Which would you choose for good sounding tube preamp for an audiophile new to tubes.

I need your help guys. I would like to add a tube preamp to pair with my reference 200.2 B&K amplifier. My speakers are large ADS L1590 towers ( 90 DB efficiency rating). They were a flagship back in the day. I have had them restored by an ads tech. I am l looking at  a QUICKSILVER LINESTAGE LS PREAMPLIFIER, VTL 5.5 preamplifier, and a Sonic Frontiers SFL-1. All are currently used and on audiomart or audiogon. The Sonic Frontiers is for sale on hi-fi heaven. I purchased from them before and they check out the equipment that is preowned. My system is a little bright and dynamic sounding using the sonata B&K preamp. (There best at the time). I am looking for a little warmth in the sound and no harshness. I want some slam and afraid I will lose it if I go with tubes.  I have had success buying certain units because of the knowledge dispensed through this forum I am a member of Audiogon in good standing. Any help would be great. I appreciate the feedback. 


I owned a 1990’s Tubed CD Player… was warm but completely lacking in details. I can’t help but thinking an ancient preamp would sound similar. The VTL is equally old. The 1990’s tube equipment tended to be really warm but lacking in detail. Therefore, I am thinking look towards the Quicksilver.

Absolutely the Quicksilver.   I have a Sonic Frontiers SFL 1 and it is a great preamp but it was built in 1994.    Some have had extensive mods through Parts Connexion and they still repair them so it's not a bad choice.  The reason I say Quicksilver is because their stuff is all point to point wired.   Plus it's built like a tank.   

I have had Quicksilver Mid Monos since '15 and they have been rock-solid reliable.   I have their headphone amp, also huge bang for the buck.

#1  Quicksilver 

#2 SFL 1 , you could do a lot worse.  Also built like a tank 



Be careful to impedance match a SS amp and tube preamp. Tube preamps typically have higher output impedance than SS which could raise distortion levels if SS amp has lower input impedance. Amps with only 10kohm input impedance may not be a good match. 40kohm or higher amp input impedance is better. 100kohm or higher input impedance is not uncommon with amps designed to work well with most tube preamps. Not just any amp will do no matter how good otherwise. Some SS amps are designed for use with tube preamps and many others are not. I see that amp input impedance spec is 33.2 kohm. Not likely designed for general use with tube preamps but might be OK. You’d have to try and maybe compare to others to know how well it works. If it were me I would probably lean towards sticking with a good SS preamp with that amp. Value of adding tubes will be compromised if components do not integrate well no matter how good either piece may be.  Synergy between components is the key to great as opposed to ok sound. 

I used to have a B&K 2220 (and other B&Ks) that I ran with a 1990s Conrad Johnson preamp and a newer Jolida tube preamp and it sounded great with both I thought, but the newer Jolida was better and they are pretty cheap. I also ran a Classe' solid state preamp with it and I preferred the tube preamps with the B&K amps. I grew up with B&K power amps, I really like them.

I thought the music sounded 'fuller' with a tube preamp and it slams just as hard but more musically, imo. I like the tube preamp SS power amp setup. Good luck! 

The impedance mismatch between a tube preamp and solid state preamp can be very real. If you look closely at all the audio research tube preamps for example they usually don't match well with solid state amplifiers regarding minimum input impedance. For that reason on a whim I tried the PS audio BHK preamp which has a robust low impedance solid state output and a tube input stage and I'm really happy with that choice. I think this preamp is out of your price range but I would be hesitant to match a tube preamp with a solid state amplifier unless you met the impedance specifications of both components.

The reason I say Quicksilver is because their stuff is all point to point wired.

Not the LINESTAGE preamp.



Sorry, their amps are all P2P.   Still a good pre.  

I agree! I have the Silver Sixty mono blocks 20 years.


I owned a 1990’s Tubed CD Player… was warm but completely lacking in details. I can’t help but thinking an ancient preamp would sound similar. The VTL is equally old. The 1990’s tube equipment tended to be really warm but lacking in detail. Therefore, I am thinking look towards the Quicksilver.

I used a 1999 Audible Illusions Modulus preamp till just recently, and it seemed pretty adequate.

What is the OPs budget?

(S)/He mentioned “slam” and the tube amps I have used seem to do pretty good in that regard.
There is no obvious reason that a SS amp would be better “slam”, unless we are talking about a 5W SET versus a 400W monoblock. But the 80-100W push/pull monoblock tube units seems to keep up OK.

I’ve been using QS gear for years. That LS has a low output impedance and it will be fine with any amp. The gain is on the high side (18db). It is a no frills preamp with no balance or mono feature. If you don’t need those features then I doubt you would go wrong with the QS!




Bandwidth 0.1 Hz to 100 KHz +0,-3db
IM Distortion less than 0.08% at 1v output
Harmonic Distortion less than 0.08% at 1v output from 10 Hz to 40 KHz
Gain 18 db
Input Impedance 100 Kohm, 20 Hz-20 KHz
Output Impedance 100 ohms, 20 Hz-20 KHz
Output Polarity inverted
Maximum Input 30 volts RMS, 20 Hz-20 KHz
Maximum Output 60 volts RMS, 20 Hz-20 KHz
Noise 20 microvolts RMS residual IHF weighted noise output with gain control at minimum
Tube Complement 2-12AT7
Dimensions 3″H, 9 1/2″D, 15″W
Front Panel 3 1/4″H, 17″W
Weight 12 lbs.
U.S. Warranty 3 years parts and labor
Tubes 90 days

whats ur budget?

ok, for under a grand:

above all, audio by van alstine transcendence 10 RB also known as T10. get it from frank van alstine for a grand, or get it used. fantastic headphone feature. i think theres one on fleabay fight now that the guy keeps relisting. you can prolly get it for a fair price. itll drive ur amp just fine. quality at this price point is off the chain. add a fantastic phono stage for $379 avahifi.com 

bottlehead moreplay or foreplay. everyone loves it. comes as a kit new but very budget used.  high output impedance by modern standards. dunno what amp to pair it with, but everyone likes this. i reckon will want an amp with very high input impedance, tho i dunno how much.

rogue audio. folks really dig the rogue audio tube preamps

used gear under $1000:

the clasic: a restored dynaco pas-3 or 3x. unmodded its a lil noisy, and youll need an amp with at least 100k in put impedance. a cheapo is adcom gfa 535. the good one is only gra-535. 

scott and fisher got some great tube pres with good phono sections. 

quicksilver but i cant remember the name Audible Illusions Modulus, but i think its hybrid.

Anthem PRE 1L right now on fleabay. IIRC these are "warm but good." 

bottlehead moreplay/fureplay

best of luck!

after rereading ur post, i suggest  audio by van alstine fet valve preamp. wont sound very tubey. the Transcendence 10 sounds a lil tubier. 

i have the fet valve RB, which has no features. nothing. just volume and selector. i dont really care about features, and oneof my other preamps has a bajillion in case i need any or feel like usin some. 


a used conrad johnson PV8 or PV5 will give u classic, elegant tube sound. i have the 8, which is the odel that replaced the 5. the 8 is $1200, and the 5 usually goes for a little bit more. its the more desirable model and the more classic sound, tho the 8 is an upgrade in performance, noise, etc. now, it aint  a vintage tube sound but certainly a high class classic tube sound. 

erhard audio makes kickass tube preamps as well. 

I’ve had a lot of luck with the Icon Audio gear. Currently using an LA 4 in one system. They don’t get a lot of attention here and I’m not certain why. I would make certain whatever you get is tube rectified. I’m generally of the impression that a tube amp with SS rectification is more SS than tube - you are listening to wall power after all. Impedance needs to be considered as others have pointed out. Finally, with 90db sensitivity, I imagine you don’t need a lot of gain. Most preamps have too much gain in my opinion. Just like final amps, tube gain is not in the same category as SS gain - for reasons I’ll never understand. 9bd gain in a tube preamp should get you there. 

This is an easy one for me,... I had a SFL-1 for many years. It's a wonderful lineatage that mated & player extremely well with w/pretty much every amp I threw at it. I ran TAD, Hibachi monos, Perreaux & Classe' amps & it was (is) a very nice piece. I upgraded later to a Manley, Shrimp and that became the new high water mark in my kit. It's without a doubt among the best linestages you can grab under $2K - they are $4500 new today for the Jumbo Shrimp (remote) & couple other perceived upgrades. Tried many tubes and settled on vintage Mullards in the output slots. Glowing reviews all over the net so you can search it out but, I'd recommend finding a Manley Shrimp. They show up used every now and then. It took a $5K preamp falling in my lap to move me off the Manley. As a matter of fact, there are several things about the Shrimp I prefer over my current linestage. Can't go wrong with Manley products in general. Just my opinion. 

Well I would think hard about the sonic frontier mainly because of  parts connection.  If you need anything  Chris Johnson  that owns parts connection used to own sonic frontier  and will look after any problems or needs you have. Excellent  service. Now on sonic frontier  if you could find a two instead of a one series  for a good price that would be neat. I have a friend with that one series lre and it is nice for sure. Also you might look for an older canary preamp as well. High quality  made in California  and highly underrated  never had any press in North America.  Either  make I am sure you will be getting  a quality  piece. 


Depending on n your budget, Audio Research makes great great tube preamps, and amps!

Maybe a Refrence 3? Maybe a Reference 5?

If OP's budget were in the ARC Reference range, he would already have bought it and not bothered asking the question. And he wouldn't be pairing it with that amp!

The use of a tube line stage into a solid state amp is sometimes an unpredictable hit or miss gamble.  Even if the output impedance of the tube line stage is low enough, or the input impedance of the amp is high enough for a theoretical match (e.g., amp impedance is at least ten times the output impedance of the line stage), the sonic result may not be that good.  This is not a common event, but, it is a risk.  I've heard several occasions when there was such an incompatibility resulting in a dull, lifeless and muffled sound.  

Also, to really get the benefit of what tubes can do for the sound, one should really start with a tube integrated amp or a tube power amplifier.  It is in the actual driving of the speaker that the benefits of tubes really become evident.  But, it is also where you can run into problems with the sound.  I would start with looking for the right tube amp, not the right tube line stage first, to get into tube sound.

I have the VTL 6.5 Series II.  I’m just responding to the fellow who said their service was awful.  I’ve texted Bea Lam at VTL twice in the last year and she responded both times with great advice.  So my experience with them makes me recommend them.  The 6.5 is a different beast altogether than what you are looking at so I’ll hold any comments.

Sorry but VTL service is real bad.  You are lucky to have had a response.  Hey , it’s great sounding gear , I’ve said that many times. But if you bought it second hand don’t expect them to help you , especially if it’s older.  They are not like McIntosh, CJ, ARC , those companies always try to restore and repair legacy products 

Odds are you’ll never need service , that’s an excellent preamp .  But they are legendary for poor customer service.  

I am looking for a little warmth in the sound and no harshness. I want some slam and afraid I will lose it if I go with tubes.

@arichison Lose the fear. The only thing you have to look out for is to make sure that at 20Hz, the output impedance of the preamp is less than 1/10th the input impedance of the power amp.

As an example, if the amplifier has an input impedance of 50kOhms, the preamp must have an output impedance not exceed 5kOhms at 20Hz. If you don't see that spec published, simply ask the manufacturer. If they can't supply it move on.

@ditusa said, I think, that the Quicksilver is not point to point wired.

I have a Quicksilver. I love it. Happy to chat on message with OP if desired. It is point to point wired. Here is the inside.


@hilde45 --

@ditusa said, I think, that the Quicksilver is not point to point wired.

I said not the LINESTAGE preamp. I have the Quicksilver Silver Sixty mono blocks great amps 20 years no issues.😁




I would purchase the used Quickie. If it doesn’t meet your goals you can resale it for little loss. 

No mention of the Van Alstine FET Valve CF?  The OP is a tube novice and the AVA is a very good affordable choice. 

I have heard some really great reviews on a Giant Killer Preamp by DOGE Audio that I’m interested in. I know have a MAGUS MFA A2 tube preamp that’s amazing!

Of the trio mentioned I would probably go for the Quicksilver I say that knowing none of the technical specs like impedance. Sonic Frontiers sounds pretty SS and VTL is pretty good sounding gear but like @oddiofyl I have heard horror stories about their customer service. I will also add @atmasphere makes a very nice affordable preamp the UV-1.

I use an original series Freya (no "+" but hey...I don’t care, and with the original you can snap back and forth between the tubes and passive without shutting the tubes off, which I like. Adjust the level of course.) into a Pass XA-25. Sublime, astonishingly great sound. Both deserve their Class A ratings by Stereophile, and is there anything as well designed with as many useful features as as a Freya for under a grand? No. I think NOS tubes like my preferred GEs in a Freya make it really shine...so do that.

In same scenario, I went with a Prima Luna Evo 400 integrated and have been 110% happy with that choice.

But I think you are going to be thrilled with whatever you buy.  There are few wrong choices.

VTA SP14. http://www.tubes4hifi.com/SP14.htm

Very musical without being tubey and, in kit form, a bargain even with all the available upgrades!

I 2nd crustycoot's recommendation of the AVA FET Valve CF all tube preamp.  I've had nothing but tube preamps in my system for the last 30 years including a Conrad Johnson PV11, Audible Illusions Modulus 3 and later the 3A, Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Ultimate, McIntosh C2600 (still own), and AVA FET Valve CF.  The AVA preamp is excellent, just replace the stock tubes with NOS Mullard CV4003 and CV4024 tubes.  Excellent tonality, timbre, soundstaging and imaging.  Also very reliable, I've had no issues in the 5 years that I've owned it.  It's a very quiet tube preamp.  No noise when the music isn't playing out of very sensitive Klipsch Cornwall IVs.

Don Sachs. I recently had it serviced, in the intervening weeks I substituted a Carver and Audio Research. No comparison. Also, great service and pride of workmanship. 

My budget is 1,500 dollars max. I also watch Thomas. I like his Youtube channel. 

I really wanted a Sonic Frontiers growing up in audio. I just could never affford one. When I saw the one listed on Hi Fi Heaven for a grand I got excited I guess.

I appreciate the feedback for sure. 


I would look for an Audio Research LS17 SE.  $1500 will likely never get one but maybe under $2000.  That would be a nice intro to ARC that could keep you going for many years.  

The Bottlehead Moreplay kit is $439.  Sound is fantastic with the stock tubes but if you add good NOS 6V6 tubes and upgrade the coupling capacitors it gets even better.  I mostly can't tell it apart from my PS Audio BHK preamp.  I have also used the Freya, Cary SLP-03, Cary SLP-70, and the SP14 which is the basis for the Don Sachs preamp.  I think the Moreplay is better than all of those.  Biggest negative is a relatively high output impedance.  Your B&K's impedance is 33K so about a 10x ratio which is fine but not ideal.

As I previously stated, of those you mentioned I would choose the Quicksilver. 

As an alternative you might contact Aric Audio. See his web site. He makes a great preamp at several price points. Much info by owners on this forum, I being one.