VTL 2.5 or 5.5
10 responses Add your response
An SP 8 would really be an excellent choice, as would an SP 6, however, unless you are lucky, at their age you might need to get them serviced at ARC - but I wouldn't let that stop me! For something modern, with excellent sound, and minimal tube maintenance, check out the EAR 834L and the 834P (or their combined unit). Great value for the money on the used market.
Add in the Audible Illusions 3a and the Rogue 66 and 99 full function preamps with tubed phono stages. These are single ended only. (disclaimer: I sell Rogue).
A little more expensive is the BAT vk-30SE. I have not yet heard their (solid state) phono stage, but as a line stage it is first rate. Much better when run balanced.
For external tube phono stages under 1K, I think the ARC PH-3 is very hard to beat. The more expensive Herron vtph-1 is the best real-world priced tubed phono stage I have heard.
For a line stage I like the balanced only BAT vk-5i. I ran the 5i/ph-3 combo for a long time. ARC's newer LS-16 with the supertube is also very good sounding. If you can live with a passive, try a placette with the ph-3 or even an adcom 750. The passive placette plays in the no-holds barred league and works especially well with a strong tube front end like the ph-3.
As mentioned above, you may want to inquire on the price of updating / refurbishing an older piece. Not all manufacturers see this as a high profit center but it can hit four figures pretty fast.
Tube preamps have really come a long way in the last 3-4 years. I occasionally have an older classic around and find it's a little grainy or opaque compared to modern components. Probably the newer parts.
Mike, I lef the budget out on purpose just to see the feedback I get. My budget is about 2K, however, seems like I can mix and match some used pieces to even get me the higher gain for low-output MC cartridges for this price.
I own some decent pieces, in no particluar order:
-a few Pass power amps,
-Threshold power amps,
-couple of Dyna 70s,
-Gyrodec+SME V (multiple cartridges MM and MC)
-JM Lab Tantal 515
and quite a few vintage Marantz and other pieces that are more for nostalgic values.
I have never owned a tube preamp. Recently I listened to an SP8 with a high output Denon 103, it blew me away and I decided to get serious about it.
I am really enjoying my Granite Audio tube preamp.
Great build quality and layout.
It is recommended to only drive 2.0 mV or above cartridges however. Although I have succesfully used a Shelter 901 with it.
For $2K budget however you would have to get lucky.
Another option that would fit your budget is the Audio Note M-2 w/ phono, used of course.
I have experience with the CJ Premier 15 phono stage. It's a very nice piece, around $2K used here on the 'Gon. It's very, very smooth, but doesn't mate well with the really low output cartridges due to its fixed 53dB gain. The system was pretty bloody noisy with my Benz Lo.4 (actual output ~0.3mv).
It's most objectionable deficiency is a lack of deep bass, which curiously is much weaker than even my predecessor low-end solid state phono stages. From about 70 Hz and up, this one is really good, approaching some of the best, although not particularly matching the Aesthetix IO or Rhea. (I haven't heard either of the Aesthetix in my system, so I can't compare that well.)
I recommend the JJ Electronics 243 tube preamp. It has a killer phono stage with adjustable loading and can handle cartridges as low as 0.3mV with no problems. It retails for $1995.00 but has a street price of around $1300.00. I have owned many respected preamps, but none have beat this one and most aren't even as good.