is getting a tube pre a valid option with ss amp?

hello all, advice time again. I have decided to go ht in basement and as such, can go dedicated 2 channel in living room.. I am thinking of getting a tube pre as a 1st step, although my amp is a ss theta dread 2..which i am going to keep in my living a tube pre a good move forward over ss pre?or..will there not be much sonic difference..i have dali hellicon speakers which it seems warm up very nice to tube sound..thanx, Dan
A very commonly executed configuration.
i do it with a tad-150 and an electrocompaniet ss amp. to me its the way to get close to best of both worlds. the sound is warm and dynamic, but as with all things, it depends on you, the qualtiy of the equipment/synergy, and the quality of the recordings you listen to. IMHO the more i do this the single biggest factor is the recording quality, no matter which sytem i listen to.
depends on your listening preferences. I have an aesthetix Janus pre and a bat vk-250 amp. I've been happy with the combo, although not blown away by the bat. I likes warm, present sound but didn't want anything too tubey, so this combo has been good. I would change the bat before the aesthetix. If you listen to vinyl then I would def recommend the Janus, which has a good phono stage. Hovland is also killer.
I had a tube pre w/ a Pass Labs amp. The soundstage improved, the vocals became more intimate, and everything sounded more real and you are there. A tube pre is a good move.
Only a complete tube chain will make a significant improvement, especially with vinyl media.
as always...good responses...i actually listened to a tube pre today for the 1st time..local hi fi shop just openned in had the all ss sytem running for 20 mins or so..then subbed in a tube integrated...took me all of 0.5 secs to notice the difference in sound..i really liked it..definately a more intimate sound..though now i have read other posts about a tube pre damaging a ss amp??? audiophile stuff just cant be simple!!
You need to be careful to ensure that the output impedance of the preamp is at least ten times less than the input impedance of the amp. The problem is that virtually all tube preamps except those that use output transformers have high-ish output impedances in the bass, which can cause bass roll off (i.e., weak bass) with many solid-state amps.

The other problem is that tube preamps except those that use output coupling transformers have difficulty driving long (> 2 meters) interconnects, the result again being rolled off bass.

These problems are present far less often when a tube preamp is paired with a tube amp, as tube amps tend to have much higher input impedances: many have an input impedance of 100,000 Ohms. In contrast, solid-state studio amps often have an input impedance as low as 600 ohms, and audiophile solid-state amps often come in around 20,000 Ohms. As for preamps, top-shelf solid-state preamps can have output impedances as low as 50 Ohms across the frequency spectrum (darTZeel, classic Rowland), while even top-shelf tube preamps can have output impedances as high as 4,500 Ohms in the bass (BAT VK-51SE).

The rub is that few solid-state preamps have the musicality and layer space like a tube preamp, so, unless you really know what you're doing, it's easy to make a mistake whether you go with a solid-state or tube preamp. Rowland's Synergy IIi solid-state preamp is very good and can be had for less than $3k used. VAC's Renaissance preamps use output transformers and the "cheap" one can be had used for $3k-$4k. I strongly prefer top-shelf solid-state preamps, as no tube pre I am aware of can compete when it comes to noise floor, which is crucial at the preamplification stage.
I've had tube pre's 3 times with SS amps and have never been disappointed. Agree totally with Raquel about matching correctly.. Also, It might be good to make yourself familiar with costs associated with changing tubes. Many of the NOS tubes can be expensive to buy..(this may not be an issue for you but it's good to know.)
Yes. I've run a tube pre with three different solid state amps and have never had any problems. Don't worry about ultra expensive tubes, there are plenty of good tubes that will do the job. Google tubemonger to see plenty of choices.
The only real problem with running a tube pre with ss amp is that, sooner or later, the seductiveness of the tube sound is going to cause you to start wondering what a tube amp would sound like. (And the answer is, pretty swell!) Subject to the impedence matching issues, I'd go for it.
Get a tube power amp and an SS preamp. I assure you that there is unending ignorance about what truly gives you tube magic. NO NO NO tubes do not dull or mute the sound they actually as a rule brighten the sound. The tube magic is only describable when you have heard it but think of holographic imaging and tonal beauty. doing the tube pre on top of a hashy chiseling SS amp won't do didly.
Most tube pres are cap coupled. Some tube pres are reputed to leak DC. If one wants to mate a tube pre with a ss amp, it is might be better to use a low output impedance tube pre and a high input impedance, cap coupled ss amp. There are a few DC coupled (like: Atmasphere and Sonic Frontiers) tube pres that make exceptions to those guidelines.
I am a bit leery about any theoretical attempts to "compensate" for certain qualities or tendencies by finding another component with supposedly opposite qualities. This hardly ever works out as hoped, and for the most part results are unpredictable.

In particular, I have found the behavior of systems with tube linestage/preamps and solid state amps unpredictable and most often unsatisfying. Of course certain specific combinations in certain specific systems will work, but, again, only trial and error will tell (a friend makes such switches all the time for fun, but he has well over a dozen amps and almost as many preamps and a half dozen speaker systems). It is a tempting combination if someone "needs" the power that is most easily obtained from solid state but hopes for "tube magic."

I bet everyone has a little bit different ideas about tube magic, but Mechans description of holographic imaging and tonal beauty and lack of "chiseling" comes close. I would add that this "magic" also involves notes seeming to bloom naturally into space, without an artificial "edge" and for the entire space to be filled with ambient "hall" sounds. To me, that is only really achieved in full measure going all tube, and even then, you get so much more going triode (vs. pentode), and single-ended (provided you have suitable speakers).

I have gotten much better, and more predictable results results with a solid state preamp into tube amps than the reverse. I own, though I no longer use, a Placette Active linestage and a Levinson No. 32 preamp. Both work very well with ANY amp I've tried them with. But, my current tube front end -- Emotive Audio Epifania and Viva Fono, work much better.

There are some operational issues with using a tube linestage and solid state amp if you plan on leaving the amp on all the time (solid state gear takes MUCH longer to fully warm up, so it is often left on all the time). Some tube gear will emit loud noise on turn on, and perhaps, on turn off. This noise may come through even when there is a mute button. That means one cannot turn off the tube linestage without first turning off the amp if one wants to avoid this noise.

I should say that I don't dislike solid state amps; some manage to tame the "chiseling," though often by sounding a touch dull and lifeless when it comes to small dynamic changes. If you have a pair of speakers and a setup that truly NEEDS power (most people overestimate their needs here), it may be the only practical way to go. If that is the case, I would look first to a solid state linestage before trying to find a tube unit.
Intersting thoughts. I have only used one tube preamp, the AES/Cary DJH, and it worked wonderfully with the Pass Labs Aleph 30 and Linn Klout poweramps. These amps where natural and accurate in there own right and adding tubes improved on their good qualities with not draw backs.

The Cary 308CD's variable output directly into the Pass was more intimate and immediate, but less human and 3D sounding than with a tube pre. The Cary cdp/AES pre/Pass amp system is still one off my favorite systems. Although my current tube AES Superamp 2 is quite remarkable.

I didn't have the Cary cdp at the time of the Linn amp or the DJH pre at the time I had a Classe and AES power amps, so these are my limited experiences.
I just added a c2300 Mcintosh tube pre to my Mc MC402 SS power amp. The difference was noticeable. The power amp I thought sounded great - nice and smooth - but because I wanted tone controls, a 12 v trigger, and because the input sensitivity is relatively low on the power amp - I bought a pre amp. It's got that nice tube sound and interestingly as someone stated above I think it did add just a touch of brightness but in a good way. The sound really reminds me of listening to records in the 70s. I just kick back and listen to the music. If I had to say, it sounds better with classical, vocal, and slower music than it does with heavy rock music. Not that rock sounds bad but it's just so enjoyable to listen to classical now. May be my advancing age...
Mjcmt, perhaps the AES/Cary is less touchy than some of the tube linestages I've tried. It is all a matter of actually trying combinations; any other way is a crapshoot.

Wireless200, I am not surprised that your combination works well. There is something to be said about sticking to one brand, the designers certainly would work out the synergy, particularly with a brand like Mcintosh which puts big efforts into maintaining brand loyalty. I am a bit surprised you find the gear better with classical than with rock; I usually find that if something sounds good with classical it is also terrific with rock, but, the reverse is not always true.
Larryi's description of "tube magic" comes about as close as I can imagine in relatively few words. And I agree that tube amp and tube pre-amp combinations present the best version of that sound. But it is worth keeping in mind that various tube equipment manufacturers present equipment with more or less of the "tube magic." As various reviewers have noted in the various hi-fi publications in recent years, in some, perhaps many instances, it's become harder to hear the difference between some tube gear and some solid state gear. Equipment made with the so-called Russian "super tube," the 6H30, for example, tends to have harder transients (to my ear) that "the good old stuff." (I interpret Larryi's use of the term "chiseling" as referring to harder transient attacks--and I think "chiseling" is a great way to describe the aural effect.) Some of us would rather have the more traditional tube sound, which tends to sound as Larryi described it. In my case, I listened to the BAT VK75SE (with the 6H30's) and the standard BAT VK75, and bought the standard version, because it has a bit softer transients (while still sounding quite "real" for my tastes).

And, to Mechans's point, some listeners may "hear" some tube gear as being less active in the highs, maybe even rolled off seeming. I agree with Mechans that this is not necessarily the case, but may be an impression that has to do with the "chiseling" effect Larryi describes.

I too am generally not enamored with the 6H30 for the same reasons. This again illustrates a problem with generalizing about the sound of tubes. There are quite a lot of high-powered amps running 6550 pentodes which use a lot of negative feedback that I find far more brittle sounding than most solid state gear.

I think the reason I liked the AES(Cary's budget line)AE-3 DJH preamp so much is that it uses 6SN7 tubes. It sounds "oh-so-good". I like them better than the 12AX7 tubes of my Jolida integrated. That is why I bought the AES Superamp MkII power amp over the AES Sicpac...because the new Superamp uses 6SN7 driver and input tubes (w/EL34 power tubes).
I'm looking for a preamp with 6SN7 tubes instead of the 12AX7/12AT7 tubes many manufactures use. The combo of 6SN7 and EL34 tubes is magical. Could be why Cary uses this combination.
You might not know it now, but you will probably inevitably go all tube. With the issues you have already discovered, how could you not? Especially with vinyl!

Hi Mjcmt,

I don't know if one can reasonably generalize about even a personal preference on type of tube based on a single comparison. First, type of tube chosen would depend not only on the designer's preference for the sound, but also circuit requirements, amount of gain needed, etc. The best tube is one that best fits the requirement of the component. Also, 6SN7s, like all tube types, have quite different sounds, depending on the specific tube chosen.

I have some familiarity with Cary triode amps (not the pentode EL34). They can sound dramatically different, depending on the 6SN7s used in the amp. Quite often, the 6SN7 chosen by the manufacturer is picked with cost and availability as primary concerns, not necessarily "sound" first (this makes sense because the amp has to be reasonably serviceable, and because "sound" is a personal thing, why put a lot of money into an alternative that may or may not be considered better by the buyer?). I've heard great improvement with alternative NOS 6SN7s used in their amps. Have you tried alternatives?

Realistically, one does have to audition stuff, with what comes from the manufacturer for the first "knock out" round of auditions. Unfortunately, that may mean eliminating a particular piece even though a better choice of tubes might have made it a contender.

If I were at a dealership that offered a preamp that uses something other than 6SN7s, I would still at least give it a shot, because, when properly used, the results can be terrific too. My phono stage, which I think is killer good, uses 12AX7s, but, I had to try quite a few different types to get to the ones that work the best, and sonic differences between types were substantial.
Adding a good, basic tube preamp will increase the presence and sound stage of your system. At one time I didn't believe that it would make any difference, but now that I have tried it, the difference is huge! I say basic because preamps with allot of bells & whistles have too much going on under the hood and they can dampen the sound. Look for a preamp that has as few tubes installed in it as possible- say 1 to 3 tubes, not including a tube rectifier if it's there.
Please tell us why a tubed preamplifier with 3 tubes or less is preferable to others with more than 3 such as Audio Research Ref 3, Aesthetix Callisto, Atma-Sphere MP-1.

I'm very interested.
Because thats the type he makes or sells....just reaching here:)
More tubes are required if it's a line stage + phono preamp combo. That is the only exception. I have seen basic preamps with a single tube that work exceptionally well. A single tube, set up correctly has considerable gain. Most amplifiers have extremely sensitive, high impedance inputs. You may not know this, but preamps (line stage) attenuate the signal more often than amplify anything! An incoming signal of 0db to most amps would cause considerable damage to your amp, speakers AND possibly you in most cases. This is why passive preamps (with zero active components) work so well. So- if zero tubes/transistors works so well in the line stage, why should a preamp have multiple tubes? If there are tone circuits, etc.. extra gain stages are necessary. A basic preamp does NOT require a half dozen tubes give or take a couple.

To answer your question directly- If a design can work excetionally well with, lets say 5 components, why use 10? The individual who chooses to make a 10 component design isn't as good a designer. Complexity does not in any way prove an engineer is good. Designs that are complex when they don't have to be shows very poor judgement. If there are two machines and one has more parts in it than the other, yet they both work exactly the same, wouldn't you choose the machine with fewer parts? It's likely more thought went in behind the model with fewer components and it will work better anyway. As a last comment, devices with fewer compoents statistically break down less often.

I could try other brands of tubes for sure, but I'm resonably happy for now.

I found Cary's Chinese 6SN7's were better than Electro Harmanix in the DJH preamp in my system.
I found the Svetlana EL34 excellent in the Jolida 302 w/ RCA front end tubes.

I how have Cary's AES Superamp MkII with a full complimant of EL tubes. I don't care for EL tubes with music, but they really shine for movies. Someware down the road I will install Sveltana EL34s and another brand (maybe Cary's own brand) of 6SN7s.
I can understand the Less-is-more approach, but, that could mean trying to do more with less options and leeway. One tube would mean less gain (generally not a problem), but it would also mean very high output impedance (no cathode follower). Also, simplicity could limit the choice of tube; for example, one may have to use the 6h30 because of its high transconductance and low output impedance for such a "simple" circuit. Some people like the sound of this tube, others, as noted above, don't.

Every design choice means some kind of tradeoff. Conrad Johnson, avoids a cathode follower by having many tubes in parallel. It is still a simple circuit, but, it does mean many tubes.

I have a linestage (Emotive Audio Epifania), whose topology I have no understanding, which uses one tube (twin section tube) per channel, supposedly with no cathode follower needed to lower impedance. I suppose this qualifies as few tubes "in the signal path," but it has a LOT of tubes in the power supply. It uses tube rectification and six gas regulator tubes. The designer himself thinks that the power supply is "in the signal path," hence the great care in getting good power.

Mjcmt, if you like the tubes you have, then, just sit back and enjoy the sound. But, if you would like to chase something else, you do have the opportunity to radically change the sound of those amps just by changing tubes. To some, that is part of the fun, to others, that is what is frustrating (some people may like the sound they are getting but hate the idea that "better" may be lurking out there somewhere). If you want to look at alternatives, just be aware that, particularly with 6SN7s, results are NOT necessarily related to price or reputation; it depends on your taste, system and synergy with your other equipment. This can get very expensive and the results can be erratic. In my system, very expensive Tungsol roundplates are the best, but, very expensive metal-based GE's were very lean and unpleasant.
>>The individual who chooses to make a 10 component design isn't as good a designer. Complexity does not in any way prove an engineer is good<<

You should contact Ralph Karsten (Atma-Sphere), Jim White (Aesthetix), etc. and share your expertise.

I'm sure they could learn a lot from you.
OK- Component limitations are getting confused with engineering concepts. Ganged tubes can produce lower impedance outputs and high power levels. Same with transistors. We all know that. It has nothing to do with what I said. The condensed version of my last statement is, "If something can be made with fewer components yet remain as effective or better than a design with more components, then the conservative design approach should be taken." There are no negatives or limitations to that design philosophy economically, statistically or performance-wise.