looking for a tube preamps that doesn't sound like SS


any recommendations for a tube preamp under 4k, that has old school sound, warm, fat, with good mid range and sound-staging.

I have a good SS set up, good clarity and imaging but would like to change things up with a good tube,.

O


oglethorpe
With my Mapletree Audio preamp, and I suspect other similar models out there, the sound can be achieved with proper tube selection. So many different flavors of 6SN7 tubes (lush, clean, clear, powerful, precise, hazy, etc.) from which to choose. Conversations with Dr. Peppard and Brent Jesse guided me to the specific tubes to match the desired sound for which I was targeting. I could be all wet, but it seems that if the pre has a decently designed circuit with the functions you require, its the tube choice that will determine the sound more than anything else. And one of the cool features of my Mapletree is that with a flip of a switch I can go from 6SN7 tubes to 12SN7s, which can sound similar to their 6SN7 counterpart, but at a much cheaper cost.
There are so many! Any older CJ preamp. A wonderful tube preamp is the LInear Tube Micro Zotl with power supply.  This is the venerable David Berning design! I love that one with Tungsol round plates.  Backert Labs makes a great preamp, Modwright, Supertek is wonderful plus you can get a phono stage for that price, Don Sachs is also highly regarded, Atmasphere, Cary etc. I also liked the Doge 8 with NOS tubes (about $1400 new.) All are great and I probably forgot about 10 others.
It is a great time to be an audiophile with all the great choices new and used!


Schiit balanced "Freya +" at 900 bucks...the "improved" version (same features as the original but adds some things like a motorized volume control and tube "turn off" when using the passive or FET modes...great way to save tubes if using the thing for background music) of the original I’ve been using for a while with NOS GE 6SN7GTBs...a superb sounding USA made preamp that proves great design needn’t be expensive.
I found the sound I was after with a Modwright 36.5 with a NOS GZ34 Mullard in the power supply. 
Oh, easy. Take a close look at the Supratek Audio Chardonnay. This is the latest iteration of the preamp that kicked off the longest running thread on Audiogon. Search for "Preamp Deal of the Century".

Another top candidate would be the Don Sachs Model 2. Extremely well regarded.

If you're wanting to buy new, I don't think you can go wrong with either of these two preamps. You can spend more, but it will be tough to find better.
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The newest AT7  quicksilver linestage sounds very nice.
Look for a 300b  Tube preamp if you want a beautiful lush midrange , as one example to look for ,
or a SET tube preamp .
Rogue stuff is pretty nice. I’ve been using a Rogue 66 pre for a while now, and I really dig it. No urge to upgrade (as of yet).

@tonydennison has a great idea with the Quicksilver too.

If you’re a diy kinda guy, the Bottlehead SET looks very cool too.   
For my music audio sources I’ve been using https://avahifi.com/collections/preamplifiers/products/transcendence-10-rb-preamplifier

it is a solid improvement over my Marantz preamp and a great value.
Is there such a thing as a 300b preamp? I thought that was only an amp tube?
Precision Fidelity C2. Designed by Bruce Moore (Paragon, MFA, Audible Illusions).
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I think an Ultraverve by Dehavilland (Kara Chaffee) would meet the description in your original post. It is 6SN7 based. I bought a used one here on Agon and sold my Primaluna Prologue Premium that I had for 5 years. The PL served me well, I was just after a full, neutral, non-colored, i.e. different sound. I was amazed at the impact a different preamp made in my system. 
I just sold my McIntosh SS C28 Preamp and SS MC2250 amp, went back to tubes.

I researched, and decided to get a McIntosh Tube FM Tuner/Preamp. They only made 6 preamp models with tuners, I chose the mx110z (3 versions, you want the last z version).

https://positive-feedback.com/Issue77/vintage_mcintosh_experience.htm

I couldn't be happier. I've been listening to tube/ss/tube for 50 years. Important to me, it includes (actually introduced) the McIntosh Mode Switch, which I use to refine my system's frequency distribution and balance. 

Not only a tuner and pre-amp for the price of one, also important to me, they fit in the space of one.

I have a dedicated FM Antenna in the attic, aimed at Jazz 88, and have a superb Carver SS Tuner, but this mx110z tuner sounds terrific.

"When operating to spec, the mx110 tuner section is superb". McIntosh engineer (way back then) Richard Modafferi (who originally designed the MR77 & MR78 tuners) (performs modifications on McIntosh tuners) said there is nothing he could do to improve upon the original design of the mx110 tuner section. It was (and still is) that good.


Oh yeah, the mx110z phono eq sounds great also. My tt has a built in phono preamp, switchable, so either go line out to any line input or signal out to a phono input for RIAA Phono EQ within the pre-amp.

I prefered the TT preamp Line Out to my SS C28 preamp phono eq. Now, I prefer the tube pre-amp's phono EQ, using signal out of tt to the mx110z.
I just skimmed that long story I posted the link to, words, words, words, his conclusion, if you are still awake:

"The MX110Z excels at playing music in an authoritative and vivid way that I found to be very emotionally engaging. It presented tempos, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms with natural life-like momentum & dynamics. The MX110Z's tonality is superb by any standard past or present, and it excels at the reproduction of the textures, colors, tones and overtones. The MX110Z makes vinyl & FM sound astonishingly good, and even makes digital your friend. Price-wise the MX110Z is a steal, and performance-wise it can easily hold its own against contemporary preamplifiers, and feature-wise it outclasses any modern preamplifier on Planet Earth. The MX110Z may be the single best audio purchase I've ever made, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it provide another 50 years of service after its checkup & electrical refreshment by Terry DeWick. Expect to pay around $3000 USD or more for an electrically restored 'Mint +' MX110Z like mine."

I got mine eBay, $1,700. and it sounds awesome with no modifications. I have my own tester, all tubes tested good. btw, most power tubes are rated for 10,000. hours, the small tubes in preamps and tuners substantially longer than that. So don't jump into new tubes too soon. 
I have read the 2002-2019 thread on the Supratek preamps and am very tempted to buy one.  I would read through the thread

Lots of great recommendations above.  I am not a fan of the Rogue though.

Depending on your price range, any of the Counterpoint tube preamps will sound very good and they can be upgraded to sound fantastic.  Look for the SA-2000 or the SA-3000 with phono.  Stay away from the thin chassis designs and the SA-5000 - while it is great sounding it is hard to upgrade because of the time to work on the floating circuit board.

Prima Luna 6DJ8/6922 preamp new runs about $2300 is really nice sounding for the money.  6SN7 tube preamps sound very relaxed as the smaller tubes seem to have a more dynamic punch IMO.


Happy Listening. 

Conrad Johnsons from the 1980's.
I have an MP-3 from atmasphere, great sounding preamp and just swapping different 6SN7 you can get different sounding profiles, atmasphere customer support is great as well in case you have questions or need service.
Actually I just realized you aren't listing your amp or speakers so any recommendations from me or others are not very valuable. 
Your amp kind of will determine which tube preamp will fit best. 
The MP-3 impedance will match most amps and if your amp is balanced then it will be an even better match 
I am not sure why you would a warm old school sound unless you had some deficiency in your system that would cause you to want to thicken things up. A list of your components would be helpful due the fact that a change elsewhere could solve any problem you might have. Of the advice above I dont think that the Berning, Rogue or Schiit products would give you what you want. The Berning is a wonderful preamp but it isnt particularly warm but more linear/neutral. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of Rogue and of Schiit even less. I think that the old CJ preamps and the Joule are good units for what you want. I prefer the Joule to the old CJs.
I forgot to mention that Audio Note Kit preamps are very good and lean toward the warm side but not obnoxiously so. You can buy them as a kit or have them assembled.
From what I read oglethorpe is on the right track with the tube preamp.
I’ve read pretty much everything on the Don Sach pre, which looks really special.

Anyone have experience with Erhard Audio, Aretha preamp?
I’m interested in a tube pre with tone controls. Would also like a headphone jack, but would that require another amp within the pre?

http://www.erhard-audio.com/Aretha.html


Based on that long running thread the Supratek was on my short list, but I abandoned that idea when I found it was single ended only.

ozzy
Look into Aric Audio. Aric makes some wonderful gear,that sounds incredible,and won't break the bank. No affiliation,just a very satisfied customer.
One of the most overlooked- simple and fast, great presentation and tube sounding- CARY SLP98 F1 edition (not the stock SLP 98) you won’t break the bank and you’ll get a wide sound stage that is forward and with bass. 
Purchase a SS pre amp that sounds like a tube pre amp
Joule Electra - real tube sound but with great dynamic and impact too
Audio Research SP3a
Audio Research SP10
Conrad Johnson PV5
Marantz 7c
McIntosh C22
McIntosh 110z *  Tuner Preamp

All sound like tubes, all have excellent phono stages.  All will require maintenance to perform at their best.

A more recent possibility:  Brown Audio Labs SP-1B

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/brown-audio-labs-sp-1b-preamplifier/?page=2

The above review, and all others are stellar.

Slightly out of th box suggestion would be a VanAlstine Super PAS3.  This is a highly modified Dynaco PAS3 preamp, offered by the VanAlstine company.  Long time Stereophile recommended component, available for less than $500, and would allow you to find out if this is the path you want to follow.  It is a very good preamp- sounding much better than many that cost a lot more.  Should you decide to move on from it, resale value is excellent so you may even have a profit after resale.
Conrad Johnson has that old school tube sound.
I agree with the Conrad Johnson Suggestions.

I had a CJ Evolution 20 for years - It was hard for me to part with it.

Generally I think CJ out performs the McIntosh in/on every level.

Although the suggestions for the newer pre amp companies are very good , I do not think they would satisfy you as much as a CJ. 

Best of Luck
Any Conrad-Johnson preamp made before 1990.  I have a PV8 and I love it.
VAC is always a good bet here, without treading into maple syrup territory. 4K won't get you anything new, but used older models can be had in this range.
Agree on the Conrad-Johnson from the '80's.  Another good source would by the Audio Research SP-6/8 line of early '80's preamps.
Call Don Sachs.  He can do his "all in" pre for well under your budget.  I didn't know a pre could make such a difference until I plugged his into my system.
You may want to look at Octave.  I enjoy my V80 from them with simple bias adjustments and power support.   
Dennis Had makes some great sounding preamps the Inspire LP-3.1 is his newest,I think.He sells them on Ebay. You can use 6SN7 or 6SL7and it is also reasonably priced. A tube rollers dream if you like to do so. 
I had Audio Research SP-6B, and Joule Electra is far better
Old Conrad Johnson have nice tube sound but not have dynamic like Joule
Any Conrad-Johnson pre-amp although they are pricey. The PrimaLuna Dialogue and Dialogue Premium are an excellent value and do sound lovely. I'm sure their EVO series is great as well.
Both brands are wires with gain and multiple inputs.
Rollin