Shall I add a preamp to my setup?

I newly setup a system with Thiel CS 3.7 speaker, driving my Sim audio Titan 5 channel poweramp, source with Simaudio cd5.3, I am very excited with the 2 channel performance, but it seems lack of warmth of vocal and extension of high, not enough airly extensions, base is fine. I doubt my weakest link is the Sherbourn PT-7010A pre/pro, all the above new gear has pretty much break my bank, I wonder if I should squeeze the rest of bank reserve for a descent 2 channel preamp in order to solve the problem.....the other choice is a better CDP, can someone walked thru the similar path give me some advice?
Interesting question.

In my exp. I wound up using a digital front end to drive all else with eventually, though I did not even think of that as a path to sonic entrapment, initially. however the DAC I can use as a preamp is not an all the time deal for me, as my tube preamp sounds just to good to me to leave it out for long.... different combinations of different items in the chain for me seems to provide me the variety I require now and then.

The magic I suspect you want to infuse into your system likely will require a tube preamp. other's will say differently perhaps, but the best way I've found to add that extra bit of intrigue to a fine system is by adding tubes.... somewhere. In fact I feel the preamp is as necessary as a very good front end... and again, that's just my two cents worth. it sure took me long enough to prove it to myself as well.

Cabling combinations also afford that which you seek, but the faster way due to all the cabling that is out there, is a nice to very, very nice preamp.

Good luck.
Thanks Blindjim, replying to my ever first post, good inspiration.

May I know why specific TUBE preamp but solid state? What specific sonic nature do they different to each other?

I find my system is pretty fast (almost too fast), refine, big soundstage, dynamic, I compared to Dynaudio new sapphire, Watt 7, but mine lack extensions of mids and highs and air. Hopefully you know what I describe.
I am pretty lean to add a preamp now after speaking to some friends today, any suggestion for a preamp may work well to my system? Say under $6k.
Just adding some possibly superficial comment...As regards "warmth of vocal and extension" and "high airly extensions" my first recommendation is go analog. The second is add a good tube pre. Three years ago, I found a used Aesthetix Io phono preamp w volume for ca 6k usd. Great value, not only for your turntable if you have one, but for your CD or whatever too (it has two inputs). I had Krell KAV preamps before, but have never looked back. Like going from forested hills to real mountains, to use a Norway analogy.
I was facing the same situation and decided to go with a tube pre-amp. I found what I was looking for with the Modwright SWL 9.0 SE tube linestage. Of course it depends on the synergy with your other pieces, but for my system, it works.
Seems adding a Tube preamp is a pretty good advice here, however, I have a home theater, is there any good tube pre has bypass feature? I read Modwright Tgrisham mentioned, any other choices? BAT does not mention one in his web info, does anyone know if it does?

More advice is welcome. I am considering Sim audio P5.3 s.s. pre which cost me $4k.
Conrad Johnson Met1 6 channel hybrid tube preamp added warmth and imaging to my denon ht setup. Might be just the thing to compliment the Titan.

Tube pre with pass through, huh?

That shouldn’t be too difficult a thing to come by these days as many makers are putting that into their designs for the HT systems everyone is doing now.

Personally, I feel the two, stereo and HT should remain separate things for consistency’s sake… I’ve been unable to make a pair of tube mono blocks sound like solid state nor do I care too… then with some pass through preamps, they need to be on, and there’s that added pair of interconnects too. In any case, it should be a simple task to find one I suspect.

I have a Thor preamp… they ain’t being made now. The designer took a powder on us… but they are a stellar item sonically speaking. Some of them were made with pass throughs for HT.

Mark Mickelson had one for a time too…. Then went to a VTL 7.5. In his review of the VTL 7.5 he compared it to the Thor saying it was no better sonically but offered more versatility. I would think the VTL 6.5, would offer a great deal of the 7.5s performance for far less… but that’s sheer speculation.

I would also think the aspect to look for in a tube preamp is it’s inclination to the musicality aspect, over the speed and resolution facet… which is what I suspect you seek. I wasn’t terrigbly impressed by the new CJ preamps I heard. They sounded far more akin to solid state than to tube designs. I hear some of the older CJ pres were far more about the warmth and midrange though.

I’m really at a loss to add much here for you to investigate in this regard. I will say, having owned a BAT VK 5i, that either it or the VK5i SE should certainly do what you want and are well within your price range with lots left over… if you don’t mind buying older gear.

Perhaps VAC should also be on your short list, and maybe even Quadd… with $6K in hand for a preamp I’d still look at the VTL stuff, then VAC… and probably ART Audio & ARC… but that’s just me.
I am new at Tube amp, how long do I need to change the tubes, how will I know if its done? Any other advice on handling a tube will be appreciated.
BTW, is it dangerous to buy a tube preamp used? Particularly not knowing the remaining life of the expensive tubes.
Buying anything used isn't entirely dangerous regardless the the item. It does have it's ups & downs though. Using some prudent judgement, and doing some howmework/research on the seller and the intended item is a must however.

I bought what I thought was a 3 year old BAT VK 5i from a seller who I believe is no longer a member here. it turned out it was closer to ten years old in fact. The misrepresentation of it's age was of course, an issue. Once new tubes were installed in it though, I was very pleased with it's performance overall and held onto it for a couple of years until the upgrade bug bit me... and then I bought my Thor and sold the BAT.

Tubes in general last a pretty long time. Some say thousands of hours! 3000 and up isn't unheard of, some tubes life expectancy go upwards of 10,000, 'New' or NOS of course.

Used tubes can do pretty well too. it's all about what you want to do and can afford I guess. Getting some used tubes is an easy and cheaper way to find out what suits you too. here, again, the seller's reputation is most important. There are several here and off Audiogone which are most competent and trustworthy.

Age of the component is a factor too, though if the maker is still in business it is less an issue than if no original support is available, natuarlly.

My own preffs tell me to not buy vintage & antique gear, but some swear by it. Again, this is a matter more of preffs than actual betterment and remains quite subjective, IMO. I've lost the ability to properly serivice electronics so for myself, support is key.

I also limit myself to buying electronics that are but shortly used, if at all possible... 2-3yrs. max., and less if possible. The build quality of anything is gonna reflect in it's longevity and performance too. Again, by the time I sold my BAT preamp it was over ten years old and played flawlessly and sounded great!

Keeping in mind your situation, preffs, experience and so forth, it may be best to buy something inexpensive right off to see what is what in the tube world. Something with some popularity too, so reselling it if not to your liking won't be a big deal. Any of those companies I've listed above are worth investigating and you'll not go far wrong... if at all.

Sticking with a preamp whose tube array is current or plentiful is also a good idea. Like the 12AT, 12AX, 12AU, 6DJ8, 6922, 7308, 6sn7, etc. and they all have their own sonic signatures... which is good for you can buy & try out the same 6922 from any number of makers and customize the sound to your preffs.

Lastly more tubes inside the unit doesn't mean better all the time... it does mean more money to outfit it all the time though... but that'll only happen due to whims or every 4 or 5 years, depending on how much you play the thing. 4hr. per day = <1500 hours per year.

Great piece of info for a tube newbie like me, appreciate for your time writing it thoroughly.

ARC has come to my attention when I looked at BAT, VTL...all big names, but how would I suppose to pick from them?
With a $6K budget in hand and desiring 'new', I'd look at the middle of a makers line up... if used, higher up.

However, do be mindful of the 'point of diminishing returns'. you may well be in any case, yet it does apply across the board usually and that means tube gear too.

Seeking to remedy or add to, your current situation though, IMO I would look lower maybe... and preowned as well... just for a look see, right?

I keep pointing to VTL and will again... though I've not owned one, their entry level unit (2.1?) is well regarded and reviewed and is a decent way to begin I think. Also the BAT VK5i & VK 5i SE & CJ 10, Quicksilver, and there are more. Naturally, if mo dough is present, scoot on up the lines of whomever you seem to prefer... eg., ARC.

A bit of a learning curve is in order with tube gear, and be mindful of that too. Vintage tubes, and AES, along with some private vendors here on the 'gone are good resources for tubes too... and top dollar isn't always needed to have fine results when acquiring tubes to play with.

Check out the classic tube preamps by doing a search here and online for more insights.
Thanks Jim for taking care of me newbie with such generous input. I am serious looking into getting a preowned tube preamp from here, hopefully spending like $2-4K to step in Tube world and get experienced as you suggest. Seems there are more choice on BAT than VTL currently listed, for VK5iSE, do you actually mean VK51SE?

Nope... I meant the VK5i.... NOT 51SE.

the 51SE is going to be very similar to the sound you presently have, albeit a bit richer. A friend of mine has one and he loves it, though he also has a 5i, and they are worlds apart sonically. The 5i having the more classic sound than that of the 51 or 51SE (both of which are preferable to the 50).

I've posted lots of threads on the vk5 i asking about it's sound, tubes for it, etc. check them out. Also there's got to be tons of posts on the 51SE too, as it's a very popular item.... both are strictly balanced topologies, and use xlr connections expressly... although the 51 series does have some RCA on it I believe. I used adapters on mine with fine effect.

Tehn there's that age old question of age... The VK 5i's run stopped back around 2000 or so. So even the last one BAT made is going to be over 6 or 8 years old.... but the build quality on them is superb. BAT says time and again they should last 20 years... and they're all self biasing, and for some, that's a big plus. With your budget, maybe the 51 is a better choice... if you go with BAT. Also their support is excellent, even with preowned gear.

I aimed all my comments on your sonic preffs. A Thor TA 1000 would definitely be a step in the right direction too, or even it's later sibling the MK II, (what I own), but didn't want to mention it as the only support for them since Mr. Marks flew the coop on his following so abruptly, will be via some local or well respected tech.

I mention this just to be quite frank on it all... the build of the Thors is top flight across the board. I've had not one issue with mine whatsoever aside from picking out which tubes to run in it. I've also seen some TA 1000 & MK II, lately for very good prices too. The only remote control feature is volume control however... and the balance control is defeated normally, and was offered as an option, along with HT pass through. 4 inputs. 1 line out. 1 active outs... and all RCA. 4 tubes. 2 12AT's, and 2 12AX's. Self biasing. Outboard power supply... extremely well damped and arguably the most unique physical esthetic of any make audio gear.

The MK II is the quicker of the models. Dynamic, fluid, harmonically natural and full. Great bass. super imaging. Big SS... wide and deep.

The MK IIs serial numbers began at 1000 & up. Previous to that were just the TA 1000. The TA 1000 is what I heard in person and also what made me want to get into an all tube array. It was by far the best sound I'd heard in nearly 30 years and that’s just my take. It is like a BAT VK5i on steroids. Lots of steroids.

The older CJ's, eg., 10, 9... are reputed to have even a more liquid midrange than the VK5i.
Hi Jim,

One thing pause me from buying a Tube pre, a guy just told me I will regret, tube pre will give me instant happiness for a while, after that, I will find there is lot of dynamic actually lost relative to a descent Solid state pre, unless I buy a very expensive one, otherwise tube is being limited on dynamics. $4k is not gonna make it there.
"What that guy just told you" is simply incorrect.
I know you don't want to hear this, but the harmonically "thin" thing is coming from the Thiels; crossover and tweeters; its a constant with Thiel. I know you are not going to move from them, but down the road, when you are still trying to balance out the thin thing with wire, amps, etc. you may want to remember this.

If I had $6k - and that is plenty of cash to do a lot - I would go with a Shindo Augieres. Its a line stage that has a nice MM phono when you decide, if you do, to step into the analog waters. With all due respect, I understand that the Io is a nice piece, but getting a new guy into all of those tubes is not really a good idea. The Shindo is fantastic (see Art Dudley's review in stereopile (no, not a typo...). You could build around it for a long time and if you ever wanted to sell it, you would hardly lose much and it would sell fast. Which is the tough part; you have to be patient for one. The avg $ on one these days is @3000. Which, of course, leaves you cash for some other stuff, which brings me to...

I know that no one asked, but if I was putting a system together for someone, I'd do the Shindo pre above ($3K), the Shindo Montille 25W EL84-based amp ($3K), Shindo or Kondo wire (@1K-1.5K if you are smart), maybe a Cambridge CD player, and Living Voice IBX-R2 speakers (@4K), and then a nice intro analog rig after that. You might never come up for air.

Just some ideas...
Grandetech, I have a similar setup with yours in pre/pro and amp. It is good for HT, but the 2-ch performance is not very good. So I got a BAT VK-3iX. The 2-ch sonic got much better. However, it lost some bass and dynamics.

I did some research and found that some tube pre-amps, including my BAT VK-3iX, have higher output impedance levels. So I upgraded my BAT with their Super-Pak and Six-Pak packages. Both dynamics and bass improved quite a lot.

Then I thought it was still lacking harmonics for vocal, piano, and violin. After some research, I found that 6922-based preamps don't have the harmonics that 6SN7-based preamps have.

Then I decided to get a dedicated 2-ch amp. So I got a Counterpoint NP100 with 6SN7 in the gain stage and transistors in the driver and output stages. I really like my setup now.

So my recommendation is as follows.

1. For the tube preamp, you want to make sure that it has a low output impedance to drive a SS amp. Most tube power amps have higher input impedance levels than SS amps. So if a tube preamp is designed for tube power amps, it may not be sufficient to drive a SS power amp.

2. If you want to keep your Sim Audio 5-ch amp for 2-ch music, I would get a 6SN7-based preamp.

3. I also think your speakers are a bit too dry.

Hope it helps.
i have to agree with the bulk of posts above. For certain harmonic rightness, or richness depending on your view you cannot be without a tube pre amp. With that said the post regarding thinness with the thieles is something i have noticed on various brief listening sessions with thiele.

If you want most bang for the buck improvement id switch speakers first. Then buy a used tube pre. It may not be what you want to hear but its my candid opinion
I finally getting a Cary SLP-05 tube pre to see what my system actually got, maybe also upgrade the speaker cable from some DIY to Analysis plus solo crystal oval 8, by then should know if I have to switch the speaker from there, hope not. God bless me :)

Any comment if AP speaker cable will fit the Thiel 3.7?
RE pre

I've only heard some talk of AP cables from those I trust... it wasn't impressive talk.

Synergistic Research offers a lot of bang for the $$$, as well as does Audience. I've 3 sets of SR speaker cables. All different itterations, in 3 different systems and couldn't be happier.
Thanks Jim. What is the characteristic of SR cable? Which one is good for a budget say below $1000 used?
Maybe, if you like what your main ic is doing for you, that same thing in a spkr cable will work too. Just a thought.

You've got Theils, right?

if their sensitivity is down around 87 or less I'd say go with a more resolving wire. The Sig 10 x2 active cables I own. They are about right down the middle... neutral... the Res Ref are next up the old ladder, and the accelerators or Vortex seem to be the replacements. The Accelerator is a more edgy wire as an IC... I suspect the same for the spkr cable. Call SR and ask them which might suit you best...

Overall the SR wwires are fun. Colorfully resolving and extended. The active ones are for sure the way to go... sorry. Non active are ok... but with them plugged in, it's way, way better.

Sig 10's and Res Ref x2's are discontinued so they should be less $$$.

Give SR a call.

...and again, the Cable Co. rents out 10ft spkr cables.
Thiels are a great sounding spkr Grandetech and congradulations to you owning the model I listen to's bigger bro. The system components that I've paired up is very close to what sounds like live music at times. The first bit of advice I'd like to give you before any upgrades are made is to invest in picking up Robert Harley's complete guide to hi-end audio if you dont already have it. It's been a critical component and invaluable source of information in my opinion.

Next is to listen to some music, I didnt realize how great digital could sound until I heard it played through VTL and Thiel

Good luck! Chris
I agree that a tube pre is the way to go. Art Audio's VPS would be a great choice and come in under budget. It would give you the beautiful midrange you are looking for along with a great dynamic presentation. Plus you get the best customer service in the industry. Worth looking into.

Blessings Bob
Hi Jim,

Regarding the synergistic r speaker cable you recommended, which one has most warmth of vocal without losing detail in highs? I search a few listing in agon, not knowing the price very well, is there anyone worthed to buy for serious improvement? Email me if you don't want to put it on forum. Thanks.

I particularly like the Synergistic Resolution Ref x2 active wires. Up from there the Acoustic Ref x2 active are more refined yet lack the impactful extension of the RR's. however this is by degrees only and the AR yeilds a more cohesive SS with better layering than the RR X2.

One thing to bare in mind here, is that 'warmth' in ALL areas (tubes, cabling, componnets) can lend itself to a muddy situation perhaps, if some care isn't taken along the way.

Once the 05 is in house, try some RCA or Simens tubes in it first. That may be all you need... and/or a nice pc on it. Maybe a AZ Sunami, or Mongoose (cardas Golden ref facsimile). Both of those moves will cost far less than the cables you want to add and might save ya some duckets.
I am ordering a pair of RCA VT-231 for +ve gain and mix rest by Sylvania vt-231, I might take your advice on pc later on, thanks, jim.
Those tubes should help a lot. they possess different attributes and should offset each other well. More ease would be gained using all RCA.... just something to think about.
Thanks for all your input and finally the Cary tube pre is installed with excellent result, its more harmonic on vocal, strings, piano, bigger soundstage, singer step forward to me couple of feet, last but not least, more airy and less harshness.

If I have to improve, thats the slight tip in the highs (I know its Thiel) and lower the signal to noise level (I can hear it with volumn tune to zero from 3-4 feet away), hopefully the RCA VT-231 coming in with resolve a bit. Any thoughts of other?

Thanks Jim, I am using Cardas Golden ref now. Put on hold for speaker cable unless a good pair of SR AR/RR comes up in agon.
Grandtech, on the VT-231's, if you don't shine up to the others, trys some black glass Ken-Rads.

I have a stash of the Sylvanias and Ken-Rads and always preferred the Rads. Don't know about the RCAs.

Let us know how it goes...
Asa, may I know how do you prefer Ken-Rads over Sylvanias?

I just love more and more to my system every single day, the SLP-05 is terrific in all area, hope rolling to the NOS tubes early next day will shine it up even more, I will let you know soon, thanks, ASA.

p.s. I don't mind the hiss at all, the music covers everything even no matter what volumn level. Jazz piano will bass and drums are top notch now...
update on tube rolling, Cary/Gerald has suggests to roll tubes on the buffer stage in priority, follow by the gain 4 tubes, so I am going to put the RCA vt231 pair in buffer stage and with sylvania vt231 to gain stage.

p.s. Thiel CS3.7 is such a revieling speakers, crap in crap out, with Cary tube pre, you get great resolution with terrifc warmth, muscical, I consider this is a true synergy and absolutely in love with the speakers now. I had A/B SLP-05 with SIMAUDIO P5.3RS, absolutely different league in terms of transparency and bass control, everything seems more clearer.
The black glass Ken-Rads, while a bit darker, are very expansive - assuming you get a good pair. The Sylv are nice, but IMHO just a bit less all the way around, just a bit, which adds up, of course.

My choice is the black glass Tungsols, but they are getting very hard to find.

On the Thiels, hey, if you love 'em, great! I mean that!