Elite Preamps--Electon Images, Messenger, Tube Res

In my research for a hi-end tube preamp I came across some lesser known (to me anyway) elite preamps. Does anyone know anything about the following companies (e.g. years in service, reputation, Website, etc.) or where I can find info on their line of preamps:
* Electron Images (made in Canada by former Sonic Frontiers design guru I think)
* The Messenger
* Tube Research Labs (their website needs some work)

Thanks in advance.

How much money are you willing to spend?

I ask because there are some stunning offerings from more well know companies that have excellent customer service.

I am familiar with Tube Research, although not the current version and have owned Sonic Frontiers (assuming your correct about Electrons design background).
Line stage only? Single ended, balanced, or both?

I heard the Messenger briefly at last year's CES, briefly because I didn't care for the sound of the system overall. I've heard some of the TRL gear from time to time.

Do you plan to keep the rest of your system as is? It seems to me you should be trying to keep a balance of your system, unless you are going to be replacing other things.

Brian Walsh
Thanks Albert & Brian for your responses.
Albert - "stunning offerings from well known companies with excellent customer service" are all buying criteria for me so that buyer risk is reduced and when it comes time to sell the piece it can be done so without too much hastle. Budget is around $5K, preferably used gear. What brands/models did you have in mind?

Brian - I need a line stage only and with short cable runs expect that single-ended will suffice. With regards to my system, just bought the VTL ST-150 amp and will buy now a tube preamp to replace a very old Sherwood receiver (gasp!) and will replace my KEF Ref Series 104/2 speakers with MartinLogan Aeion i's I expect. Do you think this will be in keeping a balance of my system?

Thanks for your feedback.

Kevin. First choice is Aesthetix, particularly the new Calypso at $4500.00 retail. It offers (perhaps) 75% the performance of the Callisto in a smaller package and includes the ability to run single ended or balanced with remote control.

I also see an Audio Research Ref 2 (not MK2) here at Audiogon in the used ads. I like this earlier version because you can swap tubes. The later (MK2) version is limited to the 6H30 Russian Mil tube. Both these are good units and run balance and single ended, both are less than 5K and offer good reliability and customer service.
I have not heard the Tube Research Labs preamp in many years, but I have had extensive listening sessions with both the Aesthetix Callisto and the Messenger preamp. In my very strong opinion, the Messenger is by far the finest preamp being made today. As good as the Callisto is, the Messenger makes it sound very tired and small. The Messenger has the biggest soundstage of any preamp that I have ever heard and the tonality is right on. It is extraodinarily dynamic and fast but retains a harmonic retrival and richness that no other premap that I have heard can match.

If you have any way to listen to a Messenger, I would definitely go out of my way to do so. Good luck.


I have not heard the Callisto preamp at all, but I have a very strong opinion of it since it is from the USA. Through extensive listening sessions with both the Radio Shack and the Messenger preamp, In my very strong opinion, the Radio Shack is by far the finest preamp being made today. As good as the Messenger is, the Radio Shack makes it sound very tired and small. The Shack has the biggest soundstage of any preamp that I have never heard and the tonality is right on. It is extraodinarily dynamic and fast but retains a harmonic retrieval and richness that no other preamp that I have never heard can match.

In this case my advise is, please DO shoot the Messenger.
Nicky -- thanks for your thoughts. Do you know where I can find info on the Messenger (e.g. website, reviews etc.)?

canook@aol.com -- nice sense of humour.

The Mesenger is an incredible pre-amp but very costly and out of your budget range. It does most things well, and has incredible bass. The soundstage is great, more realistic than the ARC Ref pre's, which to my ear have an almost spuriously large stage. The noise floor wasn't as quiet as some other pre's to my ear. I agree with Albert, the Calypso is very good, and compared to pre-amps costing much more, a great bang for the buck. Within ballpark of your price range is the EMM Labs Switchman, which is also a very good pre and worth a listen. I won't "advice" you any further, eh?
Kevin, First Sound is a highly regarded company that makes only preamps. Try a google search. There are a couple of reviews. Also, look in the archives here and on Audio Asylum. There are three models available. I have the Presence Deluxe MkII. I have only compared it to the VTL 5.5 and the VTL 2.5. I found it considerably more appealing than either of them. I found the review's description of its sonic qualities accurate in my system. It worked very well with my old VTL MB-450s. None of the First Sounds come with a remote. Used, my model is 2,000 to $2,500. I just saw their best model, the Ultimate Paramount, for sale at $5,850. It retails for 15k. Emmanuel Go, the designer/owner of FS, is very easy to reach and recently offered a free upgrade for earlier models. I called him before I bought mine. He was quite helpful diagnosing whether his product would work well with my gear. Like Kevin Hayes at VAC, he is very friendly and more than happy to help.
Mes -- thanks for the update on the Messenger preamp. Thanks too for the EMM Labs heads-up but as it's for 6-channel and that isn't my need at the moment I'll forgoe this and look instead at preamps from Aesthetix Calypso, First Sound Presence Deluxe, Joule LA-150, and the Herron. Your choice from this list?!?

Brooksl -- thanks for the note on First Sound. I've heard many good things about the company and the man behind the company. Just wish there was a remote control for wife acceptace factor! My only concern is the large output impendance of 1700 ohms from the First Sound preamp -- does this pose a problem with the 100K ohm input of your VTL amp?
Kevin, if cost is secondary you really should consider the CTC Blowtorch - nope, I don't sell 'em, 'cause they're sold direct only, built to order - but I have one and wouldn't be without it, it's insanely great. If you're looking for something in a less stratopheric price range feel free to contact me offline and I'll be happy to offer a few suggestions. And if and when you're in the Chicago area, feel free to come by for a listen.

Brian Walsh
Kevin, I did not find it to be an issue. Emmanuel and I discussed the VTLs specs and he was not at all worried about the match.

Brian, wow. I didn't know you had a blowtorch. Are you running the CAT with it?
Hi Brooks...running JC-1s...a customer has borrowed them for a couple of days, and it's probably down to them or a pair of much more expensive amplifiers... Call me about the CAT, which should be quite a hoot as well...


Electron Images is owned by Mike Kerster, formally of Sonic Frontiers (SF Pre 3 design chief). He is now designing and manufacturing for Audio Note UK. He has designed and built I believe (four) Amati Preamps that are two piece state of the art tube preamps with MM/MC phonostage. It retails at $12K, but have seen one posted on the Gon for something like $5,500. The guy who bought that unit got a steal. This preamp does everything right, but takes alot (literally months) of break-in. It sounds analytical and dry prior to break in, but really opens up with time. I don't know if Mike is going to make anymore, but I would put mine up against any preamp built today. The only thing I don't particularly care about the Amati is the high gain. With my 18 WPC Audio Notes and 94db AN speakers, I can't crank up the dual mono volume controls too high. I'm actually using the MM phono with a MicroBenz MC (Reference) cart. Like I said, high gain!

Hello all, This is Darrin at Audio Limits
If Anybody would like to Audition the Messenger Preamps
We have them on Display. both the $12,500 model and the $25,000 model.. We are Located in Los Angeles,Ca.
And will be opening a Beautiful Brand new Store In Colorado Springs,Co. August 6th..
Come on in and get the Message from the Messenger..
It will blow your mind. Phone(661)252-9222. Website www.audiolimits.com