Tubes or Solid State?

I'm looking to replace my solid state Musical Fidelity M2si integrated amplifier that I've been using as a preamp with a dedicated preamp. I have been considering tube line stages from Maple Tree, and, Van Alstine and the LSA Hyperdrive Preamp/Headphone amp. I am also looking at the SPL Elector MK2 which is solid state and a bit more money.
The tubes are supposed to be warmer and the SPL is supposed to be absolutely dead quiet. 



In general tubes tend to be warmer than solid state. In high end products they are not warm but just more realistic.


In your situation. First, if you want to make sure your new purchase delights you, and does not just trade off one set of weaknesses for another, then I always make sure the increase in investment is at least 2x my last.

Assuming you want a better sounding system over time and given the price range you are considering and how important the preamp is, I would recommend considering putting $1200 in and buy a used tube preamp from a well established high end company… Rogue, Audio Research, or Conrad Johnson. You will have to get a moderately old one… but they tend to last forever and the sound is extremely musical.

What’s your budget and what sound characteristics/improvements are you looking for?

First, if you want to make sure your new purchase delights you, and does not just trade off one set of weaknesses for another, then I always make sure the increase in investment is at least 2x my last.

@erik_squires I know where you are going but this isn’t the right metric ($$). A $500 DAC today will demolish a $1000 DAC from 5 years ago. Same for receivers. I agree that if you are upgrading swing for the fences, but you can’t just spend $ and expect an improvement that will lay waste to your previous setup.

OP, I would ask the guys at Van Alstine since they are on your list for a recommendation, they couldn't be nicer.


I PREFER TUBES (prefer, not better, is my take on all things decent).

tube preamp, tube amp, tube phono, ... (I don’t know anything about DAC, streaming ....).

features: remote volume, balance, mode switch mono/stereo/stereo reverse... are important to me, that keeps me with a mix of vintage and modern.


First, what speakers, especially how efficient, high sensitivity are they?

I always recommend speakers efficient enough to keep power needs lower, that is what makes it easier to try tubes.

Less power saves money, and involves less heat, smaller size, less weight, easier placement, line of sight for remote beams ...

less power = less # of power tubes = less replacement cost, easier to try tube rolling ....


Not sure where this whole "warmer" thing comes from. Possibly from the sound of old receivers (radios). I've late 50's power amps and tube phono amps with 28 tubes in total from cartridge to speakers. And it is NOT warm-sounding. 


I think @erik_squires  meant if you are going to upgrade, go for something that is double the SQ but he posted double the $.

@ghdprentice I’m looking at all possibilities, and haven’t ruled anything out yet, well anything under $2K in price that is. My "forever system" is almost in place. I think a tube preamp would be just the thing to put it over the top. (see below)
@soix I’m just looking to kick things up a notch or two in terms of realism and detail.Looking to spend under $2K.
@kota1 Thanks. Sounds like a good idea.

@elliottbnewcombjr I don’t need, or want a lot features, a remote volume control and a fixed out put along with a variable output so I can feed my headphone amp. In fact one of the things I like about my M2si is its minimalist design. Input selectors and a single volume potentiometer no tone or balance controls. I am also shying away from a tube power amp. I’m not going down that rabbit hole!
My system as it is comprised today.

Yamaha T-1000 tuner.

Audiolab 6000 CDT
Musical Fidelity V-90 DAC

Musical Fidelity M2si integrated amp (preamp usage only)
Musical Fidelity X-P200 power amp, (a compact little beast, 125 wpc @8 ohms 75 amperes of current) Solid state and I have no intention of replacing it.

Pro-Ject Head Box Ds2 Headphone amp.
Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones

Speakers (last but certainly not least) ESS RMII-6", 94 db sensitivity. AMT tweeter with a frequency response that seems to have no upper limit. The company’s slogan is "Sound as clear as light", and these live up to that. The bass on these goes down to 35hz as well. I love, love, love them.
I have SVS speaker cables with banana plugs and Blue Jeans cables LC 1s (three feet) RCA interconnects.
So I’m looking to end up with a tube preamp/ solid state power amp combination. (The best of both worlds according to some of my audiophile friends)
Thanks for the responses people

@elliottbnewcombjr I don't know much about streamers at all. I do know I don't want to subscribe to a streaming service in order to be able to use one.
About DACs all I'll say is this. A CD transport/DAC combination, even a budget DAC like mine will deliver superior performance to any stand alone CD player at up to triple the price of the Transport/DAC combo.

Send me your MF and I'll upgrade the unit to sound better  than anything you can purchase for $1200 and up.  Those old units are nice but really nothing special to what an upgrade can do.  Next while I agree a separate CD Transport and DAC is superior sounding budget ones do not beat higher priced stand alone units.  You can buy a marantz cd-94 and it will probably provide superior sound to almost all budget cheaper combos.   Happy listening 


I recently bought a Cayin tube amplifier, at 1/2 price it was too good to miss. Having multiple systems I figured I would use it somewhere. My other systems have Vincent pre /power class A hybrid and Naim Uniti as amps.  It took 1 day to place the Cayin in my dedicated stereo room. My Audio Physic speakers, renowned for soundstage, are truly awesome with valves. I did change from KT88's to EL34's and much prefer the balance and particularly the bass.  Don't be fooled 38 watts is more than enough to drive 89 dB / 4 ohm speakers. 

@bigkidz I have three MF units plus a DAC, do you mean the M2si?
I am more than happy with my Audiolab CDT/V-90 DAC combo. It's a big improvement over my Cambridge Topaz Unit.
There was an SPL Elector for sale here for $1850.00 And a Phonitor Pre/Headphone amp for $1500, both are tempting.Neither are tubes. It certainly is intriguing given the dynamic range and signal to noise ratio specs. It's even the right color too!
@henry53 I'm not looking to replace my solid state power amp. I'm looking for a tube pre amplifier only. I'm not about to go down the rabbit hole of tube power amps. No thank you.

Definitely look into the Linear Tube Audio MZ2 that is not only a great tube preamp but also an outstanding headphone amp.  Even with the optional remote control and upgraded Linear Power Supply (that is really not optional as it ups the performance significantly) it’s right near your price target at $2160, and the tubes last forever.  Best of luck.

@soix thanks man, I followed the link you shared. I now know what the ZOTL means. Interesting piece of equipment I must say. A cheapskate like me just might lurk and by one used. I've seen the name but had no idea they were so highly regarded..

I suggest you try an ARC pre-amp.  If  you can't afford a new one, try a used one.  My SP6B is superb and will last a lifetime.  I got it used for under $800.00.

If you have a local dealer, see if he or she can help you demo something from ARC in your system. 

Remember, your ROOM is the most important variable in your system.  Your dealer may be able to help you with this as well.  If not, many on here can provide some advice.


@richopp we don't have an ARC dealer anywhere near me that I know of. New units are prohibitively expensive for me. So I'll keep looking for used units.
There's no hurry. One thing I have lots of is time.


I don't pay for streaming, but I do like finding music on youtube and Pandora.

Happily someone here got me to use USB out of my computer into a simple Topping DAC, the sound quality, and stronger signal output make a big difference.

The MZ2 does show up used on from time to time, sometimes with or without the upgraded LPS power supply that also occasionally comes up used. The remote is an option on new units, so when you find a used model make sure it has it of you want the remote. Incidentally, I bought one myself but it’s still sitting in the box due to some personal issues — very frustrating. Best of luck.

@soix a new unit without the remote but with the LPS+ Power Supply is just under $2000.00. ($1910 USD) last time I checked.

@dierksb  I understand.  I don't have $20,000 for a pre-amp either.  Keep looking.  Audio Mart has a few under $1000 and there are other sources.  Their dealers have trade-ins; list of dealers is easy to find.   E-Bay has several under $1000 as well.  Also, there are a couple of just-tube collectors out there that have them, I am sure.

Obviously, other companies make fine tube pre-amps as well.  ARC kind of started the amazing pre-amp trend with their SP3-A1 (if you wanna get real technical) and they have had many winners along the way.  Others here suggest some well-respected brands, so keep looking and best of luck.

Enjoy the MUSIC!

@ richopp  A friend of mine has an ARC Preamp. I don't remember what particular model it is. He uses it to feed a Bryston 400WPC power amp. Together the set up makes his speakers disappear.
Thanks for the advice, I'll keep looking.

Never say never.....

I could not imagine giving up streaming now....

I have always enjoyed music, but not like I do now.  I can really go on mind trips, find new music instantly, build playlists, listen to songs I would never listen to otherwise.  One song leads to another.  The beauty is in the not getting up or down and having to take breaks to clean records. I got in the zone the other night the system disappeared and I was immersed. I have heard of this condition and I believe it was the first time for me ever!  Since then I have gotten there two more times!  I have just replaced my dedicated streamer and my new DAC is ordered.  It was a heavy period of upgrading during/after the Pandemic.

+1 on the Schitt Freya recommendation.  I owned one and am of the opinion they are hard to beat into the low thousands. Very reliable. Dead quiet. Good resale.  Lots of input and output options. Quality parts inside. 

@jbhiller thanks for the advice. I've seen used Freya+ for sale here and elsewhere.
I read the Stereophile review of it and am aware of its Class A Classification by Stereophile. I almost bought one. Then I read this.


I would trust Stereophile over Audio Science Review.  If you are not familiar with ASR, please note--they do not listen to gear. Listening--their argument runs--is subjective--and subjectivity tells us nothing.  If you listen to ASR, you are buying equipment solely based on test results. 

If ASR is your jam (you like that analytical framework), this site may not be for you. Most stuff people adore here would get a thumbs down at ASR. 

ASR would tell you to buy a Topping/Gustard/SMSL over a Denafrips.  They are their own special crowd.  

Class A solid state for amplification (I prefer integrateds for simplicity, space & cost savings), paired with tubed ancillary components, such as phono stages, dacs, etc...Sugden, tavish design, Ear and border patrol come to mind. 

Many years past, I carried out numerous Tube vs SS as Amplification , as a Phonostage, Pre-Amp' and Power Amp.

The Outcome being I become a user of SS Phonostage > Tube Pre-Amp' > Power Amp's

More recently over the past 5-6 Years, I have revisited the Comparisons and had demonstrations of Commercial and DIY Built Designs.

The Outcome being I have now been introduced to Tube Phonostages that I now own, as well as, SS Pre and Power Amp's I would happily own in place of a Tube Amp.

My expansion into Digital (I am a very late comer to the party) has the Outcome that I have selected a Tube DAC over a SS DAC.

There are some good DAC Comparison Demonstrations on the near horizon, so this attraction to Tubes might get realigned. 

It’s all in the implementation….

It’s all in the implementation….

That thing about tubes being warmer is more of a myth with todays tube amps because companies try to win end-users over with their analytical, open sound. Then it can be ear fatiguing for some after a while. If anything, more of the solid state gear is warmer and more rolled off due to a lack of separation in various forms of music. Solid state often has thicker, rolled off sound until you get into the really high end solid state.

@rankaudio earlier in this thread someone suggested I get an LTA Microzotl MZ2 pre amp- headphone amp. At their website they say basically the same thing you do.They claim the "warmth" of tubes is actually a type of intermodulation distortion caused by transformer hysteresis. They claim their ZOTL (Zero Hysteresis Output Transformer Less)  technology is a way to eliminate this "warmth"
I just might get one them if the price is right.