Cayin A88T Amp & Joule LA150 MkII PreAmp Wonderful
After listening to dozens of amps and preamps over the years (some expensive and high end), I put the best example of Amp and Preamp that I had found together with the Cayin A88T and Joule LA150MKII and achieved a synergy that was unexpected and turned out to be the best sound I have heard to date.
Tube rolling is a factor though. The Cayin doesn't sound quit right without the right tubes. Before adding the Joule, the Cayin integrated by itself with my choice in tubes installed had a little bit of hardness and etch in the upper mids (using Mullard CV-569s, RCA VT-231, SED KT88s). However, the sound was very dynamic with a vibrant forward yet warm midrange. In all fairness to the Cayin, other tube choices, did not cause the upper occasional upper mid hardness, yet they didn't sound as dynamic either to me.
When mated with the Joule, the Cayin lost the occasional upper midrange etch and hardness that fatiged, the midrange remained warm yet voices took on a more natural tone, and the bass and highs were even more extended. I still have that vibrant dynamic sound that brings out the brass in the brass. However, female singers with etched voices no longer fatigue me like they did on occasion with the Cayin by iteself. And in spite of that, unlike with some overly soft tube amps, they still sound like themselves, perhaps even more so.
Everything I have heard to date (with my equipment and my personal taste for music of course), has fallen short of the music produced by this pair. Some may think that my Joule Pre-Amp is slumming it with the Cayin, but the wonderful music being produced says completely otherwise.
As a side note, I got a very warm midrange sound out of the Cayin when it was operating by itself and I switched from the SED KT88 tubes to the SED 6550s that was in the direction of older Conrad Johnson Amps, yet still more open than the old CJs. However, to me, the singers voices although very warm and textured, got so soft that they didn't seem to sound quit like themselves. For instance, Diana Krall almost sounded a little like Julie London.