I know that when it comes to tube amplifiers, people will often tell you that you have to at least be in the four figures to get a good one. Now granted while there are some truly epic tube amplifiers that can cost a few thousand bucks. Today I want to try and find what is the best tube preamp under $500.
For me, 500 bucks is a fair amount of money to spend on something like this. Thankfully the cost of this kind of technology has come down considerably the last few years and there are some great tube amplifiers in this price range for us to look at.
Always Check The Fine Print!
I think that it should go without saying that if you are willing to spend this kind of money, you need to do as much research as you can. While I am having a great time sharing my opinion of what is the best tube preamp under $500. I would always encourage you to do as much research as possible before parting with this kind of (or any really) money.
The 6 Best Tube Preamp Under $500 Reviews
Here us music lovers (hey and movies too!) can have some fun as we look at some of the most high end tube preamps on the market today.
- Nobsound 12AX7 12AU7 Vacuum Tube Preamp
- Nobsound NS-01P Tube Preamp Preamplifier
- YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 Class A Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier
- Dared MP-5BTHIFI Audiophiles Integrated Amplifier
- Nobsound Luxury Aiqin L-02 HIFI EL34
- Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 Vacuum&Valve Tube Phono Turntable Preamplifier
1. Nobsound 12AX7 12AU7 Vacuum Tube Preamp
- I love the retro kind of style that it has
- Very easy to get up and going
- Not a ton of breaking in time required
- The asking price is very affordable
- The build quality is not the best
- The design is certainly not for everyone
At 215 bucks I have to say that I am loving the price of the Nobsound 12AX7 12AU7 Vacuum Tube Preamp. I know that the design of this at first glance makes it look like something from a science fair, but the design is actually very clever. This is Japanese audio engineering at its finest (well at the least, inspired by) and it has a metal body with a very nice wooden siding. Not only does this look great, the design is there to ensure that it can give the best sound quality that it possibly can. My only gripe with the design is I really do not like the 50’s looking switch that is on the front.
This uses Shuguang Tubes and I really put them to the test. I actually got out some of my older vinyl to test this out with at first. Out of the box I was surprised about the sound quality. I was impressed with the level of bass, but it was the vocal clarity that really was something I did not expect. It will of course have some break in time and I did find that the better the quality of your vinyl the better sound you got. The switch is a little lose on the front, but to be fair I think this is reflected in the price.
What Other People Are Saying
I made sure to read as many customer reviews of this as I could and one that stood out was this customer review that is listed on Amazon. “The switch control was loosy, so I had to disarm the preamplifier, and do some adjustments. After that and until now, the sound of my system improves and I very pleased with the sound.” People seem to be happy with the sound quality, but the build quality has been questioned.
I get what some of the reviews of the Nobsound 12AX7 12AU7 Vacuum Tube Preamp are saying in terms of the build quality, especially that switch! However, for the price, I do feel that this is a good tube preamp and worthy of a spot on our best tube preamp under $500 list. Trust me, I spent a few days with this and the sound just got better and better.
2. Nobsound NS-01P Tube Preamp Preamplifier
- It looks really cool
- Has a far stronger build than the pictures suggest
- Sound has a very nice warmth to it
- Live music especially sounds great
- Breaking in may take a while
- You have to play with the settings to get it just right
Some tube preamps are just all about the sound and that is cool. This Nobsound NS-01P Tube Preamp Preamplifier, on the other hand, is a real showcase piece. I have to say that on this list, this is the best looking of all the preamps we are looking at today. It is elegant, it is cool and it looks like it costs way more than the 270 bucks it is currently going for. Which by the way if you ask me is a very reasonable price. I really do like how solid this feels as well. Granted not as “solid” as a tube preamp that comes in at three times the price, but at this price, it is made very well.
Sound quality wise I decided that some 80s metal was required to put this through its pace. The “architecture” of this is the Marataz 7 and that is why the sound was as good as it was. I felt that even the gnarliest Motley Crue song had a real warmth about it. There is a bit of playing around with your receiver to get the sound you like, but that is all part of the fun of getting a device like this.
What Other People Are Saying
I could not find any video reviews for this, but they are mostly positive over at Amazon. One title of a review really sums up my feelings for this. “Nice preamp. Sounds like ten times more expensive ones.” Is what one customer review had to say. I think whoever wrote this review really summed up this tube preamp very well.
I have to say that when it comes to the best tube preamp under $500 that the Nobsound NS-01P Tube Preamp Preamplifier is a clear front runner. I think that the asking price is just about perfect for a preamp of this quality and also the design is super elegant. I really do not have anything negative to say about this apart from that you will have to break this in just right to get it really rocking.
3. YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 Class A Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier
- A very elegant looking device
- The sound quality is awesome
- Made to a very high standard
- Lots of positive reviews about this
- We are a little close to 500 bucks
- You do have to work to get the best out of this
The elegance of the YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 Class A Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier cannot be understated. I really like the woodgrain effect this one has on the sides. Now I know that chances are this will be tidied away somewhere, but I do like the effort they have made with the design. The current asking price for this is currently $469.00 which is a little close to our 500 bucks limit, but I do feel that the value for this is not bad at all. If you read up on what this is made with, it is designed with a very “Japanese” mindset and they love their audio crystal clear.
This little device does give you some very rich sound. I am sure there is some breaking in time here, but I found the sound to be very pleasing to my ears right from the start. I tell you Brett Michaels sounded like he was singing to me! In all seriousness, though I actually tested this with two sets of speakers, a higher end Klipsch set and also a more modest and older set of Sony speakers. There was a clear difference so I would say that in order to get the best sound out of this you need to have a solid set of speakers. Which to be fair is not the worst problem in the world now, is it? So, while the sound is great (as the design is very clever) you will have to tinker a bit to get the best sound possible.
What Other People Are Saying?
On Amazon, there are plenty of glowing reviews for this. However, I did also find a video showcase over on YouTube. There is no “review” on this video, but it does give you an idea of the sound quality that you are going to be getting by using this. It does sound great so make sure you give this video a watch along with checking out those Amazon reviews.
I know we all want to be as below that 500 bucks price tag as possible, but I do feel that this YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 Class A Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier is well worth the money. It has a lot of style so if you want it out in the open that is great. It is the sound that that really made me fall in love with this thing. I can see why so many people love this. Just make sure you know that while it is good, getting the best sound does require some work from you.
4. Dared MP-5BTHIFI Audiophiles Integrated Amplifier
- The style could be something you really like
- Bluetooth connectivity!
- It also can easily be connected to a computer
- The sound is said to be great
- Not too keen on that little switch
- Style is a love or hate kind of thing
I would have to say that from a design point of view the Dared MP-5BTHIFI Audiophiles Integrated Amplifier stands out the most on our best tube preamp under $500 list. The thing is though I can see this being a tube preamp that you either love the look of or hate. It has a very “retro” kind of style and I have to say that I wish I had gotten the chance to personally check this one out as it does sound very interesting. It is available for right around the 400 bucks mark and from what I have seen the price tends to differ from place to place to be sure to shop around.
One of the things that really caught my eye about this was the fact that they seem to have thought of everything when it comes to connectivity. I will always be an advocate of using good speaker cable to connect your equipment, but this does offer Bluetooth connectivity and it even has a USB port on it as well. I really do like the idea of this and I can get why the Bluetooth connectivity would be a major selling point for people. From what I have read, the sound quality out of this thing does appear to be very crisp and clear. While the dial on the front of this tube preamp is great. I do worry about that little switch. I have used other tube preamps with a similar switch and they tend to become lose after a while.
What Other People Are Saying
There are many great reviews for this on the internet. One that really grabbed my attention though was a top 10 list on YouTube. Now the price ranges for all the devices on here are all over the place, but the Dared MP-5BTHIFI Audiophiles Integrated Amplifier, we are looking at here makes it at number 7 on this list. When you look at the other, expensive tube preamps that made this list, it shows how impressive this more modest one here is.
I am very intrigued by the Dared MP-5BTHIFI Audiophiles Integrated Amplifier. I get that the style is not for all you guys, but it does have a real “style” about it that not many others have. The sound that it produces is said to be great and I do like how it gives you Bluetooth connectivity. While it may not be my cup of tea, I must admit that I would rather have it than not if I was given the choice. This is certainly one for you guys to take a closer look at as it does seem very interesting.
5. Nobsound Luxury Aiqin L-02 HIFI EL34
- I really like the style
- Plenty of positive customer reviews
- Produces very warm and clear sound
- The asking price is very, very reasonable
- You do need some good speakers to get the best out of it
- Some have questioned the way it is packaged during delivery
The Nobsound Luxury Aiqin L-02 HIFI EL34 is a very interesting tube preamp and there was something about it that seemed very familiar. Well, the reason for that is that this is actually pretty much the same tube preamp as the GemTune BL-02 which I have actually tested in the past. Currently, you can pick this up for around the $350 mark which is not a bad asking price at all. The GemTune version actually seems to go a little bit higher than this which is kind of weird. The build quality looks fantastic and I do appreciate it how they have put some woodgrain effect on the side as it does help give it that little bit extra personality.
I read that that you are getting 10 watts of power per channel out of this. So that does mean that you will need a good set of speakers to really get the best out of this thing. In all honesty with you guys at this kind of price range that is always going to be the case. Warmth and clarity are what you are going to get from your music when you use this. I am almost certain that it will take a little bit of warming up to really get the best sound that this is capable of. In all, I am thinking that this one here is a great little bit of kit.
What Other People Are Saying
I would advise reading reviews for the GemTune version as well as there appears to be more of those. Anyway, Amazon has some very positive customer comments about this. Just a couple that grabbed my attention are, “Great product for the cost. Lovely sound from awesome tubes” and also this one here, “Great build quality, great sound, …., do.not. skimp on the speakers”. These both pretty much sum up my own thoughts on this tube preamp.
While I have not actually used the The Nobsound Luxury Aiqin L-02 HIFI EL34 I have used the other version that is pretty much the same. I think that this is a fantastic tube preamp, especially when you consider you can get it for around 350 bucks which for a product of this quality really is a steal. Just remember you need decent speakers and a decent setup to really make this thing shine.
6. Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 Vacuum&Valve Tube Phono Turntable Preamplifier
- A very elegant and compact style
- You can upgrade aspects of it
- The asking price makes it very affordable
- Plenty of people are very happy with this
- Not great if you want something quick and easy
- Sound may not be the best out of the box
At $220 this is more than half of our budget. I think budget is the right word to keep in mind when looking at the Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 Vacuum&Valve Tube Phono Turntable Preamplifier. I feel that this is a great starter tube preamp that someone can use for a few years before they upgrade to something with a bit more kick. I do like the all black design and it is certainly the most compact of all the preamps we have looked at today. It is my understanding that you do have a few different options to the way the unit is built so be sure to ask about that if you are interested in this.
The way that this works sounds rather interesting. They make a point to specifically mention that this only works with turntables that have a MM cartridge and a phono output, not a line out. So please be aware of that before purchasing. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, but they do bring attention to it. When you look into this it can actually produce some very nice sound, it just requires a fair bit of work from you to get it to that point. For those of you who are like me and love to tinker with your audio equipment, I would actually look at this as a bonus! For those wanting something they can just plug in and rock out with though, they may be a little disappointed.
What Other People Are Saying
Over at a site called ReviewMeta that takes as many customer reviews as they can find on a product. You can find some great reviews for this tube preamp on there. “6 months down the road, and I am even more impressed with this unit than I initially was! I have been learning to mod my gear, and after swapping the .47uf capacitors in this preamp with some NOS Russian KY40Y-9 capacitors, the Little Bear T11 really sings!” Is something that really stood out for me as it does go with my theory that this is more of a starter tube preamp.
I think that this Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 Vacuum&Valve Tube Phono Turntable Preamplifier is a very interesting device. I would certainly recommend that you do more research on it if you are liking the look of it. One thing I do like is how you can upgrade it as the years go by so you can make this better before splurging out on a full upgrade. Just make sure you check if the rest of your setup is compatible with this first!
What Is The Best Tube Preamp Under $500?
I think that at this price range the quality of tube preamps has really stepped up. You no longer have to spend a few thousand bucks to make your sound as epic as it can be. When it comes to the best tube preamp under $500 I really did like what the Nobsound NS-01P Tube Preamp Preamplifier was offering. It gave you great sound, but the price was way under our 500 bucks limit,
If you do not mind being a little closer to that 500 bucks limit then I would suggest that you take a closer look at the YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 Class A Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier which is as high end as you can get at this kind of price range.