Tube Preamp --> Solid State Amp

I had an interesting conversation with my audio dealer today.  I was demoing the Focal Supra 3s and he shared his opinion/preference that he likes to choose a quality TUBE preamp (ex: McInstosh D1100) paired with a SOLID STATE amp (ex: Michi X5 integrated, McIntosh MC312 power amp etc).   Not sure if there are any schools of thought promoting or perhaps indifferent to this approach but wanted to get some thoughts?

Specifically for me, I just bought a Michi X5 (integrated amp) and am picking up some Focal Sopra 3s.  I have toyed with the idea of dropping in a tube preamp to soften/warm up the sound prior to the X5 giving it that 600w of punch @ 4Ohms but don't want to throw money away.  

I will say this, when I demoed the Focal Supra 3s, I did so on McIntosh tube preamp and McIntosh  SS Amp, and then switched immediately via a button on the McIntosh premap but using the McIntosh 275 TUBE amp.  The 275 added so much softness and warmth that the Focals almost felt muted.  It was about the best A/B comparison I've ever done. 

I know this has a lot to do with speaker pairing but was just curious anyone's thoughts on tube vs SS for separates? 


For long time, many have promoted the classic audiophile "hack" to combine tube sound with greater power & slam via a tube preamp paired to SS power amp. However, there are caveats to this approach!

  • Impedance mismatch is much more likely here than with the reverse (SS pre into tube power). Some tube preamps will start to perform very poorly into tough loads.
  • Tube preamps can sometimes have too much gain, or otherwise prove problematic for noise & microphonics (usually because of the high gain)
  • Tube preamp designs often choose poor tubes for the job - e.g. 12AX7, 12AU7 - ugh.
  • If you have a capacitor coupled tube pre into a DC coupled SS amp, and the caps fail or start to leak DC, it can damage your speakers. With a tube amp, the output transformers can provide good protection to you speakers.
  • I feel you really get more of the "tube" sound from a power amp than preamp.

However, if you select carefully - yes a tube pre and SS power can give very good results indeed! But really the primary determinant should be based on the speakers - some prefer either SS amps, or tube amps. Other speakers can thrive with either. Make the amp-speaker determination first, THEN move upstream to preamp choice.

I have personally heard Sopra 3’s sounding great with VAC tube amp & tube preamp btw - nice speakers!

I had a McIntosh C2600 tube pre and MC302 SS amp and frankly that combination reignited my passion for music listening. 


You can run the output from a tube preamp into one of the integrated amp inputs. As noted in a previous post, you don't want a preamp with high gain. In any case, you would experiment with combinations of the two volume controls to find the best sound.

My audiophile quests ended with a Van Alstine Transcendence RB preamp into a FirstWatt F7 power amp, into Focal Aria speakers. Best accuracy plus musicality I ever found.

If presumably you bought the X5 from this same dealer and like it you could always trade it in for the Michi amp and get a tube pre to put in front of it. A much more expensive option of course!

Since you have made an investment, I recommend you stop and enjoy what you have puchased. It takes stuff hundreds of hours to break in and sound like they… well, will.


you now have a “reference system”. One you can listen to and understand the sound quality. Typically I will listen for a while and then reposition the speakers to make them sound as good as they can over several months. Then, knowing the sound of your system you are ready to listen to alternative options. 

Not all tube stuff is warm and soft and not all so,I’d state is colder and more analytic. So, it is more important to do some auditioning to find a. Sound you are really drawn to.


For me in particular, I finally was able to afford a good quality tube preamp about thirty years ago… I paired it with a solid state amp because my speakers required massive current. But a few years ago I finally could afford a tube amp and finally tried one… wow, never going back… this is a high end tube amp… unreal what it did. Wish I did it much earlier. But this is my journey.


What is important is you identify what you want (go listen to other systems)… then move that way through careful choices.