What SS preamp compares to a tube preamp


I'm not sure I want to make this change, but only exploring options. I would like to keep this purchase under $3000 new or used and I think that's about the price point to make it worthwhile.....not sure though.
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I started with a few AVR's, then went to a B&K ref 50 which is very nice, finally to a VTL 2.5. I'm currently using the VTL but with the price of some tubes I'm considering going back to solid state. I have a few tubes that sound really nice, Mullard 4003, 4024, 1950's Siemens, Valvo, Brimar, etc....I have found good sound but there's always a compromise. Once I hit the right mid range, I lose some top end, sometimes vice-versa. Also the gain on the 2.5 is excessive, fair amount of hiss and I know tube rush is a side effect but this is just excessive gain... 20 db. I have tried attenuators but they take a little top end from the sound.

I'm not giving up on tubes, but just would like to hear what others have tried that have been in this situation. I don't need HDMI but would be nice, mainly would like a remote. I don't think an AVR can do what I want but maybe a dedicated preamp.

I thought about an Anthem but they have mixed reviews.....not really sure where to look.

All input and criticism appreciated.
dyl71
Listen to an Aesthetix Calypso for a tube preamp that moves in the direction you're looking to go, and an Ayre K5 for the same thing in SS. Your current preamp is better than most, so I wouldn't sell it until you find something you know you'll like better.

If you can find an old copy of The Audio Perfectionist Journal, SB from TAS compared those 3 preamps, along with a few others. I almost never recommend reviews, but after listening to all 3 preamps, I think he got it right. Also, keep in mind that we pretty much have the same exact taste in equipment, so I'm sure that was a factor.
Ayre or Parasound JC. :)

I use the P7 myself, and I would NOT call it tube-like at all....but a good multi channel pre. :-)

Best,


Erik
Take a look at Spread Spectrum Technologies (SST)
Ambrosia.....
I hope this helps,
Tim
Marc Mickelson, May 2006 Soundstage review of K-1xe/V-1xe:

"You won't mistake the V-1xe and K-1xe for tubes, but you won't care either."

Modern electronics' sound signatures are meeting between tubes and s/s, no matter the circuit.  I have all Ayre equipment and recommend them highly...never a problem.
Forgot to mention I'm using a B&K 200.2 amp which is on the warm side. I've been thinking about the Parasound A21 and perhaps that would clean up the highs a little when using the Mullards.

I will look into what's been recommended, I appreciate that.

I enjoy the liquidity and richness of the tubes, I do like the detail of the SS preamps also....tough call.
Would the Cary Cinema be a worthwhile candidate? Not sure which model to look for but I would assume at least the Cinema 6.
Your B&K amp is balanced with a differential input stage so it would mate very well with the fully-differentially balanced K-1xe. Put tubes in your digital front end and Yahtzee!
I am a tube devotee. The only SS preamp that I have heard that even comes close to the "fuzz on the peach" resolution of tubes offer come from Klyne Audio Arts. You can find one for under $3K on the used market, if you are patient.

BTW, your VTL 2.5 has 20 dB of gain, there are many tube preamps on the market with less gain, including the new VTL 2.5i, which has user selectable 8/14 dB gain.
I fooled myself on two occasions believing that I could go back from tube to solid state,only to be disappointed with what I was not hearing.You have a nice array of tubes,the problem in my opinion is your 2.5,you may want to consider a more evolved design.Modwright,Cay and Audio Horizons are several considerations.
Linear tube Audio's Micro ZOTL2 MZ2-S, using David Berning designs. This preamp might be the biggest bang for the buck and best kept secret in audio. Definitely the best preamp I've ever owned.
http://www.lineartubeaudio.com/products/mz2-s

Also consider NOT being able to tune the sound by rolling tubes!
The one SS preamp I own that sounds like a Tube preamp is my Mark Levinson 380S.  It was also written in a review ( Fi magazine)  that the 380S  sounds like a tube unit.  I'm very happy with it's sound and it can be bought under $3000.00 used.
I have a very good solid state pre amp that sounds very much like a tubed pre amp its a vintage Sansui CA 2000.
I have read that the principal designer of sansui products  back then designed the circuit to sound like a tubed pre amp.
Anyways its got my foot tapping.  

Probably McIntosh will be a best bet. Most of them come with tone controls, with will allow you to adjust sound further to your liking.

Vintage Sansui CA 2000 
Three way tone controls bass mid treble with turnovers for bass and treble high low filters dual phono inputs for turntable flutter and siblance. Two amplifier outputs with a selector amp 1 or 2 or both for bi amp.  Its a nice vintage piece easily obtained for $500 to $700 in mint .
Its a nice looking piece as well.  
Listening now. Jazz 88.3. NYC.
To all , Enjoy the music. 
Thank you.  I enjoyed sharing.
" I enjoy the liquidity and richness of the tubes, I do like the detail of the SS preamps also....tough call."

After reading that, I thought I'd comment on the Ayre K-5 a bit more. Liquidity in an audio component is difficult to define. But the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, when listening to Ayre in general, is liquidity. Its the cleanest, purest, most liquid SS gear I've ever heard. There's a complete lack of anything that sounds mechanical or electrical. But you still need to listen to it first. While it does have some traits that tubes are known for, you wouldn't mistake it for a tube preamp. You wouldn't mistake it for a typical SS preamp either. I have yet to hear any other brand, tube or SS, that sounds like Ayre. Because of its unique sound, I would say the Ayre is a must audition before you make a decision. 
I would replace the power amp to begin with. Real good ss preamps would cost more than your entire system, and even they won't sound quite like tubes. Compare analog recordings, vinyl or reel, made with tube and ss equipment. Don't listen to this 'tube-like' nonsense, transistors sound different.
"Real good" SS preamps sound like whatever is fed to them and can be bought used at the top of the OPs budget or just slightly more.
I recommend the Ayre K-1XE solid state preamp.  I used one for 9 years after having used tube preamps (ARC LS-2 and Counterpoint SA-3.1) for many years, and never regretted it a bit.  It was an incredibly quiet preamp with a very neutral sound, and it had very good imaging and soundstaging. The used price should be in your ball park.

I have since moved on to the hybrid VTL TL-6.5 Signature, series 1, line stage preamp.  (It only has 2 12AU7 tubes, so tube rolling is easy and relatively cheap.)  The sound is similar to the Ayre, (i.e. very neutral), but the soundstaging and imaging is even better, and it is every bit as quiet as the Ayre.  (I think the VTL has slightly better extension in both the treble and bass regions too, but only slightly, and that might be due to comparing a nearly new preamp to a preamp that was over a decade old.). It is a bit better than the Ayre sonically IMHO, (although my Ayre had the near reference phono boards, so it was probably a better value).  The cost is a bit out of your price range, (I paid about $4,200 for mine), but if you can afford it, it will probably keep you happy for a very long time.

My two cents worth.
Good luck in your search!
Ready to tally the votes, dyl71?
Yeah, go ahead and do as they say, just don't blame me for waisted $3k.
Mark Levinson No. 380S or 390S.
" Yeah, go ahead and do as they say, just don't blame me for waisted $3k."

That makes absolutely no sense. Your advice is to not buy a preamp. If the OP goes out and buys a new preamp and isn't happy with it, why would you be blamed for the mistake? 

Had you not said anything, I'm sure your post would have been completely forgotten, or at the very least, overlooked.

Have you considered a Hybrid? Tube drivers with Mosfet output stage.
You could get the benefits of both Tube and Solid State technologies.

Rogue Audio makes a very good one within your budget. Ypsilon Electronics makes one of the best ones on the planet which is way outside your budget. I only mention it so you can get a sense of the range of products being produced with this type of technology. I have heard both, and Rouge makes an excellent representation of the technology. 

I have heard many credible reviews for the Ayre gear, however getting to actually hear one has eluded me. Getting to audition one has proven to be quite a challenge. I also believe they are above your budget, but if given the opportunity I would highly recommend checking it out.

This said, I am curious about companies that claim that their frequency responses are DC to 150KHZ ++, or as I like to say -  DC to Infinity and Beyond. The few that I have heard making these claims have fallen way short of  anything musical.

Good Luck
I never liked the example "tube like" for countless reasons.

If you want smooth amplification try some Classe's. I personally expect to go back to one. I have heard many utter those words "its very tube like". Yes exactly, only without the colouration ;)  
Tubes have varying degrees of coloration as do transistor components.  It just depends on what type of sound you are seeking.  They error in different directions along the sonic spectrum. 
Good luck, 
Charles 
If thinking hybrid, Vincent Audio makes a Pre within budget. 
" Tubes have varying degrees of coloration as do transistor components.  It just depends on what type of sound you are seeking. "

Not only that, but you can make the case that SS has a much wider range in "type" or "coloration" of sound than tubes. Consider SS power amps or preamps from these companies: Pass, Ayre, Levinson, Spectral, BAT, Rowland, ARC. SS products from any of these companies sound completely different from each other. I can't think of any brands of tube products that have as much diversity as the companies I listed. And that was just off the top my head. I'm sure we can come up with a lot more examples to add to the list. The point is, with such a diverse selection of sound, I see no reason why SS should be considered "better", or more "accurate" than tubes. If that was true, they woudldn't sound so different.
You might want to look at the Audio Research preamps using the 6h30 tube they have nice sound and last a long time, I have the LS17SE and it works great also has balanced in and outs can get a good price on a used one
All of the above are exceptionally fine components. The differences between the best tube and SS gear per se is less than the differences between house sounds of each.  It is a matter of personal preference, flexibility, and system compatibility as to which will work best for you/me.
Mb1 audio, 
 Yes, go listen to Krell,  Vitus, Soulution and Spectral . All four are transistor electronics yet they  are strikingly different from one another.  Which is more accurate?
Charles 
For years I ran tubes. Conrad Johnson then Rogue. 3 years ago I went over to Pass Labs. Same as tubes? Unlikely but I do not miss the tubes even one bit. Pass is that good 
If you don't want the tube hassle, but still want full bodied accurate lifelike sound, then I bet you'll like a McIntosh SS preamp.   The control it can give you over the listening space and inferior recordings is a nice bonus, and has certainly added to my musical enjoyment.  I have used several highly reviewed modern preamps in your price range, tube and SS.  I have a good bit of experience with the preamp you are using now.  As always, YMMV and good luck.

I second Jafant's recommendation of the Levinson 380S.  If you can stretch for a 326S do it.  It's a fantastic preamp.
over the budget but I've owned a lot(too much) high end gear over many years and can't fathom a smoother more detailed preamp than the Krell Phantom, a two box unit. I think the 222 is the single box version. Truly musical. Actually got tipped off by a top Agostino guy when I asked him if you wanted a truly special Krell pre to match w Agostino amp what would you choose. See above. 
Take a listen to the deHavilland UltraVerve. Here is a quote from Jack Roberts review in Dagogo.  
" In conclusion, there is a reason there are so many glowing reviews of this preamp. It is a preamp that is priced like an entry-level preamp and sounds like a true high-end preamp. This is truly a product that offers value in the high-end market. It holds its own with the very best, it’s fun to listen to and has a big robust sound but not at the cost of tonality or detail.....
I use the Townsend Alegri passive,It the best pre that I have heard and beats both Tubes and SS on purity of sound and lack of color. I use it with my Conrad Johnson 350 or Gamut 200 snd works well with plenty of gain on either. Was rated as one of the best components of all types in Audio Critic. Look it up in the Colloms rating. And no tube rolling or any problems.

The alagri scores 230 on their system VS the audio reserch 5s 225. The higest old AR was 30

The allegri scores 230 on their system VS the audio research 5s 225. The highest old AR was 30

Well here is one for you. Jack Roberts reviews it on dagogo.com  

What if I told you the best linestage I have ever heard in my system wasn’t the $28,000 tube preamp I loved for so long or the incredible $38,000 transistor unit that I recently had in the house” If you have to have an active linestage, these two units are the best I have heard. If you can get by with a passive unit that is so plain looking that it’s almost invisible, then I can tell you the best linestage I have ever had in the house is the silver version of Emia Remote Autoformer. Truth is it’s not even close in my system.

Jeffrey Jackson and Dave Slagle created EMIA to fulfill the need for affordable high-end audio components using clever design and quality parts.


Disclaimer here. I haven't hear this preamp. I like tube preamps. I don't carry this brand.

 I should have put quotation marks about this portion of the review.

My bad? 

dyl71

There is an UltraVerve on audiogon for about $900. Go for it.

stanwal-


you are not using a CJ pre-amp with the 350SS ?

All- many excellent suggestions.

Happy Listening!