Get a tube preamp, keep the ss power amp. Cary, VAC, ARC, Mac, etc. get an amp from a company that has been around for awhile as it seems a lot of hifi equipment companies come and go. In the past, there have been posts about matching a tube pre to a ML amp. I will defer advise on that to others.
Welcome to the world of tubes! Is there a budget?
How about any of the Lamm pre's?
Audio Aero Prima DAC?
Well, probably not the response you're looking for, but if I were in you shoes (and I have been) I'd consider the speakers as well as the pre-amp. You might even re evaluate your need for tubes with different speakers. The only thing that you'd want to do is to get speakers which leave open the opportunity to use tube amps down the road if you decide to do so. Other than that I'd agree re a tube pre-amp. However, in that regard, bewarned a lot of tube pre-amps are very detailed - the tradeoffs are not necessarily in detail or tone, more a matter of bloom and liquidity. IMHO - YMMV, etc.
A good tube preamp paired with your SS gear should make a big differance. The tubes don't need replacing that often, they are not that expensive to replace or to try different tubes, and you get most of the benefits of tubes without the drawbacks of tube amps vs SS amps.
Try anything from Audible Illusions. The Modulous 3A is spectacular but no remote (I do like that little convenience in life).
Jolida now has preamps as well if you wanted a good platform for modifications.
I would recommend a conrad johnson premier tube pre-amp something like the 17 or maybe a 16 or older 14. Not sure what your budget is. The rest of your system looks to be very good. A tubed pre-amp from cj would make your system much more musical in my opinion.
Why do you need help to convert...just do it !!
Check which tube pre amps are comatible with ML power(imp and voltage outputs and sonically as well.)
Going in the right direction.....
I'd sell the speakers; they are a difficult load and will not mate well with the majority of tube amps mortals might afford.
Second the advice of the folks who said sell the preamp for a quality tubed unit. Vintage Audio Research is an excellent preamp for around 1000; ie, sp6, sp8. VTL 2.5 with remote is an excellent linestage with a tubed phono option available from the factory and is quite reasonably priced compared to its more expensive siblings.
Audible Illusions makes a wonderful preamp; I happen to have posted one for sale last night. Convergent Audio Technology SL1 or one of the variations is a great unit, too. If you do not require a phono stage there are many good tubed linestages available at almost any price point above 1400 new to breaking the bank. Excellent tubed phono stages are few and far between used. A new VTL 2.5 linestage with optional phono board would cost around 2200 is my guess; excellent choice.
For reliability as well as holding its value and MAYBE appreciating over time find a McIntosh C22 in nice condition preferably with original box but that is rare. The C22 benefits from some upgrade work such as bypassing the center channel and the various tone controls and filters. Replacement of passive components (caps, resistors) will be required and make a difference in sound due to the age of the unit. A re-issued C22 can also be found for just a little bit more than the vintage C22 and offers balanced connections, too. And, it is much newer of course.
Galante Rhapsody speakers at about 1200 used are an excellent choice for SET amps of 5 watts or more. An excellent push/pull amplifier to consider is a used Sun Audio SV300B which make 20 very strong watts and will power most medium to high efficiency speakers easily. NOT the Thiels....
For speakers to keep for life that love tubes look no further than the Prestige line of Tannoy. The lower end models are not too expensive; the Westminster...well...it is beautiful and well over 10k. Corner placement only for that one. Nice vintage Tannoy speakers hit audiogon from time to time. Only 10k plus used ones are for sale right now.
Audible illusions M3a. Very smooth. Tubes will not have the same lowend control your used to but will Blow the sound away in other areas. Ive spent 40,00 over the years. Tubes will not be perfect. There are still going to be recordings that will sound better on solid state. And the possibility or changing tubes to get the desired sound will eventally get you crazy. You might as well by a tube tester right off the bat :))
Turn back! That way lies madness! A move to tubes may result in a wholesale rebalancing of your system. By the time you finish you may not have much of the original system left...
OK, now I've got that off my chest, the problem with making a "small change" like a preamp is that the most crucial pairing in a tube system is the amp and the speakers. To my ears, that's where the real mojo lives. That being said, the easiest way to get a taste of tubes in your system is to bring in a tube pre. I've owned two - the Audion Premier and the Canary Audio 801 line stages. Both are excellent, but with different strengths. I really like what Canary does, and it may be possible to pick up one of their products used. Definitely buy used, because you may decide to move past whatever you get at this point.
If you decide that low-powered tubes are for you, allow me to recommend a line of speakers many haven't heard of - Fab Audio out of Toronto. Their Stonehenge is a remarkable buy for the money, and the big Model 1 (which I've been using for the last week and a half) is just plain remarkable. Feed either of them half a dozen good watts and you'll wonder where the music has been all your life :-)
I know this isn't really the kind of answer your looking for, but if I were you I would go to the Madrigal website and read the review on the 380S by Larry Alan Kay very carefully. I think after reading this review you might consider upgrading your 38S to a 380S and continue on enjoying your Mark Levinson preamp with it's features that a lot of other preamps just can't match. The rest of your system looks terrific to me and since you've got the preamp bug upgrading to the 380S will still make your preamp look the same but it surely will not sound the same. Read the review and be carefull what you do. Good luck.
I agree with Uriah about upgrading your 38S. And after you've done that, consider replacing your ML 27.5 with a ML 23.5. Besides being way more musical than the 27.5, the 23.5 has twice the output, which will give those poor undernourished Theil's what they need -- power!
Take Nsgarch advice,sell your ML27.5 to me so I can bi-amp with mine.LOL.I actually have two separate systems,believe it or not.A SS and a tubed one.My SS system uses a ML27.5/ARC LS3B and my tubed is Rogue audio M150's/Magnum99.Also got three sets of speakers and I listen according to mood.
I had CS-3.6's for 8 years and went through a similar set of events. I drove them with both Levinson and Krell amps with their respective make preamps. Upon wishing for the same thing as you I started auditioning tubed preamps for 2-3 months with each one. I wanted to get to know the sound over time not just in one week. That being said I'd recommend going used, less painful financially.
Two preamps really put a smile on my face, made me relax and enjoy the "music" that was finally filling my head instead of it being a pratice of analysis. If having a remote is critical, then the first one will not work for that reason only. The second one does offer a remote model.
1) Sonic Frontiers SFL-2......can still be found at a very reasonable price and Upscale Audio helped me re-tube it to bring out the best.
2) B.A.T. VK-3i and VK-5i.....the 3i was awe inspiring for its relatively low price and the 5i with NOS tubes was killer.
Just my 2 cents on the topic since I'm familiar with Thiels sound.....infact I wish I never sold my 3.6's!
Dewinkle, here's a different approach:
You want to get a taste of what tubes can do, you're on a budget, and you want to be able to easily sell the piece of equipment should you decide to not keep it. Additionally, I have to assume that your ML pre and amp are a synergistic combo, so leave that alone. Instead, make your first change where changes are always most significant: at the source.
For very little money you can buy the Ah! Tjoeb 4000 tube output CD player that really is as good as everyone says it is. I bought one, and it is better, in the ways that matter, than my SS and very expensive, EAD transport and DAC. All the virtues of tubes: very open, dimensionality of images, liquid the way that real music is, surprising amount of detail, and great micro-dynamics. Very listenable. Two caveats: you HAVE to use premium tubes (talk to Upscale audio). I use NOS Siemens 6922's; there's only two 'though. And be careful with the upsampling version of the player. I am not a fan of it, as I think it hardens the sound and does strange things to the upper range; many will disagree. I have never seen a used 4000 ($450-$900) stay unsold for more than a couple of days.
Hi Dewinkle - I went through your same debate about 12 months ago. I had a solid state Threshold S/250 (125w/c) and FET9/e preamp driving Alon II speakers and had used this combo together for 12 years. The Alons are 87db and recommend 175w/c as a minimum. The high current Threshold had no issue driving the Alons to house shattering levels. As my search for a "tube" solution began, I quickly realized there are not many tube amps > 175w/c that mortals can afford. Also, my stereo rack did not allow space for monoblocks so I needed a stereo amp.
The Threshold/Alon combination had great bass response and sounded super with rock music. However, with jazz, instrumental and classical, I felt like I was missing something.
I first added a Mac C2200 tube preamp and it "smoothed" out the sound quite a bit. After adding the preamp, with good results, I just had to try a tube amp as well. After much deliberation, I added a Mac MC2102 (100w/c) tube amp. The Mac combo delivers 90-95% of the bass response I was used to, but the difference in instruments and vocals was phenomenal.
Tubes will be a little more expensive over the long haul, however, I do not regret my changes one bit. I cannot address your "power hungry" Theils - never had the opportunity to hear any.
Just my 2 cents - Good luck in your seach...
from this thread I think it is plain to see that if nothing else tubes in any part of your system will make a difference. IMHO the pre-amp is the straw that stirs the coffee. I started out with tubes 35 years ago as a kid. Watched them go out of style when SS took off. I had a all SS system up until a couple of weeks ago. I finally took the plunge and purchased a audio research ref 2, what a difference it had on my system. It made the cd's on my Wadia sound like vilny. I personally don't want the hassle of tube rolling and trying to guess when the tubes are at end of life so I think I am going to stop at just having a tube pre. I've been told by my dealer that tubes in a pre will last for years. I would only caution that if you go for a tube pre try to get the best unit your budget will allow. Every thing passes through it so your whole system will take on the flavor of your pre. I don't think the source is as important as I stated my CDP started sounding like my TT which was a real bonus. I had started favoring vilny over my cd's even though I had way more selection in cd's. In any event your ears will be the judge. You maybe able to audition a tube pre from a local dealer which will tell you right away if the sound is right for your system.
from this thread I think it is plain to see that if nothing else tubes in any part of your system wll make a difference. IMHO the pre-amp is the straw that stirs the coffee. I started out with tubes 35 years ago as a kid. Watch them go out of style when SS took off. I had a SS up until a couple of weeks ago. I finally took the plunge and purchased a audio research ref 2, what a difference it had on my system. It made the cd's on my Wadia sound like vinyl. I personally don't want the hassle of tube rolling and trying to guess when the tubes are at end of life so I think I am going to stop at just having a tube pre. I've been told by my dealer that tubes in a pre will last for years. I would only caution that if you go for a tube pre try to get the best unit your budget will allow. Every thing passes through it so your whole system will take on the flavor of your pre. I don't think the source is as important as I stated my CDP started sounding like my TT which was a real bonus. I had started favring vinyl over my cd's even though I had way more selection in cd's. In any event your ears will be the judge. You maybe able to audition a tube pre from a local dealer which will tell you right away if the sound is right for your system.
If you don't want to rebuild your whole system, keep what you have and try to be happy. If you get a tubed preamp it will likely just be the beginning of a whole system transformation.
FWIW, the 38S cannot be upgraded to a 380S anymore. I had one a couple months ago and e-mailed about upgrading. I was told they no longer offer this option.
This might sound pretty weak by comparison to the other suggestions here. There are several avenues to take though, so I thought I would throw in my 2 cents. Consider a tube headphone amp. This is relatively inexpensive and easy to move in and out of an established system. I got a musical Fidelity headphone amp when I was considering the idea of experimenting with tubes. very simple to use! Sound quality would be whatever you might decide about it, but I have loved mine all along. I think alternatives offer more a tradional tube sound if you think you would like explore that, and I am sure there is better performance to be found elsewhere too. This is all to say that there is yet another place to start amongst the choices you have that might seem less intimidating. If you decide this option there are many resources available on the internet that will into depth about headphone amplifiers and those options. The archives here, and then Audio Asylum, and then more specifically Headphone.com would have- as one example, a lot of information. Not the same as a speaker system, of course, but a way to gain some experience at less cost and complication.
Aesthetix Calypso is a no-brainer. First SOund Presence Deluxe, VAC Renaissance are all going to take you in the right direction. I applaud your courage - i did the same thing a while ago, and now have tubed amp (OTL Berning) and preamp (First Sound), and will NEVER look back.
As to needing to sell the Thiels, not so if you keep you muscular SS amp....
Great advice as always guys. I did already inquire about the 38S upgrade, and like someone had said, they don't do it anymore. I had a 380S in my system for about a month, and it was better in every way shape and form than the 38S. No argument there. I was sort of planning on keeping the 38S because of all the nice features it provides, adjustable input levels, etc.
Contrary to popular belief the 2.4's are much easier to drive than the 2.3 or 3.6. I had all of them at one time for a head to head demo. After several hours with the 3.6 and 2.3 my amp was pretty warm. After running the 2.4's for a while at the same volume levels, the amp cooled off, which to me seemed that the load was easier to drive. Combined with a room that is only 20X12X8, what this means is that perhaps a tube amp at some point may be in my future, but a preamp is a way to put my toe in the water.
I am hearing Conrad Johnson, Cary, VAC, ARC, Mac, Audible Illusions, Canary, Rogue, BAT, Sonic Frontiers.
Looks like I am going to have to do some serious homework.
dont forget Aesthetix and First Sound.....
Well, if you like the user interface of the ML, then BAT would be the place to start. They have the best user interface in the business, IMHO. I think BAT is the only one better than the ML as far as user interfaces go.
All do respect Dewinkle My advice would be to get some decent sounding solid state equipment before you do an amplification 180.
Like you said you're progressing past being new to the hobby and clearly you have bought by the label, so now you want to buy another even broader label?...tubes....I can tell you for every musical tube amplifier their is a solid state counterpart.
You want to pass out, go loan a YBA Passion Integre and a Meridian G08 and try not to just leave your Levinson gear on the sidewalk...someone will buy it, that's the great thing about famous labels. People want them.
Stick to something you have some experience with and build on it.
I agree with Jmcgrogan2.......BAT
For the money spent a used VK-5i is an excellent point of entry. The VK-3i is no slouch either but the 5i may compiment your associated gear better.
i agree with previous posts that synergy between your preamp and amp should be maintained. so i would try the audio aero capitole tubed cdp, one of the most highly praised cdp out there. the capitole is also capable of doubling as a preamp, giving more options to experiment. not to mention it should be very easy to resell if you don't like it.