Going Tubing


I would like to introduce some tubes into my two channel set up.

I currently have a solid-state preamp and a solid-state power amp. (And a separate, hybrid tube phono stage.)

I am wondering, conceptually, staying with separates, if it would be better to switch the preamp to a tube preamp, or if it’s better to change the power ramp to a tube power amp. With “better” in this case I mean would have bigger impact on, for a lack of a better description, “tube sound.”

(I realize there are other considerations, such as having enough power to drive my speakers, but here I’m talking about conceptually, which part of these two audio chain components would have the most impact on the sound if switching one of them from ss to tube.)


Typically most folks tiptoe in by getting a tubed preamp first. They are very low maintenance and will refine the sound. Then later once they are comfortable with tubes jump into tubed power amps. They will produce a bigger change, but typically are more expensive and if buying older equipment may require biasing and retubing which can cost some money. I finally switched to tube amplifiers a few years ago (then making my systems all tube) and am very sorry I did not do it decades ago. I have probably 5,000 hours of tube amplification listening now and vertically no different than solid state other than I retubed one component.



A tube amp with an output impedance of 1 ohm and greater will have the most effect as the tube amp will track the speaker impedance and will not have a flat response (Ohm's Law). It will act like a tone control. So "colored" sound is the result.

I generally agree with both responses so far. Only thing to counter Jason’s comment is that while his statement is generally accurate, I would say that coloration depends on the design of the tube preamp or amp. I have heard very colored tube preamp (e.g. Cary SLP-05) and not so colored tube amps (e.g. Audio Research REF 150 SE), but in most cases, a true tube amp likely would add more coloration that most tube preamps.

Depending on the speaker’s impedance curves and sensitivity, one may prefer to match them with tube or solid state. Many opt for a tube preamp with a solid state amp because it can deliver a harmonic presentation while confidently controlling a wider variety of speakers. If the speakers are hard to drive, the requirements of a tube amplifier tends to go up exponentially, as does the price. 

Thanks for these responses!

My speakers are GoldenEar One.R:s. Sensitivity is pretty solid at 92 dB, and they have built-in subs so I would assume a need to push a great deal of power to them wouldn’t be necessary. Thus a - typically - lower power tube amp (compared to ss amps) may be sufficient, and not too much a concern/consideration.


Starting off with a tube preamp seems to make sense, though. I am eying the Black Ice Fusion F360, not least because of its rather intriguing sound field “enhancing” feature, designed by Jim Fosgate.

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Here is an excerpt from John Atkinson’s Measurements section for your speakers…

“The One.R’s impedance is specified as being "compatible with 8 ohms." The solid trace in fig.1 reveals that the impedance magnitude ranges between 3 and 6 ohms for much of the audioband, with a minimum value of 3.1 ohms between 290Hz and 390Hz. Like the original One, the One.R’s use of a passive high-pass filter with a low corner frequency means that the electrical phase angle becomes increasingly capacitive below that frequency. Although the impedance magnitude rapidly increases below 100Hz, mitigating the effect of that phase angle, there is still a combination of 4 ohms and –48° at 100Hz, which will require a good 4 ohm–rated amplifier to drive the speaker to acceptably high levels.”

This doesn’t scream tube friendly to me and almost certainly not for a lower-powered tube amp as it will easily be forced into operating out of its comfort zone. Makes a lotta sense to just start with a tube preamp and then decide if you wanna spend $$$ on a higher powered tube amp. Hope this helps, and best of luck.

A good friend who is a very competent EE, has built a range of Amp's in both SS and Valve, of which Valve is their most preferred.

Recently they have bought into a DHT Pre Amp design and have been trying it out on owned Amp's.

The Valve Pre' coupled to a SS Power has proven to be extremely impressive and one they want to demo'  to the Local HiFi Group at a meeting.

Demo's ser aside for the HiFi Group as a result of a experience had, usually prove to be very very well received by those receiving the demo' and new experience.

Like you I had a tube phono pre and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. so I ordered a Bob Latino ST-70 Dynaco clone. I was shocked at how good it sounded. So It replaced a high $$$ SS amp. I have stepped up to 65 wpc now. My speakers are 93.5 db. However, considering @soix post, I wonder if the VTA ST-120 will work? You could call Dan, the new owner operator and get an opinion. Or, there is a CJ CT-5 preamp on USAM which was a top tier preamp just under the Act 2. Stereophile review said the CT-5 had better slam than the Act 2. Its known that the CT5 comes far to close to the Act 2 performance. The outcome, CJ upgraded the Act 2 to a version 2. The CT-5 never had a version 2 and IMO would be much better than the Black Ice.

Theres also a CJ LP 125SA which is 125 wpc for sale in your price range on USAM. I like to stick with an amp with 4 power tubes rather than 8 due to the cost of tubes. Then too, I don't need the wattage and not sure you do either. You have to make that call. Best of luck


Tubes4hifi vacuum tube amplifiers and kits

I started with a Lazarus tube preamp hooked up to my solid state Distech LS-2 amplifier.  It was a nice combo and improvement over my Hafler preamp, but once I added a refreshed Dynaco 70, followed by the VTA mods on the Dynacos later on, it was a different world. Can't imagine not having tubes in some capacity...so much midrange and treble magic! 


FWIW I drove my old Triton 1.r's with my VAC Renaissance 70/70 with ease. Sounded outstanding! Also FWIW it will be listed on The Music Room next if interested. Fresh from the VAC factory and very new tubes too.

I'm a big fan to tubes and in your case bimmerlover a preamp seems like a good place to start. A really good tubed preamp can be really transformative and a good SS amp will let that tubey goodness shine.

I have GE Triton 2’s which are similar at 91db and have had 3 different tube amps that easily drove the Tritons.  I prefer lower volume (50-80db) with a full meaty sound and had no issues with any of them.  Started out with a Jolida 1102 Integrated 20w el 84 based tubes.   Moved on to a Raven Blackhawk Integrated 20w 6l6 based tubes.  It had a much fuller sound and was just better in every way.  Now I have a Decware Torii Jr v2 20w amp with El34 tubes and it sounds incredible.  Waiting list for a new Decware is 3 years.  I waited 2 years for mine.  Sandy Gross, Goldenear’s founder/designer demos his speakers with an 8 watt set amp at trade shows with no issues.  Fyi- I also drive my Torii with a 6SN7 tube preamp which gives it additional gain.  Next I have a 8w 300b set amp being built and will be fun to see how that drives the Triton’s.  If not, I will  build some 94 db rear Horn speakers similar to Decware’s  DNA2’s.  Tuber for life with a rolling obsession!  Good luck with it all.  

Never gone deep on tubes, only a DAC. However, I think I like and worth exploring.


My current system are hybrids. PS Audio BHK Signature preamp and BHK 300 mono blocks. All three have tubes for the input section, so I can get some of that lovely tube sound without most of the heat. 

For about 5 years, I used a PS Audio BHK Signature hybrid preamp and BHK250 hybrid power amp. I really loved the sound. Now I use an LTA microZOTL tube preamp with my BHK amp. That combo sounds noticeably better with no listening fatigue. The LTA is more transparent, more detailed, instruments and voices sound more natural, bass is deep and tight. My speakers are 89db Tannoy DC8Ti’s.


I have the cousin to your speakers, the Definitive Technology Mythos ST's with built in powered subs and drive them with my VAC PA 100 100 tube amp along with my ARC LS15 LS15 tube pre amp  I typically listen to music around 75db to 85db but trust me they can play much loader! I should mention the VAC has 2,4 & 8 ohm taps  Based on your Audiogon forum name you might like BMW's FYI I'm restoring a BMW 1973 2002tii  

Since I went with separates several years ago it has been a McIntosh C2700 (tubes) and MC611's (SS). It was like they were made for each other. I have been very pleased withe them. 

Given the impedance of your speakers as indicated by @soix  I would stick with your SS power amp and purchase a tube preamp.

Start on preamp first, Amp tubes need biasing their tubes if you end up buying non auto bias.

You will never know the whole story unless you go all tubes.

Therefore, consider the end game now.

Answer to your specific question: tube preamp now.

@ghdprentice captured it well in his comment

that said, the use of a tube power amp depends alot on the chosen speaker and its demands

to get the full dose of what tubes do to the sonic presentation, once one decides they like it, ideally the system is all tube

and now having said all of this, and having been a tube-o-phile for some 30 years, i do not have a single vacuum tube in my current system... LOL

There are some excellent intergrated (tubed) and that might be the way to go. $eriously. (You’ll need some serious bucks for all separates.)

Here are a few.,,,,

PrimaLuna EVO 400 Tube Integrated Amp.


Rodges High Fidelity (I have and have kept )


And a lot here on Agon

A friend has your speakers and uses the PS Audio M1200 mono blocks. 600w into 8ohms. He’s excited like an 11 year old. No pre for him as streamer/DAC goes directly to Amps. He reports low volume better too.





I had an all SS system with McIntosh 1.2 kWh mono's and went out and demoed several different amp and preamp combo's with new Wilson speakers I was going to acquire.  After 1 1/2 years of looking and listening I found that the best sounding combination was the Audio Research REF6SE preamp and REF160S amp (I actually preferred the 160S over the Audio Research 160M's)  when I combined that with the Wilson's it was so much better.  I learned about Ohm's law and found that my McIntosh amps were not a great match for my Martin Logan ESL15A's. 

My best suggestion is research as time consuming as that can be; however, in the end you will be more knowledgeable and understand your system better.  Make sure you listen to all types of music and different quality recordings.  

Since adding the above tube components I have added an Audio Research PH9 phono stage and a Nagra Tube Dac with a separate power supply.  Obviously, I like the tube sound better.  To me, my vinyl sounds so much better through tubes.  I also have a pair of REL S812 subs connected into my Wilson Alexia V's and overall I am really happy with the sound.

Good luck and let us know how you make out.

I have had various amps and preamps over the 55+ years in this hobby. Almost all of it has been tubed and the times I delved into SS units, they didn’t last long in my system...back to tubes I went.

A tube preamp is a very good way to start, a no brainer, but in my experience the power amp contributes more to that tube sound than a preamp so if you really want to experience what tubes will do for you, then consider that. Also buying tube gear and having a specific expectation that it will sound a certain way can be a bit of a crapshoot. For example

#1 Some tube gear is voiced rather neutrally while others more colourful.

#2 Most modern tube gear is more neutral than 25 years ago

#3 Tube type used makes a difference. For example a tube power amp with 300B output tubes (not enough output power for you anyways) will sound very different from one with KT88 output tubes.

#4 Actual tube brand makes a difference so for example a British Mullard EL34 will sound very different from a Russian or Chinese modern EL34

Personally I have some Quicksilver Mid Mono power amps that I really enjoy. It can run EL34, 6L6, and KT88 tubes and each has it’s own sound, yet they all sound very good.

I agree with a previous poster’s suggestion to get a power amp with only 4 output tubes, much easier and less costly to retube and manage. This type of amp would typically give you 40-55 watts/channel. I have run speakers that one would consider a not so great match with these type of amps yet unless you are in huge room and want to play at high levels, it can still work very well if not optimally. At least then you can decide, if you like what tubes bring to the table, to go bigger.

I hope all this info has not overwhelmed you and scared you off tubes, it’s really worth it. BTW, I’m also a Bimmerlover, we have 3 in the household, and with spring in the air the Z4M is getting out in the sunshine a bit lately!

Currently using an Icon tube phono amp with an Icon integrated tube amp (quad KT88). Very good for the price. 

I run my Triton R1's with a pair of 20 year old Cary Audio Six Pac mono blocks and  a Prima Luna Dialogue Premium preamp. Sound is superb! The 92 db sensitivity and the powered 1600 w subs enclosed in the Tritons makes the Six Pacs 50 w output more than enough. I'll occasionally switch in my  Classe Audio Model Fifteen SS amp for more casual listening.


I am actually surprised almost everyone is talking hardware. I have found the tubes selected have a SIGNIFICANT impact on sound. I have NOS Telefunken medical, NOS Siemens nickel plate & NOS Brimar CV4003 I roll in my Rogue preamp. The Tele’s are very forward, Siemens bright & airy, Brimar’s warm. 
I would recommend a tube pre, but tube selection will significantly influence your sound regardless of HW, IMHO. Fun changing your sound with (relatively) small tube investments. 

I am actually surprised almost everyone is talking hardware. I have found the tubes selected have a SIGNIFICANT impact on sound.

Sure, but OP probably needs the gear to put the tubes into before ge goes shopping for different tubes.

Many thanks to the many answers and insights shared. There’s a lot to distill and there are of course one hundred and one different directions one can go, based on integrated vs. separates, what matches/is able to drive my GE One.R:s and, not least, budget.

I currently have the Emotiva Xda-3 preamp and the Emotiva XPA-DR2 power amp.

From what I have been able to gather so far, it may make sense to stick with the power amp (550 watts RMS into 8 Ohms, at <0.1% THD. 800 watts RMS into 4 Ohms at <0.1% THD) as then I don’t have to worry about matching the tube amp to my speakers (nor needing the tube power amp budget…) but to shoot for a tube preamp. It’ll be fed, as is the Xda-3 today, from a Rega P8 with a MC through a Vincent PHO-701 hybrid phono pre and by a Cambridge Audio CXN 100 network streamer/dac.

So I need at least two inputs, preferably at least one being balanced (from the CXN), preferably 1-2 more.

I would say my tube preamp budget is $2000 (+/-), and I don’t mind a used one if it’s in great shape and good value.

Suggestions for which preamp with nice price/performance and feeling the ss power amp would be much appreciated, given the above aspects I need to consider.



@bimmerlover Wrote:

I would say my tube preamp budget is $2000 (+/-), and I don’t mind a used one if it’s in great shape and good value.

Suggestions for which preamp with nice price/performance and feeling the ss power amp would be much appreciated, given the above aspects I need to consider.


Schiit Freya+ Preamp $1049, nice price/performance ratio!


Balanced Audio Technology VK-30SE For Sale - US Audio Mart

I have been using BAT gear for quite a few years and can honestly say that it is some of the best I have ever owned (I have had several great component systems over my years).  The link above takes you to US Audio Mart and directly to a very nice BAT tube preamp that fits in your budget and will deliver everything you are seeking.  I hope this helps in your quest.  Best to you. 

OP, about 30 years ago when I started my trek down the road to 'better end' audio, my intent was to combine HT with 2 channel stereo.  Therefore I went with a ss digital HT pre in front of (for the left & right front speakers) Cary's entry level two channel amp.  That probably wasn't the best way to go about things.  Later down the road I swapped out the Little Cary for a pair of ARC VTM 120s (tube mono blocks) for a bigger sound, but still I wasn't getting what I wanted.  A year or two later I picked up a second hand Cary SLP 90 (tubed pre) and swapped out the HT pre, and that is when my system started to really sing.  Two or three years ago I swapped out the SLP 90 with a SLP 05, and that turned out to be one of the biggest sonic improvements I ever made.

All that was to say that I am also in the camp that, if I was only going to go with one or the other, I would start with a tube pre in front of a ss amp.

Have fun!

Here’s a nice Linear Tube Audio MZ2 with their linear power supply upgrade that’s an excellent preamp (read the reviews) and that’s well within your budget, and as a bonus it’s also an outstanding headphone amplifier if you swing that way or might like to in the future.


Best of luck. 

Get a tube amp that allows tube rolling as it adds a lot of fun to the process (There's a Dennis Had Firebottle on Ebay if you have efficient speakers), and you cant go wrong with the amazing bargain that is a Freya + (class A in Stereophile). I own the original version of that preamp, and it's amazingly good.

@bimmerlover Do note:

Tubes in a Audio System are not a device one can Power On and forget about.

My Valve EE, has always encouraged the discipline for not leaving the Audio System unattended for long periods of time.

The Idea being one stays within the audio set up room for the bulk of the Power On time and even has a revisit not too long after Power Off.

Having said that I have a all Valve Power Amp's in the System for over 30 Years and today the system is inclusive of Valve Phon' and DAC.

I am vigilant when it comes to being present when the system is on. It is this same requirement that put my wife off using the audio system, even though she owns 50%+ of the Albums.  

Thanks again for all insights.


The Schiit Freya + certainly sounds interesting, and has been recommended by at least a couple of people in this thread.

What is this knowledgeable group’s opinion of the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premiere and the PrimaLuna Evo 300 preamps?

+1 LTA Microzotl. I bought a used MZ2 and couldn't be happier. I was lucky in getting one of the last ones made, and the circuit board looks more like the MZ3. It's just a beautiful open sound, amplified by a SS amp. It's my first foray into tube home audio and maybe my last. I don't know what more I could want than this sound. 

Tubes???,,,With the hassle of tubes, the expense,the coloration of sound,maintenance ,,on and on...add the fact that Solid state gear has equaled if not surpassed tube gear in about everything sonically..why consider the move? 


"Opinions are like A-holes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks."

I have tried to walk away from tubes many times and always wind up coming back. For some of us, there is no solid state gear to be found that can match the presentation of tubes, regardless of what the skeptics say. The only way to know is to listen for yourself.

A tube preamp with a good solid state amp is a way to go, although don't overlook the possibility of a great tube integrated, which will save you some money on cables and give you a simplified set-up. 

Have fun!


I'd suggest starting with a tube preamp, you get a lot of the benefit without the complexity of a tube amp. I can highly recommend: Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme (1.3 or 1.4), and the BAT VK-80.....they were part of my listening journey when choosing a tube preamp a few months ago.

In the end I chose an Aric Audio Motherlode XL (I need XLR connections), but his Super 6SN7 linestage is also remarkable at around $4,000. My friend chose the BAT VK-80, and I was down to the Backert and the Aric Audio.....I chose the Aric Audio because it is 6SN7 based, and I really like Aric Kimball and his company

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