Tube preamp for about $1500?


I am working through the system purchasing decisions for a new system, and I currently have decided on a pair of Totem Fire speakers, and a Pass Labs XA30.5 amp. I was originally going to go tubes, but the old Pass sound has been pulling me back...

Anyway, I want a good quality preamp with tubes, to keep things sounding too SS. I used to have a Sonic Frontiers SFL1 with an Aleph3 and felt the combo was quite good...

I want to use XLR interconnects from the pre to the amp,so that limits the options, and of course, the price target does as well.

I know that ARC, BAT, SF, A-S all made balanced pres, but who else should I be considering?

Finally, I have listened to SF and ARC some, but have no exposure to the others listed. I'd like to hear how people characterize these various pres, and are there specific recommendations to consider or avoid?

I want a neutral sound, not terribly lush, with excellent imaging, a large, wide soundstage, and very dynamic response to the music. I'd like to keep it around $1500 of so, but if there is a really compelling reason, I could go up to $2000 or so.


I'm a solid state guy so I don't understand the angst over solid state ;)

However, I heard the YS Audio Balanced SE in a friends system and it sounded great. Goes for about $1500 on the pacific valve website.
look into atma-sphere mp-3
hard to beat
truly balanced design
depending on the tubes you choose to run, you will be able to tailor the sound to your liking
Doge 8 has 1 bal out
Audio Horizons used would fit your bill well. Thread on A'gon with 1,000 posts describing it.
Thanks for the suggestions folks.

Any commentary on the sound of BAT and Atma-Sphere compared to the Sonic Frontiers units? I am most familiar with the older SFL1 and SFL-2 units.

I do not have a need for phono inputs.

On the ARC products, there have been a bunch over the years, are there any I should avoid, or is there one in particular from their line that is a clear winner over the others?

I've heard of Audio Horizons, and seen the discussion thread, but I feel a bit uncomfortable without having some interaction between the manufacturer and the audio review infrastructure... there are precious few reviews of the products by people who have really compared them in a well-controlled way, and who have a high level of understanding of the performance levels we are talking about. I'll do more research on them...

I am probably leaning toward a Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 or similar unless I can determine that there is a better product out there in the same price range.

Watch for impedance match. If you want neutral, why not try a Pass X-1 or stretch for an XP-10?
There is a Decware tube preamp for sale right now....well below your bottom price.

I want a somewhat neutral sounding tube pre... I have paired a Pass amp with a tubed pre in the past to very good effect, and want to go that route if possible.

I used to have an X-1. It's a fine preamp for sure. I had it paired with am MC-275 though, not a Pass amp, so I don't know what the synergy would have produced.

I suspect that I prefer tube sound over SS, and even though the Pass gear is as tube-like as you'll get with SS, having a full SS system may be a bit too much SS for me.

A neutral tube pre in that price range--how about a CJ PV-15? Then after a while you can send it to the Backert's and have them do the line stage upgrade.