Looking for a preamp


I recently purchased a Pass Labs XA30.8 power stage and an XP-12 for my Klipsch Cornwalls and I love the combination, it has never sounded this liquid, smooth and dimensional.

The thing is, I’m not entirely convinced with the XP-12. I’d like to find a preamp that sounds warmer.
I’m testing my dCS BArtok directly to the XA30.8 and the truth is that you hear more detail, openness and dynamics. With the XP-12 it sounds a bit warmer and brighter but loses detail and dynamics.

Can anyone recommend a tube preamp that is a bit warm but doesn’t lose the detail, resilience and dynamics of the Bartok?

The other idea is to sell the Bartok and buy a Rossini. This I have not tested yet.

Thank you.

PS: English is not my mother tongue. Excuse me if you don’t understand me very well.

My XA60.8s should sound pretty similar to your XA30.8, but of course this still leaves some variables:

  • our tastes
  • our rooms
  • our other equipment (though I do have a Bartok)

I did a few similar comparisons recently, and while I didn’t try any tube preamps the experience might still be of interest to you.

I loved the sound of my system using another Pass Labs preamp — the XP-30. The HPA-1 was good, too, but nowhere near as good as the XP-30. The XP-30 could do warm and lovely with the best of them, and it almost never felt I was missing out on the detail and the delicacy I got going direct. (The XP-30 comes up reasonably regularly second hand, and for obvious reasons works amazingly with other Pass gear.)

If I had the Bartok set to output 6V I preferred the sound with the XP-30 to going direct. At any other setting, though (e.g. same preamp, but the Bartok at 2V), I preferred the sound direct. I did this at 0.6V so that I was using attenuating as little as possible with the Bartok.

It was lucky I even tried the preamp it in this configuration, actually — I was ready to sell the XP-30 and upgrade the Bartok to a Rossini or a Vivaldi, but some helpful people on this forum suggested I try at 6V first. (Helpful? Or a menace? :stuck_out_tongue: )

Your English is great — no excuses needed!

Look at this thread below in this forum as although you do not have active ATCs the responses will fit your question too :

NB: As Ben says, you have great English.

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your interest.

The differences I find between the Bartok’s output voltages at 6V, 2V or 0.6V is that at 6V it sounds more powerful and is somewhat more complete. But what I have discovered this week is that at lower voltage, it loses some force but gains in air and spatiality, I find a sound a little less “compressed”. I know it seems strange but it is what I hear.

With the XP-12 inserted into the system, I find the high-end to be a bit forced and bright, but in the mid-range it is more sunken and a bit “tied” dynamically. The good thing is that it gains weight and it seems somewhat warmer but in reality it is not.

Last week I was testing an Audio Research LS27 and it was not bad at all but it lacked some magic, it was a bit flat.
I also listened to a Conrad Johnson Premier 17 LS (year 2001) and I really liked it, especially in tone and tonal richness, much better than the LS27, but it was not the definitive preamp as it did not have the dynamics I am looking for. for

I found that I need a tube preamp to get the sound I am looking for. I have also found that it is going to be a daunting task to find a very transparent tube preamp, rich in tones, fast, dense and slightly warm.

Hello Pete,

Like I said before, I think I’m looking for an active tube preamp to find the warmth and oomph that I’m looking for.

Thank you anyway.

Then you can try my own solution for exactly that purpose. An EAR Yoshino 868 PL. You do not mention a need for a phono stage so the line only 868 would be appropriate. I have been using mine happily for the past 10 or 11 years and have no intention to move on. Aside from having wonderful sound ( being designed by one of the great audio designers, the late Tim de Paravicini), like all of his own products it is made to last forever and not to break down ( tube life excepted of course) . It also has balanced inputs and outputs and not pseudo balanced as is the case with many tube preamps. Oh and there is a full tape circuit which , aside from its nominal purpose, is also the way to connect a headphone amplifier should you wish.

Replacement tubes are easy to source , ECC88 ( 6DJ8) or PCC88 (7DJ8).

It uses fundamentally the same circuitry as the very large studio originated EAR 912 so, unless you need 2 phono stages, the sound from the 868 will be the same as the 912.

I too have an EAR 868 and can also recommend it. Certainly should be on your short list.


With your set up, should I want a warmer sound, I would keep everything but the loudspeakers…Wilson Sabrina etc…

Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never heard of this brand. I will investigate although it will be difficult to hear.

It’s funny but a few months ago I listened to a Wilson Puppy 8 with Constellations audio and it seemed cold, analytical and not very warm. I did not like at all.

I am in the process of updating my speakers. I’d be amused to hear the great Spendor 200, Harbeth 40.3, or Tannoy (great classic models).
At the moment I am very happy with Cornwall. People are very prejudiced with these speakers, but if they are well fed they can sound incredible.
The salesperson who demoed Pass Labs at my house was amazed at how they sounded. The scale and dynamics are mind-boggling.
And I don’t find them cold at all, rather a little hot.

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EAR Yoshino is a well known brand but none of us can be aware of everything. What country are you in? EAR Yoshino has distribution in 36 countries as well as in its home country of the UK.

Its founder and product designer regrettably died just before Christmas. The company is now run by his son. Here is a link one of the many obituaries that have appeared in the audio press so you can understand the heritage surrounding the brand.

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Lovely post, Pete. I’m sure I’m not alone in preferring to buy equipment from good people :+1:

That sounds familiar to me. I’d add only that the configuration with the MOST “air and spatiality” for me was going direct from DAC to power amp. Everything is a tradeoff, of course, and on the majority of music a preamp was better for me. It just needed to be a very, very good preamp :slight_smile:

The EAR that @PAR has recommended could be just the ticket for you. Hope you can find somewhere to audition it. I’m not from the U.S. originally (I’m New Zealand-made and UK-moulded), but living in California is just fantastic when it comes to dealers and second-hand gear. Heaven for trying things out. A big change over being in the audio desert that was NZ in the 1990s…

Since yesterday I have removed the XP-12 and I am listening to the Bartok direct. I want to try for a season. But for now I could live happily this way and I don’t miss the XP-12 much. It is better in some respects and worse in others. I find that direct is a bit drier sound but the attack and dynamics are explosive.
I am suffering because I know I will need a very, very good tube preamp and I imagine it will be expensive. I see that the EAR 868 is not very “expensive”.

I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the price — many here (PAR included) have that EAR with their Vivaldi stacks. I’m sure if the preamp were holding them back they’d be exploring other options!

That’s been my impression of Constellation. Impressively hyper-detailed and analytical. But certainly not my cup of tea.

One possibility may be the Backert Labs tube preamps. They have a unique “Green Force “ power supply and a pretty low 75 ohm output impedance. It’s made in the USA and they sell direct with a 14 day return policy. There are also about 6 dealers in the USA. My friend owns their Rhumba 1.3 and likes it quite a bit. It’s supposed to sound quite lively and have good PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing)

Although not a tube preamp I have an Ayre KX5 Twenty preamp and find it quite tube like in its midrange. It can also handle the DCS units 6V and it uses a unique volume control - the output voltage gain of the preamp is adjusted up or down with each click of the volume so the channel balance remains perfect even at low volume settings ( unlike Alps volume pots for example)

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Interesting. I had never heard of those before. Very interesting. I am in love with the Townshend Allegri Reference, but for someone wanting/needing an active gain stage, the Backert line is quite intriguing.

Constellation has many series/model of preamps.you cannot generalize for all of constellation that way.
also earlier wilsons had metal dome tweeters compared to the soft dome tweeters in last 6 years.
and yes constellation is generally very detailed like a clear glass of water
so newer wilsons which have warm and non fatiguing sound with constellation will be an excellent match and good synergy as well.

The Backert range does look interesting. However I would say that at present it is in reality only of interest to residents of North America as distribution is limited and there appears to be no option to cater for other mains power supplies. Yes they do supply direct as well but the return policy provides too short a period for long distance international sales.

The main reason for this post, however, is to mention something that has been bugging me for some time. Unlike some audio forums this one provides no personal profile of contributors especially an idea of where they are from. Without this basic information I have found myself recommending components/services that are not appropriate or are otherwise unavailable to the OP due to their location. I wish that the mods could improve on this aspect of the forum.