Tube amplifiers have been a hallmark of hifi systems almost since day one.
There’s nothing quite like the warm natural tones that come from passing your music through the boost of a vacuum tube. If you’ve never experienced the warmth and clarity of a tube amp, it might be hard to understand what the fuss is about based solely on reading on the internet. Maybe you’re now wanting to check tubes out and add more control over your audio, but you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’re an old hand at vacuum tubes and tube amps. Either way, there’s no reason you need to break the bank on a tube amplifier.
It can be very difficult to get reliable intel on affordable tube amplifiers and preamps – which one is the best for you? In this article we’ve done the work for you, and have collected info, reviews, and audio samples all in one place.
We’ll be taking a look at 5 of the most affordable tube amplifier and preamp models on the market today. We’ve based our listing on price, reviews, tone, and finally availability.
A quick note before we begin: tube amps often go out of stock for weeks or months at a time. If you see one that’s appealing to you, and it’s available, don’t wait!
Nobsound NS-10P Mini Vacuum Tube Preamp
Nobsound is known for making some great tube amplifiers, and this one is no exception. The NS-10P is technically a preamp so you will need an additional amplifier to get that extra boost, however the way this unit adds that warm tube sound and eliminates the background noise is so awesome you won’t mind not having it all in one unit.
This unit is widely regarded for the improvements it makes to digital music files. Although digital files may sound just fine on low end speakers, earbuds, etc, it all falls apart when you put them on high-end speakers – the tinniness and electrical hiss become just so readily apparent it can be distracting. The NS-10P fills that gap, adding warmth and allowing the mids to shine through. However it’s not just for high-end speakers – this unit’s tiny size and affordable price make it a welcome addition to just about any stereo system.
Just remember that this one isn’t an amplifier by itself – looking at online reviews it becomes clear that this can be confusing for some folks who expect it to boost the sound volume a little more than perhaps it is capable of. But it can easily be slotted into any signal chain and add some very nice warmth to your tone.
- Signal to Noise Ratio: ≥ 110dB
- Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 30 KHz
- Weight: about 205 g
- Voltage amplification: 1.5 ~ 2.0 times
- Power supply: Input — AC 100~240V; 50/60Hz (universal) & Output — DC 6V 2000Ma
- Audio input / output: standard 3.5mm
- Power interface: 6V — 5.5 * 2.5
AIYIMA Audio 6J1 Tube Preamplifier
This tube preamp seems to exceed people’s expectations. It’s a cute, inexpensive preamp so it’s often a quick fix when you’re looking to plug a preamp into your setup. However, reviewers are calling out that this thing is even better than they were expecting. The packaging is light and it’s incredibly easy to plug in and get it going right out of the box. High-quality recordings come to life in your headphones, giving the sound a much more naturalistic, realistic sound.
With the inexpensive price, you do give up plenty of features. But if you’re needing a nice way to add gain and volume control while getting that nice tube sound, this one continues to dazzle.
- Signal to noise ratio: 98db
- RCA line output: 0.9vrms
- Distortion: 0.3%
- Audio inputs/Audio output:Gold-plated RCA
- Bass adjustment range: ± 10db
- Treble adjustment range: ± 6db
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20KHz
- Power supply: DC12V / 1A
- Weight: 0.35Kg/ 0.77Lb
Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier
The Bravo Audio Ocean is a gorgeous little Class A headphone amp. It pairs well with almost all the best headphones on the market. Although “warm” is a common word used to describe tube tone, the Bravo Audio Ocean tone is really the trendsetter there – adding so much warmth and depth to your sound and bringing lost frequencies back to life.
The biggest downside is the heat – this unit gets relatively hot, so when you’re placing it in your setup keep it at a place where you’re not likely to accidenttally touch it.
- Input Power: DC24V
- Input Sensitivity: 100mV
- Input Impedance: 100KOhm
- Out-Put Impedance: 20 to 600 Ohm
- Gain: 30dB
- Frequency response: 10Hz-60KHz +/- 0.25dB
- Signal/Noise Ratio>90dB
- Dynamic range: 84.6dBA(300 ohm) 89.8dBA(33 ohm)
- Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.016percent – 0.45percent
SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 Preamplifier
The SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 is another nice way to add some of that nice tube tone to your audio system. Particularly if you swap out the stock tubes for some higher-quality tubes, this SUCA-AUDIO unit can really make your audio sing. What people seem to agree on with this unit though is that you definitely need to swap out the stock tubes with some higher-quality tubes. Spend some time tube rolling and really get the optimal sound that the music calls out for.
Reading online reviews, it does seem this manufacturer may have some challenges – it seems more than once that people received units that had a manufacturing defect. However, this company offers some really stellar customer service, and many people report back that the customer service easily swapped the busted unit out for a better one.
- Power Supply: DC 12V/2A
- Frequency Response: 20HZ -20KHZ((±3dB)
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 98DB
- Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.1%
- Control：Potentiometer knob and toggle switch
- Treble adjustment range: ±6dB
- Treble adjustment range: ±6dB
- Bass adjustment range: ±10dB
- Audio Inputs/Audio Outputs: Gold-plated RCA
- Machine Size: 118.5*98*33mm(4.64 * 3.86 * 1.3 inch)
Nobsound NS-08E 6J9 Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier
The Nobsound brand makes another appearance on this list! Douk Audio, the makers of Nobsound brand amps, are an industry leader at putting out quality audio. The Nobsound NS-08E has a new upgraded circuit from its earlier versions, which allows for a really defined treble, stomping bass, and eliminates background noise. It can be used as a preamplifier alongside another amplifier to allow you even greater control over your tone, but it dominates several other options on this list specifically because it is an integrated amplifier and can be used independently as such.
This thing is priced just right, however many reviewers point out that you will get a whole lot more bang for your buck if you swap out the stock tubes. Keep that in mind so you don’t get your hopes dashed if it doesn’t automatically match your expectations
- Output power: ≥1100 mW (32 ohm)
- Headphone Adapter Impedance: 18-600 ohm
- Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.005%
- Signal to Noise Ratio: ≥110 dB
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 30 kHz
- Size: 111*69*32 mm / 4.37*2.72*1.26 in (Height: 73 mm with vacuum tube installed)
- Net Weight: 0.41 lb
- Power supply: Input voltage: AC 100-240V 50/60 Hz; Output voltage: DC 6V 2000Ma
Our Top Pick…
The Nobsound NS-08E
Of course it had to be a Nobsound. The NS-08E is matchless when it comes to that great combination of price and audio quality. Unlike many units on this list, it’s also an integrated amplifier, saving you the need for a separate amp. The NS-08E is the one that reviewers all across the internet line up in agreement about.