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:
Whats your budget?
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..
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?
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:
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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]
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..
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.
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.