What are the more subtle sounding tube preamps?


I mean "subtle" as in relatively less tube saturation or color than your average tube-pre. Common sense tells me less tubes as in a single dual-triode, but in reality that may not be the case. I currently have my eye on a CJ Classic. Not sure if that will fit the bill.  Any suggestions welcome.
robertsong
CJ = phat (or 'lush' 'bloomy')

newest ARC = more subtle tubey goodness

it seems in general that the earlier the ARC pre- the more warmth, mid-range boost, etc. but the less neutrality
Huh? Earlier ARC’s were way too analytic and cold for me. Newer ARC is much warmer to my ears.

Personally I the new ARC sound for being less clinical and tons warmer, without being as euphonic as the earlier CJ's.

I haven't actually heard modern CJ gear in forever.

Best,

E

Having owned ARC gear for almost 30 years now I have to agree with  randy-11. Older ARC gear was more lush and tubey sounding. Closer to the Conrad Johnson type sound. Modern ARC is far more detailed and holographic with less tube warmth. Some pieces such as the LS27 can even sound a bit thin at times. The Ref preamps have a bit more warmth while retaining that detailed holographic sound.


Yeah, I think less "lushness" or "bloom" is what I'm looking for.  Somewhere b/t tube and SS I guess. 
The Aesthetix Calypso is a very good, not overly lush tube preamp.

The Audio Research Ref 5se is a real bargain for what it sells for used. Still one of the best sounding preamps available today.


Have a look at VTL's pre-amp. IMHO their pre-amps lean to the bright/clear side of tube pre's.  Also take a listen to Mcintosh's pre's.

CJ is lush and rich or warm if you prefer .  I think that is clear, but I disagree about ARC.  My early ARC SP6B is not warm at all, not sure we are talking the same language but it was modded when I got it.

 If you want a tube pre that leans towards the SS sound, ARC is for you, very clean, clear and I suppose neutral sound .  I hesitate about neutrality because these are opinions about sonics not measurements by instruments.

BTW sometimes CJ warmth is a good thing, all depends on you, the track, and the rest of your gear.

OP--for cheap, the Schiit Freya is somewhere between tube and SS...actually both, and a passive. the tube section is subtle (as in not very "tubey" or lush), imo, particularly with the stock tubes, but can be warmed up some with some vintage tubes. it’s no ARC 5, but, for the money, I think it actually sounds pretty good.


You might look into the Linear tube audio MZ2S,
Most definitely splits the difference between SS and tube based preamps.

The Freya is cheap for good reason I sent mine back after 5 days, even with very good nos sylvania vt-231 tubes I found it very noisy with a highly compressed soundstage.I do have one of their Yggdrasil dac's and I like it.

Best of luck to you,

Kenny.
You might want to check out the PS Audio BHK Signature preamp.  It is a hybrid preamp, with input triodes and MOSFET outputs, and I think it splits the sonic signature accordingly, which might just meet your requirements.  You can roll tubes to great effect to voice your system, it does impart a nice taste of the tube magic, and it is strikingly transparent, without being "glary" or "over-defined".  At its price point, I'm guessing that it is a tough act to beat in the right system.  My 2 cents.
Sonic Frontiers Line 3.
The McIntosh C1100 is amazingly subtle.  It is dead quiet and just presents the music as it was intended.
I have the VTL 2.5, the bargain model if there is such a VTL.  I have tried it paired it with VTL MB450 monoblocks, a McIntosh MC500 and an Adcom 5500.  The sound is very neutral.  The sound through all of the amps was marvelous, although the MB450s, which are Series I,  to me were the best by far.  This is the combination I use for attentive listening sessions.  The Mac seems to smooth the sound as if there is a light viscous coating on everything.  For background music I think I like the Mac the best.   The Adcom, although very neutral just didn't light my fire.  I am a true VTL believer and lust for a 7.5 preamp and Siegfried power amps.  My 450s are ancient and still have the original tubes.  To me they are sonically perfect in Triode mode and have proven to be bullet proof.  I highly recommend the VTL 2.5 and 7.5.
Yes, the older CJs and a few if not all ARC preamps might be described as phat or a bit lush but I never felt that a bad thing necessarily, opaque as well on some of the budget CJs of that era. I have a vintage CJ PV9a that has been extensively upgraded and transformed. I have owned and listened to many including previously CJ, ARC, CAT, Supratek  but this one is just so much more throughly enjoyable plus I really like it's phono stage. Lush and maybe a bit too much bloom for some but also very detailed and dynamic, huge Soundstage on appropriate recordings with totally believable timbre and highs that are real and airey, piano sounds like a piano. I will say this, when non audiophile friends visit we end up listening quite a bit more because this unit in my setup serves the music and transcends any discussion about adjectives, people just enjoy listening to music. The point being that how music affects one emotionally from playback is the real mettle of a component/system.

Some of the pres mentioned are SOTA designs and quite expensive and i'm sure stellar performers, that CJ classic is not but reasonably priced. I haven't heard it but imagine with the SE cap upgrade might prove to be good enough to meet your needs Robertsong. The more money typically greater power supplies and much better dynamic performance. Also important compatability of the output impedance with your amp. 

Good luck!
Modwright 9 is quite neutral and punches above its weight.  Great service from one of the good guys. 
In no particular order:
ARC
Allnic
Modwright
VTL
Backert Labs

Should all be fairly neutral sounding compared to the likes of CJ, Cary, BAT, etc. which present more bloom, or old school tubey sound.
Atma-Sphere MP3 with All Upgrades. OR the Atma-Sphere MP-1

I have both :-) I owned a tons of other manufactures Audio gear before settling on these as the destination to my heaven. May god bless you on the same path :-)
So where does Rogue--particularly the RP-5--fall in all this?
The Herron preamp and the newer VAC preamps are all neutral sounding - do not have the traditional tube sound.  Less midrange focus, and more soundstage extension and definitely tighter more pronounced bass.
Ck out a Cary SLP 05 and invest in some premo NOS 6SN7s. 
Check out Wyetech Labs preamps using ultra fast grounded grid circuits with only 3 stages, two of which are cathode followers which means only one stage provides the gain, simple in theory
Hi Robertsong,
Rogue Audio best overall Value 
http://www.rogueaudio.com/Products_RP7.htm
Hello, Robertsong.

I'm biased because I own the first preamp I'm going to suggest. Take a gander at the Don Sachs Model 2 6SN7 preamp. Depending on what caps, tubes and connections you select, I think the price will land somewhere between $2500 and $3300. You're buying direct from the manufacturer, so there's no doubling of the price by a dealer. http://www.dsachsconsulting.com/custom%20line%20stage.html

For a bit lower price, look at Tubes4hifi.com where you'll find Models SP9, SP12, SP13, and SP14. Don's preamp in my first paragraph is an improved version of the SP14.   http://www.tubes4hifi.com/pre12.htm

My third suggestion is made by Steve Sammett of SAS Audio Labs. His 11A preamp may well be as good as Don's preamp, but I have not listened to it yet. http://www.sasaudiolabs.com/pream11a.htm

Enjoy your search!

Michael
I love my Odyssey Candella tube pre.  It is also a hybrid which reacts very well to tube rolling.  Great performance for the money.  The only downfall is no phono stage. 
CJ Classic is definitely on the warmer and darker end of the spectrum. If you want rich and organic but not dark try Audio Note.
+1 for the Odyssey Candela, more preamp for less money may not exist. Tube rolling will set it up for just the sound that works for you.  You'll have to spend 5x the price to beat it.  Pair it with an SS amp and you get tube smooth with great control and definition.   I'm loving it with cryo'd Mullards and a Khartago Extreme. 
what a deal!
Support from Odyssey is first class... 
I have to disagree that the Classic 2 is dark.....its well balanced and very lifelike and dynamic in my system....  its anything but dark. 

The only downside is that it has no remote, in terms of sound quality it is a sleeper and should be auditioned.  Im willing to bet that most people talking about it on forums have never heard it and are slamming it becausd it lacks features that you come to expect.   

I listened to my pre in what looked to me like a $50k system and that was all i needed......it sounded great in a system where the associated components were many times its price.
I should have noted my unit is a 2SE
The Rogue Audio will give you the great dynamic range combined with tube smoothness that's not overly tubey.  I had the Hera II for a number of years and it was the best I had (unfortunately had to downgrade due to space limitations).    The new Rp-7 is balanced and rp-5 unbalanced and are both excellent compared to anything listed on this thread.  Pairing with the m-180s or the Hydra/Medusa hybrids is amazing.  The best bang for your buck unless you want to spend 3x to 4x money.  Also hand made in USA.  My 2 cents...
+1 for Rouge
I still have - and it still performs and sounds as beautiful as ever - a 30 something years old, Audible Illusions Modulas II. It's not in my system at this time, only because I'm currently using a integrated tub amp, but still use it on occasion, when auditioning a new power amp or rotate my ADCOM back into service. In it's 30+ years of service, I've changed out the tubs only twice and have had 0 service issues. It's  smooth, detailed and full, without adding the bloat or tubby-ness associated with some of the 80s tubes. it's overall neutral character and decent phono stage makes it a good pre. for auditioning associated power amps and players.
There are, no doubt, many finer and certainly more expensive units out there and (even though you wouldn't know to listen) is past due to have re-caped and serviced, I'm inclined to hang on to this little gem for a few more years....
Jim
I own CJ ET5 wonderful not to tubed but very musical and open sounding.I have had many tube preamps over the years such as Arc SP8,SP15,Throess etc the CJ is very accurate and not overly tubby.Good luck
ARC Ref 10.  Simply WOW!!!!
With the Cary suggestion you'll get rollable sound depending oh the 6 x6sn7s you chose.  The circuit will not defeat your efforts like an ARC will.  Atmasphere is also making a simple 6SN7 pre, He would work with you on sound.
@ebm damn man you must be exhausted after that long post! Nice job! :-p
HI, I am now resting on my porch.Thanks.
Agree on the Herron VTSP-3a. I've owned two Modwright pres--the LS36.5 is much more neutral sounding than the LS100 which has more tube bloom and warmth. I had several ARC pres as well, of those the LS26 was the least tubey of the bunch. All said and done if you want a pre that really gets at the best of what tubes and good solid state have to offer take a look at the Herron.