Why are Tube Pre-Amps so Expensive?

I am slowly converting to separates (I now have a great solid state amp) and started looking at tube preamps. Why are they so expensive? The ones I have been looking at seem to go for about the same price (or just a few hundred less) than a similar tube integrated. I get it that a decent integrated or amp uses expensive transformers and power supplies. But you shouldn't need those in a preamp. Why can't you touch a non iffy / non Chinese pre for under $1000?

I want to stay well under $1000 and I am looking for line stage only. I did see some preamps for around $500 but they were really solid state (or passive) with a tube buffer. Plus many of them used surface mounted components (I don't like that but is that really bad?)
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Comments

  • F1nutF1nut Posts: 39,999
    Good SS pre amps cost more than a grand too.
    Political Correctness'.........defined

    "A doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a t-u-r-d by the clean end."


  • mhardy6647mhardy6647 Posts: 18,423
    edited August 8
    It is difficult to make a good sounding and quiet vacuum tube preamp.

    That said, this is very reasonably priced and is not bad (indeed, it is not a toy), with two catches.

    1. It is battery operated (solves one problem but creates a different one).
    2. You have to build it yourself.

    https://bottlehead.com/product/quickie-1-1-battery-powered-directly-heated-tube-preamplifier-kit/

    dsvqq365fzfh.png

    The 3S4 tubes it uses (which are, in full disclosure, pentodes, not triodes) are inexpensive and plentiful. They also tend to be microphonic, but they're cheap enough that one may acquire a passel of them and select a couple of nonmicrophonic ones.

    I use a passive autoformer volume control and source switch ahead of my (vacuum tube) power amplifier because I rather literally cannot afford a good enough sounding preamp (vacuum tube or solid state) to be worth adding to the system.

    "It's like watching a roomful of people who couldn't get through college algebra discussing the flaws of quantum physics theory. I guess it could be fun, but it's ultimately a waste of time." -- seen on audiokarma

    "Some amps run on self bias, some amps run on fixed bias. But his amps run on confirmation bias." -- seen on audioasylum

    "Writing about hifi is like dancing about architecture" -- paraphrasing some wag (possibly Frank Zappa)
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,329
    Good receivers cost over a grand too, most anything with a label of "good" cost more. Also depends on what ya want with bells and whistles. Used markets are where it's at for tubed pre's. Look for a Cary DJH, usually around 5-6 bones. Cary slp 03 can go for about 800. Once in a blue moon you'll see a Joule for under a grand. Dodd is another, Melos, some older CJ stuff, Belles....many good pre's can be had under a grand. New....you'd have to stick to the Chinese stuff.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • delkaldelkal Posts: 247
    I understand the price for something "good" is relative. For some a $1000 pre is unheard of and for others that is the minimum they would have in their garage rig. I wouldn't say a grand is out of the question but I question why a line stage only Pre needs to be that much (and no, I don't need a tape loop either)..........Maybe it does, I just don't see it yet.
    mhardy6647 wrote: »
    It is difficult to make a good sounding and quiet vacuum tube preamp.

    That said, this is very reasonably priced and is not bad (indeed, it is not a toy), with two catches.

    1. It is battery operated (solves one problem but creates a different one).
    2. You have to build it yourself.

    https://bottlehead.com/product/quickie-1-1-battery-powered-directly-heated-tube-preamplifier-kit/

    dsvqq365fzfh.png

    The 3S4 tubes it uses (which are, in full disclosure, pentodes, not triodes) are inexpensive and plentiful. They also tend to be microphonic, but they're cheap enough that one may acquire a passel of them and select a couple of nonmicrophonic ones.

    I use a passive autoformer volume control and source switch ahead of my (vacuum tube) power amplifier because I rather literally cannot afford a good enough sounding preamp (vacuum tube or solid state) to be worth adding to the system.

    That one is new to me. And if it sounds decent is certainly a bargain at $100. Not sure if batteries are for me though. Looking at bottleheads other preamps another is $500 then it shoot up to $1100 (for a kit).

    I might have to start looking at passives too.

  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,329
    By Bells and whistles, I mean a phono, a subwoofer output jack, remote. Many tube linestages are bare bones, which isn't necessarily a bad thing either. My Joule la-100 has no remote, but I use the volume dial on another component so makes no difference to me.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,329
    edited August 8
    Post edited by tonyb on
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • delkaldelkal Posts: 247
    edited August 8
    tonyb wrote: »
    Good receivers cost over a grand too, most anything with a label of "good" cost more. Also depends on what ya want with bells and whistles. Used markets are where it's at for tubed pre's. Look for a Cary DJH, usually around 5-6 bones. Cary slp 03 can go for about 800. Once in a blue moon you'll see a Joule for under a grand. Dodd is another, Melos, some older CJ stuff, Belles....many good pre's can be had under a grand. New....you'd have to stick to the Chinese stuff.

    tonyb wrote: »


    Thanks for the suggestions and the links. I will have to start researching them.
  • zuulzuul Posts: 255
    edited August 8
    there are still deals to be had on tube preamps... doing the research is half the battle... then you just gotta be patient and wait for your deal to come along. that's exactly what i did... and b/c i knew what i was looking at when i saw it... and also knew the price was a bargain... i was able to make and informed decision and pull the trigger with no regrets...

    Stereophile's product of the year is a good place to start... i think this goes back to 1992.
    https://www.stereophile.com/category/products-year

    were i in your position... which i was 3 years ago... i wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on something like this for example... tmr has a 30 day return policy. can't beat that with a stick... they ship it to you... hook it up. rock it out for a few weeks... if you decide you hate it... send it back. no harm. no foul.

    happy hunting!


    speakers:
    bowers & wilkins 685 S2
    polk psw-10
    components:
    sonic frontiers line 1 preamp
    sonic frontiers anthem amp 1
    mac mini w/ audioquest jitterbug
    teac ud-501 digital to analog converter
    oppo dv-980h dvd/cd
    interconnects:
    guzi rca
    monoprice onix series digital coaxial
    transparent performance USB
    transparent perfect image HDMI
    speaker wire
    audioquest type 4
    power:
    rhino-tek 1000w 15amp voltage regulator
    vansevers 211 power cord
    pangea ac-14 power cord
    tubes:
    amplifier: (2) NOS 1960 philco/lansdale 12AU7 (super rare!), (1) NOS 1967 mullard 12AX7, (4) 2016 svetlana hard blue EL-34
    pre-amp: (6) E88CC/6922 ??? (haven't cracked the case yet to see what previous owner was running...) so for now they are mystery tubes.
    misc:
    JRiver Media Center 24
    sanus 24" speaker stands
    auralex acoustics subdude II
    DeMoude Audio cylindrical bass traps
    rf/emi/noise reduction caps for empty rca inputs.
    Hall of Fame: [retired/sold]
    polk monitor series 5jr+ w/ RDO194-1 upgraded tweeters
    polk monitor series RTA 8T
    kenwood kd-550 w/ SME 3009 Series III tonearm grado gold cartridge
    adcom gfp-555II
    marantz 2238b
    luxman M-120A
    technics sl-b10
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 14,673
    edited August 9
    My Shuguang S200mk would be available for around that but you'd have to buy the S845 monos to go with it as I refuse to break them up. That'd put the cost well above $500.

    Come to think of it I think I saw an S200mk recently for sale.
    audiothesis.com/

    Speakers: Harbeth: 30.2, SHL5+; Usher: Be-10, T-515; Rosso Fiorentino: Elba, Pienza, Certaldo, Fiesole, Volterra; Polk: T50, Signature S15, RTA 15tl, RTi12; Sonner Audio Allegro Unum, Legato Unum, Legato Semis, Legato Duo; Emerald Physics CS-2.8; Klipsch KLF-20
    Preamps: Shuguang S200MK, Dayens Ampino, Parasound P5
    Amps: Shuguang S845MK, Dayens Ampino Monoblocks, Parasound A23
    Integrateds: Triode Corporation TRV-88SER, MastersounD: BoX, Dueventi, Compact 845, Evolution 845; North Star Design Blue Diamond
    Sources: AURALiC Aries, Denon HEOS Link, North Star Design: Magnifico, Supremo, Incanto, Intenso, Venti
    Cabling: Wireworld
    TV: Sony XBR-75X940C
  • decaldecal Posts: 3,053
    Here ya go................
    http://www.schiit.com/products/saga
    If you can't hear a difference, don't waste your money.
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 14,673
    audiothesis.com/

    Speakers: Harbeth: 30.2, SHL5+; Usher: Be-10, T-515; Rosso Fiorentino: Elba, Pienza, Certaldo, Fiesole, Volterra; Polk: T50, Signature S15, RTA 15tl, RTi12; Sonner Audio Allegro Unum, Legato Unum, Legato Semis, Legato Duo; Emerald Physics CS-2.8; Klipsch KLF-20
    Preamps: Shuguang S200MK, Dayens Ampino, Parasound P5
    Amps: Shuguang S845MK, Dayens Ampino Monoblocks, Parasound A23
    Integrateds: Triode Corporation TRV-88SER, MastersounD: BoX, Dueventi, Compact 845, Evolution 845; North Star Design Blue Diamond
    Sources: AURALiC Aries, Denon HEOS Link, North Star Design: Magnifico, Supremo, Incanto, Intenso, Venti
    Cabling: Wireworld
    TV: Sony XBR-75X940C
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 4,248
    edited August 9
    As a Saga owner, I wouldn't really consider the Saga a "tube preamp" in the traditional sense of the phrase.

    Yes, it uses a single 6SN7 as a buffer, but it imparts little to no tube characteristic in my experience. I can switch back and forth between passive and buffer while listening and I cannot perceive any difference. This is when using a vintage Sylvania chrome dome tube.
    decal wrote: »
    Here ya go................
    http://www.schiit.com/products/saga

    Got Dayens?
  • decaldecal Posts: 3,053
    Well, that's what it's advertised as.
    If you can't hear a difference, don't waste your money.
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 4,248
    I've never seen it "advertised" anywhere though! ;)
    decal wrote: »
    Well, that's what it's advertised as.

    Got Dayens?
  • decaldecal Posts: 3,053
    A website is not advertising? That's a new one on me.
    If you can't hear a difference, don't waste your money.
  • delkaldelkal Posts: 247
    edited August 9
    I was looking at the Schiit Saga. The general consensus is the tube does very little (if anything). Reading up on it it is less clear what it sounds like and if it would be a "good" preamp. Seems like most of the reviews are from the digital / computer guys and they say nothing about sounstage, imaging, etc.


    Thanks everyone for some of the recommendations. I was not familiar with some of the pres mentioned. Looks like I have a lot of research to do!
  • mhardy6647mhardy6647 Posts: 18,423
    The Saga doesn't, AFAIK, have a gain stage. It is an attenuator, source selector, and a switchable buffer. The Freya seems to be a full-fledged, active preamp (although I am not 100% sure). If nothing else, it has more tubes in it than the Saga ;) It is "made" in the USA -- although read their fine print.
    Made in USA. Really.
    By “made in USA,” we mean made in USA. The vast majority of the total production cost of Freya—chassis, boards, assembly, etc—goes to US companies manufacturing in the US.
    The electrical parts in it are pretty much the same as in everything else you would buy today. You're paying relatively more for the chassis, board(s) and physical assembly, so you're also paying relatively less for the stuff you're going to hear. It's a zero sum game.

    The Freya is also not really inexpensive -- at that price, I'd be looking at other, better established options.

    Bottlehead stuff is good IMO/IME -- but their kits do get pretty expensive pretty quickly. There's actually an unbuilt original Foreplay preamp here -- but that's another story entirely.

    Battery power is attractive because it eliminates the AC power supply as a source of hum and noise. In a low current drain application (preamps, phono preamps) it may be ideal, although, of course, the batteries will need maintenance. :|

    "It's like watching a roomful of people who couldn't get through college algebra discussing the flaws of quantum physics theory. I guess it could be fun, but it's ultimately a waste of time." -- seen on audiokarma

    "Some amps run on self bias, some amps run on fixed bias. But his amps run on confirmation bias." -- seen on audioasylum

    "Writing about hifi is like dancing about architecture" -- paraphrasing some wag (possibly Frank Zappa)
  • heiney9heiney9 Posts: 23,795
    edited August 9
    Look for an Eastern Electric Mini-Max. Not real common as most people keep them. It's one of the best (used) sub $1K tube pre-amps going. Extremely responsive to tube rolling. Uses tubes that won't break the bank (12AU7/ECC82). Solid build and it sounds like a unit almost twice its price.

    I thoroughly enjoyed mine when I had it, only got rid of it to move up the higher end Eastern Electric Avant tube pre.

    Keep in mind tube rolling is a must (IMO) if you are going to get the best results, so figure that into the budget as well. Also IMO, don't bother with tube gear if you are going to leave the stock tubes in. In general they are not close to tubes from the good 'ole days as far as longevity and especially that magical tube sound.

    http://www.soundstage.com/revequip/easternelectric_minimax.htm

    http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/equipment/0503/easternelectric.htm

    http://6moons.com/audioreviews/eelectric/preamps.html

    http://www.tnt-audio.com/ampli/minimax_pre_e.html

    http://glowinthedarkaudio.com/minimax.html

    https://www.audioasylum.com/reviews/Preamplifier-Tube/Eastern-Electric/MiniMax/amp/61551.html

    Just a couple links to whet your appetite. Lots has been written and lots of user impressions all over the web, get your learn on.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30 | EE Avant Pre | EE Mini Max Plus DAC | MIT Shotgun S3 | MIT Z P/C's | updated SDA 1C| SQ Box Touch/Welbourne Labs P/S- Tubes add soul!
  • dromundsdromunds Posts: 7,046
    Yeah, the price of (good) tubes has risen dramatically but tube rolling is a must to get the best results.
  • heiney9heiney9 Posts: 23,795
    dromunds wrote: »
    Yeah, the price of (good) tubes has risen dramatically but tube rolling is a must to get the best results.

    Yeah, they have. Especially "holy grail" type tubes. I am also finding certain tubes just aren't for sale as much as 3-4 years ago.

    Although the 12AU7/ECC82 and equivalents are still relatively inexpensive compared to other signal tubes. But they have increased a lot.

    Atleast with the Mini-max you can buy single tubes since each slot is a different part of the circuit so no need for pairs.

    H9


    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30 | EE Avant Pre | EE Mini Max Plus DAC | MIT Shotgun S3 | MIT Z P/C's | updated SDA 1C| SQ Box Touch/Welbourne Labs P/S- Tubes add soul!
  • DawgfishDawgfish Posts: 2,529
    Another good option is a YS Audio Symphonies + R tube preamp. They are a handmade by a gentleman in Hong Kong with really nice build features such as a tube rectifier and point to point wiring. Very good quality parts are used in its construction. It's remote control to boot and can be had new in the $800-900 range and used in the $400-450 dollar range.

    I own one of these and still use it in a backup system. The sound is excellent and it punches way above its weight. I find it to sound superior to a modified Anthem Pre-1L that I have (another great budget tube amp). I also compared it to a friend's Conrad Johnson PV-10 for several days in my system. The YS Audio preamp completely curb stomped the CJ and both were using quality NOS tubes. I was really shocked at the results. It was the pre in my main system for years before just recently being replaced by a Joule Electra LA-100. The JE is superior to the YS Audio in two areas, bass definition and absolute detail. Other than those two areas the YS Audio is right there with the Joule. It's a sleeper of a tube preamp.
  • Msabot1Msabot1 Posts: 2,099
    Why?? simply put,nice things cost money..always have..always will...
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 4,248
    edited August 9
    a0obg3hufi8a.png

    Looks like they are "advertising" it as a "passive/active remote preamp", versus a "tube preamp".

    As mentioned, it doesn't use tubes in the gain stage. It's a well implemented buffer that doesn't color the sound, but could be beneficial in situations where long cable runs are required.
    decal wrote: »
    A website is not advertising? That's a new one on me.

    Got Dayens?
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,329
    Msabot1 wrote: »
    Why?? simply put,nice things cost money..always have..always will...

    Yep, just a fact of life.

    That Counterpoint for a tad over 5 bones is a steal posted farther up. Good call on the EE mini-max from Brock also. YS Audio is no slouch of a company either. So many good choices, flavors, under a G note, pick your poison, dive in.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 4,248
    I like everything about it except the fact that it has a balance control on the front panel.
    Dawgfish wrote: »
    Another good option is a YS Audio Symphonies + R tube preamp.

    Got Dayens?
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 29,329
    Most 2 channel pre's have a balanced control, why would that turn you off ?
    HT SYSTEM-
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    Tad 803 bookies
    Polk 500 surrounds
    Polk s35 center
    SVS SB-2000
    Sonos

    Music-

    Joule la-100 pre
    B&k 1403 amp
    Cary xciter dac
    Cullen modded Sonos
    ERA D5 bookies

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Analysis plus crystal oval ic's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 4,248
    I'm just not a huge fan of balance or tone controls on preamps.
    Got Dayens?
  • marvda1marvda1 Posts: 3,131
    let's just say you don't have the ideal room, one speaker is close to a corner and the other opens out to the kitchen.
    what do you do?????????????? balance control.
    Amplifiers: MasterSound Compact 845, Ayre v6xe, Consonance Cyber 800, Usher R1.5
    Preamp: deHavilland Ultraverve 3
    Transport/Dac: Cayin Venus cd-100i, Musical Paradise mp-d2 mkI
    Speakers: Rosso Fiorentino Volterra
    Speaker Cables: Analysis Plus Black Mesh Oval 9, Cerious Technologies Graphene Extreme
    Interconnects: Analysis Plus Copper Oval-In Micro, MG Audio Design Planus Cu2,
    Cerious Technologies Graphene Extreme
    Power Cables by: Cullen Cables, 6sons Audio, Swiss Cables
  • pitdogg2pitdogg2 Posts: 10,261
    Clipdat wrote: »
    I'm just not a huge fan of balance or tone controls on preamps.

    no one says you have to use them. Many have a switch that take them out of circuit as well.
  • Viking64Viking64 Posts: 2,817
    pitdogg2 wrote: »
    no one says you have to use them. Many have a switch that take them out of circuit as well.
    NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!! :p

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