My friend had the STP-SE like you.
He changed to the Cary SLP-03, he's quite happy.
This piece came out at $3K, Cary reduced the retail price to $2K. It's a real value now, IMO.
Try to audition one...
You could keep the pre and go tube amps, assuming they're SS now. I really enjoy this pre and for me, I would side on upgrading around it. I run W4S amps as well, and while I do enjoy the combo, I feel that good tube amp + the STP-SE could be magical.
I can second the Cary SLP-03 preamp comment it is quite good but you need to change the tubes to NOS and then it takes this unit to another level.
Thanks for your responses guys. I do use Wyred amps as well. I did have the STP-SE mated to Cary SLAM-100 tube monoblocks for a while.
I went away from the tube amps because of the heat issue honestly, as my dedicated listening room is small and very well insulated and these amps warmed up the room beyond comfort. Additionally, the Wyred amps were leagues better in dynamics, S/N and bass control, but not as sweet as the Cary's in some aspects.
In addition to the Cary SLP-03, what other suggestions for preamp do you have? I've been considering the ARC LS-26, BAK vk51-SE, Cary SLP-05...these are all more expensive tube pre's. Would you guys see any of these as an upgrade?
Joule Electra makes quality preamps.
Hang on to your STP-SE and get the upgrades done..circuit wizard Chris Johnson, former founder and President of Sonic Frontiers, is doing major upgrades to the STP-SE for Underwood HiFi, the only authorized retail dealer for Wyred4Sound. The complete upgrade costs $ 750.00 resulting in a richer, fuller midrange with more body and weight,
deeper, tighter bass, and smoother high frequencies.
Contact Wally to get all the details.
consider this, most budget tube persons have severely compromised power supplies, and even some of the highly praised persons can lack transparency. some years back I had a Bat Rex an founded it to be overly dark and needlessly opaque. one solution for you may be to keep your W4S Unit and look into a tuned interconnect to go from the output of the pre into your amps. I had the Audio Magic unit way back, but I think their are others out their now. Audio Magic may be willing to build a unit for you. it really works and you keep all the magic of that unit you own.
if you must go tubes I humbly suggest First Sound, you will not look back :)
I wrote "budget tube preamps" and stupid auto-correct decided it knew better. Replace "person" with "preamp" where applicable. sorry ;)
Also "tuned interconnect" should have been "tubed interconnect".
@Audiofun: Thank you for your suggestions. Can you elaborate on what you mean by 'tuned interconnects'? One that makes up for some of the midrange that I think I'm missing? Also, I'm a bit surprised about your comments about the REX preamp...That is a highly praised unit, although I've read some comments about some of BAT's pre's as sounding a bit dark.
Out of curiosity have you had a chance to evaluate and of ARC's offerings?
I meant to write "tubed-interconnect" and yes it is exactly what it sounds like. The interconnect goes to a box which will have typically a couple of small triodes in the path. Exiting the box will be another set of interconnects. This will sit (typically) between your preamp and amplifier and can offer you some of that "tube-magic" you may desire.
Concerning the Rex.., high praise notwithstanding, it is dark and opaque sounding. It covers EVERYTHING with a layer of warm caramel. If you like that.., then :)
You will find that MANY MANY things are HIGHLY praised by magazines and individuals alike. My humble suggestion is LISTEN for yourself, most of the items; be it dacs, amps, preamps..etc are nothing to speak of. I have heard a very very very famous speaker which cost over USD $140K (again owned by a family member) and though it was praised to death by the magazines (which the company "coincidently" advertised in) sounded like a giant "HI-FI" speaker to me. Not real sounding, not relaxing, just SUPER detailed and annoying LOL!!!
You have to hunt and find the products which offer real sound.
The only ARC pre which I have heard and liked is the 2 box 40th Anniversary unit. My unc bought one and I set it up for him. VERY dynamic and fast. I personally think he should have kept it...but his dime :) Most other ARC gear can sound "white-ish" to my ears.., a bit bleached out. Except for a set of Ref 300's I heard over 13 years ago. I recall liking the way they sounded very much.
This was just an idea, their are of course more cost effective ways to get there. You could even simply try cables that are known to impart a warmer more full bodied signature.
Black528..more than likely your aware of Sonic Frontiers and their remarkable tube electronics back in the 90's which included the Power 1 Amp and their Line 1 Preamp. Their CD players were tube based as well. The founders, Chris Johnson and Chris Jensen are tube guys. I suggested getting your STP-SE upgraded by Chris Johnson, and more than likely his mods would bring the STP-SE much closer to sound like a tube Preamp which you want to achieve.
I went from a W4S STI-500 (some of the same circuitry as the STP-SE) to a BAT VK-52SE with Hypex NCore's for amps. IMHO, I strongly disagree with the description of BAT being labelled as overly DARK or a WARM LAYER OF CARAMEL.
To be perfectly honest though, I think that for the price differential over the STP-SE, you are going to only get a small improvement in performance with ANY pre-amp.
Mine sounds perfectly neutral. I cannot tell how much of the change is coming from the new amps and how much is coming from the new Pre-amps, but overall, my system went from sounding excellent to superb.
I think the only way you are going to find out is to try one in your system. I think if you find a good deal on a used BAT or ARC unit that fits your needs, go ahead and get it and if it doesn't work out for you, you should be able to resell it for a similar price meaning you will only be out shipping costs.
Another one to consider would be the Modwright. I had it narrowed down to that one and the BAT and found a better deal on the BAT before the Modwright. I am perfectly happy with the sound of my system now and am not planning on upgrading/changing anything currently.
Glad you are enjoying your system. I just wanted to make clear that I did not say "Bat" in general had the characteristics I discussed. I spoke specifically of the unit I had :) the Bat Rex. I can not speak to the VK-52SE :)
If you can find one used, I heartily recommend the Von Gaylord LAD-L2 at relatively little additional cost to you. I used to own the STP-SE, then a Conrad Johnson CT5, and have had the L2 much longer than both. It has a lot of that vivid, soul-reaching tube magic but is also very detailed and clean, but not edgy. There is not a whole lot of info about it out there, but it's there, and you'll see that it is quite beloved by those who've experienced it.
Has anyone taken the plunge and purchased the STP-SE Preamp with the Level-2 upgrade from Underwood Hi-Fi? Wally at Underwood informed me recently that the Level 2 upgrade done by former Sonic Frontier's engineer Chris Johnson puts the STP-SE on the same performance level as the Spread Spectrum Ambrosia Preamp that Underwood also sells. Wally stated that the upgrade is 100% as good as the Ambrosia which has been compared to Preamps costing well over $20K. If purchased new, the STP-SE level 2 upgrade will cost you an extra $1200.00 or $1400.00 if you already own one. Curious if anyone has listened to the Level 2 upgrade version and is it as good as Underwood says it is?
The new CJ SEpre through Spearit sound can be bought for under$4k
With buying just 1 NOS tube or the EAT tube one makes for a great preamp with all their Teflon caps,and I believe they also use a FET stage
A killer pre gets very close to the CT-5 for less then 1/2.
The comment for a stp-SE- level 2 sonicly sounding like 20kis far more then to hope for ..it cannot even match many tube preamps under $7k. You want a Great preamp buy a Cary -05 preamp new $8500 is a Great preamplifier.
This 2 box unit used can be bought used for around $4500 .and has won several awards !! I don't have one but thinking strongly on doing so.
My uncle had the Esoteric C03 ($10K) and the STP-SE simultaneously. He told me that they were VERY VERY close in nature but after some thought he said the STP-SE edged it out and that is the one he preferred. This was stock. Don't let price be your guiding principle, often times it is not the compass to use in order to arrive at your destination. One other thing to consider, most and I do mean MOST tube amps and preamps are the same recycled circuits whether it be Williamson or the like be deployed in new boxes OVER and OVER again.., oh yeah.., with new caps (most OEM) and people charging $3K for them. I am not referring to Duelunds which I personally believe are worth every penny :)
I got rid of my STP-SE for a Belles VT-01. The Belles preamp was way more musical.
Koestner: Interesting, i'd like to audition the Belles. Just read a review on Soundstage for your preamp.