It appears that you've tried a lot of the best. One I don't see on your list is the VAC Renaissance.
I have no first-hand knowledge of the VAC Ren. pre or many of the other brands you have listed, however, in my limited time with the entry level Aesthetix Calypso, I've learned that tube rolling is everything. The sound quality coming from my Calypso with upgraded tubes is night and day vs. the stock Sovteks. Currently having good success with NOS Mullard CV-4004's.
But I digress... just trying to re-emphasize the importance of tube rolling. It may help get you off the roller coaster of trying more preamps.
well, since you ruled out supratek, i don't really know what preamp to recommend. from what i've read in reviews, you might want to try one of bat or vtl's top models. i have no experience with either though. this is just an opinion formed from reading too many issues of stereophile.
Are you usinga 300B amp with the MBL speakers? How do they work? More details please.
The best sounding linestage I know of is the Emotive Epifania with the latest upgrades. However, I hesitate to recommend that you try it because a quick review of your "system" suggests that you need to spend more time trying to optimize the sound of the equipment you have rather than just buying something new. ANY piece of new gear requires a careful investment of time to bring out its best. With the rapid turnover in your system during the past few months, I don't believe you have taken the full measure of any of your gear. Sorry if that sounds harsh but that's the way I see it.
Try The Messenger Reference
preamp, an Aria WV-5XL
, or maybe Nick Doshi's ALAAP preamp.
Take a look at my review of the Flora transformer/tube gain based preamp. I also went through a very long list of very highly regarded linestages untill I tried the Flora, and it became my new reference. I believe it might give you the sonic signature you are looking for in your system.
No worries. I am both cursed and blessed by the fact that I can try lots of things inside my system for long periods of time, free of charge. I only make a change if it is clearly for the better and it is only then that I actually buy a piece of equipment. I don't regret a single change that I have ever made.
What you don't see on my system page is the dozens of things that I've tried at home and rejected.
300Bs can't drive MBLs in the bass but I think I would part with the MBLs before parting with the amp. I suppose I could bi-amp but I haven't been pleased with the results in the past.
By the way, those lists of all the equipment I've had in my system cover years and years; not the last few months.
Thanks to all for the suggestions so far; I've always wanted to try the Tron Syren and the VAC.
Never even heard of it before.
Exlibris, I was just reacting to the events from Nov 2007 to date, as set out in the comments under your system description. During that time you have gone through a number of major component changes. Whether you bought or borrowed the equipment is immaterial. I am just saying that it takes more time and effort to get the most out of any component. Some of the variables that come to mind are power cables, mounting arrangements (footers, platforms, etc.), tube rolling, and just simple burnin of parts if the gear is new. But look it's your system and you can certainly swap components on the hour if you like. Just don't assume that you have heard the full potential of stuff you're trying.
If I read the description without reference to equipment, I'd say you're looking for Beethoven rather than Tchaikovsky.
Since you've tried and (apparently) opted away from neutral and accurate preamps that, imo, don't get in the way of music's dynamics, timing, and tonality, its hard to gauge what is missing from those units that you hope to find. Can you say what is the amp that represents your sonic goal?
What music do you prefer mostly?
Please realize that you are preaching to someone who took two months to research and locate the type of lacquer would sound best on the spruce, pine, and cedar, that cover his entire listening room.
If you have indeed looked at my system you will see that I have addressed electrical and mechanical interference to the utmost degree. If a component cannot perform in my system it is certainly not the fault of the quality of AC I am feeding it, nor what it is sitting on, nor the room it is in. I would also never judge a component before it is fully broken in.
End of conversation.
If you'd like you can click the 'threads' link beside my name and read my very long and boring threads that attempt to explain what I'm looking for. I realize that most audiophiles don't know what I'm talking about most of the time so I'd rather not try to restate it all in this thread.
But, did you tube roll the Supratek??
I would look into getting an Alaap Audio full function pre by Nick Doshi. It could pair nicely with your amp. Clean, fast, extremely neutral. No coloration or bloat. On the emotional level, it keeps me enthraled night after night.
Just as a disclaimer, I've only heard a few from your list, the Supratek, ARC, and Hovland.
The Messenger preamp has the exact characteristics that you describe...and those traits are precisely why I bought the preamp in the first place.
Wow. With the list of preamps you have already tried, I would hestiate to recommend anything as a sure thing for you. One preamp that is fast and not euphonic is the CAT SL1, and I imagine the new CAT Legend, but hard to really know if they will give you what you want, but they should proabably be auditioned.
Thanks again to everyone. I should note that I have not ruled out one of the preamps on my original list: Aesthetix Callisto Signature. It's the best I've had in my system (I never owned it, I just borrowed it).
One of the reasons I started the thread was that I was hoping to hear from some SET owners.
I worry that adding a linestage that looks as 'complex' as the Callisto might rob me of some of the purity and immediacy that I am getting from my very 'simple' little amplifier.
Just curious, have you tried passives with your SET?
The SET is an integrated with a passive line section. In fact, this is the ONLY 'premplification' that I have ever used with my SET. The other linestages (those listed above) were in my system with amps such as the: Manley 250; Atma-Sphere MA-2; and Hovland Stratos.
I've always like what an active preamp brings to the table but you might be on to something with the passives.
As you know probably better than most of us, system integration/compatibility and personal taste makes it pretty much impossible to predict how any one recommended component would work for you. I think it is terrific that you are not asking for someone's judgment on a component, but a recommendation of things to try and experience for yourself in your system.
To that list, I would add the Audionote (uk) M-8, a full function preamp with a very good phonostage. I've heard it in systems that I am familiar with, though not my own. It is on the warmish side, but is not overly romantic sounding. The sound is relaxed and natural but certainly not "dead" sounding.
I own an Emotive Audio Epifania with the teflon caps (an upgrade over the "basic" model) and a custom-designed remote control capability. This is a fantastic linestage for retrieving natural detail (hall acoustics, decay of notes) without being analytical. I would say it is on the leaner, less romatically warm side of the tube linestage spectrum (as compared with the M-8 for example), but it does not have the "brittle" quality of something like the ARC Ref. 3. With this linestage, however, a whole lot of searching is required to find a pair of 12B4s that are not noisy, and even then, if noise is a big deal with you, this linestage may not float your boat. I use a Viva Fono phonostage, so this combination is in the same price ballpark as the M-8.
Good luck on your search.
I don't know if it is the right direction for you, but when I hear "immediate, transparent and fast" - I think passive; with the quality of the volume control being critical. I think it would be interesting for you to listen to a Placette RVC which not only costs just $1,000, but comes with a 30-day trial, and has arguably the best and most accurate volume control in the industry. It may also be Euphoric, but not necessarily Euphonic - it is immediate, transparent, and fast (and silent). Worth a trial to see if it works in your system for your ears. If you are seeking a pre that "does no harm" this may work, but I find I like a bit of coloration from my pre.
I owned a Sira many years ago and though it was noisy, I loved the way it lit-up the soundstage with ambient information.
You mention the ANUK M-8. Do you know if it is similar to the ANJ M-77? Someone recently warned me that ANJ equipment with all silver wiring might "rip my head off" considering the speakers I use. Before that warning, I'd never heard of ANJ being bright, brittle, or strident. Having said that, I have no love for silver wiring in cables.
I have heard one of contending ANJ models, but I don't recall the specific model number. It was a little brighter than a comparably priced ANuk model, but, it was certainly not excessively bright or strident. I liked it a lot.
The Epifania and Sira are VERY different sounding. Both do have a nicely "lit-up" soundstage, but the Epifania is not nearly as "colored" as the Sira -- it is neutral,not warmer than neutral,unlike the Sira, and sounds MUCH more articulate, fast and nimble. I think it is a major step beyond the Sira, but, the price reflects this improvement.
Look into a triode corp. trv-4se (limited). I find it to have the qualities you are looking for. These are new to the states.
Check out the Leben review on 6Moons. Looks promising.
Anybody heard the Audio Space Reference 2 full-function preamplifier?
It uses 300Bs and is a truly balanced design. Jonathan Valin did a review of it in the August 2007 issue of "The Absolute Sound."
Hear are some quotes:
"the Audio Space Reference 2 sounds in the midrange less like hi-fi and more like the real thing than virtually any other preamp Ive auditioned."
"Usually when one thinks 300B, one thinks of a warm, gorgeous, euphonically colored sound, rich in second harmonics. Here the sound is beautiful, of course, but utterly naturalnon-colored, non-electronic."
Have not auditioned this preamp, but based on your love of the 300B, it may be worth your while to look into the Manley Labs 300B preamplifier, which incorporates the use of two 300B tubes in their design.
Yes, that is certainly a possibility although when I heard it a few years back it came across as beautiful but euphonic (not that there is anything wrong with that).
I think the Audio Space will more closely match the 'modern' 300B sound that I was getting with the Mastersound integrated amplifier.
I should note that I made mistake earlier in this thread: the Mastersound 300B P.S.E. integrated amp has an active line section. I was incorrect when I said that the line section was passive.
I will pair the Audio Space with my Hovland Stratos amps this weekend and see how close I get to the magic of the little Mastersound integrated.
The Audio Space preamp and Hovland Stratos amps did not get close enough to the magic of the little Mastersound 300B integrated.
It looks like I will be selling the Hovlands and going with the Mastersound 845 monoblocks.
Exlibris, some things about this thread are striking. First, are you really running a 300B amp your MBLs? The impedance curve of the MBLs is a mismatch with zero feedback tube gear and will result in a brightness in the midrange. Here's what is going on:
The MBLs are Voltage paradigm technology and the 300b amp is Power paradigm. Anytime you mix the two you can expect a tonal coloration at the very least, in this case it will be in the midrange and upper midrange- a vexing situation.
The result is likely that you will not like any preamp that is indeed neutral and musical, because it will not be laid back enough, due to the amp/speaker mismatch, if I got this right.
What you need is to run feedback so the amp can deal with the speaker. I was going to suggest that to you months ago. Either that or you need to think about a different speaker.
It would be easy to set up a feedback module that provides the gain needed to run the feedback, but IMO that defeats the purpose of zero feedback amplifiers (which is to more closely obey the rules of human hearing).
To say that the 20 watt, 300B 'drove' the MBLs would be very misleading. There was next to no deep bass, there was nothing in reserve for dynamic peaks, and I couldn't play my system over 91dB. Nonetheless, it did produce the best vocals, best acoustic guitar, best electric guitar, and the best cymbals that I have ever heard on any system.
If I had the funds I would buy the 300Bs just to play select songs.
The Mastersound 845 monoblocks (50 watts; parallel single ended; Class A; no negative feedback) really do drive the MBLs. I don't know how this is possible but it's true. Mastersound does make 117 watt SET monoblocks but I have no desire to get them right now because the 50 watts is more than enough. How can this be? As you know, I know next to nothing about the technical aspects of amplification but perhaps it is because there is a big output transformer for a set of dedicated 4 ohm taps? Each little monoblock weighs 75 lbs. Mastersound makes their own transformers by hand, in-house, and they are very secretive about the windings etc. Maybe there is some magic in there.
I had thought about going to horns rather than letting the 300Bs go but now I'm enjoying my MBLs again. I've moved them into a bigger room that is all wood and that's helped as well.
Exlibris, I bet moving the speakers into a different room had as much effect as any amplifier you tried!
Larger SETs over about 7-15 watts have trouble making bandwidth at both extremes due to the issues of the output transformer. My guess is that in this case that is helping you out. The amplifier is going to make nearly constant power on the MBL if you are using it on the 4 ohm tap. The MBL is designed with the idea that the amplifier will make only half as much power in the upper midrange where there is an impedance peak. You need feedback for that if you use a tube amplifier...
Or- as I mentioned to you some months back, you could use some form of network (to absorb the excess power), or a tone control (if you don't use feedback). From what I'm able to get from your descriptions, it sounds like you went the tone control route. As far as I can tell, it seems a happy accident, but is also why you are having such issues finding your 'holy grail'. Not much out there is going to work when you try to drive a Voltage paradigm speaker with a Power paradigm amplifier.
It is a fact though that a speaker that is designed for a zero feedback tube amp would win you more performance out of that tube amp than you are currently able to get. I think you are aware that something is amiss or you would not be on the hunt. Am I right??
I think I will always be on the hunt in audio. It is part of what makes the hobby fun for me. The goal I have for my system is to replicate real life and since I will never accomplish that something will always be amiss. I'll never find the holy grail and I'm fine with that. It's more about the journey than the end goal for me. In the midst of all the obsession over equipment I still find time to listen to about 10 to 15 hours of music per week.
As for the room, it made the Hovland Stratos amps sound drier and more clinical but the Mastersound 845s are quite nice in there (yes, just a happy accident). I will post some pictures of the room on my system page this afternoon.
My amplifier hunt for the MBLs is over but I may end up with horns and 300Bs in the future. There are two nice looking wooden horns in Germany that I would like to hear.
Thanks again for all your help; you make great gear and the level of customer service you provide is above and beyond anything in the industry.
Try the Canary 300B amp. I have the Reference 300B rated 85W Class A. It kind of give you what you prefer - immediacy, transparent, musical and mid range magic. They also make smaller version CA339 rated 45W class A. HP from Absolute Sound did preminarily review on Western Electric 79E (Canary made it for Western Electric exact duplicate REference model). HP commented it gives exceptional 3 dimenional soundstage. You can even see the back of the image (as HP said). This reference amp is neutral and musical; however it has the power and good control over the lower spectrum. Obviously it also retains the 300B high frequency with finesse, delicacy and clarity.I tend to agree with Atmasphere your MBL speaker doesn't synergize with tube amp. I have listened to good MBL system, but they all driven by ss amp.
Once you like the magic of 300B sound, it is really hard to get out to other tube sound, not to mention ss amp.
If I ever get a pair of high-efficiency speakers I'll have a great time trying out various 300B SETs!
MBLs and Tubes:
A fellow audiophile here in Canada has tried lots of excellent amps (SS and tube) on his MBL 101Es and it looks like he will be going with a pair of CAT JL3 Signature monoblocks. These are tube amps. All of the CAT amps can drive MBLs and the amps don't put out lots of watts (100 to 150 p/c). When asked how his amps are able to drive MBLs when 1,000 watt monster SS amps can't, Ken Stevens of CAT answers: it's his big output transformers!
'Vetterone' here on Audiogon also drives his MBLs with Berning tube amps (OTL).
I have been told by a reliable source that the owner/designer of MBL products uses a relatively low-powered tube amp on his personal pair of MBL 101Es (and he loves heavy metal music).
So you see, there are quite few of us using and loving tubes on MBLs and none of us are using 'high-powered' tube amps either.
Many people have only heard MBL speakers at shows and this is unfortunate because they are usually being played way too loud, they are being driven by SS amps (made in China, I think), with digital source material, in a bad room with bad AC.