Tube preamp recommendations

Hi everyone,

As I posted a while back, I have given separates a try after quite a while with integrated amps. I had been using a Simaudio i-1. I found it to be a bit thin/brittle in the highs and perhaps a bit too clinical. So, I bought a used McCormack DNA-125 amp and am currently running it through the pre-out on the Simaudio. The McCormack throws an large, deep soundstage and provided much more bass depth and warmth than the Simaudio. However, the sonic signatures of the Simaudio are still there, obviously.

I tried a Conrad-Johnson Classic 2 preamp. While it was smoother and more coherent than the Simaudio's preamp, it still seemed a bit too thin to my ears. I had to make a decision on it before I had the chance to roll tubes, so it might just have been the stock tube (which was brand new).

So, I'm looking for a simple tube preamp that provides a richer midrange than I have with the Sim preamp. I don't need massive bass slam, or extremely detailed treble. In fact, I am very sensitive to treble grain and sibilance. I only need two inputs, and I don't need phono/dac/record out, etc. I'd like to keep the price under 2k, preferably around $1500. The rest of my system is as follows:

a. Primary source: Marantz TT 15s1 w/Jolida JD9 mk3 phono stage
b. Secondary source: Marantz SA8004 SACD player
c. Speakers: Harbeth P3esr

So, if you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it. I thank you in advance for your time.

Best, Scott
CJ too thin sounding? That is rather surprising, as CJ and Cary are two of the fuller sounding tube preamp types.
What type of cables and power cords are you using? Anything silver or silver-plated?

I ask because Marantz and McCormack are also not known for a thin sound. Perhaps it has something to do with speaker set up and toe in too. Have you ever had the Harbeth speakers sounding full in your room?

As for preamps, you could try a used Cary SLP-98L, probably get one for under $2K.
I tend to agree, CJ have a "Full Fat" sound to my ears, particularly their older kit. I used a Premier 17 for years and it was one of my best buys, a wide. deep soundstage and detailed but rich, creamy sound.
Audible Illusions will suit you very well!
Before you get into different tubes/preamps I'd play around with your speaker positioning. Make sure the tweeters are at least 6ft apart and if you have them out in the room, move them back towards the wall a touch. Also try moving your listening chair back (if possible).

The other issue is that "thin" usually refers to a lack of bass frequencies between 60 and 250 hertz, but I wonder if you're using it to mean too much treble? Do you find the sound a bit forward/piercing, in a way that drowns out the midrange because it's so in your face? If your ears are sensitive to and/or damaged in the 2-6khz range you'll need to be very careful with your set up. The easiest way to test this is to drape some tissue paper over the tweeters which will attenuate those frequencies without affecting the 10khz plus.
Try the Cary SLP-03, the BAT VK-3i, 3ix, 31, some of the sonic frontiers preamps, etc.
Yeah, something seems really strange here. Agree with Jmc above and also wonder what cables, interconnects, power cords you're using. Only other thing I can think of other than the effect of your room is how far you have the speakers pulled out into the room? If you have some good dealers nearby I might try to audition some other speakers that skew even fuller/richer than the Harbeths just for some other points of reference if nothing else. Still, something seems amiss here. Best of luck.
Since the cj Classic 2 is a current product, was it
"brand new"? I know you said the tubes were

If the unit itself has/had less than 300-400 hours on it, the
preamp hasn't broken-in yet. High end parts that are
used inside take a pretty long time to settle. Even tubes
require 40-50 hours (and some even more).

I'd try another preamp that was fully broken in before
chasing the dragon...
If you want a gorgeous sounding preamp for around $1500 then you need to find a used Modwright SWL 9.0 SE. They sell used for $1500. With a tubed power supply and 2x 5687's. This preamp is one of the most tonally beautiful sounding units I have heard, and it dosent have a lot of bells and whistles.
There's a Manley Jumbo Shrimp currently listed at 1900.00 so within your budget. Sonically it fits your listed desires.
We make a preamp called the UV-1 that is in the price range as well.

But I agree with others here- its **really** strange for someone to comment that a CJ sounds too thin!! So I would try different tubes or *something* first, perhaps give it some time to break in as previously suggested.

I like the addition of teh UV-1 to your product line.

How about adding a tube integrated amp of some sort in teh under $3000 range. IS that doable while still meeting your overall performance objectives for your gear?

Thanks in advance for your response.
Another vote for the Modwright. IN MY SYSTEM it is perfect. Von Schweikert speakers, Signal Cable interconnects, Kimber Kable 8 PR speaker cables, Wyred 4 Sound SX-500 mono amps. Source is MacMini through LH Labs DAC. Warm but not bloated. Articulate without sharp edges. Smooth but with wide tall and deep soundstage. I stopped looking for pre-amps.
Look into Joule LA-150 or LA-150 Mk ll. The LA 150 is the "fuller " of the two and might suit your system best
Check out Quicksilver. There are two for under 2 grand. I have the 12ax7 non remote for over ten years. I don't think you would go wrong with Quicksilver gear.
I agree with Yogiboy. Try a Quicksilver. They come in 4 versions: 12AX7, 6922, full-function, and now a new version with 12AT7. I have the 6922 version using Mike's stock EH tubes, and it is a GREAT piece that will do everything you want.
We make a preamp that falls below your budget called the Musica Bella LeAnna that is custom built to order with features/options you want with your choice of a 12AU7 or 6922 circuit.
Rhljazz is correct I highly recommend the Manley Labs Jumbo Shrimp. It outputs at 200 ohms and will drive any amp beautifully, just check out the tube set in this pre amp! Also, they list for $3500 and you can find them for around $2000, what a bargain! The main thing I noticed was how the music was way up in the air far above my speakers. Big soundstage and very tight and accurate bass, lower and upper midrange are full, rich, accurate and gorgeous sounding with plenty of rise and fall, very rich and organic with airy spacious highs and great beautiful natural sounding tone. Has radio (not inferred ) controlled remote for volume, very cool.
Mapman, we are working on an integrated but I don't think its going to be that cheap- we're planning about 100 watts/channel.
Thanks for all the recommendations - there are some models I had never heard of that look interesting.

I think I may have solved the issue with the CJ preamp after some more research. The unit is phase inverting, so apparently I should have switched the speaker outputs. I wasn't aware of this, and I'm sure that the combination of a new unit with a new tube and an incorrect speaker hook up was far from optimal.

So, now I just need to decide whether to try the CJ again or try something else. Sadly, there are no dealers near me, so I don't have the option of listening to gear without purchasing it.

Keep y'all posted,
The line stage Quicksilver at 995.00 retail, which actually sounds better to me than the remote version at 1595.00 would be a good fit based on what you are looking for. Otherwise I would also consider a classic/vintage CJ model or Cary.
I'd recommend any DeHavilland pre you can find. Not to derail but hey Ralph give us a few more tidbits about your upcoming integrated - my mouth is watering..
Hello scott,I own an audible illusions preamp.Great sounding unit.I think it would provide the sound you are searching for.Best.
Audibleguy I have always found sonic frontiers products to be the very definition of thin and detailed
Pehare, it will have a lot of the concepts we use in our other products but its not an OTL.
Just wanted to say thanks and update you all. I ended up buying a used Joule LA 150. So far, it's an amazing leap in sound quality. Wonderful sound staging and placement of instruments and voices. Seems to be a nice match with the McCormack amp. I'm thinking of upgrading my digital source since CDs and SACDs sound so much better with the new preamp.

Thanks again for all your recommendations,
Scott enjoy the road to audio bliss for it never ends.
Great choice!
I've had the Joule 1650 for several years. Great piece. I hope you enjoy it .
Obviously, Joule does not make a 1650. Old age and too little time resulted in a brand new model no. being invented by me, the 1650. What I meant to say, obviously, was that I had 150 and enjoyed it very much. Hopefully, you will be very happy with yours.