Tube Preamps under $10k with deep bass extension

I'm still goofing around looking for a good tube preamp. I'd like to hear from those who have auditioned some tube preamps on systems capable of 20hz. I auditioned a hovland HP 100 that had fantastic midrange but seemed to be missing a little bit of the lower octave. I'm new to the tube preamp arena and am unaware of which ones can make 20hz and which cannot. I've had some good responses to previous posts which have got me interested in Supratek, McIntosh, and CAT preamps. I also noticed some tube ringing at higher levels. Is this something I should expect or not?
The Atma-Sphere MP-1 Mk II will give you the low frequency performance you are looking for. Everything else is incredible as well.
Lamm's LL2, while perhaps just a little full in the mid-bass (not at all unpleasant, and you only really notice it compared to its bigger brother, the L2), has excellent low frequency extension and is a bargain in the used market. Get the Deluxe version, it's worth the extra scratch. I had this piece in my system for a couple of months while waiting for my own pre to be repaired and was shocked at how good it was, even in the deepest bass regions. And my top recommendation, the Lamm L2, is in the $7500 used range, simply one of the best preamps available today, although technically it's solid state in the signal path (the power supply has the tube).
Check out the Blue Circle BC9 or BC3000. Both are outstanding preamps with excellent bass extension.
The Wyetech Labs Opal. Absolute Sound's Golden Ear Award Winner 2002...
First Sound makes some great tube preamps. I had the Lamm LL2 Delx in my system versus the Pass X-1 and the Pass went a little deeper in the Bass (slightly but noticable) but it's a SS preamp.
First Sound.
AudioNote M5.
BWS--after a long search (Including the Wyetech Opal)
CAT Ultimate will certainly go down to 20hz, but so will
the Audible Illusions Modulus III. Modulus III has better bass than the IIIa. I have the CAT and would certainly take it over the Audible Illusions, but the AI ain't bad. If you are primarily concerned with the bass however, you could take the AI and save a lot of money. You are right about the Hovland. I would say that it is missing the whole first octave, not just a part of it.

I will be getting a First Sound Presence Audio Deluxe Mk II 4.0 with dual power supplies next week. I believe that this unit is the same as the First Sound Paramount minus the volume control upgrade to Vishay resistors, some few internal wiring and component changes, gold front panel and gold knobs, so it should represent some of the best sound coming from this line. According to people in the know, even the ordinary Presence Audio Deluxe Mk II is stunning in its ability to provide dynamics and bass. I would expect from the overbuilt nature of the power supplies coming with the Deluxe 4.0 Mk II, that the bass and dynamics would be taken to another level. Since I intend to keep my CAT, I can finally provide a comparison between these two sometime late next week if anyone is interested.
i can see here the very wide meaning of phrase "under $10k" here especially for AI $1500 new?
there is also minimalistic AE3 that has the same level of performance at more less than half price AI but with smaller volume range and certainly gain(just 6dB), but the conversation here is to much higher levels of performance where preamp for the money spend should not bring neither brightness or dullness.
no comment about CAT though and that might be the the last one!
WIll be very interested in your findings, Rayhall. By the way, two tweaks for the First Sound that pay off handsomely: Siemens Gold Pin 7308 tubes (a little hard to find) and the Shunyata Taipan power cord.
I find the AI III to be underrated, even though it is considered to be an overachiever for its price. Of course, tube matching is important as well as overall system synergy, but I find that in several systems where I have heard it, it didn't suffer to a very significant degree to some highly regarded and some very expensive preamps. Dynamics and bass were outstanding. Neutrality was excellent. I find the AI to be neither bright nor dull. It lacked a little of the sweetness and air around instruments, but you could do a lot worse and spend a lot more money, even $10K. I am happy to spend as little as possible, where possible, for equipment and keep the difference in my pocket instead of someone else's. I never judge equipment by what it costs. Generally, I have not found cost to correlate all that well with the sound quality.

Didn't know about the Siemens 7308's. I do have an NOS pair of Siemens E88CC's lying around which didn't do much for the CAT. I like Telefunken E88CC's in the CAT, by the way. I do have a pair of NOS Tele 7308's, which I will try in the First Sound. They are a no no in the CAT. I have been searching the web and did run across several people saying the Shunyata Taipan works well with the F.S. Anyone got any to lend? I need two. I am broke! Really!
Rayhall, you're intriguing indeed! This is actually where I want to stand. How is built quality of AI and are there any upgrade paths?
Aren't we talking first about small signal tubes that can get down to 20 Hz. When you have found the 'perfect' tubes I'm sure that there are a number of good tube pre-amps that can take advantage of this. A question crosses my mind...why would you be interedted in a tube pre that can pash out a 20 Hz fundamental?


Sorry for being a heretic but build quality, while nice to have in those $10K products, is overrated, IMO. If it is cheap, sounds good and therefore doesn't need upgrading, and lasts, what's the problem? (:->). (Gotta work on my smiley faces!)

Don't get me wrong. I like the fit and finish of those expensive products and am not immune to it. I own a few that some might consider "overbuilt" but build quality, I find, is a term which is used a lot but is very hard to define. Sometimes it refers to weight, sometimes electronic parts, fancy wiring, shiny faceplates, fit and finish of cases and cabinetry, etc. The premium in the price for what we perceive as build quality is just enormous. Since we are all here for the sound rather than indefinable things or things which are not proven to correlate with good sound, I try to give those things a low priority. It is just my philosophy. I don't mean to disparage anyone else's.

Even with that said, I don't consider the AI to be a crappy product with regard to build quality. I am not saying that it is the absolutely best-sounding pre out there, but it ain't bad, and for the money, it is a steal. If you put it next to something that you think is way better, compare the two and tell me what is missing. My answer would be not much. That is all that I am saying.

I agree completely with your comments about build quality. It is overrated. And if you are to believe the reviewers, just about everything is "built like a tank" with "fit 'n finish beyond reproach."
Today I heard the Mcintosh C2200 and all I can say is tubes and bass! The windows were shaking! I was shocked! I really think you should demo this one!
I have put my AI M3A (w NOS Tungsram ECC88s) up against a conrad johnson LS16 and a very early version of the First Sound starter model, Presence (not Presence Deluxe or 4.0).
I preferred the M3A.
The cj is more than three time the M3A's price and the M3A has a phono section! Both the FS and cj did some things technically better, but the M3A simply allows more muscial life and drama to breathe. The cj was down-right boring--in two different systems. I have every confidence that a recent FS Presence Deluxe would sound very fine indeed.

The CAT Ultimate in my system is quick and has bass to die for. All four of these pre-amps have good bass. (I can get close to a 20Hz tone.) I would be surprised if anyone craving bass did not get all that a tubed pre-amp could offer in the way of bass from a CAT. (The CAT does not electrically mate with my pwr amps [Cary SLAM-100's] or I would probably be running with the CAT.)

I will receive a broken in Lamm LL2 in one week. If anyone is interested in the LL2 results, let me know. Supposed to have great bass....
I had an AI briefly, and it's a fine preamp, but the First Sound Presence Deluxe MkII is in another league altogether. Outstanding bass and dynamics, huge soundstage.

The Herron is also excellent on bass and dynamics, with great imaging and a very "live", musical sound.
I currently have a EAR 834L. I can't speak to it's exact bass extension, and it's most likely not at the level you are looking. But I found the extension stronger and lower than what I was achieving with with my adcom pre. Just a thought, you may want to check into their offerings.
Rackon, I believe you when you say the First Sound Presence Deluxe is in another league from the AI M3A. That is why I said the following in my original post: "I have every confidence that a recent FS Presence Deluxe would sound very fine indeed."

I actually plan on auditioning a FS Presence Deluxe in a week or two. The Lamm LL2, FS Presence Deluxe, and the M3A will (hopefully) be at my house at the same time.
I did hear a new, current version First Sound Presence Deluxe in my system just yesterday for several hours. In a word, Gorgeous. To add to that with more descriptors: neutral, natural, detailed but not etched or aggressive, deeply moving emotionally, and always just about the music--nothing more, nothing less.
Rackon was right, the FS Presence Deluxe is indeed in a whole other class than the AI M3A.

And as compared to the Lamm LL2 Deluxe, the FS also just brought me closer to the musical intent of the recordings. The FS Presence Deluxe has no glare or fatiguing artifacts. The Lamm does have these to a noticeable extent in my system.
I have to qualify this by saying the Lamm LL2 Dlx may suffer from some of the same electrical mis-match characteristics that the CAT Ultimate has when mated to the Cary SLAM-100's (sensitive inputs .75 V). The Lamm and the CAT both have more dynamic, exciting presentations with perhaps more defined bass characteristics, but at an unacceptable level of accompanying fatigue from an almost over-blown bass presentatino and aggressive sounding upper-mid glare.

The CAT and Lamm have a "HiFi" quality in my system. I know that the Lamm, in particular, is not known for that. I am looking into ways to decrease the Cary SLAM-100's input sensitivity so that I can use a wider range of low-impedance, high output pre-amps. The Lamm shows potential, but the FS completely outshines it in musical meaningful ways--in my system. Quite remarkable, the FS.

If I do figure out a way to decrease the Carys' input sensitivity, I will report the findings if anyone is interested.
I cannot imagine a CAT Ultimate which sounds bright. Only terms such as smooth and musical come to mind when describing this unit. In my opinion, it has the absolutely most liquid midrange of any preamp which I have ever heard. If anything, I find it slightly warm rather than bright. As I also own the First Sound Presence Deluxe 4.0, I find that to be a high quality linestage, but certainly not better than the CAT. I will admit that the CAT is quite heavy in the bass and the First Sound doesn't have that. The First Sound throws a very wide soundstage, slightly wider than the CAT's, but the CAT has a deeper one. The First Sound is actually brighter than the CAT, for which I do not fault it. I do fault it that a hard struck high register piano note sounds a little brittle. This never happens on my CAT. As I have had the First Sound for only a month or two, and haven't yet done the experimentation with tube rolling and changes in interconnects although I am currently using NOS Telefunken 7308's in it, I am willing to admit that I haven't yet extracted the best from the First Sound, but I don't understand Kalan's complaints about the CAT apart from gain, line output and sensitivity issues. Although tube rolling with the CAT can make a significant difference, I have never heard it sound bright, even with the stock tubes or with NOS tubes for which it is not well suited, such as Mullard 6922's. If so, perhaps a tube change or perhaps an interconnect change is required.
Rayhall, What is the input sensitivity of your Pass amps?

The CAT has low output impedance: 100 Ohms (and high gain). The Lamm LL2 also has a low OP imp: 250 Ohms (and medium gain).

Both of these pre-amps are know for their smooth, detailed, liquid, natural sonics. Agreed. But in some match-ups--in which plenty of other pre-amps do just fine, there appears to be too much output to mate properly with the power-amps. It's a matter of balancing the right levels of signal strength among the components.

I have come to the conclusion that the Cary SLAM-100 power amps don't do well with pre-amps whose OP impedance is lower than about 400 Ohms. Such pre-amps seem to "over drive" their .75 V inputs. I know that engineers will dismiss me as ignorant and scream at me that it does not make any difference. The lower the impedance, the better. I know, I know.

At least one other user (Musicluvr) reported a similarly aggressive sound from the CAT when mated to his Plinius amps. Another A-gon poster (different thread) surmised that the CAT would sound "in your face" solely based on the SLAM-100's input rating. He was right. I have never said that CAT pre-amps categorically sound bright and aggressive. I have always qualified my comment with the mis-match issue. Also, the CAT I heard in my system may not have been broken in all the way (dealer demo).

The Lamm LL2, too, is known for its organic, life-like sound. I hear only some of this when paired with the SLAM-100s. I also hear an electronic glare that is reminiscent of the CAT's sound. Another LL2 user said that it sounded aggressive when paired up with the Joule Electra VZN-80 amp. Interesting to note that the Lamm ML 1.1 pwr amps have an input sensitivity of 1.3.

Both the First Sound and Audible Illusions pre's have an OP impedance of 1300 Ohms. The Cary SLAM-100's love to work with these pre's. Does this mean that the CAT and the Lamm are aggressive across the board? No. I hope no one assumes that I assert that. A friend of mine who has heard the CAT in a couple of installations was instrumental in me auditioning one. He swore up and down that it was smooth, musical, warm, etc. I am sure the CAT and LL2 sound that way in those systems; they just don't sound that way in mine.

I can't fault the Cary pwr amps out of hand either because they sound truly glorious with other pre-amps--better than a stock, unbroken-in pair of ASL Hurricanes (HP's five-star amps) that I tried for a week with two different pre-amps! A pattern has emerged: The Carys can only mate with certain pre's. It's a quirk I have to put up with, or I will have to sell them off. Likewise, the LL2 is probably wonderful with the right amps--probably Lamm's own.

Your post is interesting since I was a Plinius SA-100 owner prior to owning the Pass. I had both amps (Pass and Plinius) for about 3-4 months. I LOVED the CAT/Plinius combo and it was a tough decision to sell the Plinius. In my opinion, those two had a terrific synergy. The only reason that I decided to keep the Pass rather than the Plinius even though the synergy wasn't as great was that I felt that the Pass was a better amp overall: greater bass extension and high frequency extension, better detail, more neutral. Plinius had a lot more slam in the bass and was a little brighter with the CAT than the Pass, but I wouldn't call it an "in your face" combo. At that time, I was using 90 db sensitivity Snell C/V loudspeakers as opposed to the 86 db sensitivity Vandersteen 3A Signatures which I use now. With the Snell's and the Plinius, use of the volume control on the CAT was frustrating due to the CAT's gain and, I guess, the Plinius high sensitivity, but when you set the volume correctly, you got a quite reasonably balanced system frequency-wise. In my opinion, the system wasn't forward or "in your face". It was more forward, however, than my current system, just not overly so.

Here are the vital stats on the Pass:
Pass Aleph 4

Gain: 26 db

Sensitivity: no rating

Input impedance: 10,000 ohms

I don't doubt what you hear, Kalan. It is surprising that such a sensitivity mismatch would affect one set of frequencies as opposed to others, since I interpret "in your face" to mean an overemphasized midrange.
Rayhall, Thanks for your info about the CAT/Plinius combo. Perhaps other factors are coming into play that I have no way of accounting for. For all I know, I have drawn an incorrect conclusion in my little theory. It would not be the first time that I labored under false assumptions.

As for "in your face" sound, I mean mainly an upper mid and higher frequency exaggeration, a forced presentation that gives me the impression that the signal is being slammed into the amps instead of just flowing. (I know that sounds really stupid and "new age.") The leading edges are fast and the effect is initially exciting, but the trailing elements of the first notes are clobbered by the attack of the subsequent notes. The natural arc of attack, further harmonic (and hall sound) propagation, decay, and trailing effects simply got lost in a hyper, super-charged onslaught of everything kind of stumbling over everything else.

The CAT I auditioned may not have broken in (advertised as "dealer demo") enough. How many hours would you estimate it takes for a CAT Ultimate to break in?

It is too bad the input sensitivity of the Pass amp was not given in its specs'. My pet theory hinges on this. You supply information that does not support my ideas because you say the CAT/Plinius combo worked (works) just fine. I am at a loss then....