Review: Tube Research TRL Dude Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

Ok guys I'm not a writer and have never been compelled to write a review on any equipment ever in the past. So what can I tell you about this "Dude " preamp that hasn't already been said.

To start with I'm a low to moderate level music listener and strive for a system that brings out the true emotion and detail of the music. This is not to be confused with lush or warm but natural clear,and dynamic, as it is in the real world. My music preferences lean toward Jazz/blues some classical but I enjoy many many different types to include Big Band, Rock, Reggie, New age, Older 50's, even a little bluegrasss/country have been heard sneeking through those dimly lit tubes..

To discribe the Dude one can't ignore the physical aspect here built, built, built. INDUSTRIAL was the first word that came to my mind when I opend the CRATE. All 90+ lbs with a 1 inch thick faceplate that has the name DUDE deeply etched into it. The large Brass/gold knobs have a feel that let you know that you are dealing with a serious piece of equipment here. These units can be custom ordered to match your system from the # of inputs/outputs all the way down the type an number of capacitors. Mine was custom ordered with the extra power supply caps and the extra 6SN7s per channel since I run long cable and biamp. Popping hood on this baby revealed what looked to me like it's own mini substation for a power supply. The extra custom goodies come with a nominal fee. The company is small so order can sometimes take a while depending on there work load.

If you look below you will see my list of similar Items which I owned all of them over the past 5-10 years searching for the right preamp for me. The most recent one before I switched to the Dude was the Shindo Vosne-Romanee and the Jadis JP-200. Nothing against these units as they all have a great reputation and following and i'm sure in the right setup they sing.

I first hooked up the Dude to my system and started playing some classical music at low level which I use for breakin because of its wide frequency range and dynamics. After just a few hours I began to notice that this preamp was really doing something different in my system than any of the other preamp prior. DYNAMICS on a whole new level. I was hearing little background instrument clearly with a dynamic surge and decay that I never new exsisted in this recording. I'm starting to realize how important this trait is in bringing out the emotion in the music. I let this preamp cook for a few days then did a little more listening. This time Big band music sitting in the sweet spot. Woe Dude! Talk about Imaging, rythum, and pace best I've ever had in my system. Not to mention tonal accuracy my daughter a flutist has commented on that aspect, Even my wife said "that sounds pretty good" and that never happens. This little Dude will keep you foot tapping. I contined to let the Dude cook for another couple weeks.

The Dude is still breaking in I'm told but I know this is, for me, the buy of the decade. I'm enjoying the music on a whole different level now. No longer am I just fixed in the sweet spot late at night but also have the system on throughout the day while doing other things, being captivated from time to time by its tonality, musicality and openness. If you are in the market for a preamp you owe to yourself to try the Dude and maybe, like me you will finally be satisfied and captivated with your sound.

I realize this review doesn't tell as much about the preamp but more about how it makes me feel. What can I say, I listen for hours and can't always explain why its so captivating. For thoses of you who know; you know.

Downside- Staying up late loosing sleep so I can just listen to one more track before turning in.

Associated gear
Merrill Hierloom turntable
ET-2 Tonearm
Klyne LX-5.0 phono
TRL modified Marantz SA-14 SACD/Player
Wavelength cosecant DAC
Transparent Ref 25' run
Audio Matiere stereo Tube amp
Auditorium 23 speaker cable
Isoclean Powerline condition
Martin Logan CLS IIz
Quad ESL 63 USA monitors
Wilson Watt cubs
Nestorovic Subs with eagle amp

Similar products
Shindo Vosne-Romanee
ARC Ref-5
Jadis JP-200
McIntosh C-500T
ARC Ref-3
VTL 7.5
cj ACT-2
cj ART mk-2
nice review and good luck with the unit. I am asking if you had any difficulties adjusting to using the two volume knobs on the unit? I'm impressed with the workmanship and weight. Did you get your wife to lift it out of the crate...LOL the best and thanks..
I first thought I would have trouble with the 2 knobs but quickly adjusted. Even thought there are no marks around them I use the lettering on "volume" and line up the screw on the knob with this and have had no trouble with it. I find the dual volume knobs invaluable since I don't always sit dead center. Yes I did have help moving it thank goodness. Thanks
I loved your review. Thanks!

Can you share a little what is the difference between the Dude and the Sindo Vosne-Romanee you used to own? Dynamics, tone, transparency and etc...

Its so difficult to try and compare the two preamps simply because the Shindo I'm told needs to be a complete system to be optimum. However I did have 2 Shindo preamps the Messeto and the Vosne-Romanee and I prefered the Messeto the cheaper one. Just dropping the Shindo VR v/s the Dude into my system was a night and day difference. First of all the Shindo cost almost 4x the TRL. They are well built as well but not 4x. I thought the Shindo was ok but boring as compared to the Dude. Once again Dynamics was a major factor here. Much more realistic and explosive, and not just large scale dynamics but also on a smaller scale. Slight changes in voice and instrument volume level changes were more apparent. Smaller background instruments were clearly identified. As far as Imaging goes, none of my previous preamps has even come close to the DUDE. The images are so life-like that I just can't believe it, so solidly placed. Sometimes I sit in the sweet and just laugh calling my son to come hear this. He says "how can it do that". I don't know but it sure does since the Dude came in. The ultimate in transparency. Tonality is the best, well real, real real. The Shindo I'm sure can sound very good as well or at least I hope so for the money they cost. However in my system, not even close.
Nice review Carey and my experience with the Dude over the past 2-3 years has been exactly like yours. It is the heart and soul of my system and really turns a stereo system into music!

My new Dude shares the same extra 6sn7's per side and extra capacitance of yours. I am enjoying my music collection like never before. Goodness you have had some great preamps in the past!
Could you please compare the Dude to the ARC REF 3? I've really been interested in this comparison and you may be the first I've seen that's owned both.
Thanks in advance.
The Ref 3 and 5 had very good dynamics and were the best in that regard (except the Jadis jp 200) until I heard the Dude. When I first heard the ARC units they really caught my attention with their seemingly transparent detailed sound, they have a high initial wow!!! factor right away. However over time I became disenchanted with the sound. The "detailed" sound in my system became annoying and sounded more thin, electronic or bright. With the Dude the music is more natural, not soft or warm but natural. As far as detail I have it throughout the entire music spectrum not just the top end. Midrange definition with the Dude is my system is far superior to the ARC. The ref 3 and 5 both had great soundstaging as does the Dude. The biggest difference with the Dude is that it makes you want to keep listening to the music not the equipment. Very close to real live music, complete with the excitment and immediacy of a good concert in a good acoustical enviroment. I'm trying to write while listening and my foot is tapping and I keep stopping to listen for a bit. All this gear is so system dependant and there are so many variable but I would be willing to bet the Dude will drop into most systems and shine and I believe that is because it is so neutral and transparent.
Thanks Carey,
I guess TRL still will not do a remote control?
I'm very tempted to pull the trigger and order one!
I was used to using a remote for years and can relate to your concern. In fact I once said I would never do without one. However I don't miss it like I thought I would. With this preamp I don't find the urge to turn it up and down, I set the volume and let it play. Many people say a remote degrades the sound, I don't know if that's true, so I guess you have to weigh the convenience of it. That being said Paul does a lot of custom work so you could ask and see.
Hi Carey1110

How does the Klyne LX-5.0 phono sound when hooked up with the Dude ? Also, which cartridge do you use in front of the Klyne LX-5.0 phono ?

WOW!Nice review!Awesome pic!I want one!Thanks for sharing!
Nice review - a very good read. I can totally agree with what you say about the Dude. Although I do not own the DUDE, I own the older series two unit line stage made by TRL.

P.S. If Redbull can's are not large enough, you can always substitute them for Coke cans ;) I did on mine, but one was not enough ...
I love the Klyne 7PX 5.0 with the Dude. The Dude is just so transparent and dynamic that it just allows the Klyne to shine through. I would love to hear a TRL phono just to compare. Right now I'm using a NOS Monster Genesis 2000 but would like to upgrade to one of the ZYX models at some point.
I heard the ZYX Artisans, (both the older and the newest models) with the Dude. It sounds very weak, even with different cartridges. I really do not know what was wrong. It may need a step up transformer. Another Audiogon member had the Herron 2 phono pre hooked up with the Dude. He loved it.
Thats interesting, what phono did you hear the ZYX with? The Klyne has up to 65db of gain and so far I have never needed a step up.
I have been involved with Audio equipment since 6th grade. Built Altec Voice of Theaters from kits, Dynaco's, Harmon Kardon, Eico and numerous other projects. Owned a Audio store for 40 years and still running. I have owned numerous high quality pre-amps; ARC, CJ, Jadis, VTL,CAT, MFA-Lumi, Hovland, Lamm and others. I purchased a Dude from Audiogon a few months ago.I think I'm still in shock; this pre-amp hands down is more enjoyable to listen to than anything I have owned. I always liked octal based pre-amps and now I'm convinced a 9 pin cannot pull this off. I have numerous speakers that never sounded so musical; Quad ESL-57, Magnepan 3.6, Duo's, Wilson Watt/Puppy 7. This product will become a classic; a steal right now.

Amen to your post! It's hard for others to really believe this preamp is that good. This is understandable as many units have been touted as giant killers etc....

It is a steal for sure. Enjoy!
The Dude really sounds like it`s very special. With the exception of audiogon contributor glory everyone else seems to love it.
Just out of sincere curiosity and respect I`d love to compare it with the Coincident Statement Linestage that I own.
Not in the sense of 'mine is better than yours'attitude, but just a fun matchup. These two linestages are both often praised for outperforming or competing sucessfully with much more expensive units.

I`d like to hear what they have in common and how they differ. I really get the impression you could`nt go wrong with either highly regarded piece.
The one potential problem is there appears to be no.'standard' Dude model as they`re custom built per client.
Still this would be fun to compare music with these two wonderful linestages. They could possibly be equal but different.
Best Regards,

Yes, I have owned the original Dude and now the latest. Mine is also custom in that it has 2 - 6sn7's per side instead of one per side and extra capacitance. Mine also has a set of $400 Duelund Alexander coupling caps ( I put them in). Both the original Dude and my new Dude sound top notch and share the same circuit. The newer Dudes have a better Shallco volume control and wonderful fit & finish. Both sound very much the same. I say mine has even more Dudeness if you will. Improved transparency and detail are perhaps the most obvious improvement. I trust this is due to the improved 45 step Shallco and my Duelund caps.

I live in Southern, MN and if we could somehow get both pre's in the same system, I would be willing to take reasonable steps to make it happen.

What I think the Dude does that I have not heard in another preamp, is play with incredible dynamics, scale and aliveness with complete and utter ease.
Hi Grannyring,
I live near Detroit MI. not exactly close. What interests me is that comments about both are similar, transparent,dynamic,superior tone,life-like etc.
Yet both take rather different design approaches for example the CSL has not a single resistor or capacitor in the signal path(uses an interstage transformer instead).
Different method s for volume control, octal tubes in one and DHT tubes in the other. Both have been very sucessful following alternative paths.

What would the trade offs be? (there`s aiways something).
Maybe one day, what fun it could be.
Best Regards,
Fuuny thing, I found a web site(while googling) where the author talks about these very same linestages.
WAJ on, small world sometimes.
Yes, I also found that site and was surprised to see me quoted.Ha!
i think Carey1110 should mail charles his spare dude so he can do a comparison
Charles1dad - just swing by and I'll let you borrow my Dude for a comparison. I'm in Canton.
Thanks, I`ll send you an e mail later today to see what day/time works for both of us.
Charles, glad you enjoyed the Dude. See Charles' comments in his system thread.

I received my Dude preamp last week. It looks amazing.It is the best looking piece in my system. The color is gold. Right out of the box, the Dude sounds bad. Up to now, it has been playing about 15 hours. The Dude is utterly shocking now. The transformation is not subtle. I am hearing details in the music that I have never heard before. The music sounds so real. I just cannot wait for it to be fully broken in. Paul Weitzel's customer service is outstanding. I am looking forward to purchasing new tube amps from him.

I'd love to see/hear those new 160 watt tube amps.

The Dude is amazing!
Hi Bugredmachine

The last time that I spoke with Paul. He was building his new design tube amps mono blocks. I think the cost is about $5K to $6K. They put out about 50 watts per channel. If your speakers do not need a lot power, this might be the way to experience Tube Research Labs' tube amps.

Are these now available?
I have had a fully balanced Dude since 7/2011 and I have to say it will never leave my system. It allows me a level of pleasure in listening that is a first for me. It prompted me to buy the Tube Research Labs GT200s. The results have let me relax and buy music. I am having a new set of GT200s built.Can't wait till the new ones get here! The Dude kept getting better for about 3 months.Bet you are glad you found the Dude!
How does TRL's GTP-3 older preamp compare to the current Dude? Anyone with experience with both? Is the GTP-3 better?
I would ask Paul as he knows for sure. The older GTP will not have his newer power supply. In the end only Paul could answer this question.
Paul says the Dude has many Advantages over the GTP3 but the GTP3 may have a lower noise floor due to the separate power supply. I've never noticed a noise problem with the Dude but then I've never heard the GTP3..

When can we do this Dude vsCST comparison
I'd like to get the Dude but would like to hear it
I'm in central Iowa...

I am in Southern Minnesota and come by! Perhaps we can work out a time?
Abruce, are you up to coming to Southern MN? I am 10 minutes from the Iowa border and the Dude would love to meet a new line stage.