$18k Tube preamp for large scale symphonies please

hi, can anyone suggest tube preamp that's good for handling complex music & large scale symphonies recordings in studio/ theatres? i had audition some: Aesthetix, CJ ,Modwright, Audio Note, ARC but all seems lacking in some ways and definitely not enough air at top octaves and instruments separation/ spaciousness. all dealer agrees that some pre is good at certain genre of music and sound Great even more if music is relatively SIMPLE like vocal, jazz, light acoustic, slow rock and maybe pop songs. Yes i know personal taste varies as well: bass strength & high freq. extension etc. & gears matching too. could anyone share their expreience so i can narrow down a list? my music typically: Van Hellsing & Princess Mononoke movie soundtrack. hope dealers provide constructive comments. Thanks All in advance. -phil
Hi Philipwn,

I would highly recommend that you audition the Concert Fidelity CF-080 linestage. Take a look at my review of it here on the GON for details on its performance. It was also just reviewed by Dick Osher and you will find other reviews on different websites that all rave about its' performance.
I have a Shindo Auriges preamp which is $5000. I listen to mainly classical and movie soundtracks and the sound is excellant. Shindo also has more expensive preamps which should do the job for you. Tone imnports can give you more info
Hi Phil
I will start off by saying I am a dealer as well as a tube preamplifier manufacturer and will admit that I am a but biased when it comes to preamps.

My first question will be, "where are you located?"

The product we manufacture is the Purity Audio Design line of tube preamps. I wont get too involved here as it is against the rules and only posting due to you mentioning dealers in your post.

I would be more than happy to discuss this line (the new Series 2) with you further should you devise to add it to your list.
Hi Philip,

In addition to preamps...i have found extreme separation, detail, and the ability to handle the enormous complexity and scale of an orchestra playing full tilt...comes as much from the amp and the source.

The source is kinda obvious, but i will say a lot of amps get muddled/confused/tired trying to push the power thru of an orchestra, maintain the sometime immense dynamic range...keeping the super pianissimos while also having kettle drum in the background...and then not getting brittle with the strings...and then keeping each area separate. It takes a lot of power, capacity, speed, etc from the amp. I tend to find great preamps really get outta the way of the source...transfer the signal clean thru...and the amp needs to be able to push the speaker effortlessly. My own two cents.
Lloydelee21 brings up a very good point. You tried some of the best preamps on the market. Its possible that you have a weak spot somewhere else in your system. That said, I would recommend you listen to preamps from BAT and Ayre. (I know Ayre only makes solid state products, but I still recommend it.)
I would look at the Symphonic Line tube preamp. Extremely musical, seems made for Classical music with its wide and deep soundstage. It is the only preamp I have heard that accurately reproduces piano with none of the ringing or other nasties.
Two things:

Atma-sphere MP-1 with capacitor and power supply upgrades.
Hypex NC400 or NC1200 based monoblocks.

Send me a note if you want more info on the NC400s.
VAC Signature
hi all, thanks for sharing. i'd try to comment one at a time.
i'll PM you into your audiogon inbox later for privracy.
-Lloydelee21 & Zd542,
points taken. In fact,i sold off pre/power for this upgrade. i own Simaudio 750D cdp & Martin logan Spire. please comment whether these 2 components are suitable for my genre of music. So far the 750D has detail & huge slightly laidback soundstage which i feel this would lay down the basic "groundwork" for my music preference. My buying strategy would be focusing on Preamp first(getting the tonality i desire) as it widely known as heart of a system, then proceed to get a more or less neutral amp because the market seems having more neutral sounding amp than preamp IMHO. Otherwise i would be caught trying to balance between a CDP and Amp. There are other qualities that i look in a preamp so i need to get as much things right as possibles or at least don't get preamp which include something which i dislike and then later buy the amp to correct the fault upstream. Currently there are 2 contenders in AMP category : MOON W-8 & YBA Passion, both can double power as impedence half. i think its shows they are powerful.
i heard Ayre KX-R before but it has qualities that i dislike so it fell through, i would feel restricted trying to buy a amp correcting upstream faults instead of buying an amp for bigger enjoyment.
hi, can you briefly describe what qualities they excel in comparison with other tube pre? any slightest comment is appreciated.
-Tom_hankins : i dislike people whom just drop a brand model without any reason or comparsion and sign off. i'm not convince, perhaps you not aware there are other pre that performs better where the BAT REX suffers? Anyway thanks for your six letters recommendation.

has anyone thought of VTL, CAT legend & Joule electra? are they more resolve & detail as in you can hear more sound in a song than before? thanks everyone, -phil
Drrsutliff, thanks for your 12 letterings. what good is VAC signature compared to Atmasphere MP1 mk3? regards.
You`ll get many suggestions as there`re a number of worthy contenders. The problem is(I`m sure you reconize this) there`re too many variables involved for someone to really guide you to just one choice.It`s such a personal decision,given your system and even more so, your ears and taste. Most of the preamps listed above are excellent and will compliment most systems.

I know the Atmasphere pretty well and the VAC Signature MK II very well. These two along with my Coincident Statement Linestage I could without reservation recommend with much confidence and enthusiasm.All three can and will provide top tier sound quality in a well thought out system.

To select one and say it is universally the 'best' is`nt possible,they all would get the job done at a very high level if natural sound, honesty and realism is the objective.
Best of luck in your search.I`m certain with some patience you`ll find what you seek.
Canary C900
I have heard good things about both MOON W-8 & YBA Passion. Are you able to try your Moon CDPlayer (which apparently is seriously good stuff! Congrats!)...with the Moon or YBA Passion amp...and THEN go back and put in some of the preamps you were considering? I think that is honestly the best way to do this. A bit of a pain...but mixing and matching on paper is seriously hard unless you really, really know this equipment. Good luck...again, you have some great equipment, and some great choices. Enjoy!
hi Charles1dad,
thanks for sincere recommendations. i totally agree with you. what i hope is to narrow down a possible list(3 to 5?) without wasting dealer time and inconvenience for preamp that doesn't fit my music genre,eg: ARC and Callisto is OUT(they are magic for vocal) and then base on some critical variables e.g. airyness/separation, clean & clear notes,no veil effect, very detail(able to hear every instruments), not thin nor lean sounding, quietness, sufficient speed. hope to make comparision between preamps base on above criteria,if anyone had done any back to back comparsion.Then i'll try to visit the few shortlisted names. Can i ask between your Coincident Statement and MP1 mk3, which has more high end extension & airyness? thanks -phil
The VAC Signature w/o phono is 15K. The VAC is not rolled at the frequency extremes. It will give you an optimal foundation for a full orchestra. There is a lot of flexibility between rca and balanced input/ouputs so system configuration is simplified.

The feel of the controls, beauty of finish, and quality of materials is something to behold. It is the main device you must interact with. The volume control is not stepped so very fine level adjustments are possible which for me is critical.

Kevin and Brent at VAC are fine gentlemen to assist in your enjoyment their quality made products.
The best Shindo unit you can get for $18K, or perhaps "just" the Shindo Masseto and either the T1 or T2 SUT, depending upon your cartridge, and assuming you listen to vinyl. My Masseto/T2/EMT JSD-5 combination makes for a fantastic analog front end; the musical result is simply stunning!
The Tube Research Labs Dude is perfect for your needs. It is designed in such a way that the music always sounds powerful and at ease. By at ease I mean there is no sign of strain or compression. Music flows in a natural and dynamic manner.

The Dude has made every other pre I have listened to or owned sound rather puny and kind of small - like an electronic toy if you will. Yes, exaggerated statement to help directionally.

The newest Dudes cost $6,000 new and come with Duelund CAST coupling caps and the best build quality I have seen in the Dudes.

Read my online review for more info and to see the other preamps I have compared it to.

Have fun!
I'm a big fan of the Allnic L-3000. I know two that compared it to the most expensive $20,000 plus Pre- amps and chose the Allnic.
A friend of mine was curious to hear my SET amplifier in his system(Atma-Shere MA-1 mono blocks). I must tell you the Atmasphere MP-I with my 300b SET was remarkable! The sound was transparent,very open, quite dynamic and fast. Yet at the same time there was a completeness of full body,tone and very 3-dimensional palpability. It was simply put, a synergistic match and left a lasting impression.Yes there was plenty of air,ambience and sense of space.

I can say that the VAC Signature is equally excellent(this is a wonderful componemt) with this same SET amplifier(another friend has a VAC system with Phi 300.1 mono blocks). So I feel both of these are world class and would suit your high expectations.They perform to a high standard across the full musical spectrum.

Phillip, the Coincident linestage is most definitely world class but is a different approach(minimalist) It`s just a single gain stage with two DHT tubes and has no resistor or capacitor in the signal path(interstage transformer instead). The transparency.air and openess is a supreme strength,yet it has great tone,body and dynamics and large scale effortlessness(exceptional).
Like I said earlier, all three of these preamps are truly top tier in rank and any of them would make you happy IMO.By the way all three of these companies offer first rate customer service.
- Lloydelee21, hi thanks for the compliments. i'm very very farmilar with Moon & YBA "house"sound. they have huge & airy soundstage. YBA been more fluid and forgiving but still retain detail in a sense that you got to hear "harder", overall presentation is more airy & relax than Moon which has slight warmth in midrange and present music in your room with details more noticeable. Do you know anything about Densen amps? they too are very powerful, anyone know its reliability and sonic qualities?
-Wilsynet, will checkout Hypex NC400/ NC1200 later.
-4musica44107,Alan :i'm going to try Shindo pre, thanks and good to know many also appreciate soundtracks, sometimes those composers didn't get the credits. anyway,keeping my fingers cross.
-Rhljazz, Charles1dad: i have faith in both you had said and already spoke to local dealer for audition.
-Morganc, is the Allnic sound charactertics near VTL or BAT? you had arouse my interest in ALLnic again as i had dropped it. keeping my options open, thanks.
-Grannyring, TRI dude is totally new to me, could you further describe with comparisons ? thanks
- Teajay, i'll read your reviews and judge accordingly. thanks for mentioning CF-080.
-just look at Symphonic Line website, in German! unable to find dealer contacts.
Cary SLP-05 does it all with panache for $8K.
Have you considered or auditioned LAMM .....http://www.lammindustries.com/products.html

Here is their website.

Sorry I don't have time just now to give an exhaustive description of my recommendation, but I suggest you try to hear a Purity Audio Design preamp. I believe that the 'Reference' model is in that price range. My experience with the Ultra GT version is astonishing. I use large-scale symphonic music as one of the more stringent tests, and this preamp is 'it' for me. It has all the imaging qualities that one would expect, along with slam, separation, definition, and yet, grace, that one would hope for in one unit. Overall, the realism and 'presence' of this preamp will grip you. An additional benefit is the ability to tweak the sound by using different tube manufacturers for the (2) 12AU7 tubes. Another huge benefit is that Bill Baker, designer and owner of Response Audio, is one of the great guys in the business. You have been given many options here. If you are seriously interested in learning more about my experiences with my Purity Audio Design preamp, I will offer you my cell phone number for greater details of sonics. Good luck.
hi Rtilden,
Thanks for your input. Certainly would be most helpful if you like to share your experience over the phone, you can PM me your number if you can talk about its detail characteristics.
At the price of Ultra GT is asking, it certainly have to be good. i could build a whole system with that budget! is the 'Reference' model sound very very close to your model? can you let me know what other preamp have you tried before finalising P.A.D. as your ultimate? thanks.
Probably best to call Bill Baker at Response Audio or Joe Jurzec at Jamn Audio outside of Chicago, the two men responsible for the design and production of that series of Purity Audio preamps. The circuit is the same; only a few parts are of different grade and materials. I am extremely busy now at work, but if still interested after discussing with them, I will pass on my phone number. Not sure how to do personal email on this new system- I did try.
Have a look at TRON (www.tron-electric.co.uk) distributed by Jaff Catalano at Highwater Sound, NYC. TRON is a boutique British amplifier manufacturer using only the highest quality components (many custom made) with ultra short signal paths for a valve amplifier. Do you need just a line stage or phono too within your budget? Each unit is built by the designer, Graham Tricker, himself. They are built to order, so expect to wait a couple of months. Each amplifier is bespoke, so you can request upgrades or specific tweaks to match your system. GT is happy to talk to potential customers, so that he can build something to suit your system (eg matching preamp gain etc).
The Highwater Sound room often wins accolades at shows like RMAF.
First Sound Paramount MK3 Special Edition
hi, thanks for all whom had contributed. i have more or less shrink down a list. could i ask your help again to Rank the tube preamp base on below qualities separately?

DETAIL: which has it as in you can hear more instruments & info not heard before, NOT referring to "detailness" quality of each note.
Veloce LS-1
Tron Syren II
AtmaSphere MP-1
Coincident Statement Linestage
VTL 6.5
Shindo Monbrison

RICHNESS: from upper midrange to high freq. emphasis on violin, cymbals, triangles, harp, trombone, higher octave of piano etc..

VTL 6.5
Veloce LS-1
Tron Syren II
AtmaSphere MP-1
Coincident Statement Linestage
Shindo Monbrison

i understand you may have heard in different setups, hence opinion conflicts is inevitable. perhaps, if you may, kindly also mention the partnering gears as well.
THANKS again ALL. i also hope the thread helps to assist GON members make their future preamp selection easier base on the strengh & weakness of the pre. -Phil
hey, i forget to mention CAT SL1 Legend as well, kindly include it in Ranking as well. thanks, -phil
The qualities that you list are the extraordinary strengths of the Coincident linestage. The ability to resolve and reveal very subtle and low level detail yet remain completely organic and pure in character is quite the feat.

Tone quality,timbre,harmonics along with note substain and natural decay is superb.The ability to really hear and distinguish the unique character of instruments is truly compelling and convincing.It manages to be ultra resolved and transparent but in a holistic/natural manner.If you lean toward an analytical perspective then you may not like the Coincident.It will very effectively communicate the emotion of music at all times.

I have`nt heard all the other preamps on your list but I suspect they`re 'all' very worthy.It`s impossible to say any one of them stands clearly above all others(how could that be proven?). Owners of other preamps could make the same sincere case for theirs as I do for mine.All I can say is for what you seem to be searching for the Coincident would measure up to your demanding standards, it is an exceptional audio component.

I hope you`re able to audition it and see what you think.You may or may not agree with my strong favorable impressions.It does`nt have a remote control(in case that matters to you).
Best Regards,
hi Charles1dad,
thanks much for your heartily recommendation. i auditioned and was almost a jaw dropping experience. it paired with Rogue audio Medusa, Goldmund Cdp w/Wadia DAC & SuperVictory II. the only part not up to expectation is bass region. Depending on music genre, songs without much bass & boom factor would certainly benefit miles ahead of other preamp, even SS preamp such as Spectral. Its very quiet and revealing, notes are clean & clear without veil.I heard sounds buried within the huge airy soundstage that i never heard before, eg,rapid gentle metallic tingling sounds(don't know what instrument that is)at backend of the concerto, amidst of other dominating music notes. Imaging is excellent, front & back also well portray. Texture and smoothness is just right, absolute not analytical. Harmonic richness is OK though not great, perhaps due to its airyness, and because of this, separation is the Best i've encountered. From midrange to high freq. is by far the very BEST preamp i heard, may even be better than any pre costing almost 3times as much.
As for the bass part. my dealer is working out a matching amp for me. in the meantime, we also agree that i can try out other pre as well. It's a matter of balancing the qualities that i seek in a preamp. I really have high regards for Coincident now, i Really Thank You for introducing this model as i never knew this brand before.
Anyway, i would hope people to suggest or rank the preamps above as i haven't get the chance or unable to hear due to locality. thanks
- phil
Try the BAT REX line. They are built to handle the dynamics. They also have a solid midrange.
Philip, i think so much is dependent on the other pieces in the system that any absolute ranking is not going to be terribly meaningful. I think you do have to hear these things in your system, which, from what I gather, is not easy for you to do? (I found difficulty in doing it too). I will resist advocating what I am currently using, only because I think at this level you are the only one who is going to judge what's 'right' as part of an overall system.
Doshi Alaap is one you may want to look into.
I have not compared it to any other, just throwing it out to you.
Good luck
It’s really hard to make any specific rankings. As Whart says, synergy with your power amp and speakers is important. All too often people forget that preamplifiers and power amps need matching especially in terms of gain. Also knowing the efficiency of your speakers helps too. If they are high efficiency, be aware that circuit noise and gain issues can be a real bug bear. That’s why I suggested the TRON. Not only do they sound really good, they are made to order. Hence you will be able to get a preamplifier made to suit the rest of your equipment. That’s important if you’re going to drop 18k!
Good luck.
Hi Phillip,
Whart makes a very good point,at this level much of what you hear is dependent on other system components. I`m glad you were able to hear the Coincident,I find it sublime in my system yet nothing will ever be without some relative compromise or flaw of some degree.Some other preamps may equal or even better the Coincident in certain specific areas, but as an overall package it is superb and will compete with the very best.

I`m happy that it made a strong impression for you. I find it very airy, open and transparent as you do.To my ears the tone is full bodied and complete without crossing the line toward artificial warmth and color. But this is just my opinion and in the context of my own system.

With the Coincident as a reference point I hope there`s opprotunity to hear the other preamps on your list.You`re off to a great start!
Best Regards,
I see you`re using the Veloce linestage, I`ve read stellar reports about its performance.There`s no single best or perfect preamp but there`re certainly some great choices available these days.
Hi, Charles, yes, I heard the first generation of it in my system, however, the later version to my ears, using the DR version of the 6H30 tube is substantially better.
I am unclear whether the OP was looking for a line stage or a full-on preamp that included phono. In another discussion, the point was made that given the cost of the separates plus the level of interconnect required to connect the two components, one could buy a pretty stratospherically priced full (with phono) preamp. Buying used, of course has its advantages too.
HI Whart, i'm only searching for line stage only. Lucky me, no additional cost for the phono. BTW, i'm using Martin logan speakers and their sonic are rather neutral, perhap slightly warm\bloom from the 400hz down which i experience when compare to other ML speakers which using a smaller 8" woofer.
Topoxforddoc, i have extensive experience with ML electrostatics so i'm not worried about gain issues too.
i fully agreed that best is to hear it in my system, however, i have no amp and have not decide which one yet, that happen to be the bad part, or perhaps could i say i also have the luxury to match up with tube pre later for better synergy performance, and i know how my Spire would sound.
Anyone have better approach to solve the dilemma i'm in ? thanks
Philip: not sure I have much more to add, since I don't know what amps would sound best with your MLs. (I used stats exclusively from around 1974 until 2005 so i know why you like them, I do too, but I don't know what amps work and sound best with yours). Myles Astor, who you may know of- I don't think he posts here, but is on WBF, is a long time ML owner and as a reviewer, I think has been through a variety of amps, you might ask him. Assuming that they like tube amps (and your woofer is self-powered), there is something to be said for same manufacturer synergy, e.g. VAC-VAC, or Tron-Tron. Of course, that's a 'rule' to be broken too. If you are buying new, I would imagine a dealer would be delighted to loan you this stuff for home trial if the prospect is a sale of amp and preamp. Where are you located?
One point I should mention is the the Coincident can be ordered with either 10 or 20 db of gain. I initially had the 20db gain version which was too much(my amplifiers are sensitive,0.7v, also speakers are 94 db sensitive/1 watt). I exchanged for the 10 db unit and it`s a perfect fit,just something to keep in mind depending on what amplifier you select.
has anyone thought of VTL, CAT legend & Joule electra?
I have listened to the latter 2 (not the big VTL)
In brief: the Joule offers angelic details -- i.e. the & upper mids and high frequencies are detailed and perceptible, but not harsh.
The CAT has serious dynamics and accuracy in reproducing instruments timbre. Driving a big YBA Passion stereo, I enjoyed the music a lot. Can't say that details were lacking either, but I wasn't really focusing on the frequency reproduction.
By the way, since the Symphonic Line was mentioned: the combination of a CAT (Ultimate this time) and a pair of SL monos gave EXPLOSIVE, phantasmagorical musical results! A joyful experience. (Unfortunately, I don't have this combo -- can't afford it!)
has anyone heard a Purity Audio Design preamp Silver transformer series? thanks
I second the Doshi Alaalp

It's presentation is beyond reproach

Very good resolution of instruments and dynamics

You did not mention if you have an analog source, Nick's preamp stage is incredible
Emotive Audio Epifania or Sira
I listened and used to have some of the above preamps and now I am very happy with Einstein The Tube, however I have changed all the original tubes supplied by the manufacturer (Philips 6922) to NOS Telefunken, Mullard, and Siemen tubes. Now the preamp sounds completely different and truly fantastic, I have to say stunning.

I am an insane box swapper, I change equipment in my system at least 1-2 times per year, last year 5-6 times with every single equipment and now I stop and use the Einstein. I dont think that I'll change it in the next couple of years or even longer. I see this preamp meets almost of your needs,so give it a try ;). Tube rolling is fun also.
McIntosh c1000 c/t/p - it's a three piece preamp offering the option to switch between tube and solid state. Massively wide and detailed soundstage.
Hi Mbovaird
does McIntosh c1000 c/t/p have left right volume control balance and a phase switch ? Thanks
Philipwu, I have been able to sort out what kind of amp you have. Does it have a balanced input? How long do you need the interconnect cables to reach? Have you considered the effect that preamps have on the cables?

FWIW electronics do not care what signal you put through them; as long as it is a good preamp it will be equally good at doing intense classical as well as rock or jazz.

If you have a solid state amplifier some tube preamps may not be able to play bass properly. Some will do just fine.

I prefer tubes because it is easier to get them to sound like real music. If the preamp is not very fast I am unconvinced, but it must not be bright either. I like good bass extension, but I don't like the extra warmth that many tube preamps have in the mid bass. I want the sound to be neutral without editorializing. Deep bass seems to me the hardest thing for tube preamps to do right, but if they do that right there will be no solid state that can keep up.