tube pre amp plus solid state power amps?

HI there,
My systems have always been tube system all the way through phon stage + pre amp+ power amps, but recently I got a little tire of maintenance of these amps and thought about changing power amps to solid state. I listen classical music. I always love tube amp particular from my LP collection. I am worrying about using solid state power amp will loose the texture of the sound that I like. However, I have done a little reading, some one said high end power amps will keep that sound, especially something like McCormack DNA-500 and Claytons amps. There are some writing confuse me, such as: “it is not important to use tube phon stage, solid state will be better.” I even read the statement says: pre amp is the least important of the whole audio chain.”

Well, what I am thinking about is keep tube system for both my phon stage and pre amp, use solid state for power amps replace tube system. Does anyone can tell me this will be a good change, or I need either whole system on tubes or on solid state?

It's perfectly normal to use SS amp and tube pre, however, IMO, since you had tube amp, McCormack will kill your ears (my personal experience). Classe, YBA or something like that will do MUCH better. Again, IMO.
I have owned both of those amps. The McCormack is good but may not provide enough of the type of sound you are used to. Also, be very careful when matching tube preamps with SS amps. The McCormack has an input impedance of only 10K ohms and you want to have at least a factor of 10 (preferrably 20 or more) between the output impedance of your preamp and the input impedance of your amp (amp input imp. being 10x or more greater). Be careful of the preamp manufacturer's specs since some list the output impedance taken at 1K Hz while the actual high output impedance may be much greater in the bass due to limited coupling capacitor size. In the case of the McCormack, this would prematurely roll off the bass. Try to find information such as JA's Stereophile "measurements" on your preamp. The Clayton's generally have a much higher input impedance (my M200's are 100K ohms) and would mate well with virtually any preamp. The Clayton's are very nice SS amps and would provide much closer to the sound you are used to with your tube amps than the McCormack. Also consider hybrid amps such as Lamm M1.2, Blue Circle or Moscode. These use tubes in the earlier stages and SS ouput stages. The Lamm's in particular are excellent. I have not heard the others.
I would power up the tube stuff first, than the solid state stuff so no unwanted turn on transients will destroy your speakers.

I think I understand your dilemma. I’ve heard from more than one person the Clayton amps give you more of the tube sound, but there are others which will too. The post on hybrid amps are a very good thought. Another couple to consider there are Butler & now Dodd Audio’s new one.

the thoughts on impedance mating are quite thoughtful too and very important.

I’ve found the most noteable diff from a tube amp to an SS amp is simple… impact & speed. Is that your goal? Is it worth it to you to sacrifice the voice of the tube amp to acquire it? Naturally if you are merely adding too instead of replacing, the aspiration is less important…. As then you’ll have both on hand for whatever mood you’re in at the time.

Each and every account of the thoughts you’ve so far read are all subjective ones. For those people only, they found such and such results satisfactory or not. Now you want to find out for yourself… and you should I suppose… if as I said, you seek more speed and impact, especially down deep in the bandwidth.

There is definitely no right or wrong way to go. No better or worse way to recreate the sound. You alone have to choose what’s best for yourself. Forget about perfect. It’s an illusion. Get what appeals to you… not someone else. The only way to know however is you must try it/them and decide… or just be happy with what you have now.

I’ve got a cheap but pretty good SS amp in my Odyssey Stratos Plus + amp. I’ve also got a Butler hybrid amp and a pair of Dodd mono block EL34 amps. Each amp has it’s own way of presenting the sound. I like them all.

For many types of regular use I like the combo of my tube preamp + the Butler TDB 5150. Overall it has no overt shortcomings. Plays every genre very well. It’s true strengths are in the bass and control of the speakers top to bottom. It has the ease and refinement of tubes, and the control and speed of it’s bipolar output devices… but not the decay or harmonics of pure tube topology amps.

In short, it doesn’t have the voice of the Dodd amps though. The Dodd MK II 120wpc monos are vastly superior to the Butler in the mids and upper end yet I prefer to use a sub when they are in play.

I do dig where you are coming from on the upkeep of the tubes being sometimes a chore. It always comes down to making a choice IMO… a compromise usually. Hybrids are a very good idea for those who want to try to bridge the gap from pure SS to tubes. Yet even with hybrids until (I suspect) you get well into the more pricey ones, like LLamm, BC, Moscodes newest version, Butler’s Monad, or Gary Dodds latest entry, they will always be a compromise… allowing for a taste of tubes only, but with better speed and control of the speakers.

Other considerations might be Wolcott, or the Pass x.5 series amps. Choosing depends on what you want from the amp and your squeakers demands for power of course… and then there’s the cost too.

AS far as I know it, a great tube preamp is only half the sound of a great tube preamp and a great set of tube amps. No more or less. Adding a SS amp will reduce the flavor by half just about. In your case I’d presume by a third as you also use a tube phono stage.

Very good luck.
Lots of good advice above.

My 2 cents:
1) If you have always used a tube amp, you will not be completely satisfied with a solid state amp, no matter the brand.

2) If you decide to switch to a solid state amp, pay attention to the impedance issue already mentioned.

3) I agree that the Moscode hybrid is a good compromise. Also, though I haven't heard one, a few ex-tube amp lovers are happy with their TRL solid state amps.

4) Clayton has very limited distribution and dealer support. The amps may sound exceptionally good, but you have to do your due diligence regarding the viability of customer support down the road.

5) As one who has auditioned McCormack amps (DNA-2, DNA-500) with tube preamps, I cannot recommend the pairing. The input impedance of the McCormack amps is too low, IMO.

Have fun.
Suikang, I think your "worry" is well grounded, I simply could never find an SS amp that would be my full-time amp, and I tried. I own Merlins VSMs that work extremely well with tube amps, and I suspect with some speakers, the high current, high power SS amps may be preferable to tubes - some speakers seem to shine with SS amplification - they need it. But, if you are hooked on what tubes do, I just don't think you will get that from any SS amp, as Tvad says, from any brand of SS.
It's not the same sound with a solid state amp. I have had the combination before. I'm used to a complete tube system and doubt that I ever could be satisfied with a solid state amp again. Some of my friends have solid state systems that sound excellent but they don't sound like tubes either. The maintenance is cheap and easy for me, one quad set of KT88's per year in the VAC and we're happy.
Yes, the hybrid tube/ss amp is definitely worth considering in this situation. Along with the brands already mentioned, there is Jolida, Vincent, and van Alstine.

I'm using the van Alstine Ultra 550 and it works very well for me. I think I'm sold on the hybrid tube/ss concept; tubes in the input stage, where they do their best, and SS in the output stage, where it does its best.
Tvad, some of the smaller McCormack amps actually have a pretty high input impedance.
Tvad, some of the smaller McCormack amps actually have a pretty high input impedance.
Unsound (System | Threads | Answers)
You're right. I should not made a blanket statement based on my limited experience with two McCormack amplifiers.

Thank you for correcting the record.
Crossed the Rubicon to the tube amp side in 04.Several times I went back and rotated in various ss and Class D amps,simply because I wanted to satisfy myself that I had made the right move.Biasing and a couple of blown tubes mixed in with my perfectionism moved me in another direction.I settled on a Space Tech labs tube/ss hybrid with auto bias.Very satisfied,the amp journey is now complete,at least for 09.
One the best SS amps I have heard, that also is VERY tube preamp friendly due to its 240kohm input imepedance is the First Watt (Pass) Aleph J, which is a further refinement of the Pass Aleph 3. It is only 30 Class A Watts, but if that is sufficient power and your speakers have a smooth impedance curve (a tube amp friendly speaker) than you can hardly do better in an SS amp with "tube" like qualities. With the right speakers, it might even perform as well as the Pass XA30.5.
Pubul57, there's a new First Watt J2 that may be worth investigating.
That J2 is very, very tempting in the search for an SS amp that might serve the listening preference of those that prefer tubes, and I see it had a 100kohm input impedance. Nelson must have figured out that many folks wanting to use his amps might have tube preamps. Darn, I can feel the temptation coming on....
12-18-09: Pubul57
I see it had a 100kohm input impedance.
...and it has a 1.4V input impedance (= rated power), which makes it a nice match for passive preamps.

It's power output is only half at 4 ohms, however, so it would seem that speakers having a flat impedance curve will offer the best match.
I use a Modwright 9.0 SE Signature Truth on my Son of Ampzilla 2000. It sounds very nice. Fairly "tubey" in terms of harmonics and soundstaging, yet still very dynamic and detailed.
Yes I know the feeling in regards to tube amp maintenance and the desire to try a ss amp. There is nothing wrong with experimentation, only you can come to a conclusion what sounds good with your speakers, in your room. Whoever said that the preamp plays an insignificant role in the audio chain is completely wrong, the choice here can make or break a system. Actually everything in your system is important right down to the interconnects and power cords. Granted, some components are less impacted than others with a quality aftermarket power cord and trying different interconnects are system dependent (hit & miss) but experimentation here is necessary to reach a sound that is desirable to you.

With my speakers and a VTL tube preamp, an upgraded PS Audio HCA-2 (digital switching amp) has done the trick, the sound is warm, detailed, full bodied yet very musical & engaging. Excellent midbass and texturing provides a luxurious sound quality only to be challenged by the best of some all-tube systems in my opinion.
A friend of mine has the new J2 amp which he uses on a very high efficiency horn based system (105 db/w) and on some fairly low efficiency mini monitors. I believe he was using the Levinson No. 32 preamp in order to go fully balanced all the way from his SACD source to the amp. I thought the sound was quite good -- grain free, clear, and reasonably free of the artificial edge to the attack of the note and unnatural decay of notes that often characterizes solid state sound.

However, it would not be an alternative to most solid state amps because it is quite low in output (something like 20 watts, if I recall correctly).
25 watts. Should be could for most applications with 91-92db speakers with smooth, and highish impedance (good for OTLs, good for the J2)
I made a recent switch from Lamm M1.1 hybrid (100wpc pure Class A into 8 or 4 ohms - unlike M2.1 or 2.2 which switch to AB at certain power levels) amps to Clayton M200 SS amps. I am quite happy with this lateral move. Both are Class A so the heat issue is a wash, and both accomodate tube preamps with relatively high input impedances of 47K for the Lamm and 100K for the Clayton's. The M1.1's sound great but are an older design, a bit dark in tonality and somewhat rolled off in the HF. The Clayton's do not suffer the darkness or HF roll-off shortcomings, provide more power (200wpc into 8 ohms and 400wpc into 4 ohms), are a newer design with newer output devices, and came with a warranty. There are some things the Lamm's did a bit better - if you like a darker, richer-sounding presentation, and they were maybe just a touch more dimensional (due to the tube in the input stage?), but both kick strong in the bass and I don't have to consider changing tubes with the Clayton's. The M200's double into 4 ohms and drive my 90dB speakers to very satisfying levels, where the Lamm's did get a bit "hard" sounding when pushed to levels I would not normally listen at. For true Class A solid state, you would be hard pressed to do better at similar power levels than the Clayton's. They also offer an M300 mono pair with a low bias switch so they can be left on all the time. All that said, the newer Lamm M1.2's would be very high on my list to audition, if I had the cash.
I've had no problem obtaining a rich, tube-like sound by using a Conrad Johnson PV-5 (heavily modified)tube preamp with a Belles 350A solid-state amp (not Reference). Mitch2 and others are right to bring the impedance matching info to your attention, heed them. I feel ( and its only my opinion) that the Belles amp has tube-like qualities, it's not analytical or edgy-sounding, and brings very good bass oomph to the otherwise rolled off bass qualities of the CJ preamp. The reason for the good bass is most likely the high damping factor of the Belles amp,but I'm sure there are other factors at play here, such as choice of cables and source components. The tube preamp with solid state amp combo may not give you 100% of the tube sound youre used to, but with prudent system matching, it can get very close......good luck in your search!--Mrmitch
Thanks for everyone’s help. I learned so much from you guys. I need to think more about it. I know it is hard to talk about without knowing the system I have
Here is my system:
VPI Scott master turntable
Musicale fidelity A5 DC player
Bottle Head / seduction phonon stage (need to upgrade)
Cary 05 pre amp
Rogue 150 tube pre amp
Magneplanar MG IIIa

I learning mostly classical music. I don’t have much knowledge that most of you out there. I think my system many not well balanced. I think some point, I may need to update my phonon stage and power amp. I like the tube sound, may be I should stay within tube. Thanks for all the help
I always used that combination in the past because I could not afford a high powered tube amp. Recently I purchased a tube amp, they are much better to my ears.
I also have a tube pre and high quality SS. The difference is in your depth of listning. If you are going to get serious, you got to go all tubes; although tube SS is very good.
thanks for all your input. I decided stay in tube for a while. however, I recently saw Pass Xono phono stage SS, wonder if will go well with my Carry 05 pre amp. I try to up date my phono stage, try to match Carry.
more question about impedance . my Carry out impedance is 400K and my Rogue in impedance is 200K. is that Power amp incoming impedance should be higher?
Suikang, The output impedance of the Cary SLP-05 preamp is only 400 ohms not 400K or 400,000 ohms. The input impedance of the Rogue M150 is indeed 200K ohms or 200,000 ohms, which is 500 times the ouput impedance of the SLP-05. Many say the ratio should be at least 10 and I like to see a ratio of at least 20 for input impedance to output impedance to avoid rolling off the low frequencies. The input impedance of your Rogue amps is about as high as it gets (a good thing) and the resulting ratio of 500 will work just fine.
thanks a lot Mitch. it is very helpful
I am with you 100% on the tube preamp. It is only with intense listning that you can tell the difference between a good tube amp and a good solid state amp when you are using a class"A" tube preamp.
I know this is a really old thread. I had to give up audio for awhile to due to a career change after the economy died. I am now making some money. I have purchased some big iron, a Classe' S700 amp. I need a pre amp. The input impedance of the Classe' is 70 Kohms. The output impedance of a Cary SLP-98 that I am eyeing is 440 ohms. The Classe' was inspected and is operating to factory specs. Will this match work?
My speakers are Canton Karat L800DC. My music is CDs, often played from a hard drive. I do like to crank my music at times. I listen to electronic chill, pop, jazz, and acoustic folk with a smidgen of rock and roll. I am not married to the idea of tubes. I am also considering a Plinius ss preamp, as well as some DAC Pre amps. I have no interest in vinyl........
Thanks in advance.
It should work fine.