I have bought two preamps at almost bargain prices from e-Bay. An LFD Linestage 1 and an Audio Research SP11. In a number of respects the LFD unit betters the SP11, more dynamic, faster and suits my Bosendorfer speakers better than the SP11. Downside is the comparative steeliness in the mid and the restricted image both width and depth. Says a lot for the LFD given the price and the fact that the SP11 is considered one of the two best pre-amps by ARC. So what do I do?
You are a perceptive listener. In fact you have readily identified one of the defining characteristics between the various LFD linestages. I use a Linestage 3. It has all of the positive characteristics you mention, and a greater sense of spaciousness. In all honesty though, the SP11 was and possibly remains peerless in terms of image width and depth.
Not only is this a ‘fingerprint’ of the very best valve preamps (I sold loads of AR preamps at Subjective Audio, but very few of their power amps) but the SP11 might well be up with the very best of today’s designs. Conrad Johnson was and possibly still is outstanding in this respect too.
Like you though, I feel valve preamps do seem to substitute bass ‘weight’ for bass ‘tautness‘.
I am far from surprised that the Bosendorfers should reveal this. In years gone by, the characteristic bloom of a valve preamp was to my ears certainly exaggerated when partnered with all but the finest valve power amps. This bloom was charmingly if somewhat unhelpfully described as ‘weight‘ and ‘authority‘. This was usually countered by the argument that while this was true, they simultaneously lacked ‘slam‘ (a slightly nebulous term) and ‘attack – which was readily understood by even novice listeners.
I’m talking here in general terms of course. There are exceptions. I have always been impressed by EAR valve amplification. I don’t stock it – but I do admire it.
I have an idea for you which perhaps might offer you all you want with the minimum (comparatively speaking) expense. In superficial terms, as I understand it from Dr. Bews, the actual circuits used in all his Linestages is not unduly sophisticated and are generally speaking identical to each other.
His belief, and this seems to be borne out in my experience is that the quality of the components, the quality of the solder, the quality of connectors, etc are what create the real and very noticeable superiority. If I have understood him correctly, then it seems entirely feasible that if he has the inclination (he is over run with orders for the Integrated LE currently and might not have the time / might not be interested) he could upgrade those parts of the Linestage 1 to give you the aspects you seek.
My guess is that this would not require a wholesale change – which in return might be a most efficacious investment. Might be worth emailing him?