Go with a tube preamp or not?

Hello everyone, I am interested in purchasing a tube preamp for my system. I am considering replacing the Classe CP 60 I am currently using and am looking for recommendations. The rest of my system is a Denon 3910 with Upgrade Company signature mods, a pair of Aragon Palladium 2 monos also upgraded by Upgrade Company, a pair of Intuitive Design Summits with Path stands and a total of 6 Stillpoints per side. I use a Velodyne DD12 to augment the low end. Cabling is mostly Ridge Street Audio with one pair of Jungson Golden Dragons used between the pre and power amps. the room is about 13.5 by 17.5 with 8 foot ceilings. I listen to a wide range of music including pop, classic rock, heavy metal, contemporary jazz, blues, and funk. Normal listening volume is 80 to 85 db's but occasionally will listen in the range of 90 to 95 db's if the mood strikes me.

I recently got to hear another member's system that has the Summits and uses a very nice tube preamp. I would like to see if I could get some of that tube sound in my system. I am not looking to drastically change the sound of my system, rather just add a touch of warmth. I have no experience with tube gear, so I am looking for help. I have looked at past threads, but am not finding specific enough info.

There are a couple of requirements that I am looking for and a couple of others that would be nice but are not mandatory. First, I want the unit to be remote controlled. It needs to have both balanced and single ended outputs that are active at all times. (My amps are balanced and I am not looking to change them at this time. The amps also have a 44 kohm input impedance.) Home theater pass thru would be nice, but is not mandatory. Same thing for phono capabilities. I am looking in the $1500 range used but could go as high as $2k if the right deal came along. I am not going above the 2k mark. I would need to sell the Classe pre first.

I have looked a little, and offerings from BAT, Audio Research and Conrad Johnson have all gotten my interest. I am sure there are plenty of others that I haven't mentioned. What I don't want to lose that the Classe does well is pacing and dynamic contrast. Any input is appreciated.
I just added a ARC Ref3 to my system. It replaced a Levinson #32 preamp. There was really no comparison. The Ref 3 added so much more bloom and color to the system. If it will match up with your Classe (and I suspect it will) you will really have a great sounding system when you're finished! I'm sure the CJ or BAT will sound good also, I just haven't heard them. But I do love the Ref 3!
Just did a shootout between a ARC Ref 3 (1,241 hours) verses a McIntosh C500C/C500T (600 hours) and to quote the owner of the ARC Reference 3, "the C500C/C500T trumped my ARC without question. There was nothing positive to say in it's defense."

Honestly, we both feel there was the lack of synergy with the ARC Reference 3 in my system (McIntosh MC2301 amps, MCD500 CD/SACD & Andra II speakers).

Planning to bring my pre's to his house next week to duplicate.

Bottom line CSMGOLF-- try to get an in-house demo before buying preamps. Probably the hardest item to compare (moreso than CD players where you can listen to exact cuts seconds apart).
Well unfortunately the two preamps mentioned above are well out of your stated price range ($1500-$2000). I doubt you can get a ARC Ref 3 or a McIntosh C500 for under $5000 used. So let's try some more, in no particular order.

Cary SLP-2002, balanced and unbalanced outputs, remote control, Cinema Bypass switch, NO phono.

Audio Research LS-16 (I or II), balanced and unbalanced outputs, remote, Direct input is unity gain and was designed to be used as a SSP throughput, NO phono.

VAC Standard/LE/MK II, unbalanced outputs standard, balanced outputs optional, remote, Cinema bypass, MM & MC phonos stage optional.

BAT VK-3, 3i, 3iX, VK-5, 5i, VK-30, VK-30SE, VK-31, balanced and unbalanced outputs, remote, any input can be set to unity gain for Cinema, optional VK-P3 phono card.

That's all I can think of at the moment. I think all should be availible in your price range. Happy hunting.


BTW, AFAIK, CJ has no offerings with balanced outputs.
Hi John - long time since we last spoke. My point to CSMGOLF was regardess what preamp(s) he considered, at least make the attempt to have in-home demo as synergy in itself has alot to do with the final results.

Best to you & you provided CSMGOLF with some excellent suggestions inwhich to focus his attention.

Jmcgrogan2 offers very good advice. Keep an eye on your amps input impedance, it's not ideal for many tube pres. You might beb able to find a used Sonic Frontiers 2 in your price range, but there's no phono.
Hi Bob- yes it has been quite a while. I hope you and yours are enjoying a great holiday season, and let me wish you a happy and healthy new year.

I fully agree with your main point, there is no substitute for listening with your own ears, to your own system, in your own room, and preamps are probably the most difficult item to choose due to so many variables. The way I did this was what I refer to as the AudiogoN buy n' try method (patent pending). I'd buy a VAC Renaissance mk II preamp while I still had a CJ Premier LS16 mk II and a Krell KRC-HR on hand. Swap them in and out for a couple of weeks, and sell the 'loser' on AudiogoN and try another preamp. At one point I tried 8 preamps in a 9 month timeframe.

Pros: I got the preamp that worked best with my system to my tastes (ARC Ref 3).

You can listen to others reco's as much as you want, but their system/room may be warmer or leaner than yours, and their musical tastes may vary too.....which makes this a crapshoot.

Cons: Yes, it does tie up more money for a while, as you will constantly have 2 or more preamps in your room for a period of time.

Buying used certainly helps ease this pain a bit, and I found out, 9 months later, that I had the preamp I wanted, and only lost about $175 over the 9 month period trying 8 different preamps in my system (including ads and shipping). I felt that investing $175 to try all of these great preamps in my system head on with their competitors was money well spent. I wasted too many years listening to others opinions (reviewers, on-line, friends, etc.) I know they meant well, but they don't have my ears, room, equipment and cables, so they can't really tell me what I will like best.


BTW, one more to add to your list would also be the VTL TL-5.5. Unbalanced and balanced outputs, remote, processor loop for home theater, and optional internal phono stage.
I have used Audio Research tube preamps for years with great results. Recently went with a Jeff Rowland Capri and was amazed that it stood it's ground and in some ways exceeded previous performance levels. As a aside, DON'T USE ANY DAKIOM PRODUCTS with ARC or Jeff Rowland. They sound bad and induce hums and buzzes which are completely uncontrollable. Plus the warranty is a joke. Good luck!
Thanks to everyone for their suggestions so far. What should I be looking for in a preamp output impedance to get a proper match with my amps? If I am experincing a mismatch, what would the sonic results be? John, thanks for all of the info. Ideally, yours would be the best way to shop for a different pre, but freeing up enough funds to do it could be another matter. I used a pretty similar method to arrive at my choice of speakers and could not be happier, however, finances have changed. If anyone else has other preamp options, please let me know. Thanks, Cris.
Cris, the general rule of thumb is that the amps input impedence should be at least 10X's the preamps output impedence. The greater the better (ie: 20X's is better than 10X's). Your amp's input impedence is 44K, which is pretty good. Most tube preamps have a output impedence of 1K or lower, so you should be at least 44X's.

You shouldn't have a mismatch problem, but if you had a power amp with a 10K input impedence, a preamp with a output impedence of 1.2K may sound a bit soft in the bass and/or rolled of in the high's. Happy hunting.

Cnsgolf, What is your friend's system?
Inquiring minds want and need `to know!
Also, have you considered a Tube powered
I just added the ModWright 36.5 LS and PS, my first tube. My system just went through the roof. I waited a week and rolled in 1967 GZ34 Mullards and 6H30-DR NOS Cryo. WOW! A much bigger improvement than I ever dreamed of. It is a shame I have been missing out for so long. I would say this is about as good as it gets for me. Running JRDG big SS mono's and Watt/Pups 5.1. I'm done spending $$ for a long time. Go buy tubes! They will change your life I promise.
John has some great advice if you have the funds to have more than one preamp at a time. I would also recommend a CJ - CT6 which you might find for around $2000 used. At that price used it is a very good preamp.
Bob, I didn't mention CJ because the OP said balanced AND unbalanced outputs were a requirement. AFAIK, CJ products are all single ended. Does the CT-6 have balanced outputs?

Happy New Year!!
John, I didn't catch the balanced & single ended requirements, I guess at 57 not only my hearing but eye sight & memory are all shot.

Happy New Years to all!
I have never heard a solid state preamp as good as a tube preamp. Put CJ and Audible Illusions on your short list.

Three HUGE disclaimers prior to saying ANYTHING:

1) I have NEVER heard or even SEEN this preamp, so I know absolutely nothing about it other than that it's offered by Klaus Bunge, it's tube and it's in your price range, NEW.

2) I do NOT know whether it can be made (or whether he'd be willing and/or able to make it) in a balanced configuration.

3) The impedance stuff is over my head, at least at this time.

So, why on EARTH do I have the AUDACITY to even CONSIDER making a tentative suggestion???????????????????

Two words: Track record*

Klaus is legendary for making high end products and offering them at affordable price points**. His products are well known to be huge bang for the buck quality. So, knowing very little and with a relatively modest (modest in audiophile terms, that is....LOL) price point of ~$2K in mind, might I humbly suggest your consideration for auditioning of the Odyssey Candela Tube Preamplifier?

*Klaus Bunge's track record, not mine!
**I met him at the 2007 RMAF and suggested that he might consider manufacturing jumper cables, and that he could call them the "Bunge Jumpers." He was polite but clearly uninterested in this idea.......
p.s. As you probably already know, I drive my Summits with an Odyssey Tempest Extreme solid state preamp and two Odyssey Stratos Extreme Monoblock amplifiers.

Hmmmm, the Candela may be a consideration for ME as well--at some point. Anyway, talk to Klaus directly, and he'll give you good info about his products. He MAY be a teensy weensy bit biased, but overall my impression (FWIW) is that he's admirably honest.

Hello John-I was wondering what your point of view was on the arc ls16mk2 as I just obtained one and am driving a pair of audio valve challanger 180 mono's hooked to my soundlab m2's;also any advice on the 6h30 tubes in this unit?
So far I am pretty impressed this is my first tube pre amp having just sold a Klyne 6lx3p pre amp I had for several years.
I do like the home theater bypass loop also.
Hello Rleff, to be honest, I've never heard the LS16 mk II. I have heard the LS16 mk I in my friends system with Krell amp and Dynaudio Contour 3.4 speakers and was pretty impressed. Overall though, I was not much of a fan of the older ARC preamps before the ARC Ref 3, which is still the best preamp I have ever owned. Yes, I know it cost a lot more, but IMHO ARC made a big jump with that series. Personally, with the older tube preamps, I prefer the VAC, BAT and Cary, though not necessarily in that order.

As for the 6H30 tube, it is very rugged and reliable, but there is not much to do in the way of tube rolling. This may be a good thing for someone just changing over from SS preamps though, as tube rolling can be time consuming and expensive. Yes, they do make what are called NOS 6H30 tubes, from the 80's and 90's, but IMHO the difference is not worth some of the ridiculous prices that I've seen being charged for them ($200-$300/tube). I've seen 6DJ8 variant's, 12AX7's and 12AU7's also selling for crazy prices, but IME I've heard more differences between these NOS tubes and current stock than I have between NOS 6H30's and current stock.

As a general rule (of course there are exceptions), I would say the 6H30 is rugged, reliable, powerful and dynamic. The old scholl preamp tubes (6DJ8, 12AX7, 12AU7) tend to have less of the above traits, but have better air, resolution and articulation, again IMHO, IMS.

Thanks John for some good feedback;I saw you listed the 12ax7 and 12au7;my amps have 6189 and 12ax7 in them;would your comments also apply when these are used in the amps?
I have been a tube owner for several years but never really played with rolling except for output tubes as these amps will autobias el34,6550 and kt88's so I am familiar with them but not the input tubes listed.
Any other tube owners chim if you have some opinion as well.
Csmgolf- if you think I am highjacking the thread let me know and I will start one of my own.
Rleff, I can't say that I am familiar with your amp, but looking it up online, it uses (2) 12AU7's and (1) 12AX7. I assume that the 12AU7's are in the driver stage, the single 12AX7 may be a phase splitter. I'm not sure here, I know my amp uses (4) KT88 power tubes and (4) 12AU7's in the driver stage. IME, rolling the preamp tubes makes the biggest difference in sound (assuming 6DJ8/12AU7/12AX7). Rolling power tubes, driver tubes, and 6H30 preamp tubes can make a difference, but it is not nearly as big a difference as I hear between Amperex/ Mullard/ Siemens/ Telefunkens etc in the 6DJ8/12AU7/12AX7 categories.

Once more, that is just my opinion, from what I have heard in my system and a couple others. I would think you would hear the most difference rolling between types of power tubes in your amp, since it can handle KT 88, EL 34, or 6550. It should be fun to compare some nice KT88's with some good EL 34's.

John-thanks I am interested in that el34 tube as well;any types you would recommend?I have never heard a el34 tube based amp.
I have rolled some kt88's with the 6550's that came with the amp so far;in my cary slam 100's I perferred kt88's but in this amp I seem to lean toward the 6550's instead.
I strongly recommend Audio Research. You might be able to find a used LS17 in your price range, or the LS16 Mark II; both excellent. I normally do not recommend used stuff, but Audio Research preamps are so reliable that you do not need to worry about buying a used one.
I have the LS26 now, which is $6000, but I used to have the LS16 Mark II, and it is probably the best bang for the buck at your price level.
Rleff, I like the Svetlana Winged "C" EL 34. What KT88's are you using? I'm using Genalex Gold Lion re-issues in my VAC amp. I think it'd be fun to play with an amp that could handle either. Another generalization I've noted is the EL 34's tend to be a bit smoother and sweeter in the midrange, while KT-88's have better dynamics and power. I can't really say that I've used 6550's in an amp. My only experience with the 6550 was in the power supply section of my ARC Ref 3 preamp.

John- I ran JJ Electronics kt88's and Gold Aero Premium grade in my Cary Slam 100's.
In the Audio Valve Challangers are Svetlana 6550c's.