Which Tube Preamp under $10K?

I am seeking to replace my Audio Research LS16. $10K is a hard upper limit which must include a phono stage. It matters not if it is built-in or a separate component, but It should be decent. So, in terms of a new line stage for $8500 or less, I'm currently considering The CJ CT5, one of the VACs, the VTL 6.5 and perhaps the BAT 31SE or not yet released ARC LS26. I am driving a pair of Bel Canto Evo 2 Gen II monoblocks which are driving B&W Nautilus 803s. I like the tube sound, maybe even on the sweet side for some tastes. The older CJ gear has always been a touch dark for me, but the newer stuff is said to have lightened up considerably. So, speed, dimensionality and a tubelike upper midrange are where I want to go with this purchase. All comments and suggestions welcome.
I'm currently considering The CJ CT5, one of the VACs, the VTL 6.5 and perhaps the BAT 31SE or not yet released ARC LS26.

Then there's the Steelhead which gets you a pre- plus a sweet phonostage. And if you really want to buy the latest forget this suggestion, but, at ~$3-$4k used, the CJ Premier 16LS is worth a listen.

I'd really like to learn your pros and cons on those you've listed.
Since your Bel Canto has balanced inputs, you might consider the Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp with phono stage. Frankly I have no first-hand (or even second-hand) experience with the combination, but if your priorities are "speed, dimensionality, and tubelike upper midrange" then Atma-Sphere is well worth considering. I can tell you that Atma-Sphere preamps work very well with Jeff Rowland's IcePower amplifiers, which are conceptually similar to the Bel Canto unit. Ralph Karsten (of Atma-Sphere) thinks his preamps are a more significant step up than his well-respected OTL amplifiers are. I can tell you that the phono stage in the MP-1 is superb. Oh in case it isn't obvious by now, I'm an Atma-Sphere dealer. If by chance you don't have an Atma-Sphere dealer nearby and might be interested, give me a holler.

Best of luck in your quest!

McIntosh makes a lovely tube preamp; ie, the c22 reissue and the c2200.
This is where Judy 426 comes in and advises you to spend $5k on a preamp, and $5k for speakers to replace your B&W N803's. I agree with her (you did write "[A]ll comments and suggestions welcome").
Audiokenisis makes a point to advertise in almost every post. IMO this is not necessary. Save that stuff for private emails. Thank you.
A capitol idea if I must say so myself.
Yes, all comments are fine. The B&Ws may go at some point, but that may be a more significant move like up to the smaller Wilsons or Rockports, etc. As for Atma-Sphere. I've never heard the stuff and don't know of a dealer nearby. I guess it's time to find one so I can take a listen.

I just saw an Audionote M3 for sale for under $5K here on audiogon. I heard the M1 once and fell in love with it. You might want to give and AN a try. Dan
Atma-Sphere is supurb equipment -- well worth a listen.

Perhaps you already know this -- in buying a tube preamp to mate with a solid-state amp, it is important to make sure that the output impedence of the preamp and input impedence of the amp are appropriate for each other. The output impedence of some tube preamps can be quite high in the bass (e.g., BAT -- 3 kOhms), while the input impedence of some solid-state amps (vintage Rowland, professional gear) can be as low as 600 Ohms. As a (very) general rule, the input impedence of the amp should be at least ten times the output impedence of the preamp at all frequencies.
To Stanhifi,

Perhaps you are right. I think a fair number of my posts are more informative than commercial, but lately I may have drifted more towards the latter. Thanks for the feedback.

Take a look at the Aesthetix Calypso line stage and its companion phono stage, the Aesthetix Rhea. Really a wonderful combination for about $7k for the pair. If you prefer a single chassis, then these two units are available as the Aesthetix Janus, which sells for about $6500. Either of these choices will give you wonderful sound. And if you are willing to buy used equipment, keep an eye open for the Aesthetix Io and Callisto. Here's a link that you may find useful:
No problem with used gear and the LS16 is one I've been meaning to take a look at. Judy, what is the basis of your anti B&W furver? The Steelhead is an excellent suggestion, btw. ON Aesthetix gear, its reputation seems to be that excessive tube rolling is necessary to get it to work right. I also have a good friend who went through loads of tube rolling and then once he found the right combination for his Calypso, the thing blew up on him. I don't know this to be a general trend though.
Also, for that kind of money why not just have custom line stage built? We can do that for a lot less money that you are talking about. It would use a 5842 for the driver tube and quality output transformers.
I, for one, can say that I do not, have not and probably never will feel this way about your posts (see stanhifi). They (your posts) are indeed some of the more informative with your position and biases always clearly stated.
IMO it woould be a real shame if you ever "thought twice" about posting as you so generously do.
This is just my opinion, as is Stanhifi's, none better than the other, but offered for your consideration.


Duke is one of the most, if not THE most, ethical dealers here. He always offers good advice, often about products he doesn't sell, and never bad-mouths anyone else or their products. And he always discloses that he is a dealer! What more could you want?

But the best part...he has always been a perfect gentleman, which is more than I can say for some other dealers who frequent Audiogon.

I have never purchased anything from Duke and I don't know him personally, but I appreciate his humility, his candor, his willingness to help and his ethics.
I like my McIntosh C22 Commemerative. But my tweaked MX110 is not that far behind.
Thanks, Glide3 and Fiddler, for your kind words.

Stan doesn't object to my making "informative" posts, just "commercial" ones. And frankly my post on this thread was more commercial than informative.

Don't worry about my posting tapering off; I'll still be tossing out my $.02 on such arcane subjects as power compression and directivity index. I like the sound of my own keyboard clacking away too much to lay off.


Re Duke: I see it more of a disclosure issue than an advertising one. I know I recently read about the KR 300b tube and the first thing I wanted to know is where I can buy them. If he recommends something it's because he believes it and is trying to help. He then lets you know that IF you don't have a dealer near you, you can contact him.

Disclosure: I have dealt with Duke before. He purchased my Maggie 1.6's for a client of his. He doesn't sell Maggies but he believed the 1.6's own that price point in the market and that's what he wanted for his customer. I think he's a classy guy, but of course that's just my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
A used VTL 7.5 (hybrid) should fit within your budget. Its super.
In that price range, if a fully balanced system, the Blue Circle BC-3000 MKII with the new GZPZ power supply and balanced ins/outs deserves a listen. It's very impressive.
Do you have any information about the VTL 6.5 It's being announced by dealers, but I haven't been able to find it on the VTL site. It should be a trickle-down version of the 7.5 or so I gather.
Both the Hovland and the Nagra preamps are excellent. I think either would be an excellent candidate, and both are available with quality phono. I own a supratek Syrah which I would also wholeheartedly recommend a supratek product, but there is a long wait for a new one. My syrah has an excellent tube line stage, amazing tube phono stage, remote controlled, top notch build and looks for $2500 retail. (I think the chenin is around $2900 now). not too many competitors in that price range
Wyetech Opal. All the benefits of a SS pre -- speed, deep tight bass, detail, wide bandwith -- with the soundstaging and naturalness of a tube pre. I think it goes for about $8500 new. You will hardly ever see them on the used market. I replaced a Hovland HP100 with the Opal. The Hovland is excellent in its price range, but the Opal is an entirely different dimension. It also is beautiful with incredible build quality.

In a word...CAT
Found a used VAC Phi 2.0 for under $10K, and altho I don't use it, the phono stage is supposed to be one of the very best around. In addition, the support of Kevin Hayes at VAC is truly unbelievable. Build quality is also about as good as it gets - likewise for the sound, IMO. Since VAC was on your list, I would definitely consider giving Kevin a call - he may be able to turn you on to a used Phi 2.0, or help locate one you can hear. I bought mine sight unseen and unheard and couldn't be happier. Good Luck.
For true high end performance I would suggest that any McIntosh preamp would require extensive modifications. Bypassing the center speaker circuit, all filters, the tone controls, pure silver wire in the signal path, capacitors, and so on will result in a very good preamp whether a mx110 or c22.
BY an MX-110 and donate the rest to charity.