Best Tubed Preamp For A Warm, Rich Sound, Yet Still Detailed and Agile


As the title says, I am looking for an exceptional preamp (obviously tubed) with warmth and liquidity, some of that golden glow, in the midrange and highs. I do not want slowness, or lack of detail, however. My budget is up to $6,000.00, for a used model. 

Based on my research, many of those that might make the list are very rare to find, and other recommendations would be greatly appreciated. 


nightfall
I would suggest Shindo.(Aurieges or maybe a Monbrisson, perhaps a little over your price range, though) or a Lamm LL2 or 2.1.  An older VAC Renaissance might also be in your range, if you can find one.  I have heard all of these in my systems at various times and have enjoyed them all.
+ 1 on the  Lamm LL2 and Monbrison. If you're not doing phono, you would be wasting a very good phono stage with the latter. As much as I love the Shindo, the Lamm may match a wider range of amps.
Aesthetix Calypso Signature then upgrade it to the Eclipse version
Atma-Sphere MP-3, would be my recommendation. Even better if paired with Atma amps.
I never knew sound could be reproduced so cleanly and transparently.
B
Agreed on Shindo listened to my friends Vosne Romanee/Montrachet combo the other night amazing sound! Also would recommend Audio Note an M3 linestage new is in your budget or you could score a used M3 or M4 if you keep an eye on the ads here.
ARC
From time to time, you will see a Doshi Alaap come up for sale.  Line state only would be well within your budget but they are more rare.  Full function would be near the top of our range.  Also highly recommend VAC Ren. 
VAC Renaissance mk III would probably fill the bill nicely, very hard to find on the used market though.
If you have not had a Direct Heated Triode preamplifier,, it is thr purest sound you 
Will find . After having  every type. This is the most direct type without question ,
Single ended. I am using a custom Lundahl based 4P1L Vacuum tube 
Preamp.  For 1/2 your  $6'k budget  you can best preamps are 3-4 that in resolution and refinement, Radu Tarta is one of the best engineers 
I have ever met .p.s just look up this tube it is probably the most linear Vacuum tube for  music ,just research  the 4P1L  Vacuum Tube.
There is a Doshi Alaap that recently listed on this site. $5995.
nightfall
Best Tubed Preamp For A Warm, Rich Sound, Yet Still Detailed and Agile. I do not want slowness, or lack of detail, however.
As a starting point, I suggest you look for a tube preamp that has low output impedance, something below <1kohm (<1000ohms) 20hz to 20khz, as that will ensure it can drive comfortably any poweramp input, even if it’s 10kohm input impedance, without any added colourations, eg: fatness/thickness/thinness, slowness, rolled off.
Then pick your choices from there.

You could even though it’s much cheaper than your budget, for a trial period try the Schiit Freya, remote control, passive, active s/s, or active tube, balanced or single ended, if you don’t like it you can send it back.
http://schiit.com/products/freya

Cheers George

deHavilland UltraVerve. Wish I still had mine. So good. Outstanding resolution and detail, big tone and can boogie.

Cheers,

Scott




nightfall 

You have enough in your budget to get the deHavilland Mercury 3 which is an upgrade over the UltraVerve which is an exceptional preamplifier. I was a dealer for them for about 12 years and we had a room together at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. Deliriously good. 

http://www.dehavillandhifi.com



I may get flamed for this, but based on how my McIntosh C220 sounds, I would suggest that (~$2800 used) or the C2300 (similar, with a better phono section).  I seek what you seek, and for me, the C220 does the trick.  Whether it has enough "golden glow" for you or not, I can't say.
Find a DHT preamp and be done with all this.

Happy Listening.
For less than one third the price you could try Linear Tube Audio in home for 15 days and see if it works.  From the reviews it sounds like it has the characteristics you're looking for. 
http://www.lineartubeaudio.com/products/mz2-s-2

Or maybe the Sachs SP14 at about the same price
http://www.dsachsconsulting.com/custom%20line%20stage.html

Just a couple other options to consider.  Best of luck. 

nightfall,

Perhaps if you list what the tube Pre. will be paired with would help. I'm going to suggest save some money and get a Vincent SA-T8, fully balanced Pre-Amp. The most musically involving Pre-Amp I've heard at anywhere near or double it's cost. Roll in some better tubes and you've got a Pre. you won't ever want to switch off.
You have a lot of good options here to choose from, but don't forget the benefit of a tube preamp is the ability to try different tubes! The warm, rich, detailed sound you're looking for could depend on the tubes you decide to use as much as the preamp itself.
Another nod for the Lamm LL2 or the LL2.1. I purchased the LL2 used and after letting it go cycled back to a new LL2.1 after trying some really good used preamps, the only other preamps I tryed that gave the Lamm a run were the Audible Illusions Line stage with upgrades and a First Sound Presence that was the equal of the Lamm. Good luck

I appreciate everyone's input thus far. I will research and carefully consider your suggestions. I've also had recommendations for the following:

Cary SLP-05
Allnic L-3000 MK2
McIntosh MC500T
Joule Electra LA-150 Mk II Special Edition

Any thoughts on whether these would provide what I am looking for would also be appreciated. Thanks.
I'm not really sure what you are looking for. From what you have posted, it sounds like your preferences are toward the rich and warm sound, though you would like a bit of detail. 

You have to understand that as you get warmer, richer, sweeter sound, you also lose detail and definition. The higher the resolution and detail, the less warm and rich sounding. So obviously you cannot go in two opposite directions at one time.

That said, if I am reading you right, the Cary SLP-05 or a Joule Electra LA-300ME may be just what you are looking for.  
The Allnic L-3000 mk 2 is more similar to my original suggestion of the VAC Renaissance mk III. These are not the warmest or richest sounding tube amps. The VAC and Allnic both lean more toward the resolution/detail side of the fence, but with a bit more warmth than the likes of ARC.

It seems like you want more warmth and richness, so Cary, CJ or JE may be what works best for you.
What amplifier will you be using?

There have been many worthy suggestions, but as Georgehifi alluded to earlier impedance compatibility with the amplifier needs to be considered. Also, compatibility with the amplifier in terms of gain, and with respect to whether both components would be best suited for the same type of interconnection (i.e., balanced or unbalanced).

Regards,
-- Al

Here's a few you may want to adition. VTL 2.5, Aesthetix Calipso, Wyetech Pearl, Lamm LL2.1, Sutherland N1. (I know the N1 is solid state, but I'm still recommending it)
The amplifier that I will be using the preamp with is superb, but not well known, which is why I failed to mention it earlier. It is the Wells Audio Innamorata, which is single ended with an amplifier input impedance of 50k ohms. 
JMC Grogan2, I completely understand your point. I'm trying to find the sweet spot between warmth and richness, without sacrificing too much detail and speed. I particularily appreciate your thoughts as you and I share, I think, somewhat similar tastes. I hope your Rowland Model 6's are still serving you well! 
I hope your Rowland Model 6's are still serving you well!

Actually, the Model 6's are long gone, but not forgotten.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/rowland-model-6-monoblocks-my-thoughts

The Model 6's were some terrific amps, without question the best Class A/B amps I've ever heard.

I have heard good things of Wells Audio, but I've never had a chance to hear any of their products.
I'll be interested to see what preamp you wind up mating with that amp.
Have you asked Jeff Wells for any preamp recommendation?
While the description of the Innamorata at the Wells Audio website as well as in various reviews indicate its input impedance as 50K, its manual indicates 30K. I don’t know which number is correct, of course, but 30K would be somewhat marginal (or worse) for use with several of the preamps that have been suggested. For example, Stereophile measured the 20 Hz output impedance of the Lamm LL2 at 3.3K, and the 20 Hz output impedance of the Cary SLP-05 at 3.4K, both of which would be just barely acceptable in conjunction with a 30K load, IMO. I’d have even greater concerns about the unspecified output impedances of the Shindo products. For example, Stereophile measured the output impedance of the Aurieges phono preamp as rising to 16.5K (!) at 20 Hz, which would not be suitable even in conjunction with a 50K load IMO.

Also, the Atmasphere preamps that were suggested would probably not be optimal choices for use with the Innamorata, as they are fully balanced and provide RCA outputs only as an option.

A specific suggestion I would add to those that have been mentioned is the Herron VTSP-3A, at $6550. I haven’t heard it myself, but members whose opinions I have considerable respect for have been very pleased with it, and the extremely positive experiences I and many others here have had with Herron’s VTPH-2 phono stage, and in dealing with Keith Herron himself (who is a treasure to deal with), lead me to suggest it.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

This article might be helpful:

http://www.dagogo.com/boppin-down-memory-lane-preamps



P.S. to my previous post, re the Herron preamp. Karl Lozier’s review of an earlier version of the VTSP-3A states as follows, as quoted at the Herron website:
The fact that it has a tad ... more bass fullness, richness and power in the mid to upper bass is only a part of overall experience and does tend to reveal its vacuum tube heritage. The audibly extended high frequency response has its own attraction at the same time being silky smooth and sweet while revealing even more inner detail. That is a really tough balancing act for an audio designer to successfully accomplish.
Sounds very consistent with the sonic traits you indicated you are looking for.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al


Allnic L-3000 MK2  I think this is a DHT preamp.

Happy Listening.
almarg, thanks for including that quote on the Herron. I've obviously heard of them but do not know a great deal about the company other than hearing many positives, in general. By that description, it certainly does sound like something I need to look into. I couldn't afford it brand new though, I probably shouldn't truly go above $5500.00. Hopefully these appear used from time to time.
Just came across this in a Stereophile review of a VTL preamp I thought worth looking into, and it also has me very interested based on the description of the sound. Again, though I would, have to wait for a used unit to appear, in the interest of finances. And not sure how often these surface. 

"

The VTL's midrange—voluptuously rich, detailed, and liquid—made it a natural match for well-recorded voices. My favorite Beatles recording of solo voice, musically and sonically, is John Lennon's soulful rendition of Arthur Alexander's "Anna (Go to Him)," from Please Please Me (CD, Parlophone). The TL-5.5 II brought out every low-level dynamic nuance in Lennon's vocal style; even his raspy upper register was bathed in a golden glow.

The VTL's midrange, however, was revealing and uncolored enough to differentiate among the sound qualities of various recordings."


Read more at http://www.stereophile.com/content/vtl-tl-55-series-ii-signature-line-preamplifier#rjmRYVEXzjebYRpv....
soundsrealaudio, thank you for linking that article, it's very helpful.
jmcgrogan25,804 posts04-06-2017 6:00pm
I hope your Rowland Model 6's are still serving you well!

Actually, the Model 6's are long gone, but not forgotten.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/rowland-model-6-monoblocks-my-thoughts

The Model 6's were some terrific amps, without question the best Class A/B amps I've ever heard. 

I have heard good things of Wells Audio, but I've never had a chance to hear any of their products.
I'll be interested to see what preamp you wind up mating with that amp.
Have you asked Jeff Wells for any preamp recommendation?

Just left Jeff a voice mail message about that very subject. He's a great guy, incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We've had quite a few conversations about the amp. 

Just curious, what caused you to leave the Model 6's behind, and what did you replace them with?
Not a ton of experience with preamps in your price range (which would be in the $10-15K) retail range, I agree with Al on the Herron. A fantastic linestage and the best I've had in my system by far. Super quiet, very organic and musical. To my ears it may not have as much "tube warmth" as you are looking for but that does not mean it is at all sterile sounding--quite the opposite. Just very true to the tone and harmonics of real music without added coloration. Plus you get Keith's unparalleled support and expertise!
Soundsrealaudio....can you elaborate on the differences between the deHavilland Ultraverve and Mercury preamps?
second the recs for DeHavilland Ultraverve. Love mine. It's single ended only. 
Just curious, what caused you to leave the Model 6's behind, and what did you replace them with?

The never ending quest for audio nirvana.
I believe that I replaced the Model 6's with a BAT VK-75SE that I then had modified by Bob Backert of RHB Sound Dezign. The BAT is also long gone.
I tend to vacillate between tubes and SS amps. This time last year was a VAC tube amp. This year, so far, it's Pass Labs SS amps. Who knows what the future holds?

I've been married to the same woman for 33 years now.
However, when it comes to audio equipment, I'm not the "settling down" type.
I like to play the field. ;^)
Wall Audio Opus 88, I'm running it with a Pass Lab Volksamp 30 watts... I love the combo because they play off each other's strength nicely
Ck out the Cary Slp 05 with some vintage NOS tubes. Sylvania 6sn7 W circa early 1940s ot if you can find them, Tung Sol Black Plates. Very natural sound!  Quiet, quick, very musical.
You may look down your nose, but I got rid of an Ayon pre and kept an Audible Illusions Modulus 3a. It's very liquid, transparent, detailed etc. and you can get one for $2K or less. It's driving an MC275 VI (two mono), Maggie 1.7s and a Hsu uls15 mk II and I'm often startled by the presence, detail and timbre of jazz music, especially vocals. 

Absolutely Love my Cary SLP-05

Matched with an Esoteric A-03 Amp.

Some NOS Sylvania's 6sn7's 

Also lots of tweaks to fine tune to your taste.

After 45 years in the hobby, without a shadow of a doubt, The Convergent Audio Technology Sl1 series of preamps are the most musical accurate sonically correct products for an all-in-one (phono and linestage) money can buy!!!!
In my 45 year of searching for SQ improvement, I personally recommend Don Sachs preamp, which you can obtain for under $2K.   It is based on 6SN7 tubes and it is much more revealing and detailed than the Modwright preamp that it replaced, which itself was outstanding.  Check out the Forum for my review of it and comments of other owners. Here is Don Sachs' website:    http://www.dsachsconsulting.com/custom%20line%20stage.html

BTW, anybody that uses 6SN7 tubes in their gear that hasn't tried the Shuguang Treasure CV181-Z tubes is not hearing all that their equipment is capable of rendering. To my ears, and those of Don Sachs, they better all the NOS tubes around, save for the uber pricey ones.  They are robust and appear to have some longevity.  Try them and I am sure you will agree. 
Strange that the Coincident Statement Linestage isn’t on the list. For nearly half your price range for a second hand unit, this is one of the most direct tube preamplifier on the market: 101D triode (the Western Electric Replica PSvane) directly heated, external power supply, not any other active component on the signal way. It use some japaneese occ mumetal transformers in and out for the volume control, symetrical and non symetrical connections. New it is on your price range, and the transformers are actually better than some years ago.

Use it with the best A class solid state power amplifier(s) you can find (that would give you the hot touch, drive , rich timbre and transparency). The preamp will give high level transparency, resolution, fludity, air, soundstage deepness.

The Ypsilon PST100 may be a good upgrade to the Coincident Statement Linestage in the same phylosophy of transparency and musical involvment, but the price is a bit different....

I don’t really agree with some that say we can’t have resolution and beauty at the same time. A real high resolution may be partnered with beauty, if the audio gears are stressless, but not bottlenecks (and the room / speakers partnership effective). In this price range, it would be a shame to have bottlenecks. And for me, a too cold but high resolution solidstate preamp is... a bottleneck as it fail to give any musical implication. But of course, a chain of gain stages like dac, preamp and power amp, are and addition of works on the modulation wave, and an opportunity to try to give some extra heart touching capabilities, that make the music a bit extra-ordinary although the scheme and component may keep the transparency and resolution as high as possible.

Of course, no doubt that there are many good preamps in the world, sure I would be happy with many preamps that are spoken about here... everybody have his own pearl on mind... different of the neighbour one....

Regards, Nico.
Hey Nightfall; As you know, there are so many options available today it can make you crazy, but each of us must speak only from direct experience. There are several in this chain who have pointed you in the direction of Cary's SLP-05 ..... well, I'm hear to tell you they are right. I purchased one in September '16 and it replaced a McIntosh (MAC) C-46. Use whatever parameter you wish; transparency, soundstage/depth, detail/resolution without the etchiness, focus, transient dynamics and weight ... and all of this with that "warmth & liquidity" you seek. All of these things improved with the Cary and in most, improved significantly. The gains were (are) anything but subtle. And the guy who partnered his Cary with an Esoteric SS amp .... he's got the right idea .... my Cary is wired to my MAC MC 302 stereo amp. Can't say what is it about a tubed pre and SS power amp .... but the marriage is truly glorious. Are there other pre amps that will fit the bill? Sure, but from experience I can tell you that your journey does not have to be that long. Give the Cary serious consideration.
There are several in this chain who have pointed you in the direction of Cary's SLP-05 ..... well, I'm hear to tell you they are right.

I'm curious as to if all the folks recommending the Cary SLP-05 have read this comment from the OP:

The amplifier that I will be using the preamp with is superb, but not well known, which is why I failed to mention it earlier. It is the Wells Audio Innamorata, which is single ended with an amplifier input impedance of 50k ohms.

I'm not sure that the SLP-05 is any better than the SLP-98 if you can not run it in balanced mode.
Not to mention the point that Al (almarg) pointed out regarding the SLP-05's output impedance:

While the description of the Innamorata at the Wells Audio website as well as in various reviews indicate its input impedance as 50K, its manual indicates 30K. I don’t know which number is correct, of course, but 30K would be somewhat marginal (or worse) for use with several of the preamps that have been suggested. For example, Stereophile measured the 20 Hz output impedance of the Lamm LL2 at 3.3K, and the 20 Hz output impedance of the Cary SLP-05 at 3.4K, both of which would be just barely acceptable in conjunction with a 30K load, IMO.

This post is a great vehicle for people to pump their favorite preamps, which is great.  However, to actually reach your objectives, you might need a wider view.  Two points I'd make:

(1) In my humble experience, you can only get so much of the tube feel out of the preamp part of the equation.  It's there, but you get the real tubey bang for your buck out of the power amp part of the equation.  So you might consider that budget applied to a tube power amp instead.  This is where the real liquid turbiness comes in, I have found.  Or consider a full-tube integrated.  OR a tube input stage hybrid power amp with a SS output stage.  All of those may give you the full tube experience more than a preamp alone.

(2) I don't mean to say that you don't get good tubiness out of a preamp.  But if you go this way, save a substantial portion of the budget for the tubes.  The hardware is obviously important too, but if you really want to enjoy the whole experience, you'll need some nice new old stock options to play with -- Mullard, Telefunken, the usual suspects, etc.  There are some nice options at Upscale Audio, and Kevin Deal may be able to guide you to both hardware and tubes, but your mileage may vary with Kevin.

Good luck!

I was looking for exactly what the OP is looking for and I found it in the TRL The Dude, which I would rank first, and the CJ Premier 16 LS. Also the MP 1, but not with your amp. 
I currently use both the top rated 2 above and they will be my last preamps ( in different systems) 
I'd look at the Baekert Labs preamps in all price ranges they are giant killers. Bob Baekert has a patent on a new power supply, worked at CJ for years, and the many reviews of the Rhumba and Rhythm have been very positive. Plus, I understand they may be warranting their tubes for 10 years! They are Audiogon. Let Andy know you corresponded with William. Some people like them, some people don't.
As for the other brands mentioned above, many of those are in my repair shop all the time.Some are not. Why do you think people are selling them?
 I'll pass on Deal.