Warm, rich but detailed SS preamp (made you give up tubes)


Anyone come a cross a warm, rich but detailed solid state preamp that engaged you and gave you that spatiality of a good tube preamp?

I suppose im thinking of C900u or Accuphase?
smodtactical
What answer are you looking for?  You have basically asked the same question in about 3-4 posts.

Ultimately, it's not that big of a deal.  But, it reminds me of the person who has a small knee problem, and keeps going to surgeons asking the same question.  The first 5 tell him you don't need surgery.  But, the 6th says "sure, I will operate".  Not the exact analogy, but real close.

Appears you pretty much know a ARC Ref6 or a Pass XP22/30 are your best bets.  Safe, the Ref6 is tubes, but is a more solid state sounding pre-amp as far as impact, the pass duo have the impact, but a bit more tube like mids and highs.

If you keep asking the question, someone is going to tell you yes!  The C900u is exactly that and I love mine (or insert another one here).

Post all you want honestly, but be aware of what you are doing.






ARC and VAC are out for me because of issues with local dealers.

Pass is definitely high on my list but from what I've heard they are pretty neutral and not warm or tubey. I think I would like some richness and warmth without it sounding boring. 
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Hybrid is interesting but Im wonder if there is a pure SS pre that brings that tube magic.
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@dweller thats a stereo amp. Looking for preamp.
@skypunk: Will consider moon.
I heard from others something that also might fit is Robert Koda K10.
Lamm Industries L2.1 Reference. It isn’t "warm" - it’s extraordinarily natural, and I’d argue that’s what you meant in your description and the only thing you’d want for long term satisfaction.

Here’s a review in Stereophile magazine: https://www.stereophile.com/content/lamm-industries-l21-reference-preamplifier, and another in The Absolute Sound: https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/lamm-industries-l21-reference-line-preamplifier. It's a special piece.

Industry disclosure: I’m a Lamm dealer.
Moon is more neutral than Pass.  I've owned both.  No doubt.  

BAT - good option.
Why the aversion to tubes?
@gestalt I'll take a look, thanks!@dodgealum Im not totally ruling them out but I love the reliability of SS and not having to fiddle with tubes or worried about it blowing up for some reason.
McCormack LD-2
B&K pro-10mc
onkyo p-308
You know, no SS preamp will sound quite like tubes can. Even something like Gryphon or Nagra or FM Acoustics. You have to choose.
Vladimir of Lamm designs great equipment, by the way.
I’ve got a Pass XP12 anything but “neutral and boring “... the others are steps up from it, I’m sure they would be an excellent choice potentially.
The Onkyo P-308 is the best natural sound preamp I’ve used in a long time.  
Mean find one for good price all over.

 Check flea bay, they have several from time to time
  200-500$ is good.
   A superb preamp.
warm, natural, had mine recapped, serviced about 2 years ago, 
 never been happier, she is outstanding!’

     The reason I bought a used Mark Levinson 326S is due to its ability to create the most realistic 3D soundstage illusion I've ever experienced through a ss preamp.  Spatiality up the ying yang.  Its ability to present properly sized,well detailed, stable and solid images in a wide, deep and layered overall soundstage with a sense of air and space between them in a realistic and palpable manner is truly amazing. impressive and enjoyably addictive.
     I just happened to be in the room during another individual's demo at a local hi-end audio shop when I first discovered its incredible ability. I used a VTL 2.5L preamp at the time, with a set of 4 expensive NOS Mullard tubes swapped in for the standard Russian or Chinese glass, and I wasn't even considering a preamp switch or upgrade before I experienced this ML 326S's ability to present a soundstage illusion that was so palpable and walk through realistic. It also has very accurate, natural and neutral tonal timbre and pitch qualities, however, with any perceived warmth originating solely from the music itself and not from a deliberate design choice of added even ordered harmonics. 
     It sounds silly, but I hope this preamp's accuracy and neutrality isn't a deal killer for you.   If it is, Pass may be a better choice for you due to their reputation of adding even ordered harmonics, and its resultant warmth quality, to both their preamps and amps.

Tim
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The only linear gain transistor available to day is a SIT. There are no commonly available linear gain small signal transistors.

The only substitute that has linear gain, is a small signal tube (9 pin, etc). or even as far as an octal, or 8 pin design. (larger tube).

There is no way to get to where you seem to be wanting to be... without encountering and utilizing small signal tubes.

The end. Period. Full stop. Counter arguments be dammed.

All the facts data and spoken of desires..., sorted though logically, on one page and in one logic session, says that this is irrefutably - the deal.

I’m not trying to sound all gruff and puffed and in charge, it’s just that this is truly the situation at hand for anyone and all, in any form of consideration.

I’m doing my best to cut off the 1050 pages of people trying to find a way around this very very very HARD reality.

When all the data is on one spot and properly gone through, in all possible way and combinations, the answer is in this post.

Where no point of insistent inquiry, or searching for alternatives through year long desert walkabouts, or peeling and poking at the edges to lift and find something else, or whining or cajoling or whatever, designing new circuits, and on and on and on... into infinity.... will ever change this one single whit.

Unless someone steps up and makes small signal SIT/V-FET transistors, tubes are the only linear gain device that works properly for audio signals, regarding proper and correct fulfillment in how the ear works and interprets/decodes/hears audio signals.

To try to help save people a useless 30-40 year walk around in a desert built out of distorted harmonics and distorted transient signal structure (solid sate transistors as we know them) ... is the deal here. Please pay attention. To prevent wrong foot beginnings and wrong foot components of it...which skew the whole search into cascading ~decades long~ errors...

All that... 50+ years of solid state design in preamps. For nothing. That's a big mess to choke down. Many will refuse and ignore the final data 'end' points as they come into shape or have come into shape.  The circuitry design is still very useful, we just need the correct transistors. Linear gain SIT and V-Fet transistor types. The ones we walked away from (via major corporations deciding everyone's ultimate audio fate) as they emerged in the early/mid 70's.  Where the 'new at the time'...non-linear FET  and non-linear MOSFET was a little bit cheaper....

Saving people life, and time, is the deal here. People are of course, free to ignore, and do as they please...

@noble100 Awesome, will look into ML more
@teo_audio Interesting so is your thought that nothing can truly replace tubes to get a 'tube type sound' ?
A simple answer to your question, NO.
You see. It's a no. Sorry, mate.
The luxman and accuphase are good choices but so are a lot of really good vintage solid state pre amplifiers like the tandberg models, the apt holman preamp, the harman kardon citation 11 pre amp, and the adcom gfp750 pre amp.
Not sure why the OP is worried about "fiddling" with tubes or them "blowing up." We all change light bulbs, right? A small signal tube lasts thousands of hours, sounds great, easy to change, and a decent one is not that expensive. Even PS Audio eventually relented and started putting tubes back in their SS gear. No way around it.

If one doesn’t want tubes, fine. Don’t get tubes. But no need to exaggerate their troublesomeness, especially if we’re talking small signal tubes in preamp. Right?
Audia Flight Stremento #1mk2 preamp however using TW Acustic RPS100 phono stage which is tubes.I would never give up tubes altogether in my SOTA system.
Hilde well said. I suppose I just keep reading horror stories about tube preamps.
Please tell a horror story about a tube preamp.

I have owned many and know many tube preamp owners. I have yet to hear a horror story about one, or have a horror story experience.
Pintos used to blow up in the 70’s but that is no reason to avoid purchasing a modern car
OP, thanks. I'm not disagreeing with you for any reason but to help you find what you want. That may be tubes, or it may not be, but hoping to help you act on the best information available and relevant to your needs. Cheers!
You guys are very wise ! Thanks Hilde and all, appreciate this community so much.
Hello smodtactical,

     Hilde45 is, of course, correct in stating there are no dangers of tubed preamps 'blowing up'.  That's just outright false and misinformation.  I've used both ss and tube preamps in my systems and, if you're wanting a presentation with added and exaggerated qualities of warmth, tonal richness and palpable dimensionality, I believe it's best just to use a tube preamp that you prefer. 
     I tend to agree with teo_audio, that finding a ss preamp with all these qualities is likely not even possible.  In fact, the trend in preamps over the past decade  or so, for both ss and tube designs, seems to be away from additive qualities of any kind and toward an overall much more neutral presentation.  Some tube preamp brands, such as Acoustic Research, seem to be more devoted to a more neutral presentation lately than others.
     I've discovered I really enjoy and now prefer an overall neutral presentation.  I like the fact that it's much closer to the audio ideal of 'a straight wire with gain', it's a more honest approach that hides nothing and evaluating the performance of other system components or changes becomes much easier.  Even differences between interconnect and power cables used becomes much more easily discerned.
     It's important to understand upfront, however, that a high quality neutral overall presentation will also make it much easier to evaluate the quality level of every recording.  When a high degree of transparency is consistently maintained in one's system, it becomes obvious that there's not a consistently maintained high level of quality applied to the recording and mixing of music masters.  The truth is that music source recording quality varies significantly, any decently neutral and transparent audio system will reveal these deficiencies in abundant detail and relying on a preamp's additive or coloring qualities to mask, cover up or otherwise remedy these source recording deficiencies will prove to be ineffective.
     I believe the optimum system performance strategy is to utilize the highest quality audio system, with an overall neutral presentation, that one can muster and utilize source recordings of the highest quality that are commercially available. 
     Contrary to popular opinion, this strategy doesn't result in a lack of warmth or other euphonic qualities in an audio system's overall presentation.  These qualities will be readily apparent if the system is sufficiently high in quality and neutrality, the music recording is of high quality and the music itself possesses warmth or other euphonic qualities.

Best wishes,
     Tim
Tim great post man. It reminds me of when I asked my local dealer if Boulder is neutral and ultra transparent but not necessarily 'musical'. And she said the transparency is what makes it musical. Interesting.
Have you checked the lastest generation of the Coda 07x? Terry London did a great review of this one, and I can confirm great because I'm now happy owner of one. I was kinda looking for the same criteria you mentioned.
It's not the warmest SS, but it is just warm enough to be forgiving with less than average recordings while being phenomenal on good ones. The soundstage is wide, deep and convincing. The sound is smooth and silky as Terry wrote. Probably not a tubey sound, but I guess it's as good without the hassle of noises that tubes sometime have or develop over time.
@practikl What other preamps did you compare it to ? Wish @teajay would compare it to motherlode 2 he just reviewed.
I own in my collection, an RGR model 3 and a model 4 ( I had several RGRs, but sold those ). These sound, imo, very tube like. I did some mods on them, and for an inexpensive preamp ( sold for around $900 when they became available ), a good unit. I however, removed all preamplification from my main system, as the high sensitivity of my speakers allows my dac and other sources to drive every amplifier I own ( and some I no longer own ), with aplomb. Every preamp, ime, does " something " to the sound. I will not question those that use a preamp, as I understand why. But for me.....?

     In my previous post on 1/25/21,I stated: "Some tube preamp brands, such as Acoustic Research, seem to be more devoted to a more neutral presentation lately than others".
     I meant to state Audio Research, and not Acoustic Research, has seemed to become more devoted to a more neutral presentation lately than others.
Sorry, my mistake.
 Tim   
When a high degree of transparency is consistently maintained in one's system, it becomes obvious that there's not a consistently maintained high level of quality applied to the recording and mixing of music masters.

This is quite true. I would only add that it seems sensible to follow the path noble100 laid out, toward neutrality, and then if one finds oneself listening to a lot of recordings that reveal problems, it's a simple matter to add an inexpensive but well designed equalizer, such as Schiit's Loki.
Hello hilde45,

     Or, use better quality recordings, right?

Tim
My first stereo was nearly 60 years ago. About 10 years ago I dropped the ss vs. tubey thinkung. I have a Mark Levinson 526 which has a very nice sound. If there is a dealer around so that you can hear one......
Sutherland Director if you can find one. Rather similar to Ron’s earlier C-2000 which is also stunning. Works very well with the original $15 power cord which should be saved for any future replacement evaluation(s). RCA connectivity only. Oh yeah, it needs to be powered up for a long while to sound its best.
The answer is Sugden, a brand seldom mentioned here, for reasons beyond me....In particular, the Sugden A21se. It is a 30 watt pure class A single ended solid state integrated. Sugden IS the pioneer of the SS class A design. It possesses all the qualities you are looking for and when combined with say a tubed phono stage, sounds sublime. Yes, it will not play loudly with inefficient speakers, but get the pairing right and it will play loud enough, with great detail and warmth. I use mine with Tannoys and it’s the best sound I have heard. Go and read all the reviews of the A21se and you will come away with a better understanding of what this amp can do. It is all analog design, no dac, no digital inputs/outputs etc...just a pure class A design by a company that’s been doing it longer than anyone. Sort of like Tannoy, the oldest speaker company. Ironically, both made in the UK/Scottland...another legend comes to mind  the Linn Sondek. All 3 form a dream system, at least to me. 




Tannoy LtdIndustryAudio Electronics and SpeakersFounded1926, London, EnglandFounderGuy R. FountainHeadquartersCoatbridge, ScotlandArea servedWorldwide


Sugden Audio is an engineering company that manufactures hi-fi and audio equipment. Founded by James Edward Sugden in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire in 1967, the company is best known as the manufacturer of the Sugden A21 amplifier. 


I was going to post Sugden also, but audioguy above beat me to it.  It's a great choice for what you are looking for.

Riviera Audio Labs is another, but at a higher price point.

(Disclosure....I'm a dealer for both Sugden and Riviera).
@noble100 

Right-- use better quality recordings, when available, and keep things out of the signal path (with fewer interconnects). Absolutely. But there are things out there which are never remastered so, I guess it depends on what one is listening to.