I have a tubed preamp and a solid state amp.The pre is a Rogue 99 with 6SN7's in the line stage and 12AX7's and 12AU7's in the phono stage.
My amp is the 30 wpc Pass Labs Aleph-3
They are connected with 1 1/2 meter of Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway MKII's
I have found what I like the most with this combination is the huge soundstage.There is real space and 'air' between instruments.The stage (on most recordings) starts well in front of the speakers and goes well behind them.Depending on the recording the stage can go 2-3 feet outside the width of the speakers.
I think tubes and a single ended amp design make an excellent combination.
What Pass amp do you have/want?
I would like the x350, but I may have to go for the x250 if the yen keeps crapping out!
I'm just starting to get it all together, but again it is really hard from over here. I am relying mostly on you experts, and I don't mind taking a $15,000 flyer on some good audio equipment.
Thanks again for your input.
Another fellow Tokyoite... I have tube monoblocks and when I bought them, I tried all the combinations (all tubes, all SS, and both other combos) and ended up going with a tube amp with passive pre. I highly recommend putting tubes somewhere in the system. If you're interested, Dynamic Audio in Akihabara (5F of Soundhouse) has (or had a week ago) an ARC VT200 amp for ~JPY 500k, similar or lower price than what you'll find on Audiogon. They also had an ARC pre. DA in Shinjuku (basement) recently had a great price on a pair of Revel Ultima Studios. Send me an email if you want more places to find gear.
A lot of people seem to think tube preamp/solid state power amp(s) are the best compromise, giving you a substantial part of the benefits of both. So I'm trying it--Lamm L1 preamp and LP2 phono amp, with Classe CAM350 power amps. The Classes, of course, are solid state, the LP2 is tubed, and the L1 is a tube/ss hybrid. The system sounds better than it ever has before, but until I audition tube or hybrid power amps, I can't really say if it's the best of all possible worlds.
I've had a tube pre-amp with solid state power for nearly ten years and like it a lot. However, it's been so long since I've had any other combination that I may be missing something.
I really do think it's worth trying. Most people like the effect of a few tubes in their system. Just make sure that the premps output voltage is compatable with the amps sensitivity.
I'm running a tube preamp with a solid state amp and really like it a lot. Prior to that all my experience was with solid state, but I think my tastes are leaning towards tubes. I'm starting to experiment with different tubes now, which is another neat way to tweak the sound. I think the combo you're considering will impress you greatly. Oh yes, and make sure to heed Phild's advice. What is that ratio again? The amp should have 10-100 times the input impedance of the preamp's output impedance? Definitely do a search on this matter.
Tubes in preamps make a lot more sense than in power amps, so yes it is a good choice, and your particular choices in mfrs are excellent as well, both are at the very top of the game in their respective areas. Tubes excel at signal purity and in keeping the circuits simple, which are very good things. But they are not nearly as well suited to delivering very high currents into very low impedances, which will always limit their ability in power amp applications. This is just basic physics and there's nothing anybody can do about it. Lots of people love tube power amps, but usually they either have musical tastes which allow them to overlook the flabbiness in the bass, or are willing to put up with the heat and maintenance of 300+ wpc tube amps. Re input impedance, if the amp's input impedance is over about 10kOhms, you're probably ok, more's better.
The problem with tube amps is that they don't generally perform as well at the frequency extremes as ss. As Karls notes this is because of the limiting factor that tubes have into low impedance loads presented by the loudspeakers. The transformer, if well designed will help but offers other distortions that can never be overcome and the signal is compromised in the flux. The result is fatter bass, slower sound and high frequency performance that comes up short most of the time. The debate revolves around the pluses and minuses of each approach. Which is the worst of two evils or which one would you rather live with long term?
Tubes run hot, have to be replaced often because they are typically biased high to extract better performance. Oh the hastle, who needs it? But tubes DO capture the presence and harmonics of the performance to a greater extent than ss. At least most would agree with that.
Now if one could have a tube amp that could provide what it does so very well, the presence and "thereness" AND control the bass and offer the speed of ss, now we're talking about the ideal amp. Does such an amp exist? With limitations of the speakers used, Output Transformer Less OTL amps offer this type of performance. They also run even hotter because it requires even more tubes to provide the current required into lower impedance loads. So they have THEIR limitations in application. Some will sacrifice the extra heat for the performance offered. It could even make you find a speaker that works with them so alluring is the sound.
The Berning zh270 otl has less limitations because it maintains control AND power into low impedance loads. Its approach is completely different than other OTL's but its performance is certainly on a par with its brethren. Plus it doesn't run the outputs anywhere near what other tube amps do, 100 watts at idle. This is certainly a lot less than most Class A ss amps.
The real issue is what do you really want, tubes done right without the inherent limitations in application vs. transistors which get almost everything right except the "you are there" emotional connection to the event? It is a relative question to where you are on the path to sonic bliss, but if you are an agnostic about what you are listening to, this post may be for you.
I've tried various combinations and for now have settled on a passive/buffered preamp with my Conrad-Johnson tube amp. There is no right or wrong answer. Common wisdom says to try a tube preamp with a ss amp. I have but I still haven't found the right match. For me, I get better results with the tube amp and passive preamp.
As for tube amps not having the frequency extension of their ss counter part, this can also be true of tube preamps. I've compared a few tube preamps against ss preamps and passive preamps. The tube preamps can sound sweet but can also roll off the frequency extremes, some more so than others. In my opinion, its more important to ask yourself what type of sound you are looking for. Even within the vast range of tube gear there's a significant difference in sound.
One generalization based on my own limited experience is that CJ gear seems to have a very nice midrange sweetness that I truly love. On the other hand, ARC is more neutral and extended but not much "magic" in the midrange. Its all a matter of personal preference.
As for tubes being high maintenance, I don't consider rebiasing the tubes every few months or replacing them every couple years a major issue.
Many thanks to everyone for the great advice. I particularly liked what Tubegroover said about presence or "thereness". I've been listening to mostly acoustic music these days and some of the older recordings are poorly produced. I am not after a sound that is overly analytical--In fact I think my ultimate desire is to conjure Miles and Bird right in my own livingroom. I think tubes will get me closer to the magic of a live acoustic performance. "Thereness" is a very good desciption, if I understand you correctly.
Also, thanks to T-bone for the great tips on local audio shops. I will be down in Akihabara this weekend! I would greatly appreciate any other recommendations you may have.
Satchmo - Abe Collins post is a good one and I agree with everything he says. What is important for you to find out if going the tube route is, what color do you want?
With a color spectrum from white=neutral/accurate to carmel=warm/luscious/dark. The question is, What flavor do you like the best? This is a personal matter and there is no right or wrong answer.
A warmer, darker sound will be more compatable with a wider variety of recordings but may not give the ultimate in accuracy or what term I like better is "realness". Accuracy and neutral can be misleading terms in describing reproduced audio relative to live music since none of it sounds real.
I personally feel that CJ and Cary components as examples, color the sound too much. This is stricly a preference thing. The very first tube component (other than an old Scott integrated from the college days 30 years ago) was a CJ pre-amp I owned from the mid eighties, the ultimate in luscious and romantic. It was my introductory component into "high end" audio. I loved it but to be honest I always preferred Audio Research more.
The point is that before deciding on which tube sound you like it would be good for you to listen to both approaches before making a decision. When you go to the dealer, hopefully he has tube gear and an example of each of the above varieties. From there you can decide which is to your taste. Take your time and don't be too hasty but above all, trust your ears and not someone else's opinion.
And to add to what Tubegroover has said, your other components like the speakers will play a big role in which brand of electronics will suit you best. For example, my Thiel CS 1.5 speakers are not lush or warm in the mids and this may be why I like the warmth from the CJ tube amp. If I had speakers that were already rich in the mids, I might choose a more neutral amp/preamp. To me, accurate or neutral equates to boring and sterile. I like a wee bit of midrange sweetness.
On a related note, I found that the tube CJ preamps combined with my CJ amp were too lush. So this is why I'm using the passive preamp. (But I also have a CJ PF-R solid-state preamp that I will be evaluating over the weekend. Just got it.)