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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I absolutely agree with MarktheNut's recommendations for the 6SN7-based tubes amps by Don Sachs or Supratek.  I had Don Sachs original tube preamp and now have his newest version and it is fantastic.  I suspect the Supratek is quite fine too.  Quicksilver makes great tube preamps, as well.  The Schiit Freya, with upgrade tubes, might give you a glimpse of the SQ of the Sachs preamp at far less cost. 

I personally think that there is magic in 6SN7 tubes in preamps.  The new best Chinese 6sn7 tubes are outstanding, rendering my stash of dozens of vintage NOS 6sn7 tubes merely "closet queens."   
Tube equipment can sound very close to solid state, or it can sound soft and bloomy, or anything in between. Your experience today barely scratched the surface, so don't judge all-tube amplification based on what you heard today.

With your solid state amplifier, a low output impedance preamplifier will match best...resulting in better bass control.

The aforementioned Modwright gear approaches a solid state sound. It matches well with solid state gear. I know from experience Lamm Industries preamps also match well with solid state. A used Lamm LL2 Deluxe would be in your price range.
Here is my two cents.  The Primaluna 12AX7 based for $2200 new is a very musical preamp.  The Quick silver is a nice sounding preamp not as tube sounding versus the Prima.  The deHavilland is a good sounding tubish sounding preamp but I have only heard it after I modified the unit with my upgrades for a buddy of mine.  The upgrades included V-Caps, volume control, some tube sockets, transformer (much bigger thatn the junkie stock one, AC filter choke, resistors, and a few other changes.  Those upgrades gave the preamp a much bigger dimension, better detail, made it quieter, and with more space between instruments.  The stock unit to me was nothing special.  Other options would be a Counterpoint SA-3000.  It has phone which is OK for an old preamp. These I can perform upgrades that bring them to a new level.  I also like the SA-3000 for the separate power transformer which helps eliminate noise.  Besides parts upgrades I can upgrade the circuit to today's level and is basically a new preamp.  All of the above are good choices.

Happy Listening.
Someone earlier made a comment about amps which would be hard to sell later -- becoming, in essence, expensive doorstops. It raises the question as to what the downside is of getting something relatively boutique-like. I realize that the quality will be there, but the exit door may be blocked if my tastes or needs change down the road. This element may not move people, but I do wonder which of the makers celebrated in these posts might wind up with that problem.

@whitestix The Chardonnay sounds tempting. It’s $2500 or $2000 before $200 shipping. If my budget is $3000 for both pre and power that leaves me at most $800 for a power amp. I guess that could be done. Would you spend in that ratio on a pre/power amp if it was you?

@tvad I hear you. I’ll look at those makers, too. Thanks.

@bigkidz Nice to hear of your experiences. Given the high praise lavished on the deHavilland, it’s interesting that you found so much in it that benefitted from your upgrades. It’s an expensive piece of gear, but I guess everything can use some makeup.