Tube preamp options

My system from the preamp on consists of a rouge rp-7, rogue m180 monoblocks, and vandersteen quatro wood speakers. My main source is a brinkmann Bardo through a Rogers PA-2 phono pre. It all sounds great. But there's that itch, you know? I get tremendous soundstage but not that much depth. Clarity is great, mids are nice, bass is excellent. But it doesn't quite have that in the room sound that I'm looking for. The RP7 sounded too solid state and analytical for me out of the box with the stock JJ tubes so I've done extensive rolling. Been through all sorts of NOS tubes and landed on amperex as they seem to have the best balance of warmth and clarity. My thought is, maybe I can find a pre that has those attributes out of the gate without all the rolling. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of being able to tailor the sound with trying different tubes but I feel like maybe there's a brand out there who's house sound I like better. I haven't listened to anything more yet but brands that are on the list to check out are Backert labs, maybe a used ARC Ref 6, VTL, VAC. There are a million little boutique brands tho and I'm asking what people have heard in the 10k price range, new or used, that might be a good fit for me and why. 



my vote would be for the VTL 6.5. Fully differential and you will get dynamics and imaging like you have not heard before. They are bit pricy new but you can pick up one used for a pretty reasonable sum. 

If that "golden tube glow" is what you are after, the Conrad Johnson tube amps from the '90's are probably your most reliable source.  Similar "softer" tube preamps (and very dimensional) are the Audible Illusions Modulus 3a and 3b preamps (with optional phono stage).. These of course you'd have to buy used, but if you can get one in good shape and maintained (used, not stored, or perhaps carefully refreshed) they will give you what you want.

@harrylavo I've read a bit about audible illusions but why would I have to buy them used? Do are they no longer in production? 

I recently bought a new Bel Canto SEP2(upgraded to SEP1 parts) built by Ace Tomato Audio. It’s a strange arrangement in which Ace builds these older Bel Canto models under license from BC. They are built of all new/unused parts w/NOS tubes and Hovland caps. Ace provides exceptional services along with test measurements of the individual unit. What prompted me to take a gamble on this pre was my previous experience with Bel Canto’s PRe5 solid-state preamp.

Anyhow, the SEP2/SEP1 is without question the best tube preamp I have owned, and I’ve yet to even experiment with tube rolling. It far exceeds the sound I was getting from Van Alstine Fet Valve, the Schiit Freya+ (with countless tube makes), and the Allnic L-1500. It has the dynamics and bass extension of the Allnic, the transparency of the Freya, and the lucid warm midrange of the Fet Valve. It is the only tube preamp I’ve yet heard that contends for permanent residence in my system when compared to ultra transparent SS units like the Benchmark LA4 or Topping Pre90.

FWIW, all the Rogue gear I’ve tried has been mediocre or had one or more glaring weaknesses. Actually, the best Rogue product I’ve tried was the Cronus Magnum II, despite its high noise output. I don’t really know of any seasoned audiophiles who have stuck with the brand over the long haul, unlike with Cary, Jadis, AN, ARC or VTL.


@sbank I believe you stated that the Backert Labs preamplifiers are not fully balanced, this is not true, they are fully balanced where there is an XLR connection, both output and input. The Rhythm has two XLR fully balanced inputs while the Rhumba and Rhumba Extreme only have one fully balanced input. All units have one fully balanced XLR output.

Concerning the OPs question on creating depth I believe one should begin by looking at the room acoutstic / layout and the positioning of the speakers. 30 inches out into the room might not be far enough, particularly if measured from the front of the speaker and if the components are set between the speakers. It is not apparent to me from the post how the room is laid out nor the speaker positioning within the room. Furniture can easily get in the way of creating the perfect sound stage.

I have two Backert preamplifiers, Rhythm and Rhumba Extreme and they both help create  a wonderful sound stage which includes wonderful depth, however my speakers are 54 inches, measured to the front baffle to the room's front wall. My rack, which is between, is extremely low. The top of the preamplifier is no more than 26 inches above the floor measured to its top. I also have no furniture other than a sofa with a small coffee table in front of the sofa so the speakers really float freely in the room.

Prior to moving onto new preamplifiers in hopes of developing more depth with in your sound stage I would play with the room and speaker position. Certainly the first thing I would do is pull the speakers further into the room and make sure nothing will interfere with the sound as it leaves the speakers and heads toward your listening position, nothing around them to block the creation of the sound stage. Sound absorbing panels placed at the first reflection points and if your room is on the smaller size some bass traps will greatly enhance your sound stage.

Another area to explore is speakers. Certain speaker designs are much easier to create pin point instrument placement within a sound stage. You should be able to create the illusion of musicians being placed beyond the front wall, which is what I believe you are after.

Good luck.