Review: Tube Research Labs Dude Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

This review is on the Dude tube preamp made by Paul and Brian Weitzel of Tube Research Labs (TRL). I purchased this preamp some 7 months ago direct from TRL which is how they market and sell them. The price is $3500. The unit has 5 tubes total with one 6sn7 tube per channel.

I am not a technical person and can only comment that the unit is very heavy, all point to point wired and contains a forest of caps the size of Red Bull and Coke cans!

The Dude also benefits from TRL’s newly designed power supply which is something very special indeed. It comes with two sets of outputs and three inputs – all RCA. I think Paul can work out XLR’s if you desire, but you would have to ask him. My unit has special wooden knobs which I prefer over his high quality gold ones.

The unit is turned on by a breaker switch on the back on the unit. The Dude does not incorporate any fuses, simply the breaker, for improved sound. The chassis is well built and solid in terms of fit and finish. While it is not eye candy, the Dude offers a simple attractiveness.

I must have over 700 hours on my unit by now and it is fully burned it. I have found this preamp responds very well to tube rolling. This review is based on the use of RCA 6sn7 GT’s ,VT231 with smoked glass. I picked up 6 of these for $130 on Ebay and just love them in the Dude. Paul likes Raytheon NOS’s, but I have not tried them as yet.

I like female vocals, Christian contemporary, jazz, piano and acoustic guitar instrumentals as well as some small ensemble Classical. You can also read my review of the TRL Samson amps for more information of my musical tastes.

As you have noticed I have owned and heard many great preamps over the years. The Dude has far outclassed each of them in virtually every important performance area. I particularly liked the Audio Horizons and Tube Distinctions preamps on my list. The Dude simply recreates real music in my home well beyond these other fine units.

The level of transparency is utterly shocking. Details and musical lines previously hidden now come alive and my music sounds brand new to me. I was amazed at all the instruments and notes I was missing in my recordings. What a revelation and joy to me as one into this hobby for 30 years.

Right now I am listening to solo acoustic guitar by Phil Keaggy and am consistently astounded with the additional pic, string and guitar body sounds completely hidden before. The sting plucks are so much more distinctive with every molecule of nuance presented to my senses. This is true at even the lowest of volumes on my system. Magic my friends and I mean magic!

I have never known any preamp to dig as deep, taunt and powerful in the bass region as the Dude. Bass has incredible impact, drive and articulation. Easily the best bass I have yet to encounter in a preamp. This tube preamp will shatter your preconceptions of tube preamp bass performance. Bass is no longer this vague sort of deep running tone, but rather a distinct and articulate portion of the whole performance.

Tonality is so beautiful and right. Not a hint of listener fatigue to be found. The massive amount of detail is delivered with exquisite beauty, body and soul. Don’t we all want that? The Dude does both in a way I felt was not even attainable. Tonality is vitally important to me. Voices have weight when they should. Like the guitar work nuances mentioned above the human voice is rendered absolutely and completely naked before you. You will hear aspects of your favorite vocalist you have never heard before. More air, more texture, more nuance, more personality – just amazing.

The Dude sets the stage big, wide and deep. First time I have heard stage depth so profoundly obvious. I now get a sense of what some reviewers mean by 3D! Life sized performance is a consistent attribute of the music flowing from this preamp.

I like to listen to very loud music at times. I like the live scale it gives the recording. The Dude is always in control and supremely poised. Nothing, no part of the audio spectrum is ever out of balance or forced. I hear a new standard of performance in terms of effortless, uncompressed music.

My system seems to have infinite room filling abilities. This is very, very important to me. Even at very loud settings music must flow not attack! The Dude is a complete gentleman in this regard.

Highs seem to have no ceiling or cap as they extend smoothly and without any hint of hardness. I am very sensitive to bright or hard highs and will quickly box up a unit if I hear a trace of it. Yikes! The Dude is a smooth operator and does so without robbing music of the precious detail and air we desire.

Well, I could go on much longer as the Dude is a revelation to me. It is the heart and soul of my current system and really makes everything sound so real and right.

I hope my words were able to convey what I experience with The Dude.

Have fun!

Associated gear
Please see my member system.

PBN Montana EPX custom speakers
TRL Modified Sony CD player/battery
TRL Samson amps
Audio Horizons cable
TRL Cables
Star Sound Sistrum stands
Echo Buster room treatments
SVS PB 12 Plus/2

Similar products
I have owned or had these preamps in my home system.

Audio Horizons TP2.1 fully loaded
Joule LA100 MKIII
Conrad Johnson LS16 V2
Thor 1000 MK2
Tom Evans Vibe
Supratek Cortese
Supratek Syrah
Audio Note m5
Wavac PR-X1
Rowland Concerto
Cary SLP98
Aesthetix Calypso
Tube Distinctions SoulMate
Placette passive
Wright Sound WLA 12A
Aloia 11.01
Belles 21A
Rogue 99
hi Grannyring,
sorry if i asked a stupid question. do you know the output impedance of DUDE? anyone? and what is the default gain that TRL made in dude? guess that's another stupid question.. anyway, thanks if anyone kind to answer.
Philipwu, you will need to ask Paul for that answer as only he knows. My Dude has 2 6sn7's per side for more gain, while stock they have one per side.

Paul can answer these questions. Paul is the owner/designer of the Dude.
I run three systems, and am searching out a third preamp to go along with my orig 'old-school' Dude and a custom-Audio Note pre. Am thinking a second Dude, or ramping it up and trying this apparently incredible SMC VRE-1c. Believe it or not, a dealer replaced his $95k Kondo M1000 with the VRE-1, said it was much better and it's solid state to boot!

Agear- thanks for the Dueland tip- I had a discussion with Paul about it after your post, and he said it is now 'mandatory' in his books as well for all new Dudes...

Granny- as for the Dude, I agree on the Dynamic front- I have several nice SET amps, and the one I prefer it with is actually the LOWEST powered of them all- a 2-watt type 45 tube. The Dude just seems to 'energize' it and make it ballsier than you would think it would be, yet retaining the refinement and naturalness- very cool... This is why part of me is thinking a second Dude as it is quite a good piece.

I picked up a TRL D225 solid state amp a few months back- it's sitting in a closet, but may have a use for it soon in a fourth system- have you heard Paul's Samson monoblocks at all? Would be interested in a user-based comparison of his newer SS gear (Samson's) versus the older stuff (D225)...
Very nice Sutts. Multiple systems is the way to go if possible. Another Dude would never hurt.....
I have owned the Samson amps, the D225 amp and a TRL integrated amp based on the D225 amp and passive volume. I have a pretty good handle on the sound of these amps.

They are all cut from the same sonic cloth. Big, bold and dymanic sound. Power and ease coupled with great imaging and tone. The Samson monoblock amps have an improved power supply and simply are a little more of every great thing already present in the D225. Better dynamics and sense of ease even at very loud volumes.

If I were to own a SS amp, it would be the Samson's. I am a tube guy at heart and will someday own a TRL tube amp.