What preamp creates the largest soundstage?


I have always loved a large soundstage.  I have a small listening room (10x10) and have mini-monitors, driven by a tube amp.  I have played a lot with speaker placement, room acoustics, listening position to create a large soundstage.  I have rolled tubes on the amp and made dramatic improvements. (I have purposely left details on the brands of tubes, amp and speakers out, because I don’t want side comments to distract from my question)

i have a digital source into a solid state naim preamp.  I home demo’ed a well reviewed preamp, and was surprised at how much the soundstage shrunk, both side to side and top downward.  It was deeper, and did have much of the tube magic, but I could not live without the big soundstage.  

so my question is, does anyone have experience with a preamp that produces a big soundstage?  I am looking for recommendations on what to demo next. While I lean toward tubes, I am open to solid state.  I am okay either new or used, and could spend in the 5k range, but would be happy to spend less.  Also comments on specific brands (i.e. xyz is known to have great soundstage in all their preamps) as opposed to models, are welcome.

and I will be the first to admit that perhaps the very large soundstage is not “accurate”to real music, but boy is it seductive and I love it and can’t live without it.

meiatflask
Hmm... since there's no way to recommend a pre-amp without knowing the power amp (synergy is crucial!) you're not going to get very good information.

Or you can pick any good preamp and hope for the best.
Audiojan- okay, the amp is the Primaluna HP in stereo mode, four EL34s per channel.   While I assume the matching Primaluna preamp would give good synergy, I have not heard that the Primaluna preamps are anything special.
I’ve had at least a dozen preamps over the years.    Graaf is one name that has never sounded anything but extremely wide open providing the rest of the components are of similiar caliber 
+1 phantom reco - also dehavilland ultra verve III - I am big fan of the 6SN7 vacuum tube for both soundstaging and dynamics.
To many to list start with VAC.
Batman1971- Never heard of graaf.   I see they are an Italian company, but can’t tell much more.  Are they readily available in US?

phantom_av-  it has been years since I have listened to Atma-sphere.  I will check into them.  Per their website, the preamps do not appear to have a remote, which is important to me.

i have also been wondering how the old school tube companies- Conrad johnson and audio research, might do.  Been too long since I have listened to either of these....
CAT SL-1, Audio Research Ref5 & 6, Aesthetix Rhea & Rhea Signature, any Shindo Lab.

Prima Luna Dialogue is not a bad preamp, just not in the same league as the ones above.
I think that audiolab means the Aesthetix Calypso. The Rhea is a phono preamp.
Check out Linear Tube Audio,Decware,and Aric Audio.Each of those small companies offer excellent products.At present  I have a LTA microZ2 and it presents a wide and deep soundstage.
phantom_av-  it has been years since I have listened to Atma-sphere.  I will check into them.  Per their website, the preamps do not appear to have a remote, which is important to me.
A remote is available for both the MP-1 and MP-3.
“...does anyone have experience with a preamp that produces a big soundstage?”

I think most preamps in the $5K USD price range, especially if used, will throw a reasonably believable soundstage. Based on my experience having had a few different preamps, tube or SS, in my system, the difference is mostly in “how” the soundstage is rendered between the speakers. Some preamps have a more forward presentation with the vocals more into the room vs. others that are more recessed. And some have a wide stage but very flat. Your best bet is to try a couple, both tube and SS and see which has the sound quality you like when paired with your amplifier and speakers. If going the tube route, check the output impedance specs to make sure it mates well with your amplifier.
Atmosphere- is the mp-3 balanced only for input and output? Can I use RCAs?
Jtcf- I am big fan of the LTA in general, but that is the preamp I home demoed and the soundstage was disappointing, much smaller compared to my naim solid state.  Otherwise, I would have bought it, and would not be on this quest.  However, I did not roll the tubes.  Don’t know if I would have had the same opinion if I had time to try different tubes........  certainly rolling the 12au7s on my amp has made a huge difference.
Kalali-  I think you make a lot of sense.  Once you have strong candidates, it is probably a “how” the soundstage is rendered.  And perhaps once one is willing to spend (what to me is) a reasonable amount of money, most of the candidates are pretty strong.   
@meiatflask it's good you demoed it.System synergy is everything.In my set-up the soundstage became wider  and deeper instantaneously.I did experience some weird sonics the second day but turned out I had a bad cable.Best of luck in your search!It can become frustrating auditioning and returning.
I have a CJ Classic 2 SE pre-amp and I love it man. Good luck, and buy used ;)
OP: There are a lot of preamps that will create a nice 3-D soundstage. I prefer tube preamps as active devices for doing this, such as an Audible Illusions Modulus preamp. But I’ve had dB Systems active transistor preamps do a great job with creating a nice 3-D soundstage. And my Teo Audio Liquid Pre passive preamp does an admirable job as well. The bottom line is that a lot of preamp designs will serve you well in this regard.
I own the Schiit Saga, only 349,00  Has a single tube: stepped attenuators, can run passive too. I’m very happy with mine running into a Linn LK140. With a 15 day restock policy you are not locked in,,except for small restock fee. I’m a professional musician,I know live sound for 50 years, The Saga May surprise you. Also I’d be interested in knowing what interconnects you use. In my experience interconnects play a big part in “soundstage “. I can hear the groans now LOL.  I roll my own and have spent many 100’s hours listening to wire. I also really like Franks Signal cable silver Ic,s and silver speaker wire. If we’re discussing soundstage or clarity wire unfortunately remains the weakest link. IMHO.
Atmosphere- is the mp-3 balanced only for input and output? Can I use RCAs?
@meiatflask


You can use RCAs.

The MP-3 (and also our MP-1) is fully balanced and differential from input to output. Because it has differential inputs, it doesn’t care if the source is balanced or not. So its equipped with two monitor inputs that employ RCA connections. Additional RCA connections can be optionally added in parallel with the two Aux inputs and the phono input. Additionally, RCAs are optionally available for the outputs. A switch is then provided to switch from single-ended to balanced operation.


The outputs of these preamps are direct-coupled using a patent we developed, which is the only other way other than using an output transformer to meet the requirements of the balanced line standard (AES48). A nice side benefit is the direct-coupled output is more transparent with greater bandwidth both top and bottom.
I have a c-j Classic 2SE and love it too... I have found that with all my sources, DAC , and Vault 2i having remote volume the lack of remote on the Classic is not really such a big deal... this pre checked all the boxes for me. Simple, just volume , source , and power switch. Sounds phenominal, I auditioned mine in a $50k plus system and it was right at home with much more expensive gear downstream.

A few days after I got it I contacted C-J on a Friday night , Saturday morning I got an email from Dr Lew Johnson thanking me for choosing c-j and he went on to say in his opinion the Classic 2SE was one of the biggest bang for the buck products they’ve made. He gushed like a proud Papa. They are a good value on the used market .
I have a room the same size. I have a Prima Luna Dialogue Pro HP (KT150’s) and the Dialogue Pro preamp going into ATC SCM19’s. I have the speakers in a "near field" position in an equilateral triangle at 5’ c/c and 5’ from my head. The sound stage is perfect. I can listen, literally, all day with no fatigue. My source is analogue, although I do listen to some digital if I need some background while I work with my music collection..

I can listen to Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard and I am in the audience. I listen to Grateful Dead and Bobby spit on me. For this small a listening area I would never have believed that I would be able to get such good sound. The key was setting the speakers just right, until I did that I had an awful time with reverb and image.

The synergy of the Dialogue Premiums gives a seamless wire with gain to the ATCs. Give Kevin a call. He will fix you up. I think that you will be very happy.

Rollin

meiatflask  said... "I have not heard that the Primaluna preamps are anything special."

Audiojan ...I can not say enough good things about my PL Dialogue Premium preamp.It really does hit the high mark musically [tons of info online] and is a tube rollers delight. To be able to fine tune with vintage tubes is a huge bonus over ss. Oh...and you could fly a 747 through the soundstage in my system...

"One man's 'big' is another man's 'nothing special'", but...I think my Schiit Freya does a nice, big, 3-D soundstage with some air around the notes when used in the tube mode. (It has 3 selectable modes- passive, JFET buffer, and tubes). Nice finish, nice sound, nice price and made in America. 
Rollintubes- I have my speakers in a near field set up, and have spend countless hours tweaking my room.   Sounds like you are in full agreement with me that getting the speaker and listener position optimized is the most important step.  And we have the same amp, (I am currently running KT77s & mullard NOS 12au7s), with tube selection having also made a big difference for me.   But I don’t want this to get into a tangent on tube rolling, as there are many other discussions on that subject.

but I have a question for you: have you tried other preamps beside the Primaluna?
Aolmrd1241-  are you using the Primaluna preamp with the HP or other Primaluna amp, or with something different?  And are there other preamps that you have tried in your system before you decided on the Primaluna?

i had not really considered the Primaluna preamp.  From this and my question to rollintube, I am wondering if I should reconsider it......
I actually started with the pre-amp then went to the power amp. I was using a Conrad-Johnson PV6 going into a FET 120 wpc amp. They both had been recapped with the latest upgrades from the manufacturers. The sound was still small although quite listenable. I tried Parasound stuff and they were too 2D. So, still using the PV6 and FET power amp, I upgraded the phono pre-amp to gain a huge improvement (BAT VK-P6SE). The sound stage really opened up and timbre was drastically improved.

Then still using the PV6 line stage I put in a Rogue Stereo 100. It lasted a month and it should have been a week. It was terrible in both image and sound quality. But I blamed the PV6 line stage and replaced it with the Dialogue Premium pre-amp. Another huge improvement in image, but the Rogue still sounded terrible. Finally I replaced the Rogue with the HP and using the stock EL34s it ran circles around the Rogue.

Then came the room tweaks and speaker placement experiments until I finally settled on the near field configuration. I’ve never been happier and, as I said, I listen all day.

People like to flame Prima Luna because it’s assembled in China. That’s baloney. It’s an American and European company that closely supervises every step of manufacturing. And, they use only premium, imported parts. Probably better quality than your phone or your computer or your tablet or the stereo in your car or your TV,

Although I rolled the power tubes to KT150, I’ve yet to start on the small tubes, they are next. Then it’s on to roll the pre-amp and phono pre.
meiatflask ...I am running the PL pre into my Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks,with zero intention of changing the pre anytime soon..if ever! Before that set up..I was using an Edge Amp Signature One ac/dc preamp feeding a Edge NL10 stereo amp. The combo I am using now is heads and shoulders above the previous Edge system in all forms of musical enjoyment. I would not get hung up on pricing schemes and country of origin for audio equipment.. generally speaking.
My Edge Sig One was and is a terrific sounding preamp but the PL pre just plainly spanked it badly. And the Edge pre was 3 times the cost of the PL Dialogue Premium... Of course...ymmv according to one’s own musical priorities.
@meiatflask

Do you have a budget for your preamp?
I just added the $6,000 Backert Labs Rhumba 1.3 Extreme to my system.

And I have to say it is the most profound change I have heard in the last 10 years with any new component in my system. It has given me cause to reconsider upgrading my MSB Tech DAC.

The sound is not just detailed but immersive with texture that is hard to find outside of a live performance. From the bass attack to the the texture in the mid range. 

I have not felt this passionate about a component in a really long time It is simply the best preamp I have heard under $25,000.

 
@meiatflask, if your budget will stretch to it I recommend the Mola Mola Makua preamplifier. It can also be specified with a phono board and/or dac. Starting price £7,500
Atmasphere- 5k out the door is a hard stop.

I have Audible Illusions and PrimaLuna Monoblocks that cast a soundstage all the way across the front of the room.

I heard VAC casts the widest soundstage.
roger, what are you mating the Rhumba to?  
I have a Backert Labs Rhumba 1.3 mated with a Pass XA-25.  The Rhumba just caused an explosion of the soundstage in all directions.  The music is just so exquisite that I find it very hard to stop listening!  It is so liquid and involving.  It just brings me closer to a live performance than anything I have heard in over 40 years as an audiophile.  Isoacoustic Orea Bronze footers have helped as well.
Atmasphere- 5k out the door is a hard stop.
@meiatflask

OK- and no phono section, right?
@rdoc THAT is exactly the same combination I’m running (well almost, mine is a standard Backert Rhumba 1.2, but w/ Audyn True Copper Max output caps), and it is truly a fantastic, synergistic combination. I whole-heartedly agree and concur with your assessment! Crazy great sound, and my good audio friend Bon, (@jayctoy), can verify; he was over yesterday.

@rogerwg1 @rdoc
Curious, what tubes you are using, and what power cords on both your Backert preamps and the Pass XA-25. Feel free to PM me so we don’t derail this thread.
Atmasphere-  line stage, phono not needed, must have remote.
OP here.  Just reviewing al, the comments and what catches me is there are no solid state preamps being suggested.  Does not surprise me that tubes dominate the conversation, but kind of expected to see one or two solid state units in the mix.....
Mola Mola is solid state.
I had a Mac 275 with a Conrad Johnson pv-1 playing analog through a pair of Maggie 1.7i s and found that the recording determines the soundstage more than anything. Just my experience. 
Audiomaze- I could not agree more.  If the recording was not miked to give a great soundstage, you will never hear it in your system.  I have many recordings with gorgeous soundstage that I keep coming back to.  

But, given a great recording, still near the right gear to make it shine.
I agree I have my go to recordings.  I look at the studio and recording engineer and are rarely disappointed. Makes little difference who the artist is that combo will make it shine. 
I’ve owned BAT line stages, too. They’re great a throwing a huge soundstage. 
OP here - thanks everyone for all the input.  I now have a handful of candidates and brands to look into.  I am heading south for the rest of the winter, and will continue the pursuit when I get back in the Spring.  (No music in the rental place)

I’ll continue to peek in on this thread, but won’t be taking an active roll.  So feel free to continue posting, but for me, it’s time to say thank you.

Bill

Townshend Audio Allegri + autotransformer passive pre amp
line stage, phono not needed, must have remote.
@meiatflask
Based on your budget, our MP-3 line stage is our most likely candidate.
I have recently upgraded to the Rhumba 1.3 standard version. The change in my average sensitive system is profound. I am amazed at the life-like presentation that this preamp brought to my system. I highly recommend this preamp.