Tube Preamp with Solid State Amp?


Greetings!

I’ve seen some folks using Tube Preamps with Solid State Am ps. I’m thinking of doing that with my system as part of an incremental change. I currently have a Parasound P5 preamp with a Parasound A21 driving Klipsch Cornwall 4’s. Will a decent / good Tube Preamp really make a difference in my sound? I enjoy what I have now but really want to experience Tubes in my system. Thanks!
Aa374d42 182d 4d39 9098 c3b3ff13baabbigjohn9095
I’m doing it because I am a bass head. (BHK Pre-First Watt J2)I find the low end has more punch and slam with a SS amp. Adding a tube pre adds a touch of silk to the mids and highs.

One thing to consider (I have Zu Omen defs 101 db), is if you have too much gain in your system, tube hiss and noise will be much more prominent with super efficient speakers. My total gain (pre and amp) is around 33 db (using balanced connections). I did have a high gain amp (StA200) that made my total gain around 43db (single ended) and it was hiss city. I had to place a passive volume control between the pre and amp.

I thought some Parasound amps have gain control which would be quite helpful if experimenting with a tube pre.

One thing you may want to consider is a tube buffer. I’m not certain if a buffer would help or just be a noise maker. I’m sure many here on AG will have experience. Decware makes one  https://www.decware.com/newsite/zbox.htm




A good tube preamp along with a solid-state amp can give you the best of both worlds. Of course, your mileage may vary depending upon your preferences. You really have to try it and decide for yourself. My main listening room is set up with a solid-state amp and a tubed preamp however in another room I have all tubed components. To me, they all sound good, just a bit different.
My experience is that some pre/power amplifiers will give you the sound you want and others will not, and it doesn't really matter too much whether the gear is tubed or solid state.  However, you really need to like the sound of your speakers or you will end up chasing rabbits down holes.  If you really want to experience tubes, IMO you should get a decent tube amplifier.  At  102dB @ 2.83V / 1m your Cornwall 4's should sound good at even low'ish to modest power levels and there are many tube amplifier choices that shouldn't break the bank.  
Having danced the dance for decades between all tube and all SS, I have yet to find a reasonably priced tube pre that didn’t go too far in the ’silky’ sonic range.

Real music has a sharp leading edge with certain instruments, which most tube components tend to smooth over. But in the process, the sound stage and floor gets noisier, which diminishes imaging and micro-details. Many dacs are equally guilty of this


I owned the P5 which is a decent pre, but I ran mine via the XLRs, not quite differential but close. I replaced it with a Audio Alchemy DPA-1 + PS 5 outboard power supply and built in dac. If you can find the combination it is a significant upgrade, plus it has 4 choices to tailor the dac to your system and ears

hth
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You could try a hybrid  tube preamp which has just one set of gain tubes, like some of the VTL preamps. I've got a VTL 7.5 III driving my Dartzeel and it sounds bloody mavelous.
All my systems since 1992 featured a tube preamp with a solid state amp.  To me it just sounds right.  
Op, Not sure what your sources are but I use a digital library and Qobuz. So....from DAC to SS amp was too clinical sounding and when I added a Tube Preamp the sound that I like was perfect. Its personal taste how crisp vs how smooth someone prefers.  Perhaps borrowing one or doing a risk free trial is in order?  IMHO it is a question only your ears can answer.  Best of luck....cheers.
Klipsch famously plays well with tubes and with McIntosh.  A restored vintage McIntosh tube preamp like the C20 or C22 and/or a McIntosh tube amplifier would take that system to a new level. Check Audio Classics or McIntosh Audio (where I got my MA6200) and I think you will be more than satisfied with the results.
Why look for incremental when for $3k you can have quantum leap? Actually that is full retail. Net of selling what you have would cost next to nothing to transform your system to full tube glory.
https://www.ravenaudio.com/product/blackhawk-mk3/
@millercarbon
^^^AGREED!!!
Raven Audio,Rogue Audio,Prima Luna,Yaqin & Cayin ALL offer full on tube integrated amplifiers that transcend anything you can get in a hybrid system & with those speakers you could get into a Single Ended Triode amp that will blow your mind..
I had driven Raal Sr1a with Jot R ss amp with exciting result but sometimes it got too close to hot.

Thus I had tried Schitt Freya(only 900$ but way better than its price) in front of Jot R with satisfaction.

It makes sr1a sound relaxed and musical.

Schitt give 15 day’s return.

Stock 6sn7 tube does sound decent, but if you like the sound of Freya then you may try some Nos tubes(Sylvania GTB or RCA gray bottle around 100$ pair or Kenrad vt 231 at 200$ pair)

Kenrad vt231 sounds sweet with excellent bass.

You may refer to the following thread on general reputation of 6sn7 tubes.

6SN7 VT

The Reference 6SN7 Thread
with those speakers you could get into a Single Ended Triode amp that will blow your mind..

agreed.  That's the direction I would head.  
Dennis Had has his little hand made SEP amps back up on Ebay for 1700 bucks or so...now with a level pot for some reason, and my experience with an earlier version has been great as it's simply the best amp I've owned over many decades of tube and SS stuff...with efficient speakers (I use Klipsch Heresy IIIs) it's a killer amp, plus only 4 tubes to mess with.
I am using powered JBL LSR and AiPulse speakers via XLR and SMSL SU8 dac. Will the new Freya+ increase the soundstage and give me a more pleasing mids and highs...? The comboa sounds pretty good for the money... I just would like some majik..... next up will be Klipsch
I'll repeat myself for the one hundredth time, get an old Counterpoint preamp SA-2000 and send it to me for upgrades.  Parts quality that I will install you won't find in anything recommended here.  I have repaired or modified most of them.  Think Audio Note resistors, Nichicon capacitors, V-Caps just to begin with.  Happy Listening
To me a high powered class a  amp with a tube pre sounds best. I like Conrad Johnson pres. . Build quality is great and they sound oh so sweet. Run those with some high power 4ohm speakers and you can feel the music, even at low volume. Think Wilson sashas here. 
Been doing it for 20yrs since I bought a lightly used CJ PV10AR in '04. First with one NAD 214, then in '13 with two. Then in '18 I replaced my old Klipsch RF-35s with Maggie 1.7is  and one of the NADs failed so I replaced both with a Emotiva XPA-2 Gen 3. Then in '19 I added a couple Emotiva 10" subs. Very very fast, open highs, smooth mid and BIG punchy bass. A tube amp would just be too expensive for me. 
Tube Preamp and SS power amps. Really the best of both worlds.

A tube preamp, Tube and SS power amps for Bi amping even better.

A lower wattage tube power amp, for the mids and tweets, and 
class ds, AB (crown) (something quiet but powerful) power amp for the bass sections. They can be bi amped? if not easy to fix that too..

You'll be shi%#ng in tall cotton ( southern term)

All pretty inexpensive, but you can start with the Pre,,, then a little valve amp later those Cornwalls  will love you for it. TOP notch sound..

Choose a good Preamp...... Tone control with horns....... Macs and horns are made for each other... If someone tells you otherwise about TC... Use your own good judgment, and what your running.

Happy hunting..

Regards

I've run a tube preamp with solid state amps for 15 years.  I have to have tubes somewhere in my system.
Don’t know about the AR Ref 2 with Pass amps, but I’m pairing the AR Ref 3 and AR Ref 5SE with Parasound Halo A21 and JC2 monoblocks with incredible results - hard to believe. Just incredible clarity, detail, resolution, imaging and soundstage with superb tone, tenor, texture and bass control - a very holographic, live sound.

I’ve been surprised by this combination - though, I suppose some of the credit must go to the Bryston BDP-3 & Schitt Yggdrasil DAC, which sound superb, even without the AR tube line stage - but, the tube line stage improved upon that combo even a great deal more. And... with either the Harbeth 30.1’s with Townshend Super-Tweeters, or Linkwitz Orion’s - to the point, that I doubt I could improve upon the sound a lot more. I’ve also been surprised that this combo has really awakened the 30.1’s, which initially hadn’t impressed me, but now have much better highs, resolution, and bass control with the Harbeth rich, organic sound.

I started building a listening room about 18 months ago.  I bought a NAD M12 pre/dac and NAD M22v2.  With my Tannoy DC8Ti speakers, the highs were too bright, the mids were too loud, the bass was just right.  I purchased a used Herron VTSP-3A tube pre amp and Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE DAC.  The sound is much more musical, with no loss of detail.   

Both the Herron pre amp and NAD power amp have gain controls.  After much futzing with both, and moving the speakers and my listening position, I found the Heron on low gain and NAD on mid gain gives me the best sound, with my speakers about 2.5' from the side walls and 3' from the front wall with a slight toe-in. 

The M22v2 is very nice sounding class D amp.   The Herron/NAD combination is working for now.
Trust your ears. I had the same quandary lately. I use Ice Power 1200AS2 based class D amp to drive my Canton Vento 896.2 floor standers with a Marantz receiver handling interim preamp duties. The Marantz does warm things up a bit, but I wanted to take things a bit further south of analytical.

I looked at stuff from PrimaLuna and Schiit. The EVO 100 preamp at $2K was still beyond my current budget and when I checked the used market, a mint Schiit Freya+ with an extra quad of tubes for $100 less than new, popped up, so I jumped on it. Still waiting on delivery.

The EVO 100 fits your budget or you could look at something the Freya+ level and spend some of the remainder on extra tubes to muck about with.

Mark
With very sensitive speakers, a Quicksilver integrated might do very nicely for $2k. 
Linear Tube Audio Z10 integrated would sound excellent with your Klipsch.
Tube pre and ss amp is great!

  Tubes smooth out the sound and add some distortion which adds depth, and soul

enjoy
You are on the right path. Continue.


I'm running a LTA MicroZotl preamp with a First Watt F7 and have had amazing results compared to my old Primaluna Evo 300 integrated.

More bass extension and slam while still retaining some of that tube texture and sweetness in the midrange.

Even with my 99db sensitive Klipsch Forte III's everything is dead quiet when idle.
I endorse the concept wholeheartedly. Have used a Passlabs X-250
ss amp with an Audio Research Ref1 tube preamp for about 20 years of beautiful sound.
I had an Audio Note M5 as preamp, with a Gamut 200i poweramp:it was delicious!. Now I have the Ear acute (tube) cd-payer , with the Daniël Hertz M6L as préamp (transistor) and the Wavac m805 ( tube monoblocks). As Speakers:the Ilumnia Magister. De sounds is very natural, holographic,detailful. “Heaven on Earth”. But always taking Into account the space and acoustics of your listening room. Of course,you have to find the “best match” for you! Enjoy your music!!!
in all candor i think that the theory that tubes mixed with SS is superior to straight up SS is
an audiophile myth. if i understand the situation one is taking what should be a neutral SS amp then throwing a tube preamp into the mix to warm things up. why not purchase the best neutral SS combo or integrated that you can afford, add a very good front end and then select the speaker that best suits your taste.
SS  today can be stunning. i think that a person that thinks they need a softener up front either hasn’t heard good SS or has other system issues. coloration up front is a bad idea imo.. tubes are fine offering a different sonic presentation but they aren’t better imo.. just different. all that said it is cooler to use tubes and a fun ride if one wants to roll tubes..
I have a Pass Labs XA 60.8 with a Joule Electra LA 150.  The Joule Electra is a tube preamp no longer in production.  I fell into this setup when I sold my McIntosh tube amp.  With my Avantgarde horn speakers this combination sounds amazing.  Not saying any of this will work for your musical taste but just that there is no obvious reason to worry about mixing tube preamp with an IC amp.  It’s all about the sound you are like looking for.
Honestly, it is wonderful, when you can find the combo, that is right for you. I have gone passive ( Luminous Audio Axiom Walker unit ), and enjoy my dac and tuner feeding my ss power amps directly, driving my modified Klipsch Lascalas. I do not want extra warmth, added coloration, nothing to smooth over, no loss of details, as I want to hear my recordings, as they are. For " me ", passive works. I do not hear sterility, as some folks mention. I do get a better understanding of the nuances, the textures, the emotions, the palpability, if you will, of what the musicians are doing, individually, and, together. In my experience, and for my enjoyment, this is the most important aspect of listening to music. ymmv. Enjoy !
By the way...if anyone with really sensitive speakers are considering one of the new McIntosh integrated amps (252.352), you may want to consider the high gain. Mac wrote me back and said their tube integrated amps have a total gain of 44db. The rep stated that tube hiss would be quite loud on my ZU Omen 101 db speakers. 

When I tried my former high gain amp with Solid State Pre.....noise was not an issue. 


at the end of the day it’s all about the sound that pleases the listener regardless of how you get there. i just think that up front the system should be neutral with great clarity. this puts most good speakers in play allowing one to then find the speakers that have the characteristics he/she values for their music. the flavor you might say. 
ymmv
Big John,

My second system consists of Parasound P3 and A23 with Forte II.
I have tried my Primaluna Dialogue Premium preamp from my system #1 and I will tell you it adds a nice holographic sound stage and that tube sweetness while maintaining all the detail. I think you are on the right track.
Good luck
John S
I received a huge upgrade in sound from
NAD C375BEE integrated amp into tube preamp and solid state amp. 
The pieces are McIntosh - preamp included a DAC and phono stage versus an phono only in the integrated. The amp increase output from 150 to 300 yet my speakers found new life. The sound is more dynamic and detailed at all listening levels. 
Had to for the last 45 years or so...built a Hafler 500 from a kit in 1974 or so and have been using CL-32 Luxman preamps on it since then.  Both CL-32's finally gave up...evidently no matter how much I paid, and I paid a lot, they don't seem to be fixable by so-called "experts."  Whatever.  Hard to believe people charge you to fail, but that is today's world, I guess.  In my shop, if I could not fix it, it was free no matter how much time I spent on it.  Failure is failure--not these days based on current events, obviously.

Got a used SP-6 two months ago, and BOY, what an immediate improvement in every phase of the listening experience (I kind of knew it would be...).

Now, looking for a used ARC power amp (tube, not hybrid) and an EC-21 crossover (kind of hard to find) so I can bi-amp with the Hafler on the bottom and the ARC on top for my T-1-C speakers.

Not a bad idea, and worked OK for me for a long time.

Cheers!
Not all tube preamplifiers sound the same. Some sound very syrupy and (too) lush and others sound crisp and with just a touch of tube warmth. The quality of the sound will ultimately depend on how the (tube) preamp pairs with the upstream and downstream electronics, choice of tubes, cables, the speakers and of course the room. The best advice is to try a few in your system and decide for yourself. Or if that’s not an option, first decide what aspect of the current sound quality you’d like to improve, e.g., too clinical, bright, etc., and rely on people’s experience on which brand/model provides the element you’re missing. For example, if you're looking for a lush tubey sound character, I think most agree that the older Conrad Johnson preamplifiers are well suited for that sort of sound. By contrast, the newer Audio Research preamps tend to be more neutral. 
My Cayin H80A does justice to the notion of a tube pre driving ss power albeit in a ’hybrid integrated’. And I have also discovered rolling those preamp tubes makes significant differences, confirming for me how good or bad an effect the tube pre section can have.

I can therefore highly recommend as others have here; I would otherwise try separates with a decent balanced tube pre driving solid state mono blocs connected as close as possible to the speakers.

However, I am also just as curious to try just the opposite; namely a decent solid state preamp driving tube mono bloc power amps. Any ideas?
The fellow w/ Daniel Hertz M6L Pre with the Wavac M805 is actually doing it in reverse .  He’s using SS Pre W/ Wavac tube amps.  His Gear so nice it couldn’t sound bad:).   Right now I’m running Class A Omtec CA-25V3 Solid State  Amps with an Uesugi U Bros1 tube Preamp to Drive my ESL Solution’s refurbished Quad 57’s.   It’s the best mating I’ve ever had on the 57’s going back 30 years.
If you just want to dip a toe in tube waters you could add a simple Tube Buffer.In a basic system such as yours it would make an immediate & positive impact on the tone,imaging & staging,cost about $100.00 +-...
Good sound, in concept. I use an ancient (1963) Macintosh C-20 with solid state amps, with my magneplanars. I've tried other preamps, but none sound as clear an accurate as my old Mac. Whatever you do, get a high quality preamp.

freediver
'
If you just want to dip a toe in tube waters"
What does this mean dip your toe I see this expression frequently used commonly on this site and it does not translate at all for me so would appreciate an explanation. thank you!!!!
I've done it both ways; SS pre w/ tube power, and tube pre w/ SS power.  Both have worked depending on the speakers...the most synergistic combo will depend on the surrounding comps, room character and your listening taste.  That's our hobby!  Right now I do as 'oldheavymec' suggests: tube pre split output to SS for woofers and tube power for mids/tweets.  I installed a gain pot on the SS amp to balance things and it locks in nicely. 
My gear: not high end...Chinese Zero-Zone CJ clone pre, hot rod ST70 (VTA driver), Akitika GT102, and home brew speakers with Dayton 7" RS woofs, Morel Twee-mid domes and Dayton crossovers.  1 cu ft enclosure ported to 33 Hz cutoff.  Also have a Dayton 8" powered sub in the low frequency circuit with DSP to add some extra oomph and eliminate any bass slop from the ported woofers when playing vinyl.
^^^ @ clearthink,
 to"dip a toe"in any waters is to start as small as $ possible with maximum gains..An inexpensive tube buffer would exhibit all the basics of how tubes affect the sound including true staging & instrument separation,depth of stage & tonal saturation...
I have been doing this since the 80's Conrad Johnson Premiere  2 with Adcom GFA 555. loved it. It really stepped up the dynamics of the Adcom. Audio Research LS2B with Krell KSA 100s. Softened up the Slam in your face of the Krell. Today still Audio Research LS 27 with ARC DS 450. CJ or ARC tube preamps work well with Your Parasound. 
I'm sort of at the opposite end. 
I have a solid state preamp and tube amp(s). I use multiples of subwoofers and I don't think tube preamps are up to that challenge.

ozzy
I have a Luxman Cl38U SE w/a Bryston 2.5 SST2 powering a pair of Aerial 5T's. Gives me a nice detailed top end. Eliminates some of the harshness from streaming music.