Tenor amps..."to pre or not to pre"

I am the proud owner of Tenor Audio 75wi OTL’s and, as one of the first few individuals with the amps in the US, have had time to do quite a bit of experimenting. Some of my findings have been that they have made virtually every speaker I have hooked them up to sound better than I have ever heard said speakers sound before. Of course I have been careful to match them with OTL friendly transducers. Many have extolled the virtues of the Tenors and I would only be repeating those sentiments, so I won’t

Like many others I have also tried the Tenors with several active pre-amps including:
Lamm L-1
Wytech Opal
Levinson 32
Burmester 935 MKII spec.
Blue Circle BC-3000
And both the Placette VC and 3 input passive.

In ALL cases I preferred the cdp (Burmester 979/980, AA Capitole MKII) run directly to the Tenors (with the Burmester, I preferred the Tenors VC... with the AA I prefer to use the AA’s VC). In ALL cases I could quickly tell that I had inserted a new box and attendant cables between the source and amp. In ALL cases any gain in dynamics (minor at best…best with the Opal) was more than offset by a noticeable loss of transparency and overall musicality. There was less there there.
I became convinced that NO pre-amp was the best pre-amp in this set-up (and perhaps any set-up) and had committed myself to shift attention to other places in the system to try and find gains (yes I know…I can never leave well enough alone). I was also well aware that this was the sentiment of most if not all Tenor/AA owners as well as the owners of various other gear.

Finally to my point!!

This all changed when a friend introduced me to a local dealer (JC Audio) who began extolling the virtues of the Audio Note line of pre-amplifiers…specifically the M-5 and M-6.
“Kurt you’ve got to try these…they will be different”, “yeah, yeah Joe, I’ve heard that before” was the common thread of our early conversations. Well, after some time, I broke down and agreed to try one more pre-amp, the Audio Note M-5.
To make a long story short (or is that, an already long story longer) I now own an Audio Note M-5. The reason is simple…everything got better in my system when the M-5 went in. More dynamic, more transparent (how could that be?), more musical. I didn’t just do a quick A/B to determine my preference, I listened for weeks to all kinds of music, trying to trip up this pre-amp and find it’s weakness…never could. It played everything I threw at it with aplomb. It sounds terrific at low volume and with the pedal down.

I don’t know if the Audio Note M-5 is the best pre-amp (as a matter of fact it can’t be because there is an M-6 and then an M-8 in the AN line) but I can say that to this guys ears and in this guys system it is the only pre-amp I’ve tried that has been better than no- pre-amp.
Based on my experience, I encourage all Tenor owners (and those with other amps who have given up on pre’s) to give this pre-amp thing another try….I’m very glad I did.

My system:
RPM1 table, RPM 2 arm, 47 lab/Miyabi cart., 47 Lab Phono
Hovland Music Groove 2
AA Capitole MKII
Audio Note M-5
Tenor 75wi
Audio Note AN/E-SEC silver speakers
Jena Labs cables
Elrod PC’s
Bybee Triple Sucker PLC
4-20amp dedicated lines
Zoethecus amp and component stands

Musical preferences:
Jazz 60%
Classical 40%

Disclaimer – I have no interest of any kind in JC Audio, Audio Note or Tenor or anything except good sound for that matter
If you give the Audio Note "Kassai" SET amp 22 watts try/listen,you might sell your Tenor on Audiogon !
Kurt, i too am a "no active preamp" Tenor owner. my list of preamps easily bettered by the Tenor passive attenuators (or the Placette RVC) in my system includes the Levinson #32, Lamm L2, and the Aesthetix Calisto. friends with Tenors have tried others such as the Tom Evans Vibe and the CJ ART II with the same result. all these excellent active gain stage preamps work well in many systems and have earned their reputations. but to my ears the Tenors simply are better 'nude' in my system.

i am curious what the AN preamp might be doing that is so different from other excellent active gain stages. i wonder if system synergy could be at work (with the AN speakers) or simply personal preferences. in any case i'll look forward to possibly hearing the Audio Note M-5 (or M-6 or M-8) at CES and finding out for myself.

thanks for sharing your experience.
Mike, my pleasure. I really have no answers, only observations. Your point about system synergy and personal preference is a good one. I always try to preface comments with "in my experience" or "in the context of my system". I tend to rule out PP as I have found the same results as other Tenor owners with all but this pre (meaning, I tend to believe my prefrences are the same as other tenor owners).
I think if you were to ask Joe (JC Audio) or Peter from AN, they would point to the transformer coupling and the transformers/parts (black gates, etc.) themselves.
I also should have pointed out that my cable runs are far from extrodinary with my speaker cable being 6' and each IC being 4'....no long runs, and all are RCA.
I have also deviated from Stock with NOS tubes... primarily Bendix 5852's.
Perhaps others will have different experiences, synergies and preferences....but....
I have an Audio note M6. Before that I had the Supratek Cortese which was good but the M6 is on another level completely and this includes the phono section. All the Audio Note products that I have had have quite a different signature. When you first put them in you aren't sure what is going on and whether or not you like the sound because it is so different. Then you listen for a few days- put back in something else so you can compare and the old piece will sound thin and not nearly as musical. The high quality parts they use make a huge difference.
Kurt, i keep hearing abouit this transformer coupling with passives.....i guess i'll just have to check the AN out and keep my mind and ears open.

i also always try to avoid any definative statements and keep to the "personal experience" track.....music, after all, is a subjective experience.

thanks for the explaination.
How much is the M5 and does it have remote?
there's an M7 (never heard of it until i saw it on the classifieds) listed used for $7.5K, new it supposedly was $20K (yikes!)... maybe this was a unit that was only made in the far east? M5 i think is $7.5K new (just line), $10K new (line and phono)...

The M-5 preamp has no volume control; BUT, it is worth getting up for! Peter Q, of AN, has tried remotes and they degrade the sound.

Jim a former M-5 owner and currently an M-6 addict.
Kurt and Mike:
I too own Tenors and have tried various pre's in and out of the system. In my system the Wyetech Opal betters the Tenor's passive volume control. The soundstage improvement is remarkable....pushing the performers well into the room. I have had other "good" ears listen both with and without the Opal and everyone picked up the immediate improvement, even nonaudiophiles. Again, this may well be unique to my system. Mike, if you get the chance to check out the M-5 please let us know your thoughts. Enjoyed your letter in the Absolute Sound.
A correction and my apologies audio fans. The M-5 does, indeed, have a volume control and a nice one at that. It does not have a remote capability. When I was a die-hard remote volume control guy and would not even consider a pre amp without a remote, I came across the AN M-3. That's when I said "It's worth getting up for" implying the sound was so good that I became willing to get off my butt. Jim.
I didn't say it but I thought the Opal was the best of the bunch prior to the M-5. It improved the dynamics in my system. What I lost, in my system, in terms of transparency and overall musicality, ultimately were not worth the gains I got in dynamics....to me.
It is interesting to hear that in your system, to you and others, a pre-amp has made an improvement...maybe I'm not crazy afterall.
Jerry, on the one hand i am entirely happy with the Placette passive.....on the other hand if there is better out there.....

i do absolutely demand remote volume control (i'm real lazy) and balanced circuts (low output cartridge and relatively low output phono stage needs the additional 6db of gain; conversly an active gain stage may eliminate my need for balanced).....but still if i get a chance i'll check out the AN M-5 and the Wyetech Opal.....and thanks on the letter (it will be my first and last letter to any editor).

i respect Peter Q of AN but no remote volume control is a cop-out to me....i know many esoteric preamps don't have it....but it just lowers the relaxation that music brings me and the pleasurable experience of listening. what i am saying is that any preamp without a remote volume control will have to be a good deal better than my passive to have a chance with me.
Read the thread from a user who used the naked Vishay resistors connected directly into his amps vs. the Audio Note M-5. Type Audio Note under search in Discussion Forums. Read the thread from "Why do Audio Note preamps sound so good". He also was a non believer. It smoked his passive.
A transformer coupled preamp is so much different it is scary.
I can tell you from first hand experience his unit was even better than the Placette.
The cop out is the other way around.
Many designers I have talked with admit that remotes degrade their sound but feel marketing pressure is to great not to include it. Of course their not going to tell you that.
Peter has done extensive testing and found it does degarde the sound. He will not compromise.
You don't think he could add one easily if he wanted to?
Most manufacturers "cop out" because of pressure. Not because it is the best they can do.
He offers remote on his lower priced units.
He may offer a version with remote in the distant future but will still sell the purist versions.
Just like upsampling
I did not mean to imply Peter will ever offer upsampling. He will not!!! The upsampling comment was cut and pasted in the wrong spot and should have been in the section of marketing pressure vs. what sounds right. Sorry for any confusion.
The Supratek is a steal for the money and will find a long term home in most systems, propelling them fowards beyond what that owner could normally afford. However, if you've got the infinite scratch, you should seriously look at an all AN Kondo (not UK) system, including the KSL wire which is integral to dynamic performance.

I'm with Audio999: Glide, I would be very interested in your reactions to such a system...
I respectfully disagree with Asa. The Kondo equipment in my opinion is very musical but not near as fast and dynamic as the UK versions. I think it has the classic tube sound, more rolled off. Have you actually heard the UK M-5?
dear jc audio
i think you never listened,kondo products.they are really fast transparent and dynamic.i can say kondos has not classic tube sound ,they are one of most accurate audio products ever made.and believe me i tried many very best products.
Well I don't have the experience with some of the gear all of you fine people are talking about; I have, how ever had a long and detailed comparison between the CJ Art II and the Tenors. The tenors sounded so much better, both my friend and I ruled out the idea of an active gain pre in the system. The differences were that noticeable, but as said in this thread all components sound different and we are all looking for a slightly skewed version of the holy grial. Cheers!
CJ and Art are both capacitor coupled.
Yes I have heard the Kondo equipment.
got the M6 and agree best improvement to any combination of components i have had during the past 12 years. brings chills,tears and joy to each day of listening