Seriously considering tube preamp…opinions?


Tube virgin, here. I am building a system and I'm trying to contain the preamp/amp cost to $3k or so. (I could go up a little.) 

I'm inclined not to dive into tubes all the way through, but get a solid state on the output end. (Open to suggestions; inclined toward PS Audio, Parasound.) I'm reading around about tube preamps and have talked with my local dealer, who sells Black Ice/Jolida and Prima Luna (PL). He used to carry Rogue but said they kept coming back for repairs. That's why he carries PL.

I'm asking these questions after having established (via reviews, comments) that Schiit gear is quite the value. Lately, I've been reading about Decware and other small tube makers. I'm very curious about buying direct, if possible, and a company that stands behind their products is crucial.

So, your opinions about tube integrated or *especially* tube preamps —

1. Who do you like? Consider I want to do pre/amp for a total of $3k if possible.

2. Do you think PL is worth all that money just for a preamp? I get the feeling they're high quality but a bit over-hyped. (No disrespect to the highly passionate Kevin Deal, but he's all over my search results.) And what would you think about $2k/$1k preamp-to-amp spending ratio?

3. Any sense of what happened to Jolida since the name change to "Black Ice"? I see there's a sordid story there but did the re-branding clear up the mess? Any experiences with the Black Ice company?

4. I know there are many Schiit fans out there; so my question would be -- did anyone consider Schiit for tube preamp and go another way? Or move beyond Schiit for any particular reason? It's hard not to just capitulate and do a Freya+ or Saga+ but why wouldn't one just go with Schiit?




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+1 pfeiffer, as I said earlier - you can buy a used Ultraverve. 
+1 pfeiffer, as I said earlier - you can buy a used Ultraverve. 
I run my Freya (original version) into a Dennis Had Inspire "Firebottle" high output (ha...12 to maybe 17wpc depending on tubes) tube masterpiece...a seriously great sounding amp, and then succumbed to the hype regarding the Schiit Aegir and bought one late last year...although the first one they sent was flawed (tripped its safety mode WAY too easily), the replacement (no charge for that) worked seemingly as it should. I have efficient Klipsch Heresy IIIs, and don't crank em up too much, but when testing the Aegir, the new one STILL managed to shut down once...wasn't hot, wasn't particularly loud (and note that the Heresies can get very loud with just a few watts), but that was somewhat off-putting. It is a nice sounding amp for SS, but when I stuck my Had SEP amp back in there it was no contest...the Had has the effortless speed of a snappy single ended tube amp, and made the Aegir seem artificial, and like I said, somewhat untrustworthy. The Vidar might be a better choice but otherwise maybe a Jolida (Black Ice?) tube amp as they're a bargain (had one, it was amazing). Used Primaluna power amps abound also. If you're lucky you could possibly get a Had amp someplace, as that's what really gets the soul stirred. 
Listening report: GOLD SOUND 2+ hours. Wonderful conversations with Ron Gold the owner, who educated me a lot. This is a great store. (Denver area). I auditioned Prima Luna EVO 400 ($5k) with a CD player and Spendor A4 ($3.5k) speakers. This was my first time listening to a tube amp for an extended period. I then auditioned Parasound P6 and A23+ separates. I did not have the chance to do a separate tube preamp with a solid state power amp. I found the bass in the PL setup to be rather muddy and lacking in articulation. It reached down deep enough, but there were moments of bass-chaos to my ears, too. The highs also sounded rolled off and there was a distinct lack of "crack" on drum hits. Vocals were luscious and the sound stage was delightful. All those deficits were repaired by the Parasound, the sound stage was still great, and while there wasn’t the same soft nuance in the vocals, there were fine. The highs were back.

All in all, I know something now — at least about these two pieces of gear — viz., that all tubes are not fitting my listening expectations. I do suspect a lot of this is because the first time we try something new, we judge based on old expectations rather than on the new benefits. Indeed, I imagine I was *blind* to a lot of the new benefits. I was trying to keep a very open mind about this, too — I didn’t go in expecting that the tubes would do what the solid state had always done. Still, it didn’t provide what I wanted in the kind of music I played — jazz, rock, classical.

Next step would be to continue the idea that a tube/solid state mix is worth a listen.

I do not care for Elac. Nor Spendor that much. The owner is down on Dyns (notoriously difficult to drive), but I still want to hear them again. Waiting on my Salk Wow1’s.