Digital sound – it has nothing on the best tube preamp.
Professional music producers know all too well what we’re talking about. That subtle (but all-important) difference in sound that manages to make a recording that bit more ‘plush’. You can tell a tube preamp by effect on your audio; Tube pres are known for their warm & colourful sound. Something you cannot to this day, get from digital equipment… #AnaloguePerks
And that’s because, much as the name suggests, tube preamps make their audio the old fashioned way – within a vacuum tube. Hence why it’s VERY hard to find 2 tube amps that sound the same! Being analogue, each one has its own unique character & thus makes choosing the best tube preamp pretty darn challenging.
Although saying that, we’ve decided to have a go at it anyway. So read on & we’ll reveal what we believe to be the best tube preamps on sale today + outline some pro tips on how to get the amp that’s right for you.
After something specific about tube pres? Or just want to find the best tube preamp for you setup extra fast? Use the menu below to get your answer in 1 click…
The best tube preamps @ a glance…
15 of the best tube preamps you can buy
There’s no shortage of tube pres out there!
In fact, being an aftermarket audio accessory, there’s an abundance. So be you after a fully-blown audio preamp for use with a condenser mic, or just something smaller to give your headphones an analogue edge, we’re confident there’s a tube pre for you
Exactly why we’ve done all the legwork for you & tested in excess of 15, to bring you a rundown of the best tube preamps you can buy today – all you have to do is read on…
1: Fosi Audio T20 Bluetooth tube preamp
2: Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2
3: Douk Audio 200W tube amp
4: Nobsound NS-10P mini tube preamp
5: Sabaj PHA3 tube preamp
6: Nobsound Little Bear T7 vacuum mini tube preamp
7: Douk Audio P1 (GE5654) tube preamp
8: Dared MP-5BT tube amplifier
9: Nobsound NS-08E vacuum tube preamp
10: Project Tube Box S turntable pre-amplifier
11: Nobsound 6P1 dual tube amplifier
12: Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 preamp
Best tube amplifier for record players & turntables…
Record players & turntables – while some do come with a preamp built in (usually more modern ones), a good portion also do NOT include s a preamp. That’s something that’s you have to factor into your setup. With the majority of record players, you’ll be best off with something called a phono preamp.
We won’t get into the technicalities now, just take it from us – for a record player, a phono pre is the way to go. Here’s the best phono tube preamp that we tested…
13: Doux Audio 5.0 MM Phono 320W Vacuum Tube Amp
Best tube amp for headphones…
Got a power-hungry pair of headphones & want to get the best out of them?
If that’s you, then we’d seriously consider investing in a tube amp for your headphones. That way you can perform any sound-sensitive tasks like mixing, mastering or just be immersed in the atmosphere of a film, without any compromise in audio.
And while these types of preamps tend to focus less on adding colour to your sound (amplification is there main aim), there was 1 amp that (for us) gave the audio a slightly more ‘tubish’ sound. An amp that’s coincidentally our pick for the best tube preamp if you’re a headphone user…
14: Aiyima T8 6N3 Digital Tube Preamplifier
Want to sculpt your own sound? Check out this DIY tube preamp kit…
Not a fan of pre-made preamps & fancy creating your own amp that’s bespoke to your setup? If so, then a tube preamp kit like this may well be up your street. All the kit you need, only for a LOT cheaper price.
While we don’t have the guts to give it a go, if you do then this is the way to do so…
15: 6J1 Vacuum Electron Tube Valve Preamp (kit to assemble)
Which tube preamplifier is best? Our editor’s choice
Putting your finger on the best preamp is NOT easy (in a general sense) as really it all depends on what you value in a preamp.
So to just conclude by saying that ‘Preamp X’ is the best you can buy, seems to us, like a bit of a cop out. Besides, all the preamps on this list are good at what they do. That’s why we chose them – from our perspective at least, we haven’t mentioned 1 BAD tube pre. Therefore, instead of picking the ‘best’ tube preamps, here’s 2 that are opinion, tick virtually every box.
To kick us off then, if you’re not after a huge tube preamp & just want a pre for headphones or to improve the quality of your mic recordings, then we’d suggest seriously considering the…
Fosi Audio T20 = Best Tube Preamp (Small Scale)
You see, there’s one VERY good reason this preamp is our ‘Most Popular’ choice… the sound!
Considering its size, this plucky little preamp really does put up a fight. We found the audio to be warm, smooth & pretty darn detailed if we’re honest. You get a lot of depth with this preamp – something we really like, especially when used in tandem with a mic. The Texas Instruments chip you’ll find in the T20 really has done its job. Sounds proper juicy!!
So much so that we wouldn’t shy away from saying that the Fosi pre sounds on par with those you get from the likes of Denon & even some amps by Pro-Ject too! Even at high volumes we witnessed very little distortion & what’s more, the preamp didn’t run all that hot either. Plus, the Bluetooth paired with our Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones, everything ran smooth, despite the Beyers being quite a power-hungry set of cans.
In fact, the only real niggle we have with this (let’s face it) budget preamp is that it does take a couple of minutes for the tubes to warm up. Something that may make you want to (as a lot of owners do) upgrade to a set of GE 5654W tubes. But really, that’s all down to personal preference. And if you’re at all in doubt, take 5 to check out its reviews.
At the time of writing this blog, there’s over 900 & the preamp has an average rating of 4.6/5!!
With that though, not everyone wants a pocket-sized preamp. So in the case you’re huntin g for a more professional-grade piece of gear, we’d say it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out the…
Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 = Best Tube Preamp (Professional-Grade Phono Stage)
And that’s because as far as tube preamps go, we think is one of the best combos of sound & build quality you can get. This does NOT for 1 minute feel like a cheap tube preamp!!
The tones you get from the DS2 are some of the warmest we came across in testing. Hook this unit up to a HiFi or record player & be prepared for a pleasant surprise – the difference is night & day. We specifically noticed that the bass is somewhere that this pre really excels. If your bass is muddy or a lacking punch, this is the preamp to restore it. Saying that though, the highs were also very crisp & the soundstage on a whole, is nice & wide.
And then of course there’s the fact that this preamp doesn’t look overly space-age. If anything, it’s closer to a high-end piece of furniture, so for audiophiles that don’t want showcase their (slightly geeky) fascination, it’s hands-down the perfect balance. What’s more, the metal case does a great job of protecting all the internals. Something you want when the RRP isn’t exactly pocket change.
But then again, you have to take that with a pinch of salt. Being a full-fat phono preamp, it does sit in a higher bracket than many pres on this list. with that being said, if you judge this tube preamp on value, we think you’ll end up falling head over heals. That’s because the DS2 is testament to one traditional saying…
“you get what you pay for”.
Enjoy this review of the best tube preamps of 2021, and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest String Instrument Reviews, as well as the lowdown on all things Musical Instruments & Recording. Recently, we also did reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitar Preamps + another on the Best Studio Headphones, which may also be a good read.
Or, if you’ve still got as burning question about the best tube preamps, keep reading to discover even more about why a tube pre can make such a difference…