Need preamp recommendation

Well, the quest for the tube rolling didn't go anywhere after a quick phone call to a tube vendor who advised me that low noise tubes won't lower the background noise of the preamp. Unfortunately I need to replace my VTL TL-5.5 to something else with lower noise floor.

The new preamp must have very low noise. My amps have about 25dB of gain, and my speakers are 93dB sensitive. It can reveal small amount of idle noise too well, which was undetectable with the same speakers but with power amp of 15dB of gain. Also the new preamp must have low / no gain, or adjustable gain. My VTL has additional 20dB of gain, and it's just too loud.

Some of the preamps that piqued my interests are Aesthetix Calypso, Placette, and Sonic Euphoria. I've read some earlier models of Calypso suffered from noise issue. I'd like to hear from the owners with sensitive speakers and high gain amps if there is any noise issue.

I'd love to try the new TL-5.5 which was long announced, but I don't think it's shipping yet. Anyone from VTL reading this board?

Any other low noise preamp that I should consider? I'd like the tubes, but as tube gears have inherently higher noise floor I'll also consider solid states and passive designs. The budget is flexible, but I'd like to keep it under $3k. The new preamp will be driving Pass XA-30.5.
You might get lucky with a used Pass XP-10. Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?
Of course, jesting because of your system title.
Consider First Sound tube preamps. I love mine. They are known for their low noise floor.

What exactly are you saying when you say there is too much noise? What sort of noise? From what position?

I have gear with similar specs... all tube and/or tube hybrid. I have to be within a foot or so depending on how high the volume is set to, in order to hear any hiss at all. I hear none from my LP. Not with my tube mono blocks or the multi ch tube hybrid, both being run by a tube preamp... and all with exact or close amounts of gain... and all my amps are single ended.

I saw a thing on the Calypso about noise which said the remedy was lowering the gain inside the preamp. A sw. for such end user adjustment was supposedly added to later itterations. I sawe that some time back too.

The gain of a preamp can be lowered sometimes, by the maker more often than not though. You could also ask for phono stage tubes which are 'said' to be of lesser noise than line stage preamp tubes.

My BAT preamp was near dead quiet but it ran out xlr, not se/rca.
As you are using a balanced Pass amp, you may want to try a balanced Pre to lower the noce floor by taking advantage of common mode rejection. If you were open to solid state devices, I am extremely fond of the Rowland Capri: $2700 new, and approx $2K used. Yes, the noise floor is incredibly low, and volume increase is in 0.5dB increments. Device has a unity gain input if you want to bypass its volume control all together. See specs at:
I prefer it over my own ARC ref 3. Guido
May not be to your taste, but the Benchmark DAC1 HDR should exceed the low noise requirement.
BAT tube preamps are dead quiet
I have a newer CJ pre-amp and it is dead quite. A CT-6 or CT-5 are both quite nice.
A recommendation is the Shindo Aurieges L (line only version) or the MM (with phono version). Pratically noise-less, even through 104 db/w/m speakers, so your 93 db sensitivity speakers should have no problems. I have seen used one here on the 'gon for around $3K, although the original two box MM version with the separate power supply will cost more than that; that has become a collector's item since Shindo builds only a one box unit now. Great preamp no matter which version you buy, absolutely beautiful sound that pulls ahead of many other preamps. If you're on the west coast, give Matt at Pitchperfectaduio dot com a holler. Great, friendly knowledgeable guy who will work with you on setting up systems and pricing.
To clarify my requirement a little bit, my VTL preamp is also pretty quiet. I couldn't hear anything but slight hint of hiss with my ear pressed against the tweeter on my previous setup with my 93dB speaker and amp of 15dB of gain. On a typical system with speakers of 87dB of sensitivity and 20dB of gain from the amp, my preamp will be dead quiet as well. The problem started to appear with high gain amp of 25dB mated with sensitive speakers with 93dB of sensitivity.

The noise is present when all the components are on, regardless of the volume level. It's the background noise of the preamp. If the noise was coming from upstream, it would vary based on the position of volume knob. The noise disappears when I switch off preamp, or put it on mute, or remove preamp and connect Unidisk directly to the amp. The noise is loud enough to be bothersome at the listening seat.

Thanks for all the recommendations. Please keep them coming. I would also like to hear more about the setup the preamp was used in to keep the system sensitivity in perspective.
You seem keenly sensitive to noise that many people might consider normal,
as evidenced by your statement that you detected hiss with your ear placed
against the tweeter.

Because of your sensitivity to noise, I'm doubtful you're going to find a tube
preamp in your price range that's remotely quiet enough to suit your needs.

I agree with Guido. Buy a balanced, solid state preamp. You will have no
noise, IMO.

I use Pass Labs XA-60.5 with 93dB speakers, and I run it in balanced mode
with an SMc Audio VRE-1 preamp. Dead quiet (but it's over your budget).

Look into a used Pass Labs, Rowland, Klyne or Classe.
I also recommend the Shindo Aurieges L. It is a superbly musical preamp that is a bargain at $3K new. I use it in my secondary system. It is a dead quiet preamp. Just a great preamp for its price point, provided you do not need remote control for volume, switching inputs, etc.
My ear pressed against the tweeter was in the previous setup, while trying to compare two amps after I noticed excessive noise with the current setup. I don't normally go around and put my ear on the tweeters. :)
Be mindful of the output impedance of any tube preamp you might consider. It needs to be relatively low (I'd suggest under 200 ohms) to produce deep, articulate bass from the XA-30.5.

I used a Lamm LL2 Deluxe with good results (and it's in your price range). Also, a Juicy Music Peach worked quite well.
I have the LL2 Deluxe recommended by Tvad, and it is a great sounding preamp, and quiet too for a fully tubed design - but it is not "dead quiet." Neither was the BAT VK51SE I owned, or any other tubed preamp I have owned (CAT, Asthetix, SF, Joule). My recommendation for a very, very quiet preamp that displays some of the dimensional qualities of tubes would be to try the Tom Evans Vibe with Pulse power supply(the Pulse is a must). It is sort of a hair shirt design with only an input selector, volume control and all single-ended, but it presents a natural and very enjoyable sound that I could live with (some call it a little "dark" sounding).
I wouldnt mind recommending my current fave preamp, the Red Wine Audio Isabella. In your price range, quiet as the proverbial church mouse- in fact quieter what with the battery power and all- and small/reliable/simple. Can come with a head amp and DAC if you like as well.
Incidentally, the Shindo pieces I have heard do tend to be pretty quiet though Shindo seems to work best with... Shindo. Not that they are not great on their own- but there is definitely a nice synergy thing with their gear.
BTW-- I think I missed the part where you said how the Unidisc performs as a preamp. Isnt that thing pretty silent? How does it sound, anyway?
I agree with Mitch2 regarding the degree of silence from the Lamm LL2 Deluxe preamp. I have owned two LL2 Deluxe preamps in two completely different systems, and both preamps had some hiss, but they overall sound they created was excellent.

That's why I originally stated that each of us has a certain level of noise we consider normal (or tolerable), and the threshold varies considerably from person to person.

The OP strikes me as one who willl not tolerate much preamp hiss.
I'm not sure if anyone will tolerate buzzing sound heard in the listening chair, unless he's deaf.
Jylee, there's a long way between buzzing in the listening chair and system
noise due to tubes that's "normal" under most conditions.
Buzzing can be a sign of a grounding problem, or of a bad tube. Most
buzzing in my system has been caused by bad tubes, and the buzzing went
away with a tube change.

No argument intended.

Perhaps you can describe more precisely what type of noise, and how much
noise is tolerable to you. Is hiss heard from the listening chair during
moments of no music acceptable?

I think I missed the part where you said how the Unidisc performs as a preamp. Isnt that thing pretty silent? How does it sound, anyway?

Yes, my Unidisk SC which happens to be for sale right now has a variable level output and does not need a separate preamp. Without preamp the sound is clean and airy. VTL preamp added more fleshed out midrange and dynamics, and I liked the sound with VTL more.

Tvad, if you are near California you are welcome to drop by and hear the noise in person. I don't know how else to describe this. It's random background noise, not a hiss, not a hum, but nasty sound that makes your ear fatigue after short listening. Not audible when the overall gain was 10dB lower, but audible to 8ft away now. I don't care about the noise that I can't hear in the listening seat.

I wanted to get a new set of tubes as well, but the vendor on the phone was honest to tell me that new tubes are not likely to reduce the background noise at the cost of sales for him. I might just try a new set of tubes anyways because it doesn't cost too much to try.
Jylee, is hiss heard from your listening chair during moments when no music is
playing acceptable?
No, I would consider any persistent noise heard on the listening chair when no music is playing unacceptable. Pops and clicks from the vinyl is fine, so is recorded hiss on certain albums. But if the system has inherent noise that is heard on the listening chair all the time, it is broken in my book.
09-09-09: Jylee
No, I would consider any persistent noise heard on the listening chair when no music is playing unacceptable.
Then, I know of no tube preamplifier that will suit you.

Look for a solid state or passive preamplifier.
I would back-up the First Sound recommendation from Elwood - I had the Sonic Euphoria and, as good as a passive preamp could be, I am not sure if this will be a good match for your Pass amp (some math is requiered in terms of sensitivity and gain matching).
Tvad, I know you are trying to help, but have you really heard all tube preamps? The noise floor of VTL seems to be around -110dB with 1V signal. I just need additional 10dB lower. I'm not asking a miracle.
09-09-09: Jylee
Tvad, I know you are trying to help, but have you really heard all tube preamps?

No I haven't, but I did not claim I had. I stated, "I know of no tube preamp..."

I have owned or heard in my system many very quiet tube preamps: First Sound Presence Deluxe II, Modwright 9.0SE, Audio Horizons TP2.1, Lamm L2 Reference, Atma-Sphere MP-3 MK III, Juicy Music Peach, Lamm LL2 Deluxe. All of these are fairly quiet, but the all make some degree of hiss.

The noise floor of VTL seems to be around -110dB with 1V signal.
-110dB in phenomenally low. About as good as you can get. Are you certain of this spec? How did you arrive at this figure?

-110dB in phenomenally low. About as good as you can get. Are you certain of this spec? How did you arrive at this figure?

From stereophile measurement sections. Take a look at the last graph about inter modulation test. Maybe I didn't interpret the graphs correctly.

I understand any equipments make some degree of hiss, and they are fine as long as they are not heard 8 ft away.
All the preamps I mentioned produced hiss during moments when no music
was playing, that could be heard from a distance of 8 feet away on either
89dB or 93 dB speakers.

Best of luck in your search.
I haven't had a pleasure to audition many tube gears, but from two that I have, VTL preamp and EAR phono stage, one produces enough noise to be heard 8ft away and the other does not. Maybe you and I have different definition of noise or hiss, or maybe your ears are more sensitive to hiss if you heard hiss from all the high end tube gears that you have listed far in the sitting distance.
Maybe you and I have different definition of noise or
hiss, or maybe your ears are more sensitive to hiss if you heard hiss from all
the high end tube gears that you have listed far in the sitting distance.
Jylee (System | Answers)

You have grasped the concept I wrote about in the beginning of this thread.

I have no problems with a minor amount of hiss during moments when no
music is playing, as long as the signal to noise ratio during music playback is
negligible. In other words, IMO, if you can't hear the hiss during the music
and if the music sounds good, then the hiss doesn't matter.

I suspect you are more sensitive to hiss than I, since you have stated that
*any* noise heard at a distance of 8 feet from the speakers translates to a
"broken" component.

When you find the tube preamp that suits you, please report back about the
model you selected.
My listening chair is 9 feet from the plane of my speakers. From the chair, I can hear no hiss, hum, buzz or anything from my system which includes the Lamm LL2 Deluxe, especially when the music begins playing. I can hear a very slight tube hiss within about 3-4 feet of my 90dB speakers, but that is of no consequence to me because of how good the Lamm gear sounds. With your higher efficiency speakers, you may hear that tube hiss further out. Therefore, if the noise level is of high importance to you, I again recommend you consider trying the Tom Evans preamp with Pulse (be sure to get a Lithos 7 model). I have owned two of these and with either I could hear nothing at all from my speakers outside of about one foot away.....nothing except when music was playing. So, if quietness is of major importance to you, I can make no better recommendation of the preamps I have owned than the Tom Evans. They have body, fullness, and a natural sound that frequently eludes SS preamps. While there may be other SS preamps that meet your needs, I have not heard them. If you get a chance to audition, try the TE Lithos 7, Vibe with Pulse.
Mitch2, I'm not much of a noise freak as it may have sounded after the lengthy exchanges with Tvad. :) I just don't want my system to produce unpleasant noise all the time. I'm sure many other feel the same way about their systems as well.

The example you provided in your system is actually an encouragement. It looks like your Lamm amps provide very high gain, about 32dB. With 90dB sensitive speakers your setup reveals more background noise, if any, than mine. Although my speakers are slightly more sensitive, my amps provide less gain at 25dB than yours. If you can't hear hiss 4 ft away in your system, I probably can't hear any hiss at 8 ft away in my system. Thanks for the additional detail.
The noise floor of VTL seems to be around -110dB with 1V signal. I just need additional 10dB lower. I'm not asking a miracle.
You are definitely asking for a miracle.

From stereophile measurement sections. Take a look at the last graph about inter modulation test. Maybe I didn't interpret the graphs correctly.
If you mean for the TL-6.5, you did not read the graph (look at the THD + N as well) correctly.

Now compare that to the Benchmark DAC1 Pre -- HUGE difference.
I owned a VTL 5.5, and I really appreciated its drive and liked the way it sounded. The top end was very sweet. However, drawbacks were that it was a little noisy and had sort of a retro tube sound (bloomy bass). IMO, the Lamm LL2 Deluxe is a much nicer tube preamp, and one that makes virtually any partnering equipment sound good. You should read the August 2009 review by Tim Aucremann at the Soundstage! website. He pretty much nails the sound of the Lamm preamp, IMO. He compared it to his $12K Atmasphere MP-1 and noted the inherent differences in how each design sounds. I also owned a fully decked out Atma MP-3, and my experience with the Atmasphere preamp sound generally matched his assessment. Personally, I appreciate the low frequency drive and depth of the Lamm, and the midrange warmth/richness over the Atmasphere I owned, and I suspect the difference in drive has to due with the OTL design vs. having a transformer. A preamp I would put closer to the sonic attributes of the Atma-sphere (in the areas of clean high frequencies and soundstaging) is the CAT, which is also very nice, and exceptional in the bass. If you look at CAT, be aware they are high gain designs and be sure to look into the gain reduction options they are offering now, especially with your hiss considerations. The Tom Evans I discussed previously for its quietness is closer to the sonic characteristics of the Lamm. The noise thing is relative to your system and your preferences. Therefore, ideally you should hear what you plan to buy in your own system. BTW, the LL2 and LL2.1 should be sonically identical as far as my research goes, with the main sonic exception being the abilty to lower gain with the newer 2.1 version. The other differences are cosmetic and operational.
A used Sonic Euphoria PLC is just what you are looking for. This is a great preamp w/o all the drawbacks of conventional passive designs.

I must recommend the H-Cat P-12R X8. I have yet to hear any line stage regardless of price that can image even close to this unit when it is properly set up, namely it hates having anything but it grounded. If you cannot do that, forget it.
I posted a question about the best used preamp under $3000.00 to go with my VTL MB 185 Monoblocks. I don't think that they're going to post it, because I said that I didn't want to hear anything about the Audio Horizon unit. I also made a comment about Audio Horizon having the longest running threat of any on audiogon. It's over 3.5 years old and has over 1000 posts. Most of them by the same guys.. over and over. It's almost as if they search every preamp question posted and then try to convert them.. It's like a cult. Anyway, other than Audio Horizon, does anyone have a suggestion? Lamm, Audio Reseach, VTL, etc?
First Sound
Kensetsu, I have kept my VTL TL-5.5 and I'm trying different tubes right now. The noise level came down a little bit with RCA 12AX7, enough so that I don't hear it in the listening chair. I am also trying out an SS preamp that sounds awesome, but sounds a little too lean in my system. TL-5.5 could very well be the best remote controlled preamp under $3k.
Thanks Jylee, I'm already leaning toward that one too, but I'd like to find out more about the Audio Research Reference 2 and LS 26. Have you heard anything about those?
Jylee, if you replace the 12AX7 with 5751 tubes they are 70% less gain. Also Andy @ Vintage Tube Services does an excellent job with low noise tubes.
Jylee, you will also need to check with VTL to make sure you can use a 5751 in the 5.5.