Preamps... nothing is perfect.

MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#1
I am in the market for a preamp. I am currently using a friend's DIY Pass Labs buffer (passive preamp). I recently sold my CAT preamp as it wasn't transparent enough (beautiful midrange, great body, but rolled off in the highs and somewhat colored).

There are 4 preamps I am considering. I started this thread not to ask "which should I buy" as obviously nobody can make that decision but me - and I doubt anyone can really predict how it will interact with my amps (CAT JL7s) let alone my system as whole. I am writing this thread as part of my research (which I've already done a fair amount) and my hope is to learn a bit more about these preamps.

For example, no preamp is perfect. All good preamps have strengths and weaknesses. The main goal of this thread is to learn what the strengths and weaknesses are for these preamps. I will take all comments with a healthy grain of salt as we all know a weakness might simply be a system mismatch and a strength might really be a personal preference etc.

The preamps are:

- Conrad Johnson GAT 2
- VTL 7.5 Series III
- Spectral DMC-30SV
- darTZeel NHB-18NS (series 1)

In case anyone wonders, what I don't like about my friends passive preamp is that:
- it's just a little too dry
- I think an active preamp would give me better dynamics
- I'm hoping for better instrument separation

Hearing any of these preamps in my system (or anyone else's system) is not easy. Ultimately I would like to do that before making a decision, but I cannot do that for all of them and I need to reduce this list to 2 as it may be costly (not to mention time consuming) to audition them all.

So: have you heard any of these preamps in a context that gives you feel for its strengths or weaknesses?

My system is fairly transparent and neutral (maybe even a tad lean sounding).

Thoughts?
 

MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#3
First thought..if the CAT preamp doesn't do it for u how can the CAT amp remain?
Because they sound very different. I'm not the only person who likes the amps but not the preamp. The amps, with KT-150s have good extension whereas the preamp does not. Also, there are just too many tubes in the preamp. I prefer a simpler circuit path. The two tube preamps I've listed only have 2 tubes. The CAT preamp has 5.
 

Mike Lavigne

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Apr 25, 2010
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#4
Because they sound very different. I'm not the only person who likes the amps but not the preamp. The amps, with KT-150s have good extension whereas the preamp does not. Also, there are just too many tubes in the preamp. I prefer a simpler circuit path. The two tube preamps I've listed only have 2 tubes. The CAT preamp has 5.
I went for 4 years, 2001 to 2005, using a Placette passive preamp with Tenor amps and then darTZeel amps. I tried 5 or 6 different active preamps which I always preferred the Placette Passive RVC to. then I got the dart preamp (to begin with the first prototype, and then the first production example). I gave up nothing at all on the clarity and transparency side of things, in fact it was better, but gained much more on the dynamics and musical authority and presence side.

of course the dart is built like a tank and works dependably.

the series one dart pre is special sounding, and has a pretty nice phono (or two) included. Fremer used his with any number of amplifiers for a number of years and compared his to many preamps. and you can always get it upgraded to series II.
 
Likes: Jim Smith
Jun 17, 2014
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#6
Hi Ian,

Number 1 and 4 are excellent but be prepared to run single ended.

Best,
Ken
 

Tango

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Mar 12, 2017
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#7
Is there number 5 Ian?

Tang:cool:
 
May 30, 2010
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Portugal
#8
I am in the market for a preamp. I am currently using a friend's DIY Pass Labs buffer (passive preamp). I recently sold my CAT preamp as it wasn't transparent enough (beautiful midrange, great body, but rolled off in the highs and somewhat colored).
(...)
The main problem is that as soon as you get another preamplifier you risk being tempted finding how does it match with the corresponding power amplifier of the same brand ... It is why I have a room filled with preamplifiers, waiting for final decision! :)

IMHO it is very hard to tune a system the way you are doing - I still think that the preamplifier is the heart of the system. I have no experience with Spectral, but from what I know and listened I think that the VTL7.5 is probably the one having a higher probability of success in your system, as it has a less strong sound signature than the other two. Juts my .02 , YMMV!
 

MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#9
Why you don't consider CH L1 having you already P1?
Can you try it?
Gian, I tried the L1 the same time I tried the P1. I did not like the L1 as it seemed to rob instruments of all harmonics. It was clean with great bass, but instruments didn't sound real to me.

I have since heard an entire CH system (with Magico speakers) at Axpona 2017 and like it, so I'm not sure what happened - perhaps not a great match with my amps, not sure.
 

MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#10

DaveyF

Well-Known Member
Aug 1, 2010
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#11
Ian,

I think we may have discussed this before. Since you have now sold your Legend, I would suggest that you buy a....


new Legend! Or, for that matter even a new Renaissance. As you may know, Ken has modded ( again) the Caps for all of his preamps. With the Legend, there are now Black Path caps throughout..not just in the power stage like in your prior version. Nonetheless, I don't think that even this mod is going to address what you perceived as the high frequency problem. Like I think I told you before, rolling in some NOS tubes into the preamp will change the sound in that direction...for example, IF you really want to brighten it up, rolling in NOS RCA's will accomplish that. You stated that the Legend was somewhat colored, compared to a 'whitish' sounding ss preamp, yes I would agree. However, is that what you want? Again, the 'flavor' of the preamp can be easily changed on the CAT preamps with tube rolling. Unfortunately, you do need to experiment and not draw conclusions from the first roll...and certainly NOT from the stock tubes that Ken supplies. Another area that these preamps respond to...and which a fellow CAT owner just discovered, is that the power cord is VERY important. The stock cord is not going to do it for you, much experimentation has to be done to come to the one that works in your system ( and to your ears). I have no idea whether you did any/all of these things during your Legend ownership, but if you did and still came to the same conclusion, then yes...the preamp is not for you. BTW, all that I say above, also applies to the CAT amps...just in a slightly lesser way.
 
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KeithR

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May 7, 2010
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#13
I'd recommend you try a Music First TVC instead of a regular resistor-based passive. It might be the best of both worlds and won't be short on dynamics or tone. There are several reviewers who have gone this direction in recent years.

I recommend this because you've had multiple top tier SS and tube preamps in your system with little success. A transformer volume control has the extension you like about SS, but retains tonality/harmonics like a tube preamp. It might not have the ultimate resolution of a CH or something similar though, I really don't know as those kind of preamps don't interest me.

As far as you're list, I'd go Dartzeel
 
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bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
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#14
If funds are not a constraint then try the Ypsilon PST 100 SE the silver edition I have the copper version and its quite what you are looking for
He has already demoed it iirc
 

bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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#15
Ian, if you change the subject to perfect preamp, you might get more luck with recommendations.
 
Jul 22, 2010
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#16
Since everyone is commenting I would second the VTL 7.5 iii. I have always wanted to hear the Smc VRE-1C, a few options on gain and most seem to really like it if they have heard it. There is a full silver transformer option for those in in need.

The GAT is well liked and between the VTL and GAT one would think you should be able to find what you need.
 

MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#17
Gentlemen:

While I did ask for your thoughts and recommendations might fall under that umbrella, I'm really looking for information that helps me understand how these units sound. They're all good, but they're all different.

If you've heard any of these and have thoughts on its sonic attributes, please share. And by that I mean things like:

- soundstage width/depth
- transients
- tonal balance
- bass definition
- instrument separation
- image size
- cleanliness of signal
- timbre accuracy
- etc.

If you heard one and HATED it, why was that? Maybe it was in the context of a different system, but what didn't you like about it?

If you like it (or LOVE it), why is that? What does it do for you (or your system) that other preamps didn't?
 
Mar 13, 2012
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#18
MadFloyd,

Just to put your quest into perspective, why don't you explain what you found lacking in the Pass XS Preamp you had before.
For many Pass owners, (like me with my Pass XP-30) the XS Preamp is the Holy Grail...
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
5,594
472
83
North Shore of Boston
#19
Gentlemen:

While I did ask for your thoughts and recommendations might fall under that umbrella, I'm really looking for information that helps me understand how these units sound. They're all good, but they're all different.

If you've heard any of these and have thoughts on its sonic attributes, please share. And by that I mean things like:

- soundstage width/depth
- transients
- tonal balance
- bass definition
- instrument separation
- image size
- cleanliness of signal
- timbre accuracy
- etc.

If you heard one and HATED it, why was that? Maybe it was in the context of a different system, but what didn't you like about it?

If you like it (or LOVE it), why is that? What does it do for you (or your system) that other preamps didn't?
That is an interesting list of attributes, Ian. I can understand you wanting to hear others' opinions about these specific preamps in those terms. Remember, any comments will be based on the responders' specific system/room contexts. In my opinion, each of these top tier preamps should be wonderful unless it has specific synergy issues with your particular system, something that is very hard to predict.

In my experience, many of the attributers on your list can be affected by changes in speaker or listener position, room treatment and power cord and IC cable choices. Possibly even the kind of support you place under the unit. Do you want an "invisible" preamp which adds as little as possible to the signal, or are you looking for a preamp which will compliment your system and "add" something that you feel is now missing? I suspect the Spectral and Dart will be the former, and the VTL and GAT will be the latter, but I really don't know.

From your OP, it seems you are looking for increased dynamics, better separation between instruments and a less "dry" presentation. Assuming synergy is fine, I think the SS preamps would give you dynamics and separation while the tube preamps will give you less "dryness".

Personally, I want an "invisible" preamp and if I were looking for a new one, I would want responders to tell me how transparent, tonally neutral, and quiet various preamps are relative to others that they know and ones with which I may have some experience.

It's an interesting thread, and knowing your system as I do, I look forward to reading the responses.
 

XV-1

Well-Known Member
May 24, 2010
1,876
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Sydney
#20
conrad johnson GAT does everything well and is equally at home with SE and BAL amps.
The sound is exactly the same at 10 or 70 on the volume control - no sweets spots. remote control is a pleasure to use
dynamic detailed and alive sounding with zero dryness. more so than Pass XP20, ARC REf5 and VTL 7.5 S1 I have previously owned.

conrad johnson GAT - just sounds right imo.
 

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