I have not heard any of the preamps (but briefly at shows) mentioned except the Joule 150MKII which I currently own. I chose it after considerable time spent with the CAT SL1 Ultimate MKII, Lamm LL2, Placette RVC, and Placetter Active. I use CAT JL2 and Music Reference RM9 MKII amps and in this context with Merlin VSM-MXe I found it provides the best balance between nuetrality and musicality, warmth and detail, and very solid bass performance. My speakers are very neutral and revealing and I find they benefit form electronics that can provide some body and wetness to the sound, a certain level of timbral richness and density and it mates very well with my system. That being said, my Passive TVC with S&B 102 transformers is much less expensive and I go back and forth on which of these two approaches is better. It is worth considering a Passive TVC if your system is appropriate.
Ive talked to Kevin at Vac. He mentioned his equipment syncs up very well with audio phisic. If you've read on many of the threads here on vac components, you will know what im talking about. I've never heard vac amps or preamps separately matched with other brand components. But i can truely say that i've witnessed a full blown vac system at shows and oh boy! What beautiful music.
Raysonic 168 has a killer tube output. The remote has volume control
I have a Spectron Musician III SE amp (also) driving either Quad ESL 63s, Soliloquy 5.0s', or Magnepan 3.6/20Rs'. Over the past two years I have experimented with a host of tube linestages in my system including, Modwright SWL 9.0SE with tube rectification and modwright cap upgrade, Cary SPL 98 with direct coupling, deHalviland UltraVerve, the minmax pre, Odyssey Candella, and currently a Supratek Syrah. All of the tube amps were great and all mated well with and added to the Spectron but the Supratek is just special and an amazing synergy with the Musician III SE. If your partner doesn't mind its looks I recommend it highly. The Syrah has phono stage and remote. The Supratek Chardonnay is the linestage only and comes up on Audigon occasionally for ~ $1600-$1800.
I had a BAT VK5i for years and it has the kind of sound you're looking for....6922 tubes and fun to roll as well...great build quality and not super expensive used.If I had to get a pre again that's what I'd buy.
I've owned both the Atma-Sphere and the Joule 150(as well as the Joule 100 mk3). They are both fine but different.
IN MY SYSTEM, the Atma-Sphere's strengths were its ability to drive long cable runs thru its balanced outputs, clear articulation of complex music and natural timbre. It's relative weaknesses were noisier phono stage and quirky sensitivity(e.g. tubes that made noise, but tilt them slightly and problems disappears).
The Joule had a bit of warm tube coloration, which was pleasant, but less accurate. It also portrays a tremendous ability to convey the depth & body of each instrument. Phono stage was very sensitive to RFI, and this led me to sell it, due to living in a high RFI area.
Both are very holographic with big soundstage and good imaging.
FWIW, right now I'm using a Herron preamp and like it best of all.
I've also owned a BAT vk5i and would say it is not close to being competitive w/either the MP3 or LA150, although their newer and more costly models might be. Cheers,
Thanks for all of your suggestions. I failed to mention before that my max budget for a tube pre is around 5k. I don't want to spend that much if possible but would like to avoid buying something as a pacifier then getting the urge to resell a year later. Thanks again!
Check out Audio Horizons 2.0 or 2.1 - large detailed thread here - set you back much less than your budget
You did say you want a lot of coloration, what do you mean by that? I think SBank's description of the Joule is dead on.
You may want to research a Shindo Monbrison.
I would recommend reading Supratek thread.
I recently evaluated three preamps home.
*Consonance Cyber 222 MK II
also Raysonic C200, GRANITE AUDIO 770fp , Cary SLP 98P with my amps, CDP but different speakers.
I'll have to edit my postings more carefully next time! I do not want colorations or distortion. I really enjoy clarity and timbral accuracy. My apologies if I was unclear in original post. I am definitely very intrigued by what I've read about the Supratek preamps. Does anyone know the lead time to receive a Supratek pre or if it is possible to audition one? I'm not in a major hurry, just curious. Pubul57, I appreciate your comment about adding "wetness" to the sound; like the way the city lights seem richer and deeper after a rainstorm, the sound can also sound dry or wet. i believe i associate the all solid state sound with dryness. Since adding the Spectron Musician 3SE to my system, I am amazed by how engaging the music is. I am very busy and have little time to just sit and listen while doing nothing else, but the Spectron has given me many hours of enjoyment while I work and late at night before I sleep. Now that I realize how engaging and detailed the sound can be, I want to investigate with a tube preamp. It would be great to find a pre with a good phono stage too. I currently use a Pro-ject tube box. Thanks again for all of your great suggestions!
If in NY area you are welcome to hear it in my new listening room. It is not 100% finish but if it helps you make the right decision.........yes....come on in.
If you want to buy new.......it might take a while.
Used are here on Audiogon - but you have to act fast.
It is a great preamp.