Yes, a nice way to start would be with one of the Cayin units. Great sound and value. You can get one for less then $1000. Easy to sell if you don't like it.
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I'm with the suggestion to buy Audio Research preamp. In case you do not like it, it's easy to sell. If I have $1000, I would wait and save a little bit more to get better units than starting with a compromise right away. Anyway, search "tube preamp with SS amp" in anu audio forums and you will noticed an overwhelming positive experienced from owners doing the switch.
Okay, I lied, but not totally though. If I have a $1000, I will probably built an amp and a preamp. But if you are not into DIY, buy used that you can easily sell later on if you need to.
Ken...I am with Jaybo...You didn't mention what speakers you have but you do mention they are dated and that you plan on upgrading them. You ought to get a bigger bang for your buck by upgrading the speakers first. Many good options in the $1000 range for monitors. I would visit a few dealers and listen to different options and when you narrow down the choice to a few speakers you like the sound of, ask the dealer(s) for a home audition to make sure you are getting a similar sound in your home setting. You can always match the elecronics to the new speaker at a later time. My two cents worth.
If you want the most benefits of tube sound,the output stage is where its at mainly.It depends on the speakers,and how loud you like to listen also.As far as a tube preamp goes,it may soften the harsh highs.They have tube buffers that will give you a taste of that.An all tube,or tube output will change the whole listening experience if your ready for it.It may be best to listen to a tube amp before going that route♫
I know where you are coming from. I was there about a year ago. Start with the speakers, then if you want the tube sound I recommend a tube power amp.
I started with Monitor Audio RS6 speakers followed by Quicksilver Mid-mono monoblocks, driven by a Mackie D2 mixer as a pre-amp. Check my system for the full details.
Without a good set of speakers you will never fully benefit from a tube amp. But good speaker, will provide an immediate benefit and likely motivate you to upgrade your amp.
IMHO, upgrade from speakers and back to the source.
I have decided to upgrade the speakers first, one reason being that they are 20 years old and have foam surrounds which means they are reaching the end of their useful lives (excepting, of course, installation of new surrounds). I'm going to build a Madisound kit which incorporates exceptional Scan-Speak drivers. It should also be a fun experience doing it myself and learning about speakers at the same time. With my current speakers still doing their duty I don't have to miss the opportunity to listen to music in the meantime.
I think I've learned something about the benefits of tubes through this discussion so will keep that option open for the future. Thanks for your help and suggestions.
Here I am, a year later and many changes to my system. I went the DIY route for, mainly, two reasons: (1) I could gather better quality parts over time and save $$ using my labor to construct, and (2) The opportunity to learn - a little - about electronic components.
First, I constructed a Madisound speaker kit (Zaph|Audio ZRT 2-Way) which uses great Scan-Speak Revelator drivers. As the designer, John Krutke, says: "This is about as good as it gets for a 7" 2-way." These revealed a whole lot more detail, clarity and music than was available with my old speakers.
I then investigated various DIY preamp possibilities and "found" Roy Mottram of tubes4hifi who provided some much needed confidence (re. working on electroncis) and assembly help. I purchased, from Roy, John Broskie's Tetra phono and Aikido line stages and built my tube preamp. I eventually upgraded the tubes from the inexpensive ones I started with to NOS (and good/used) Telefunken and Amperex.
This start into the tube world got me interested in a new amplifier and so I obtained from Roy's partner, Bob Latino, his ST-120 VTA Dynaco-clone kit which I finished a couple of weeks ago.
I AM VERY HAPPY. My system has gone from a nice budget audio system to a superb music machine. It has it all: imaging, soundstage, detail, clarity, etc. I have had a great voyage of discovery (which of course is not over) and along the way learned a great deal - with the help of many - about speaker set-up, acoustics, electronics, music, (some Physics).
It is always interesting reading someone's opinion as to what to upgrade first. Speakers, pre-amp, amp, etc. In my experience, the greatest change and most enjoyable upgrade that I have heard was the speakers first. If your speakers are not very good, then everything else will not matter. A decent Yamaha pre-amp sounds wonderful through a decent amp and very good speakers. I have always recommended to my friends that desired to slowly go from mid-fi to low high end on up, to get decent speakers first. Then, the order after that really didn't matter. amp or pre-amp, it didn't matter the order of upgrade. But speakers made the most dramatic difference. However, in an attempt to eliminate any arguments or insults, please remember, I am talking about an upgrade from mid-fi to low high end. The beauty of the used equipment market is that for a very reasonable price (basically compared to brand new mid-mid-fi equipment) used equipment costs almosts the same. So realisticaly one can go from mid fi to decent older high end for about the same as a brand new mid fi system. For example, used Martin logan Sequel II's or Request are really not expensive and still sound wonderful. Just an example mind you. Then, get a decent pre-amp. Like everyone was suggesting above or a decent amp. order doesn't matter.
An excellent and fairly inexpensive tube preamp is the Doge 8. At around $1,400 it is unbeatable and also has a fairly good phono section. But its linestage it what really shines.
I have a Doge 8 in a bedroom system and absolutely love it. You would have to go up to at least an Audio Horizon preamp at around $3,000 to be competitive.
Of course, if you could afford it, the Coincident Technology Linestage at $5,000 is unbelievably great, with its only shortcoming being its two inputs. One really has to re-think their front end (source components) when using this pre-amp.
I'm like you. I had a variety of solid state preamps to run with my B & K ST-202. I remember reading Sam's Space in Stereophile several years ago about using a tube preamp with his ST-140. I made the switch about a month ago with a Lazarus Cascade Basic & what a difference! You won't believe your listening to the same music! I'm hearing things I never knew were there! So, yes, go for it! Only your ears can tell you you made a good decision. I spent $400 on my Lazarus and it's money well spent. Good Luck, Matt
all tube preamps are not created equal. some of the newer designs sound like solid state. for example, i reviewed a recent mcintosh tube preamp and called the company to suggest that i could not identify and tube-like charcter and a technician siad the preamp was designed to be as "neutral" as possible, i don;t remember the model number, but it used 2 12ax7 in the line section and 2 12ax7 in the phono section. retail price was about $3900.
then there is the vintage tube sound--i.e, having a euphonic coloration, but clearly inaccurate by todays's standards.
so when discsussing tube preamps, the degree of tube flavor is an important consideration.
Mr Tennis: When it comes to tube gear, you frequently focus on the tonal colorations of such products. But this is only one area where tube gear is often different from solid state. And in many modern tube products, the tonality maybe be very similar to solid state products. But tonal colorations is not at all what I am after when I evaluate tube products.
I run with the Aria WV5 XL preamp and this unit does not have the classic tube tonal (euphonic) colorations. What it does do that virtually no solid state products can do, and that which very very few tube products can do, is render decays and harmonic overtones in a most natural way....and with awesome clarity to boot. THIS, the portrayal of space, is the reason to run with tube preamps.
When you "reviewed" the Mcintosh preamp, you heard absolutely no "tube-like character" such as prolonged decays or ambient information compared to the typically sterile solid state line stage? Really?
when i reviewed the mcintosh preamp, i could not identify any "tube-like" character, as you have indicated, jafox.
in fact the company's philosophy for the design of that preamp--it was a few years old, was that of neutrality. the technician i spoke to said it could be characterized as solid state , but without the edge and other solid state ills.
it was not sterile sounding, but there was no bloom, even after replacing the tubes with nos.
i have heard other modern tube components have a non-tube sound, without any of the ills of solid state.
i felt the preamp was highly resolving for a tube component and, as a reviewer, a useful tool for uncovering flaws in other equipment, but not enjoyable for continuous listening..
there are many tube preamps and each designer balances his/her personal taste and idea of what the component should sound like with its ability to attract sales.
you are right regarding my penchant for coloration.
i recently had my amp rebiased and repaired. boy was i surprised. my system is more resolving. i would have to make some changes in order to "color" it. at the moment, since i am reviewing several hdmi cables between my pas audio perfect wave transport and dac, i am leaving it alone.
incidentally, i am using a passive bent tvc preamp. i have a tube preamp which is more colored, but it is not suitable for reviewing.
sorry to go off on a tangent, but indirectly i have suggested that a passive preamp may be preferable to some tube preamps.