Review: Tube Research Labs Dude Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

This review is on the Dude tube preamp made by Paul and Brian Weitzel of Tube Research Labs (TRL). I purchased this preamp some 7 months ago direct from TRL which is how they market and sell them. The price is $3500. The unit has 5 tubes total with one 6sn7 tube per channel.

I am not a technical person and can only comment that the unit is very heavy, all point to point wired and contains a forest of caps the size of Red Bull and Coke cans!

The Dude also benefits from TRL’s newly designed power supply which is something very special indeed. It comes with two sets of outputs and three inputs – all RCA. I think Paul can work out XLR’s if you desire, but you would have to ask him. My unit has special wooden knobs which I prefer over his high quality gold ones.

The unit is turned on by a breaker switch on the back on the unit. The Dude does not incorporate any fuses, simply the breaker, for improved sound. The chassis is well built and solid in terms of fit and finish. While it is not eye candy, the Dude offers a simple attractiveness.

I must have over 700 hours on my unit by now and it is fully burned it. I have found this preamp responds very well to tube rolling. This review is based on the use of RCA 6sn7 GT’s ,VT231 with smoked glass. I picked up 6 of these for $130 on Ebay and just love them in the Dude. Paul likes Raytheon NOS’s, but I have not tried them as yet.

I like female vocals, Christian contemporary, jazz, piano and acoustic guitar instrumentals as well as some small ensemble Classical. You can also read my review of the TRL Samson amps for more information of my musical tastes.

As you have noticed I have owned and heard many great preamps over the years. The Dude has far outclassed each of them in virtually every important performance area. I particularly liked the Audio Horizons and Tube Distinctions preamps on my list. The Dude simply recreates real music in my home well beyond these other fine units.

The level of transparency is utterly shocking. Details and musical lines previously hidden now come alive and my music sounds brand new to me. I was amazed at all the instruments and notes I was missing in my recordings. What a revelation and joy to me as one into this hobby for 30 years.

Right now I am listening to solo acoustic guitar by Phil Keaggy and am consistently astounded with the additional pic, string and guitar body sounds completely hidden before. The sting plucks are so much more distinctive with every molecule of nuance presented to my senses. This is true at even the lowest of volumes on my system. Magic my friends and I mean magic!

I have never known any preamp to dig as deep, taunt and powerful in the bass region as the Dude. Bass has incredible impact, drive and articulation. Easily the best bass I have yet to encounter in a preamp. This tube preamp will shatter your preconceptions of tube preamp bass performance. Bass is no longer this vague sort of deep running tone, but rather a distinct and articulate portion of the whole performance.

Tonality is so beautiful and right. Not a hint of listener fatigue to be found. The massive amount of detail is delivered with exquisite beauty, body and soul. Don’t we all want that? The Dude does both in a way I felt was not even attainable. Tonality is vitally important to me. Voices have weight when they should. Like the guitar work nuances mentioned above the human voice is rendered absolutely and completely naked before you. You will hear aspects of your favorite vocalist you have never heard before. More air, more texture, more nuance, more personality – just amazing.

The Dude sets the stage big, wide and deep. First time I have heard stage depth so profoundly obvious. I now get a sense of what some reviewers mean by 3D! Life sized performance is a consistent attribute of the music flowing from this preamp.

I like to listen to very loud music at times. I like the live scale it gives the recording. The Dude is always in control and supremely poised. Nothing, no part of the audio spectrum is ever out of balance or forced. I hear a new standard of performance in terms of effortless, uncompressed music.

My system seems to have infinite room filling abilities. This is very, very important to me. Even at very loud settings music must flow not attack! The Dude is a complete gentleman in this regard.

Highs seem to have no ceiling or cap as they extend smoothly and without any hint of hardness. I am very sensitive to bright or hard highs and will quickly box up a unit if I hear a trace of it. Yikes! The Dude is a smooth operator and does so without robbing music of the precious detail and air we desire.

Well, I could go on much longer as the Dude is a revelation to me. It is the heart and soul of my current system and really makes everything sound so real and right.

I hope my words were able to convey what I experience with The Dude.

Have fun!

Associated gear
Please see my member system.

PBN Montana EPX custom speakers
TRL Modified Sony CD player/battery
TRL Samson amps
Audio Horizons cable
TRL Cables
Star Sound Sistrum stands
Echo Buster room treatments
SVS PB 12 Plus/2

Similar products
I have owned or had these preamps in my home system.

Audio Horizons TP2.1 fully loaded
Joule LA100 MKIII
Conrad Johnson LS16 V2
Thor 1000 MK2
Tom Evans Vibe
Supratek Cortese
Supratek Syrah
Audio Note m5
Wavac PR-X1
Rowland Concerto
Cary SLP98
Aesthetix Calypso
Tube Distinctions SoulMate
Placette passive
Wright Sound WLA 12A
Aloia 11.01
Belles 21A
Rogue 99

Nice account and easy read. Thanks. nice rig as well.

.... better than all those in the list top to bottom, or in just some respects?

Several of those you have on your list I have either heard or owned, and it is sufficiently interesting enough to me to ask this.

Or do you suppose perhaps that now, as your system's power train is all of one ilk, inherent synergy is responsible?

Also, more pointedly, how would you recall the Thor line stage stacking up with the TRL pre.? You didn't have the Thor with the TRL amps, though, did you?

Very interested, thanks much.
Great questions and important. I will try and answer as well as I can. Thanks for your kind comments.

I have owned or had all of those preamps in my home system over the past 5-7 years. I was lucky enough to sell many of these preamps for audio friends of mine and thus had them in my system for several weeks at minimum.

Sometimes I would choose to buy one and keep it. I have only had 2 sets of speakers over the years in my main system. I have however changed out wire and electronics over the years so my comparisons should be understood in that light.

I was able to compare the best sounding preamps (in my opinion) on a pretty consistent package of gear. The Audio Horizons beat out the Thor , CJ, Suptratek's and Tube Distinctions which were the best of the list for me. I did compare these with pretty much the same gear. The Audio Horizons won out.

I then compared the AH preamp & Canary CA339 mono tube amps to a TRL ST225 integrated amp. The TRL surpassed that wonderful combo and started my interest in TRL as you might imagine.

I tried the AH pre with the integrated TRL amp and liked the TRL Int amp all by itself better. I sold the AH pre at this point. I then decided to try the TRL Dude preamp with the integraded and was instantly amazed. The Dude improved my system to such a degree it was shocking to me.

It was not a matter of matching or synergy alone mind you as the TRL integrated amp was made to run best with a high quality passive preamp section.

With the Dude everything I mentioned in my review came out of my speakers. So for me the Dude was the MAN!

As good as the Audio Horizons preamp is the Dude simply made it sound like good hifi. Please keep in mind the AH preamp was clearly better then those other top preamp contenders on my list as just explained. (At least in my home and in my system)

The Thor was very lively and had great pace and drive. The Dude bettered the Thor in even these strong suit areas of the Thor. The Dude has greatly improved bass, more natural tonality and really overshadows the Thor in resolution of detail and intimacy. The Dude throws a larger stage with more depth and plays much louder without the tendency of of sounding "loud".

The Thor is a nice/great buy today used at prices of under $2000. Very good deal indeed. If one has the money $3500 buys you so much more with the Dude. Not a small difference mind you, but rather one of significant magnitude.

When I purchased the TRL Samson amps I knew I was at the end of the road with amplifiers. Yes, I think they work great together. The Samson amps offer ultra high transparency and the Dude matches it. But the important point here is this; it match it with beauty and graceful tonality. I don't like transparency if it comes at the expense of texture, body and grace. The Dude is the perfect mate.

The Dude is the ideal center piece of any true high end system as it expresses music as it is with life, energy and fidelity to the instrument recorded.

Hope this helps you.
can they make a remote version for the Dude?
I am not sure. You should ask Paul. Paul has told me he is not a big fan of adding remotes as he feels they degrade the sound and add noise.

I see many great preamps with remote so I guess reasonable people can have a different opinion on that whole question.
It just may add cost and that may be the real objection.

You can certainly ask him.
Dude Grannyring,

That's alot of pre amps you have heard/owned.

A big tip for you. Get the SP-101 and PUT IT ON THE FLOOR, and set the Dude on it. What three days of listening and report back. If not the SP-101, then take the SP-1 and put it on the floor (earth) and report back. The Dude will be an even bigger Dude.

Sistrum stands work best on top of each other or on the floor. It looks like you have it on some other stand?


Thanks. That's mighty astounding news to me overall. Hmmmm.

Would you say your CD collection is now been broadened or diminished with your current power train additions?

*In other words, can you now listem to more of your collection, or to less of it generally speaking?

I'm not so sure I have improved things when my system only allows me to play those recordings which are superlatives... and all but eliminates the others en mass.

(Really crappy recordings aside, of course)
Glory, you are correct on all counts! I need a longer IC and once I get another (Audio Horizons ) - it will go on the floor. When the Dude gets bigger it will need a new wardrobe!


Usually this much more transparency and accuracy means many CD's are no longer listenable, but I find the opposite to be true right now. These amps from TRL certainly don't warm over a bad recording . Strange thing is my average recordings sound more like real music and less like poor recordings. It's as if whatever redeeming quality the recording has is now captured.

I don't know if this makes sense or if I am doing a poor job of explaining, but yes I do still enjoy all my CDs - even more so.

Understood. Then I sure applaud your efforts here.

It makes such little sense to me to become so vested into gear that the amount of listenable material shrinks exponentially. That is absurd, given a goal for involving realistic recreation of music, and ongoing music appreciation are the goals in the first place.

Too bad the Dude is not a remote controled job. That counts me out altogether.

Congrats on your own accounts of TRL power in your home. Thanks much.

I have been waiting for my Dude preamp to show up. It is exciting to read your review. I am going from a BAT tube preamp to Dude.

I see that you like cables from Audio Horizons. I may be looking for a longer IC soon. What other cables have you tried?

Quite a few over the years from Cardas, Analysis Plus Solo crystal over, top of the line Kimber, Jenna Labs, Audience, Tom Evans, Granite Audio, Luminous Audio and others I can't remember right now.

I liked the AH Dimension cable the very best. I would call Joseph Chow and demo a set. You will be very pleased I am sure. His IC's deliver detail with weight/body. Lots of air and a nice black background. Nice with the Dude.

The Dude really responds well to tube rolling. Ask Paul about getting the Raytheon tubes.

The Dude will take a little while to burn in as he uses very large caps and solid core copper point to point wiring throughout the unit.

Saw your system and the Dude should be right at home. Nice system indeed!
Thanks, Bill. I have tweaked my BAT preamp to its best. It is ready for a head-on shootout with the Dude!
Vett 93,

Will you share your impressions with us and perhaps the shootout results?

No problem. I still don't have the Dude preamp though.
I have received my Dude preamp and put about 170 hours on it. I have to say that I like its sound!

Bill, have you tried clear glass RCA 6SN7s? I am amazed that these inexpensive tubes sound better than other expensive tubes I own.

Have you tried maple platform as Paul suggested? I think this preamp is quite sensitive to the platform supporting it by looking at its design.
I use the Raytheon tubes that Paul likes and the preamp just sounds so amazing to me.

I place the Dude on a Star Sound Sistrum stand which is the best I have heard including maple under my Dude.

How does the Dude compare to your tweeked out BAT pre thus far?

My system sounds so good right now that I smile before , during and after each music session I have.

Very happy with the Dude !

The Dude is more musical than my BAT VK-3iX. The Dude also has a larger sound stage and more details. Its midrange is also better.

The BAT does have its strength though. Its bass extends to lower and is more impactful. This is probably due to its higher capacitance in the B+ power supply.

Maybe I'll add more capacitors to the Dude preamp one day.....
Let the Dude get around 500 hours on it. It should have more of what you seek once it has that many hours on it.

I should warn you though that it is a very neutral preamp, although a guy can always tube roll to get the desired flavor.

Remember, the Dude abides.

Please update us as it burns in. I find the Dude sets a new standard for bass control, articulation and power in a tube preamp.

Very open and live sounding to my ears. I really enjoy the Dude!

I have about 450 hours on the Dude. It is indeed a very nice preamp! The initial slight edginess is all gone. It is all music to my ears now.

I am thinking to send my Marantz SA11 player to TRL for mods. This shows how much I like the Dude preamp!
Hi Bill,

You have tried quite a few preamps. I think you are right in picking the Dude as the best. Even though I have listened to many gears elsewhere, I only have owned 3 preamps so far; the Dude, BAT VK-3iX, and my DIY SST (simple single triode) preamp. To me, the Dude is the best of the three.

My BAT preamp uses 6922s. Even though I probably have used one of the very best 6922 variants, Telfunken 6DJ8s, but I like the sound of 6SN7s better. However, BAT preamps have balanced outputs and more capacitors in the B+ power supply, and I think they contribute to more powerful bass.

My DIY SST preamp is a reflection of my audio/electronic experience. I use premium parts throughout the SST preamp. It sounds pretty good but not finished yet. However, after listening to the Dude preamp, I am not very motivated to finish it up. LOL...

The Dude preamp is a time proven product after decades of continuous improvement from TRL. I have to say that it is very difficult for other companies to match that. I played violin when I was a kid and later on played trumpet in school band. I was an electronic DIYer/tweaker when I was a teenager and later on received my EE PhD degree from UCLA. I have to say that Paul really knows his stuff well.

IMHO, the Dude does have a couple of operational issues. But I can ignore them because it just sounds too good.
I would love remote or wish the volume knob had a few more steps. But like you it sounds so good that I really don't care anymore.

The old TRL preamps had the dual 45 step Shallco volume controls which was nice for fine adjustment. My TRL battery preamp uses these. If I upgrade to the Dude the 45 step attenuators are coming along for the ride.
Good idea!!!
Strangely, I am okay with the 23 step attenuator. My BAT preamp has 99 steps as a comparison. I never thought 23 steps would be sufficient. But it works for me....
Perhaps Paul should make the 45 step optional?
Yes, that would me a nice option for some. My 24 step works just fine for me.

I have been playing with stands/footers under the Dude. The Sistrum stands sound best to my ears. Better then maple, brass, carbon fiber and sand box types.

Brian, you should try them under the Samson amps. The SP1's
I've had both, and the 23 step is fine by me, although the extra steps might come in handy if you have an unusual room, such as an "L" shape that you are dealing with.

Otherwise, I tend to listen around the same listening level, changing it only when I play back a recording that was massively compressed. Then again, I don't tend to play many of those.

I'll suggest that Paul make the 45 step an option.
I got the Dude 5 days ago. It is in my system now and breaking in.

Recall my reviews on "Possibly World's best pre-amp"

I was not keen on trying any new pre-amp given my satisfaction with Charlie's X-2 pre-amp (the X-2 had replaced Lamm reference pre-amp priced at $14k) but Paul convinced me to try the Dude. So I thought it won't hurt.

For me Charlie's X-2 pre-amp was the ultimate pre-amp, a reference and end of my journey in pursuit of the best pre-amp. I own TRL GT-800 amp and Paul's moded CD Player (I have 2, just in case in breaks down). So as much as I have respect and trust in Paul's abilities, his Dude is up against its ultimate challenge.

So folks, this is gonna be the final match of "Ultimate Fighters Championship" or "Heavy Weight Championship of the World" or F1 racing.

I will be an absolutely honest referee and a relentless judge with no bias to my Charlie or Paul. I may have to eat my own word that the X-2 would be my last pre-amp, or I may offend Paul. But I will keep my integrity as top priority and which pre-amp pleases me more.

So stay tuned folks.....I wil be back....soon... with my review and verdict.
Wow, that will be very interesting indeed. I look forward to your comments. The Dude works very well in my system and it will be my last preamp for the very long term!!!!
Gallant Diva and other Dude owners,

Please update me on your experiences with the Dude. I am still in love with my Dude and it continues to play beautiful, trouble free music.
Bill, my Dude is still sounding phenomenal. I will be writing a review soon.
I'm about to send my TRL Pre-1.5 in for conversion to the Dude. Looking forward to hearing it in my system. Mine will carry over the dual 45 step attenuators and Stereo/Mono switch. Other than that it will be gutted and redone with the new power supply and tube circuit. It will be the first tube preamp I have had since a Joule Electra LA-100 MkIII. I have been a big fan of passive preamps and use two different designs in my system at the moment. I have also had the Jeff Rowland Capri which is a preamp with video opamp output stage. It will be interesting to see how the Dude compares.
That's kool Tony. The Joule Electra was/is a nice pre-amp. I have also heard that Rowland pre when I was still in Minnesota through some Eggleston Andra IIs. Again, things sounded good. I am looking forward to your perceptions of the Dude since you are a seasoned and fairly analytical phile.

I am listening to the Dude and it is taking my breath away but the question is how does it compare to my reference pre-amp. See my thread in preamp reviews, entitled "Possibly the best pre-amp one can have"

which defeated the LAMM Reference pre-amp.

For that I will need at least a month of listening before reaching a verdict and it is unlikely that I will have enough listening sesssion in the coming year so it will be a while.
Bill, you can count me in, a couple more weeks and I'm there with ya.

Thanks "Dude" !
You will love the Dude!!!

Report back after a little burn-in my friend.

Gallant_diva and Rx8man, are you able to add to your experiences with the dude thanks
I am curious too.....

Gallant_diva, where are things? You have had the Dude for a few months.

I know Pat/Rx8man has not received his Dude yet. He does have a TRL passive which has surprised him....

Dart6 and Agear: I am a cool customer, albeit a cool and patient listener. I do not have the ability to make fast a/b/a comparisons, nor do I believe in making such conclusions. When I test a new audio product, I have to live with it for a significantly long period of time in order to make a determination how it fares in my system and to my taste. Thus, the Dude had to be given ample time for testing.

I am writing a detailed comaprison report and will post it soon on my system thread.

You exercise a very wise methodology I think more folks ought to follow. From my experience, gear that jumps out at you on first listen tends to become unlistenable over time; gear that leaves you initially wanting can become some of the most rewarding. The time-consuming, iterative process of trying to 'fit' a new piece into the system can often transform a lackluster piece into something special, but patience is certainly required. I look forward to your evaluation.

I think there are many variables at play in reviews, and there is value in both initial impressions and long-term, systematic analysis. I also think there is value in blinded listening sessions with multiple listeners to remove bias. Most people are scared of that...of not being able to recognize your own piece of gear, etc. There is also something to be said for involving non-audiophile involvement whose observations can sometimes be shocking and revealing. In summary, the more information, the better. Gallant, you have a computer, engineering background. I think you would agree with all this....

Here is my review of the Dude and its comparison with Charlie's X-2 preamp. I posted it on my system but also writing it here.

I used to be a brand name guy longtime ago but not any more. None of my audio gear is Stereophile reviewed. My speakers, the Apogee Fullrange, were never reviewed. The smaller Apogee Diva was a Stereophile Class ‘A’ component. After having lived several Divas, it is safe to say the Fullrange walks over the Diva, making the class rating irrelevant. My CD player, TRL moded Sony, replaced my Meridian Reference player and was never reviewed, at least not to my knowledge. The amp, TRL GT-800, was never reviewed either but for me it is the final frontier in amps. The cables, by Element Cables, are beginning to get reviewed but I discovered them long ago at my own. They are so cheap too. Then I found the X-2 pre-amp, just through sheer coincidence.

This is similar to my taste in clothes. My suits are custom-made, mostly in Hong Kong, made without a brand name but with fine fabric and tailoring craftsmanship, and most importantly at 3-5 times lower price. A salesman at a big name clothing store that I happen to know was keen to see custom-made suits, so I took one with me. The quality of the fabric and finishing was enough to make his and his colleagues eyes pop out -- I did not even have to tell them the price. Big brand names carry a lot of psychological advantage which is usually factored into the price. And for some people, higher price tags unconsciously make an item superior. Not trying to be snobbish here. Drawing a parallel between clothes (substitute here your favorite collections) and audio, I am trying to say that I spend my hard-earned money (especially these days) very carefully and I do so for the value rather than the brand. I am not a brand guy. That does not make all big brands junk to my eyes and ears but the brand name alone will not be able to convince me. When it comes to audio, my only criterion is sound quality tested by me and not if it has is a big brand. The Dude is bit like a custom-made outfit with finest components and craftsmanship. But it had to convince me on what it is supposed to do: Its sound quality and nothing else.

Pual Weitzel believes in a very extended time period for break-in. Therefore, I had to give the Dude at least two months. Paul was right, the Dude sound improved a hell of a lot over this period, changing rapidly in the first week and then steadily until now. I have high regards for Paul who strikes me as man with very high audio IQ (his business IQ is another story though). So far whatever he has said about anything in audio (amp, CD player, components, crossovers, drivers, woofers, tweeters, caps, inductors, etc.) he has always been right so far and whatever he has produced has been a sheer master piece. Yet, I believe more in my own listening than I trust anyone else’s opinion. This overrides my good relationship with Paul who has been always very nice and generous. I find his service to be honest and caring although he can be slow in fulfilling his promises. But I should mention that I first discovered Paul’s products and then Paul himself, not the other way round. Thus, when Paul told me about the Dude, I politely declined. So satisfied was I with Charlie’s X-2 preamp that the idea of getting the Dude did not come to my mind even though I heard good things about it. But then people say good things about several things anyway. I do not have to try everything good out there, did I? But when Paul offered to lend me his Dude, I accepted. How could it hurt?

But the Dude was up against the giant, the Charlie X-2. There is no snake oil in Charlie’s X-2 Its fantastic sound can be attributed to the extremely robust and regulated power supply benefitting from Charlie’s decades of experience and the video op-amp based topology inspired by research papers published in Audio Amateur magazine At the same time, I did not doubt that the Dude would be a good preamp. If Paul can design an amp like the GT-800, he *can* also design a great pre-amp. Thus, the main question was how it would compare to the X-2, and would I consider buying it. This may not be too irrelevant of a question for other people including those reading this forum because the Dude is against something which I consider to be supremely good and possibly an ultimate pre-amp with almost zero distortion, flattest frequency response and sheer transparency, resolution, and dynamics.

Since the X-2 was a winner over the Lamm L2 (the Lamm was sweeter on human voice though, because of its FET coloration but considerably shy in bass and dynamics), and swiftly knocked down several contenders such as the Conrad Johnson 17LS, Audio Valve Aclipse, BAT VK-51, Sim Audio Moon, etc. Recently, I lent the X-2 (I own two versions of it) to a friend who has the Audio Valve Aclipse. This friend who is a serious audiophile with extensive knowledge and good ears was stunned at the difference that he heard. He called me the next day and all he could say was “what have you done to my system and me?” The point of all this is that if the Dude can outperform the X-2 then by induction it has to be better than the other competitors that the X-2 has beaten. Thus, the relative comparison with the X-2 is important, which also raises another question, that is, if anything in X-2 can be bettered and furthermore if the Dude can do so.

The Due is well made. I really like its case as well as its knobs, on/off switch, and overall finishing. It does not come with any remote but I do not care about that. It just adds to the cost and most serious listeners think a remote control circuitry can degrade the sound. I should mention that the resolution and transparency of my system is to a point of saturation where further improvements are unlikely And so is the acoustic of my listening room that I have tuned to my liking after extensive experimentation. The system is astonishing revealing and I am so familiar with its sound that I can blindly tell even a fly is sitting on my speaker cables (figuratively speaking because no insects are not allowed in my listening room).

Well, now on to the comparison. The comparison between the Dude and X-2 was extensive, lasting more than a month. They competition was stiff, much closer than I thought even thought I must say I did not know what to expect. In fact, I started with a clear head without any presumption but expected to make a conclusion fast. Over a period of one month, I switched them several times and listened very carefully for a variety of music. I was very watchfully observing their characteristics such as resolution, transparency, bass, midrange, highs, dynamics, soundstage, depth, and imaging.

The two pre-amps sound different, which is a bit of surprise because if they are both neutral, which they both claim and are supposed to be, then they should sound the same. But they do not. That means one of them or both are not neutral, or there is no such thing as neutral sound. Yet they both sound fantastic, so much so that I do not miss the Dude if I am listening to the X-2 and vice versa. And even more interesting is that fact I cannot let either one go. They both are just fabulous. As I listened on, I began to appreciate how great the Dude was since I was very familiar with the X-2 sound. But I still had to keep the fundamental question in mind, that is which one is the winner. I could not find the answer to that question, with my opinion switching after every listening session. As I listened more, I appreciated the qualities of both of them and found it increasingly more difficult to pick one. In fact, I thought the match was a draw. And what about any weaknesses or areas of improve? To answer that we have to examine in details how the Dude and X-2 performed in different areas of sound.

The Dude’s mains strengths are its prodigious bass, dynamics, and width of the soundstage. The Dude does not sound “bass-heavy” and nor does the X-2 sound “bass light”. It is just that the bass in the Dude has more weight while being clean. Furthermore, the Dude bass is very musical and powerful, making the orchestral music more dramatic. The soundstage produced by the Dude is about 10% wider than the X-2 but the X-2 has better central imaging. The treble of the Dude is full and lush and not recessed or rolled off even though the X-2 has more prominent highs.

The Dude outperforms the X-2 in these areas, not the latter is a slouch by any measure, and vice versa. The resolution and details are identical in the two pre-amps. The X-2 is a bit more extended in the highs. The X-2 is also more transparent. But again, when I say one is better than the other in a certain area, I do not mean the other one is lacking anything. The Dude has w wider soundstage and bit more 3D effect. But the “touch effect” (you feel you can touch the singer or instrument) is more prominent in the X-2.

Overall, it is extremely difficult to choose the winner and the match seems to be a draw. This may sound like a political statement but it is not. Now if you threaten to shoot me unless I pick one winner then I would have to say it is the X-2. The reasons are: more extended highs of the X-2 and its ability to drive long cables, and that the Dude runs out of steam at very high volume (which is due to my 25 feet long interconnects and will not be problem in other systems). I made this observation after a month because I do not usually listen to very high volume at good volumes, I never noticed this – in fact, the Dude was a bit more dynamic than the X-2. I also want a bit more midrange and greater transparency from the Dude. Thus, there is a little room for improvement in the Dude while there is nothing I can do to improve the X-2. About 6 months ago, Charlie did add an option FET stage in the X-2 to make its midrange sweeter but it took away the other magic and I rejected that mod. In summary, if the X-2 is 99/100, the Dude is 98/100. But this does not end here. I have had long discussions with Paul about the potential improvements I have sent the Dude back to Paul to improve its power supply, output current level to overcome long cables at high volume, and higher quality tubes to have a bit more extended midrange and highs. These mods will cost extra.

Of course, there will be still room for improvement through tube rolling. In the comparison, the Dude is also getting an unfair disadvantage because I already have a preamp that I like very much and the replacement if any has to be better not just equal. Otherwise, I see no reason to spend money. So the fact that I have purchased the Dude is an indicative of my confidence in it.

The verdict though marginally in favor of the X-2 is not so firm though and definitely not final. I lent the Dude and X-2 to the guy (I mentioned above) who was overwhelmed with the X-2. He tells me that even though he was astonished with the X-2, the Dude is even better in his system. That also makes sense. In audio it is all about component matching.

When the Dude returns from Paul with additioal improvements, I expect it to return with a vengeance. It is very capable of beating the X-2 and it might. We will see. But one thing is certain: both the Dude and X-2 deliver absolutely the very best one can expect from a pre-amp. Since the X-2 is no longer made and Charlie has disappointed more than 50 interested people (clearly, his business IQ is extremely low), and I personally apologize to all of them, the Dude is an uncrowned king of pre-amps at least in my audio realm. You do not need to spend mega bucks on big brand names. The Dude will be better, I can confidently bet on it. If Paul’s Tube Research Labs were an established big name in audio and the Dude would carry a price tag of $30,000, I wonder in what category audio magazines would place it. A+ or A++?
Nice write-up Gallant, you spelled it out very well, fun to read from start to finish.

As Agear remarked, we need more comparisons and shoot-outs, I don't care what Stereophile or TAS says about class A,B,C, or what-ever, it's entertainment to me.

Charlie's X-2 Preamp is Solid-State correct ?
Gallant, thanks for the thoughtful review. The Dude's presentation changes fairly markedly with tube rolling, so that is one place to fiddle. You may also want to find cables that are less sensitive to length. Dale Pitcher's are generally not and might me worth investigating. Some philes do not believe in cables, but I have noted profound differences after switching to Dale's cables. Keep us posted.
I also agree with your comments about Paul. I have observed that guys who inhabit a creative sphere where designs literally appear in their minds (or are given to depends on what you believe) are not the best businessmen. Audio mysticism and keeping your eyes on $ and time do not seem to coexist easily. Dale Pitcher from Intuitive Design is the same way. My entire system has been built by audio mystics. It requires patience and endurance like any good relationship (and it is just that,... a relationship), but it is so worth it in a hobby that creates many fleeting relationships.
Gallant, wonderfully thought out and written review. I am very intested in what results after the Dude is back and settled into your system.

I did not see the cost of your X2 for comparison to the Dude in terms of value?

I did find the Dude really can change with different NOS output tubes. You can play with a couple to achieve exactly what you want. The Dude sings with all tubes, but you can fine tune to your specific likes.

Thank you again for taking the time to post your thoughts. I am thankful for experienced, well thought out audiophiles like yourself who write so clearly. Helps us all to find those hidden audio treasures.
Gallant, what isolation devices are you using? What is the Dude sitting on? Also, what power cord is feeding the Dude?
Rx8man: Thanks. Yes to the magazines being an entertainment. But the real entertainment is audiophile themselves who go by these ratings and by "the higher the price of a cable, the bettery" I rather spend my time watching a standup comedy. Here is a recommendation: Croocked Finger by David Crowe.

Yes, the X-2 is an SS.
Agear: I agree with on audio mystics. Paul is an audio mystic or may be an audio saint or a sufi. Sometimes I imagine Paul sitting like a Bhudha and meditating about new mods, hahaha.
My arsenal of isolation devices include: mapleshade wooden blocks (someoen gave them to me as gift), some kind of blocks made from rubebr and wood (give to me by paul) and a set of solid metal spikes with plates to hold them.

I have tried them all and honestly I do not hear any difference. May be they all are good or may be they do not make any difference.

My power chord (which *does* make a difference) is the Red Storm made by Element Cable. It has been my best pre-amp and CD player cable so far and I prefer it over the 10 times more expensive Shunyata. You can guess the price of he Red Storm. It was $70. I do not know if he still makes it.