least 70 hours a week in the winter for 3 months, spring and fall I remove 4 valves at a time and re bias (Cary only). Mac I use only in the dead of winter or in the shop. It gets HOT where I live, I swap to SS Class Ds for 3-4 months through the summer in the front room (wife’s system).

I’m looking for a second V12R in red. :-) KT66 or 77 are just the 11th wonder of the world in that unit. 4-12 valves, you just have to bias it for the number of valves.. 6V6-KT99s.


I picked up 8 6V6 Rubys for 75 dollars. They will last 5 years in that V12. Brand new in the box test as 8 matched new valves... 6550W black plate 190.00 for 6 I think..  They use them in Migs for god sakes.. :-) Russian Valves..

What's your budget to make a move?  It sounds like the unit you introduce will be doing double duty on music and television.  Do you watch television with just two channels now?  

I would think the advice above about looking at a tube preamp would be spot on--if you don't need to do home theatre/multi channel stuff. 

If you want big holographic soundstage and bloom, try the Vincent SA-T7 preamp.  It's superb.  Somewhere between Conrad Johnson and Audio Research, but that's painting with a wide and fat brush.  There's a used one for sale (Not my listing and no affiliation) here now: 


Budget would be around 1,000-2,000 if I were to keep my current ss pre. If I’m replacing it then budget would be 3,000-4,000. Really would like to stick with McIntosh for the simplicity of operation for the wife and guest. Which leaves me feeling like the tape loop may be the way to go since I don’t really dig McIntosh tube preamps from my experience. I think I would be ok with a slight loss of transparency, slight. Not sure what to expect with the tape loop though. I do like that it would be a simple solution without disconnecting and reconnecting. 
I do watch television with just the two channels.  I’ve never really had much interest in surround sound. If I was building a new house I may incorporate it, but not very compatible currently with out a lot of Sheetrock work to run cables. I’m pretty sure I hate Sheetrock work more than I would like surround sound. 
I recently purchased a BorderPatrol SEi DAC. It really does a nice job of bringing some tubey/analogue sound to the table.
I have a similar system. A few notes. Look for an amp that has a lot of headroom for the tubes. Heat changes are more of an issue than simple run time - turning tubes on and off shorten life expectancy faster than leaving them on. Look for an amp that has individual biasing. Lots of designers try to sell single point biasing as a feature - but it usually means you need matched power tubes - so replacement cost gets multiplied by 4. I run the fronts and rears on tube amps and use SS for center and Atmos speakers. They do make amplifier selectors, but I have never found one I trusted. I have been looking into Mapletree Audio recently and they have a product that may simplify switching for you - the real question is whether the grounds are shared. I don’t have one. I do have a Foz and it works well for what it does - but I am working with tube amps already so I can’t say what level of bloom it could impart to your system. The affect of the soundstage is impressive, though done through signal manipulation, and is best reserved to fix room boundary issues when the only other option is getting a new house.  I currently have two sets of speaker wires at the fronts and the rears so I could swap between tube amps and av SS amps, but to be honest I don’t usually do it. Another way to look at this is to consider that both tubes and transistors get hot - one is replaceable and the other is not. Avoid exotic / expensive power tubes and focus on rolling the input tubes. I’ve gotten years out of tubes running them for 4 hours a day average. My OCD usually kicks in and I choose to replace them before they fail. 
I just use my same setup for music and TV (and the Husker football games sound great: better than how the team performs).  I have an McIntosh MX110z and the TV is plugged into the Aux input, the disc player into the tape monitor, and the turntable plugged into the Phono input.  It gives me everything I need and sounds great; if I have to replace some tubes, so be it.
I just want to say, good luck, with the caveat: I have gotten clever, too clever for my own good a few times. Very proud of myself, until I wasn't. 
I currently have a C50 with a 452 McIntosh amp. I use the tape/processor loop with a Yaqin tube buffer, utilizing Psvane UK-6SN7 tubes. Wanted a way to warm up or smooth out the digital verse the great sound of our analog sources. This set-up works, and what is nice is the ability to either have the tubes or not with the push of a button on the preamp. I am always looking for a better tube buffer, but to date I have not found one that is both in budget and is the right size for my limited space. I also like the 6SN7 tubes over the 12AX7's, sounds better to my ears. Also many options for rolling.
 With your C46 you should have the same results, while not spending big money. Good luck and enjoy the music. 
Are you shipping your GaN amp?.....if so, what do the customers think?.....and how much is it? Any specs besides 100 watts?
We are shipping limited production. We posted one customer's comments (which seem pretty typical) on the feedback section of our website. Right now they are priced at 5300/pair.

The amp makes 100 Watts into 8 Ohms and 200 into 4; to that end we are being conservative. It can drive a 4 Ohm load at 200 watts all day long without overheating. The amp has balanced and single-ended inputs. It uses a linear power supply rather than switching. The switching frequency is about 500KHz. Phase shift at 20KHz is less than 1 degree- about the same as our tube amps. The output impedance is about 10milliOhms. The distortion signature is very similar to our OTLs, with the lower ordered harmonics dominating and higher orders falling off with an exponential decay. This allows it a smooth presentation.
I have a Krell system and Thiel CS6 speakers and I had wondered the same thing - would there be any benefit from introducing tubes into the signal chain. I have tried three different options. Here is my experience with each:

Jolida Fox SS-X - I currently have this hooked up to my desktop system but I originally bought it for my full rig. First of all, it is not subtle. You either like what it does or you don't but at least in my system it has an unmistakable sonic signature. I pretty quickly decided that I didn't like it and I moved it to my desktop system where it works really well. The soundstage control is very nice with nearfield listening and the tube effect compliments this system (Denon integrated, Polk desktop speakers, Topping D50s DAC).  I've put it back in my main system a few times and I always came away with the observation that it is interesting but it reduces the definition in the bass and it adds some darkness to the lower treble which aren't complimentary to the sound. In my desktop system it's just what the doctor ordered.

Yaqin SD CD-3 Tube Buffer - I use this in the tape loop of my Krell KRC-2 preamp (amp is a KSA 300S). Unlike the Jolida, the effect of this unit is very subtle. It's easy to switch it in and out of the signal path and it took me a while to detect any difference. The best way I can describe the effect is that it adds a little sparkle to the high frequencies. I like the effect (it certainly does no harm in my system) and I leave it in the signal path all the time. I bought a pair of fancy tubes but I haven't rolled them yet.

Black Ice (Jolida) Glass FX Tube DAC III W - A similar unit won a listening competition in Arizona against a bunch of well reviewed DACS and for the price ($700) I decided to give it a chance. I have a PSA PerfectWave MkII DAC, a PSA PW Transport, a Marantz SA 8005 (SACD) and a Krell CD 250/2 (HDCD) player, and a vintage Resolution Audio DAC (HDCD). My experience is that the SQ difference between modern DACS and players is pretty subtle and the Glass FX fits that pattern. Three of my units (PW MK II DAC, SA 8005 player, and Glass FX) sound so similar that I would have trouble telling them apart in a blind test. Depending on the recording, I think I can hear a little better soundstage depth and articulation with the Glass FX but it's something you really have to listen for. I also bought a pair of fancy tubes for this unit and I haven't tried them yet.

My recommendation would be to play around with some inexpensive alternatives before dropping a lot of money on a tube preamp. You can also pick up an older unit like a ARC preamp that is known to have an obvious tube character and see if you like it.
Great news.  I bet you are going to sell a lot of them.  Does the product have a name or number?  When will it have a page on your website with pics?  What is the gain and input impedance?  Thanks,  good luck.
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Many of those high powered 50k-100kwatt fm radio stations you listen to run 24/7/365....and use tubes in the final stage...don`t sweat it...just run them.
Thanks for all the replies. Definitely helping me narrow down my path. I’m starting to think a tube buffer of some sort as well as maybe a tube dac. The Modwright buffer is very intriguing. I’m not aware of another company with as much pedigree making one.

Far as a tube dac I’d be interesting to hear some suggestions for one that really adds that tube bloom. I’ve read a few reviews of both the Border Patrol as well as the MHDT Orchid. From the reviews I’m getting the impression they both have a smooth frequency response as well as being free of digital glare, I’m not really finding much that suggest they’ll give me that bloom that I want. I wish I knew other words to describe it better. It’s that sense that as a singer hits their note and it just grows and grows and fills the space in a glorious 3d sound. I get more of this from my ss McIntosh gear hooked up to my Harbeth C7es3s than I have ever had before, but I want more. Really as much as I can get while keeping the clarity and purity.

Also would like to hear peoples thoughts on running a tube pre instead of a buffer in the tape loop. Not sure if it’s a good idea to add another gain stage, or how I would go about setting the volume level on the tube pre. It would give me considerably more options though to try to find that sound I’m looking for.

Again, thanks for the many helpful replies.
Does the product have a name or number? When will it have a page on your website with pics? What is the gain and input impedance?
No. Soon. About 28dB and 100K.
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I am a huge Audio Research fan. I have the REF 75SE with KT150s. They are about $100 each and will give you around 4000 hours easily. You can run the KT120s at half the cost and see if your ears can appreciate the upgrade. I have Wilson Audio Sophias and often have the system on 10-12 hours a day. It is a fantastic amp and can be resold fairly easily if you were not in agreement.