Sonic Frontiers Line 3 SE vs. BAT VK-31SE

I just sold my Classe CP-60 and I'm looking to move into a tubed preamp. I've narrowed it down to these two chioces (pretty much). I need 2 pair of balanced inputs, a HT throughput and a remote. I'm leaning towards the BAT due to my fondness of their 'house sound'. I currently own, and enjoy, a BAT cd player and phono preamp. I haven't had an opportunity to listen to a Line 3 SE though. I remember hearing the basic Line 3 in a friends system a couple years ago, and being impressed. Not quite as rich as a BAT, but very revealing. Has anyone out there had a chance to compare these two preamps? What are your impressions?

Dollar for dollar you would probably be comparing a SF Line 2 to the VK 31 but since SF is no longer selling new, the Line 3 on A'gon will probably price about with the 31.... I have a Line 3 with some factory built custom mods which pre date the "Special Edition" by about a year and are virtually identical to the SE (upgraded caps, wiring, tubes, etc.) and it is a truly phenomenal performer. It will have less personality than the BAT in that it strives for neutrality almost above all else. I've heard BAT's Vk 50 and was very impressed but not the 30/31/31se so I couldn't compare. The SF does have all you're looking for in convenience features and is built like a tank. I have had no reliability problems or issues with it at anytime, and I bought it new, it has simply been flawless and astounding. Highlights include precision soundstaging, effortless dynamics, uncanny detail, tremendous bass extension, and an extremely unforced character. For the record, I'm running it into VTL MB 125 monoblocks into Silverline Sonata 2's... My guess is you'd be happy with either choice, but for different reasons....Good luck.
If you are using solid state power amp, I think Line 3 SE offers you better match.
I agree with Lissnr with some additional info. I have a Line 3 SE+. Chris Johnson upgraded my Line 3 to the SE+ several months ago and the results were UNBELIEVEABLE! With the newer caps (Audio Note and others) it transformed a really good preamp to a FANTASTIC preamp. (No, I do not work for Chris Johnson.) There have not been reliability issues - I leave my equipment in standby mode all the time. My comparasion to BAT is with the BAT 5i I owned before the Line 3. I found the BAT to be colored but smooth and nowhere near the detail or dynamics of the Line 3. BTW my amp is a Power 2 SE+. Previous amps were VK-60 mono's and a VK-60 Stereo. The Power 2 like the Line 3 will NOT be leaving my system any time soon!
Thanks for the feedback gentleman. Pcwizard, I've never heard of the SE+ version, could you shine a little more light on the differences between the regular SE and the SE+?

Lissnr, I'm definitely talking used prices. The VK-31SE used is going for around $3700, the SF Line 3 SE goes for less, I beleive, as there isn't one currently availible. The VK-31SE lists for $5500, which is $500 more than the Line 3 list for, so your dollar for dollar analogy confuses me a little.

Lafish, I will probably stay with SS amp. However, I'm curious as to why you think the SF mates better with a SS amp than the BAT. Please feel free to elaborate.

Thanks again for your feedback, it seems like the Sonic Frontiers is the early feedback leader. Any BAT owners out there care to share?

Best Regards,
With your BAT sources, phono and CD, I'd have to say you should go with the BAT preamp. perfect matching. maybe stretch a little and go for a 50se and update down the road? Also, it might be nice to have a single remote for the cd/pre.

Good luck.
While I haven't compared the two preamps you are talking about I do own the SF Line 1 and am very happy with it. Very. After Pardigm closed down the SF product line Chris Johnson opened up Parts ConneXion in Oakville, Ontario. I recently bought some tubes from him. They will take any of the Line preamps and mod them to a SE+ with new caps, resistors, and internal wiring. I will get mine done next year when I get some coin together. They also do repairs of your equipment if needed so no need to worry if something goes wrong.

Kal Rubinson from Stereophile uses the Line 3 as his reference preamp - unmodified I believe.

On the whole though you will probably be happy with either as both companies have stellar reputations. It will come down to a matter of taste.
If you want neutral sound go for either SF Line 2 or Line 3.
owned the line 3 and it should easily run circles around the 31. not that the 31 isn't good but the line 3 is incredible, likely the 51se is a better comparison even though it doesn't have the monster power supply. when installed into my system the line 3 sounded like my amp doubled its authority in delivering more solid images. the 3's power source is truly a monster that i am certain helped deal with the authority my then inexpensive amp began to deliver.

it is a quiet operating and feature laden gem.

i am certain either pre will serve you well, i had a very good SF experience.
Thanks guys, interesting comments.
Sayas, why did you forsake your SF Line 3 preamp and go back to (gasp!) solid state?
Royy, I'm not sure that I want neutral sound. Looking at the rest of my equipment, I tend to lean towards the warm, musical side of neutral.
Cosmic void, I still don't know the difference between the SE and the SE+ versions. What does this mean?
Jfrech, I'd love to have the scratch for a 50 series. Bottom line is, the 31SE would be stretching it. My original budget was $2K-$2.5K, used. The 31SE would stretch that to over $3.5K. The only 5 series I can afford would be the 5i, which even BAT claims the 30SE beats (I do also consider the VK-30SE, it would save me over $1K). If only I could sell one of my, the wife wouldn't go for that.....damn.

Seriously, thanks again for the responses guys. Have any of you experienced any problems with your SF or BAT equipment?

Line 3 was tremendous...didn't use the features it offered.

SS is not all bad with some very positive features, certainly more quiet than tube.

Pass Aleph P is mostly passive the way it is used in my system and affords a natural mate to the Aleph 5 amp used. The SS amp is very comparable to the Power 2 previously used without the need to retube and with the added benefit of in my opinion a more natural sound, very liquid flowing sound with a natural musical warmth.
As an owner of the 31SE, and a long time owner before this of an ARC LS5, etc., I can not imagine the SF preamp "easily running circles" around the 31SE. In the mid 90s, I tried the SFL2 for a 3-day weekend audition and it was hands down the most boring and lifeless tube preamp I had ever heard. Contrary to the Stereophile A rating of this, the SLF2 was not musical at all. Perhaps SF's later products, the "Line" series, have changed all this. But unless anyone here has heard the 31SE, it is not fair at all to base its ability on its price. As much as I like ARC products, BAT gear slaughters ARC in the value dept. You simply get far more of a product for the same or less than the ARC equivalent. And as much as the LS5 was vastly superior to the SFL2 at the time, I suspect the 31SE could do the same to any of the last SF preamps. And if you want warm sound, if the latest SF products are at all like the SFL2 was, oh man, you can forget about a warm sound altogether. Used products like the ARC LS5 or BAT 31SE are in a different league. One note: the BAT 30SE is really not in the same league here so focus on the 31SE. And if you want a unit built like a tank, look no further than the BAT units. Their power supplies are incredible and much due to their success. So go listen and determine this all for yourself.
Sayas, I didn't mean to put you on the defensive. I've never owned a tube amp, and have used mostly SS in my 25 years in this hobby. I'm sure you like your Pass gear, as I love my Threshold amp. I was just curious as if you left tubes for SS for reliability or maintenance issues. Because these are reasons that I've tended to shy from tubes previously. If you've had issues before, I'd like to know now, before I spend the money. So far, I haven't had any problems with my BAT tube cd player or phono preamp. However, I've never owned a tubed unit for more than a year. Two questions: Do you have more peace of mind with the Pass gear? Are you happier with SS equipment than with tubes?

You also mention that it sounds more natural, warm and liquid with Pass than the SF tube equipment. Is this true?

I ask because I've owned Threshold, Classe, Krell, Rowland, Levinson, EAD. You just about name it, I've owned all SS equipment out there. The tube equipment somehow captures me though, in a way that SS fails to. Yes, tubes aren't as quiet, and yes, SS can be quite musical. However, if money were no object (which it is) I would own a full blown tube system (and a Lamborghini).

no defensive position, simply wanted to convey my experiences to you for your decisioning

pass gear offers tremendous performance and for that i am happier, it also offers reliability and lower cost to a tube system, particularly amps. Aleph P is very invisible in my system as is the Aleph 5. I don't worry about a retube job and until the 5 grenades it stays.

had an Aleph Ono, it was a very dry SS product that didn't stay in my system tried Tube phono that was a little noisy and inflexible and have now settled on the Krell for quiet, dynamics, extension and mindless reliability.

if money were no object i likely would have numerous components to fit into my system for a variety, not necessarily SS or Tube.

I still like the Line 3 it certainly had more character than the Aleph P that seems to be nothing more than an invisible control center.

Good luck and enjoy the music...
SE+ is Parts ConneXion's designation for their SE upgrade. You can find more at , you can also email Chris for more details from there. Chris Johnson was one of the people from Sonic Frontiers and the guy that does the upgrades used to build these things. The SE designation is the "official" SF upgrade. Parts says their upgrade is somewhat better than the original SE upgrade from SF because of better quality components now available. At any rate I don't believe SF is doing the upgrades any more and the Parts would be your best bet for upgrading a SF pre should you get one. There are SF Line preamps for sale here on Agon and if you get one of the regular flavours you can always upgrade it down the road. Good sounding and very versatile. You can find some reviews of the Line 3 here:
Hope this helps.
Sayas and Cosmic void, many thanks for your time and info.
Your question with regard to why the SF might be better with SS might be due to SF's rather low output impedance (for a tube product). SF is also DC coupled as are many ss amps but very few Tube amps.
Just wanted to clarify the "dollar for dollar" idea. The standard Line 3 went for $5k and the SE version was a significant upgrade. I can't remember exactly what it was when first offered but I'm thinking it was very close to $2k additional which is how much my "custom" upgrade of pretty much the same modifications was... Recently there has been a special deal going on at the parts connection to do the Line 3 SE upgrade for just under $1k or so (was it $899?) so in any case you're now up in the $6 - $7k range (depending on your timing for the Line 3 SE version). This is where my comparison numbers came to the earlier 50 series BAT... BTW , if you really prefer additional warmth you might be better off with something more traditionally "tubey", the Line 3 won't give you the classic tube warmth, it's simply "dimensionally explicit" in a beguiling way. Good luck.
Don't forget that the "sound" can be tailored somewhat on all tube products by choice of tubes. In my Line 1 I have 6H23N-EB Reflektors in the first two pair and a pair of E88CC Siemens for the output pair. This made quite a dramatic difference from the stock tubes. Be aware that I bought the preamp used and that the stock tubes were approximately three years "used" when I replaced them. You are only limited by the size of your bank account and willingness to experiment.
Thanks gentlemen for your input.
I thought I'd get back to you and let you know the results. I bought a BAT VK-31SE, I just got it today. I've played everything from Bob James to Nora Jones, to Dan Folgelberg to Celine Dion (SACD). LP's, cd's, SACD's I played them all. The final verdict (after 1 day) is that this new tubed preamp is better than my Classe CP-60 solid state preamp, but not by much. The vocals seemed more 'fleshed out'. The bass was a little dissapointing at first, the Classe really kicked it out. The BAT was actually deeper, but softer in the bass. The thing that really got me going was the vocals (Especially female vocals, Norah Jones 180 mg LP and Celine Dion SACD), and the upper midgange. Horns had a special new 'bite' to them. I gotta go back and listen to Bob James Touchdown now on LP. I'll give you more follow up later.

I was really tempted for the SF Line 3SE, especially after hearing my buddy's system with his SFM-75 Mk II monoblock tube amps. However, I decided to go with system matching, with my cd player and phono pre, and I am happy, initially.

I'm even considering a tube amp (BAT VK-75SE) for the first time, talk about nerves. Thanks again for all of your help, and I hope that you all continue to assist newbee's in the future.

Best Regards,

I just got a 31SE too last night. Will followup with you. Only had a chance to set it up and play a few tracks, but seems very good thus far.

And yes, the 75SE is my favorite tube amp for "sane" money. If i needed an amp, that would be the one. Tremendous bass, dynamics, and a slight liquidity to the midrange that is wonderful. And at 4k used on the 'gon, probably the best value out there.