Preamp for a GaN-FET amp...


Hello everyone... I'm thinking of replacing my Belles Aria Integrated for a GaN-Fet amp. I would have preferred to purchase an integrated GaN-Fet, but they are either too expensive or of questionable quality. I therefore resign myself to opting for an amp/preamp combo. My question is the following :

Which preamp do you recommend for a GaN-Fet amp?

I haven't made my choice yet, but the only GaN-Fet amp within my reach is the Starkrimson (used). Please note that if I opt for GaN-Fet, it is to avoid tubes, so I would prefer a preamp WITHOUT tube (and not a class A).

My speakers are Altec 620A (100 db efficiency) and I mainly listen to digital sources through a Metrum DAC. I also sometimes listen to records on my Garrard 401... That's basically why I need a preamp.

Note: the Belles Aria Integrated is a superb machine with astonishing sound, but I'm looking for an amp whose midrange is as good as a tube. The Altec don't do any favors and they are a little harsh in the midrange, especially at high volume. For those who would like to understand what I am trying to express by "as good as a tube", I suggest you listen to this interview with Ralph Karsten who explains the limits of transistors much better than me.

Thank you ! 😎

128x128alaindexe

My GaN amp is a LSA Voyager GaN 350. My preamp of ~ 3 years is an Audio Alchemy DDP-1(pre/dac!) + PS 5 outboard power supply. Excellent match. I saw one for sale on US Audio for $1250, which IMO is a bargain, especially since the it and the amp have XLR inputs and outputs. Hurry as they rarely come on the used market. Do a search for it and find a review which is quite thorough

HTH

I would prefer a preamp WITHOUT tube (and not a class A).

Jason Stoddard of Schiit Audio posted this on Head-Fi (link):
"all preamps are Class A. There’s no reason to run a preamp in Class AB. Or D, LOL."

I don’t know if it’s actually true, but it makes sense to me. A preamp handles low level signals and there is no concern for issues such as heat generation. Class A is the simplest, most direct circuit design and running in any other class would make it much more complicated with only disadvantages.

If you do not want a preamp to adjust the sound, then the Serene and Benchmark LA4 are the best I have found for that role. 

I would be interested to see Guttenberg review the new Schitt Mjolnir preamp. I have that and I like it for the Class A color it gives to my headphones. I wonder how it compares to something like the ModWright LS99 that was mentioned in the review.

I think Guttenberg was actually surprised at how good the Holo Serene sounded. He certainly talked a lot about the music which I believe is a strong compliment.

Yeah, I was wondering why Guttenberg had been ignoring it. He still hasn't touched on the May.

The Holo Serene is like the Benchmark LA4 preamp, except a tiny bit warmer. Hardly noticeable. I have both and have no desire to change. This was after trying about 6 other preamps.

My Audion MK3's are fed by a Primaluna EVO 400 tube pre now. Very good pairing.

Since the DAC is a Holo Audio May KTE I just ordered a Holo Serene KTE to see what that's like. May be 5 or 6 weeks getting it though.

In you price range I would look for a Wyred4Sound STP preamp, it is passive to a point and can be upgraded, even their mPre is supposed to be good preamp. I owned one for a while, loved it, very neutral.

I just did what you are doing, I wanted to get away from tubes so I became a beta tester for the new PS Audio Stellar Gold preamp and Dac, the preamp is as good or better than the BHK that is is replacing and does not have any tube hiss.

I also sold my PSA M1200 mono amps and bought Leos dual mono Ultra top model amp, it sounds as good as the M1200's, again no tube hiss

I have the Starkrimson and it's paired with a Holo pre. I really like it and I think it' may be as neutral sounding as you can get. A friend has the same amp and is using a Black Ice pre and he love's that as well. He's driving Cornwalls. Basically I think that if you get a good quality pre you should be ok.

No mention made of what kind of sound is being sought so I am calling insufficient information to be able to make any recommendation. 

@alaindexe

The amplifier are very reliable when used properly. You can see the instructions on my website. I have been selling these since 2018 so many amps have been in serivice for 5+ years now.

Regarding your other questions, you can plug a dac directly into the amp. As a matter of fact this is what I recommend customers do unless they need a preamp for other functions like input switching.

You state there is reliability issues with the Starkrimson mono's, care to share? I haven't heard or read of any issues.

@evank : I've seen this problem reported by two different users... I think it has to do with the power supply but I'm not sure... this guys explains in details what could be an issue here.

@alaindexe You state there is reliability issues with the Starkrimson mono's, care to share? I haven't heard or read of any issues.

after reading a lot on the subject, I have come to certain conclusions:

- some amps using Pascal modules are considered among the best; in other words, it’s not just a matter of Gan-Fet technology, even if it seems to be the most promising one;

- since I bought my Belles Aria Integrated to avoid tubes, it would be illogical to go for a class D amp and add a tube preamp;

- some manufacturers seem to use Gan-Fet for marketing purposes rather than for its technical possibilities;

- there seems to be a reliability issue with the Starkrimson mono;

- if it’s possible to plug a DAC directly into a class D amp, why not add a passive preamp in order to have more than one source?

In other words, I haven’t made up my mind. I’m hesitating between buying an amp and a passive preamp or waiting for the arrival of a class D integrated that meets my expectations...

I am extremely satisfied with my system now, but thinking futuristically  I am entertaining the idea of pairing my Primaluna EVO 400 pre with a GanFet. It is currently tethered to an EVO 400 power amp with stellar results but, but, but... has any one tried this particular pre to GanFet combo yet?

The Primaluna pre is tethered to a Holo May Level 3 Kitsune dac which is tethered to a Jay's CDT3 Mk3 CD transport. The pre has balanced monobloc connections as well.

I have a Holo Audio Serene KTE preamp paired with class D, GanFet, AGD Audion Mkiii mono blocks.  This is the best combination I have heard in my system!  I understand it’s all about system synergy, so it takes time to get it right.  I listen to 90% traditional jazz and the creepy crawling details, treble, midbass and bass I hear with this combination, and no brightness is very impressive.  This is the first time I’ve owned a complete solid state setup that didn’t sound bright in the treble on many songs that I use for auditioning gear. The AGD amps have a lot to do with the smoothness of the treble.  

@atmasphere 

Ralph...I think you make a great point that there are still aspects of the electronics/hearing/brain interpretation barrier that we don't completely understand.

I suspect that it is the liveliness/thinness/detail conundrum that has people trying a lot of gear before they find that which suits their own personal tastes the best.

Again, thanks for your comments.

It would seem that while tubes have the preferred distortion ratios, their total distortion is higher than all solid state preamps.  So, what is it that is creating this preference and is this something that solid state preamps can "copy"?

@snapsc I think this is the same issue that has kept tubes alive in the power amplifier arena for so long. By comparison, the solid state preamps I've heard sound less lively and thinner than most tube preamps I've heard. I think this relates to distortion but I've done no measurements one way or the other to confirm this. However, tube preamps tend to be much lower distortion than tube power amplifiers. Solid state preamps tend to be even lower distortion; the 'measurement guys' will have you believe that distortion is so low as to be inaudible.

Tests we've done suggest otherwise until the distortion is below the total range of human hearing, which is about 120dB (so less than -120dB). That is my surmise; a lot more research has to be done in this area and I don't see anyone actually stepping up; the measurement guys say this was all solved 40 years ago yet clearly, it wasn't.

The result of that is tube preamps from 40 or more years ago still sound musical if properly refurbished but solid state preamps from that long ago don't get taken seriously. So I this is the best answer I can give, which is not at all definitive; belief and knowledge being two different things.

The Aric Audio Motherlode tube pream pairs superbly with my LSA GAN-FET amplifier.

For the pre-amp DAC strength, I am using a Naim NAC 272. They retailed for $7,200, but can be had used for about $2,100. Great SS device that doesn't run very warm.

I don't see Ralph using opamps for his preamps, so I really don't know what he is talking about.

Ralph, thank you for providing an answer...much appreciated. 

I have one follow up question then as relates to the idea of wanting/preferring the lowest distortion and the proper remaining distortion ratios to optimize the sound.  Many people have commented that the strongly prefer the sound they get when pairing a tube preamp with a solid state (and now even more so, class d) amplifier.  It would seem that while tubes have the preferred distortion ratios, their total distortion is higher than all solid state preamps.  So, what is it that is creating this preference and is this something that solid state preamps can "copy"?

then why isn't GanF also the future of preamps.

@snapsc The issue is technical. The issue is something called Gain Bandwidth Product, which is important in amplifier design, if that design is using feedback. With conventional solid state and tube amps, its very difficult to get enough Gain Bandwidth Product to do the job needed. Class D offers a method of getting around that problem- and that's why some of them are sounding very musical.

But in a preamp, you can use opamps, which have had the values of GBP for a long time. So while a class D GaNFET preamp could certainly be made, there's not nearly the incentive from a designer's point of view.

I own Ralph's Class Ds and pair them with his MP-3 preamp, a great match as you might imagine.

But out of all the other preamps I tried, the one I kept as a spare is the LTA MZ2, a steal at around US$1,100 used. Not only does it have the richness associated with the 6SN7, but the inner detail it reveals is amazing, probably because it's dead quiet. I tried it with a lot of amps and it shined with all of them. Highly recommended.

@dekay : I will get my cross-overs recaped before doing that...

@snapsc : good question... yes, I might use the Aria as a preamp for a while

@dht4me : thx but a battery powered preamp is not an option for me...

@jeffrey125 : thx but I need single ended (RCA) jacks input...

@ditusa : nice suggestion... thx...

@alaindexe Wrote:

 but I may consider a tube preamp after all... I live in Canada... 2K Canadian $ = 1,5K US $.

Maybe a Schiit Freya+ $1049 or Kara $699, from the Schiit site see below:

''Whisper-Silent Tube Stage—With Tube Shutdown

Now, you can enjoy a tube preamp without the hiss and hum of classic designs. Freya+ offers super-quiet tube modes with DC heaters and semi-circlotron, noise-cancelling output stages. Better yet, the tubes turn off when you’re not using them! That’s right, both the tube heater and high voltage rails go away when not in use, so you can preserve lifetime of costly tubes.'' 

Mike

SPL Phonitor 2. Neutrality is it strength and it is a studio pre/headphone amp so it has none of the Audiophile bs markups. Best pre/headphone amp I have ever owned and I have chased the audio dragon for many years. Get one from Sweetwater and give it a try. 

I built 3 Gan stereo amps from Gan Systems boards and a Starcrimson set of boards.

ASR had their typical reviews of Gan Amps which really has no listening / sound metrics. The Gan systems boards have the ability to turn off loop feedback and I preferred that vs the feedback even though it "technically" has a lesser spec.

I had several SS amps I owned at the time and sold all after getting the Gan amps. Gone are my Levinson 333, Burmester 956 and Telos 200. I kept 2, The Symphonic RG1 mk4 and a clone DartZeel.  

The Gan amps I have heard at shows as well as the ones I built all seem to have  a family sound. They have the atmospheric envelope that tubes get with low level detail clarity that tends to get lost with a lot of SS. The Gan amps are cool though, like a 6922 run with plenty of current vs the lushness of the 6sn7 octal tube family.

I have a DHT preamp based on the 201a which is not commercial but if I were going to get a commercial preamp for the Gan amps it would be a good 6SN7 based unit that has a bit of body. Dodd made awesome preamps w 6SN7's if you can find their Reference unit it is world class!

With your speakers and the clean lean Gan amp you are going to want a 6SN7 based preamp. If you had KEF's then a SS pre would be ok.

@alaindexe 

I purchased a Belles Aria Signature preamp (from Johnny at Audio Connections) and very pleased with it. Connected to my older Belles MB-200 mono amps.

Something I don't understand...if GanF is the future of amplifiers...for a variety of reasons including the ability to get distortion close to zero and higher order distortion in a proportion so as to not cause the sound to be harsh...then why isn't GanF also the future of preamps.

Now granted that class a preamps use very little energy...but still, why not GanF in order to get the "best" distortion profile?

As for the OP's question...it's going to come down to a matter of trial and error to get the amp/preamp  combo that result in the sound that is the most pleasing...to your ears, in your room, with your speakers....and since the Aria has a preamp out, your starting point could be to use it as a preamp for whatever amp you decide to try...you may decide you like it as a preamp and decide to keep it.

 

 

@r_f_sayles 

 

+1

I try and be helpful as possible and if I just can’t go along with the premises of the question, I’ll suggest something different. 

 

OK:

Why not try the Werner Jagusch crossovers then (improving the speakers first)?

Not much experience with the 17's, but used Vott's for 3 months decades ago and have listened to many 19's in both stock and modified form.

 

DeKay

 

No questions are inherently wrong. We start asking questions wherever we’re at and then we see what proves out. I come from an industrial design background, and in the ideation stages of development we just throw out ideas against the wall, to see what sticks, we work from a blank sheet of paper, or no paper at all, in the beginning. So all is fertile ground and we don’t close our minds to anything initially.

Ralph’s comment at the tail end of that SFAS interview that was recommended earlier in this thread, when he was doing Q&A. To his point, if you don’t get it right in the beginning of a sound system, you can never fix it at the end no matter what you do.

disclosure: I have now owned Ralph’s Atma-Sphere, MA-1s for probably the last twenty years and I have been sold on their philosophy and the OTL sound. I never thought I would come to this point but technologies has changed and I am now considering his GaN-Fet D class amplifiers to power my Classic Audio field-coiled T3s.

oh the times they are a changing

soix : I live in Canada... 2K Canadian $ = 1,5K US $. The reason I want a GaN-Fet amp is because almost every reviewer said that the mid is as good as a tube. Therefore, if I plug my DAC into the amplier, it should sounds that way... I've had a passive pream before and it was very transparent. I sold it because I lacked power when I listen to vinyl. But class D amps are so powerful that I should have plenty of power...
dekay : l doubt that those crossovers would make a huge difference. If I change them, it would be for Werner Jagusch Crossover
r_f_sayles : you are so right... I tend to ask for impossible things (like many of us), and even if people don't take all the criteria into account, it feeds my thoughts...

The tube preamp/class A recommendations come as a friendly guide to what ultimately will likely be a better sound compo. Sometimes in this hobby we ask the wrong question or believe we need to pursue a path that we don’t. A really good kit is a very complex group of choices. I feel, respectfully, that the ultimate sound is more important than the style of gear and if, at this concept level of questioning the op is willing to possibly expand their view, it will likely make them happier in the end. Of course all of us are free to follow whatever path we want, but when someone comes to a forum and asks for our opinion, you get what you get. I would side for a class A tubed preamp recommendation and have no other offering unfortunately. My apologies if this is not helpful or wanted.

The note about no tubes please was underlined, yet loads of tube amp recommendations. People will never learn… to read. 

I just talked to Wally at Underwood and he has an AUDIO GD Tube pre-amp for $2199...only 1 left in box...I'd grab it.

The GP crossovers (approx. $500/pair) are said to remedy what you dislike about the midrange (on some, not all, recordings I assume).

https://great-plains-audio.myshopify.com/collections/crossovers/products/n604-8c-crossover

 

DeKay

 

 

The Parasound is $1999.  A passive pre will not give you anything like the tube-like midrange that you seem to be looking for.

At your budget, and as @ghdprentice recommended earlier, you’re better off saving up $$$ to be able to purchase equipment that’s better able to achieve what you’re looking for.  Frankly, for what you’re looking for and at your budget I’d be looking at a hybrid integrated from the likes of Unison Unico, Pathos, LTA, etc.  The tubes don’t tend to get very hot in the pre section and have long lives.  Plus, you can obviously roll tubes until you find just the right match for your Altecs if needed/wanted.  FWIW. 

chenry : thx... very interresting reflexion about the future of tubes in audio...
riccitone : I never heard from SPL but it does sound promissing...
 
 
 
 
 

mbmi : I've checked Audio GD and it seems nice but about twice my budget

soix : thx, but they all are over my 2K budget...
orchardaudioatmasphere : would a passive preamp be a proper match ?

Solid state preamps that exhibit some of the smoothness and tonality of tubes tend to cost much more than your $2k budget, so I’d recommend buying used if you’re set on not sticking with your excellent Belles amp.  Here a some possibilities around your price target that skew to a more refined and smooth sound relative to cheaper solid state preamps.  FWIW, and best of luck.

https://www.usaudiomart.com/details/650024770-ayre-k1-xe/

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisb2c3c-audia-flight-pre-solid-state

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisb68fh-parasound-halo-jc-2-solid-state

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisb54ei-boulder-l5ae-stereo-preamplifier-l-5-ae-black-51123-solid-state

 

I found a Fabulous pre-amp for my Peachtree GaN 400 amp....The Audio GD HE1- SLR XE from Underwood Audio.....Synergy at it's best. Very Tube like sound because the pre has 10 tubes and it's own regenerative power supply.,..a $10 K value for 4K !

A very looked over -and still very much loved by me - pre is an SPL Elector. Balanced clarity, really preserves the signal, great stage, scale, depth. Just a smidge of warmth, but not in any way that arrests the tonal character of the presentation.

it doesn’t have a company remote, but will learn the signal from an Apple type remote with zero issues.

TMR usually has them at great prices. 
 

Review: https://v2.stereotimes.com/post/sound-performance-lab-spl-elector-preamp-performer-s800-amplifier-and-m1000-monos-by-terry-london/

Interesting that you’re looking into getting a Starkrimson, I was actually looking at maybe getting one for my SPL!

Still, so many great choices out there.

You might look at the Pro-Ject Pre Box RS2 Digital preamp. It offers dual DAC, a headphone amp and a selectable tube output stage. It has an I2S interconnect for use with the ProJect CD transport, but will work fine with any streamer or CD player.

The future for audio amplification is GaN FET and other flavors of successor generation "digital" topologies. Class A and tube amplification generally will become even more of a niche product area as the generation that brought those technologies back, mainly to high fidelity, leaves the market, which one way or another will happen. Tubes may sound lovely, but enough people need to be buying them to make their manufacture worthwhile. The Chinese domestic tube HiFi market will probably become the mainstay for market demand, as long as their government permits inefficient electrical goods to be sold under whatever decarbonization policies have effect there. If the Chinese leave the tube production industry, tubes are done. No worry, some clever engineers will find a way to recreate the tube effects in a digital topology for those who can't do without. 

To the OP: Peachtree has a couple of GaN amps, at least three now, two of which are standalone amps and the third an integrated. You didn't say what your requirements were or a budget, but the integrated they sell is $3K and has 200W power.