Too me the higher you go up in price the closer they sound alike..Thats a compliment really..I would think the lower price tends to put limitations on the maker and tube equipment ( generally ) is more expensive ..( in a perfect world ) ..I think I would tend to be more interested in what works best with your current system and what your personal demands are considering music type...I have owned plenty of both and it is really a tough question to answer..Really a personal thing in my mind..but I am sure many others will not agree with me....
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09-10-08: ThormanI agree with this.
What I have found in the really excellent preamps that I have owned...like Atma-Sphere MP-1 and Lamm L2 Reference, is that they are more alike than not. What has differed somewhat is the size of the image they create.
Also, properly matching impedance with one's amplifier is key. An impedance mismatch will result in less than optimal sound quality that will not be the fault of either component, but is something for which one component or the other sometimes gets the blame. Reading Stereophile's Test Measurements section in a review is helpful in this respect. There will usually be a sentence or two that addresses impedance matching.
I am somewhat confused by this second post of late which refers to impedance matching in a preamp. I would think that all preamps would have a fairly standard range for resistance in and the ability to cope with an easy after-load. What am I not understanding.
I never thought of them like a tube power amp's power out against a load that it is designed to play with. With amps the range is so great from 2 kilowatt Macs to 3 watt 2A3 or 45 SETs that you must be selective interms of what will work. Trying to use big Maggies with a flea powered SET is plainly ludicrous. If you choose 16 ohm resistance high efficiency speakers then you stand a good chance that you will actually get the system to play music.
Also as I understand it the Cary is not particularily sensitive to load variance due to it's potent power supply and the coupling transformers.
John Atkinson does a good job of explaining in his measurements section, as in the Cary SLP-05 review.
Essentially, the take-away is:
The SLP 05's output impedance is specified as a usefully low 400 ohms. However, I got significantly higher values for the unbalanced output of 15001600 ohms in the midrange and treble, rising to 3400 ohms at 20Hz, with similar if slightly lower figures for the balanced output. The Cary preamp needs to be used with power amplifiers having input impedances of 10k ohms or greater if the bass is not to sound a little lean.
Atkinson almost always includes a statement similar to the last sentence. The 10K ohms figure will vary depending on the preamp being measured. For example, in his measurements of the ARC Reference 3 preamp, he states a recommended amplifier input impedance of 20k ohms or higher.
Systems that sound bright could sound that way because of a preamp/amp mismatch that results in lean bass.
I have heard many, many, many preamps in my 30 years of audio 'nutzville'. FWIW, I have never heard any SS preamp that could contend musically with a tube preamp. I've heard many top SS contenders from Krell, ML, Coda, Threshold, etc. None could beat even less expensive tube preamp models from Cary, VAC, BAT, ARC, etc.
The bottom line is that tubes just sound more like music......at least to my ears.