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Contemplating Tube Pre with my Sunfire Amp

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sleepysurf

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Currently using a Squeezebox as source into a Benchmark DAC-1, direct to my Sunfire Cinema Grand 200, driving Aerius i's. Given the constraints of my room, I'd give my setup a B+ in overall imaging and fidelity. Having recently heard Craig's SS Summit system, and another's tubed system with (with fairly inexpensive) dynamic speakers, and marveling at both systems imaging and "sweeter" sound, I'm starting to think that adding a GOOD tubed Preamp to my system (thinking of the Modwright SWL 9.0), might take me to the next level. I've currently pulled my Aerius' out 4 ft from the back wall, and WAF limits any further acoustic tweaks.

For those of you pairing a Tube Pre with a SS Amp, how much REAL improvement did it make? Besides a "sweeter" top end, did imaging improve at all? Aside from the Modwright (which I can get used for <$1700 on A'gon), what other Pre's should I consider? I need TWO outs (to accommodate home theater), and have a budget of ~$1800. Alternatively, I'd save the $$ and put it towards a pair of Vantages down the road.
 

twich54

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Alan, Good day, as far as tube pre's I'm an ARC guy that being saig Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound as a nice reputation for modding ARC gear and I believe their is a piece or two on the "Gon" now. I'm curious, are you "attached" to your Sunfire amp ?? For while it might be fine for "HT" I believe it to be lacking when it's time to really enjoy two channel music. I know I've preached this a zillion times but I trully think you are much better served by building your "HT" around a superb two channel set-up first, I have yet to hear a "multi" channel amp really do two channel good.
 

sleepysurf

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twich54 said:
... I trully think you are much better served by building your "HT" around a superb two channel set-up first, I have yet to hear a "multi" channel amp really do two channel good.
I'm actually just using the front and rear channels vertically bi-amped, separately powering the Stats ("current" output and Woofers "voltage" output), as recommended by some in this forum, and also this interesting review... http://www.vxm.com/21R.116.html

Actually, I'm not familiar with ANY Tube Pre's (ARC, Modwright, or any others), so have just started educating myself online. What, in particular, about the Audio Research designs, makes them so compelling? Frankly, the large number of ARC Pre's on A'gon is a bit overwhelming!
 

twich54

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Alan, I have used ARC for almost twenty years and am somewhat of a disciple of Bill Johnson's approach to audio. Their pre-amps have served me well and I simply like the sound that passes through them, combined with excellent dealer support, strong build quality, etc. They have recently done quite a few upgrades, new model introductions which is probably why your seeing quite a few on the "Gon". FWIW I am contemplating upgrading my SP-16L to the newly released LS-26, so mine will be up for sale soon.

Interesting stuff regarding Audio Research can be found at: www.arcdb.ws

Good Luck !!!!
 

Jeff Zaret

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Sleepysurf,

Yes I do have a tubed pre and there were improvements noticed right away. I still feel this is the biggest bang for the buck for sound representation. The top end is sweeter or maybe more realistic or if you will, more "analog" sounding. I gained a greater soundstage and again words are just that, but we could say that the imaging of instruments, "within the stage" and the space between them was more defined.

I could better define the placement of the intruments and can hear when a vocalist is moving from side to side or front to back, etc.

ARC makes a great tube preamp and there are others which are also very good. I have a Conrad Johnson. The thing here is they will all sound different and without going into why, you should try as many as you can and then you will be able to decided on what "sound" you like.

Good Luck :)

Jeff :cool:
 

Spike

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When looking for a tubed-preamp, the underlying theme common to all the reputable brand is beefy, rock-stable power-supply section providing constant voltage to the amplifying circuitry. Beyond the power-supplies, then we get into the design topology of 1, 2 or 3 gain-stages, tube or solid-state rectifiers, etc... Each type of design and implementation provides its own characteristic and you'll need to hear for yourself before deciding on one. For example, I found the McIntosh and ARC to be too hi-resolution, CJ too sluggish, syruppy, BAT and Cary somewhere in between. The differences between these pre-amps are quite small, and I had to listen for a long time, head-to-head before deciding on the one I like best. I've lived with my GNS-modded LS7 for 8 years before looking for a new pre-amp and I could easily live with the others mentioned here. Keep in mind that my pre-amp budget was up to $5k price point. For my preference, I tend to go for simple design to try and stay close to the original signal as much as possible. The rationale being that the more components you add to the signal path, the resulting signal will be more deviated from the original. For my journey, I went from ARC and ended up with ModWright. For more description of my pre-amp hunt, you can read the review of the ModWright I've posted toward the bottom of the my system page. Good luck on your search.

Spike
 

sleepysurf

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Thanks for all the useful suggestions. ARC certainly offers a dizzying array of impressive gear, but the Modwright has also has stellar reviews. Dan Wright offered me a deal on a demo since he has no local dealers near Tampa.

However, as recommended on another board, I decided to take a "baby" step into the world of tubes, and ordered a Musical Fidelity X-10 v3 "Tube Buffer", which is a Stereophile Class A component. Not much of a risk, given the 30 day return policy from MusicDirect.

I've got lots of ways to play with it, with the Squeezebox and Benchmark. If I don't like the effect, I'm only out a few bucks, and can still try a full-fledged tube Pre at a later time.

I'll post my opinions once it arrives.
 
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Spike

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sleepysurf said:
However, as recommended on another board, I decided to take a "baby" step into the world of tubes, and ordered a Musical Fidelity X-10 v3 "Tube Buffer", which is a Stereophile Class A component. Not much of a risk, given the 30 day return policy from MusicDirect.
I beg to differ here since I'm not a fan of adding more components into the signal chain just for the sake of adding tubes. I always strive to keep the signal path as simple as possible by removing components on the chain. For example, I'd much rather get the BenchMark DAC modded with high-quality (discrete) solid-state analogue stage than adding any tube-buffer to the stock analogue output. But that's just me, you may find the MF X10 to have a positive effect to your liking. If I had to guess, the MF-X10 will probably have a pleasing warm sound (baby-step) but the ModWright WILL take your system to the next level. It's THAT good!

Spike
 

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We use VTL gear with our demo Vantages, and the results are stunning. I am also a MF fan, and their hybrid stuff has always had a nice warm side to it without being too warm.

I have never heard anything from ARC or ModWright, so I cant compare. Just thought to throw my 2 cents in. :)
 

DTB300

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sleepysurf said:
Thanks for all the useful suggestions. ARC certainly offers a dizzying array of impressive gear, but the Modwright has also has stellar reviews. Dan Wright offered me a deal on a demo since he has no local dealers near Tampa.
The Modwright unit is a great Pre, and if you watch Audiogon you can pick up an ARC for a good price. Since the new ARC models are coming out (see Twich's post) there will probably be some older models coming up for sale.

The Tube Buffer has received mixed reviews and it will be interesting to see what you think.

Dan
 

sleepysurf

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Well, just received my X-10, and after 2 hrs of listening, here are my initial impressions. It definitely CHANGES the sound, though remains to be seen if worth $400.

I've been using a Squeezebox2 as my source (FLAC files), feeding a Benchmark DAC-1, then direct to Amp (no Pre). This setup still had a fair bit of "digital glare" on some recordings.

I first tried the SB2 analog out (using the built-in DAC) > X-10 > direct to amp (without Benchmark)... was still a bit "harsh" on the high end. I then went SB2 (digital out) > Benchmark > X-10 > Amp... MUCH improved. Definitely "buffering" out the "digital glare" as I hoped it would. Imaging and soundstage depth remain excellent, but the bass is a tad more sedate.

Like Spike, I prefer NOT adding more components to the signal path, and after some extended listening this weekend, will decide if the X-10 is a keeper.
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amey01

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I run a Copland CTA305 preamp with a SS (Classe) amplifier on Aerius speakers also. Unfortunately, I bought the Copland and Classe at the same time so can't speak for its performance alone, but the results are stunning and not the least bit subtle over my previous integrated.
 

sleepysurf

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Well, after further listening, I decided to send the X-10 back. It DID smooth out the highs, but at the expense of muddying the bass and lower mids. I tried different configurations and cables, but ultimately found the SB2 -> Benchmark -> Amp still gives me the cleanest sound.

Before adding more components to the signal path, I've decided to take the plunge and upgrade from my Aerius i's to the Vantage! I would love to get the Summits, but can't justify that expense just to gain another 10 Hz on the lower end. I'm assuming the newer stat design with greater radiating surface will offer a significant improvement in the highs. After I have the Vantages, I'll revisit the idea of a tube Pre.

Will keep you posted as I begin this next audio journey!
 

Craig

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Congratulations on your upgrade. That's a big jump to go from the MF X-10 to Vantages. Give me a call, I'll bring my Art Audio tube preamp over and let you give that a try.
 

sleepysurf

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Well, thanks to Craig whetting my appetite for tubes (by lending me his Art Audio VPS DM Pre), I'm back in the hunt for a Tube Pre. The Art Audio provided the warmth and liquidity my system has been lacking, while eliminating the "digititis" induced listening fatigue over time. The Art Audio maintained (? improved) soundstage and imaging, but at the expense of slightly muddied bass (as did the MF X-10 tube buffer when I demo'd it). Is "muddied bass" an inherent issue with all valves, or a product specific issue?

If product specific, with a budget of <$1500 (cuz I'm still saving for the Vantages), which Tube Pre (A'gon deals fine with me) offers the CLEANEST bass, along with smooth, but not too syrupy highs? I only need a line stage (no vinyl), remote control optional, but as a Tube newbie, would also prefer auto-biasing capability.

All suggestions/opinions welcome!
 

Jeff Zaret

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This will be tough one. In my experience and I am by no means an expert you do not bias preamp tubes. This is typically done on tube amps. Of course this may not be an absolute and I am sure I will we told the wrong doing of my ways. :p

As we have always said, if possible demo at home even it is is for the day. I am pleased with my tube pre amp and my SS amp. I feel this gives me the best of both worlds in a very livable solution. :)

I like CJ stuff but I am biased cause I have them. ARC is very good as are so many others to choose from. I would think buying used would give you the best tube pre amp you can afford at this time.

Just some ideas

Jeff :cool:
 

Spike

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sleepysurf said:
If product specific, with a budget of <$1500 (cuz I'm still saving for the Vantages), which Tube Pre (A'gon deals fine with me) offers the CLEANEST bass, along with smooth, but not too syrupy highs? I only need a line stage (no vinyl), remote control optional, but as a Tube newbie, would also prefer auto-biasing capability.
The only ones coming to (my) mind that'll fit this description are: ModWright SWL-9.0, DeHavilland UltraVerve, and possibly Welborne UltraPath.

Good Luck
Spike
 

Craig

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Tube rolling is a blessing (if not a curse) of tube gear. Tubes have thier own sonic characteristics and the tubes in the preamp I loaned you are of unknown quality. I'm sure the right set of tubes in that preamp will improve the bass without detracting from the midrange glory, soundstaging and imaging. I don't think muddied bass is a normal characteristic of tubed gear. Ive heard some very nice bass coming out of tubed equipment and love the bass from my tube amp.

As Jeff mentioned, I don't know of any tube preamps that require biasing so you won't have to worry about that. I previously owned a Jolida amp that was manually biased and found it easy to do after a few tries. One benefit of manually biasing on some amps is that you can tune the sound (within limits) by slightly increasing or decreasing the bias.

The Art Audio VPS Dual Mono (DM) preamp has a switch for low gain, high gain or mute. The low gain setting provides a zero-feedback, non-inverting polarity output while the high gain provides an inverted-polarity with feedback. You can switch between the two to see which you prefer. I don't really know the theory of this feature but I prefered the low-gain setting in my system.

Glad to hear you're enjoying the sound quality of tubes. Wait until you hear a good tube amp driving your logans.
 
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Rik_Rankin

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sleepysurf said:
Thanks for all the useful suggestions. ARC certainly offers a dizzying array of impressive gear, but the Modwright has also has stellar reviews. Dan Wright offered me a deal on a demo since he has no local dealers near Tampa.

However, as recommended on another board, I decided to take a "baby" step into the world of tubes, and ordered a Musical Fidelity X-10 v3 "Tube Buffer", which is a Stereophile Class A component. Not much of a risk, given the 30 day return policy from MusicDirect.

I've got lots of ways to play with it, with the Squeezebox and Benchmark. If I don't like the effect, I'm only out a few bucks, and can still try a full-fledged tube Pre at a later time.

I'll post my opinions once it arrives.
That tube buffer is nothing but a TONE CONTROL that attenuates the signal; a bad band-aid. Better to fix the real problem.
 
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