Modern "Vintage" Sounding Preamps

I like my current preamps (upgraded & restored Acurus LS-11 & CJ PF1) but I'm wanting something at the other end of the spectrum. My preamps, being SS, are towards the "accurate" and "clean" part of the spectrum. What preamps (tube or SS) in your experience lean heavily the soft/warm/forgiving end of the spectrum? Caveats are they must be affordable (under $2K American new or used) and less than 20 years old. Yes, I'm sure a CJ PV5 is just the ticket, but it'd need rebuilding or, if rebuilt, would push well above $2K ...


How about a PV10b? My only concern with it is tube glare in the upper mids, just something Stereophile commented on, moreso with the PV10 and PV10a

The lower level CJ PVs are what you want.  

+1, check out the CJ classic preamp.

Make sure if you do buy a Classic, buy the Classic 2.  The original Classic is limited in the choice of tubes, .   The 2 uses a 6922 , easily sourced new production or NOS but $$$9

What is the OP's definition of "vintage sound"? A Dynaco PAS3, Marantz 7, MacIntosh C22, CJ PV1, ARC SP3A1, Paragon 12 ... pick a flavor! These are all sonically enjoyable - and preferable to most of today's overpriced gear.

Big fan of the Tubes4HiFi SP14.  Rich and warm 6SN7 preamp ersand plenty of clarity in detail.

I built a couple of Erhard Audio PAS-NGT preamps and they certainly fill the bill for my "tube sound" needs.  The kits are well documented and nicely designed, use premium parts and look great when completed.  If you are not inclined to build it, Erhard will do it for you and the total cost will still come comfortably under your budget.

From what I can gather the SP14 circuit is an Aikido, which is a John Broskie design noted for its neutrality and accurate, rather than overtly lush sound. Making a commercial product without crediting Broskie in some way is poor form in my book.

Yes, Quicksilver is great stuff....  can't be beat for the money in my opinion.   Greg, I keep telling you, call Mike at QS and tell him you need a pre wired with dual RCA outputs.....

Although not plentiful, the CJ Premiere 10 would be a step up from the PVs and still come in within your budget. Cheers,


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     Purchase most any tube preamp, and load it with NOS, British valves (Mullard, Brimar, Genelex/Gold Lion, etc), to get that vintage warmth.

     If that doesn't sufficiently warm your heart: replace the signal path resistors, with Carbon comps, starting at the inputs, until you're happy.

     Some Paper-In-Oil caps exhibit a cozy signature, as well, in the signal path (ie: to warm up a later model CJ pre, replace any white or yellow (Mylar), plastic wrapped caps).

     I had a few customers, that enjoyed that flavor and: "The customer always thinks they're right!"

     I was in business, to satisfy whatever palate walked in the door.

    Some ideas (soundwise), were you to find a nice 6SN7 pre, per tubes to choose:


     The nine-pin miniatures, from those companies, have the same attributes in my experience.

      If you want less warmth, with the minis: Those from around Holland, Belgium, etc, (ie: Amperex, Bugle Boy, Philips, etc) may suit you best.

     There's a ton of fun to be had, if you take up tube rolling.

     Even more, if you can (or learn to) solder.

     If you do go tube: before you purchase tubes, be certain they are tested and certified to be, as absolutely as possible, QUIET.

@rodman99999 is entirely correct. Loading any preamp with inexpensive Russian K40y-9 PIOs and Allen Bradley CC resistors will definitely steer you in the direction you want to head. K40y-9’s may have a strong enough signature to do it alone. The old style Jensens/Angelas are a pretty safe bet too but less reliable.

Top of the line 196P Sprague Vitamin Q‘ PIOs are on a different level and will probably not do what you want despite the folklore. As @rodrodman999999 says, it‘s all about flavouring.

If you don't mind my asking, why the 20 year cutoff date?


I have an ARC SP11 mk2 (1987) that sounds lovely and will likely keep sounding so for decades to come. Prior to that was an SP3-A1 from 1975 that many will agree still sounds wonderful and can be easily refreshed with new caps and tubes.


My point, is why buy a new preamp/design when you're looking for older sound?

That'd be like buying a modern car then retrofitting it with a hand crankstarter and narrow wheels for a 'vintage experience'. :)


Don't write off vintage equipment...


Happy listening.




     Just my take:

     Though my response was how to obtain the sound signature in general; the OP already owns a CJ PF-1, loaded with wire-wound resistors and metalized plastic film capacitors, as is your SP11 (NOT a, "vintage" (though an excellent), piece of equipment).

     The presentation they’re looking for can easily be attained; through a few simple, internal mods, or possibly: valve changes.

                              No further equipment purchase necessary.

     I agree: there are numerous older components, well worthy of resurrection and updating.    I've done a lot of that, over the decades, though typically: to obtain less coloration.

                             Again: up the to owner/customer's tastes.

"My point, is why buy a new preamp/design when you’re looking for older sound?"

@rodman99999 The OP has come here asking for opinions. Yes, of course it's up to his tastes however, my questions were meant to have him consider what his motivations are, not to question that he is motivated to search for something.


With regards to the SP11 not being 'vintage', 35 years is a pretty good stretch of time. What do you consider vintage? What do others consider vintage? My understanding is 20 years or greater when it comes to stereo gear but I'll happily recalibrate if that's not the accepted norm.


Happy listening...

@musicfan2349 -

     Thought I was being pretty clear, but: the SP-11's signal path contains metalized, plastic film caps and wire-wound resistors, which (in my opinion) aren't, "vintage" parts.    It does have some older-tech components, in the mix, which (to me) does put it on the cusp of vintage/modern.

      No doubt: that pre could be warmed up quite a bit, with the right valves.  

      Basically, to me: the old Black Cat, paper/Mylar caps and Carbon comp resistors, in the signal path, were (largely) what gave the older gear (circa 60s/early 70s) the, "vintage" sound, some love so much. 

      The older ARC pieces had Black Cats, in their power supplies, which may have warmed them up, somewhat.

       I owned both SP-9 and SP-14 pres, which I greatly enjoyed.    Neither of which sounded like ARC's very early iterations.   Especially with the early 60's, grey shield, Siemens CCa in play (my 6DJ8 variant of choice).

        Still: from ARC's inception, the goal was to resurrect/reintroduce tube circuitry (transistors being the rage, then), with a cleaner presentation, than what was available with older tubed circuits (as I recall).

      Don't know how ancient you are, but; being 75 years old: I suppose my views are somewhat different than later generations, far as, "vintage".

                                 Like I said, "Just MY take:"

              It's not my agenda, to change anyone else's opinions!

                                      Happy listening!

@greg7 A number of very good comments about parts and upgrade opportunities with the SP-11 and other AR & CJ preamps. If you decide to go that route, you may want to consider upgrades by Backert  Labs. They evolved from a predecessor company RHB Sound Designz that grew a wide following by doing upgrades to CJ and Audio Research gear. They're in Pennsylvania, USA. Cheers,


Yes, Quicksilver is great stuff....  can't be beat for the money in my opinion.   Greg, I keep telling you, call Mike at QS and tell him you need a pre wired with dual RCA outputs.....

You would be lucky if you can get a new one.

I ordered a 100WPC amp two months ago, but it is still not ready to be shipped. QS has now a huge backlog of transformers to go with their amps.

VanAlstine Super PAS3.  This is a Dynaco PAS-3 rebuilt by VanAlstine- all new and upgraded parts, bypassed tone stage, more robust power supply.  This preamp is an excellent combination of vintage warmth, and relatively modern accuracy.  Can be found for less than $1k.  This preamp is a great value.

CJ PV5 can be found for between $1200-$1500 / maybe less if you get lucky, but expect to pay at least $500 for restoration.  So all in cost will be around $2k.  Everything you have read about it is true.  It is also sensitive to noisy tubes.

Earlier CJ designs such as the PV2ar lean towards vintage warmth, but are still very nice to listen to, and work well with modern sources and amplifiers.  Can be found for between $750-$1500 depending on spec and condition.

Audio Research SP10 (original or MK-II).  More vintage warmth than the SP11, but still very competitive with modern preamps.  2 phono inputs, and on the fly cartridge loading make this a very flexible preamp.  Secret is out on this one; expect to pay $2500-$3000+ for clean examples.

Audio Research SP-3.  For many this is the benchmark among "modern" tube preamps, with one foot firmly in the vintage side, and the other in the modern side.  What is ironic is that when this design was current, it was only 15yrs or so removed from the high point of tube design.  Meaning it is much closer to the classic golden era, than it to the current era.   And given its age, it will likely need freshening.  Holds value well, and easily found at different price points depending on condition.

Audible Illusions Modulus 2 or 3 (not 3a or 3b).  These were the original Modulus designs, and owe much to vintage tube designs and sonics.  There is warmth and the midrange is quite lush.  But it is also much more quiet than true vintage preamps, and has a more robust power supply.  Can be found for about $1k.


Since you have phono as well as line input needs, consider a good used Audio Research SP6B preamp, or the all-tube (include regulation) SP8.  The phono input on this line of Preamps was as good sounding or better than almost any other preamp of its time, and will give today's preamps a run for the money.  You'll need a transformer or pre-preamp (headamp) if you are using a low-output moving coil cartridge, but if you have a good moving magnet you may forget MC forever. with this preamp.  It sounds wonderful through the line stages as well.  And pre-sorted tube sets for the preamps (12AX7) are available through several dealers if that appeals to you .