Should I Switch Preamps?


Hi all,  I've got the itch to change things up... I'll try not to make this too lengthy.  I've been using an Odd Coda preamp... when looking for a pre in 2010,  I contacted Doug at Coda.  At that time Coda was switching over from the Line Stage CL to a unit that has phono built in CP.... He had 1 CL circuit boards left, but was out of CL chassis's,  but had 1 Windows Continuum 4 Chassis.  So I own a Coda CL that looks like a Continuum 4.  At the time I had the very best Sumo Model Nine that I had ever seen... Back in the my Marcof/SpeakerCraft Days,  we used to Sell Sumo and Modded many.... I snagged a Nine and took it to Ed Martin of Marcof.... He looked at the circuit carefully at one time, he debated Jim B about some things in this amp,  but cost was an issue so the Nine Is what it Is.... Ed took this Nine and transformed it.   Well,  I had a lightening strike about 2 years ago and lost my Nine.  I purchased a Coda Unison 3.1 to use until I decided what to do.... You guys that know this Integrated know that it is 125 watts to 8 and 250 to 4 with the first 35 watts being Class A.....I finally took my Old Sumo to Ed,  the original outputs are obsolete.  he has found a Motorola that he can do a few mods to the amp  and make it work fine...  so I hope to get my old Sumo back with even more improvements soon....  
So my Coda CL.... Coda is so well known for their amps but you just don't hear much about their pre's.... Overall, I have been very happy with this, I've compared it to a Pass X10 and the very picky and Proud X10 owner ended up saying that he couldn't tell them apart. Which isn't surprising considering the Coda heritage.... 
Still,  I have the itch to try something else.... I've decided to sell my Coda integrated and my Coda Pre,  get another pre and use some home brewed Abletec Class D amps until my Sumo is back.... I'm just praying that I don't kick myself for letting my Coda go for a song and getting something that  don't like as well.  
So,  even though my thought has searched through tubes,  in the past,  I got tired of tube rolling and not leaving my pre on and I really think that I'm staying solid state...  My budget is preferred to at $1000 to maybe $1700....
My Shortlist as been:
Jeff Rowland Capri
Conrad Johnson Premier 18LS (but I'd like 2 sets of outputs for a sub)
Audio Research LS-12
Bel Canto Pre 2 or Pre 3
Lastly would consider a Classe Six or CP60 or possibly a Muse Model 3 Signature...
Overall, I prefer the rich organic textured mid range of tubes, but the frequency extensions of SS.  
Overall sound stage is as important to me as frequency balance... 
I've seen at one time or another, every pre on my list within my budget range.  Any opinions or other options are appreciated.  I will most likely list my Integrated and pre here on Agon first along with a Technics SP25 with an ATP-12T arm  that I have filled with dampening putty and it is quite dead.  
So My audiophile brothers and sisters,  please advise. 
Tim 








timlub
all good - you need to listen

Whenever you get the itch to change things up...  move your speakers around, then improve your room treatments.  

If you need to spend money, buy better speakers.  If your speakers already cost $35,000 then build a new listening room.
Thanks for chiming in Randy,  but I need some practical advice on making a pre change.... I'm quite experienced at room treatment.... My speakers can be anything that I want to build.... My current speakers completely disappear and compete at a high level. Can't quite build a new listening room for my pre amp budget. 
 I'm really wondering what the characteristics are of the preamps that I've listed and how they might compare to each other or any other recommendations. 
Tim
CJ - phat

older ARC - some fat, maybe less than CJ

you are just going to have to try them AND have your speakers built first

no real way to predict their sound exactly with no amp/speaker

add Ayre
I have no idea whether you should switch preamps but to scratch the itch...
a Schiit Freya for $700?
Could run it with 4 - 6SN7s or completely tube-less. JFET buffer mode is what I’m using most of the time going into a hefty Class D. Balanced design too. You probably know Schiit allows a brief in home trial period (money back less 5% restocking).

It gets said all the time around here (I don’t know how many really believe it): Price ain’t a perfect predictor of performance. The Freya seems a good example of price way under-signifying audio quality.

Do you have to sell the Coda pre/amp to make the change? Sounds like you really like that gear. Wouldn’t it be better to hang onto those pieces until you’ve got something in hand you KNOW is better? Lower price on the Freya might let you do this.

Good luck.

@ghosthouse   Thanks for the really good advice... I could call Jason.  I met him a few times way back when from when he was at Sumo.... No,  I really don't have to sell everything off.... I've been telling my wife for awhile that I'd get rid of some of this stuff and I keep collecting... I've got a room full of raw drivers and crossover parts, a few amps, 3 tables, yada yada, yada... overall she is quite good to me about this hobby, but I keep bringing stuff in wiithout selling off. So, yes,  I could sell this integrated easily,  it is well sought after since its resale value is fairly low and it performs quite well.  Then keep the pre while I look around...
My instinct is that the CJ will have a bit more texture and be similar elsewhere, but haven't heard the CJ and It doesn't have 2 pre outs, so I'd have to make a y adapter.
I've only heard good things about the Audio Research LS12... Like the CJ Premier, it is the best Solid state pre that AR made.  I have found a Bel Canto Pre 3 priced right.  I perceive that as just a bit lean,  very accurate and detailed, good air, good soundstage... So, I could certainly live with that....I'm hoping to hear some comparisons and in the meantime, I'll check out the Freya... I have read a couple of good things about it.  Thanks Again 

Hi @timlub

I’m certainly not trying to keep you from cleaning house! :-)

Don’t have a lot of pre-amp experience. Had auditioned a used CJ pre a while ago vs the Opera Reference 50 pre I owned. The CJ (sorry, don’t recall model) ran (2? 4?) - 6922s and had a stepped attenuator. Clicked when you operated the volume control. The CJ did some things better than the Ref 50 (maybe more heft to the overall sound with a little more lower mid range fullness) but whereas some things sounded better some things sounded worse. And I don’t mean because they were poorly recorded and the CJ was highlighting this. The CJ could give some recordings a bit of a hard edge to the sound. It really surprised me that some of music I had enjoyed (not all) could sound sort of "ugly" with the CJ. I may be the only person on the planet to think that, but I ended up keeping the Ref 50 and returning the CJ. Someone in another A’gon thread commented the difference was possibly due to the fact the Ref 50 ran a tube (EZ80) rectifier and the CJ did not. I am NOT bashing Conrad Johnson, just saying to my ear I didn’t care for it.

This all being my long-winded way (apparently) of getting to the Freya. I wanted to get a solid state backup for the Ref 50. It’s been a great piece. Hasn’t given a lick of trouble in the 10 years I’ve owned it but I was sort of migrating away from all tubes (Ref 50 uses 2-6H30s & 1 EZ80). The Freya had many attractive features (balanced design and 3 operating modes - 1 tubes; 2 solid state + plenty of input/output flexibility. Right out of the box I was taken with its more refined sound. Best way I can describe it...more "delicate" than the Ref 50 but that might give a false-impression of "light weight". More "detailed" than the Ref 50 but that might give a false-impression of "harsh". Refined as in nuanced and musical is how it seems to me. I am using balanced ICs into the Taranis amp. Listen mainly in JFET-buffered mode. Only use tubes for their greater gain when playing vinyl. Have taken the tubes out lately though I’ve heard a claim these 6SN7s can last 5000-10,000 hours. BUT if they’re installed, they are burning even if you are running in pure passive or JFET-mode and that just bothers me. Anyway, I’m very happy with the Freya. It has replaced the Ref.50. That is now in backup mode pending possibly putting it up for sale. The Freya has a few "quirks" and some of the first 6SN7s Schiit sent with it were noisy...but they quickly supplied replacements for those.

Hope this is useful info and that you can find time to audition a Freya. Good luck with your preamp search.

True, if you stick to one substance, it's hard to get high enough. I always purchase bunch of grades and flavors (at least 6 at a time) for that particular reason. I noted that even cheap brand can get you high as long as you keep swapin' :-)

Purchasing few...several preamps can probably keep you rollin' without an itch!

@czarivey 
Thanks for the reply.  Overall good advice.  Not sure that my lovely bride would be in for me spending $10,000 to $15,000 to stock a few pre's. 
we are blessed in life, our money is good and she doesn't argue much with my indulging in audio.  Yesterday, we spent a couple thousand at Lowes for the house... For some crazy reason, she finds stuff like that more important.  

I used to measure speed of my x-wife in the store by dollars per hour wasted. Now her speed decreased significantly after separation, but mind perhaps increased.

$10...15K is indeed too much, but you can have at least few cheap ones $3...500 ones.

Hi Czarivey,
I love my old women dearly,  not looking for an ex.... Hoping someone out there will give me good feedback on The Audio Research SS vs The Conrad Johnson SS Pre's....... My interest is piqued there.  I'd like to hear what these tubed companies have done with SS. I love the functionality of the Audio Research,  can't fine much published on its sound quality.  I believe the CJ will be something that I will most likely enjoy, but only 1 set of pre outs.  I'd have to split off the pre out to run a sub. 

I like multi-functionality as well.

One of the preamps that caught my eye was Tact RCS series. I don't think they're around anymore.

Hi Tim,

I would recommend against the CJ if you need to run a sub from it, in addition to the main power amp.  Not because of the need for a splitter, but because of the impedance issues that are involved.

From John Atkinson's measurements:
The output impedance was quite low across most of the audioband, at 72 ohms at 20kHz, and a little higher, 183 ohms, at 1kHz. The source impedance rose to a high 1.5k ohms at 20Hz, however, which will result in prematurely rolled-off low frequencies with a power amp having an input impedance much below 20k ohms.
My perception is that most powered subs have line-level input impedances of between 5K and 20K.  And paralleling that impedance with the input impedance of your power amp would reduce the overall load impedance seen by the preamp considerably further.

That same issue would potentially exist, btw, even with preamps providing two sets of outputs, if their output impedance rises to high values at any frequency.  In most such designs the two pairs of output jacks are simply jumpered together inside the rear panel, which from the standpoint of impedance compatibility is no different than using a splitter on a single pair of jacks.

Regarding the other candidates you mentioned, I can vouch for the Classe CP-60 as being an excellent performer, certainly in the price range they sell for these days.  I purchased one here in 2008 for $1350 (the line-stage only version), and used it happily until a couple of years ago when I replaced it with a far more expensive DEQX HDP-5 (which provides myriad signal processing and room correction functions in addition to serving as a preamp).

Best of luck.  Regards,
-- Al
  

P.S: It appears that the same impedance compatibility issue might exist in the case of the ARC LS-12. As indicated at arcdb.ws the LS-12 has a recommended minimum load impedance of 10K. The parallel combination of the input impedances of your amp and your sub may or may not meet that criterion depending on their specific values. And that might be the case even if you were to use a balanced connection to one of those components and an unbalanced connection to the other. I would suspect that the unbalanced output of the preamp is internally connected directly to XLR pin 2.

Best regards,
-- Al

Thanks Al,  I can't find any input impedance spec's on my old Velodyne 12 sub,  the Sumo says 1 megohm.... of course that is single ended only even though it is a fully balanced design and next the Abletec modules that I built are 6k ohm in single ended input or 13k ohm in Balanced input. 
just looked up my Coda CL... it drove any combination that I have used well... Output impedance single ended is 50 ohms and 100 ohms in balanced... I'll need to look a bit further on the Audio Research.  Assuming that your suspicion is correct and it parallels the inputs between balanced and single ended. As well as checking further into my Velodyne input impedance... Thank you for you time brother, You are always a gracious contributor.
Looks like the Jeff Rowland Capri will work... 40/80 ohms
Yes, as far as I am aware the Capri (either the original version or the current S2 version) should be a fine choice, and certainly no problem in terms of output impedance and drive capability.  And thanks for the nice words :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
 
@ghosthouse     @almarg     @czarivey     @randy-11     Actually Al,  to be fair, I've had several helpful comments, so I need to include them in my thanks... I guess I singled you out because of the amount of personal help that you have laid out to myself and so many...
So to you others,  I need to say thank you to you also.  No disrespect was intended by not mentioning earlier.... Not sure what I'll do yet,  but I'll keep you posted.
Tim
"Not sure what I'll do yet....".

What I hope you do is have fun and enjoy, even more, some good music.  

You are very welcome, of course.







Post removed 
@almarg 
Hi Al,  Isn't the rule of thumb to have a 10x delta between input and output impedance?  I have emailed Velodyne about the Input impedance of my sub, haven't heard yet.  But looking a the Audio Research @ 200 ohms single ended and 400 ohms balanced.  I'm wondering if I could get away with that?
Hi Tim,

The rule of thumb guideline is commonly stated that way, but that is a misleading oversimplification IMO. In particular, it does not take into account that designs which use a coupling capacitor at their output, such as the majority of tube-based preamps and source components, will have output impedances that rise significantly at deep bass frequencies from their specified nominal values (which usually are based on a mid-range frequency such as 1 kHz). An example, which is by no means as extreme as many others I have seen, would be the measurements I linked to above for the CJ preamp you were considering.

I would state the rule of thumb guideline as follows (I’m quoting this from a post I made in another recent thread:

The input impedance of the amp (or other component that is receiving a line-level input signal) should be at least 10 times the output impedance of the preamp or line-level source component that is driving it, at the frequency within the audible range for which that output impedance is highest. Which in the case of preamps or source components having capacitively coupled outputs (such as the majority of tube preamps) will usually be at 20 Hz. And the output impedance at that frequency will often be far higher than the specified output impedance (which is usually based on a mid-range frequency such as 1 kHz), because the impedance of a capacitor rises as frequency decreases.

That doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be a problem if the guideline is not met. It depends on how the output impedance **varies** as a function of frequency. What it means is that there **won’t** be an impedance compatibility problem if the guideline **is** met.

If Stereophile has reviewed the preamp or source component, the measurements section of the review will usually indicate the output impedance at 20 Hz as well as at other frequencies. But if only a nominal impedance can be determined, such as a manufacturer’s specification that is presumably at a mid-range frequency, to be safe I would suggest a ratio of 50x or preferably even 75x.
Regarding the ARC LS-12, though, I would consider all of this to be superseded by ARC’s recommendation of a 10K minimum load, as indicated at the arcdb.ws link I provided.

As you are probably aware, the load impedance seen by the preamp would be the product (multiplication) of the input impedances of the sub and the power amp divided by the sum of those two numbers. The result will be less than either of the two numbers.

Also, if you were to connect the balanced output of the preamp to one of those components and the unbalanced output to the other, that result would most likely apply to the signal on XLR pin 2 (as well as to the signal on the RCA connector), but not to the signal on XLR pin 3, since on schematics I have seen for various other ARC preamp designs XLR pin 2 and the RCA connector are wired directly together. (And my understanding is that it is not uncommon for that to be done in many designs from other manufacturers). Which is probably just as undesirable as applying the excessive load to both of the signals in the balanced signal pair, and perhaps even more undesirable since it would unbalance the impedances and the amplitudes of the two balanced signal lines, at least slightly.

Best regards,
-- Al


This could be helpful to others,  thanks to @almarg     I decided to contact Audio Research as the LS12 has been high on my list...
The outputs single ended and balanced on Audio Research Preamps are indeed paralleled... So there could be significant issues driving more than one device.  I have also emailed Velodyne,   looking for the input impedance of my sub,  as of now,  they have not answered.  If I get this info,  I'll post it.
For all of those with the great advice given,  at this minute,  I am leaning toward spending a few more dollars and waiting for a Jeff Rowland Capri S2 to show up on the used market.  Depending on what Velodyne tells me,  I suppose the Audio Research could still be in play.  I am hesitant about the AR because of so little info about its sound quality.
So I'm going to be the voice of evil here.  Sorry Tim.  I'm in the same boat as you and I value the same sonic traits you're looking for.  I really like my SS pre but am just looking for something different and perhaps a little bit more organic sounding.  Your Coda sounds like a pretty darn good pre, and you've obviously already compared it to some other fine SS pres without hearing much if any improvement.  Not sure you're really going to find something significantly "better" or "different" in the SS realm at your price point, and if that's the case then what's the point, right?  That's my issue as well. 

I've decided to try tubes, and the preamp seems like the best place to do it as long as it doesn't chow expensive tubes.  I'm seriously considering giving a Sachs SP14 a try, and it's in your price range new.  He gives a (admittedly short) three-day trial period, so what the hell?  C'mon -- I dare ya.  He has identified tubes that work very well with his design so rolling should be nil, but I have no idea on impedance or sub issues so there's still that.  

So here I am trying to suck you back into tubes.  What can I say?  Misery loves company.  Best of luck. 

@soix 
Well brother,   you are the voice of reason... I've owned a few tubed pieces and like my solid state stuff,  the longer you leave it on the better it has sounded.  I supposed that I could find something that had a couple simple tubes in it that wasn't crazy expensive to replace.... I just found it a headache to turn the system on an hour before I wanted to listen or to turn it on with intent of coming back in 45 minutes to an hour and  it ends up that I did not listen at all.  Never know,  I may end of being miserable with you. 
My impedance questions are answered.  Velodyne could not give me any answers on the phone, but they finally found and emailed me schematics,  so a quick forward of emails to my buddy Ed and I am good to go...
Here is my final search:

Jeff Rowland Capri S2
GamuT D3
Audio Research LS12

So,  yes for the Rowland, my budget will need to go up a bit. 
If everyone would keep their eyes and ears open for me, I'd be grateful.  I am willing to pay market value for these pieces,  no more,  but I won't try to rob anyone either...
Appreciate you all,
Tim
If you're one of those guys who buys audio the way you buy a car or your furniture, then ignore me.  But if you've really got the huevos to be a real audiophile, build an Aikido preamp with the boards from Glassware Audio.

http://glass-ware.stores.yahoo.net/index.html
Try a Schiit Sys for $50 and go from there.
@russbutton  I've looked at these boards a couple of times in the past... I buys cars or furniture when I need it,  Apparently, I buy equipment to scratch an itch. I've been a manufacturer, a manufactures rep,  a high end store owner and a diy hobiest.....I've never had huevos, so I'm probably not a real audiophile. 
@timlub When you "roll your own", audio is a totally different, and more involving experience.

It's kind of like the difference between buying a recording of a string quartet or doing a location recording of that same piece at a live date and listening to it at home.  They are totally different experiences.  I would submit that with your live recording, your experience will be much deeper than just playing that CD you got off the shelf somewhere.

Anyone with the funds can just go buy stuff.   But at some point, you have gear that sounds different, but you're not sure which is "better".  Perhaps that's why you get bored with the gear you have.  It's not as if you chose to buy something knowing it was "inferior".
if you bump the top end of your budget up a bit, the arc ls17se is a wonderful pre
I think I kind of started with a Coda as well, as it was Innersounds preamp, and sounded awesome.  Wanted more, moved up to the Ayre K5xeMP and it was awesome and showed me I needed more.  I went with the Jeff Rowland Criterion and haven't looked back.  Heard the Gamut and CJ and all good by Mr. Rowland builds very special gear.  More texture, more emotion and battery power puts you in a different world.  
Hi all,  took a risk last night an purchased a pre that I was unfamiliar with. here on Agon. Worst comes to worst, I'll sell it off, but it sound promising.
T&A Elektroakustik P1230R

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/one-of-the-best-preamps-youve-never-heard/

I am still using a motif mc8 made by cj in the late 80’s. Really the only solid state preamp I have heard that does the tube sound well. I have heard later ones are quieter and more detailed. You need to listen before you buy. Have a fun journey.

timlub,
Lots of options presented.  I will throw one more in for you to consider.
The Sutherland N1.  A complete preamp design if there ever was one.
Ron Sutherlands finest phono stage (input 1) + line stage (inputs 2-5) + a white noise generator (input 6).  2 Preamp outputs so you can drive a sub amplifier or whatever.  Practically immune to long cable runs as long as you use reasonable cables.  See it here: http://sutherlandengineering.com/products/n1/
Owners Manual: http://www.sutherlandengineering.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Sutherland-N1-OwnersManual.pdf
Design and build are exemplary. Sound is accurate and images like crazy.
Happy hunting!
@perazzi28    That does look incredible.... getting one for a couple thousand dollars would be just as incredible....
I pulled the trigger a couple of nights ago on a T+A Elektroakustic preamp.  I expect to get it tomorrow. 
I posted a review earlier and here is an Agon thread about it.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/anyone-heard-of-t-a-theory-and-application


The 1230R looks like a real sleeper!

Let us know how it sounds in your system.
@nordicnorm   thanks for chiming in,  will do,  I'm really looking forward to it

Hello all, well this T+A Elektroakustik has been in my system for 10 days,  I've been able to listen everyday for 30 minutes to 2 hours. I have gotten a real feel for it.... I can definitely hear why tube heads love this preamp. Tonally It has an ever so slightly laid back top end that is still very detailed with good air & balance.  The Midrange has a kinda of round sound to the notes, each note is full and rich rather than sharp, as you go down to midbass, it has a slight warmth and the extreme bottom is fairly accurate. The sound stage was slightly wider than any other solid state  pre that I've had in my system with good spacing in between instruments.
So compared to the Coda???
Its width is better than the Coda, what the Coda does is how it displays small ensembles, and intimate settings.  It really does have a more of "your are there" feeling in small jazz & classical quartets and when it comes to absolute tonal accuracy,  the Coda does seem to have an edge. 
On large scale orchestral music,  The T+A Is as good in its presentation that I have heard in any  solid state pre. This is clearly a classical music lovers pre.  It does very much show each and every flaw in a recording, but when you have an excellent recording,  it pays off in spades.
And,  The T+A has tone controls!  Overall this has been a real treat.  As odd as this sounds, this minute,  I believe that I prefer the Coda.  I listen to many jazz vocalist and jazz ensembles. As rich and warm and big as the presentation is with the T+A.  I believe that the Coda presentation is a more honest/natural presentation....
The big problem to describe to all of you is that this is based on my system,  which none of you would know.... My Dac is an ES9018 home brew that I bought in a kit from DIYINHK,  the current amps is Abletec Class D modules that I purchased from England and made this amp.  My speakers are mine 100%.... The are an MTM that uses 2 woofers per speaker that are used in the Totem Forest along with a Scan Speak tweeter. So, that's what I have to report. Tim