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 go to a hell of a lot of live shows. Most recently Dweezil Zappa playing all of "Hot Rats". Modern guitar playing involves a lot of intentional distortion. Every hot guitarist with chops relies on a ton of effects pedals in addition to the intentional distortion produced by the tubed stacks.
That depends on whether the amp is clipped. Guitar players like tube amps because they have less odd ordered harmonics when they clip, making them easier to sculpt more pleasant tones. But some guitar players don't clip their amps; the guitar players in my band (Thunderbolt Pagoda) are an example; instead they rely on their pedal effects for the sound, but prefer tubes otherwise. One is using a Marshall Major, which is built along high fidelity lines and was often used for for bass or sound re-enforcement- both applications where distortion isn't helpful. Other amps built along high fidelity are the early Sunn amps (highly sought after and using the guts of the Dynaco MkIII) and Ampeg amps like the V4. Guitar players also like to have a good 'clean sound' and good fidelity in the amplifier is crucial for that. An amp with a good clean sound easily reveals differences in pickups, 1/4" connectors and guitar cables- not all that different from what audiophiles experience in that regard.
Hi Andrew,
There are only a couple of companies who only make one product-a preamp. The slam dunk best of these is Audible Illusions. A “class A” Stereophile component for decades. With the continuing review “as good as any regardless of price”. I have never read this comment for any other component. For ever, I only used a passive preamp addicted to the unmatched transparency. When I finally bit the bullet and bough the active AI, I found I was wrong. The AI has all the transparency of a passive with the pronounced ability to look into the music. It is one of the few preamps that has the simplicity, purity and magic of the single ended triode. Only one tube per channel. The newest model is $5200. A factory refurbished unit can be found for about $2500. Believe AI  has sold something like 60k preamps over the years. I consider a preamp as the heart of a system. Also, that the vast majority of preamps are overly complex and colored. I love the true heart in my system and would never change. My music is too important and central in my life... especially now!
Old chestnut? Tube guitar amps are generally at the end of that pedalboard chain for a reason...they sound better. A great tube guitar amp has a much snappier response than a SS amp (although many jazz dudes are into Polytones or other SS amps...a mystery but hey, you get used to anything). A great guitar player I know who owned the same SS Fender amp in the late 70s as I did (we tried...it was a London Reverb) had come to the same conclusion I had...they just didn't have the mojo...I went back to my tube amps. When the effects are off you crave the full tone and immediate snap of a great tube amp for non distorted tone, and put a great pedal in that mix and it's simply right.
Now that you got around 200 recommendations, I hope this has made it a little easier on which one to get.
Best of luck, in your preamp search!

 I would love a nice tube pre for my amp, but, time, and reliability, plus cost is a huge crutch for me.

 I’ll stic w my aging SS preamps.

enjoy the ride!