Falling out of love with tubes


I’ve owned an EICO ST-70 for eight years.  It’s modified and upgraded to the max, but with budget tubes. 

I just got got a Conrad Johnson SA-250 for a steal.  I plugged it in and it has blown my mind.  I feel like I’m hearing my music for the first time! So much detail I never noticed before!

I’m selling the EICO and will use the money for a preamp.   The SA-250 amp sounds kind of sterile/clinical to me.  Very unforgiving of a mediocre recording.

***Will using a preamp instead of going direct from my computer or tape sweeten the sound, even if it’s the solid state CJ Sc26 preamp?

***Will I lose the detail I hear if I get an older CJ tube pre in my price range? (Pv-10al) 

I’m listening to Silverline Prelude tower speakers, anticables level 2 speaker wires, anticables level 1 interconnects, and Denon dvd-2200 for CD, parasound zphono USB for my Supex SDX-1000  mc cartridge.  (Haven’t tried anything but phone, computer and cassette since I don’t have a preamp) 

Thanks in advance for your input. 
audibleaudio
Get a tubed preamp for sure. I personally find c-j preamps a bit dark but YMMV. Also not quite sure what you mean by "going direct from my computer or tape" how are you controlling volume? Overall though a good tubed preamp won't cost you any detail, will probably add more, and will give you that more organic sound you're missing. Good luck!
By “going direct” I meant plugging the headphone out jack of my computer into the input of the SA-250 amp and using the volume control of the computer.  Also, my Denon cassette player has an output level control.  Thanks!  
I’m assuming your amp is a Sonographe SA 250. The SA 250 is getting a little old and maybe the first thing you want to do is have it looked over to see if it needs a little refurbishing.

***Will using a preamp instead of going direct from my computer or tape sweeten the sound, even if it’s the solid state CJ Sc26 preamp?

It may. Some people find that not using a preamp works best for them but I think most people prefer the sound with a preamp. In your case, if your amp sounds sterile (after you’ve had it checked out, if it’s getting old) a good tube preamp will probably help. I don’t think that the solid state SC26 will fill out the sound. The older c-j tube preamps will probably cause some loss of detail. They were made to cover up the sound of harsh or lean solid state amps. So one may work well in your situation, but it won’t give you the transparency of newer tube gear.

So my advice is to have your SA 250 checked out, give it a little burn in time and then either go for the "classic" golden c-j tube sound with a PV-10 or get a newer tube preamp if you want a more transparent sound.



You need a preamp and a DAC. Using the headphone output is not ideal. 

I agree that the SA 250 should be checked out.

Why should it be checked out? He's saying it sounds excellent. My brother also has an SA-250 and it sounds excellent too. I guess it could sound more excellent if it is recapped but not required.

I also think your EICO was probably a sub par amplifier, modded or not. The Sonographe amps were not super lively even when new.

I also have an SA-250 and I agree (in my opinion) they are a great sounding amp.
Get a First Watt F5! A killer amp by the master Nelson Pass! 25 watts of the BEST class A sound you will ever hear!
To audibleaudio - Just to add to my posting about the SA-250 being a good sounding amp.  When I compared at the time to Bryston 3B-NRB and McCormack DNA 0.5 with my associated equipment and in my listening room, the SA-250 held its own or was better.  I would suggest as you mentioned getting a pre-amp however. Also regarding the statement you mentioned about hearing detail you never heard before, this does not surprise me. When I was younger and just started experimenting with equipment I had some old Heathkit monoblock tube amps and a Heathkit tube Preamp although I don't remember the model numbers. This old equipment was hailed as being very smooth and pleasing to the ear and it sounded great to me at the time. Then I listened to a song (on album of course) on my fathers system which consisted of an Audio Research SP3A Preamp and a Dual 75 Amp.  This was in the early 1970's. I heard detail and sounds in the song I never even heard before. Then I began to understand. Although a lot of the old tube amps (Eico, Heathkit, Dynaco) are very sought after, they are pleasing to listen to, but far from state-of-the art. I still appreciate them, but I can hear the difference even though I am getting old now and my ears are not so great any more after working around industrial machinery so long. Anyway good luck in your quest. 
" By “going direct” I meant plugging the headphone out jack of my computer into the input of the SA-250 amp and using the volume control of the computer. Also, my Denon cassette player has an output level control. Thanks!"

---

A few things, your tube amp is a very old design, modern tube amps are a lot more neutral and detailed. To go from your PC to the amp, like you’re doing now is pretty bad, you’re losing a lot of detail, both from the PC volume control, which is digital as well as the headphone out, which isn’t the best quality, it’s basically an internal headamp board based on cheap components and possibly not a lot of gain. Look for a cheapish external DAC/Preamp, with an USB input, then you can hook up your PC to the DAC/Pre via USB which will transmit the audio signal digitally, without loss...then the DAC/Pre will convert the digital to analog, amplify to line level, and send it to your Conrad Johnson. You will hear what a difference that makes.

Few examples:
https://www.crutchfield.com/p_772D1/Audioengine-D1.html?tp=59340

https://www.crutchfield.com/p_779DACMPLB/Cambridge-Audio-DacMagic-Plus-Black.html?tp=59309


Boy, the Eico was kind of a budget amp even when it was new- ceramic caps for coupling caps, cheap parts throughout... that would be a good amp to fall out of love with, and I would not abandon tubes on its account!

Tube technology has improved since the ST-70 (which was designed in the late 1950s); there are better filter caps, coupling caps, resistors, controls and there are better circuits. Even if your amp was refurbished it could easily be outclassed, even by other refurbished vintage amps like the Dynaco ST-70 or the Harmon Kardon Citation 2. But there are modern amps as you have learned that bring a lot to the table- its a big world.

Running out of the headphone jack of your computer is not the best way to get good sound out of it. IMO/IME you are better off with a DAC that runs off of the USB port and the appropriate software to make that happen (for example JRiver if you are running a music server). You very well could make good use of a good tube line stage since you are also running tape.
Thank you all for your input!  Here’s what I’ve gathered:   modern tube preamps will not sacrifice my newfound detail (including Conrad Johnson’s PV-10al), a tube preamp will give me back those rich odd-order harmonics I have a taste for, and use a DAC.


Even Paul McGowen thinks preamps are necessary:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh27E7YKN9s

And, I if I were you, I'd consider one of the Atma preamps.
B
“...a tube preamp will give me back those rich odd-order harmonics I have a taste for...”
I think you meant even order harmonics and the CJ PV10AL delivers plenty of them, maybe a tad too much depending on your taste. Real juicy midrange if that's what are after but a bit rounded off on top.
Last night I tried a Cary CAD-5500 premamp between my Audio Refinement separates (Pre5 preamp and Multi5 amp) in an attempt to get some tube harmonics introduced in the signal chain. Didn’t last an hour as it dulled my dynamics and musicality.

Rest of system details on my system page.
Well I have the kr audio va900 I’m in heaven. 
There are lots of preamp s I have Custom built preamps far better then commercial  where 70% of your hard earned money goes into the unit s parts . Did you know less then 25% on average hoes
Into any commercial product the rest ovrrhead,and 40-50% 
Dealer markup. I owned a store  and know about nodding,
And quality.  Used you can find good equipment 
But first you want very good quality coupling capacitors installed 
Very important  under 10 years old , any older capacitors of thst era start drying out on lesser brands,  if remote control most use alps volume which you loose a lot of inner detail .look for resistor based , or processor . There are a ton of variables. Being in audio since the mid 70s ,I have a college education .
I agree with Audioman. DIY forever!!

Here’s what I’ve gathered:   modern tube preamps will not sacrifice my newfound detail (including Conrad Johnson’s PV-10al)

You will lose detail with the c-j PV10.  It was one of the old golden sound c-j preamps.


Look for a C-J Premier 17 LS gently used pre-amp right here on Audiogon.  You won't be disappointed.....

If you are talking about the Sonographe sc-26--don't bother, very poor resolution. CJ doesn't even acknowledge they exist. If u can ante up a grand, get a Brown tube pre.