Best tube preamp ever

I am trying to invest into a preamp. I would like to get the best of the best of tube preamps. Can anyone comment on what or which brand I should be looking at if money was not an object.
Thank in advance!
AR Reference 5. A friend has one and the reviews of them have been exceptional.
Lamm LL1 Signature is a good place to start.
Gago1101, what do you have on your short list already?
You may want to move this thread to the amp/preamp forum.
The Audion Quattro 4 Box would certainly need to be considered here.

--Audion dealer disclaimer

When you get to this level, it's a matter of taste and synergy. You should consider the top VAC models, too. They tend to be endpoints for those who've bought them.
I use the Coincident Statement Linestage and my friend uses the VAC Signature MK2. I`d put these two up against anything else if the highest priority is purely 'sound quality'.

As a dealer for deHavilland I can say that the Mercury 3 is the best preamplifier that many people have heard. You can read what others have to say about it.
What is the rest of your system?

Ypsilon PST-100 Mk.II
My current system is a modest one at best. It includes affordable hifi gear that many of you may lought at. I am at the stage where I am moving into my new home and want to build a new state of the art hifi system. I am trying to get info on which brands i should be looking at before starting auditioning. For amps, I was thinking mating a tube preamp to either Krell, Bryston or Mark Levinson. For speakers, my dream has always been to own a Sonus Faber Cremona or Elipsa or the B&W 800Ds. I was thinking looking at lower brands such as paradigm s8s, but I think I will be staying away from it. In terms of preamps, I do not know much. I thought McIntosh preamps were great, but recently have heard that there are many better sounding electronics out there, hence my question. And sorry guys for posting in the speaker section of the forum.

Would also appreciate any pointers in terms of amps as well as speakers.
I heard the Ypsilon PST-100 with the Ypsilon Aelius PP amp,VPS phonostage,Bergmann TT and the Tidal speakers. It was one of the very best sounding rooms at CES 2010.Only the Viva 845 monoblock tube amp with the Trenner-Friedl RA-Box speaker combo sounded better at that show IMO.
Gago, you have a lot to think about since you are in the system building mode. Your room is the most important variable. Component selection is like cooking. Find out what you like in the context of what you can afford.

I would also look at the DartZeel and Neodio integrated amps and the ASR Emitters.
Bat Rex,
the best of the best of tube preamps.

Well clearly that has to be my preamp :)

Seriously though there are a lot of issues with what is thought to be the 'best'. Part of the problem is that some people actually *like* solid state, so it might be that you have to sort out the "best" transistor and "best" tube preamps.

Its my opinion that the preamp story is incomplete without the experience of the interconnect cables. You might say that the cables, especially the one between the preamp and the amp, is a hidden cost of any preamp.

One of the functions of the preamp is to control the interconnect cable and preamps range from having no control of the cable at all (passive volume controls) to the cable making no difference whatsoever in the sound of the system (that will be a balanced line setup, BTW).

And since there is the issue of balanced, if your amplifier does not accept a balanced input you may have to further differentiate between balanced and single-ended preamps. IMO balanced is the way to go as the system will have lower noise, less artifact from cables and power supplies, and less distortion from the preamp itself (and if you get rid of distortion, the preamp will sound smoother and more detailed at the same time).

The problem is, no audiophile has heard everything, and even if they did, it would be highly unlikely that they heard it under ideal conditions to show that piece off. Now if that could be done, maybe we *could* arrive at "best" (as the English language has the word 'best' for a reason); there probably is a 'best' in some sort of existential way, but getting agreement on that (despite its actually being the best) is unlikely regardless. So 'best' having the meaning it does, keep in mind that when manufacturers tell you that they have the best that they are most likely to be lying or uninformed- the word gets used a lot...
I find this question impossible to answer, which isn't too helpful but honest. Now, depending on the amp you end up with, and as Ralph mentions the cables you use, I will say that these preamps from these comapnies were all execellent in their own way:

Audio Research
Convergent Audio Technology
and the Dodd Battery powered preamp.

If I wanted an SS amp and want to use an SS preamp, I would likely get the preamp from the same manufacturer - at least in the case of the 3 SS amps you mention.
Thoress all hand made point to point wired no boards sounds wonderful.
Thanks for all the comments, I really appreciate it. To answer some the the comments above, I do agree that "best" is a relative word in the world of electronics and very subjective. And I do agree that most have not listened to everything out there. that is exactly the reason I want to know what people consider best for themselves, which would give me a list to start researching and decide what's best for me. Looking at some of the preamps and brands mentioned above, it seems I will have my hands full researching all these products, which I look forward to. Thanks again to everyone!
The Dude by TRL , hard to beat at any price.
I would say the Vac Signature Mk IIa is certainly among the best tube amps, and also the one I own. It is the best pre-amp I have heard, and felt it was better than my previous best pre-amp, which was the Mbl 6010D.
Better advice would be to post this in the correct forum. You might get more meaningul answers there. You will surely get more views.

Gago1101 where do you live? I amy be able to help you out with preamp selection. I have a few items for sale on Audiogon now so you can send me a message through one of my ads (don't worry I am not going to push my COunterpoint SA-5000 on you) I just cannot send you an email from this thread.

Happy Listening.
The Experience Music Kahn Linestage is my end of life linestage. The aesthetics are gorgeous and it sounds fabulous. These are bespoke products, tailored to your system and tastes.

Jeffrey is delightful to work with.

Feel free to PM
If I were looking for an outstanding single ended cost no object active linestage my search would begin and end with the Concert Fidelity CF-080.

On the balanced side it would be an Atma-Sphere preamp given I already own an Atma-Sphere amp.
There is no such thing as "the best". All of these preamps are in the top category...(my personal best is the Ayre preamp)....Before you put down the big bucks for these jewels, listen and decide for yourself.
I agree with Jazdoc. I will have a DHT preamp which can use any of these tubes 101D, 26, 226, 326 out next month. All point to point wiring, transformer volume control and custom made transformers which after trying out more than I can count on one hand, hopefully gives my product the edge over all other similar DHT preamps. In many comparison tests, the custom wound transformer was so much better sonically. Once you get the capacitors out of the signal path, the clarity, detail and micro dynamics really are stunning. IMO you also don't have to chase sound from ICs, power cords, power conditioners, as much because the preamp provides most of what they did in my past systems..

Happy Listening.
The above list can easily multiply ten-fold and all would probably be correct.
What should be remembered is the BEST pre will be degraded
if not mated to the appropriate amplifier and only if that amplifier is mated to the correct speaker and that speaker is correct for the room it is in.
Before you spend 20K on a component check to see whats left money wise for everything needed to complete your system
Listen to Goldeneraguy. Don't forget the room. It is the final arbiter of your sonics....
Funny how one could own an MBL and then VAC...and think them does MBL do what they do with solid state?
Marvelous gear...and I totally agree with your VAC love...there's something simply musical about the VAC stuff...Kevin really does know what music sounds's that simple.

Admire your taste and envy your ownership.

"Bat Rex" always made me think of a giant vampire bat; the kind of critter Godzilla or Mothra would get into it with. " Bat Rex devours Tokyo!" IN 3D!!!
There are a lot of folks who have owned very pricey, stratospheric preamps who now own TRL Dudes and say they will never have to look for another preamp again.

I went through over a dozen mid-priced preamps and settled on the Dude and matching Samson amps. Off the carousel in those two departments now.
Best? There is no best. People nominate and "you" vote (elect) with your ears and wallet.

Tube preamp: I nominate Conrad Johnson's top tube preamps as some of the best.

For amps: Depending on the speaker, I'll campaign for Nelson Pass's XA.5 series in solid state. Tube amps? That's a tough one. Lots of good candidates and a lot depends again on the speaker. View the amp/speaker pair as one ticket (President/Vice President? Gotta stay the analogy). Of the brands you mentioned, I like the totl Sonus Fabers.

Other possibilities for a SOTA system: OTL's with the right speaker. SET's with the right speaker. Planars with the right amp.

Remember to have fun.

Amen, to cj...Bill and Lew make great preamps.
MBL, VAC, Gryphon, Tenor, Lamb...all really good pre's too.
Back in the day, my reference was, Premier 3 by


There can be only one "best" . Only one. All others must accept that fact and just try harder to become the best....cruel world out there.
There is no definitive "best" of anything. There are way too many variables involved. The "best" you can hope for is to find something that works well in your system. You can then say it's the "best" for you until you find something you think is better !!!!
I own two preamps and one linestage and I cannot really decide which is the "best" among the three, never mind the whole universe of products. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

The most detailed, dynamic and extended in frequency response is the Emotive Audio Epifania (linestage), the one with the most musically seductive midrange (but with less control in the bass and less extension on top) is a custom built preamp using Western Electric input and output transformers, and easily the least sonically appealing is a Levinson Ref. No. 32 preamp (but I love the convenience features and incredible flexibility).

I have not heard that many other contenders in my own system, but, I've heard many other great systems built around such linestages as the Atmasphere linestage, the Veloce linestage (can be configured as a preamp), the Audionote (uk) M-8 and M-10, the Kondo M-10, Burmester linestage, and a Shindo linestage. I can't say whether any of these are a "contender" because I haven't come close to hearing but a fraction of all linestages, and I am certain that quite a few that were in systems that did not impress me were not at fault. A number of great linestages I've heard were custom-built (essentially one-of-a kind, and not widely available).
There is no definitive "best" of anything. There are way too many variables involved. The "best" you can hope for is to find something that works well in your system. You can then say it's the "best" for you until you find something you think is better !!!!
My list had trickled down to:
VTL 7.5 or 6.5
Eistein MKii

It seemed the VTL would be a better value overall, but man, it looked like a 1980s VCR. I was seduced by the German Eistein MKii looks and the amazing reviews that were out there about this preamp. I was not able to find anywhere to audition these where I live, so I had to go with what people have been saying about these and my own liking, mainly down to the looks in addition to the performance.

Long story short, I pulled the trigger on a used Eistein MKii that was listed here in Audiogon. This is going to be my firs high-end component entering my system, curious to see how it will change things. I hope I have not made a 8k mistake.

My next move is to send my Oppo-95 to Modwright to get the tube upgrade. Meanwhile, I can't wait to get my new preamp. Will post some first impressions when it arrives.

you will be very happy with Einstein, I have owned many and compared it to many.
Semi, I was seriously considering an Einstein MKII when in the market for a preamp. Do you roll tubes with your Einstein? It uses tons of tubes so just curious. I think Sovtek is stock?
I will have my VAC until it dies and when it dies, I will get another.
I have different tubes in every input, in the buffer (?) stage I only have 6H23. That way, I can have different flavor by simply moving cables to a different input jack.

It is very sensitive to tube rolling, best I have heard was pinch waist I borrowed from a friend. I could not justify the price so instead I use the "2nd" tier tubes which elevate the already world class Einstein to another level.
If you can find one, a Supratek Cabernet Dual
Semi, with the IEC connector at the bottom of the chassis, what power cable do you use?
Personally, I think it is more important to find the "best dealer" ever with an appropriate selection with whom you can work to put together a synergistic system.

Having only heard what was at the time the entry point into the Ayon brand, the Spirit-1, I would love to hear their Spheris-II preamp along with their Orthos-II monoblocks, or the Vulcan-II.
I have spent time with ARC Ref 5, (Krell Evo 2, Tidal Prescenio..SS). I have spent time with dealer of Shindo, Wavac, Zanden and i inquired about each of their flagships. Interestingly, he recommended CJ GAT (which he did not sell), and which i now am blessed to own (demo).
I am just about finished with my DHT preamp. If anyone in the local NYC area wants to hear what this preamp can do in their system, let me know. I think you will be very suprised on what you hear. Shoot me an email and we can arragne a meeting to hear it.

A little off-topic here, but what kind of attenuators are used in these high end preamps? Are they mostly stepped ones?
What brands? (Alps, Dact, TKD, Panasonic, others?)
I challenge anyone to try the preamp from Coincident and to say something else is better .
Markgarmaise, the Coincident is similar to what I manufacturer but my product uses custom wound transformers and chokes. In direct comparison, the custom wound parts are superior in resolution, detail, soundstage, bass and extension of high frequencies. So knowing how good the Coincident preamp is, my preamp should be superior but I have not done a direct side by side comparison to date.

Rgs92, to be honest, most manufacturers uses cheap parts in production. The smaller manufacturers tent to use better parts as we do not build multiple units every day. I am amazed at the poor parts quality and design from many of the mass produced products. For example, wires with low and high voltage run right next to each other, cheap metal for a chassis with no dampening material, caps, transformers, chokes and attenuators. This is the reason there are so many people offering upgrades or modifications these days. That being said, modifications are more than just swapping out parts. You have to know the product and listen to each upgrade to know how much each will change the sound. In my preamp, I use a transformer volume control. My designs does not use any resistors in the attenuator to degrade the sound and I do not use any caps in the signal path to degrade the sound. I have also found that many of the recommendations on parts swapping from Audiogon members are useless. There are many who feel the Dact attenuator is a very god sounding attenuator but in my comparisons it is average sounding and the resistors used in it are nothing special based on long term listening tests in the same unit, same system, etc. Unfortunately, all of this adds to the cost of building a unit that the mass produced companies cannot do.

Happy Listening.

I`ve owned the Coincident Statement Linestage for nearly 3 years and it`s stunning! Really an outstanding product,but it is`nt possible to claim any thing the 'best' IMO. There are too many variables involved and people simply hear things differently. The design by Israel Blume is brilliant in it`s purist approach.No resistor or capacitor in the signal path,transformer volume control,hard wired etc. Music is reproduced as organic,pure and natural as one could ever desire.This linestage uses the 101D(DHT tubes)which is a transparent and beautiful sounding tube.

Bigkidz, your linestage sounds like it could be something special also.
Good Luck,