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Best Tube Preamplifiers this year: Exceptional engineering

Best Tube Premplifiers 2024
Best Tube Premplifiers 2024

Tube preamplifiers are not limited to being a staple of all-tube systems. In fact, numerous experts now recommend incorporating at least one “tube” component in a transistor or fully digital setup to achieve the same cozy, warm, and soothing sound that can be enjoyed for extended periods.

8. Audio Note (UK) M1 Line 

8. Audio Note (UK) M1 Line

The entry-level Audio Note features class A operation without negative feedback, dual triode ECC82, and a sturdy power supply, contributing to its hefty weight of seven kilograms. Despite its understated appearance, this model offers impressive sound quality for its price point, producing images that are both realistic and vibrant. While there may be some concerns about resolution, it’s essential to keep in mind the device’s cost-effectiveness.

Gain – 15 dB | Frequency response – 20 – 20,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio – n/a | Lamps – ECC82 | Weight – 7 kg

Pros: flexible and natural sound

Cons: Resolution is a bit lacking

Verdict – Audio Note, even the first level, can surprise you

7. Cayin SC-6LSMK2

7. Cayin SC-6LSMK2

The design is a lightweight under thirteen kilograms, featuring an RCA 22DE4 tube choke power supply and amplification using a 12AU7Ehs quartet. The preamplifier offers an extensive frequency response range (5 – 100,000 Hz) and can be set up to support dual stereo outputs simultaneously. With precision as its foundation (Japanese carbon film resistors Takman), the Cayin SC-6LSMK2 delivers an impressive sound characterized by its scale and dynamics.

Gain – 15 dB | Frequency response – 5 – 100,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio – 95 dB | Tubes – RCA 22DE4, 12AU7EHs | Weight – 12.5 kg

Pros – cool design and decent sound for a relatively small amount

Disadvantages – there is not enough texture on the bass

Verdict – high-quality engineering and “warm tube” sound

6. VTL TL-2.5i

6. VTL TL-2.5i

The TL-2.5i, the first edition of the tube preamp by renowned company VTL, seamlessly pairs with a diverse array of power amplifiers, ranging from tube to transistor variants. With an input impedance of 100 kOhm and an output impedance of a mere 200 Ohm, this model ensures optimal performance. Additionally, it boasts an exceptional MM/MS phono stage and embodies the distinctive corporate style that creates a captivating wall of sound before you.

Gain – 14 dB (XLR), 8 dB (RCA) | Frequency response – 20 – 20,000 Hz | Signal to noise ratio – 90 dB | Tubes – 2 x 12AU7, 2 x 12AT7, 1 x 12AU7 (MS), 2 x 12AX7 (MM) | Weight – 11.2 kg

Pros – natural timbres, good panorama

Cons – the price has increased significantly

Verdict – an entrance ticket to the world of VTL tube sound

5. Cary Audio SLP 05

5. Cary Audio SLP 05

The dual-block design featuring a separate power supply exemplifies top-tier design quality. The Cary Audio SLP 05 boasts a fully balanced design along with a pair of tube options that enhance its precision headphone amplifier capabilities. In its classic configuration, this device ensures minimal harmonics of 0.03% and delivers remarkable bass extension, surpassing the performance of other products in its price range.

Gain – 8 dB (XLR), 10 dB (RCA) | Frequency response – 20 – 20,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio – n/a | Bulbs – 8 x 6SN7, 1 x AR4 | Weight – 7.2 and 8.6 kg

Pros – remote power supply, luxurious bass

Cons – transparency could be better

Verdict – High End Design

4. Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier RC

4. Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier RC

The Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier RC has earned its place in the pages of specialized publications for good reason – it offers a unique combination of speed and accuracy, like a powerful force wrapped in a gentle exterior. This level of performance is hard to come by in the market, regardless of price. Featuring innovative circuitry with 300B directly heated triodes typically found in top-tier power amplifiers, the system also includes a 5AR4 kenotron rectifier and a pair of OD3 gas-discharge stabilizers in the redundant power supply. To top it off, the Grayhill attenuator with gold contacts and metal film resistors adds a touch of luxury to the overall design.

Gain – 12 dB | Frequency response – 5 – 50,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio – 105 dB | Lamps – 2 x 300B, 2 x 6SL7, 2 x 5AR4, 2 x OD3 | Weight – 12.7 kg

Pros – incredible scale and speed

Cons – nothing significant

Verdict – Manley Neo-Classic is top notch

3. Luxman CL-1000

3. Luxman CL-1000

The Luxman CL-1000 preamplifier showcases exceptional engineering prowess. Featuring a transformer-based LECUTA volume control and JJ Electronic E88CC tubes for signal amplification, this tube preamp delivers an unparalleled audio experience. Crafted with input and output transformers made from Super Permalloy core, the sound produced is incredibly immersive, offering a three-dimensional, holographic soundstage with detailed micro- and macrodynamics.

Gain – 15 dB | Frequency response – 20 – 20,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio – 120 dB | Bulbs – 6 x E88CC | Weight – 24.4 kg

Pros – innovative circuit design, holographic sound image

Cons – in this price segment, an absolute black background during pauses is desirable

Verdict – new generation preamplifier

2. Aesthetix Callisto Eclipse

2. Aesthetix Callisto Eclipse

The design of the Aesthetix Callisto Eclipse features a two-block configuration, with a remote power supply and zero out-of-specification (OOS) issues. In the main path, eight lamps are utilized, while an equal number of lamps are employed in the lamp voltage stabilizers. The circuit follows a full-fledged dual mono topology and is balanced-differential, ensuring the conversion of all incoming signals to balanced. The components used, such as stealthcap copper-foil transition capacitors and Nimbus anti-vibration mounts from Harmonic Resolution Systems, are of exemplary quality. Additionally, if desired, the model can be enhanced with a second power supply, enabling each channel to be powered individually. The Aesthetix Callisto Eclipse delivers an unforgettable sound experience, characterized by remarkable agility and brilliance.

Gain – 29 dB (XLR), 23 dB (RCA) | Frequency response – 20 – 20,000 Hz | Signal to noise ratio – 70 dB | Lamps – 4 x 6922, 2 x 12AX7, 2 x 6SN7 | Weight – 21.4 kg

Pros – excellent engagement effect, mercurial sound

Cons – “old school” circuit design

Verdict – mastodon of sound

1. Audio Research Reference 10

1. Audio Research Reference 10

The Audio Research Reference 10 tube preamplifier operates in pure Class A without any feedback. Essentially, it comprises two devices in one case and two power supplies in another – with separate transformers for each channel, a duplicated tube stabilization circuit, and dual mono for signal amplification (4 x 6H30 for each channel). This model boasts an impressive frequency response of 0.1 – 200,000 Hz, and its sound quality is flawless, offering no room for criticism. It truly marks a new milestone for the industry.

Gain – 12 dB (XLR), 6 dB (RCA) | Frequency response – 0.1 – 200,000 Hz | Signal to noise ratio – 90 dB | Lamps – 8 x 6H30P, 2 x 6550C, 2 6H30P | Weight – 27.7 kg

Pros – stunning performance, absolutely natural sound

Cons: price…

Verdict – exemplary!

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