Recommend a Tube Pre & SS Amp Combo


Having been mulling and searching this over quite a bit and have come to the following conclusion:

My next upgrade will be a tube pre amp and a ss amplifier. I love the tube sound but also like lots of power as I find my current SLI 80 gets a bit compressed as the volume gets loud. I am also trying to make it work with a HT system, which is another reason for the ss amp piece of the puzzle.

Current speakers are Dali 400mkii.

Looking for recommendations on the combo with the following "needs":

Warmer sound than lean
Lots of power
HT bypass on the pre (req.)
Prefer to stay with a single brand for both, but am open to suggestions
Prefer made in north America
Improvement over the SLI 80, if you have experience here

Thanks in advance!
Hi Juggernaut,

I really like the latest CJ preamps a lot. i am biased having owned 3 diff CJ amps consecutively for over 12 years. But they do have theater loops, are made in North America and warmer sound than lean as you seek.

On the SS side, i would suggest for ultimate SS power made in America: Boulder is probably my favorite, but you [may]have to go class A to get a natural level of tonality that you seek, as i am told that the Pure class A boulders tend to have purer tonality (ie warm). Though warm is not a typicaly word used with Boulder, i have heard their Class A stuff and was surprised to find it neutral but so pure that i was quite happy to listen.

There is also Clayton Audio. Made in America, pure Class A all the way (no A/B)...very high powered and a lot less costly than Boulder, Krell, ML, etc.

good luck and hope that is helpful. pls keep us posted.
Do you need your preamp to be a linestage or full function (including phono stage)? In either scenario, I would check out McIntosh, Aesthetix and Audio Research. All three have excellent preamps (some with phono stages) and SS amps. McIntosh will be the "warmest" sounding and Audio Research the least. Good luck.
What have you heard that you liked so far?
You might want to consider BAT. Plenty of tubed preamps and SS amps to choose from in the used market and many of their preamps are upgradeable and accept a phono board if you're into that. Made in America and great support for older products as well as new. If you call BAT with a question it is likely you'll be transferred right to Victor, the "V" in all their model numbers. His designs are known generally for a fuller, sometimes darker sound rather than bright or lean. I'm using a tubed pre/SS amp combo in the form of his VK300xSE integrated amp and I'm very happy.
BAT VK-52SE/ BAT VK-600SE should meet all of your requirements.
Modwright LS-100 / KWA-100/150, depending on budget.

What is your budget?
Audio research combo
Ref 5 se + ref 150
Im loving my Modwright pre with Mccormack amp. I also have Dali speakers.
Wow, thanks for the input so far and to answer some questions asked:

Lloyd - You articulated exactly what I am after with "tonality". I have been reading up as much as possible on SS amps and have never come across a recommendation for bolder, will have to dig into that. Also, would a class A amp be wise while also serving as the HT purpose? (I don't have any experience here in class A)

The pre does not need a phone stage, I have one already.

I guess in a perfect world the pre could double as a HT processor for better integration, but I am not will to compromise on 2 channel for this (not sure this is even feasible with valves).

Winoguy - with your combo any urge to upgrade this part of your system feeding our Dali's?

I would like to keep this under $5k and may likely have go used to realize this, which I am fine with.

Anyone have experience with Cary, say the slp05 with there SS amps?

Again, thanks for the advice so far.....
Hi Juggernaut,

I am glad to be of some help. I have been fortunate to receive help from AGoners in the past and happy to share it.

Regarding your budget, that is a good one. I will say that Class A tends to be quite expensive. But (for me) i have had very good experience with nearly every SS Class A i have heard/owned/auditioned. This includes Forte 4, older Krell amps (which are within your budget for sure), Gryphon and Boulder (which cost much more). You could probably get an Antileon second-hand within your budget...and probably never look back.

OTOH, i believe that Clayton Audio could possibly be within your price new or demo. You'll see plenty of positive comments about them here.

I think Class A would be fine for home theater...plenty of power, headroom, these are typically SS beasts from the standpoint of having high current, generally very solid power specs.

Good luck and pls post with any questions or updates.
You could do a Modwright LS100 and KWA150 for about $5K used, including some Sophia 6SN7's and a Mullard for the rectifier which take the performance of the LS100 to a significantly higher level. I've been using this combination for almost a year now after running several different ARC tube preamp and solid state amp combinations. The Modwright stuff is truly excellent. The KWA150 is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove-plenty of power, control and finesse. The LS100 will impart a very slight tube character on the sound--more so than the LS36.5 which I previously owned. It is very spacious, quiet and musically involving. I cannot recommend this combination highly enough. And, if you get the upgrade bug you can have your KWA150 upgraded to the "SE" version which I understand is competitive with just about anything out there that isn't silly money. Before you buy used, however, give Dan a call--many times he has show demos that can be had with full warranty for slightly more than what you would pay on the used market.
We all tend to recommend what we have used or do use and there is so much gear out there. You have to listen to as much as possible. I have the Pass XA amps but they may not be for you. Pass also makes the X.5 line also. Other amps I have enjoyed are Bel Canto and Pathos Acoustics (hybrid tubes and SS)
Juggernaut, at the present, I am more than content with my set up,but I do dream of possibly getting the Modwright kwa 150 somewhere down the line.
I like Lloyd's recommendation for a Class A SS amp in your situation, which I may also do some day with a tube pre. Since you're also using this for HT I'd look for an amp with a low bias switch that would allow it to run more in class A/B when using for HT if pure class A isn't required for that application. The Plinius 103 has this but is probably a little out of your price range even used. I like the Clayton recommendation a lot, but I think they've gone away from offering a low bias switch although some of their prior models may have them. Gryphon's another great recommendation, but doubt they have low bias switch and both Clayton and Gryphon don't seem to come up used very often so could take a while. I think another benefit of a low bias switch is you can leave the amp powered on so it's always ready to go without heating the room or assaulting your electric bill.

I'll defer to the others for the preamp except I'll add ARC that I think includes HT bypass but probably not as warm as the CJ and BAT recommendations. VAC would be worth a look, but not sure if they offer bypass or are in your price range.

One last thought if it hasn't come up, be careful to match the impedance characteristics between whatever tube pre and ss amp you choose. I know the go to recommendation is 10 to 1 input to output, but I think it may also be important to know how that ratio holds at various points along the curve and you may want higher than 10 to 1 for better compatibility (others will know a lot more about this than me but just wanted to mention it). Anyway, fwiw and best of luck.
Hi Soix,

Good comments and interesting to read. I also agree with your comments on CJ vs ARC and BAT. Gryphon does have switches for low bias on the Antileon and Colosseum...i think their other models are already A/AB? Specifically, the Antileon have 3 switches (lo, medium and hi/pure Class A all the way). The Claytons i believe have 2 switches (or certainly used to)...i am not as familiar with them.
The new Bryston SST2 amps are really nice--powerful, transparent, sonically balanced, grain-free--and have excellent synergy with VAC (especially the top models that are lower gain) and Aesthetix (especially Calypso Sig) preamps. You'll have to mix brands but I don't see that as a drawback at all.
I will be using an Audio Research Reference 5SE with Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks.

Was previously using Bel Canto REF1000Ms.

Am also running a second system with an Ayon CD5S (CDP/DAC/tube pre) with a Plinius SA-Reference.
Amp: Van Alstine Insight
Pre-amp: Van Alstine Transcendence 8
American Made
Excellent stuff.
FWIW, I am really enjoying my combo of McIntosh C220 preamp (with Reissue Mullard tubes) and Odyssey Audio Stratos SS amp. The C220 does not have a theater bypass, but I just picked a set level on the volume control, and balanced my surround channels around it. Works fine. If you step up to the C2300 preamp, you get HT bypass. The Stratos is a powerful amp, and meets your requirements of being U.S.A. made, and on the slightly warm side of neutral. IMO, both are extremely well built and reliable, and both are produced by companies that firmly stand behind their products (even though one is a small direct-seller and the other a larger company with retail distributors).

Good luck!