What Solid State PreAmp?

In the $5K-$10K range, what are the top PreAmps out there? I am looking for a musical PreAmp. I know of the following in NO particular order, but there might be others. Any feedback would greatly be appreciated.

McIntosh C200
Ayre K1Xe
Accuphase C2000 and C2410
Classe CP 700
Mark Levinson 320 and 326
MBL 5011
I'm sorry to bogart your thread a bit, but I have to ask why somebody would decide a priori to limit a preamp search to SS. With power amps, I can certainly understand, as there there are real negatives associated with tubes - heat, wear, etc. But most valved preamps have tube lifetimes in the tens of thousands of hours - it's a non-issue. As is heat. There are just no meaningful negatives with tubes in this area, and while there are some transistor preamps that sound just great, there are sure a lot more tubed preamps that sound *really* great and it seems to be much easier to do with tubes.

Just food for thought. Maybe you have reasons for limiting yourself to SS that I don't understand.
From Chord to EMMLabs Switchman - what functionality do you want/need - to me the functionality is an important thing in a pre - not just the "specs" (which often exceed the recording quality). Do you want to be able to control one or two subwoofers? Do you want room EQ? Do you want all balanced inputs and outputs. Do you need digital in with master clock or just Toslink or Tos + SPDIF or multiples of each?
You owe it to yourself to audition the new Belles LA-01 SS preamp. It is truely one of the great pre's available. Make sure you listen to one that has about 200Hours under it's belt. A very musical two box pre that will fall into the lower end of your price range. Bruce Jacobs is the marketing guru for Dave Belles and can be reached at either 920-277-9468 or 920-582-5982.
I don't generally put a lot of stock in reviews, except to help me narrow or widen a field of components to consider and audition. With that in mind, you might want to take a look at the June/July Absolute Sound. Jonathan Valin compares the Parasound JC-2 to his reference Audio Research Ref-3. If you're specifically looking for SS in particular, the review might be helpful.
While I have not tried a lot of high dollar preamps the Ayre K1x was a revalation in my system.
Dodd Audio.......and yes , it is not the SS but with only two 6922 and only one cap in the circuit it is as transparent as I have heard. Besides its great/awesome sound, it runs on four batteries. Any power issues and power cord selection is out of the loop which is heard as a complitlly black and silent backgrounds. Absolutly quiet even at highest volumes - dead silent, inch away from the drivers.....0, non whatsoever. It all wouln't matter if it didn't sound any good. In fact ,I am willing to put it againts any make and model up to 10K.......anyone up for a challange in NY area????

I am not related to the company in any way, shape or form.....just a very satisfied customer, that is all. It is sold direct and for less then your original price range.

Cheers and happy listening

Thank you all for your feedback. As to why SS vs. Tube, I have used tube in the past. I just want to try something new. I would like to try solid state. I currently have the McIntosh 402 Amp.

I have not heard Dodd Audio nor Belles. I have listened to Parasound, it is not my cup of tea. I found it a bit clinical, although very detailed.

Keep the feedbacks coming.

I'm very happy with my Klyne 7. Beautiful build quality and design. Matched with a tubed Mcintosh MC275.
I am a tube guy, but the best SS preamp I have ever heard is the Placette Audio active.
The Jeff Rowland Design Group competes with all the preamps you've listed and only costs $2400. Look for the reviews around A'gon. It's too new for the paper mags.

I agree with Ejlif. If your set on a SS preamp the Ayre K-1XE is something special. When you consider the used price of $4-5K they are hard to beat.
I'm also a tube guy,however,I've heard wonderful things about Jeff Rowlands Capri pre amp and it's a lot less than what you're looking to spend.
"I have listened to Parasound, it is not my cup of tea."

You've listened to the JC-2? It's a different animal altogether. In any case, my post was just a suggestion to consider.
I love tubes as much as the next guy; I was "raised" on them.

However, there are some really good, actually excellent, solid state preamps.

To dismiss solid state topology when considering a new preamp purchase is naive.
I've tried several preamps and the Mac C200 remains one of my favorites. I use it with my big SS and my SET amps.
06-06-08: Markwatkiss said:
"I'm also a tube guy,however,I've heard wonderful things about Jeff Rowlands Capri pre amp and it's a lot less than what you're looking to spend."

It's an all-new design for Jeff, taking advantage of recent op-amp developments and noise control techniques. Don't let it's small size and low cost fool you, this thing is SOTA. If you got mains power issues or simply want the ultimate in quietness, then add the PC1 Power Factor Correction unit to convert it to operate in DC.


The PC1 intrigues me. By converting the unit to operate in DC is the effect similar to what a well designed battery power supply would achieve? I know JRDG has used battery power supplies in the past for some of their gear. So I'm wondering if the PC1 is their alternative to a battery option.

Any idea what the PC1 costs? The price of the preamp is very reasonable.
Clio, exactly. I posed that question to Jeff when we visited his shop last week. The Critereon is his soon-to-be-released "statement" preamp. It will be battery powered.

The Continuum 500 converts any AC to pure DC and the PC1 in front of his devices like the 501 monoblocks and the Capri does the same thing. My question was, "Is there an advantage of one DC over the other." His response that the Critereon is a low current device and he already had developed a reliable, long-life battery system, so he used that.

The 312 stereo power amp and the Continuum 500 have PFC built in. The separate PC1 unit allows many (most) of his other products to benefit from the same technology. It's clearly a plus on all his power amps that can use it, because it stabilizes the draw on the AC, which can be quite violent when not modulated somehow. With low current applications your benefit will vary, depending on the quality of your mains and some other factors.

I think that getting into pure DC can't hurt, because of the noise floor being lowered and all grounding issues just go flying out the window.

Guido, now that you've had more time with the Capri/PC1 combination, do you think it's a positive in that application in your system with the 312?

BTW, there's a blog about our Rowland Factory Tour, including some discussion of Rowland's philosophies, at Soundings Blog

Right in the middle of your price range is Steve McCormack's new VRE-1 pre-amp. The reviews have been positive and he offers a 30 day trial. After I sell some equipment later this year I plan on a demo myself.
My preferences in order are as follows:
Ayre K1XE
T+A P1230r
Accuphase c2000
Naim 281,202,102
MCIntosh C200
Mark Levinson 326
Classe CP 700
I have not heard the MBL or the Accuphase C2410. Although the Ayre and T+A sound somewhat different I like both equally as the best solid state preamps I have heard.
I second Pcoombs recommendation of the Klyne pre amp; I have a 6LX3P; excellant build quality,high wife acceptance factor and mates well with my tube amps (cary slam100 and Manley ref 440/200 monos); results are excellant.
Audiofan12, please tell me about T+A. I heard their CDP and was very impressed. Other than the unfortunate name, that's about all I know about them. Who destributes in the USA?

Hello Mike,
I have been through dozens of preamps over the past 40 years.
It was the most frustrating part of upgrading my system.
I believe that the rest of my system, given room limitations, is the best, in my opinion, that money can buy.
I finally found a preamp where I have no longer a desire to upgrade.
It's called the SMc VRE-1, a design from the inventor/master of tweaks and upgrading other manufacturers' designs, Steve McCormack. He founded The Mod Squad in the 70's. Three + years went into the design of this marvel. It is sold at $7,500., factory direct.
My guess is that it would sell for 15-20,000 through dealers.
Check out the review from Positive Feedback. I, too, wrote a review, my first in 40 years, so worthy is this preamp of "getting the word out" for serious music lovers/audiophiles.
You will be stunned by its performance. I can detect no flaws. A first! Steve is a friendly, approachable engineer.
Give him a call or send me an E-mail for more about this breakthrough product.
I have all Ayre equipment. Personally, I hate MBL..sounds like a German tank...heavy with no finesse.
Post removed 
Missioncoonery, yes I agree, but think about tube rolling a little bit. I've got a little single-ended, Class A headphone amp by Woo Audio. It's wonderful, BUT I can change it dramatically by simply changing the recifier tube, replacing my $10 Russion tube with a 1950s metal base Holland GZ34tube that ranges in cost between $300 and $700, IF you can find it.

The improvement is HUGE in my headphone amp example and it's still not as good as my Rowland SS. I don't see the "advantage" of tube rolling. You've got a high likelyhood of worsening your tone, not improving it. Why would you want to introduce such a big variable into your system??

It's one thing to roll tubes on my guitar amp, where the idea IS to color the sound, but on my high fidelity two-channel system I only want tubes that are "accurate" and "transparent", yet such a thing is hard to define, much less find.

I now run all tube amplification (linestage, phono and amp), but I do own a couple of solid state linestages (Placette Active and Levinson No. 32). For the money, the Placette Active is a very good linestage -- dynamic, open and detailed, and it projects a very large and realistic sounding soundstage (for a solid state unit). The Levinson is more "refined" sounding (less artificial "edginess"), but is a touch dull and unexciting compared to the Placette.

I have also heard systems with Ayre preamps that sound quite good. I like the clean, "fast" and nimble sound that Ayre electronics manage to produce while being substantially free of the artificial edge to the initial attack of notes that makes a lot of solid state gear sound a bit mechanical and artificial to me.
Mikeaudio, I know that based on your thread you are looking for a SS preamp rather a tube unit.
However I would like to suggest a tube preamp that in my opinion will not benefit from tube rolling. That preamp is the Herron Audio VTSP-3. Like Stringreen , I am also a musician, violinist by training and have played for years, and this preamp is the best at rendering musical satisfaction that I have used. It gets all aspects right in MHO. You should check it out, I do not think tah you will be dis-satisfied.

Your Woo unit is a nice lil headphone amp but it is NOWHERE NOWHERE NEAR even a "good" tube pre. I had one too and used it as a linestage occasionally so I know.

Defining/deciding what tubes are "accurate" is no different than answering the same question for transistors, op-amps, resistors, capacitors, etc.
Paulfobrecht said:

"...Defining/deciding what tubes are "accurate" is no different than answering the same question for transistors, op-amps, resistors, capacitors, etc...."

Agreed, but why then do people think it's an advantage to tube roll. I want my designer to use his decades of knowledge and pick the right parts for me and not have to worry about those part burning out and becoming unreplaceable.

My point is that tube rolling is NOT an advantage of tubes.


Manufacturers pick the tubes they put into new equipment based primarily on practical considerations -- cost, reliability of continued supply (meaning new, not vintage stock), and reasonably good sound.

But, there is no way for a manufacturer to know what sound any particular customer would favor based on that customer's taste and complement of other equipment. Given differences in taste/need, it does not make sense for a manufacturer to spend a LOT of money on NOS tubes that may actually sound worse to a particular customer.

There is no consensus on what is "better," that is why the ability to make changes to the sound by the relatively simple act of changing tubes is a good thing.
06-10-08: Larryi said:

"Manufacturers pick the tubes they put into new equipment based primarily on practical considerations -- cost, reliability of continued supply (meaning new, not vintage stock), and reasonably good sound...."

If I spent $10,000 on, say, an ARC Ref 3, I would expect the tubes to not be compromises, just like if I paid $18,000 for a Rowland Critereon, I'd expect Jeff to use the very best components.

How am I going to know more about tube selection than ARC??? It's their life's work, it's only a hobby to me. In many fields, I pay experts to make decisions for me when I don't have the time, inclination or knowledge to do it myself.

I don't want "reasonbly sound" from ARC or C-J, I want the best the designers know how to give me at a price point.

Once again, my point is, tube rolling capacity is NOT an advantage of tubes over SS, IMHO.


What is the "best"? You seem to think that there is one objective best and that the manufacturer, particularly of something expensive, should incorporate that in the gear. Perhaps the designer of cost is no object gear used tubes that meet your "best the designers know how to deliver" criteria, it still may be possible for a particular customer to better satisfy his own personal taste or better match the component with his particular system by making alternative choices. That is the reason for tube rolling.

Personally, I would not be spending big bucks on gear if I could not hear the difference and had to "pay experts" to make the choice. This is particularly the case for me because I hardly ever agree with the so called experts (e.g., reviewers).

One last OT response (this thread is about SS pre-amps).

I'm saying that most of us audiophiles don't know as much about the "best" sounding tubes as the designers of the equipment. It's their lifes' work.

When I look for answers to a question about mortgage banking I'll usually look inward, toward my own decades of experience in the industry. If I don't know it, I know who knows it. OTOH, when I'm trying to reach sonic nurvana, I look to someone like Jeff Rowland, because he's dedicated himself to pursuing sonic purity for decades and he's a leader in his field.

With most SS designs the only thing users are likely to change are the power cord and interconnects. I think that's a positive. OTOH, there's a tube culture that advocates tube rolling almost any piece of equipment that they purchase. I don't see tube rolling as an advantage of tubes over SS.

BTW, I do hear differences between gear and have used my ears to lead me to some of the best gear AND designers. Still, there's no shame in putting trust in an expert, such as Jeff Rowland for instance. My ears led me to the man and the man reinforced the trust and the relationship. There's nothing wrong with that.

Have fun playing with your tubes...;-)

I agee with Larry on this one. My latest preamp is Dodd and tubes that it cam with were JJs new stock that sound like crap. In contrast, Mullards or Amperex pumped new life into Dodd that out of the box was lacking soul and character. Since it is very sensetive to tube rolling it is a tweakers delight and an easy fix to fine tune the sound to taste or preferances that one might seek.
Gary's choice of tubes was driven by exactlly the same reasones that Larry point out in his post.
06-10-08: Mrjstark said:
"I agee with Larry on this one. My latest preamp is Dodd and tubes that it cam with were JJs new stock that sound like crap. ..."

Exactly my point. I prefer to buy something that would make the designer proud, not something he'd have to apologize for.

Hi there MIKEAUDIO. Don't know what part of the country you're living in, but you really should try to get access to the H-Cat PR7 preamp (retail list $4995). I have used and owned many of the top-ranked preamps over the years (tube and solid state), but I have never heard a preamp that can bring the music to life like the H-Cat. The sound is frightingly live sounding. I have been an audiophile/music lover over 50 years and I can honestly say that the H-Cat is the "best of the best". Try it and don't make up your mind after 20 minutes as one audiogoner did. After it is fully broken in, you will have a hard time going back to any other preamp. It has no colorations of the sound. If you want to hear the truth, you won't be dissapointed.
Dave, it is not the design itself. It it is a lot less expencive in the long shot to fine tune the sound with pair of tubes then being stock with what you don't have any control of and its only a matter of time when bug hits again. It would be nice if one could come up with the formula that would answer the question to which is the best preamp out there. However, there is no such a thing and it never will be as long as there is two or more audiophiles with opinions and different tastes. I sill stand behide my opinion that you have more freedom and flexibility with tubes then SS and that leads to longer satisfaction. It is only my opinion Dave nothing personal.
No offense taken Mrstark. Thank you for your concern.

At the risk of staying OT a little longer, I see where some people might really enjoy tweaking and twiddling. That's totally valid. Still, for every tweaker that gets great enjoyment out of tracking down the best tubes for his or her amp or preamp, there's at least one non-tweaker, like me, that just wants great sounding equipment right out of the box and doesn't want to do anything but listen to music for the next ten-years or so.

So, I'll stick by my guns, IMHO, tube rolling is not an advantage of tubes vs. SS, UNLESS you really have a need to do such things and it makes you feel good, then I say, "Have at it." ;-)

I'll admit, I tube rolled my Woo Audio WA6 headphone amp. So shoot me. I'm not proud of it. I did research for weeks over at head-fi.org and then searched for weeks for a reasonably priced tube and then I struck, only one. I'm pleased with my upgrade. Jack Woo makes no bones that he offers the amp with compromise tubes and other circuits in order to me his mid three-digit price point. He offers upgrades. The expense was small in proportion to the rest of my system and my headphone setup is a much lower priority than my speakers. Hence, I fell off the wagon just this once.

Hi there again Mikeaudio. The correct model number of the H-Cat preamp is P12RX7. I just noticed on one of your responses that you have a McIntosh MC 402 amp. That's the same amp that I use and I am driving the Duntech Sovereigns. By the way, the Duntech's are a John Dunlavy design and they use all Dynaudio drivers. John Dunlavy sold the name Duntech to an Australian company and then came back to America and started Dunlavy Audio. John passed away I believe in January 2007 (RIP). Duntech is still in business in Australia. Anyway the combination of the H-Cat preamp and the Mac 402 is a magnificient sounding combination. Any how, good luck and remember, enjoy the music.
The H-Cat suggestions are worth looking into, particularly if you are looking to "wake up" a system. It may not be the answer if the system sounds too hard or in-your-face. It is not that the H-Cat is itself hard or harsh, but, it may be too revealing in some systems.

From a practical perspective, if you keep your amps on all the time (I would with high power solid state because such amps need a lot of warmup time to come on song), you would have to also keep your linestage on all the time or at least have a stage which mutes output when it warms up to avoid turn-on sounds from the linestage feeding a power amp that is on. This could eliminate some tube linestages from consideration.
>>but, it may be too revealing in some systems.<<

How can a preamp, or any product for that matter, be too revealing?
Bill, revealing is bad if it points out how poor the rest of your system is ........or if you are looking for coloration that match your taste or preferances. :)
06-10-08: Audiofeil said:
">>but, it may be too revealing in some systems.<<

How can a preamp, or any product for that matter, be too revealing?"

My thoughts exactly.

I think he's saying that if your sources, ICs and speaker cables are not up to it, then you'll hear their hardness, haze and opaqueness even more clearly. Some would rather ignore reality rather than fix it.

Stepping back to some earlier posts regarding JRDG, I'm going to audition some of his products in the next few weeks.

I'd like to solicit thoughts/impressions good, bad,or indifferent from owners and users.

Private emails please; it would be inappropriate for me to respond here if I decide to retail the line.
I've written a ton here on A'gon re JRDG. Guidocorona also has much to say. If you haven't already, you should search here for our comments and feel free to direct questions to us via email. Rod Tomson, proprietor of Soundings would be another good reference. His site is Soundings Site
Mike, why don't you try the McIntosh? I've often read they have good synergy with McIntosh amps. I have a 402 as well and I'm searching for c2300 so I'm biased that way. Love the amp and figure the pre-amp should go the same way. Right now I'm running DAC to AMP through some Cardas GR ICs.