Upgrade my Sonic Frontiers Line-2, or buy a used solid state Pre?


I bought a pair of Revel M106 speakers to replace some ancient active speakers. I plan on buying a used Pass Labs XA30.5 amp to drive them. FYI, I also have a Velodyne F1200 sub. 

Maybe I'm jumping the gun here, but I suspect the 16 year old Line-2 won't equal the amp or the speakers in terms of resolving power. For $1000, I can have Parts Connexion upgrade my Line-2 to the latest components, which according to Chris Johnson, would yield significant improvements. 

My question is, are there any used solid state preamps that would sound better than the upgraded Sonic Frontiers Line-2 for around $2500?

My other question is, does anyone have an idea how the Line-2 SE Plus would compare to the current crop of products out there, tube or SS? Is it worse or better than a Halo JC2, Pass XP-10, Peachtree Grand Pre X-1?
 
sboje
I would imagine a Line-2 upgraded for $1K today would probably smoke anything you can buy around $2500 and I would certainly personally suggest staying with tubes for your preamp. Pretty sure the Line-2 is well built with a large outboard power supply, with a refresh from the original builder who knows the circuit well it could be a real giant killer. Just my 2 cents, good luck and happy listening!
Send your Line 2 to Chris for the upgrades before you go SS. I think you'd have to make the move to the XP20 to do better. The Line 2 will hold its own with your future plans. Get the Pass amp first and see how your Line 2 does. If you're running Sovtek tubes and etc. not NOS tubes you've never heard what the Line 2 can do. Plenty of info out there on what tubes in your preamp are the more critical ones to change out. My Dad has a Line 1 and tubes can change that piece a lot from being good to really good. Also a PC is very important on that piece as well.
Well I’ll offer a different view. I’ve never been a fan of Sonic Frontiers gear, and it’s hard for me to believe. On paper, they look to be wonderfully built units, but any SF preamp, amp or DAC that I’ve heard has been very dry and sterile sounding. I am a tube fan, but I have heard better SS gear than SF.

So I would suggest keeping an eye out for a used Klyne preamp. You should be able to find one in your price range. However, because they are so good, they tend to be hard to find on the used market. You would be hard pressed to beat a Klyne, even at twice your price range, IMHO.

As for amps, does that 30 watt Pass amp really drive those speakers?
I guess if you are using a powered sub the 30 wpc may be enough.
Tell me more about Klyne?
I am a Pass Labs fan.  Happy Listening!
Jmcgrogan2, I'll know soon enough if the amp drives the speakers. The speakers are 86.4db sensitivity, but I don't listen at loud volumes. The xa30.5 actually clips at 130w at 8 ohms. I expect a bigger amp would provide more powerful, detailed bass, but I'm more concerned with the midrange and up. My budget was $3k on the amp. I don't think I could do any better than the XA. From where I'm coming from, I don't think I'm going to be disappointed with the bass anyway.

Adg101, I have a new set of EH tubes. I used to buy NOS tubes, but they've become crazy expensive.



Very Happy with the EH tubes I run in my ModWright. I use EH tubes from Cryoset Certified and have been very pleased with them. 

I recently picked up a set of Daedalus DiDs Isolation Devices which I can't speak highly enough about. Took them over to my Dads system to throw under his Line-1 and it made a huge improvement on his pre as well; really opened it up. 

The SF Line series of preamps are more solid state sounding than an older ARC and CJ tube pre's I agree but not dry. You throw in the right tubes and it's another story. My LS36.5 is a killer preamp but it's not a big fat tube sound either, but I'll throw it up against much more expensive SS preamps any day. Obviously we all have our own opinion on what sounds right.

You already own the SF. I wouldn't give up too soon on it. I have a Pass amp as well and I think you throw on a nice power cord and some DiDs under your Line 2 you'll be amazed. For the money WyWires Silver Juice II is great; it's a very open, transparent PC Get the amp first and play around with your Line 2. 

Good luck

adg101, I’ll throw my VAC amp up against much more expensive SS amps any day. You don’t have to sell me on tube gear, I’m using tube phono, tube preamp and tube amplifier. So yes, I love tubes.

That said, there are some decent SS amps out there, and even some decent SS preamps. Not all tube products are better than all SS products.

You are right, that we all have our own opinions, and in the end, the only opinion that counts is the one of the person spending the money.

Unless you have ever heard a Klyne preamp or phono stage, I would not dismiss them so quickly. That would be as big of a mistake as dismissing a Pass amplifier because it doesn’t have tubes, IMHO.

@jafant , you can search Klyne. Very small, steady manufacturer, whose owners are incredibly loyal, and for good reason. I know more than a few tubeophiles who have converted happily to Klyne preamps.
Yes, preamps is all Stan Klyne makes, and he’s been at it for over 35 years. No digital, no amplifiers, only line preamps and phono preamps. His 7PX5.0 phono stage was the best phono that I have owned, bar none, and I’ve owned $10K tube phono stages.
I had SF SFL-1 (my 1st tube preamp), SFL-2, Line 3 and Power 3.  With my favorite NOS Philip Holland / Amperex 6922.  it's not dry or sterile. 

I had the Line 3 and Power 3 upgraded to SE+ by PCX.   It's an improvement over stock but not worth the $$.  

In the Line 2 + upgrade price range, checkout an used EAR 868, Audio Valve Eklipse and ModWright.
@knghifi , I'll just agree to disagree on the "dry and sterile" comment.

As for you recommendations, while they may be very good preamps, I don't believe that any of them are solid state preamps, which is what the OP specifically stated he was looking for.

No disrespect to Klyne Audio. That was not my intention on my earlier post. I've not heard their preamps but over the years I have read many great things about them. I'm sure they make a great product. What I was trying to imply is the SF Line-2 is no slouch. I am fortunate enough that we have two really nice local shops that have been around a long time; one a relative of mine owns and one I worked part time at years ago. Both stores let me take gear home all the time and that has been great for me to educate myself and train my ears. Between the two stores they have sold most known brands including the former Sonic Frontiers, Pass Labs and Revel so I know this gear well. Lived with a Sonic Frontiers pre previously and have a Pass amp, so I know this product well... very well.

Back to your original post... Your Line-2 is more than in the league with your Revel M106's. Careful I am not saying the M106 is not a nice speaker because it is, but I have heard the Line-2 on bigger Magnepans, Thiels, and Vandersteens with Levinson, Classe, Sonic Frontiers and Conrad Johnson amps so I know it can hold its own even today. The Line-1 is a very nice preamp as well  and I have heard it on the same speakers including Dunlavys, and ProAcs; my father has ProAcs and his Line-1 is more than adequate with his ProAcs and ARC tube amp.

Is the Line-2 in the same league as a Pass XA30.5? Well I would say again it will hold it's own just fine but Yes the Pass is the better piece; anyone who argues that is being silly maybe. If you tweak your Line-2 a little as I mentioned in my earlier post you will hear the benefits through the Pass. Also if you are getting the XA30.5 or any Pass amp you are wasting your money if you don't run it balanced so no matter what you do with your Line-2 or get another preamp because you have the bug to upgrade I would strongly inform you to use a balanced preamp regardless if it SS or a Tube design. Likewise if you are not using balanced cables on your Line-2 now you should be because it will sound more open; it's not something you have to really concentrate on to hear - it will be obvious with decent cables. I agree with someone above the cost of sending it in for an upgrade may not yield much of an improvement but other tweaks will.

I would recommend to make sure the rest of your system is up to your Line-2. What is your source components, cables, and etc.? If you don't have dedicated circuits to your equipment I would do that as the Pass will not come to it's potential it has to offer; my Pass was thin sounding until I ran dedicated lines. If you can't run dedicated lines I would still change out your receptacles to at least some nice Hubbells. Maybe you have done all this, but if you haven't you haven't heard what your Line-2 can do or the rest of your system. Give your Line-2 a chance on the XA30.5 before you ditch it. Only downside I do have with any tube preamp or any tube equipment is tubes go bad and there is a cost maintaining them.


I wholeheartedly agree both SS and Tube camps offer great equipment; both can be great. I believe its all about synergy as one piece might work great on one system but not another.   Good Luck.

I will be running balanced from my Meridian 508.24 all the way through to the amp. I'm happy to hear that you think the line-2 is still a good preamp.

When I bought the preamp, I was using Meridian M20 mkii active speakers (ancient), which is RCA only. The difference the Line-2 made was remarkable. However, the M106s connected to a $250 Yamaha AVR is resolving FAR more detail. Speakers have come a long way in 25 years.

When I get the amp, I will be putting the Line-2 AND the XA30.5 into the mix. The amp is so well regarded, that I'll just blame anything I don't like on the Line-2 lol.

I guess once I have everything going, I'll have to decide if I'm happy with the sound. If I'm not, I'll have the option to dump $1000 into an external DAC (that Meridian is OLD) or the SE Plus upgrade.

What are you using for an amp currently to rule your Yamaha receiver is more transparent than the Line-2? I can't imagine any receiver especially a $250 AVR has a better preamp section. Not sure if you're cranking the treble on the AVR giving it more brightness it seems to sound better or what is going on.

You mentioned you replaced the tubes; did you do them all and do you have any means to check them. I have an older Arcam AVR and it's ok and my father has a much newer higher priced Marantz AVR, but it's no where near his Line-1 in performance and your Line-2 should be even better. Maybe that Yamaha is just a giant killer?

I bet the 508.24 still holds its own. I wouldn't rule it out as not being a nice performer with all the gear you are discussing. If you are running some 25 year old cables I'd invest the money there first, or if they are new but the entry level of whatever brand, you should experiment with proper cables. This gear should sound really good with nice cables.

The 508.24 was a well regarded player. Sure newer players have improved and maybe an Oppo 105d makes sense if you're system is mixed into a home theatre set up as well. Agree you might be better spending money on your source than your preamp, but I wouldn't get in any hurry.

Hopefully you have a tube tester  or have a shop locally that can test your tubes and put the Line-2 on the bench to check it out. Something just doesn't sounds right if you're preferring your Yamaha. If you have your Line-2 plugged into some A/V power conditioner with your A/V equipment trying plugging it directly into the receptacle; same will be true with the Pass you have coming.


Best of luck

I don't think I explained myself very well. Previously, I had 508.24->SF Line2->Meridian M20 mkii active speakers (all RCA interconnects). A speaker died, and I decided that I got my money out of them after 24 years of use.

I bought the M106 (for $1300 with stands included) because I feel floorstanding speakers that cost under $2k are usually colored sounding, presumably, due to the cabinetry. I had a shot at dealer demo pair of Sonus Faber Venere 2.5 for $1500, but they just sounded overly colored and off to me. I heard the Wilson Sabrina in the same exact spot 5 days later and there was no such coloration (as expected), so my instincts were right there. I decided to go for quality monitors and good amplification over a larger speaker with so-so amplification. I figured I'm getting the same speaker technology as the well regarded F206 and F208. I have a lot of confidence that Revel has some serious engineering capabilities and put a lot of effort into the Performa3 line. I don't feel like they tried to cut corners or tried to squeeze 30hz out of a poor, lone mid-woofer. The one minor exception to this is that I suspect their choice of aluminum tweeters was to keep the Performa3 model from sounding too close to the Ultima line. So far, I'm really happy with them. Amazing quality for the price I paid.

Currently, I have the 508.24 (RCA)->Yamaha AVR->Revel M106. I have no amp, so the SF Line-2 is sitting on the shelf. To be clear, the line-2 has never been in the signal path with the M106 speakers.

The current setup is definitely more detailed than my original. I was surprised by this since I'm using an AVR.  It doesn't have the soundstage and the midrange is kinda flat, but the bass and high end are more revealing. I can hear voices fade away more clearly, even though they don't have the weight and presence they should. None the less, it's pretty amazing how far some AVRs have come. They used to sound really awful. The Yamaha seems to err by omission.

Finally, to the point, I'm dropping in two pieces (existing line-2 preamp AND xa30.5 amp) simultaneously into the mix next week (along with XLR cables and larger speaker wires). Hopefully it sounds amazing.
Well, I've had my rig put together for 5 days. The amount of detail is exceptional. I think at this point, my room is the weak link, so I begin the process of trying to treat our main living room while maintaining the WAF.

There is some fine grain, and if I were a betting man, I'd point my finger at the preamp. That aside, it's still really good. I do have some background noise when the preamp comes online. I'll probably send it in for the Signature Plus upgrade some time in the future to lower the noise floor.

I'm liking the XA30.5. The speakers could handle more power and sound even better, but I can't afford 150W per channel of Pass XA quality amplification. It might be my imagination, but when I turn it up loud enough that it starts moving out of class A, it sounds a little more lively and powerful. I noticed this particularly on "You can call me Al" from Paul Simon. However, if I listen at much lower volumes for awhile, some louder instruments or passages will give me the illusion that what I'm hearing is actually loud. I think that must speak to the dynamic ability of the amp. I'm really pleased that it sounds dynamic at lower volumes.

I wonder how something like an X250.5 (approachable) or X350.5 (a reach financially) would sound in my system at low to moderate volumes. Does a 350.5 sound similar to an XA.5 when it's in class A?
Maybe, but I suspect the XA is a little more refined regardless. My Aerial's require a lot of power so I'll stick with the X series. Can't recall if you're running balanced cables from the SF to the Pass as that will lower the noise floor. My X250 is a little noisy but not much even running balanced; it's not my preamp. If you're running a shielded PC on your Line 2 see if you can get a non shielded PC like a Kimber PK10 Gold or whatever they renamed it. The Kimber works great on SF preamps... you'll be amazed.
I am running balanced all the way through. I never noticed the noise on my old system running single ended, but maybe the 6db boost in the balanced circuit has brought the noise to light. The background noise was always very noticeable on my line-2 through headphones. It's definitely the pre. Everything is dead silent until it engages its output circuit. Parts Connexion told me it isn't uncommon, and that the new volume controller will zap the noise.
Interesting. My Dad has a Line 1 and running it through his ARC VT50 tube amp, no matter how far you ramp the volume up it is dead silent with ones ear right up on the tweeter. He runs NOS tubes so maybe they're lower noise. No doubt sending it into to Parts Connexion will be well worth it. Great to hear you're enjoying your Pass.
The hiss is exactly the same at both the lowest and loudest volume levels. You can hear clicking noises as you turn the volume knob also, so I do think it has something to do with the volume chip.