If you had to choose: tube amp or tube pre-amp?

So I've been on the market for a tube pre-amp, and would also like to upgrade my amp as well but I was wondering?

Upgrade to a tube amp or tube pre first?

I'm using an old Sony V444ES running the pre-outs to a 2-channel B&K amp (reference 125.2). If more details on my other components (dac, Upsampler, etc.) or speakers will help, let me know and I would be happy to list.
Your speakers would be helpful. If you are set on your speakers I would get a power amp first and then later a preamp If you tell us what your speakers are you will get recommendations for related amplification
Tube amp, definitely.

I feel the amp imparts more of the tube sound than the preamp. IMHO.

I think I would go with a tube Pre-Amplifier first.

I say this because of the way Tube Hybrid Amps are made with the Pre section being tube and the amplifier section being Solid State.

I do not think i have seen it the other way around.
If you don't have the signal a tube amp can't create it so I'll say get a good tube pre !!!!!!
I would say spring for the tube preamp first since you already have a decent amp.
The efficiency of your speakers would need to be closely matched a tube amp type ( P-P, SET, etc.).
Generally speaking, if you are trying to chose between an amp and a preamp, I would definately say get the preamp first. Not only that, but the preamp is so important to get right, I would buy the best one I could afford, even if it means you have to buy lesser amp and/or wait.
Much of it would depend on the speakers. I'd usually choose ss amp and ss pre-amp, but if forced to choose tubes, I'd probably choose a tube pre-amp.
tube pre, ss amp
I agree, tube pre, ss amp.
I want the cleanest possible unstressed Class A happy little signal to come from my SS preamp and get massaged by the tubes in my amp before it hits my ears. Then I can blame the amp if it's too greasy. Besides, in a tube amp you often get large (and small) tubes to look at and burn your fingers on, and that's important. Often tube preamps have hidden tubes inside someplace so you just have to imagine them, so if I ever do buy a tube preamp I really have to have exposed tubes. Ever sit and stare at a transistor? No, you haven't, unless you've been a pathetic hostage tied to a bench in some maniac's audio repair shop...but that's another story...I also use a little tube headphone amp sometimes...mostly because it's cute.
Tube pre, SS amp has worked best for me thru the years.
So the general consensus seems to be a tube pre to add to a s.s. amp.

My budget is tight (like living on student loan tight) so I've been looking at the Little Dot MK IV SE (with NOS tubes), but I wasn't sure if it will work with my B&K amp??

If I could find a good deal on a AES AE-3 that would be great, but so far no luck. I've also been reading good things about Dared SL2000A with different tubes.

Any thoughts??

It depends on your speaker. If your speaker is compatible with tubes I`d go tube power amplifier if your goal is tube sonic attributes. The tube preamp won`t have the same influence and the SS amp presence will be known(ok if that`s what you want).
Impossible to say without knowing what speakers are being used. Depending mainly on how their impedance varies as a function of frequency, some speakers will not sound right with one type of amp or the other.

It is also impossible to say without knowing whether the B&K amp or the preamp section of the Sony a/v receiver you are using is a greater limitation on the sound quality you are presently achieving. Not being familiar with either model, I can't address that question. And the answer may depend on the impedance characteristics of the speakers, and how difficult they are to drive.

As a general philosophical matter, though, if the speakers can work well with a tube amp I agree with the comments by Michael and Charles, and my vote would be tube amp, ss preamp. If you research past threads on this question, however, you will find that opinion is divided, and there is no consensus.

-- Al
Tube Amp first. Tube Pre second. Tubes ATW.
Thanks everyone, I am using Klipsch RP-5's for my front channels

Basically my typical music plays through these components :

MacBook or airport ---> Monarchy DIP Upsampler --xlr--> Emotiva XDA-1 DAC --xlr ---> B&K amp ---> RP-5's

The preamp built into the Emotiva gives the music a very thin, scratchy sound at higher volumes...Im not familiar with how to describe it in audiophile vernacular, but it sounds digital with no richness. So I was hoping throughing in a tube pre after the DAC will clear up that problem....anyone have an opinion on the Little Dot IV SE if I can't find an AES?
I meant to say in my last post that I run to the Sony from the DAC when I want to listen with the subwoofer playing, but I've found whether I go straight to the B&K and bypass the Sony, or not, I stll get the sharp sounding music the higher the volume goes.

I'm playing all flac music 24/96, and I have my speakers hooked up with quad 16ga wire, I'm not using the line -in for the sub.
The amp has to work with the speakers. Period. So get whatever amp does that best. If you like the sound of a tight and tuneful bass, then SS would probably control that cone better. If you like it a little looser, then tubes will probably fir the bill. If you don't care and just want bloom then tubes will give you that.

Then match the preamp to the amp.
The preamp built into the Emotiva gives the music a very thin, scratchy sound at higher volumes...Im not familiar with how to describe it in audiophile vernacular, but it sounds digital with no richness. So I was hoping throughing in a tube pre after the DAC will clear up that problem.
This thread and this thread may be of interest. Among other things, these threads refer to issues with the digital volume control in the Emotiva DAC. If you haven't already, it would be a good idea to try running the DAC through the Sony with the DAC's volume control turned all the way up, with the setting of the Sony's volume control reduced correspondingly.

Although the adverse effects of the digital volume control can be expected to worsen as its setting is lowered, the reason that you may be perceiving the problem to a greater degree as its setting is raised may simply be that our hearing mechanisms become more sensitive to high frequencies (relative to their sensitivity to mid frequencies) at higher volume levels.

Beyond that, I wouldn't try to mask the problem by changing the preamp or amp. The best recipe for success is usually to try to correct the root cause of a problem.

-- Al
Al,good advice, correct the root of the problem then address the lesser issues afterward.

Solid state amps won`t always result is better bass quality. It absolutely depends on the speaker design and parameters.Some speakers are meant to be used with tube amplifiers and will sound better with them(the converse is also true). It all depends on the specific objectives.
Thanks everyone for the helpful advice.

Al, to follow up with your suggestion regarding the DAC. For a while I actually had it hooked up in the fashion you suggested (emotive to Sony, with the emotiva volume at max, and use Sony to control level) but the improvement is very minute. I figured the small change was attributed to bypassing Emotivas preamp for Sony's slightly better one.

With that being said, you don't necessarily think that if the Emotiva was running to a tube preamp instead of Sony's SS it would help reduce the sharpness of the music?
A good tube preamp would certainly be an improvement, but your original question was an either /or tube pre-power amp.
I would go with a tube preamp as the pre is the heart of the system and has a huge tonal influence on the system. I love tube amps, but don't like dealing with too many tubes in my total system. I opted for a hybrid amp which gets me closer to an all tube amp without the hassle of power tubes.

So tube pre and hybrid amp! This is a great combo....

If my speakers could run off of 8 SET watts, then I would have a tube amp for sure. Only one power tube per side needed. However when needing 100 watts or more, a hybrid can be a nice option.
You're right Charles, the topic started to deviate...but this been extremely helpful. So it sounds like I'll start with the tube pre over an amp!

The last thing I'll ask, when I select a pre-amp are there any factors I should look for to determine if it's going to match well with the B&K amp???
Yes life is very simple and enjoyable with SET amps.One output,driver and rectifier tube per monoblck, that`s it.
You don't necessarily think that if the Emotiva was running to a tube preamp instead of Sony's SS it would help reduce the sharpness of the music?
Don't know. Depending on the particular tube preamp it might help somewhat, or it might turn out to just be more revealing of the shortcomings of the DAC.

In any event, if it is a matter of choosing which of the three components to upgrade, IMO it would make sense to upgrade the one that is the root cause of the problem, which appears to be the DAC.

If you are perceiving objectionable and similar sound quality with and without the preamp section of the Sony receiver in the signal path, it says that the preamp section is not the weak link in your system, and is not the primary contributor to the thinness and harshness you appear to be describing. If the tube preamp you were to choose were to largely resolve the problem, it would most likely mean that it is introducing colorations and inaccuracies that are complementary to those of the DAC.

In the near term, that would probably not produce as good a result as replacing the component that is the root cause of the problem. In the long term, if you were to eventually upgrade the DAC you would then be using it with a preamp that is complementing colorations and inaccuracies that are no longer there.

Finally, my impression is that good quality DAC's can be had these days at significantly lower prices than most good quality tube preamps.

IMO. Hope that helps. Regards,
-- Al
Thanks Al, that's good advice. Unfortunately the Emotiva is an "upgrade" that I just added a couple months back, and although it sounds better with the DAC than without, I was hoping the preamp could clean it up before the amp....but I believe you're right, in the end the source of the problem seems to lie in the emotiva DAC..

Anyone have any thoughts the previous question about what specs to look at when making sure the amp and preamp tube are compatible? (aside from the most obvious option - just listening) :)
Anyone have any thoughts the previous question about what specs to look at when making sure the amp and preamp tube are compatible?
The usual concern when using a tube preamp together with a solid state power amp is impedance compatibility. Ideally the input impedance of the power amp should be at least ten times greater than the output impedance of the preamp, at the frequency within the audible range for which the output impedance of the preamp is highest. That frequency will usually be 20 Hz, as a result of the impedance rise caused at low frequencies by the output coupling capacitor most tube preamps use.

A factor somewhat less than 10x may or may not be acceptable, depending mainly on how the preamp's output impedance varies as a function of frequency, and on the deep bass extension of the speakers.

I see that the amp's input impedance is 33K. The Little Dot preamp you are considering has a specified nominal output impedance (presumably at mid-range frequencies) of 600 ohms. The corresponding figure for the AES is 560 ohms. I couldn't find a number for the Dared.

It is possible that those figures will rise at deep bass frequencies to levels that would not meet the 10x goal, conceivably causing a slight rolloff of the deepest bass. I suspect that if that were to occur, it would be so slight as to not matter, but if you want to pursue those models see if the manufacturers can tell you what their output impedance is at 20 Hz.

Another factor to consider, especially given the high sensitivity of your speakers, is to avoid preamps having particularly high gain. Otherwise you may wind up having to use the volume control in the preamp too far down in its range, with the DAC's volume control at max (where it ideally should be). The Little Dot seems ok in that respect, its gain being adjustable to 3x (about 10 db). The AES's specified gain of 15 db may be getting into uncomfortable territory.

-- Al
Al, I can't thank you enough for your help. That was a fantastic explanation, with tangible examples. THANK YOU!
Add another here for a tube power amp, and solid state preamp.
If the op is on a budget, a tube amp retubing is EXPENSIVE.
Retubing a preamp is a once every few years at most and is comparatively cheap.
Just mentioning it.
More tube sound overall = tube amp
Less tube sound but more dynamics = ss amp/tube pre
As to which type of amplifier SS or tube will sound more dynamic is completely dependent on the speaker they`re matched with (this can`t be emphasized enough).Same is true for bass performance.Based on the designer`s intent some speakers need more or less damping factor from the power amplifier(output impedance level,yes or no NFB levels), also depends on the speaker`s Q factor.Generalizations don`t hold up, you must account for the numerous parameters involved.
I used to be in the preamp camp first until I got my Eico HF20 rebuilds from JWN - get a really good tube amp first and then match that with the best tube pre you can find
Having read hundreds of posts on the sound of tubes, I’m not sure there is enough agreement on what that sound is to use the term as a descriptive device. But that said, and in general, tubes can have an influence over a host of elements that collectively make sound musical. IMO, different tube component types e.g., amps and preamps, tend to impact different musical elements with lesser or greater weight. So, depending on one’s priorities, there is no definitive answer as to which is preferable - tube amp or preamp. Personally, I require output power tubes to achieve the results I want.
To me it depends on the size of your room and the music. In my uncle's rectangular listening room which is quite large (sorry I don't remember the dimensions) he paired a pair of Threshold monoblocks with an tube Audio Research preamp. Heavenly sound with any kind of music. For me in a nearfield set-up where I was about 6-7 ft away I was able to use a solid state Accuphase C200 preamp with a Baldwin tube amp that had a power tube complement of 6L6GB/6V6GT tubes that sounded pretty awesome.
If you worry about the financial cost of re-tubing an amp (although perhaps only equaling the annual cost of leaving your SS gear ON ALL THE TIME), you need to factor in the MENTAL cost also...thousands of suggestions and opinions about re-issues from Russian factory workers on the Volga and Chinese fancy presentation boxed electron beam bottles, antique esoterica harvested from rusty Swedish radios and Cold War East German helicopters...it's insane, but worth it if you can take it. Get clearance from your therapist, and be prepared to lose all your friends...*sigh*...
Wolf for president!
I think it's hard to say which is better since system synergy comes into play.

What I have found is that with difficult to drive speakers which need to eat up quality watts and lots of it, I find a SS power amp gives me enough juice to get the dynamics right while the tube preamp gives me the lushness and 3 dimensionality in the soundstage.

I use an ARC 5SE with Electrocompaniet Nemos to drive my Thiel CS3.7s.

I also use an Ayon CD5S with Plinius SA Reference on a second system to drive the Lenehan ML2 Reference