Phono/preamp/amp chain. One of them tube the others SS. Which one?

Perhaps any one would do if done right. What would be your preference, generally speaking? Let's assume MC cartridge. This move could be permanent or could be the first step on the way to full tube system. I would probably choose the phono.
This is a pretty open question.
Can you provide details of what you currently have? Speakers? or are you buying everything now?
This is not about my current system. It is an open question, I am interested in other people's opinions and rationale. But since you mentioned speakers, though it was implied in my question, we'll assume that either particular speakers work well with either tube or ss, or that they can be replaced.
My rationale is that the beginning of the signal chain is the most important step. But that would have to be a great tube phono stage or I wouldn't bother.

If you are asking for advice about which one for you???? It depends on what you are trying to achieve. 

This is all general and a given piece can make it all wrong...

So, In general, If you are after that So called Tube Bloom and you have pieces that all 3 give that bloom,  the amp will add the highest degree of bloom.  Depending on the cartridge and phono section, it could be either after that, Although, for me,  I would rather not have a overly rich phono cartridge with a phono section with a lot bloom... So it could be the Pre or phono section either... Of course,  if you are trying to add that Richness or Bloom as I've been calling it,  if you grab it from your amp or pre,  you can then have it throughout your system, rather than your phono section only....

But,  if you truly just like a certain Tubed piece because it is just better than the ss counterparts that you've tried,  I would then recommend that you just get the tubed component that you want. 

I hope this makes sense,


I would have a solid state phono stage, tubed preamp and solid state amp (with an appropriate input impedance to work with the tubed preamp).  I have the first two in my system now (a Shindo preamp and a prototype of the Merrill Jens phono stage), and they work extremely well together, and I've heard enough really good solid state amps like the Ayre to believe that I could live with a solid state amp in my system (at least with the right speakers).  My rationale on the phono stage is similar to yours, Inna, but I feel that the lower noise floor of the solid state unit works better with a low level signal from the cartridge--I certainly found this to be the case when I replaced my Lamm phono stage with my current one.
Would not want an excessive bloom and certainly would not tolerate decrease in PRAT and dynamics. A little more rounded bass OK. I prefer speakers on a slightly warmer side, somewhat relaxed not uptight. So the idea would be to create a hybrid amplification with more natural presentation.
Tha cartridge..let's think of Lyra or Transfiguration.
Lamm phono is in very high esteem, it would take quite a phono stage to compete and better it.
Not all devices, and not all systems are equal, of course. Some only listen to vinyl "seriously" others like me are all about music that fits on a memory device somewhere.

However, based on past experience, I'd say the preamp should be tube, and I don't know enough about vinyl to say what I'd do with the phono.

The issue that has come up a few times in my life has been tube amps faced with a very difficult load, such as an electrostatic. Swapping out the amp for a solid SS was a fabulous combination. In fact, in the Electrostatics I did hear, a tube preamp was ideal. I helped sell a couple of pairs of speakers that way. :)



My vinyl goes to a solid state phono, and from there to a computer interface, and then to the computer.

My "Geek" took care of the computer interface, and the computer card that down loads it into the computer.

A great advantage of doing things this way, is that I only have to handle a record once. After that I can set up a play list for my 2 track Technics reel, and that playback yields an improvement; and at the expense of so much tape, it should.

While people who don't know will tell you that something will be lost with this kind of setup; recently, people who know, confirmed the results I've been getting; all the nuances of vinyl are revealed on playback; what ever your cartridge puts out, that's what you will get.

I have a modified Audible Illusions 3A pre, that feeds into PrimaLuna Mono Blocks. Although the end result of all of this is quite neutral, I get every nuance of the LP. No, I don't use the phono on the Audible Illusions.

This is what I have and I like it, the solid state phono is dead silent, but puts out only what you put in.

Although I've often read about these great tube phonos, like Herron for example, I've never heard one; consequently I don't know what improvement you would get over one which duplicates whatever cartridge you use.

A tube pre, and solid state amp work quite well together, but personally I would not have a solid state pre.

Enjoy the music.
As a general 'open' question it depends on all the aforementioned 'depends'. And additional ones, such as budget.

My preference; I use a tube preamp with SS amp. I believe I get the most tube value in way of bloom and soundstage  from this approach, given my system and budget.  
Tube high gain devices are noisy by nature so phonostage is great either solid state or hybrid such as AudioResearch PH3 or similar.
I join anyone who likes tube preamps.
To my tastes and demands of higher volumes tube amp must be BIG, but when outside is over 100f, you try to save every cool square inch of your dwelling.

If limited to just one tube chassis in the chain, I would choose a SS phono stage, tube line stage, and SS amp, as rcprince has chosen.

Fortunately, I am not limited, and all three stages in my chain are tubed.
It appears that everyone would start with tube preamp.
My current system is more or less balanced, and whenever I am ready to upgrade anything, except perhaps the cartridge, this in fact would be the beginning of an entire system overhaul or totally new system. In a situation when I have outboard phono stage but integrated amp with no pre out/ power amp in, getting tube preamp would mean getting some power amp too. I like to wait and upgrade in big steps. But I am going to keep my Nottingham Spacedeck/Spacearm and Nakamichi 682ZX deck for a very long time, the rest can go.
I would use a tube pre. Mine is passive pre and ss for the others but I have a good Tube pre also

I have tried all of the combinations. My preference is tube preamp, SS phono and SS amps.

Inna, or anyone else who has auditioned a number of phono amps; could you explain the improvement over whatever cartridge is on the input. As I explained, I get out, what I put in; others have implied they get out something better than what the cartridge puts out, and well they should with the price of some phono amps.

My question is simply, what improvements do you get over what the cartridge puts out?

Enjoy the music.
I don't have much experience with various phono stages so others might want to explain in details what happens to the signal.
Another +vote for a tubed pre-amp with a solid-state power amp.
You people are killing me, I would have to get preamp and amp at the same time and deal with the phono later. Better start saving on lunches and other things. I will also consider VAC all tube integrated, I suspect that something like Rogue Pharaoh hybrid would not be enough but maybe I'll try it as well. Ideally, I would probably go with Lamm tube preamp and hybrid monos - a lot of money. I only think of used equipment except cartridges. How would VAC preamp work with Rowland 8T? Anyone tried?
I agree with jmcgrogan2, I would go with a tube line stage but if could add another tube it would be the phono and then the amps which I find to be the easiest to replace with solid state.

Inna, I'll go with VAC anyway my bankroll will allow; it's most certainly my favorite.
Orpheus10, good choice. Yeah, VAC and Lamm - top level.
I will also consider VAC all tube integrated.
How would VAC preamp work with Rowland 8T?
@inna ,

I'm running a VAC 160iSE right now, very nice.

I would think that a VAC preamp would work well with the 8T. The Model 8's 36K input impedance should be plenty high enough for the VAC preamp.

I have owned a couple of VAC preamps, and I owned a Model 2 and Model 6 monoblocks, though not all at the same time. I am a big fan of Kevin Hayes work, VAC is some of the best gear out there.
As for JRDG, I felt that the Model 2/6/8/9 amps were his best work. Earlier designs were a bit too dark for me, latter amps were a bit too sterile. IMHO, JRDG hit the sweet spot with the Model 2/6/8/9 amps.

I've lusted after that big Model 8 for many years now. Sadly, now that it has dropped down into my price range, I no longer desire to struggle with mammoth amplifiers anymore. I'm getting too old for this sh!t. Haha!
Besides, I'm very happy with the 160i SE.
Jmcgrogan2, yes I remember that you got VAC integtated. What speakers do you use with it?
As for me, the older I get, still not too old, the more I want big amps, be it Rowland or Lamm or something else. But yeah, some modern integrateds, including your VAC, are enough for many set-ups. Still, nothing will beat great separates. The cost? Well, $4.5k for Rowland 8T and probably the same for Rowland or VAC preamp. Or, about $5k for Lamm tube preamp plus $6.5k for older hybrid monoblocks. I doubt that it would make sense to mix VAC and Lamm, but you never know. If they are electrically compatible.
But I am intrigued by Ypsilon amps that we were talking about in another thread. Too damn expensive, even the integrated.
I am running Reference 3A Grand Veena speakers, the original version with Murata supertweeter. Still can’t be beat for the $$$. I can afford to spend more on speakers, I just can’t seem to figure out why.

As for nothing beats great separates, you may be right, but you’ll have to pay a hefty price. Again, integrated amps are great bang for the buck. My VAC integrated lists for $14K, and easily beat the $15K of separates that I had prior to it. I’m sure I could top the VAC, but I’d probably be looking at a preamp and amp that list for at least $25-30K combined to do it.
Simplicity done right is hard to beat.

Yes, I went bigger and bigger with amps and speakers as I got older, to a point. The tipping point for me was about 7-8 years ago when I tore a bicep tendon moving a 125 pound amp around. Now I am looking to keep amps and speakers under 100 pounds, even lighter if possible.
Yes, 125 pounds is just too much to move around all by yourself, I wouldn't even try.
I agree it would be about double the cost of your VAC if we are talking new. If used, that would vary. Also,some equipment is almost impossible to find used. 
I would think that building separates would be following the simplicity principle, but you could look at it the other way around, sure.
If using a LOMC cartridge, my preference would be for an all-tube phono and line stage and a solid state amp, if the situation somehow was able to demand that one be solid state and the other tube.

I would not go with a solid state phono section. The thing that transistors don't do well is low level detail; IMO/IME you are better off with an SUT than you are a transistor input (better still if your all-tube phono section does not need the SUT all on its own). If you are going to loose detail, its best done by the power amplifier since if you loose it upstream, even the best amp and speaker won't make up for that loss. 
So, the choice may depend on cartridge type - tube phono with LOMC but perhaps either tube or transistor with MM. Low level detail is important.
Inna- to me, the amp-speaker relationship is symbiotic. So, choice of speaker may push you one way or the other with respect to the choice of amp. And, sometimes, the stereotypes about "tube" and "ss" sound aren’t always the result in practice. The Lamm line stage- that two chassis Reference- is a solid state audio path with a tube power supply. But, if you had to characterize its sound, you’d say "tube."
If you are just getting people’s general views, I can only speak to what I own, pretty much still as described in my profile here (which I haven’t updated in a while- a few subs and tweaks have been added since).

Whart, agree about the symbiosis. Yes, interested in general views and considerations.
Atmasphere's opinion has a lot of weight but so far he is the only one to express this particular view, though before initiating this thread intuitively I thought that tube phono should come first and then the rest if needed.

4,897 posts
08-17-2016 12:06pm
If using a LOMC cartridge, my preference would be for an all-tube phono and line stage and a solid state amp, if the situation somehow was able to demand that one be solid state and the other tube.

Just trying to understand how low level detail on tube better vs. transistor. I haven't heard 70+db gain for LOMC all tube phonostages that don't have typical hissing noise not substantial via speakers, but quite audible via headphones.
IMO,The tube phono is the most important in the chain whether using mc or mm cartridge. BTW, I use all tube gear !
Personally, I wouldn’t do a matter of fact, if all your components are from the same manufacturer, you would have an even better chance of success. I don’t mix anything...cables, etc. Any benefit from trying to deal with problems by gettling something with an opposite defiency means you don’t have the benefits of either. Modern components can be found with excellences if they use s/s or tubes.
Stingreen, we are not talking about simplicity or orthodox purist approach where it is either all tube with possible hybrid amp or all solid state preferably from the same manufacturer. With cables, at the high level and above, I would agree, unless someone wants to experiment with thousands of combinations. Not me.
If you like music you need tubes, but if you need to run Windows you need ss.  A good friend of mine once said, "the only place for ss in a stereo is in the power supply"
Just trying to understand how low level detail on tube better vs. transistor. I haven't heard 70+db gain for LOMC all tube phonostages that don't have typical hissing noise not substantial via speakers, but quite audible via headphones.
The noise floor does not describe the amount of low level detail.  It turns out that the human ear has an exception to the masking rule in that it can hear into a noise floor of hiss. The jury is out on about how much- some say 20db but 10db seems no argument. If you listen to a tube phono section as opposed to a solid state unit of similar gain this difference in low level detail will be audible.

If you use an SUT then getting another 10-12db on the noise floor is easy.

I agree with the statement about human ear. There is enough of the tape hiss when I am listening to my Nak cassette deck and yet you can hear a lot into the noise.
Atmasphere, this is an important point, thank you.
Once again Ralph makes a good point. I have Zu speakers that love tubes. They are fast and immediate for sure, and run tubes all the way through. BAT-Zesto-Mac MC 60s and believe it or not there isn't a euphonic excess to be had. So IMO the speakers determine how much tubiness will come through to a large extent. 

Late to the party ... tube power amp (Prima Luna PL 5) ... SS preamp (Musical Fidelity CD PRE 24) ... SS phono preamp (Schitt Mani) ... Opera Platea Floorstanders.  I sometimes swap in Ascend Acoustic Sierra One monitors.  

For the longest time I used EL 34s and 6CA7s, which were great for CDs, but when I added a turntable I found myself wanting more bass, possibly oomph, and switched to KT90s.  

The turntable set-up is a Stanton ST 150 paired with a Sumiko Pearl cartridge.  My only gripe with the Stanton and it is an 'in my head' gripe is that the turntable's built in preamp hums at high volumes, which are way higher volumes than any level I would normally play at. 

I get just enough tube sound in this set-up.


Atma-Sphere MP3 or MP1 if you can swing it with a built in Phono--Upgrades to Vcap and Caddoc resistor package. This sort of setup tends to get people off the Merry-Go-Round. The Phono is dead quiet, the pre-amp is very musical and transparent. With Speed, Dynamics and a tonal balance to satisfy.
Well, it does appear that tube phono would be overall the best first move. In my particular case, I would go with only top level phono - Lamm, VAC, Atma-Sphere, CAT, maybe Herron etc. Worth the wait and patience. Then I would probably upgrade my integrated to one of the better integrateds, and then - separates, tube preamp and tube/ss/hybrid amp depending on speakers and the entire system. So, the path seems quite clear.
You could kill two birds with one stone as they say, and buy one full function tube preamp. I just saw a VAC Renaissance mk II with MC/MM phono stage just sold recently.
Maybe another full function VAC will come along, or a CAT, or maybe an Atma-Sphere or Doshi Alaap. 
Many very good full function preamps out there.
I would still have to get power amp at the same time - too much. Besides, I am a strong believer in separate phono stage.

Since every one on this thread seems to know a lot about phono preamps, instead of starting a new thread, I'll direct my question to you guys.

I have a solid state phono that I use for my high out put "Grado". Not long ago, I went from Platinum to Sonata, and I enjoyed it immensely; I detected every minute difference in the upgrade.

My solid state phono is nonexistent; I mean no noise, no nothing. Is a phono amp supposed to improve the sound? It's as if my phono is not even there, I just hear the cartridge; is that good or bad?

Enjoy the music.
Orpheus10,  of course the sound can be improved unless you already have absolutely top of the line phono stage, then it can only be made slightly different not better. Some here believe that only tube phono can achieve the highest level. Grado has a warm full emotional sound, I use his headphones though not cartridges because I believe that would be too much of a good thing with my table/arm and speakers. I use Goldring 1042 MM which has more of a balanced neutrality but not at all cold sounding. For my system Lyra Delos seems to be a logical upgrade.

The cartridge is the most important piece of equipment in your entire rig, it should not be selected the same way you might select a preamp, by buying the "best". No, a cartridge is a very personal thing, that can only be selected after you have tried many cartridges. It should be selected based on the elements of the music that you enjoy most.

Right now, I'm not talking about some fantasy hypothetical thing, but a reality with limitations in regard to expense. I think you should first identify the "house sound" of the cartridge family, and then go from there.

Corey Greenberg was my favorite reviewer at "Stereophile", and I have a number of items he reviewed and recommended that I'm using and quite satisfied with. If Corey said it was OK, and I needed it, I bought it.

That worked out just fine, until we got to "cartridges"; he had ever so much praise for the "Blue Point Special", which I purchased, only to discover that it was not the cartridge for me; he liked rock, and I like jazz, especially jazz vocal, and that made all the difference in the world in regard to cartridges. That made me aware of the fact how personal a cartridge is; just because everybody says it's the best, it may not be the best for you

Enjoy the music.

Actually Inna, I'm going to upgrade to the next highest "Grado". I've got a proven winner for me. What this cartridge does with female vocals is incredible.

Believe it or not, I'm quite satisfied with 100% of nothing; no noise, no hum, just the sound of the cartridge without any alteration.

I have gone from using a SS phono (JC3+ and Audia Flight) to tube (Allnic H-3000 and HA-3000) and it has made a huge difference in the presentation of the music.  Even my mother (since moms are frequently used as a lowest common denominator) mentioned that it sounded like Ella and Louis were in the room with us when she heard the tube phono in my system for the first time.  For comparison, the Audia Flight only got a "that sounds nice."

I have gone all tube in my system and, if you do eventually go in that direction, be prepared to have sufficient ventilation because having that many bulbs working at once can put out some serious heat.

Theo, although I have SS Phono, I have tube pre and amplifier, plus "Grado" is a relatively warm cartridge. I believe my end result is the same as yours, because that's the way I would describe it.

What I'm hearing in regard to phono pre, is that you could buy a lesser cartridge, and get the end result of a step up in cartridges; by having a boss phono; is this true?

As has been discussed here previously, synergy is key, but in my opinion, a great phono exposes the shortcomings of a lesser cart much more than the other way around.  That being said, if I had to choose, I would invest as much as you are comfortable in the phono and upgrade the cart as funds allow.
Yeah, phono stage should be at least one step ahead until cartridge catches up if ever. In terms of cost that usually means double the price or more.
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