SONIC FRONTIERS LINE 3...TUBES & CAPS upgrade


Hi guys
I have my first tube preamp in my room and was wondering what tubes (crucial area only) and caps you have tried...also where you got them from..
I have been in touch with Chris Johnson of Parts Express on his super duper upgrade as he is a hour away from work but im in Canada and he wants to charge $60/hr and taxes in USD... Not gonna fly in my house.. besides I have my own tech.
He uses V caps ($$$$) but was curious about Mundorf maybe or????
Also what tubes you found that were smooth..
Not sure all the sources for these items.
I use Mark levinson ml series amps with my awesome ATC super mids and SS 7100 tweeter and have a fully recapped KRELL FPB 600 running all my lows..
Any experiences and help appreciated. ...
Thanks
mclsound
"I have been in touch with Chris Johnson of Parts Express on his super duper upgrade as he is a hour away from work but im in Canada and he wants to charge $60/hr and taxes in USD... Not gonna fly in my house.. besides I have my own tech."

I don't think his price is too bad. Not only that, he's probably the most qualified person to work on your preamp. I would see if he can give you a total number of hours before he does the job, and then make a decision.
If Chris is just one hour away, you are the lucky 0.001% of the world population to be that close. You can deliver and pickup your preamp and Chris can do something extra to upgrade your Line 3 to another level. The cost should be very worth it.
I agree with Zd542. Also, as a former 10+ year owner of a Line 3 Special Edition I used NOS Valvos throughout and was very pleased with them. I can't recall what caps were used and I never experimented with them when I owned it. It was a very very nice sounding/versatile/ capable pre-amp and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Since then I have more experience with caps and currently use a mix of both Duelund cast copper's and the new Jupiter's in my Dac/pre-amp/amp chain. Both are excellent.
Probably close to 8hrs for everything=$650 Canadian. .
I believe that its illegal to charge labour and taxes in Canada in USD..makes no sense..
I have my own tech so no worries.
I opened it up finally and found that 2 tube rings are fully melted to the tube..cant even get it off. ...
The umbilical cord sheathing is all coming apart and some was wrapped in electical tape...
The PS lid is scratched up..
Sold as a 9/10 and upgraded (like 14yrs ago) and unfortunately I picked it up in a snow storm so I never got to look it over..more like a 6-7/10
I would say all tubes need replaced for sure..probably original
Any who..
Need tube recommendations
Not sure I need v caps for $800
Thanks
Before you spend any money on upgrades and modifications, I would suggest using the SF L3 in stock form to determine if like the sound of the unit.

I owned a SF L3 many years ago and chased the "upgrade" path only to conclude that that I could not make a silk purse out of a pig's ear. I liked the build and ergonomics, but the sound was totally uninvolving.

I rolled Valvo (SF recommendation), Amperex 7308, and Siemens 6922 PQ with marginal improvements.

The SF is a very complex pre amp, therefore, making it very difficult and expensive to work on. Since Part Connexion has a lot of experience with SF products, they may be able to perform the modifications more efficiently, thus resulting in a lower cost.

PS - Parts Connexions prices are quoted in USD, but they convert the price to CDN dollars at time of billing.
Labour and taxes in USD??? Not going to have any part of that..
Besides if my tech is good enough for Krell and Esoteric then hes got my OK on this unit...but...you may be right as im not satisfied with the sellers decorum. . I will however look into the mod a tad bit more.
Mclsound,

Had you asked Chris Johnson in which order the tubes are of the most importance he would have given you that info for free.

Beings Chris Johnson is the original owner/manufacture of Sonic Frontiers his name attached to any mod of the Line 3 will carry a lot more weight when it comes to resale value in the event you decide to sell the preamp someday.
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+1 Brf's post. I have always been more impressed with Sonic Frontiers build design than their sound qualities. Their tube amps and preamps sound very 'solid state' like to me.

+1 Brf's post. I have always been more impressed with Sonic Frontiers build design than their sound qualities. Their tube amps and preamps sound very 'solid state' like to me.
11-24-14: Jmcgrogan2
I can only speak for the Line One preamp. If current stock tubes are used the preamp does sound like SS. Not so with early to mid 1960s Amperex PQ white label 6922 or 7308 tubes. Same for Siemens early 1960s all grey plate CCa or E188CC tubes.

The OP will find the same thing with the Line Three. LOL, though it might cost him a few thousand dollars to find out at today’s prices of old 1960s vintage tubes.
Jim
Stick to you position! You have a local tech, so why let the original designer and the developer of the best mods touch your amp? It would be like sending it back to the original manufacturer. Instead you could have a local guy open it up and try to figure out what to do from scratch. A fresh set of eyes so to speak. If he's smart, he won't even ask the original designer for the schematics, after all, he is a smart local tech.
Onhyw61...your words are sneaky. ..but you answer no questions I asked..only your own. .
I was asking about tube and capacitor experience. .and for your information 61....why would I pay a man $149usd for one of four caps when I can buy one of 4 for $89usd...thats just on one cap...
I'm not going to tell you how to spend your money, but if I were you, I'd send it to the guy at Parts Express. To not do so would be penny wise and pound foolish. It's real close to a no-brainer type decision. Best of luck!
Fully loaded Upgraded Parts Connexion SF L3 comes on the market quite frequently and the asking price is not too much more than a stock L3, albeit you won't have the option of customizing the unit with the parts you covet.

Use the stock L3 in your system for the time being and if you decide you like the sound, keep an eye out for a SE+ L3 and sell your stock L3. You will never recoup your upgrade investment should you go down that route only to learn you don't like the unit.

Good luck.
That is a good rate and Chris knows his creation and after you listen to it for awhile you could tell tell him what your looking to change in terms of sound quality. Because he created it he will know what to do for you. A good tech is not a designer.......they are two different things.......different talents.

In terms of the preamp and parts. You have two places to look for the biggest bang for the sonic dollar. The output caps should be replaced with the new Jupiter copper foil caps. They are simply the best I have heard.

Your volume control, if it is an Alps or some other pot, then replace it with a nice Shallco stepped Attenuator if you can fit it. Huge improve with these two mods. Thirdly, look at the power supply caps. If they are all electrolytic types, then replace with Clarity TC high voltage film caps.
Here's another option that may work for you. I would call The Cable Company and see what they think. I bought my SF preamp from them and they offered different upgrade packages, along with stock units. You'll get good advice and they have one of the best reputations in the industry. They always sell you what's in your best interest.
And check the relays, they are usually the ones that will create problems with the SF units from that era.
SF SFL-1 was my 1st tube pre. Upgraded to SFL-2 and finally Line 3 then mod to Line 3SE+ by Chris Johnson @ Parts Connexion. Also had Power 3 and then mod to Power 3SE+ by Chris. Coincidentally all pre drove Krell amps. KSA100s, FPB300 and FPB600. SF pre is an excellent match with Krells.

With stock Sovtek or EH 6922, it was hard, flat and SS sounding so did lots of tube rolling. My favorite were Philip Holland or Amperex e88cc/6922. For the 6U8A position, Ediswan CV5065 was my favorite.

I remember Chris offered mod packages so I would contact him for his latest. In my SE+ mods, all caps were Audio Note copper and silver, rewired with silver ... lot of stuff.

PCX bills in US$. With US stop printing $ and the world printing Yens, Euros, Yuans ... US$ has risen so good for US consumers.

Funny story, I was dealing with a Canada Audio company. When CAN$ was higher than US$, his PayPal invoices were in CAN$. Now it has reversed, he tried to bill me in US$ so I asked him to be consistent and change it to CAN$. He refused so out of principle, I canceled the order.
If you think Chris Johnson is an audio designer or a qualified electronics technician, you know nothing about the history of Sonic Frontiers. Chris Johnson is a marketer and a boutique parts supplier who just swaps parts for high cost flavour of the month expensive parts.

Factor in the cost of a used Line 3, plus $$ upgrades, plus $$ 12 NOS tubes, and you have a lot invested that could go towards a much better, and reliable, preamp.
I second BrF's comments but in regards to the SF Power 2 amp. The amp was not involving and definitely did not have that magical 'tube' sound I've heard through many other tube amps, VTL, Counterpoint...... I've read that the SF preamps and amps were voiced in similar fashion. At $5000 retail I had higher expectations from the amp. It seemed darn close to solid state sound but with rolled frequencies at both ends and lack of bass definition and control. I actually went in a different direction and purchased a pair of Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MkII amps as factory refurbs for < $1000. These are not perfect amps either but they easily outperformed the SF amp across the board and for considerably less money.
Try the SF preamp in stock form and roll tubes. I suspect you'll end up with something different in the long run - Joule, VAC.....
Happy listening!!!!!
It's all relative. If you're comparing to current preamps, then it's NO contest. But for it's vintage, very competitive and probably one of few that offers the modern tube sound.

All I can say is I enjoyed my time with SF pres and Krell amps.
Test, your comment is not exactly the whole truth and certainly spun to your particular bias on and of Chris.
Sonic Frontiers, a look back in history.
http://www.audiophilia.com/features/sftour.htm
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Test, your comment is not exactly the whole truth and certainly spun to your particular bias on and of Chris.

What exactly is not true? Where is the bias? It is well known in the industry that SF contracted out all of their designs.

All of the Parts Connexion "upgrades" are merely part swaps.
All of the Parts Connexion "upgrades" are merely part swaps.
11-27-14: Testpilot
No kidding?

Isn't that what most upgrades are?
Better caps, better resistors, better hook up wire? Maybe a better chip? Better volume control? Better ??

Now the soldering workmanship of swapping out components can make a big difference in the finished product don't you think?

Just curious if I send my ARC power amp to ARC for an upgrade won't they just swap out older technology parts with new higher quality parts? Like caps and resistors?

I think you may be confusing upgrades with mods.
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Botton line is Chris understands his designs and is in a position to tune the sound better. Pretty simple line of logic. He also understand the electronics and design principles in his units.
The problem with having a 3rd party tech, unfamiliar with the Line 3, make modifications is that they will likely not know which exact component positions affect sound. Not all do, so you may be paying for unnecessary experimentation or parts replacement.

Do some searches here on Audiogon and Audio Asylum, and you will find that even the tube positions that affect sound are very tricky. A few do not affect sound at all, or much less than others. How is your local tech going to know that?

My guess is that you will actually save money n the long run going with Parts Connexcion.
My point exactly and one the poster should very much consider.
Well the seller called the condition a 9 but was more a 5 or 6..it was quite a ordeal getting my money back as I donnot take kindly to people like this..
I was not going to pcx and that was final gents..
You can go on about his mad skills all you want but it will never happen..
I used a Line 3 for many years before changing to ARC. The volume IC has a significant effect on the sound. You need to remove the original IC which is solder on the mother board and change to a more modern one. There is big improvement.
Trying to help is all, but it seems you really are not interested in help. Good luck with the project.
Well the seller called the condition a 9 but was more a 5 or 6..it was quite a ordeal getting my money back as I donnot take kindly to people like this..

Glad you got your money back. Buying a piece that was described as a 8, but is an 7 or maybe even a 6 might be a matter of interpretation. But, a "9" to a 5 or 6 is unethical.

I was not going to pcx and that was final gents..
You can go on about his mad skills all you want but it will never happen..

Sorry that people did not agree with what you wanted to hear. But, we were all trying to save you money that you would not have been able to recover in resale if the unit did not meet your musical tastes afterwards.

No one is going to buy a used (iconic) unit significantly modified by an unknown tech with zero experience in that particular brand and model. That has very little, or no, value to others. And is a HUGE risk for an buyer.

If your goal was to ultimately save money, that was not the logical path
Thanks gents.. No disrespect intended but my tech has many years experience in electronics not marketing and as stated Chris Johnsons $2000+ upgrade can be done at much much less as 45% of his parts have nothing to do with the SQ and the 55% that do are 40% overpriced...
I stated all this at the start and was looking for people's experience. ..
I may look for another line 3 in mint condition.
"45% of his parts have nothing to do with the SQ"

What parts are you talking about?
Ok
Gave that other line 3 back and I am currently looking for another. ..either a regular or a SE+
It has great features and good bass but mid/hi was very metallic..
45% was not worthy of SQ improvement ..
I was looking at a VAC w/phono but his US price was to related to the blue book hyperbole and were at $200 Canadian for every $1000USD..
Also a nice VAC signature in toronto but the seller is all about blue book and usd vs Canadian dollar so I cannot work with him..
I also looked at a vtl tl7.5 v1 but again..over $1000 in currency exchange. .
Pardon me, but I am confused. You say you are looking for another regular or SE+ Line 3, and then you say that it did not sound very good. Then you proceed to mention looking at preamps from VAC and VTL. I really don't have any idea what direction you are heading in, do you?

VAC is worlds ahead of any Sonic Frontier gear I've ever heard. I don't know what your budget is, but there are varying prices of different VAC preamps too. Patience is a virtue. While I do prefer VAC over many of the standard competitors, you may find a nice value in a Shindo, Herron, Messenger, or other manufacturer.
Lol
Yes that may have sounded confusing. ..
I can pick up a line 3 at 1/3 the cost of the VAC and maybe slip in a thousand dollars in caps, tubes and a few other parts to smoothen out the top....the $1000 in upgrades is equal to the money lost in taxes/exchange rate alone...
I would rather do that then give my money to the government and banks. .

I did look into the other units here on audiogon but I believe as a Canadian with this currency exchange. .I will not be purchasing anything here in a while..
Its doesn't matter if you buy in the US or Canada, it is only a bad deal if you end up with product you don't like.

Buy a preamp that sounds right to your ears, why chase a pre that sounds bad in its stock form and hope for the best with upgrades. That sounds like a plan for potential failure.
Its doesn't matter if you buy in the US or Canada, it is only a bad deal if you end up with a product you don't like.

Buy a preamp that sounds right to your ears, why chase a pre that sounds bad in its stock form and hope for the best with upgrades. That sounds like a plan for potential failure.
Chris Johnson is the best person to work on Sonic Frontiers. $60/hr for him is a bargain. You won't save money hiring another "tech" who works cheaper.
Only 60 per hour? I bill out at 150!!
How does he keep food on the table?

Tim
"12-25-14: Mclsound
Lol
Yes that may have sounded confusing. ..
I can pick up a line 3 at 1/3 the cost of the VAC and maybe slip in a thousand dollars in caps, tubes and a few other parts to smoothen out the top....the $1000 in upgrades is equal to the money lost in taxes/exchange rate alone...
I would rather do that then give my money to the government and banks. ."

I don't think I've ever said anything like this before, but the money would be better off going to the government. You're willing to buy a discontinued preamp that you don't really care for how it sounds, buy a thousand dollars in parts, have it modified by someone less qualified to save a small amount of money, all in the hopes of smoothing out the top end? Your chance of success here is pretty slim. I know you won't listen to reason, but if you were to just spend more money on a preamp you like, factor in the exchange rate and pay the extra taxes, there's a 99.9% chance you'll actually spend less money and get a better sounding preamp.

Before you take offence and come back with some type of reply, take into account that you did come here and ask for advice. My post is just my honest opinion and is not meant to be an insult. Also, aside from you, I would like to see how many people will disagree with me on this.
Also, aside from you, I would like to see how many people will disagree with me on this.
ME. Government wasted enough money so NEVER a good idea give them more. Idiot!
12-27-14: Zd542
Also, aside from you, I would like to see how many people will disagree with me on this.


I agree with you, that makes a lot of sense to me. I don't understand why you would buy a cheaper product that sounds bad, spend more money on it and hope that will fix the problem. He's just talking about a parts swap, the design of the preamp will remain the same.
Putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change the fact that it's still a pig.

If you hate paying government fees that bad, drive down to the States and pick up the unit yourself.
I had a SF Line 3 with SE+ mod by Chris Johnson and NOS Amperex, Philip Holland, Tele ... and it CANNOT compete with current offerings. It's like comparing little to major leagues. It was replaced with a VAC SigMKIIa and never looked back.

If I were you, forget SF and buy one of the VAC Sig on Agon. Unfortunately there were no used available so I had to buy new but NO regrets.
I don't understand why you would buy a cheaper product that sounds bad, spend more money on it and hope that will fix the problem.
The problem is his experience is with a half functional unit. Who knows, he might like it if 100%
"12-27-14: Joecasey

Also, aside from you, I would like to see how many people will disagree with me on this.

ME. Government wasted enough money so NEVER a good idea give them more. Idiot!"

That's what you took away from reading my post and you're calling me an idiot. You need to find someone to re-read the post to you and explain what it means.
I am with you Zd.

I believe you were just referencing what a waste of money it would be. You could just as easily said, take it outside and burn it. People just freak out when you say "government" ..... everything has to be about no government these days you know. : )
Thanks No_money. You have it exactly right.
BRF....I hear you but I have faith
JSBAIL..No CJ is just a guy..marketing guy at that..not a full fledged tech...he has people do his work
FLEMKE.. $150/hr..never in a million yrs..sorry bud but good luck
ZD542...NO OFFENSE but my original question was ""What tubes & caps have been tried""... I just stated that I am not using CJ and you insist otherwise..
Anyway. .
Give your money to the government if you want but not me bud..
MY TECH is amazing fellas and a line 3 is quite simple in comparison to rebuilding 2 Yamaha B1 v fet amps..a yamaha C1 preamp ...a krell fpb 600 etc.
So he is quite knowledgeable and a actual tech NOT a marketer

VAC signature=$13-$14, 000 Canadian
No thanks.. once kevins gone same cinario

I was wondering about tubes and caps fellas...cmon
Just put in whatever, it will still be Sonic Frontier, so it doesn't really matter.