Considering going back to Solid State

I have had and Audio Research REF5se now for a few years and love it. Let me be clear, I love the sound and am not wanting to trade back to SS for anything it does wrong. But I am wanting to simplify and get away from tubes and the heat and concern for hours, etc.

So I am seeking advice in the 10-15K range on solid state pre-amps that would be comparable in performance to what I now have. Considering the Ayre 5 series, SimAudio Moon, McIntosh as a few considerations. Which brings me to you, any experience that you have had making a similar comparison would be helpful.

The rest of the 2 channel side is a Mc402 Amp and Revel speakers, how ever in the next month I plan to either buy the Sopra 2's or the Sonus Olympica Nova III, all cardas wiring in case this helps.

Thank You in advance


I did the same thing a year ago and don't miss tubes.  I had Doshi tube amps and preamp.  Before that, ARC Ref 5.  I now have an all Pass Labs system:  XP22 preamp, XP 17 phono, X260.8 amps.  First time in over 20 years there are no tubes anywhere in the system, and I'm very happy.
I missed the sound of my tube preamp and traded my SS in to go back to tubes. I got tired of warming them up and the liked convenience of leaving the SS on all the time. BUT I also missed the listening sound that tubes brought. I decided I wanted to listen to music that sounded the best to me. I am glad I just went back to tubes!

Theo, consider the Italian Grandinote Genesi preamp. Robert Koda would be my other suggestion.
Based upon what you have said, I would recommend that you read the recent review of the new Pass Labs INT-25 ($7250.00). It is an interesting article and Herb Reichert calls it his "new solid state reference."
Apologies for the rush job above, left out the mag:   Sterophile issue Feb 2020.
Interesting topic, I've been looking at leaving my tube MC275 and going to SS. My Maggies need more power.
Hey Theo,

Take a look at The Stereo Times website list of "The most wanted components of the decade" where I placed the fourth generation Coda 07x preamplifier on it.  My full review should be out this week.  It's the first solid state preamplifier in 20 years that out performed my benchmark tube based linestages regarding space and density of color/timbres, along with the virtues of transparency and dynamics.It's not just being "grainless" compared to most solid state gear, the 07x has the overall liquidity of a great tube based preamplifier.  It retails for $6,500, I have had much more expensive SS/tube linestages that were not as well built and did not come close to the the 07X, and it quite under your stated budget.
By experience, I think having a tube preamp and the rest solid state is a good "compromise." I missed tube sound when I switched to a solid state preamp, so I went back to running a tube preamp. 
Well first off, I want to thank you all for the great responses and advice. I would like to answer a few questions, if I may to start.
Erik, the thought had crossed my mind but prefer to keep amplification separate.
Tricon, Pass is another I want to explore, but no local dealers in Colo.Stereo5 I had a number of McIntosh Pre-amp processors and a few stereo preamps. I do like the McIntosh sound and build quality, but want to try something else and also thinking maybe down the road a different amp. I have had McIntosh amps in my system for 30 years or more (feeling old here).
Tricon, Pass is one I want to explore, but no dealers in Colo
I do want to try Ayre as I have always appreciated their sound and quality, I still have. C5xe Andy love it.
You have all provided great suggestions and I hope to see more. What I really appreciate that it makes me realize that I am not crazy for thinking of doing this. So to Mahgister, what do you suggest, your statement leads me to believe you have something in mind?
Interesting thread.  I can understand why people might switch to SS to get away from the added effort and maintenance of tubes.  But I will be very interested as to what SS preamps can "replace" a top-performing tube preamp in what it does best, the portrayal of space.
Another vote for Pass Labs.  If I was ever to leave tubes, (for preamps) that would be about the only brand I would consider.

Ayre is very good also.
By the way both Pass Labs and Ayre references were compared to the Coda 07x in the same system, and in the context of this system, the Coda was more tube like in both color/tonality and the ability to create 3D imaging and more space/air around the individual players.  Compared to the Coda the other two SS preamps sounded slightly flat and a bit washed out overall. The overall advantage I heard with the Coda 07x held true regardless if was driving SS or tube based amplifiers.
I own now a Ayre KX-5 twenty preamp, it replaced a Pass Labs XP-10. 
I am very impressed with the Ayre. 
FYI, my amps are tube.

Teajay's review is up now on StereoTimes... not that I've been checking regularly, or anything...
I did read the Stereo times review and I think it warrants further investigation, thank you scott888. Yes the Ayre KX5 twenty is on my short list, being 40 miles from Boulder and having positive dealings with Ayre on C5xe adds favor as well. I realize that I will hear differences in going back to solid state, and once I decide which Pre-amp I would buy, I will re-evaluate then decide. There has some great suggestions here. One of my biggest problems is there are no local dealers for Pass, Coda, Balanced etc. so that makes it tough to audition any of those. And coincidentally I spoke with the Boulder dealer yesterday.

and the search goes on.

theo - If you can afford new, Music Direct owns BAT and gives you a 60 day (I think) window to return -no questions asked.
You might want to check with Upscale Audio who usually has "open box" units at a discount.
Hey Theo,

If you want to audition the Coda 07x preamplifier just give Doug Dale a call.  They sell direct if you do not have a local dealer and I believe you get an audition time and if not satisfied there is a return policy.
Heat really isn't a thing with tube preamps. They make a little heat but its not significant- if that is really a problem you have much bigger fish to fry! Reliability is another thing, but IME you can leave a tube preamp on for some pretty long times (days) and not have any issues. They are not the same as tube power amps in this regard. Our preamps are warmed up very nicely with only an hour of operation so I see no need to leave them on all the time. OTOH many solid state preamps need to be left on continuously as many of them take about a week to warm up.

The problem IMO is there simply aren't any solid state preamps that have the relaxed quality of a good tube preamp. Every one I've heard errs a bit on the sterile side. But if you want some tips, I would be looking for one of two kinds of solid state preamps.

The first is one based entirely on high performance opamps. The reason for this is something called 'Gain Bandwidth Product'. High performance opamps can have a high enough value of that so that the feedback they run is actually capable of also suppressing the distortion caused by the application of their feedback (I know that sounds a bit recursive but that's the way it is). Its a simple fact that in most solid state designs the application of feedback (usually a requirement for them to be linear) causes them to be brighter and harsher than real life because the feedback used is an insufficient qauntity- and therefore unable to correct the distortion it introduces by its application!  If the circuit runs enough feedback it can then be neutral and musical-  without added brightness and harshness (and so sounding like tubes).

The other kind of preamp I would look at would be one that is entirely single-ended, so it can make a 2nd harmonic, and then be otherwise a very simple zero feedback design (probably meaning its MOSFET based) with perhaps only a single transistor and not much else in the line section. This will be a bit less neutral but still have some tube-like qualities owing to the 2nd harmonic and no feedback.
After recently auditioning the well regarded Schiit Audio Aegir amp (driven by curiosity clearly influenced by the extremely positive Stereophile review) in my home rig (meaning I bought the amp and returned it), I’ve moved even more toward the Tubes Just Sound Better camp. I get that SS amp designers like the brilliant Nelson Pass make beautiful sounding gear, with "tube-like" tone and otherwise world class design, I just prefer whatever actual tubes do over what transistors TRY to do. I respect Schiit’s design efforts and use a Freya tube preamp among other items, along with a Dennis Had "Inspire" single ended tube power amp (albeit tied to efficient speakers), and I’m astonished at the results. Pass has described what he thinks is the reason that a tube’s harmonic content and specific distortion profile is what makes things "musical" (or at least maybe more realistic), and I like his philosophy...the way I prefer to apply that philosophy? Tubes. SS has its place with the super clean pro power amps I own, along with a Class D Ampeg bass amp the size of a cereal box (although I’d prefer a tubed SVT but don’t play bass often enough to bother with one), and my great sounding REL subs, but to get the mojo into my earballs I seem to need whatever tubes mind remains open to listen to other stuff here and there, but for my main hifi needs and guitar pickin’ it’s really hard to beat good ol’ tubes.
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My Sansui Au 7700 sound like a tube amplifier with the precision of an SS one...
The sound is so warm and detailed that upgrading is foolishness...Tough I upgrade with a supposedly better sansui of the ALPHA series...More refined sound , but no more like tubes atmospherical warm aura... I keep the 2 they are too god but I run with the less good of the 2 : the 7700... :)

Vintage was for me the right path, cheap, flexible, legendary good sound... There exist better... If you own money go to read about ZOTL technology of David Berning and say bye to upgrading S.S. or tubes...This guy reinvent tube amplifier or pre-amplifier with insane long life tubes without heat and new technology to use them directly as output...He is a physicist, then instead of an engineering variation on the known usual design he totally reinvent tubes amplifier...His amplifier is the only upgrade I want someday, but because I cannot listen to the gear I have bought, I read thousand of hours before buying and my actual amp is a marvel that is all I want now...And I am more than satisfied with my actual speakers, dac, an amplifier I bought for peanuts dollars after this studying...

Buy used, buy legendary mythical products, or less known revolutionary contemporary one...Be careful with contemporary too well publicized products...Hype is not an indication that the product is bad for sure, he must be good indeed; but hype is rarely the indication of revolutionary top products for many reason: too high cost, or if not too cheap cost; and some little company without great marketing strategies owns revolutionary too good to be true audio products, and the last reason may be too much originality in the product....

My last advice is dont buy anything before listening to what you owns already in the first place...The most important thing in Audio is the methods to controls the acoustical embeddings, the electrical embeddings, and methods to controls the vibrations-resonance plague...Buying before addressing that is throwing money to the wind instead of thinking.... More easy to throw money than thinks.... :)

Top Hi-Fi cost under 1000 dollars if someone think about it... I know for sure this was my path... :)

The only thing this audio hobby have teach me is that what we already owns is able to reach a potential sound quality unbeknownst to us, sometimes a very high level...Never mind the price....
The only thing the audio market advise us generally is to buy to upgrade the audio system we already owns without thinking about the conditions of his right implementation and embedding which could make it able to reach this true sound quality, his original potential, unknown to us to this day...Never mind the price...
Think about that discovery: most of us dont know the fine audio possibilities of our audio system that are veiled behind, vibrations, high noise level, bad acoustic room, and the least effort to "tweak" what we have, when we contemplate the easy solution : to buy.... Never mind the price....
The greatest miracle in audio:
The transformation of a system we dont like enough in one that is at the top of his potential and which we begins to truly love...Never mind the price...

Remember the key to hi-fi is not mostly in the electronic components quality " per se", it is in the technical methods to implement and embed them first... The rest is illusion electronic marketing ploy...

I should have written in my last sentence: " the rest is OFTEN, not all the times for sure,illusive electronics marketing ploys" out of respect for at least half of what is written in articles... But my main idea is unchanged....All cats cannot be in the same bags indeed....
I had a McIntosh C50 (solid state preamp) paired with my McIntosh MC452 (solid state power amp), and had the opportunity to audition a McIntosh C2500 tube preamp, and found that it had a slightly more "musical" tone, especially with acoustic instruments.

One of my audio buddies let me know that tubes in the preamp, handling low power signals would last a long time, his were 9 years old and not in need of replacement.

I sold the C50 and upgraded the C2500 to Gold Lion tubes and am very happy with the way it pairs with my other equipment!
+1 @toetapaudio  Also nice to see mention of Grandinote which is under the radar here in the U.S.
I had 2 pre's come to mind instantly. I have sat in front of both of them many times. These 2 have very similar characteristics and sound more alike than different. One has been repeatedly mentioned here, that is the Coda 07x. The second is the Spread Spectrum Technologies (SST) Ambrosia. 
As mentioned, I am considering the switch. But truthfully leaning toward change. I have read some great advice that support change and not changing. I must start now auditioning the different brands mentioned here where possible. But thanks to all of you for contributing to this question. And please don’t stop.
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Do it, less tube hassle, and reliability issues!

  Tubes fun, yes, 
SS, power  snort warm up, play, dram, enjoy!...dome
No mention of your source ( s ). I went passive ( Luminous Audio Axiom II, Walker Mod, with remote, 3 in, 2 out ), and am listening to my cds and tuner in their full glory. Worth a try.
Mrdecibel, maybe that would have helped. My sources are RP10/Kleos/Linn Linto, Ayre C5xe-mp, Bluesound Node2 with Chord Cutest. Don't listen to CD's as much seems like streaming is so much easier.
Wait a second.... they make stereo equipment without tubes? Are you sure? Is that even technically possible?   I know they make tv’s now without tubes but a stereo.... that’s just crazy talk.

theo ..thanks for sharing.

As I read responses, I also thought of the possibility of a good passive preamp try.  Mine is a more budget 2 channel, however, I enjoyed the honesty of a Goldpoint SA4 before going to an all-in-one box NAD M2 solution some years ago.  Timbre is my priority and it gave that nicely.  I have a flush friend who enjoys the Luminous passive in his smaller system.  If your amp has enough headroom, could be a cost effective solution.  More Peace, Pin   
Hello Sir,l also ran a ARC 5se preamp for about 3 years or so.Power was from a set of REF 210 monos.Although I was happy with the sound,I was also tired of the heat,power consumption and tube replacement,I listen as much as I can.What the answer for me was,and the most balanced sounding stereo I have ever heard anywhere,home or store,was the Berning ZOTL pre 1 with Quadrature Z monos.Although you can't buy new,still around in the used market frequently.These drive Focal Scala Utopia V2 III with astonishing performance with both digital and analog.I did mis the ARC's hint of darkness at the very beginning,but the true tonality that the Berning's brought is truly addictive.I hope you find what your looking for before you go broke,Like me.  And PS,if you don't have any yet-try Stillpoints,worth every penny or ok,every hundred dollar bill.  Good luck John

Thanks for your interesting Berning pre-amplifier impressions... It seems my dream is related to something that is a true event...My best...