If I am not going all tube I prefer tube pre-amp with solid state amp.
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Personally, I would start with a nice tube Preamp vs an amp... I think this would be a good start.. depending on what you are looking to accomplish.. If you intend on getting into vinyl.. go with a nice linestage tube preamp and an external phono stage... then you can always add a tube amp down the road... Not knowing what your musical tastes are and what kind of speakers you have makes it difficult for me to make a recommendation..
I just know that the ARC I bought is one of the best sounding preamps I have ever had... It is sure to improve a solid state system .... it is an LS-7 can be bought for around 700.00
Bill Thalmann at Music Technology (musictechnology.com) uses a Conrad Johnson Motif MC-10 solid state preamp with a Conrad Johnson Premier 8 tube amp with great results. Bill is a former Conrad Johnson engineer. I am sure if you email him at Music Technology, he would be glad to give you some feedback.
Tube preamp / solid state amp is more typical. Blue Circle actually makes a matching BC21 tube preamp and BC22 solid state amp. In a prior system, I use to run a Conrad Johnson tube PV-10 preamp, with their MF2100 solid state amp.
Yes, it seems that I am thinking about doing things bassakwards (nothing new for me!). I was just wondering what if I could leverage what I had to see what the tube experience would be like....(oh oh, I think this hobbie is getting dangerous!) Additional components in the mix are KEF 104/2 reference speakers (bi-wired) which are pretty efficient, MCD7008 changer with a CAL Alpha DAC (24/96) and Monarchy DIP for the digital front end.
Thanks for the input. I do a lot more reading than writing here, but certainly enjoy the 'gon very much!!
I use an ARC Ref 2 and a BAT VK-P10 for my tube preamplification and switch between SS and tube power amps. The ARC Classic 150s and Mark Levinson 333 have different personalities. The SS works best with rock. The Eagles "Hotel California" as recorded live in the "Hell Freezes Over" CD is awesome with the SS amp. The base is incredible. The tube amp is no slouch with base, but it is better with classical music both male and female voices. It is also less fatiguing during LONG listening periods. I know I'm spoiled by such great equipment, but after 35 years in this hobby, I believe the answer depends on the listener's musical tastes. What I can agree with is the musicality of a tube based front end.
Starting with only part of your system tubed is easiest. If you have a hum or .... it is a lot easier to track down. It is also a lot easier to compare different tubes (rolling) when the rest of the system is solid state. It seems that tube problems/quirks multiply and are impossible to pin down in an all tube system. Currently using a Classe 30 with a Dynaco ST-80 tube amp. My Theta and Audio Alchemy D/A s were every bit as nice as my CAL Alpha and easier to deal with.
I did have a all tube rig(LS-7,Anthem amp1) but found the bass somewhat lacking. It may have been a mismatch of components. I now have a AE-3(cary) and a Audible Illusions pwr amp(yes they did make a ss amp). Very fine sound these two make. Elevick makes a good point in reference to the tube rolling.
I presently use the ss H-Cat with Exemplar 2A3 parafeed tube amps. This is the best sound I have ever had. I have often used ss preamps with tube amps, because I have never heard a ss amp I could listen to for very long, this includes Levinsons, Krells, BELs, Classes, Mirror Images, Brystons, and Parasounds.
Using ss amps with tube preamps is troublesome because of the high output impedance of tube preamps and the low input impedance of the ss amps.
Tbg, I'm not sure if your question was addressed to me or not. Many speakers have impedance loads or power requirements that are challenging to many tube amplifiers. I agree with you that the impedance matching of tubes to solid state can be an issue, but there are some fairly low out put impedance tube pre-amps (Sonic Frontiers Line 3, etc.) and some fairly high input impedance solid state amps (Electrocompaniet, McCormack, C-J, etc.) to work with.
Yes, I was responding to your comment about "speakers will have a lot to do with your ultimate success." It is certainly true that some very low impedance speakers could cause problems for tube amps and for ss if there is a thermo runaway possibility.
I think the old wisdom that you could not have tube preamps run ss amps is out of date. I suspect the old wisdom to the effect that some "tubes" in the mix will help your sound.