tube pre amp or tube amp

I go through a phase every few years where I choose to "upgrade" my system or make a change just for the sake of doing so. My current system sounds beautiful but today I am curious
I am running an AudioResearch CD9 source through an AudioResearch REF5SE pre amp followed by VAC phi300i AMP
I was considering inserting a high end solid state piece into the system such as a PASS XA60.8 mono blocks instead of VAC. 
I was considering changing out the Audio Research pre amp to a LAMM pre amp (hybrid)
If I would like to interject a solid state component  into my system, would it be more advantageous for that piece to be the AMP or the PRE AMP?
Unless you have deep pockets and can invest significant green in a high power tube amp or have more shallow pockets but have very efficient speakers that would not require a boat-anchor of an amp I would go tubes in the preamp.  My system has been that way for a few decades now and I would never go back!  The sweetness of tubes with the bass authority of solid state!

Wahoo, you have a great rack of gear. As I'm sure you know, the pre has a pretty big influence, so do you want an SS sound or tube presentation? However, with your level of investment, you could go anyway you want, just need to decide what you are trying to accomplish? I'm not sure what kind of outcome you want other than to try something new. Good luck Brother

Yeah, unclear what the OP wants to accomplish. I would probably try Lamm hybrid power amp. Lamm is first of all famous for its power amps. I would not replace VAC with Pass, maybe with another VAC. And I would certainly have and keep tube preamp.
Wahoo, I would do neither, you would get far better results upgrading to a much better digital front end. 

Your  ARC CD 9 is showing its age vs newer digital front ends which will uncover more information and present a more realistic soundstage.

You will be shocked at the overall improvment you allready have an excellent set of electronics.

Other things you can do to improve the system is to use Critical Mass Centerstage footers they difference they make is shocking, you will get far great image width, lower noise floor tighter bass and greater dynamics.

Our philosophy is to tackle the weak points in someones system. and your digital is five years out of date. 

You can go to a much better CD player, a CD player Dac, a pure Dac, you would be amazed at the improvements by adding a digital server and moving into modern streaming. 

You can always reach out to us if you want further information

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

I've always enjoyed a tube pre with ss amp combo. I run less efficient speakers so the ss amp makes it easier to drive them.
Previously I had a VAC Renaissance 3 and a VAC PA100 upgraded to a phi front end.  I first changed the power amp to an Ayre VX-5/20 and then upgraded the Pre to the current VAC Renaissance 5. Really enjoying this combination.
i’m a little different in that i have found that a great solid state preamp driving a great tube amp is very special. whether right or wrong going this way adds tube magic as the last link. 
the are many ss preamps that fit the bill and often have better features. fwiw


I thihnk the person who said, glass pre plus SS power has a certain something is on to something there.

SS power does develop better bass than will tubes.

I've been in the process of discovering myself. for some eyars now, and when I get the notion I need to change something I really enjoy 'as is', somethings up besides sound quality. as said, change for the sake of change points elsewhere. not at the system.

the second astute point made was about the apparent sole source, the CDP.

I've been all about the source being the key to any outfit. the better or deeper into those waters one can get, the better.

transports just do not age well or last forever. along the way the resolution slowly declines and one gets used to that sound as it dies. replacing it holds a whole new bag of worms waiting for it to break in!! I went thru that with a Sony XA 777 SCDP.

given the orig Q, I would say....

If at all possible put some $$$ into a DAC which gives you options with more sources and formats, and an upgrade or update path from the maker. 


don't trade or sell off something to buy another something given you enjoy what you have now. simply wait a tad longer and 'add' a new piece to the existing rig.

having on hand a second preamp, or amp of differgin topologies and or brands is always an outstanding option.

if a DAC is not the top choice, I'd go in for an SS amp. great bass does so much for the things residing above it, its nearly a 'must' have thing for me to dig a rig.

of course, there are other areas where one can pitch money and as such, improve or re-arrange one's SQ. Isolation. cabling. racks. Room acoustics.

all that said, I do dig where this is coming from completely.

I finally had put together the best sounding rig I'd ever owned and then sold it off just to try an all tube affair. that one turned out just as good but in a different sort of manner. 

for me to be able to have no further arguments on which this, or what that, I need two separate rigs. one all tube, and something else.

... but that's just me.

good luck

SS power does develop better bass than will tubes.

This is not universal!

That depends a lot on the relationship that the speaker has with the amplifier. If the speaker is easy for the amp to drive, a tube amp may well make better bass. An example is the Sound Lab ESL, which has a high impedance in the bass- and solid state amps have trouble making power into that high impedance, where tube amps don't.
I strongly agree with 4425 and Atmasphere.  I have found my audio Nirvana using mono bloc tube power amps but with a tube pre as well.  It's a very simple pre using only 2 X 6SN7s for amplification and SS rectification. I find I just don't get the 3d effect that tubes provide using SS amplification.

good call Ralph.

you are right it is NOT a universal axiom that sS will always yield better bottom end resolution. although it do seem to work more often than not in a number of varied applications.

countless threads here seem to be seeking the same additive aspect, better low end reproduction. and the common solution almost regardless the speaker type is to insert an SS amp as a replacement or as an addition to be dedicated to the bass drivers., for that express purpose.

it’s been talked about so much for so long, it just seems the ‘go to’ option/problem folks tend to look towards without as well replacing or exchanging speakers too..

there was no mention of the OP desiring new speakers so assumptions were made out of hand.
So I have appreciated hearing different points of view and feedback from everyone. I am inclined to keep or upgrade my ARC tube pre amp, which sounds great, and consider a solid state alternative to my VAC (maybe)
My cables are all Shunyata Research...which I believe convey the audio quite well. MY speakers are NOLA METRO GRAND Reference GOLD speakers and they really do sound spectacular -they are relatively efficient speakers, and while the woofers are only 6.5 inches!!, a 32 bit  recording Jazz percussion or whatever, will knock your socks off!!. So its tough to know if I have everything peaking or if solid state // Lamm hybrid could bring out something extra. 
Bass is the one thing that makes me hesitant about tube amps. I do use subwoofers, so I guess I really should not have a concern because I can always adjust it to make up for what I feel is missing on the low end.
I haven’t noticed any bass issues at all using an ARC Ref 75se with Wilson speakers except that it sounds full and tight. Watt for watt the tube amp suffered little in comparison to some very good ss amps. If the last component in the chain is ss then that’s what you’ll primarily receive. IMO
Old wives’ tale. Tube bass is generally full, fat and juicy. Juicy like Lucy. Of course like everything else bass performance can vary from brand to brand obviously.

re-reading the initial choices per se, LLam pre  or  PL 60wpc monos as the only options then hearing Nola Metros were the transducers, I’d go with upgrading the source instead.

either via the addition of a new DAC which as well can double as a preamp perhaps, but not necessarily. JIC.

adding such a piece brings far more options for music than what is currently the norm. especially when streaming music is then on the table.

I only have a sub to Apple music presently for exploring and playing files I don’t own. that single option has kept me more sane and opened far more doors to new music, and new artists than I had thought would be the case going in!

however, could it be the apparent stagnation and thoughts for a hardware upgrade in the power train is aimed at just obtaining a different sound?

nothing wrong with that at all. been therre done that too.

I feel the addition of a current dAC along the lines of what either the Llamm or Pass amps cost  is best spent elsewhere given the current sQ is more than acceptable.

I saw recently here an EMM Labs dAC x2 was up for $7k. I would jump on that without hesitation were it me and I had the OP rig.

but there are more DAC options for sure…

adding a DAC to my former system (s) was  one of the, best moves I ever made. 

it changed the SQ. it changed the presentation remarkably. this was prior to all this streaming music explosion and file playback from hard drives was just getting going.  

1 adding a new dAC to even a very good CDP adds a new sound, often one with greater resolution and fidelity

2 new dAC can act as preamps very often settling at least one more score & yielding another option and a fail safe plan.

3 A new dAC capable of the latest formats and streaming opens new doors presetnly closed

4 having new music one doesn’t have to buy and inventory  is for many, a plus.

a different  preamp or amp adds exactly that, ’different’ sound, but not more musical options AND better/different sound as well. 

otherwise… loving the vAC amp, I’d seriously consider simply upgrading it and bringing in VAC’s latest effort in the 200 IQ amp.

there is a youtube video showing the Nola Metros running off a CDP/DAC driving one of the 200 IQs at a show. a simple setup but it sure seemed interesting.

regardless, good luck… 

Bass is the one thing that makes me hesitant about tube amps. I do use subwoofers, so I guess I really should not have a concern because I can always adjust it to make up for what I feel is missing on the low end.
The amp I play has full power bandwidth to 2Hz and my speakers go right to 20Hz (the woofers have a free air resonance at 22Hz). I've had solid state amps on these speakers (Classic Audio Loudspeakers T-3) and they just don't play bass as well. Less impact, less definition.
But that has a lot to do with how the amps and speakers play together. The CARs were designed to be easy on tubes and so are 16 ohms. Transistors have trouble making power into impedances like that (although the flip side is they have less distortion too and so sound smoother).

IMO rather than changing out the amps in the OP, a better move might be to get a speaker that is friendlier to tubes. There is no point (from the standpoint of an amplifier designer) to make the amp work hard regardless of what kind of amp you have. The easier the amp has it, the less distortion, the less distortion the smoother and more detailed.
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