Tube preamp options

My system from the preamp on consists of a rouge rp-7, rogue m180 monoblocks, and vandersteen quatro wood speakers. My main source is a brinkmann Bardo through a Rogers PA-2 phono pre. It all sounds great. But there's that itch, you know? I get tremendous soundstage but not that much depth. Clarity is great, mids are nice, bass is excellent. But it doesn't quite have that in the room sound that I'm looking for. The RP7 sounded too solid state and analytical for me out of the box with the stock JJ tubes so I've done extensive rolling. Been through all sorts of NOS tubes and landed on amperex as they seem to have the best balance of warmth and clarity. My thought is, maybe I can find a pre that has those attributes out of the gate without all the rolling. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of being able to tailor the sound with trying different tubes but I feel like maybe there's a brand out there who's house sound I like better. I haven't listened to anything more yet but brands that are on the list to check out are Backert labs, maybe a used ARC Ref 6, VTL, VAC. There are a million little boutique brands tho and I'm asking what people have heard in the 10k price range, new or used, that might be a good fit for me and why. 



Check out the VAC Renaissance MK V. Runs around 10K w/out phono. Or for less because I'm a prejudiced Fanboy  The Luxman CL-38UC an all tube preamp w/tone controls and a built in three tube phono w/four step up transformers. Great Retro look.Around $6300.

Backert, VAC, ARC Ref6 all are worthy contenders. I'd search hard regarding VTL service issues before considering. 

ARC is known for synergy with Vandersteen...a proven winning combo for many. IMHO this is partially because the Vandy adjustability allows tailoring that may offset the ARC erring towards the drier, more clinical SS end of the spectrum vs. the others mentioned. 

VAC Ren V w/phono is what I recently purchased, vs. BAT previously. I'm experimenting with tube rolling on the phono side, but happy with the vintage Amperex Orange Globes that came with mine on the line stage side. IMHE, both the BAT & VAC are tonally a bit warmer, fuller than the ARCs I've heard including the Ref 5 and earlier, but not the 6. 

The Backert is also fantastic and perhaps tonally between those others, with tremendous rhythmic drive and plenty of air on topic. They are single-ended designs, so if running a balanced amp, there's a disadvantage there.

OTOH, As a longtime friend of the Backert team, I can attest to their knowledge and experience is far greater than some might assume with a relatively newer company vs. these other legends under discussion. There products are so good that local audio club members in their area have flocked to own the preamps after hearing them in many friends' systems over many pricier competitors at a rate I've never seen of any other audio product. 

You've got options! Cheers,


I wanted the same thing and got a 6SN7 based pre and love it. Take a listen to deHavilland (hard to find) or Don Sachs (sometimes used) or Aric Audio as possible options. Aric writes right back and will custom make things. 

One other consideration is your room. I have done a lot of experimenting to get soundstage depth and room factors play a large part. You might search within this forum or elsewhere for replies to this question.

@sbank thanks for your thoughtful info. You may know something I don't know about the backert. I think my long term goal is to replace my m180s with the vandersteen bespoke amplifiers. I've heard they are absolutely unbeatable but they are balanced. Looking at the backert products, they have balanced in and out so I thought they were balanced units. Is that false? Did they jerryrig the circuitry to add balanced I/O to an unbalanced design? 

Also ony list but it's impossible to find to listen to would be the Brinkmann Marconi. I've been extremely impressed with the TT and wonder if the electronics are of the same caliber.



Well below your budget and even less if you buy direct, the Herron VTSP-360 is excellent.

If you find my wallet down that rabbit hole, would you send it back to me? 🤣

@rmdmoore "jerryrig" is a harsh term, but you are correct in that XLR connectors don't imply a true balanced design, and that's not the case here. @big_greg would know, but I thought the Herron also is not balanced. 

Our mutual friend, @tomic601, recently got the Vandy amps, he might chime in,  although he hasn't been here recently. I've never had the pleasure to hear them, but I'd never doubt RichardV.'s work. Cheers,


OP - Spencer is right, i don’t post much here anymore…but your thread interests me beyond the Vandersteen aspects…

ALL of the preamps so far mentioned have or are capable of significant soundstage depth… It has been a bit but i don’t remember the RP7 being deficient in that parameter… it’s no REF6 but it can’t be given $ constraints….

On fully balanced from input to output vs having balanced inputs and outputs..obviously fully balanced is more expensive to implement properly and i certainly wouldn’t use it as a filter to choose a competent high end component.

Both the Vandy amplifiers, M5 and M7 do use a balanced input…BUT…. are very inovative downstream of that and as you know designed to excell w time and phase correct powered bass Vandy speakers. I could list the ten or so circut or other details…. but you can find those on the Vandy site. I have had the M7 amplifiers w ARC Ref5se for many years. I have heard the M5 amps at length, obviously excellent w Quattro.

You might consider joining the Vandy owners forum. Richard might weigh in on extracting more image depth and “ there “ out of your setup. I have setup a few pair of Quattro….they are capable of much….

Finally…i might counsel you to wait a few months for…the Vandy preamp…rest assured the design goal is to better the REF6, which IMO is no small feat…..

I have one on order…unheard….

maybe that’s the true definition of fanboy trust :-))))

oh…i forgot to mention Brinkmann. Brinkmann and Vandy pair fantastically- Helmut and Richard typically show together at the Munich Audio show… I have a Bardo / Triplaner / Lyra Delos on HRS base. I have heard some of the electronics in Mk I trim but not the newer Mk2…. i would put them on my audition list for DAC and Phono….

Best to you Jim 

@sbank thx for the mention…i have been slow to engage here after fishing season…. rocking out w Continental Devide….. perfect LA band…..

and i have a Herron phono…. Keith is a great dude - super gear…definitely neutral…. no rose colored orchestra there…..

@tomic601 thanks so much for weighing in. Your I put is valuable as we seem to already have arrived at some similar solutions. It would seem we are interested in some of the same things. I had an ARC Ref3 in my styem for a couple weeks and didnt think it was better than what I had but I admit, it's an older piece and would expect a Ref6 to be much better. While I'm interested in ARC I also find them to be on the very high end cost wise. I understand that going up from where I am the cost/benefit ratio will change but it's still in my mind. 

The idea of a Vandy preamp is intriguing. I wonder if it will be tubed or not. I'm not going to purchase for some months but living where I do I need to make plans to go hear all this stuff and that will likely take some trips to NYC and maybe the great white north. I also appreciate you're comment on the Brinkmann. I've been in touch with the distributor and he's willing to have me to his house to take a listen. I might need to take him up on that. 



and in particular from the acoustic lens which is equidistant from midrange and tweeter… there is a reason the Quattro is a minimum front baffle and deep cabinet… again, great topics for the Vandy forum where there are many Quattro owners…

Glad to help Russ. The R core and caps in the Ref5 se and up don’t come cheap…

At the level you are playing at or aspire to…i would suggest isolation on phono and preamps, i run HRS under my ARC and it makes a big difference… Also IF you go ARC get a NOS TungSol 6550 in the power supply. 

What cartridge and phono and TT isolation are you using ? A preamp isnt going to retrieve micro detail and spatial information that is lost or obscured by noise.

I would definitely take the Brinkmann rep up on the offer. Every listening experience with gear at this level is a discernment building experience ;-)


As usual, @tomic601 , gives sound advice, and +1 on joining the Vandy forum.

My 2 cents-

1.Get the new Vandy Preamp  and be done with it.(I think it is all SS, but don't quote me).

2. Find an Ayre KXR (preferrably Twenty, but the non-Twenty is might good).Though I don't know how it interacts with the Rogue, as I have the matching MXR's.

I own both the KXR (non -Twenty) and the Atmasphere MP-1 (essentially stock), and, to be honest, they are pretty darned close in sound reproduction. So, if you are intent on tubes, that might be another option. But, to my ears, the Arye seems a bit 'tighter' than the Atma. 




Finally…i might counsel you to wait a few months for…the Vandy preamp…rest assured the design goal is to better the REF6, which IMO is no small feat…..

Is Vandersteen going the tube route or is the design a transistor circuit? This seems an ambitious (Surpass the ARC Reference 6SE performance) and serious effort. I wish them well.


i think what might be more illustrative is to look at the Vandersteen amplifiers for potential clues… The M7 is all out hybrid tube and SS outputs with a SE quasi ciirclotron   typology with liquid cooling for perfect bias, no emiter resistors….built in HRS style isolation in a novel hanging truss…. the list is longer…. 

The ( much ) more affordable M5’s are all SS but have similar architecture. I believe the first preamp will be intended to mate w M5 level gear. I expect Richard will build a mate for the M7…..eventually…. i am in line and will evaluate it in 2 systems using Vandersteen amps and speakers. Finally for US audio shows, Vandy often pairs w ARC and many Vandy dealers carry both…. customer choice will be enhanced in most cases…how wonderful 

best to all


it is a very serious effort…i believe the production level prototype weighs about 30# and has 12 regulated supplies…. but don’t quote me… ha.

IF you have been to a Vandersteen seminar at dealers, he has been talking about it a bit…. There are 3 events scheduled in the midwest next week…usa.


Thanks for your further thoughts. My Bardo is on an HRS isolation platform but I can't say I have a tremendous amount of isolation downstream. I have nothing on the tonearm which is a brinkmann 10.5 or cartridge which is a Mike Trei installed ortofon cadenza black. I got the unit from stereo exchange and Trei had set it up for them. On my phono pre which is a Rogers Hi Fi PA-2, I took off the stock feet and put some Herbie's audio lab tenderfeet. I also have some Herbie's super sonic stabilizers on top of it. Tube dampers on all the gain tubes. I have no isolation under the preamp. I did put some 3" granite slabs undery quatros at RVs suggestion. Maybe an HRS platform under each of the other components is a good next move. 

@soix my speakers are about 30"inches from the front wall. I spent a fair bit of time talking to John Rutan at Audio Connection about speaker placement. Like I said, my soundstage is wide and focused with nearly no toe in but very little depth.

@gdnrbob thanks for the thoughts. Going all Vandersteen might be the ticket. We'll see. I've looked at the Atma stuff and it's all balanced which is great but would mean I'd need a different phono stage and I really like mine. Haven't looked closely at Ayre but will check it out! 

OK as mot of you know we are manufacturers of tube audio products. Point-to-point wired using the best parts. Most of the suggestions above are safe choices but all have advantages and disadvantages meaning they are all built to a price point.. Depending on your price point We could send you something to hear or my recommendation would be to buy a used Counterpoint SA-3000 and send it to us for a complete upgrade. We just finished one and it was really killer. Customer transformer, audio note resistors and capacitors, nichicon capacitors, V-Caps, etc. This is as close as you will get to reference sound without spending that much.

We have a listening room in Northern New Jersey with Sonus Faber, Vivid, Horning, Vandersteen Sevens and 5As so we can to hear many options and how they interact. We also repair and modify components so we get to hear more gear than most of you have ever heard in a your system in 20-30 years.

Plus we can build you a preamp to what ever tube or specifications you prefer.


Happy Listening,



As usual, @tomic601 , gives sound advice, and +1 on joining the Vandy forum.

+1 and nice pun on “sound advice” Bob… that is a good job on a Sunday.

The local book shop sells LPs as well as books and cards. Yesterday (Saturday) on the TT was “Best of the Smiths” playing. And the Australian Author Di Morrissey’s new book “The High Tide” was on display.

I picked up the book, and asked is this the Morrissey that is playing on the TT?
The shop attendant started out saying, “No it is the Smiths”, and then paused… and said, “we need to close soon.”
The Mrs bought a couple of things.


I've looked at the Atma stuff and it's all balanced which is great but would mean I'd need a different phono stage and I really like mine.

I am not sure that is 100% a certainly… The cartridge can feed out as balanced or wired to be single ended.
I am pretty sure that it is possible to bring in the RCA into a balanced preamp with a custom made cable. (I have done it.)

Sonically it did not seem to be vastly different.

It is probably a good time to get @atmasphere to opine on the phono and preamp…

I have the Woo Audio WA33. Great sounding for me. Don't overlook good room acoustics to improve your sound. I put $3500 of sound treatment into mine.

@soix my speakers are about 30"inches from the front wall. I spent a fair bit of time talking to John Rutan at Audio Connection about speaker placement. Like I said, my soundstage is wide and focused with nearly no toe in but very little depth

Is that 30” from the front of the speakers or the back?  My suggestion would be to try pulling the front of the speakers out at least 48” from the wall and see what happens.   My guess is you’ll hear much better depth and an overall improvement, and then keep experimenting from there.  The fronts of my speakers are about 6’ from the wall, just for reference.  There’s nothing about your system I can see that should limit depth other than speaker placement, FWIW. 

@big_greg would know, but I thought the Herron also is not balanced. 

If there was a want/need for fully balanced, I missed it. All of the Herron gear is single-ended.

Yes, do yourself a favor and steer clear of VTL.   More like VTHell....    worst customer service on the planet.   

Get a Schiit Freya + and cut through the fog of overpriced and often inferior preamps. Go Stereophile "Class A" and save thousands, or simply sink into the abyss of expectation bias...your choice.

Unbelievable no one has mentioned conrad-johnson. You. Cannot go wrong. Brilliant quality and the best tube sound; several price points. 

If you want depth, a Jadis JP80MC will deliver. There's a slim chance you would find one secondhand for your budget, but you potentially could also eliminate your phono stage as the Jadis phono stage is superb.

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I recently compared a Benchmark pre amp to my Aric Audio Motherload 2. I wanted to try the quietest lowest distortion pre amp out there. The Aric was just as quiet and transparent, but gave a very likable tube coloration. It also gave a more spacious sound. Aric is great to deal with and both of the components I have of his are fantastic!


Having had the RP7 and Rogue Stereo 100 amplifier and other Rogue amplification products I suggest the issues you are hearing are not with the preamp.  

My RP7 with well burned in stock tubes was dark, lush and had a huge sound stage.  Not solid state at all.   Actually it was not transparent enough to my liking and too burnished and rounded.  The JJs are supplied with McIntosh tube gear and are notorious for taking hundreds of hours to burn in.  

Have you tube rolled in the M180s?  

Do try to find some Amperex 12AX7s.  Those are the ticket for a huge sound stage.  Expensive but worth it.  

As for preamps I eventually landed on a Cary Audio SLP 05 and the sound is exceptional.  


@avanti1960 thanks for your thoughts. Your experience with the RP-7 is interesting and vastly different from mine. As I mentioned, I've done extensive tube rolling in the pre and have also done so in my amps. I have a an NOS Telefunken in the 12ax7 position and rca cleartops in the 12au7 slots. Additionally, since my speakers have a built in sub and didn't need all the power from the KT120s and after speaking with Mark at Rogue, I switched to JJ KT88s. I really like the slightly warmer sound they provided without losing clarity. 

Im sure I can track down a pair of amperex 12ax7 from Jesse but am a bit surprised you think that's where the money might be.

Thanks everyone for all the feedback! It's giving me a lot to think about! Keep it coming! 

There is a reason ARC is known for pre-amps and has been since the 1970's.  At least try one out.  If you don't like it, try something else.


As is often the case, this has drifted away from the original question. TUBE PREAMPLIFIERS, I believe was the query.

While it is nice to see everyone here can afford $20K SS preamps, I have gone a different way.

I'm using a Primaluna Dialogue Premium preamplifier with NOS 12AU7 tubes (two original Mullards and 4 RCA Cleartops). This is currently connected to an NAD M23 SS amplifier, although I have tried this combo with 3 other SS amplifiers, including a PassLabs.

The tube pre with SS amp has been a wonderful success. The sound quality is quite impressive, with the very clean, smooth tube sound pushing the tight, punchy SS amplifier.

And this entire pairing can be had for much less than $10K. Plus, I get to tube roll the preamp to tweak the sound for various speakers I have.


Audio-gd Vacuum HE1 XLR Tube Preamplifier Review -           I bought this 10 tube preamp on the recommendation of the knowledgeable Walter Leiberman......This baby is a Monster to say the least. Being compared to preamps 10 x and more in cost. Read the above review. I think this is the best value in Hi Fi today. All for 4K.....Talk about punching above it's price point. It even has it's own Regenerative Power Supply that takes house current and changes it , then sends that new better current to the preamp...( similar to the PS Audio Power Plant.) 

@skucie  It is a simple question, but as often the case there is not a simple answer. I think the 6SE is stellar feeding tube amps. But I am using pair of AGD Tempo to bi-amp (GaN output D). They are very detailed and smooth amps, really lovely. But the 6SE was a bit too hard sounding in the midrange with these amps. In addition I was having a gain problem: too much of it. So the short answer is, yes, for my system the Backert Rhythm with a pair of 12sn7's on adapters is a better solution. I have to give a shout out to Dr. Vinyl in Middle River, MD, for suggesting and providing this preamp and these tubes. He is very knowledgeable and helpful, and an all-around great guy.

@markmuse......I'm using the Audio-gd with a Peachtree GANFET 400 and it's Just Glorious with Class D Gallium Nitride amps. The 10 tubes and Regenerative Power supply will really make those Delicious AGD Tempo's sing beautiful melodies.

I went from an RP-7 to a Cary SLP05.  Love what it did.   You might want to consider adding to your list.  

If you feel you have your speakers set up optimally your system may benefit from a different preamp--it can be a game changer. If you are confident you are going to need balanced outs at some point then skip to the next post. If not, I would suggest you try the Herron VTSP-360/Reference linestage. It is pure magic. Given the power demands of your speakers a pair of Herron monoblocks, with the 360, may get you where you want to go. I've also heard good things about the Backart Labs so also worth exploring.


Cary is on the list though I didn't mention it. What in particular do you like better? 

I am not sure that is 100% a certainly… The cartridge can feed out as balanced or wired to be single ended.
I am pretty sure that it is possible to bring in the RCA into a balanced preamp with a custom made cable. (I have done it.)

Sonically it did not seem to be vastly different.

It is probably a good time to get @atmasphere to opine on the phono and preamp…

Cartridges are balanced sources; when you run them single-ended but you wind up with that weird ground wire no other single-ended source seems to need. The advantage of running balanced is lower noise presented to the phono section at its input and less 'sound' (artifact) from the tonearm cable itself- balanced operation is more neutral.

You can run an RCA into a balanced preamp, but in the case of a turntable why do it? -unless your tonearm has continuous wire from the cartridge to the output connectors. Usually its a simple matter of just changing out the tonearm interconnect cable.      Balanced to unbalanced and unbalanced to balanced.....much better than the cable.....recommended by Leo at Orchard Audio.  Works Great. I have 2.