Considering moving to separates with a tube preamp-appreciate recommendations


I currently drive Dynaudio Evoke 50 speakers with a Hegel H390 integrated amp. The Hegel also functions as my DAC and streamer.

I use an Elac Alchemy PPA-2 phono pre with a Technics SL-1200G turntable.

I also have a Denon DCD-A110 SACD player.

I've been pleased with this setup, but enjoy trying new combinations of gear, so I'm considering moving to separates for the preamp and amp. I'd like to try a tube preamp mated to a solid state class A/B amp.

I'm considering something used in the $3-$4K neighborhood for the preamp. PrimaLuna EVO 400, Rogue RP-7, and PS Audio BHK Signature are at the top of my list. 

Potential used stereo solid state amps in the $4-$6K range include the Parasound JC5, PS Audio BHK 250, or maybe Yamaha M-5000 or Rotel/Michi S5. I'd also consider something from Mark Levinson or Modwright if it was in the price range.

The Bel Canto EX-1 amp intrigues me too, but it's class D, and I'm not sure about it...

Appreciate input form anyone with experience with these options (or others in these price ranges).

Thanks

jpipes

The Bel Canto EX-1 amp intrigues me too, but it's class D, and I'm not sure about it...

@jpipes FWIW class D has evolved to easily compete sound-wise with any class AB or class A amplifier made.

I do recommend audition though- some class D amps are not nearly as musical as others I've heard, IMO.

What improvements are you looking for and what sound characteristics are most important to you?

@soix Thank you for asking. I'd like to experience what I can practically afford in terms of a wider and deeper sound stage, more of the holographic sound experience some reviewers describe. I'm not sure I hear that now.

I have learned that I prefer slightly warmer than neutral tonality and honestly just want to hear what a tube preamp brings to the experience.

Unfortunately like many people, auditioning gear is not easy in my area. I tend to buy and sell gear here online in order to learn what I like and don't like.

Based on reviews I tried a class D integrated, the Marantz PM KI Ruby, and it was very clean and articulate, but not as emotionally engaging for me as I'd like.

Then I went a totally different direction and tried the Yamaha A-S2200 integrated and found that I really liked it's sound signature, it was warm and exciting to my ear, but I felt I needed a bit more power for the Dynaudio speakers. The Yamaha would get a bit grainy at times to my ear.

The Hegel H390 is the answer for me to the perceived power need, and I think it is filling it well. It does not seem to have any issue driving the Dynaudio speakers with it's 490 watts into 4ohms and incredibly high damping factor. It is very smooth and articulate and provides good instrument separation, but I feel I took a step backwards in terms of sound stage as compared to the Yamaha.

The fun part of this hobby for me is hearing music in a way that I did not before. Trying something new to learn if there is something else in the mix that I missed up until now. Each change in gear has provided a new opportunity to learn. I think I'm ready now to learn what tube gear brings to the party.

I just today hooked up my PS Audio BHK pre-amp, used $3500, to new to me PS Audio M1200 mono blocks, used $3200. 

They sound really good. Lots of depth. Big sound stage.  I put in NOS  1958 Telefunken tubes in the amps & pre so after burn in it should just get better. 

Wait for a bit to stretch a bit your budget and treat yourself with an EAR 912in the used market that you see on sale for 4500/5000$. It’s an end-game type of preamp.

But to be frank, the types of improvements (depth, soundstage, fluidity) you are looking for are not usually linked to an upgrade on the preamp. Also if you would like a warmer presentation, the speakers might be the obvious issue. I don’t know the Evoke range but if what I noticed when listening to the Contour and Confidence range is true the Dynaudios are more of a V-shaped sound signature. The Hegel 390 is on the warmish side of neutral, another pair of speakers might be what you are really looking for.

If I was you I’d strongly consider pairing the Atmasphere MP3 Mklll tube preamp with their relatively new GaN mono amps.  They’re both available new within your price range, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ralph @atmasphere could arrange an in-home trial.  You could also look at the AGD Tempo Di GaN stereo amp that’s also in your price range, and I believe both amps are upgradeable for future tech innovations, which is really nice (I know AGD is but maybe Ralph can confirm his amps are too).  Don’t dismiss these new GaN amps as they’re getting lots of feedback as being end-game amps without the hassle of tubes.  Best of luck. 

Bel Canto rarely gets any mention here so I’ll weigh in. I’m running Bel Canto REF 600 monoblocks with Bel Canto E.One Streamer and 2.7 DAC. I stuck a little Schitt Saga + tube pre in the middle of all this (primarily for volume control) where I had been using the DAC as a pre. It works! With Harbeth C7’s. This is my every day system and I’ve had many variations of McIntosh, Sugden, Luxman in this chain and I like this setup the best by far. 

I have had a Rogue Audio RP-7 for about six months and am quite pleased with it.  Over the past 18 months I upgraded from an NAD C356BEE used as preamp feeding a McIntosh MC2120 power amp driving my Fyne Audio F702 speakers to an FP-1.  That improvement was so very marked and great, I decided to move to the RP-7, which was an incremental but substantial improvement.  A Benchmark AHB replaced the McIntosh power amp, and it was a great amp but I wanted to see what a tube amp would do in my system—and hard to audition in my area.  So, I opted for the Stereo 100 Dark from Rogue, and I am not disappointed.  Great sound stage, excellent tonal qualities of instruments, and three-dimensional sound. But, I must admit the switch from the Benchmark to the Rogue power amp was much less marked than the previous changes/upgrades.

So, I can recommend the RP-7 as a preamp, which as used should fall in your price range.  Alternatively, Rogue’s RP-5 is in your price range as new.    I may yet have to audition another SS power amp, because, as faulty as the memory can be with audio, the Benchmark SS amp was very close in sound quality to the tube amp I now have.  So, there may be something really good in the combo of a tube preamp and solid state power amp.  Best wishes in your hunt.

@jpipes

you have a terrific amp in the h390... it is hard to beat, but a tubed pre + a ss or hybrid power amp will yield a slightly rounder, softer presentation but perhaps one with improved soundstaging

i think you have excellent amplifier candidates, in particular the hybrid bhk...

as for the tubed pre, i would suggest a conrad johnson et5 (used around $4k) or an audio research ref 3 (same price roughly, used)... otherwise consider a used herron, these imo are superior to the primaluna or rogue (and perhaps also the ps-a)

modwright tube linestages are also excellent, but their popular swl9.0 is in a lower class of sound and build quality than the c-j or arc (i have owned all of them) - their ls36.5 is more comparable

good luck have fun

I run a Luxman CL-38uC tube preamp and I just love the sound.  Currently I have it going into Lux MQ-88uC tube amps in parallel and it’s my favorite sounding setup I’ve put together to date.  but I had a Michi S5 for a period of time before that.  Let me tell you that with the S5 you will never want for more power, holy cow.  Such a robust and cool looking piece of gear.  
 

happy hunting! 

I had a Rogue RP-7 and in my system , while the soundstage was quite wide, I didn't get a lot of depth. I've had 2 other preamps in my system since then and I think both best it in terms of depth of soundstage and overall tone. The first thing I tried was a don Sachs Model 2. You could get one on the used market for about 2k probably. Alternatively, the guy that designed it at tubes4hifi will build you one to pretty much the same spec as don. That unit showed me depth of soundstage like I'd never heard. Also, for me, the 6SN7 tubes just have the sound I'm looking for from a tubed preamp.the issue I had with that unit is that there's no balance on it and I listen to a mostly vinyl. Old records are some times not worn evenly and sometimes I need to adjust balance to keep image centered. 

What I have in my system now is a ModWright ls100 and I'm extremely happy with it. I like the look and knob feel but most of all what I like is the sound of it. It has the same richness and depth that the Sachs had (also 6sn7 based) but now I have balance control. This is gonna be in my system for a while now.

The only preamp I have at the moment is an Erhard Aretha so I can recommend that if you want a tube pre with tone controls.

Audio-gd Vacuum HE1 XLR Tube Preamplifier Review - HomeTheaterHifi.com   This 10 tube Preamp was the Best sounding preamp the reviewer Ever heard at Any price. I own one and matched with a 3 watt Decware amp or a 400 watt GaN FET amp from Peachtree ..it plsys "Live"....It is an absolute steal at $4000. It has it's own Regenerative power supply. Amazing.

Going with separates will require adding streamer and dac. I would say start there by adding a dedicated dac and streamer or a streaming dac and continue using your H390 as integrated only. This should be an improvement over the included H390 built in dac. 

Balanced Audio Technology VK-33SE Pre. With the VK-255SE Amp, a truly outstanding combo. Best system I've ever used (paired with B&W 804 D3).

Out of curiosity, what don’t you like about the H390? And what did you have before the H390?

You could also look at the AGD Tempo Di GaN stereo amp that’s also in your price range, and I believe both amps are upgradeable for future tech innovations, which is really nice (I know AGD is but maybe Ralph can confirm his amps are too).

Our class D amp is easily updated. We've had an update with warranty reactivation policy in place for all of our products for decades on now.

I would second going to an ARC preamp. I replaced a BHK, and a CJ ET5SE, with a REF3. ARC is superior by far!

    -G

The comments so far sound good. 
 

I love the Denon DCD-A110 SACD player. 

@atmasphere 

Ralph

When sitting down to audition your line of amplifiers and without regard to price, are you able to describe what differences will be noted as we cycle through your line of amplifiers, including the new class D?   I would post this as a separate thread, but I don’t want to pressure you to answer such a question.

When sitting down to audition your line of amplifiers and without regard to price, are you able to describe what differences will be noted as we cycle through your line of amplifiers, including the new class D?   I would post this as a separate thread, but I don’t want to pressure you to answer such a question.

A lot depends on the speaker used for our OTLs. If the speaker is very easy to drive the differences are slight- from the S-30 up to the MA-2. But the MA-2 can drive speakers that some of our smaller amps cannot (for example, Sound Labs need at least the MA-1, but the MA-2 is better). But generally, the larger the amp, the more authority it has without sacrificing any of the nimble nature of the smaller amps.

The class D sounds very similar to our tube amps but is slightly more transparent. It has the advantage of being able to drive a much wider range of speakers.

Definitely check out the Yamaha M-5000.  It's a beast of an amp, despite the 100 watt rating.  I replaced a Coda No. 8 amp with the M-5000 and could not be more pleased.  

Also keep an eye on the retailers that sell them.  Not long ago one had refurbished ones for 40% off the new price.

grab some power !!

stereo amp or if have room, mono blocks, 

new cables,  great system, speakers need power, not for loud, but for smooth listening, effortless sound.

 

demo some.....

 

power is your friend

For tubed preamp either the Supratek Chardonnay at $2000 base price or the Cabernet 6SN7 at $3000.  For amps look at the Kinki Studio EX-M7 stereo amp at $2800 or the EX-B1 mono pair at $3700 or if you want an American made amp the Van Alstine SET 500 for stereo at $2800 or the DVA 225 mono pair at $3400. Depending on the combo you chose you would have between $3500-$5000 for a quality DAC.  I've owned the BHK preamp/250 combo and sold them both for the Supratek/Kinki combo.  The BHK preamp needs to be run into a fully balanced amp or it is noisier than it normally is anyway.  Plus it's extremely picky about tube matching. The 250 while a good sounding amp is heavy and puts out a lot of heat. 

Hi @jackd , I was looking at the Kinki EX-M7 and can you tell me if they’re picky about preamps? I have a Erhard Aretha tube preamp (6SL7 tubes) that I could run it with.

I am seriously thinking about getting a Vincent SA-T7MK hybrid preamplifier because of the tube front end and especially cause I'm trying to think out of the box and know Vincent gear has tone control, which I know is a no no, with the purist here.

 

@tubeguy76 

 

Not as long as there is not a gain mismatch and Erhard doesn't list the gain figure on their website. 

@jackd 

These are the specs they have currently:

Main preamplifier gain with tone controls centered - 12dB (x4)

Frequency response is  20Hz to 30KHz, +/-0.1dB

Output impedance, 625 OHMS; Input impedance 1M

Tone controls, boost and cut of 12dB

Power consumption: 34W

Chassis size: 14.5"W x 13"D x 7"H

Weight: 12lb

I suggest adding the Herron Audio VTSP - 3A to your list to consider. The used ones typically sell in the $2500 - $3600 range. Good luck and I hope that you reach the next level that you're looking for.

If it's helpful/relevant, I just went from a Rogue RP 1 to an ARC SP 16, both into an AVA Synergy 450 SS amp. It was an upgrade in all ways, but particularly in soundstage depth and air. You may want to include used Audio Research in your search. Good hunting, and enjoy the music.

@tubeguy76 

If the gain from the Erhard is truly 12db it will be just fine with the EX-M7 whose input sensitivity is 1.45 volts.

I have had great success with various Audio Research separates and feel you owe it to yourself to give them a shot.  The LS27 is a superb line stage that goes for about $3200 and can be resold quite easily if you decided to go another route.  The same for their beloved REF 75 amp.  You could get a non SE for around $4500 with the same ability to sell.  If you wanted to round out the set, the DAC 8 sells for about $1800 or a CD6 for $3500.  For phono, there is the PH8.  The aesthetics are great as all these are from the same timeframe and match.  You have to watch the used market closely as these are not often available.  If you fall in love with them too you could then work your way to the former or current Reference lineup.  Best of luck in your journey.

Look at the Decware Zen Triode Preamp.  May have to find one used unless you don’t mind the waiting list. Pure magic. 

I have a Linear Tube Audio MicroZotl, less than $2000. Read the reviews, compared to preamps many times it's price. David Berning design, made in Maryland. I have used it for two years with a variety of power amps. Check it out, you can't go wrong with this.

 

Hi this is a little different but also on the path of what you’re asking. Look into the Sonnet Morpheus DAC and the BMC Ultradac. both around $3,200. They have very interesting pre-amps in there. The Morpheus is a very special dac with pre-amp that is worthy of some reading.

 

For me, I lean more towards the BMC ultradac since I own the BMC amp and the dac/amp combo has some special tech that allows me to remove the need of a pre-amp in the system.

Hegel 390 is an excellent integrated. Your issue, as has been pointed out, is Dynaudio Evoke 50. That's their second from bottom lineup. Stop trying to fix the preamp etc and adding more clutter in pursuit of a delusion. Look at better speakers, including Dynaudio's own lines up from Evoke. Perhaps a Harbeth or KEF Reference series. 

Your issue, as has been pointed out, is Dynaudio Evoke 50. That's their second from bottom lineup. Stop trying to fix the preamp etc and adding more clutter in pursuit of a delusion. Look at better speakers, including Dynaudio's own lines up from Evoke. Perhaps a Harbeth or KEF Reference series. 

in trying to be courteous to the op, i wasn't going to say this, but i am glad someone did...

Excellent insight and helpful suggestions all-thank you so much. The opportunity to learn from others in the hifi journey is a part of the hobby I really enjoy.

It is such an intriguing process to me. I am happy to learn here of bespoke audio companies I had not heard of previously. I also appreciate the thoughts of aiming a bit higher in my speaker choice and also to venerable brands like Audio Research and others.

Thank you all so very much for your generous informations sharing! 

Cary Audio SLP-05 and Parasound a21+

The SLP-05 is one of the best sounding preamps on the market and features a stand alone power supply box with low noise R-core transformer.  the main unit uses glorious sounding 6SN7 and tube rectification.  Spend the extra money for the heirloom preamp and buy a top value power amp in the Parasound a21+.  

Call me crazy (but I am not) because I like the sound of the a21+ more than the JC5 and Pass Labs XA30.8, both of which I owned.  

The a21+ is transparent, powerful, clean and dynamic and one of the best values in audio.