Tubeyist sounding Pre-amp?

What pre-amp has the most tubey sound?

I don't even car if it HAS tubes - I just want that sound - it can use MOSFETs for all I care.

I can make my all-tube Mapletree Audio preamp sound all sorts of "tubey" depending on which pair of tubes I roll in. Very tube dependant sound.
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What amp are you using? Balanced or SE?
The real "tubey" sound comes from a tube amp based system. However, there are many preamps that can provide tube flavor when combined with the right SS amp.
Good synergy and compatable specs between the two components are important.

PrimaLuna, CJ, Atma-sphere, Cary are some possible preamps. Balanced or SE?
The Audio Research Reference 1 is verrry tubey.
I assume verrrry tubey means more forward sounding midrange and vocals. Close enough?

The comments above illustrate how much the idea of "tubey sound" varies.  If that is suppose to mean a warm sound (upper bass, lower midrange prominence), I cannot think of too much gear that is the antithesis of this kind of sound than Audio Research, particularly pre-Reference 3 gear.  It would help to know, by comparison of what the OP has heard, a bit more about what the goals are because the different kinds of sound of tube gear is at least as vast as solid state.

In one post above, CJ, Atmasphere and Cary are listed as tube-based brands, and yet, the gear they produce sound quite dramatically different.  You cannot reasonably lump together all of the tube gear from just the Cary line alone because the sound among models is so different.  The SLP-98 linestage is very different from the SLP-05 (the former having a much warmer sound). 

I think that, in the OP's context, "tubey" means something with euphonic coloration that makes things sound more "beautiful" as opposed to neutral.  Audiophiles always say they want something neutral, but often prefer something to smooth out the rough edges a bit.  I consider my Viva amplifier in this category and I've been very happy with it for about 9 years.  
chayro, it's mastering and recording engineers that want sound to be maximum of neutral. audiophiles aim for euphonic coloration that is often far away from original source.
Viva amp is extremely audiophile.
Chayro, I like the sound of Viva gear.  I have a Viva fono phonostage myself.  I checked out your profile and found that you have a Trenner & Friedl speakers, a brand I like too.  We also share the same brand of turntable.  It must mean we share the same notion of "euphonic coloration."  But, that description merely means we like the sound of whatever we attach that label.  There are plenty of tube gear I would not call euphonic and many of these are the most popular brands (at least as far as internet hype). 
yes, euphonic - a warm sound (upper bass, lower midrange prominence) and LIQUID 

the pre-amp now is a Sonic Frontiers with a Sunfire Cinema Grand that is bi-amped into Maggies
Cary SLP98 for sure. 
Obtain the tubed pre of your choice, then load it with either Mullards or Brimars(British valves/NOS, NOT repops). British tubes are generally quite euphonic(warm/caramel flavoring). There are a plethora of excellent 6922/6DJ8/E88CC types out there that should even enable you to adjust your Sonic Frontiers pre to your tastes.
You’ve got an amp with warm and liquid sonics that mates well with tube preamps. Have you tried rolling in NOS tubes in the SF? Mullards are the way to go, but are expensive.

A preamp with 6SN7 tubes will present a classic tube sound, with NOS of course.
In the Cary line...
Probably Cary 98.

not the 05

CJ preamp jump on one now!!!!!!

Agree the older CJ preamps were beautiful sounding like honey or maple syrup!   Also try the old Counterpoint preamps!
in the Cary line the spl94 was better imo then the 98 the 94 had tube rectification the 98 had moved on to SS. I had a 94 slightly moded one  with AudionNote caps and it was very musical and warm. I liked it better then the 98 but hard to find one now.
Most preamps that use multiple 6sn7 tubes are a good example . 
Don't sax makes a exceptionally hoof preamp for under $3k spend the upgrade 
With better output caps .
I would strongly advise not to jump on CJ preamp if you're over 150lb.
What pre-amp has the most tubey sound?
The one with the most 2nd harmonic distortion, or you could have one with mircophonic tubes that gives many the false impression of "wow listen to the euphonics" .

Cheers George
Just find a tube unit from the early 1960s and put in some worn out tubes. Get as much distortion as you can. That will make it sound "tubey." Great, fat, bloated, lacking transparency like trying to read fine print through a layer of mud while wearing a welder's mask.

Otherwise, buy a modern neutral tube preamp and enjoy the quality of fine musical reproduction that well-designed tube equipment can deliver.
I agree with everything bpoletti references above. If it is a "tubey" sound that you are looking for you can’t really take the amp out of the picture. With that in mind a musical signal driven by a KT88 valve can give most preamps the tubey sound your seek. An original old stock Dynaco PAS pre/MK III amp will satisfy your quest for a dark, muddy, milky, thick, gooey......etc, etc musical signal. Needless to say tube amplification has come a long way in the last 50 years. Just one reason these have all been updated and modded. By avoiding neutrality you are adding (and some like it!) euphonics.
Are there tube haters here?
Some tube designs add colorations. Some can sound more neutral.
tubey; Jolida, older CJ
neutral; Rogue Audio

I guess it depends on if you are looking for the absolute sound, or if you seek a certain timbre in your system.
Are there tube haters here?
All depends how they are used, their are some that are designed with purposely induced 2nd harmonic distortions, that fit the OP's description of "Tubeyist". Then there are some that strive them so clean as the emulate S/S. 

Cheers George
Tube Haters key in on the negative aspects of tube amplification: Great, fat, bloated, lacking transparency like trying to read fine print through a layer of mud while wearing a welder's mask

and fell that tendency is worse than the benefits of a warm, liquid, honeyed, smooth sound.

The trick is to get lots of the latter while minimizing the former subjective qualities.

Anything that does that for say $500??
I am going to go to bed tonight and have " tubey" dreams. Will get back with you on which preamplifier fills the bill.


It's funny to me reading all the above descriptions of tube sound running the full gamut, particularly liked your's bpoletti, now THAT is what some tube haters really mean when they refer to tubey sound. To others it means a degree of warmth or body that some components lack which leads to fatigue as does too much tubeyness.

In any case Randy-11 as one who has owned many tube pre's and power amps and listened to many more there is no definitive answer. The answer lies in your system and what you are trying to achieve and sometimes it's just a hit or miss proposition. I won't add to the responses above as I would tend to agree with most. Only one thing though is when the word "neutral" comes into the mix as it so often does. I suppose that means reproducing EXACTLY what is on the recording, personally not for me, been there done that, better to enjoy as much of your music as possible whatever brings that about. Besides, there really is no "neutral" there is only  real and reproduced and how we reconcile the two. 

Maybe try a Yaquin tube buffer between your amp and pre.  $200 at of all places.  I hear these things work. 
@Randy- Did you read my previous post? It will cost much less than $500, to experiment with your Sonic Frontiers pre and British tubes. Just add two matched, LOW NOISE tubes in each gain stage, until you obtain the presentation you prefer. Amperex tubes will also add some warmth, though not as much as the Brits. These recommendations come from over three decades(going on four) of tube rolling, in a very wide variety of components/systems.
@Randy-  Here's a bit of info that may be of interest to you.   Read the section, toward the end, that's headed, " MULLARD, GENALEX, BRIMAR, and other British made NOS".  (
Thx - my pre-amp is broken and may not be worth repairing
Have you had Sonic Frontiers check your pre?   It's a pretty good piece, and you'd be hard pressed to find an equivalent that will outperform it, with the right tubes.  At least, not for $500.00.
tubegroover -

Actually, I'm a tube lover.  I own a tube phono stage with a FET mc front end and fully tubed line stage preamp.   Herron VTPH-2 and Herron VTSP-3A (r03).  They are very wonderful units.  Vanishingly low distortion and coloration.  Not "tubey" sounding, not anything sounding.  Just transparent to the music. 

I do not like components that add coloration or distortion to the music.  They subtract from the musical presentation.  Your tube "warmth" or "body" as you describe is a distortion, a coloration and not true to the source. 

My original statements apply.  I built and owned Dynaco, and owned early Audio Research tube gear.  It was good in its day, mostly because almost all the solid state equipment in those days was so bad. 

There is little to choose between in the very high end as it relates to tube or solid state gear.  I chose the Herron equipment because I could not find anything better, could not even find an equal to it regardless of price.
Tubey or not tubey...that is the question?

I've got a hybrid integrated (Rogue with tube pre, class D power) amp and sometimes I wish it sounded warmer and more sumptuous.  But I don't want to sacrifice definition and clarity.  I'm guessing that's possible at a higher price point.  Is it found at all in mid-fi?
@bpoletti-  I'm of the exact same perspective, with regard to listening tastes.  However: as one that's been in the business of helping others either produce their own, or- enjoy the music of others, for a few decades now; I've never felt it my place to adjust another's listening preferences.  Even if it's diametrically opposed to my own.   I like to leave them smiling!
@toastado- If you read the info in my posts, the British flavor and sonic qualities of the tubes mentioned extend across their lines of nine-pin miniatures(12AU7, 12AT7, etc). Try a pair of Mullard( 1960s date coded, Blackburn) 12AU7/ECC82 valves(if that’s a Sphinx). OR- If you’re feeling especially ritzy: 7316 Selected Grade early Amperex/Philips made, RARE D-getters(1950’s date coded, Holland). Their halo-gettered, 1960’s 7316 isn’t any slouch either. They may be the last tubes you have to buy for your Rogue. ie: ( for the pics only.
I DO agree with everything you said bpoletti as far as it went. What I have personally found however is that some components characterized as neutral/accurate are really, to my ears, not that at all over extended listening. When fatigue comes into play on a regular basis there IS distortion. The word neutral in audio is overused and almost irrelevant. It is only neutral relative to what one is accustomed to. As Rodman notes it ultimately comes down to listening preferences over accuracy or lack of.

Keep on hearing great things about Keith Herron’s gear but have never listened in a familiar system but one always on the radar.  " Correct presentation in time is the key element to transparency." Keith Herron. I definitely agree with THAT statement and have found it to be so true in my experience.
Cant get much for $500.00 maybe a 40 yr old CJ.Good luck let everyone know what you get.
At $500 for a tube unit, I'd think more about condition than sonics.
Also, with your amplifiers rather low single ended input impedance, it might narrow your most likely to be single ended output tube preamp options. Not sure if you need a phono stage, that'll probably add to the cost.
Here's a quick off the top of my head shortlist of inexpensive tube pres,
caveat: don't know it they'll work with your amp, or if any fit any of your criterion, but at $500 you're not going to get too many options:
Cary SLP 50
Conrad-Johnson 10
EAR 834
Quicksilver Line Stage
I'm sure there's more,
good luck!

the $500 figure was my guess at a repair to my SF Line One - it is at a local shop now and I have heard nothing for two weeks.

I have to admit I have my eye on a piece of ARC gear too, tho I understand they are very neutral sounding...
$500 to repair SF Line One is a very large figure. 
$150...200 should be about right -- $120...150 labor and about $50...80 parts

My old Ayon CD-5s with Burson single HD discrete op amps, matched 6C4P rectifiers & cryo'd EH 6H30 Gold pins. The gold pins are warmer, lusher sounding tubes. Don't neglect the importance of cables either. I found Jorma Prime sounded harmonically rich, on the warm side and liquid sounding. OTOH Jorma Origo is a bit more neutral if you don't want any more warmth.
I have a Quicksilver full function preamp that can be tubey depending on tubes. I love mine and it's fun and easy to play with tweaking it. It's gonna run you north of 500 hundred but likely less than 1k. I've had mine for 5 years and it's been trouble free with only recently needing to replace a couple resistors. Tubed phono stage is quite the added bonus as well. 

we'll see on the repair - after 2 months they have not even looked at it so I should have sent it to Canada instead...

I really like the knobs on the older ARC products...
Conrad Johnson
What are you trying to fix? I see you have Magnepans, so I'm guessing the highs are too much for you. If this is the case, call Magnepan and ask for some of the resistors that attach to your binding posts. The resistors roll the high's off to take away the edge. Its a problem they know about, and they won't charge you for them. 
Do yourself a favor and sent the Sonic Frontiers back to the manufacturer, at least for an estimate.   They will use replacement components that will not degrade the unit's performance.   Just getting the piece operational should not be the goal.

Ok I am going to go out on a limb here. You Sunfire Cinema Grand sound like crap and you are trying to mediate that sound. May not be necessary. I have never sold/owned maggies but sure there are plenty of threads here on the best amps to drive them. maybe an integrated? 
Do you 5 channels? Does anyone need 5 channels?