Budget Tube Preamp ($2000)


Hello guys,
First post here!

I am in the market for a tube preamplifier for my current system, to add a bit of warmth. My budget is under $2000, the cheaper the better, Mainly looking at the used market (I love great deals). 
My build currently:
- Monitor Audio Silver 300 speakers
- Project Debut Carbon Turntable
- Marantz Cd5005 CD player
- Cambridge Audio Azur 851N
- Rotel RB 1582 Mkii Power Amp

If you guys have suggestions, I appreciate it a lot! For the inputs, if the preamp has XLR that would be great as I'm currently running my Azur 851N to my amp through a balanced connection and it sounds pretty good. This is not completely necessary though. 

Thanks!


5837fd23 b4ff 4c40 9046 d84bb5f1e0d9saltboy
saltboy you must be living under a rock.

Ya canna go past the Schiit Freya, even if it were $2K!! and it won’t cost that much!!
And it’s 3 preamps in one to suit you moods, also has the best mechanical volume control you can get, all remote controled Balanced or SE.
https://www.schiit.com/products/freya-1

Cheers George
Manley Jumbo Shrimp used and upgrade the tubes through Upscale Audio.  Patrick Cullen Crossover II PC to complete the deal.
Your speakers are 90dB which is great. I don't advise on separates as they're too low value for me. For less than you will have in your separates you could have a PL or Raven integrated that will not need the extra interconnect and power cord to sound better. Don't be put off by 20 vs 200 watts, either a Nighthawk or PL has more than enough power for those speakers. 
lots of good choices out there for 2 grand used

surf a-gon and us audiomart

if you must have balanced topology then the selection narrows a good bit


What are you using for your phono?
OP, my research on preamps lead me to Quicksilver Line Stage, non-remote, version; two tubes, simply and well built, point to point wired, very good customer service, and a very good reputation with customers. Made in California. $1500 new, easy to find $900, used. Search the forums about it. You'll see people believe it's an amazing value. Certainly meets your price point.
Well, three tube preamps that could be purchased new at your budget I would consider are the Quicksilver mentioned by Hide45, the Schiit preamps mentioned by George, or one by Aric Audio (check out website). 

As per yogiboy, what phonostage are you using?


Just to add to @mesch suggestions, people have really had good experiences with this smaller maker, too: http://www.erhard-audio.com/
I don't advise on separates as they're too low value for me.

Question: so why even post on this thread? Answer: to promote your agenda of what should be the best approach to audio and to promote the brands you like (even if you've never owned).  

Op,
    Whichever product you choose, consider how you will use the piece in regular listening.  For me, I like to roll tubes so having easy access with exposed tubes allows for me to do this without a major disassembly process and moving the components, wires etc.  Having the ability to put the tubes in standby or bypass mode is also very nice if you are a 24/7 power on listener.  While some chime on about difficulty in locating them, I find the 6SN7 NOS tubes very pleasing to my ears. Particularly the KenRad JAN VT231 and the Melz1578. Good Luck in your search, there is more to this than just a brand name and a dollar amount. 
consider how you will use the piece in regular listening. For me, I like to roll tubes so having easy access with exposed tubes allows for me to do this without a major disassembly process and moving the components, wires etc. Having the ability to put the tubes in standby or bypass mode is also very nice if you are a 24/7 power on listener. While some chime on about difficulty in locating them, I find the 6SN7 NOS tubes very pleasing to my ears


very much agree with the above - good luck
@jjss49 Jeebus, is this good advice.

I bought a solid state amp to supplement my tube amp -- just to have for fun and kicks, and the occasional quick listen (in case the tubes don't have time to warm up) -- and I now use it a lot! Just goes to show how much of an overall *practice* listening is. 

If I start to roll tubes on my preamp more often, I may just have to take the cover off. 18 screws are too many!
@hilde45
I have the same QS preamp that you have. Two screws, one screw on two opposite corners is enough to hold the cover down without any movement!

@yogiboy  That's too obvious! I'm such an idiot. 
@ hilde45
No you’re not. I just got tired of removing those 18 screws when rolling tubes. As a matter of fact I don’t use any screws!
Cayin 12AU7 line stage under $1500 = best bang. 
Matches Jadis's quality /sound at less than 1/10th the price.
find a rogue dealer that will deal on a new Rogue Audio RH 5 tube linestage headphone amp.  2500 retail, you should be able to get close to budget.    xlr in and out, driving dynamic transparent sound, adjustable gain, stereophile class A.  
gives the $5k RP7 that i upgraded to a serious run for the $
Post removed 
The preamps recommended above IMO are average to below average in sound and build quality.  You would be better off with an old Counterpoint SA-2000 if you don't need a phono ad an SA-3000 if you need a phono.  They can be easily upgraded to close to reference quality.  If you prefer a 6SN7 sound then the same foes for the DeHavilland preamps, the upgardes make this preamp also sound fantastic.

Happy Listening

A pre-amp should not add anything, warmth or "coldness". And the very good tube (and solid state) pre-amps don’t. If your system lacks warmth (whatever that means to you), better to address the source of that shortcoming. Complimentary colorations is a tricky business!

People choose tube pre-amps for what the good ones DON’T add to the sound of recordings ("etching", grain, brightness, etc.), and for what they reproduce that some solid state pre’s don’t (the organic timbre and texture of acoustic instruments and voices, depth-of-field, a "relaxed" presentation of music).

A very good pre-amp does not reveal it’s means of amplification (tubes, FET’s, transistors), only the sound of the recordings passing through it. That’s the basic and fundamental tenet of High Fidelity Music Reproduction.

If you're lucky, you might find a used Herron VTSP-1a.  
I absolutely love my BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) VK-5i balanced XLR tube preamp and there happens to be one for sale for exactly $2,000 on Audiogon right now. The build quality is second to none with BAT. Victor’s designs are legendary. I highly recommend checking it out.
Are you looking to add some warmth to your system or to your listening room? A good tube preamp will give you more depth, but warmth? I don't think so.
Ayre if you want SS, a nice used ARC might also fit your budget. 
Hello everyone,

Thank you for all your suggestions. I decided to go with the Schiit Freya Plus as it fit my budget really well, and had the features that I was looking for. Planning on spending the extra money I had on rolling some 6sn7 :)

Thank you, everyone! shoutout to @georgehifi for the tip! 
@saltboy

freya+ is good place to start

place it well, isolation wise... that unit and the tubes it uses can be quite microphonic... one of the downsides to tube units, this one is particularly susceptible
No doubts, Audio Research LS25 mk1!!!

Mario
I picked up an Audio Research SP-6B for about 1100 and it is a wonderful pre-amp.

Cheers!
I can't believe no one has mentioned a used Conrad Johnson. The gold standard in tube preamps. 
+ 1 ls25 mk1 
Bought one a year ago, around 2k and it still gives me goose bumps !!!!
My Freya (original version bought new a few years ago) isn't now and has never been sensitive to microphonics...a myth from some critics that's clearly nonsense. The tubes can be rolled among all the brands available and, although finding a bad tube is possible, I haven't found a single one among the many NOS and new tubes I've stuck in the preamp...my current quad of NOS GEs has held up for a long time and sound spectacular, are clear and clean and utterly non microphonic.
@wolf garcia

My Freya (original version bought new a few years ago) isn’t now and has never been sensitive to microphonics...a myth from some critics that’s clearly nonsense.


i am admittedly not a critic... at least not a professional one :) ... just a user, and my experience with a freya plus is as i reported - ran EH 6SN7’s, quite microphonic, substituted old stock sylvania’s, became less so, but still a minor issue, could never get the unit to be silent with tube damper rings, herbies etc etc

i am glad you had better luck with this model
You think the preamp is responsible for microphonic tubes? Was the Freya + you supposedly owned also noisy in the other two non tube modes? Did you call Schiit about it? Again, nonsense.
Sorry I didn't chime in sooner. I sent my Schiit Freya Plus back when I got this.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS4LwM7omSE
easy now wolf - take a chill pill

your freya is good... really is

it's ok
I have used many tube preamps with LP’s and CDP’s. And although I mate them with tube amps, sometimes I try my tbe preamps with SS amps like my Proton and MArantz 140. As to the best preamps, from the following list:

McIntosh C-11 (owned 3)
McIntosh C-20 (owned 3 too)
Conrad Johnson PV1, PV-8, PV10a
Dynaco PAS-2, PAS-3 and PAS-3X
Nikko Beta 500 (SS, not tube)
Heathkit WA-P2 (mono boxes, so u need two controlled via one stereo volume pot to make a stereo set a worthy and useable try)
Radford SC22 (SS+tube at the phono stage, tubes at the line stage; I have had two)
Radford SC2 (all tube design but needs external DIY PSU like the Heathkit’s)
EICO HF-85 (all tube design)

I’d say the best value is the Heathkit if you can DIY a joint volume pot, and make your pown power supply to feed them with 300VDC regulated at 30ma total, and 6.3 VAC for the tube filaments. A pair is equivalent in circuitry design to Fisher 50C which costs many times over the Heathkit, and probably sound not much different from each other. A pair of WA-P2 should not cost you over 100 US$ if you buy from local sources, and I imagine it would be a common item at thrift stores.

If you wanna spend your 1k US$ on an absolute best among the list above (it’s just my experience, someone else will tell you his), I’d suggest the PV-1 from Conrad Johnson, or PV-2 which is the same thing with delayed signal at turn-on. These are becoming rarer and rarer and they prices are rising commenruately. I got mine in mint condition at about $725 from a hifi friend of mine. It is probably the only ones among CJ’s PV line that uses NFB, while later models from PV-5 onwards, use no NFB. So the PV-1 and PV-2 sound distinguishingly clean in a tubey way with warm mid-bass. It is at its best playing symphonic music, and not bad at all playing chamber. If you have a chance, compare it with Marantz 7C, vintage or re-issues. You’d wonder why they are priced that far apart nowadays.

Forget about McIntosh C-11 and C-20 and C-22. Complete waste of money even if you use TFK tubes on them. You’d want them for display only if you come across some in minty condition.
the op states below that he already bought a schiit freya plus

it is a good unit, especially for the money

decent intro for him to tubes in his system 

let's wish him a fun time listening to it
@jjss49 Thank you!

to everyone still posting and discussing, I think all the information and options are great! definitely can come back and look at this thread if I ever want to delve further into my tube system later. 

I think that this thread can continue with suggestions for budget tube preamps as some other guy like me may need to get information in the future or even now!
Congrats! Let us know what you think once you have had time with it. 
Used Modwright LS-100 is just in your budget limit. Very good preamp considering price/quality ratio and availability for upgrades (Phono stage or DAC) Roll it with better tubes choice and you in Shangri-la. Currently two of them are at USAM one new and another one used in very good condition with tubes upgrade. 
+1 on the Don Sachs recommendation.  I’m surprised more people haven’t jumped in and mentioned Don’s preamps.  If you want Don’s highest quality/most feature laden preamps and want to stay at $2000, you’ll have to look for a used preamp.   His very good quality preamps are a little over $2000 and you can always send them into Don and have the more expensive caps installed later.
I bought the CJ classic SE version 5 years ago and still use it, lovely sound. You should be able to get it used for less than 2K
You will see a number of people singing the praises of the Don Sachs preamp.  They are hand made, custom built, dressed up versions of the VTA SP14 kit. The Don Sachs preamp will run you about $2500. The base SP14 kit will run you $1090. Fully tested and assembled, it will run you $1490. There are options for better caps, remote control, attenuators, etc, all at a reasonable price more. The SP14 is very plain Jane if that's an issue for you.  

90% of those who buy the SP14 will get the kit version. Not all that hard to build. Excellent instructions and building it will result in you being much more involved in the sound. The SP14 is every bit as good as any of the other preamps mentioned here - Audio Research, Prima Luna, Manley, Cary Audio, etc.
Get a ARC LS25mk1, they go for about $2400. Or look for a ARC LS15, fully balanced and only 4 tubes. I have one but upgraded to a 25mk1.The LS15 is a nice pre with good soundstage and nice tone.
@three_easy_payments 


+1

Lots of excellent sounding choices:

Audible Illusions Modulus 3 or 3a.

Conrad Johnson, just about any PV series

Audio Research, just about any SP series

VanAlstine Super Pas3

Several Cary Audio Preamps

Luxman CL series

BAT Technologies
I’d suggest a Graaf 13.5b II. Available around your price level and playing in the first division. It is also fully balanced
Congrats on your Freya!

For 6SN7 tube rolling, I really like the Shuguang Treasures CV181Z 

A review by TNT-Audio: https://www.tnt-audio.com/accessories/shuguang_treasures_cv181_e.html