High end tube Preamp under $4k used that competes

with or betters the Cary SLP 05. (is there such a preamp?) Looking for suggestions in a tubed preamp on the used market to go with a solid state amplifier (60k ohm input impedance).

This preamp should have:
1. the bass, heft, weight, solidity of the SLP 05

2. clarity and highs that are crisp and extended/ not rolled off

3. some tube sound/ as opposed to solid state

4. some warmth yet detailed

5. dynamics

according to inputs....the audio electric supply is a great pre...built by cary.....3 to 4 hundred dollars....
Why not get a Cary SLP 05? You should be able to find a used one with your budget.Just a thought.Good luck.
Tpreaves, in case there's a long drought before an 05 appears, I just wanted to have some ideas of what else is out there that is similar Thanks
A shameless plug, I have one for sale right now.

Sonic Frontiers Line 3 SE+

I have compared it to many (email me), it came out on top. Replaced by an Einstein, 3X the price and 10% better.
I don't know the Cary, but what you are looking for can be found in the Joule LA-150MKII (more so with the Signature Edition version of the preamp). Will you like it better than the Cary? No idea.
the cary slp-05 and get some excellent tubes for it ''''''and enjoy THE MUSIC.................
Sorry, I forgot to include that I'd prefer a balanced preamp that also has rca inputs.
01-29-10: Dwhitt
according to inputs....the audio electric supply is a great pre.

What do you mean by inputs?
Tom_hankins, I've read that various BAT preamps have strong bass (which I'm looking for) in a tube preamp, but they are also known for being dark. This isn't the case with the VK-51SE?
I'm digging into some tubed preamps in this price range two, so my two cents:
XLR & RCA: Aesthetix Calypso
XLR only: Atma-Sphere MP3
RCA only: Lamm LL2, First Sound Presence, Audio Valve Eklipse, all very good performers in bass and dynamics.

FWIW, I started looking for balanced only and as I researched more I discovered some people prefer driving my amp from RCAs (McIntosh MC275). Not sure what your case would be.
BAT preamps have always had that dark/not dark debate for some reason, I can't really understand why though. I have had the VK-31SE, VK-50SE, VK-51SE, VK-3iXSE and VK-32SE in my system, and I would say that BAT preamps are on the darker side compared to preamps from ARC, Aesthetix and VAC. I would say the BAT is not as dark as preamps from Cary or CJ though. I also would say that BAT has the best bass of just about any preamp I've owned, tube or SS.

The VK-31/32SE have RCA and XLR inputs. The 32SE has more midrange bloom, the 31SE has better dynamics, FWIW. Personally I prefer preamps from ARC, Aesthetix and VAC, but my list of requirements is different from yours. So reading your list of requirements, I'd recommend BAT.

Emotive Audio Sira should be on your list. I don't own one and I don't have any ties to the company but check out the website and call Fred and he will give you some great friendly advice on his designs. There is actually one here for sale - not mine - not any one I know either. A buddy of mine has one and it is an excellent preamp, well designed and very well built, plus customer service is the best also. If I was employed, the Sire would be mine.
The Sira has eighteen tubes. Rather daunting for a guy who just entered the tube preamp kingdom.
If you want to stay with tubes, then a EAR 868 sounds like your answer.If not I would look into the Music First MK11. I just sold my EAR 868 after hearing the MF MK11,still love tubes!. I use 2 EAR 534 amps/ with the MF and have taken my system to another LEVEL!!!!!
Foster he has been making preamps for many many years. The eighteen tubes are mostly under low voltage so they are not pushed if I am correct. Why not just call Fred and see if you connect in what he does and get educated on his designs. He also makes the Sira with SS power supply so not that many tubes. Like I said, I have nothing to do with the company but am an audio person who keeps an open mind to hear new things. Fortunately for me, living in the NYC area there are many audio people, dealers, home dealers, audio clubs that meet every weekend, magazine reviewers, so I get to hear lots of components. There are also a bunch of audio guys who are DIY people so I get to hear that side of the audio world. Besides that, I get to hear many componets, cables, tubes, etc., in my own system because these people are good people and will lend some of their stuff out once they get to know you. That is how I recently got to hear the Tung-sol round plate tubes in my system other then buying them to hear for myself. Like I said, call Fred and see if you connect with him. He is a fantastic person and very helpful - no pressure.
Look for a used Sonic Frontier Line 3 preamp SE modified by Chris at the Parts Connection. I think it will beat anything $4000.00 and under easily. It is balanced and single ended. Only problem is it takes lots of real estate being a 2 piece design.
It seems through recent and older threads there's some agreement that BAT has some tube (and solid state) bass and weight champs in their stable. There are so many BAT tube preamps it's hard to keep track of which models to consider. What's the one or two that excel in providing clarity, transparency and top to bottom extension; bass weight and some tube sound?
Hello Foster,

You should be able to find a used BAT VK-51se in your price range. Of course this is subjective, but I don't think the sound quality can be matched in the price they sell for used. Good luck and enjoy the search.

Foster_9, I think in your $$$ range the VK-51se would be the one. You should have no problem finding one under your $4K price range.
Thanks guys. What about the reliability of a unit as old as the BAT VK-51se? And heat, does it run hot? Hard on tubes? You can't leave it on after a listening session if you want to preserve those tubes, can you?
The age should not be a problem. Nor does it run hot. FWIW our MP-3 keeps up with it easily and plays deeper bass on account of its direct-coupled output. You can find them used under $4K, so its an option as well.
Hello Foster,

May I suggest if you find a used BAT 51se that you're interested in buying that you have the seller send it to BAT to be checked out. My 51se never failed me in my 5 years or so of ownership. The 6h30 tube(s) last a real long time in the 51se, reportedly longer then most other preamp tube types and the 6h30 is easily available. The 51se runs hot but I wouldn't say excessively so.

side note: IMO I find the post above to be inappropriate.
Sorry, but I felt it had to be said


IMO I find the post above to be inappropriate.
Sorry, but I felt it had to be said
Tom, I understand your point, but in this particular case I for one don't feel that it is inappropriate. It is very clear that Ralph is the manufacturer of the product he is suggesting as an option. He is suggesting it as an option in used form, which will not directly benefit him (at least with respect to the op's potential purchase). His numerous contributions to this forum have always been, imo, well intended and helpful. And when recommendations of specific brand names have been involved, his comments have clearly been as balanced and impartial as one could hope for from a manufactuer who competes among those products.

Just my $.02. I have no relationship, btw, to any of the manufacturers mentioned so far in this thread, not even as an owner.

-- Al
Hello Al and Foster,

In my view in a public forum such as Audiogon any and all subjective opinion should not be allowed by a manufacture when commenting about their own products, "especially" when comparing it subjectively to another specific product. To me, this clearly stepped over that line. IMO I also see the intent of the post as a way to try and drum up immediate or future business for the manufacturer.

Foster, whatever you decide good luck in your preamp search,


I guess I am a homey, but a Sonic Frontiers Line 3 with Chris Johnson's SE+ mod represents IMHO 90 - 95% of what's out there, allowing for personal tastes.

Buy a stock Line 3 for $2,200 or less on Audiogon, send it to Chris for a SE+ mod (with Teflon V-Caps = $1,700) and you have a fully-balanced, reference tube line stage for about $4,000 with SE and XLR ins (four each) and dual RCA and XLR outs - separate, full chassis PS, too.

I have seen Line 3s WITH the SE+ mod for a bit north of $3,000.

Flyfish thanks for the suggestion. However, I've been the route of having modifications done before, and if or when the time comes to sell the modified gear, you'll lose your shirt on the funds invested in the modification, and end up selling for what a stock unit would sell for.

At this point, with no ability to audition, I'm torn between the BAT VK51-SE and the Cary SLP-05.
Foster, you are right about losing your shirt when selling a modded unit IF you paid to have the original mod done. If you buy it on the used market, you can get a steal, IMHO. I have a CDP that Chris did a $3K mod on and it sounds incredible. I sold a CDP that cost me twice as much when I heard this one. I paid about $600 more than a used stock version was selling for at the time. So the gent who had the mod performed lost about $2.5K, but I got a great sounding CDP for a great price. Chris Johnson does fabulous work.

As for your decision, get the SLP-05. You know you've been waiting for someone to tell you that, so go ahead and do it. Most here probably mistook your original post, as I did, and thought you were looking for other recommendations. It's obvious to me now that you have your heart set on the SLP-05, so just go get one.

You could probably snag a used VAC Ren MK2 line stage only for at or just above $4K. Its one of the best I've ever heard, but I will admit I've never heard the Cary or the Atma in a system I'm familiar with.
Actually Jmcgrogan2 you're mistaken, I am interested in a preamp that competes or betters the Cary SLP 05. With a six year old around the house, all those exposed tubes with the SLP 05 would be a constant point of fascination that would probably lead to touching. So a preamp with covered tubes is more practical.
Foster, you will get many recos, as you can see, but only you can judge whether it "competes or betters the SLP-05". Many here will tell you that they have heard better preamps, in their opinions, but your opinion is the only one that really counts here, since it's your money.

BTW, if open tubes was a concern, perhaps you should have placed it on your original list. FWIW, I'd check with Cary to see if they sell tube cages. I know they sell tube cages for their amps.

Jmcgrogan2, if I end up with a preamp with exposed tubes and no cage I'm willing to sternly warn my young one to keep his hands off, so that's not a deal breaker, just not as practical as a covered unit. My son has actually been pretty good about "hands off" regarding my stereo gear. You are right, only I can decide which preamps compete and which to try, but feedback from users helps with making a "try-it" list.
Trcnetmsncom, please pardon me if I offer my opinion. There is always a price one pays for being both an audiophile and a manufacturer at the same time. IOW I participate in these forums because I enjoy audio. Foster_9 asked a question that I had a ready answer to- that of reliability.

I believe the rest of my answer (proceeded by FWIW, which means 'For What Its Worth') was also correct to the best of my knowledge. You might try the audition yourself someday- I did exactly that slightly over a week ago so it is particularly fresh for me.

Again **FWIW**, this issue of bass as listed in the opening of this thread is a recurrent theme in the realm of tube preamps. I happen to prefer tubes, but the bass issue was a problem for me as well- I started playing string bass in bands and orchestra in the 7th grade. So it seemed to me a logical thing to develop a direct-coupled output on a tube preamp, and having done so I am always wondering why more manufacturers don't also do it (although we do control the patent on how we do it, there are other ways...).
Trcnetmsncom- I don't see what you are objecting to from atmasphere's input as there is no sales pitch involved to purchase any product Ralph's company sells.
He is giving a comparsion of his pre amp to another's pre amp based on a design implemented in his product and not in the Bat pre amp;a fact worth knowing if deciding to spend what to me is a pretty fair amout of $$$ and trying to get the best product you can buy;both products are probally excellant choices as well and the extra piece of information may help the decision easier in my opinion.
get yourself a Atmasphere mp3 or mp1 mk3.3.  Either one you can’t go wrong.   Both preamp is incredible; overall best deal you can get.  That is coming from a person that owns Cat, Jadis, Audionote and Aesthetix.  You will not be disappointed!