$3500 to spend on a tube preamp....ideas?

Suggestions? Amps are Herron M1 monoblocks, Speakers Von Schweikert VR4-JR's. I borrowed a McIntosh C2300, and while it was good, it wasn't THAT much better than my Modwright 9.0 Signature. Bass was a little deeper, soundstage a bit more open, instruments more focused, but again, probably not worth $3500 to upgrade to. Also had an LS26 from ARC in my system, again, similar performance level to the C2300 and slightly more dynamic than the Modwright. With $3500 to spend, is there anything that can get me to that next level in dynamics? I am really happy with the other hardware in my system.

ideas: Herron VTSP3a, Rogue Athena
VAC Standard LE, Modwright LS36.5, Conrad Johnson Premier LS 16II, Dehavilland Mercury 3:

other options?
Tube Research "Dude".....see threads on this unit. Or a used Audio Valve Eklipse (roll the tubes) or Aesthetix Calypso or used Wyetech Opal. IMO any of my suggestions would be sonically superior to the models listed above..again, just my opinion.
Demo an Audible Illusions preamp.
My recommendation is to audition the Audio Horizons. I tried several pres with higher and lower prices and happily bought the Audio Horizons pre totally tricked out. I have no regrets. Hope this helps. Steve
If you can find one the Herron VTSP-3A is a steller line stage. Should work well with the M1's. It would be tough to find one used at your price though.
Save yourself $3,000 and buy a Lightspeed for $500. It has replaced preamps costing several times more than the preamps you are considering. It is amazing regardless of price.
I have the Dude, have heard the VSTP-3A, and had a tricked out Audio Horizons. All three are great preamps and great options. I am very, very happy with my Dude, and have the Herron VTPH-2 phono stage, which is just tremendous.

Honestly, I think you can't go wrong with any of these, but I can tell you that the Dude/Herron combo platter is here to stay in my system.
Lightspeed is made by whom??
For a line stage I love 6SN7s so Cary preamps SLP98 I think you might be able to get a used SLP-05. for very little if you can snatch one before its bought an AE-3 by Cary's subdivision AES. The Signature model with tube rectification should cost you under 1K used. The basic model cost me 350 used and a friend modded it for me.
If you are an octal fan like me then think about Mapletree Audio in Canada. They will custom make the pre of your choice, spec requirements and tube preferences. And The prices are very reasonable. For instance you can decide to use the absolutely best 12SN7s like TS Round Plates because they are easier to find as real NOS and much cheaper than their 6SN7 counterparts. I think the guy's name is Prof. Lloyd Peppard?? No affiliation as usual.
The Herron M1s have 220Kohm input impedance and (I think) 1V input sensitivity, so they're a good candidate for the Lightspeed Attenuator. But we'd still need to know output impedance on your sources to see if the Lightspeed would really be appropriate.

I think the Lightspeed is great. Better than a number of expensive preamps I've had in my system for sure.
Mechans, do a search here.

Everything you want to know about the Lightspeed attenuator and then some can be found here:


If you want the abbreviated version go here:

I assume phono stage not required?

Consider the Ming Da Mc-2a3 for about 1k and throw in 1k worth of mods. Any competent tech can do the mods and make it rival anything thats out there. There are a number of fellow audiophiles here and on AA who can vouch for this statement.

Alternatively if you foresee using a phono stage, throw in a few more bucks and get an MFA Lumi. Can drive any long cables and any power amp even those with notoriously low input impedance, definitely a keeper for life.

transformer based attenuators work well if you have a source that swings voltage (like some DACs) and an amp with high input Z.
I prefer the Lightspeed to my most recent tube linestages - CAT, Lamm, ARC, Dodd, and the excellent Joule LA150 Signature Edition - I would save the $3000. That being said, the Mapletree 2A SE $800 with the Blackgate Capacitor upgrade is very, very good compared to the other more expensive linestages I have own, what is best is that it not only uses the 6sn7 tube, my favourite in a line stage, but with the flip of a switch it can also use 12sn7s which run half the price of 6sn7 NOS and sound indentical as far as I can tell. Include separate tube regulated power supply!! I had to own the expensive stuff before I could believe in well engineered, less expensive gear - the Mapletree is very well designed and you can buy an awful lot of music with the difference in price. Still, to my ears, the $500 is the best I've heard with a single source. If you want to spend more, the Joule preamps are wonderful.
This is too easy. Shindo Aurieges.
My new favorite is a Joule preamp. You can look for a La-150 or if you need phono then a LAP-150 preamp. Make sure you buy one which can be upgraded to the SE version later or buy the SE version now. Not all 150s can be upgraded to SE version.
IMHO, a used CAT preamp will most likely open your eyes as to what a great tube preamp can do. A little hard to find, but if you can get an SL1 Sig with phono or one of the later models, VERY hard to beat, again IMHO.
I beleive it would have to be a Joule LA 150 MKII if wanted to upgrade to the SE version at a later date - taking an great preamp to start with and making it even better, most noticeably in bass performance, which is already first rate, which I preferred to my CAT SL1 Ultimate MKII (with Music Reference RM9SE and Merlin speakers - not sure which you would prefer though, system and taste could take you either way, both superb; but I would not hesitate to try the Mapletree because it is so much cheaper, it competes with the higher ticket preamps I have owned).
If dynamics is what you want and a better overall sound compared to the likes of the AR 26 then the Dude is a must. I have compared the Dude to the Lightspeed, Joule 150 and many, many other high dollar preamps (read my review here).

These other preamps mentioned are good (like the AR 26 is good) but the Dude opens up a whole new realm of what is attainable with music in a home system.
Second the Shindo.
I had recently sold my arc ls 26 which as you know was great, but that said i moved to shindo and everything just sounded better. I will say it cost 12 k for the massetto pre so it should sound better but i use the phono section so i believe it to be great value.
Used Hovland HP-100 Preamp...
Since you have the Herron Mono amps , I would go with the Herron VTSP-3A preamp. The Herron Audio room has been considered by several audio reviewers in the past to be one of the best sounds at some of the Audio Shows.The VTSP-3A is a wonderful preamp.
I've said it before in other posts: the Herron gear has tremendous synergy when used together. Get the Herron preamp.
I think pretty highly of the Herron combo that I've heard at recent audio shows. Several years back I auditioned the original Herron preamp in my home and thought it was quite good. Very transparent and I still can sense through the subsequent iterations that this sonic quality still exists. The friend whose preamp I borrowed just upgraded to the latest model to go with his Herron monoblocks and is quite happy. While I'm a pretty big proponent of passive preamps and also own the Lightspeed attenuator, I could easily live with a Herron preamp in my system.
I also agree with the last two posters on the nature of sharing on this site. However, I also think one's comments should be reasoned and reasonable. We can all say what we want and I don't want to change that. Yes, we even have the freedom to say a person or company is a "joke" or "evil" or whatever harsh comment we want, but in the end is it right or helpful. Freedom and reasoned civility are two different things.
MFA Luminescence. Audio aural magic. Simply the best I've ever heard. Plus it will make your entire system sound like you upgraded every component in it. Problem is they're usually around $5K. But thre is one on AgoN right now for $4800, and you might talk him down a little.
Might want to look at the new Purity One from Purity Audio Design. It's been getting some great feedback, and is right around your price point.


Emotive Sira. They appear on Audiogon frequently under $3000.

Sorry to all, my post above was meant for another thread. All good preamps here and all good comments :-)
Thanks for the info on Lightspeed. I couldn't slog thru the monster thread after about 40 posts but I get the idea. I have to read more on the electronics of LED attenuation. The technical aspects of things often eludes me. Pubul thanks for affirming that octal tubes are a great tube for an active line stage and filling in more detail re Mapletree.
In all without starting a war I love my 6SN7s even if they are not a wire from the source to the amp. Hey everyone has their preferences.
VAC pre's (and amps) are superb.
Mechans, that is why I think I would love the DeHavilland as well, it sounded great at RMAF. Now that I think about it, my Atma-sphere preamp also makes use of the 6sn7, but as you say, everyone has their preferences....
oops, the great sound in the DeHavilland room may have also had something to do with the source, amp, and speakers as well. I was very close to buying one, till I saw the Mapletree which simply sounded like the though behind it was very sound - no pun intended. My expecations were tempered, after all I was accoustomed to 5-8k preamps so what could I expect from this little $800 preamp! Well, since I had the Lighspeed already, it opened my up to the idea that SOTA sounds doesn't always mean lots of $$$$, though you will get better looking metal work and chassis with more expensive gear - but at 53 and many years in the hobby, going "backwards" has a certain appeal to me. Another great low cost item ($1,950 MSRP) is the Music Reference RM10 - but that a story for another day.
...going "backwards" has a certain appeal to me.

In my experience it's certainly been a lot more fun too.
Thanks for the suggestions.

I will keep my eyes out for a Shindo Aurieges. There is a VAC Standard LE for sale right now-I called VAC and they said that it is a great piece for the money (can't afford a new preamp from them at $9000+). I also appreciate the other recommendations: as I had not heard of them until now, I will have to do some research.

Also, phono stage is not a requirement. Neither are balanced inputs.
Look at the new Ming DA MC300 pre/amp. The MC2A3 pre/amp (not from ebay) sounds very good and this new pre looks like they have added much better parts.
The MC2A3 pre/amps that are not from ebay still contain counterfeit parts such as "Rudeyconn" caps and fake M-caps.
Without mods they sound veiled, colored, and anemic in the bass department.
I am very happy with my Dude from TRL, especially after the power supply upgrade. To summarize it in one sentence, it sounds more like live music.
I would also recommend Shindo for preamps. Check the Pitch Perfect website. Occasionally, Matt gets used units back as customers "trade up" to other Shindo models. One of the benefits of buying through Matt is this extremely liberal trade up policy. I just traded up from a Masseto to a Vosne-Romanee a few weeks ago and got full credit for my original purchase.
Find a used Cary SLP-05 with polystyrene caps. I've seen them for $4,000, so you might need to save a little more money before buying, but it will be worth it.
I am assuming the Cary SLP05 sounds the exact opposite of the SLP98 ( which turns your system into an am radio regardless of what caps you upgrade it to and what tubes you put in, but thats my opinion based on comparing it to something like the Dude and the Lumi)
Jburidan - can you more details on teh polystrene caps? Thanks.
Johnsonwu, I think Ming Da may have taken your recommendations and started using much better internal parts. Now it looks like they are using some Jensen caps and US made resistors. If you ever get your hands on the MC300 please write a review like you did on the MC2A3. They have also updated the MC2A3 version to MC2A3x8 I believe. MC300 looks like this http://www.mei-xing.com/English/cp/3_300.html
The x8 got a few of my friends fooled.
It's EXACTLY in the x8 that we found these fake caps.

Follow this link to see the pride of ming da:

$800 is a good price though, not a penny more.

No respect for tube specifications, and a rip off of Allen Wright's 3 stack totem pole follower.
looks like Ming DA is stepping up a bit with the MC300. At least they show using some Jensen's.
In the same picture depicting those "Jensen" caps are these caps (this pic is from the mc-2a3x8)
you decide whether they are real or not.
Get the VAC Standard LE. The LE version is superb (I own one and am amazed by it everyday). I changed from using more expensive NOS tubes to the VAC sourced ones after a conversation with Kevin Hayes and have not looked back. It is voiced in a way that comes across as "right" to my ears. The only way I would part with mine is if I could afford to move up the VAC line.
Johnsonwu, I see the picture but it looks different than the MC2A3x8 version from Pacific Valve. So those are fake M caps? I am wondering if there is an ebay version and Pacific Valve version? I emailed Ming and they said Pacific Valve buys direct from the factory and is an authorized dealer. They also stated that if you do not buy from an authorized distributer chances are you will not get an original. If you bought one of these pre/amps direct from an authorized distributor and found fake caps I would think you would be able to prove this to them and send the unit back. Did your friends buy the x8 version from this distributor?
You owe it to yourself to audition the Doge 8 pre amp from Pacific Valve out of Chicago. There's a 30 day return option. Go to http://www.high-endaudio.com/RC-Preamplifiers.html#ClB for useful information about this unit. Caveat: needs to be heard with upgraded tubes.