What was the punch line on that tuna commercial years ago -- "sorry, Charlie"
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I have the Jeff Rowland battery powered Coherence II and while I cannot necessarily say that it is the equivalent of tubes, it has never left me wanting for a tube preamp either. I use the Aesthetix Rhea tube phono amp, so I am quite familiar with the qualities which tubes impart. On the digital end I use an MBL 1511F DAC and Accustic Arts Drive 1. Through the Coherence, the sound is very analog sounding and has a lush, rich midrange, which in my opinion is what tubes do best. Jeff has a brand new flagship preamp coming out, the Criterion if I am not mistaken. I haven't heard it, but it will set you back $15,000 or more. A Coherence can be had for a third the price.
I would tend to agree with Bob (Ontjesr). It would seem that if there was one out there that could replicate the sound of tubes, we all would ditch our tube preamps. I mean no one really likes replacing tubes, we do it because it sounds better than SS.
If you are stuck on SS though, the darTZeel NHB-18NS would probably come as close as you can get to tube sound from silicon chips. Of course with a list price of $23,250 I would hope so.
I have to agree with Ontjesr and the others above. I had a McIntosh 6900 SS integrated amp. Sold it to get the McIntosh 2275 tubed integrated amp. For my ears, big difference in sound - tubes over solid state. The bonus plan is that with the 2275, unless one is using the phono section, the sound depends only on a pair of 12AT7's and not on any of the other (4) tubes. As such, I'm running Telefunken 801S 12AT7's - glorious sound.
I would try conrad johnson. They are very good at replicating or coming close to tube sound with their ss designs. But really what is the problem with a tubed pre? The tubes last a very long time and have non of the heat or maintenance / cost issues associated with tube amps.
I have also have a tubed pre (cj) and have never had any issues with it.
I had a TVC using the S&B Mark I trannies. It sounded more like a tube preamp than a lot of tube preamps did. By that I mean it was full and rich, but with lots of transparency and resolution. I'm not sure how a TVC would work in your situation, but it's worth looking into. I would still have one in mine, but I changed amps and needed the extra gain.
Perhaps I'm too cynical but when folks say a SS piece 'sounds like tubes' I assume that it has a dark tone, is closed in, and in fact sounds nothing like tubes.
Conversely, when someone sez that a tube piece sounds like SS it is unduly emphasizing the upper-mid range and highs to maximize its stereo imaging capabilities, and if fact sounds nothing like SS.
I'll spare you my opinion of what tubes sound like.......:-)But if you really want to hear tubes you've got to buy them. There's no free lunch.
Good modern tube preamp designs will have years of ZERO maintenance. The small signal tubes make very little heat and have a life expectancy of between 4000 and 10,000 hours.
Also, when it is time to replace the tubes, they are plug and play. If you can change a light bulb, you can replace the tubes in most preamps.
Finally, using tubes in a preamp or line stage has all of the sonic advantages and none of the disadvantages of tubes in a power amp which have to deal with a speaker load.
Davemitchell is correct for the most part. There are some preamps that have a reputation for being hard on tubes, but most should be good for several thousand hours at least. I would not leave a tube pre on 24/7, but if you had it one 10 hrs/day, you should get 1-2 years on one set of tubes. There are many tube pres out there that use 2-4 small signal tubes so buying 1 or 2 tubes/year is no big deal (and there is no biasing involved).
I agree with the Tom Evans Vibe and Pulse preamp. Not warm like tubes (I am taking CJ warm) but it did offer a 3D soundstage that no other SS preamp I tried could reproduce. Music floated back to front out of a black background. I did not have the additional power supply but I did use the preamp with a Pass Labs X-250 power amp. At the time I auditioned one, they were still very expensive and it was out of my price range then. If you can pick one up used for cheap, buy it.
1st, I love the moniker. That is how I feel about my usual approach to equipment "upgrades" and auditions.
I too have a Pass Labs amp, the X250.5. I recently sold a BAT Vk5i preamp, used it with a Cary SLP 05, and for a long time an ARC LS15. All of these are tube preamps and represent a great deal of variation on implementation of different tube types. All had +/- 's. All, from what I heard, happen to be in the cool neutral group. I never heard a CJ preamp, from what I read falls in the romantic, classic tube sound, I guess depending on vintage.
I can tell you that despite all of these preamps being pretty solid offerings, none really made me feel "at home" with the sound long term. I felt like the presentation was a bit pushed too far forward as if the system was trying to hard to get me to listen to the vocals and other aspects of the upper midrange. I think the Pass amp has very nice qualities (on its own) and has such an open midband that the use of tube preamps that seem to "enhance" the midband may actually do more long term harm than good. I am patiently awaiting a Pass Labs X2.5 solid state preamp, should be here early next week. Though this sits at the "entry" point for the Pass preamp lineup, at $4k retail and since it's based on the same supersymmetry gain stage as the X.5 amps (that I love), I am pretty sure it will be a complementary approach to source/volume control. I am not expecting big fat tube glow and all that, in fact i'm hoping it is not that. On some recordings that "spotlit" midband can actually be annoying. Who knows? Given that i've been listening to tubes the past 3 years it will be an interesting thing to see if an all solid state amplification chain will do it for me. I love the amp, and I have a hunch that if the x2.5 is as transparent as the amp I should be pretty happy with the result...
I would suggest taking a look at the Artemis LA-1. If changing tubes is that much of an issue you won't need to often with this pre. It uses 2 5687 dual triode tubes one for each channel and only heats 1 of the 2 triodes. Once the tube goes you swap channels and your good to go. The manufacturer calls it Cool-Swap Technology. You will get an easy 20,000 hrs on a set of tubes.
I know i wont get the exact sound out of ss preamp.Maybe i should have said a pre-amp with no edgy, analitical sound to it.I know there some great SS gear to be had and using a tube preamp for years I have gotten use to the sound.Some of the SS preamps I have heared sounded very sterile to me.My current preamp is a Sonic Frontiers Line-3/se.
Spaz, if you want to avoid the stereotypical over analytical, edgy SS sound, I think you can do so easily with many of today's SS offerings. You would certainly be fine with a Pass pre. If you want an SS tube to sound like a tube pre, that is another thing altogether, and I think for the most part you can't do that; which doesn't mean you can't find some excellent sounding SS pres, they simply have a different signature compared with tubes.
Spaz, you didn't tell us your speakers, but if you want a full bottom end with little to no roll-off, choose a tube pre very carefully. The Calypso's output impedance raises to about 3,500 ohms at 20hz, so even your 20K input impedance (balanced) may not be enough for full-range speakers. The Calypso did not provide a solid bottom end with my DNA 500, which has input impedance of 10K ohms. OTOH, your Line3SE has output impedance of just less than 100 ohms, and should be fine. I owned both, and liked the Line 3SE better than the Calypso with my McCormack - the Calypso sounded too neutral without enough body in my system. The Line 3 SE is a pretty good preamp, if you want a large step up, you are going to have to pay a bit to get better, and not just different. There are also some very good SS preamps out there, but not many that have dimensionality that challanges a good tube preamp.
when you say tube sound, do you mean the classic tube sound, or the modern tube sound ?
if you mean the former, there is no component in production which will provide this for you.
if you mean the latter, the difference between tube and solid state is converging. you should have no trouble finding one. have you listened to a nuforce preamp ?
i heard nuforce amp and pre and speakers at ces. it is worth a listen.
only your ears can decide whether a transistor pre amp is satisfactory. listen, listen listen . any of the well known brands are worth a listen, such as conrad johnson, edge, krell, etc. .
You may find a SS preamp that gives you "warm" sound but I'm doubtful you'll get "holographic" from anything SS. It's been a long time since I gave up the search and went with tubes but since I have, I'll never go back.
I've owned five different tube preamps over the past 15 years or so and in all that time only one Chinese 6SN7 went bad. Heck, I've got Telefunken 6DJ8's and 12AX7's with many years on them that I've used in Cat preamps which are known to be hard on tubes and they still test like new.
Sorry, if you want tube sound you'll have to break down and buy tube equipment. There ain't no gettin' around it.