Tube Preamps.....


I am running 2 GFA 565 Musical Comcepts modded Amps with Vandersteen 2ce v2. I am looking for a good quality tube preamp. With or without a built in dac. Should I stick with shopping for a used Mac? Or should I look at others also. Suggestions? Like to keep it under $3000. Could stretch to 3500. Thanks for your input. 
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Used:
Belles
Cary
Conrad j


I think you'll find your options very limited if you want a tube pre with a built in DAC. You need to decide how you want to allocate your $3K between the two components and then search for threads which discuss these pieces individually. Lots of tube preamp threads out there. 
$3000 wouldn’t be split. $3000 will be preamp alone. Been reading a lot. Thought I would toss the question out with my current components. Could stretch it to $3500. 
Pretty simple choice.

1. Primaluna Prologue prem tube pre amp.
2. Denafrips Ares DAC.

The two items will come in just under your budget. The Ares is a giant killer of a DAC.
With the Adcom amp, I think you’ll enjoy the tube preamps that lean more on the "tubey" side of neutral. I have an Adcom GFA-555 that has been paired with my GFP-750 for many years and I recently bought an Aric Audio all-tube preamp for another system and I really like how it sounds with the Adcom amp. It gives it a nice lush and engaging tone, particularly in the midrange, that the Adcom preamp lacks. Some may say its not neutral but it just rounds off the edges without losing much detail. I think you’ll be delighted when you put a tube preamp in front go your Adcom and for $3K, especially used, you can get something real good.
Yes with the 565’s being heavily modded by Musical Concepts that made a huge difference in the way they sounded. They never were as bright and leaned on the more neutral side then other Adcoms. After the upgrades completely different amp. I have a friend that has stock 565’s and they sound much better with tubes. that was why I was leaning towards a tube preamp. Thanks for the responses. 
I highly recommend Don Sach's 6SN7-based tube preamp.  It betters any preamp I have had in my system and I have a boatload of them.  Don sells the preamp directly so they are an extremely fine value.  There are lots of review of the preamp on this and other forums.  
Atma-Sphere UV-1 and an Ayre Codex DAC would be my suggestion.
B
Research Rogue Audio.  The RP-1 is $1.5K and the RP-5 is $3.5k .  I really like my RP-1 and the folks at Rogue have been really confidence inspiring on the phone. Only issue is no Balanced out until you get up to the RP-7.


This is a gorgeous sounding preamp in the listings $500 under your budget....

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis8fg1h-synthesis-art-in-music-ecstasy-line-level-tube-pre-amp-tu...

No affiliation with the seller but my local dealer Deja Vu Audio is the US importer for Synthesis so I've heard their gear many times. Very transparent organic warm and musical and being Italian very stylish looking.
Hi jond, When the preamp heats up, does it smell like a pepperoni pizza? Joe
I have my PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium PreAmp coming in this week.
Running a Mac Mini with Roon, connected to Pro-Ject Pre-Box Digital S2 for now. Does Tidal MQA, DSD and everything else you throw at it.
May upgrade the DAC later, and use the Pro-Ject for another system I'll build for my office.
+1 @whitestix on the Sachs pre.  He also offers a short in-home trial, which is a real plus, and the fact that this would be new rather than used is also kinda nice.  At your price you could do lots of Don's upgrades to create a really nice pre. 

On the used side, there's a nice Backert Rhumba 1.2 listed at $2400.  But if you can stretch your budget just a bit there's an Allnic L3000 mkii reduced to $3700 that looks like a great buy as its listed retail is $13,000 (there are nice reviews of the original model from Audio Beat and Dagogo comparing it to other nice preamps).  I have to say if I'm you I'd have a tough time passing this one up as it seems like a truly top-level and potentially end-game component -- if there is such a thing.  Best of luck. 

Joe pepperoni pizza is more of an American thing. :)
The Schiit Freya is maybe a giant killer of a tube preamp, and it's so cheap you could add an astonishingly great DAC and stay in that budget.
Another vote for the Freya. At least give it a try. For $700 bucks with a 15 day return less 5% restocking fee (and shipping) you will risk little.   It’s a very flexible, balanced design with (tiny) remote, several output modes (one of which is 6SN7 tube-based) and numerous inputs. Also has a very very good volume control and 5 year warranty.
I know...it doesn't cost enough so it must be junk. Why not let your ears decide?  

You could do Freya + Gungnir MB or even the Yggdrasil DAC at your (stretch) budget. Lots more info over on HeadFi (Freya impressions and tube rolling thread). Good luck.

http://www.schiit.com/products/freya

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/schiit-freya-impressions-and-tube-rolling-thread.832177/

Note that the only serious issue with a Freya is the fact that you could become obsessed with 6SN7 tube types…my SE power amp also has one of these (a NOS Amperex), so I seem to now have a tube collecting problem with the Freya original 6N8S tubes (which are possibly all you need), Sylvania "chrome domes," more NOS Amperex when I can find them, new version Tung Sols (not too shabby really), and more coming from stashes of NOS RCAs and on it goes. You've been warned.

If you can live without a remote, I recommend the CJ Classic tube preamp. Used ones show up on Agon all along with very attractive pricing. I’ve owned PrimaLuna and I consider this a (significant) upgrade. 
I second the Denafrips DAC. For preamps, I’ve had a half dozen or so, but a few years ago bought a demo Rogue Metis Magnum for only $1100 (didn’t even listen to the stock tubes initially) and being new to tube preamps paired w solid state amps, over a year and a half stretch of obsession, rolled about $4k worth of 6SN7 and VT99 tubes (w adapters). I ultimately declared a clear winner.. and that was the NOS (or even used) VT-99 Tung Sol’s (also black glass like their 6SN7 brothers). In the VT-99, flat plate or round plate.. both are suprisingly similar, they were dramatically quieter, higher bandwidth, and therefore more revealing than anything else. Raytheon’s and Sylvania grey glass (from Argentina) were also excellent but a step back from TS VT99. Even Tung Sol’s crazy expensive much heralded round plate 6SN7 didn’t come close.. too noisy and twice and expensive. On a lark one day, i put in the original tubes (still low hrs) and they were unlistenable, relatively speaking. I’m not sure how the preamp garnered such rave reviews with them, but perhaps i’d just been spoiled . I believe the Metis loves great NOS VT-99’s w adapters because it separates the main power lead from the interior of the Tube, which is important in a lower tier preamp such as the Metis. Expensive tube preamps are probably less sensitive to rolling, but this one needs the separated lead to operate quietly. Here, It is a very dynamic, transparent preamp which injects the perfect amount of 2nd harmonic distortion into my solid state equipment chain. So you’re looking at maybe $1200-1400 (w NOS tubes and adapters) for a giant killer.
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I would concur with recomondarions on preamps based with 6SN7 tubes. There is something special about this tube type, and there is (relatively speaking) a great selection of old tubes that you can roll with terrific sonic changes. Something SS will never do.

By all accounts the Don Sachs is a great one. I’ve have a Modright ls100, a Supratek. , and a Wyetech in my system. For my system synergy the Wyetech was the winner. YMMV.

Buying new with return / home trial is prudent. So is buying used at a fare price as you should be able to resell and not loose much. Good luck with your search!
For the best transparency without missing the best tube qualities (that are not always here when we have a tube item in hands): deep soundstage, harmonic developpement without dry signs, I would suggest  the Coincident Statement Linestage. I have one and could compare it directly to AR ref5se and my ex Rogue Hera 2, the Coincident is without doubt better than these two pretenders,  better transparency and fluidity. 

For a really good quality/price ratio, and if you don’t use usb input for your front digital audio gear (as the usb input is not up to date), you can find a second hand Ayon Skylla2 dac that is a dac with two 6h30 tubes per channel as output stage, tube retified, with three different gain ratio and volume control, so it’s a real dac with tube preamp inside. Beautiful association with solid state power amps that would be a bit too much on the solid state side of sound: excellent with Accuphase, too gentle for Passlabs.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned the Linear Tube Audio MZ2, a very fine little 6SN7 based preamp with separate linear power supply.  I got a Freya, and was quite happy with it, until I tried the LTA, and have not gone back (Freya for sale).  And that is before doing any tube rolling, which I look forward to.  BTW, well below your budget.

Don ivey
The original poster has not stated wheather or not he wants a phono section as well.. it makes a difference in price for sure.
@doni -  I had a brief listen to the LTA MZ2, and was very impressed.  With the remote, separate power supply etc, it is still only $2300. Line stage only, and only two inputs if I recall.  I am curious how it would stack up against a used conrad johnson or ARC, which could be had in the 3k range.

@chuckjonez - Don't the more recent CJ's have remotes, too? I have kicked around used CJs, but it has been decades since I listened to one.  Are there any specific models in the OP's price range that would be at the top of your list?
+1 LTA MZ2.  I love mine.  It now comes with three inputs or you can opt for a second set of outputs.  LTA's build team is flexible.  It is so much more transparent and 3D sound producing than my prior Cary tube preamp (also 6SN7 based), which I liked a lot until a friend brought over his MZ2.  No contest.  Ordered the next day.  Quickly sold the Cary and I only miss the pretty red chassis it had.
Really?  No one mentioned a used Manley Neo Classic 300B with two pre-outs to support the Vandys in future with a JL sub?  There, I’ve said it.  Ciao
Really?  No one mentioned a used Manley Neo Classic 300B with two pre-outs to support the Vandys in future with a JL sub?  There, I’ve said it.  Ciao
Don Sach's DS2 6SN7 Tube Pre-Amp; own one and love it!

Wig
Another note on the Freya...it's much less expensive than many of the preamps noted here (about half the cost of the least expensive others noted), has more inputs both single ended and balanced with balanced outputs, and it has the cool 3 way passive/FET/tube operating options which can be changed with the remote from the beer soaked couch you got from your mom (or in my case, the throne I use since I'm Lithuanian royalty). I also found that the Freya really comes into its own with great tubes. I really think if the Freya cost 2 grand it would garner more respect immediately, and if more people said great things about them I'd feel better and less defensive about using one. 
Audible Illusions.....I have a M3a w/6H23NEB tubes and the new Aragon 8008 amp driving Magnepan 3.7i, SWEEEEEEET, to say the least. The M3b is even better!!!
I love my Eastern Electric Linestage pre-amp. You would have plenty of money left for the DAC.
Point to Point wired, exceptional build quality, nothing else comes close for the money.
I haven’t heard the Don Sachs but it looks nice plus he’ll work with you on upgrades to my understanding, a big plus. I have lived with a 6SN7 based output tube preamp up to a few years ago, still have it but it doesn’t hold a candle to my Bill Thalmann upgraded Vintage CJ PV9a in any parameter of performance. The Classic 2 SE with the teflon caps used, no longer available new is killer for the money and beyond but no remote, definitely worthy of consideration. 


I have the CJ classic 2 SE pre amp and my goodness is it good. However CJ stopped making this and now their entry model is the ET3 which is the same as Classic 2 but with remote control. I can not sing enough praises on this pre-amp, I’ll probably never upgrade.

Another +vote for a Conrad Johnson classic  2SE or ET-3/3SE.

Happy Listening!

shrapnel: the CJ ET3 and Classic 2 preamps are completely different designs, with no relation other than they were both designed and produced by CJ.  The ET3 is based on technology used for the GAT preamp while the Classic 2 is essentially an update of the PV-10BL preamp.  Both are great amps but were designed for different user expectations and different price points.

patores: personally, I would take the advise of the others who have advised you to skip the preamp/DAC combination.  To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary "Preamps live  forever but no so little DACs..."

Hi, reading the string with interest. I had a CJ 12AL (12au7 tubes) pre for several years which was a warm/lush preamp for sure. A beautiful sounding piece. I replaced it with a Odyssey Candela preamp to mate with my Odyssey Stratos. It leans to warm aide of neutral and responds greatly to nos tuberolling. I default back to bugle boys. I assume it falls well within your $3K limit but a call to Klaus could answer any questions that you may have.
Take care.

Linear Tube Audio MZ2-S
+1 LTA MZ2.  I have one in my 3rd system.  I've had it in systems #1 and #2, and it's incredible for the money.  It's just barely beaten by an $8K integrated and an $18K pre-amp, and it easily beat an $8K pre-amp I demo'd (and didn't buy because of the MZ2).
@parsons,

That is high praise and I completely agree. The MZ2 can compete with preamps at 10x the cost. I am now very curious about the new Micro ZOTL Preamp that was just shown at Axpona for the first time. Unlike the MZ2 which is a Swiss Army knife product, the new pre is a dedicated preamp and Mark says it’s better than the MZ2.
I would concur with recomondarions on preamps based with 6SN7 tubes. There is something special about this tube type, and there is (relatively speaking) a great selection of old tubes that you can roll with terrific sonic changes. Something SS will never do.
The 6SN7 is more linear tube than its miniature counterpart the 12AU7 (although the 6CG7 and 12BH7 are nearly the same tube in the taller miniature format) and has less microphonics than the 6DJ8 and its brethren, which includes the 6H30. It is one of the best tubes you can use in a line stage.
@br3098 I am telling what the technician at CJ (Jeff, I believe) told me. I talked about sending my line stage classic 2 SE to get  phono stage put in. I was asking him if I should just upgrade to the 3 and he said "why? its the same circuit with a remote control added to it" He asked me to stick with the classic and just get a phono stage to go with it unless I wanted the remote. He also said the phono stage they add to the 3 and 2 is the TEA2 circuit.
shrapnel, if that's what the tech at CJ told you then it must be true.  But I will add that I have owned the ET2, Classic and CT6 preamps (amongst other CJ models) and I will tell you for a fact that the design, parts and layout for these three preamps are completely different, as is the sound signature.  YMMV
@br3098 I see, I haven't so I will take your word for it. Either way, in my opinion, CJ gear is simply awesome.
Try to figure out what you want - lean, warm or lush?

+1 CJ is very good value not so good on resale if it doesn’t work for you. Mcintosh is a great classic sounding choice with good resale but higher priced because highly desirable - warm but not lush. VAC are lush but pricey. As Wolf mentioned, once you get a tube preamp then tube rolling can become an endless pursuit too...

I've had a McIntosh preamp, a Cary 6SN7-based preamp (selected over a CJ preamp), and now the LTA MZ2, also a 6SN7/12SN7 preamp. 

The MZ2 is far and away the best I've had, and a tube rolling funhouse.  You can tailor your tone preference with tube choice.

@jsm71 - What about the LTA MZ2 jumped out for you as better than the Cary/CJ/Mac?