SS preamp with tube amp

I toying with the idea of using my Esoteric integrated as a preamp to pair up with a tube amp.  I'm wondering if I will get the "tube sound" with this set up.

Ag insider logo xs@2xgreginnh
Yes you will get that sound, and I think it would do wonders in terms of warmth helping to offset the coldness of the Esoteric....As long as the output impedance is low enough to drive the amp properly, so make sure you check that. You want the amps input impedance to be at least 10x greater than the preamps output for best synergy. Should work well :-)

Matt M 


Given the context of your inquiry I’ll state my perspective. In terms of obtaining or retaining "tube character" I believe the power amplifier has more influence in that regard than the preamplifier. I believe that SS pre/tube amp or tube pre/SS amp (the far more common approach) can both be successfully implemented. The "quality" of your preamp is the critical variable. If your objective is to have the intrinsic character of tubes present in your system then the tube power amp will have the more dominant impact as it’s directly driving the speaker. Obviously this assumes you’re using appropriate speakers with the tube amplifier. I’m not suggesting the tube preamp has no contribution but that it’s less than the amplifier. Let us know what you hear with your SS Esoteric and tube amp.I use a tube pre and power amp. Hypothetically If "forced" to give up one, I’d keep the tube amplifier and obtain the best SS preamp I could afford.


Thanks Matt and Charles,  

I am searching for the specs on my Esoteric F-05's preamp  output impedance as well those for potential amp - a MC275. 

Hopefully, as Matt indicated, there will be acceptable impedance  values on both ends!


Generally the output impedances of SS preamps are quite low so I suspect you'll be fine.


you will get the "tube sound" or some of it

but you are doing the opposite of what most do, which is a tube pre-amp with a SS amp

yes, post your speakers as that could be important
According to Stereophile measurements, 7T sensitivity is 86.6dB and drops to 3.5 Ohms minimum impedance in both the upper bass and low treble and drops to 3 Ohms in low bass. This would push me more toward a tubed pre as it might take a lot of $$$ to get a tube amp that can sufficiently drive these speakers. FWIW and best of luck.
Thanks soix.  Good advice for sure.  If and when I get bored with my Esoteric F-05, I may spring for something along the lines of MC 2301 with maybe C2600 preamp.  

Suggestions of course, welcome!

Hi Greginnh,

Your speakers were likely designed to mate with a SS amplifier given the Stereophile measurements provided by soix.  That's why in my earlier post I stated that "assuming" you had speakers appropriate for a tube power amplifier.


If uou want ultimate resolution a integrated amp is not the last word in resolution 
At least half  the money hoes inyo the Amplifier section.  
Yes it will work fine but many integrated  amps donot  have a Active preamplifier 
Section. This is why a Dedicated  preamplifier from same company for example 
Will bd noticeablyou better.  If uou want the Absolute best in resolution 
For example like a Single ended amplifier, - Direct only one stage. 
Myself just started comparing and now owning a Direct Heated Triode Preamplifier.  Such as myou  - 45 Tube  two box preamplifier. The 45 is a Great 
Tube for pure musicality. The only problem  is your builder needs to match proper gain  over 96 db speakers can magnify  any noises down stream..
Everyone should at least experience a World class DHT preamp ,and  SET amplifier. Custom built products such as my Class A - Dual mono Pass labs amp
With thd DHT pre is the Solid State version of a SET tube amp  .
Check out master builder Radu Tarta . The quality is Far above Anything  at his pricing Lundahl transformers, Tango, You choose the quality .your hard earned money hoes into the build ,not the mark up .you get 3x the ptoduct.
With only premium parts  to start.   Just do a little research. I have 35years of trial and error. Nothing is perfect in this hobby . Keep your mind open to trying somethjng new.
I don’t know where Audioman is coming from, but in terms of resolution, an integrated may very well be the most transparent and best combination, since everything is in one chassis and the entire design is thought out as a whole. To my mind the limits are usually power and size related. I personally think having fewer gain and buffer stages is an improvement over more, and having an integrated makes this happen.

Usually, if doing a ss/tube combo people go with tube pre’s and ss amps. Giving the tube warmth and color, with the solidity and extension of ss amps, but make yourself happy!

I do think if you are thinking of switching the integrated you should consider the new generation AR as a fine choice. Take a while to warm up though.
I'm not familiar with your Aerial speakers, but picking up on the 86dB spec. I never felt that I did my Thiel CS 3.6 speakers their justice due in trying to drive them with tubes, so also 86dB. They would have probably benefited from a fine 200w SS amp, for example.

Today, I have 300b mono blocks driving much more efficient speakers, and that's a happy mix. When I got the mono blocks I was stuck with an integrated tube amp without a preamp out. I dragged out my old Boulder L3AE line stage as a temporary solution. I had it recapped and it sounds great in my system. Someday, I'll upgrade to a fine tube line stage, but l'm not in any hurry. Just saying.
Your Boulder SS preamp driving 300b tube amplifier is an excellent example of what I meant.  It can be done quite successfully. There are othere on this site who've done this as well. 

The bigger issue with the Aerial speaker is the difficult impedance characteristics more so than the low speaker sensitivity. 
in terms of resolution, an integrated may very well be the most transparent and best combination IF it is designed and implemented really well, but most aren't hence the typical sentiments against them

audiophiles like to change things frequently and separates feed that addiction, hence the design effort focused on separates

but there are many good integrateds - the real question is will they drive your speakers well

assuming you do not upgrade your speakers, find an amp (or amp section of an integrated) that can drive them well

if you do upgrade your speakers, find an amp (or amp section of an integrated) that can drive them well ;]

My theory is that the signal from pretty much any good preamp is very clean, and the preamp isn’t required to do much else other than send that clean and not overdriven signal to the amp where a tube amp can add the mojo. This is my justification for my SS preamp to tube power amp rig, but man…a tube preamp might be in my future as I simply like looking at tubes…I may need therapy...
IME transistors don't do the low level detail thing as well as tubes. Fast yes, but low level detail, no. So I figure tubes in the front end and a solid state amp if you have to have solid state.

The idea there is if the signal source gets messed up early on, no good quality of amp and speaker can recover the lost detail downstream.

YMMV on account of not all tube preamps and solid state preamps are exactly the same in fact they are pretty well all different. So like many things in audio this is a suggestion not a rule. Listen and see.  
You may have unraveled an issue that I'm experiencing. This refers to your statement about the quality of a solid state preamp for lower level detail. My main speakers want closed corners for reinforcement, so I got subs for fill-in. I had heard a knock off of my system at a buddy's place except he has closed corners plus a very fine tube line stage. The bass was highly focused and detailed. I don't get that level of detail and focus even with my subs, so you have me wondering if it isn't my SS line stage?
I’ve used tube preamplifiers exclusively for the past 20 years and actually agree with what atmosphere wrote regarding superior low level information retrieval. Only in the context of the OP’s question concerning "tube character" I happen to believe that the power amplifier offers the greater degree of this character.

I use 300b mono blocks as you do and I am certain you’d love a high quality tube preamplifier. My SET amplifier sounds wonderful with the Coincident Statement Line Stage and the Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamplifier. Also excellent with the VAC Signature preamplifier. Kenny I think your bass issues could be partially explained due to the placement of your Hornings. 
Good points. I don't want to hijack Greg's post, but I thought that the addition of open baffle subs, that want to be away from walls, would give me the low level detail. I'll have to see, because things are slowly improving as the subs are breaking in.
@greginnh what do you feel you're missing from your Esoteric? Did a quick google search and that looks like a pretty special integrated. I'm a tube guy all the way but have a certain fondness for Japanese SS from companies like Esoteric and Accuphase. I would think you would have to spend quite a lot to better the performance you are getting now. Also as others have said perhaps not the most tube friendly speakers. Perhaps new speakers are the answer rather than new amplification? Just a thought.
the thing about the power amp is that it must interface with and control the speaker, besides delivering adequate current, etc. so it never clips

other than that I think atmasphere put it well

for the record, I have a tube pre-amp - the ARC LS25 MkII (which replaces a Sonic Frontiers Line One I've had for ~20 years) and my Sunfire amp is SS which I may replace for another SS most likely - have had it for ~20 years and before that an Adcom

they drive Maggies (for the last 20 years; before that Vandies)

I am highly likely to upgrade the speakers and source material before changing the electronics...
For the record, I am very happy with my integrated amp. I was just curious if the SS preamp made sense as I had an opportunity to scoop up a MC275 for a great price.  It's just an OCD thing with me, I can't leave well enough alone!  

My second rig is a Primaluna DiaLogue premium paired with Audio Physic Tempo Special Edition speakers so I will have to "settle" for that sound in my living room!  

Thanks for all the great advice!

If you got that Mac a good price, hold out for a good tube preamp at a good price and then see what you think!

I am running a Rotel 1068 with a tube amp and the sound improvement was very great.

It is powering Magnepan MG1 Improved speakers at 24 watts
per channel and still will get very load.

I didn't even think it would power the maggies so I was very surprised that it sounded so good and would drive me out of the room when turned up.


At present, i'm extremely satisfied with Bryston BP26/MPS-2 as Solid state preamp controling the Rogue Audio valve M180 monoblocks. The speakers are B&W 803 D2

Sources are VPI TT. BCD-1 CD player & Magnum Dynalan analogue & internet tiners.

Very Happy with a distinctive sound quality.
Oops! Magnum Dynalab MD 102 Analogue & MD 807T Internet Tuners.
i mayhighlight the fact of the Valve output stage of the MD 807 T built in DAC.

i was carefull to ask Rogue Audio about the comoatability (Output impedance wise) between the Bryston BP 26 & THE Rogue Amps M180.

indeed as Charles said" the power amp has the bigger influnece over the resulting sound"
Hey Gregaba

"It is powering Magnepan MG1 Improved speakers at 24 watts
per channel and still will get very load."

how long ONG have you had those speakers?  The speakers and your name look familiar.


Hi Tim

I bought the speakers in 2008 after they were rebuild by Arnold in Chicago. They still sound great.


  I just use my ears as a guide. I use a McIntosh C2300 tube preamp with  a pair of Sanders Magtech monoblocks, and use Martin Logan Summit X loudspeakers? How does it all sound? Fabulous
I have been into high end audio for close to half a century and have found that using a true quality tube line stage preamp such as my present Audio Research LS27 is the most significant part of a true quality audio system itself.  More so than the speakers being used or even the audio source itself.  I previously had a op of the line Ayre solid state syste,-K1xe preamp and first version of their mono amplifiers.  I have had top of the line B@W 800 diamond speakers.  Still, nothing else has made anywhere near the overall sound audio reproduction than the simple use of my LS27.  In fact, presently I am only using my Odyssey Khartago extreme solid state amplifier and am getting a great sound on my own Martin/Logan speakers.  Also my top of the line Rega Osiris integrated sounds great thru an old pair of Stax headphones but can not compare overall to quality seperates.
Although my SS preamp "seems" to sound fabulous with my tube amp, I'm certain I'll wind up with a tube preamp eventually as I've always liked tubes, and really need to not be scorned by Purer 100% Tubeheads…I might have to simply lie about owning a tube preamp, however uncomfortable that might be (I have over 50 years of using all tube guitar amps, so there's that)...Nelson Pass can pound sand! D'Agostino, get real man...
OP - just make a short list of things to listen to.

ARC, Rogue, Ayre, Magtech, Mac, Benchmark, Pass, Audio Alchemy, Creek, Bryston...  there is no shortage of outstanding components, new or used.

add Marantz and NAD too, or Accuphase for vintage
@alanholvey..50 years in Hi End, permit me to ask -within the context of this " SS Preamp thread":
What was your experience with that very combination of SS Preamp / Valve Amp ?

mattmiller can you explain a little more about the synergy of tube amp and as pre? I have a jolida 1000p and would like to add a ss pre but want to make sure I get it right. thanks in advance
This is the thread that "guilted" me into spending relatively small bucks for what turned out to be a great tube preamp, a Schiit Freya...Sylvania "crome domes" and fabulous tone for days, whatever that means...
I am using McIntosh C52 as preamp , have it connected to my tube amp muzishare x7. I called it Hybrid and it sounds amazing!
All my tubes from the X7 are gold lion KT88 same with the signal tubes.  

I don’t have 7T’s but the previous 7B’s and with a few earlier amps it took a Pass X250 to really open them up. My Aerial’s sounded nice with smaller amps but they needed power to show what they’re capable of. With smaller amps at low listening levels the 7B’s were not that enjoyable, but with my Pass I can listen at fairly low levels and enjoy them. I too use a tube preamp with SS amp.