Tube Preamp Recommendations?


Hello, I'm a newbie to this forum.  I'm on the hunt for a new tube pre-amp.  I think.  It is replacing an aging PSE Hybrid Line Stage 1 preamp.  Several of the RCA outputs on the PSE don't work, the power button is finicky, and it is all original, ostensibly in need of major overhaul.  Labels on capacitors and other parts have fallen off, etc.  I love the slightly warm (to my ear) holographic sound of the PSE.  I would like to upgrade the SQ.  I find bright, high resolution sound like that of my KEF X300A computer desktop speakers very fatiguing after a short period of time.  

My system consists of an Auralic Aries Mini with SBooster power supply > Kimber Kable PBJ RCA interconnects> PSE HL1 > Kimber Kable Hero RCA interconnect > N.E.W. A-20 amp > Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker wire > ProAc Response Two S speakers mounted on very beefy steel stands.  I stream a lot of Tidal on the Aires' Lighting DS app.

My short list of possible replacements are AR SP6, AR SP8, CJ PV10 and Quicksilver Full Function.  Two other options are AI Modulus 3A and ModWright LS 100 (if i can find a good deal on one--it's a stretch for my budget), but I'm afraid these two might be too neutral or bright for my ear.  I'd appreciate any recommendations.  Overhauling the PSE preamp is a possibility, but one audio professional i trust told me i can really improve SQ over the PSE.

Thanks for any tips or advice!
robert1234
How about an Atma-Sphere UV-1, used.?
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If your budget will stretch you can get far worse than the Allnic L4000

Your options will depend on your budget. For warmer sound, most recommend a CJ tube preamp but consider the higher than average gain when matching with your amp/speaker. If you have an amp with a low input voltage sensitivity combined with an efficient/sensitive speaker, you won't be able to move the preamp volume control pass 9 o'clock unless you like your music extremely loud.

If buying only new and your budget is little tight, it would be hard to beat this:

http://schiit.com/products/Freya


Think about Allnic.  Great sound and great backup service.  I have had the L4000 for six years.  I bought it second hand on the gon.  The batteries leaked in the remote and destroyed it.  Kung Su Park sent me a new one free of charge even though the amp was way out of warranty.

Whats your budget?
Like gdnrbob I also like the 6SN7 pre amps I own a little AE-3 , sadly no longer in production but the Atmasphere is. I don’t know what the price is but it may be affordable new..

I must say your list of possibilities is long is filled with pres that are quite different from each other. The CJ is warm the ARCs are certainly not despite the use of tubes, For instance I own an SP6b. I tried to roll warm tubes into it  but it had no effect whatsoever. Not all tube preamps are warm and not all provide the 3D magic that tubes do in power amps..

Not sure what causes you to think the Modwright LS100 is a bright preamp; far from at least in my listening experience. Drop in some NOS Sylvania , or even Sophia Electric 6SN7s and enjoy
Thanks for the responses, everybody.  I've spent a ridiculous amount of time researching pre-amps and it had gotten a bit overwhelming for this newbie.  I appreciate all the thoughtful comments.  

Kalali, the impedance of the ProAcs is 8 ohms. The NEW A-20 amp is rated at 20 watts at 8 ohms.  I must confess my ignorance about whether the amp has low input voltage sensitivity and/or the speakers are efficient/sensitive.  Do I need a preamp with some type of gain reduction given that i listen almost exclusively to the Aires Mini?  At some point I'll upgrade that to a higher end streamer plus stand along DAC.  

My budget is about $1,600.  The Allnic L4000 looks great but clearly out of my price range.

Mechans, I am definitely looking for some 3D magic.  I tried an SP9 (I realize it only has one tube in the line stage) since it was easy to borrow, but the sound was too bright and sterile for my taste.  I'd hoped an SP6 or SP8 would be warmer.  Sounds like that's an incorrect assumption?

Are the AI Modulus 3A and ModWright LS 100 on the cooler or neutral side too?  It looks like tube rolling on the AI isn't really possible (lots of people report burning out tubes quickly when they use tubes not recommended by the manufacturer), but is possible with the LS 100.

Gdnrbob, the Atmasphere looks interesting, but the exposed tubes won't work in my home.  Is there another 6SN7 preamp that might fit the bill?  6922/6dj8 seems to be very popular.  Are the 6SN7s warmer?

Thanks again!


In your price range I would certainly look used to get more bang for your buck. This looks like a nice choice in your price range here:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/tube-joule-electra-la-100-mk-11-excellent-condition-2017-04-02-pre...

No relation to the seller Joule is a well thought of well reviewed brand thats still serviced by Signature Sound in NY. That's a classic audiophile preamp.

This unit also looks nice:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/tube-granite-audio-770r-full-function-tube-preamp-2017-03-31-pream...

Not as well known but Granite Audio is still around and has a great rep.

Just a few thoughts and buying used at the right price is a great way to "audition" preamps in your system, it's easy to flip a good piece if you bought it right in the first place. Good luck.
Thanks, jond.  I'll check those two out.  I'm definitely looking for a used piece to get the biggest bang for the buck.
An Audio Research SP-6b was just listed here on AudiogoN today, and has just been overhauled. It has the classic ARC tube sound, and contains a phono section. It's priced below $1000, so act quickly!
Thank you, bdp24! I got the AR SP-6b.  Looking forward to listening to it.  Thank you to everyone who responded.  What a great community!
Way to go Robert! The SP-6b is not only a fine pre-amp, it also has a mode switch! The pre uses 12AX7's, so look into getting some NOS Telefunkens to put in it.
Bdp24, do you like to Telefunkens better than the Phillips Jan 5751 that it comes with?  Also, what is the benefit of the mode switch?  I figured you'd set it to stereo and forget it?
If you can live with a preamp new under a grand that doesn't have tons of bling,look at Mapletree Audio Design Ultra 4c with new old stock12SN7's and built-in phone stage  . No printed circuit boards .Great reviews .
+1 Mapletree Audio!
+1 on the NOS Slvania 6SN7's.
I am a lover of 6SN7-based preamps and Don Sachs' preamp is right in your price range.  I vastly prefer it over the Modwright  LS100 and it is half the price. Google Don Sachs Consulting for his website and see this forum for my reviews, as well those of other delighted owners of Don's preamp. It is the end of my 45 year journey for audio pleasure at an affordable price.  Good luck!  Whitestix 
You can never go wrong with Atma-sphere MP-3. If your budget allows, go for MP-1.
I want more people to buy the Shiit Freya so I can read more reviews of the damn thing as it simply seems cool for its price (el cheapo extremo), and the 3 operating modes look like a great idea…balanced and single ended ins and outs, tubes sticking out of the top (you want that, it's important)…hmm...I may have to get one just to calm myself down.
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Hi from France,
with the new model classic preamp of Nagra, you could consider the Nagra Jazz preamp, many for sale on second hand.
Best.
JLouis.
I have a Decware CPS3 pre-amp and bought some Mullard input and output tubes from Brent Jessie  and a new Mullard rectifier tube and I love it.  I find the ability to change the gain on the input and output tubes lets me find the sweet spot better depending on the source and quality and dynamics of the recording and use the volume control wide open.  In hindsight I should have bought the Decware ZTpre with the balanced inputs and outputs for my DACs.
I have a Schiit Freya on order for the balanced output to my amplifier and to receive and attenuate the balanced input from my DAC's.  
Good…I'll wait for you to get your Shiit together.
Robert, do you have the remote and manual for your HL1?  I bought one recently and mine came with neither. Mine works fine, but I cannot find remote codes for it. Would you be willing to share the manual with me by email?  Also, do you have a way to get the remote codes off of the remote?
Sorry dryanlocker, I don't have a manual. I just looked at the remote and don't see any writing that would indicate codes.
If you are putting your PSE out to pasture, are you willing to sell me the remote?  In the alternative, would you be willing to loan it to me by mail so I could use it to teach my Harmony the codes? I promise I would return it and could arrange a deposit or something like that through PayPal if it would make you more comfortable. 

@Robert1234,  I think the ARC SP6B came with Telefunken 12AX7s as original equipment.  They have a reputation for being for  clean, cool and crisp sounding tubes.  I can concur from my own experience with them. Telefunkens were frequently matched in the "golden era" of early stereo integrateds,  nonetheless  they had a very warm overall presentation.. I have a couple of tube Sherwoods like that.

 As I said I tried a number of tubes in my SP6B, including 5751s and it didn't matter- same sonic, utterly remarkable..  My pre is a true wire with gain, (it was used and modded when I got it.).  They do have superb phono sections.  BTW my SP6B came with Bel  (India) 12AX7s.

 I hope it turns out to be what you wanted. Let us know how it works out in your system.

Robert, my time with the SP-6b was a long time ago, it's tubes no longer in my memory. What the mode switch allows is for each channel to heard through both speakers, or both blended together to mono. I use it to switch between left and right channels when playing "electronically simulated stereo" LP's, such as the early Kinks and Beach Boys albums, to compare them to each other.
wolf_garcia et al
Recently I ordered a small "Fulla Shiit" USB DAC [yes, the name is "Fulla Shiit"], typically used in laptops. It works extremely well, by adding analogue to my music. At first listen on my JBL phones, the analogue sound was quite impressive, superlative, and I listened for hours. This Shiit uses only a volume control, and amplifies the sound quite a bit. Intended for headphones, though I use it also to go into the AR SP-9 Mk II preamp, for my AR/CJ/JBL system. The instructions are sparse. Tried it on my desktop, and later will try on my tablet and smart phone.

 Also I ordered another tube DAC, a "ZHILAI Audio D1" from China, which add's some noise, and isn't as good as the Shiit.  Both were under $100. You're right, now I really like Shiit products, very advanced in their use of internal DAC chips, and consistantly out pace others at many times the price..  sometimes Fulla_Shiit x 10...

[this is my first Audiogon post, as I like reading forums. I learned quite a bit about speakers, preamps and amps, by brand and model, mostly by comparing the components, as I've researched before purchasing]
robert1234
You asked, and ended up exactly as I did, with AR. You went from last in the class, to first.  I've researched AR, and found the SP11/10/14/9/8/3/6 [in descending order], in their various Mk I/II/III/IV versions, to be the best preamps. Though most don't have it, I often look for a toroidal coil in preamps, in place of a transformer, just like select model toroidal CJ and other brands. Although I recently aquired a SP-9 Mk II with a toroidal coil, later I'll probably look for an 11/10 or an 8, and if you guessed, yes, because of more tubes. If you like, later we can talk about AR tube amps.. so nice when paired with AR preamps..
Kind regards,
Will
Hi,
Silvaweld SWC 450 aka.Allnic a great little Preamp
plays in the Big League easy buy it second hand
http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue17/soniceuphoria.htm

Best Regards,
Stephan
Though I know your budget is $1.6K, I still recommend an Atma preamp.
I mentioned the UV-1, as it is pretty close to your budget. I have a MP-3.
If you could swing it, I assure you it would be your last preamp.
I suggest calling Ralph directly at Atma-Sphere. Sometimes he has demos or refurb equipment that he will sell at a major reduction (that was how I got my MA-1's and MP-3).
I promise you that Ralph's equipment will smoke just about everything out there.
Bob
I have a Tube Pre-amp with Tube Power Supply for Sale an alternative choice would be the Atma-Sphere Gear which is world class in my opinion the amps and pre-amp will perform at a league not many can compete on.
I think the OP already bought an AR SP6b. Just curious to hear how he likes it... This is of course if he ever returns back to post his impressions.
Thanks for all the responses. I indeed purchased an AR SP6b.  The sound is wonderful.  I also purchased around the same time an AI L3 dealer demo directly from AI.  AI is upgrading the power supply and some internal caps so it will more or less be an L3A.  The unit still hasn't arrived.  I'll post my impressions after I receive the AI.
Thanks for your patience.  The L3 took a lot longer to arrive than expected.  It is an L3 dealer demo that went back to AI where it was essentially upgraded to an L3A and then sent to me.  

I love so much about the AR SP6b, particularly the bloomy midrange that works so well with my ProAc Response 2S speakers.  It especially shines with vocals and acoustic instruments.  It feels like the tubes are backed by an enormous reservoir of power that effortlessly pushes out warm notes that suspend in the air for just a moment before the next note.  I can listen to the thing all day long; it's really enjoyable.  What it is missing, however, is detail, particularly in the high end, and imaging.

The L3+ has that detail that the SP6b is missing, along with the imaging. The build quality is exceptional.  But it feels dry, flat, or maybe sterile, compared to the SP6b.  It's probably more accurate than the SP6b.  In the right system, which would probably be mega $$$, I might prefer that accuracy.  But in my system, it just doesn't move me.

So, how do i get the midrange bloomy sound of the SP6b with more detail and better imaging?  Folks on this thread mentioned above:

1. Mapletree Audio Design Ultra 4c 
2. a Don Sachs preamp--not sure which
3. Atma-sphere MP-3

Would one of those would fit the bill?  My budget is $2k (notice the creep from my original post.)  

The other alternative is to overhaul the SP6b--I suppose new wire and caps might brighten it up, although i don't know if that means more detail and better imaging.  Also, i'm not sure who could do it, and I'm not sure that i want to do violence to a vintage piece of equipment.

Please bear in mind that i've done some reading, and a little listening, since my original post, but i'm still very much new at this thing.  You're hearing my subjective listening experience.  Apologies in advance if i have maligned a piece of equipment that you hold dear.  Folks have been very generous with their time and advice which i really appreciate; some have been grumpy when i don't respond right away--please understand that life circumstances prevent me from being tethered 24/7.  Thanks so much for any thoughts.

G'day Robert,

If you are lucky enough to find a Vincent SA-T8 then this will give you what you are after. Massive step up over an AR SP-6 & AI L3. Fully balanced all tube design, has massive soundstage depth & width & oozes musicality in spades. Just has that "just right" midrange "warmth" and has none of the dry, etched, overly analytical presentation that plagues many Pre-Amps, which you are trying to avoid.

Replace the "crap" stock tubes with Psvane's and you will have a Pre that competes with or betters many Pre's costing multiples of it's cost.

Hope you can find one.
A couple of years ago I had a YS audio experience symphonies preamp. I retubed it with Sylvania 5751 triple mica black plate and was amazed at how it sounded. It had a fast, neutral, clean sound with just the right amount of tube warmth. Check the forums, it has been favorably compared to more expensive gear, including ARC. Price for the basic plus model is $633 plus shipping. 
MP-3 would be my choice in your position. Put in some Sophia Electra tube.

Man what a tough crowd. The SP6B is too rolled off, is smeared and doesn’t image all that well. You must like some crispy sound. I would venture that it is not a function of the Pre, but rather the speakers being employed. The Arc sound and my SP6B experience was almost the diametric opposite. The ARC reminded me more of solid  and very detailed, state not a warm, romantic piece, with midrange bloom, you are describing.  You could try Telefunken 12AX7s, and see if that firms thing up a bit.  For me it didn't matter.

I don’t really use my SP6B that much because it was too sterile, went to a 6SN7 based amp. Mapletree and Atmasphere make this kind of pre, but they aren’t going to yield you more detail.


I owned the PSE HL-1 for many years and could not find a preamp I liked better until I discovered the Aesthetic Calypso. Unfortunately, even used it's over your budget. You might want to touch base with John Rutan at Audio Connection to see what he thinks. John sold me both the PSE and the Calypso and also carries ARC and AI. He might have some good suggestions for you. By the way, have you looked into having the PSE repaired? Just a thought. Good Luck!
If you are looking for 6sn7 tubed preamp, Cary Audio has theirs on sale at Cary Audio Direct. I oredered one yesterday but has not arrived yet.
Giri
Mechans, thanks for your post.  It's really interesting b/c your take on the SP6B is very consistent with what I've read in other places.  In fact, the drivers in the ProAcs developed torn surrounds a few months ago, so I'm about to send them to Millersound for new surrounds.  Perhaps that is influencing things; the dried out surrounds certainly killed the bass, but I didn't think that would affect imaging and the high end.  I'm going to hold off on further preamp tweaks until I get the speakers fixed.  

Joey54, the PSE is gone--a friend took it.

Giri, yes, i'm very interested in a 6SN7 preamp.  I'm very interested in a Cary or perhaps a Modwright that uses that tube. Thanks for the tip.
I've been a big fan of the 6SN7- that tube is in all of our products.
Robert1234 - Another options would be a Tube Preamp built by Tom Tutay.  Tom builds the preamps to order so it would take a couple of months to build and he can build it to your needs, but would be well worth it.  I have had one of his preamps for about 6 years and it has excellent imaging and sound qualities.  He uses a pair of 12SN7 tubes in his design which are the 12 volt versions of the 6SN7 tube and cost less. 
mds
Robert1234  Here is a link to a conrad johnson PV-10AL line stage that should deliver that classic warmth and smoothness that typifies classic cj sound.  Good Luck

http://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649363139-conrad-johnson-pv10al-tube-stereo-line-preamp-very-nice-one-owner-with-new-tube-set/


Thanks, hifiman5.  That went fast.  I'm leaning towards a 6SN7 preamp, but maybe I'll check out a CJ.  Detail and "air" has improved with an AC line conditioner.  Oh, and correcting the inverted speaker polarity once I disconnected the AI preamp. :)  The AR SP6B now sounds quite a bit closer to how mechans described.

"...went to a 6SN7 based amp. Mapletree and Atmasphere make this kind of pre, but they aren’t going to yield you more detail."

Does this mean these provide less detail at the expense of more midrange bloom? Can you please elaborate since I’m really intrigued by the Mapletree line stage preamp in particular but also enjoy the detail sound my current SS preamp delivers.

Thanks.

Does this mean these provide less detail at the expense of more midrange bloom?
I experience no less detail with mine, but it depends on the tubes you install. For mine, one set of 6SN7s bloomed the midrange and fuzzed up the detail, while another manufacturer's did not. I kept the latter installed for a clean, clear, solid sound. I am not missing any detail in mine.