VTA SP10 built by Troy
VTA SP13 built by Troy
Bottlehead BeePee 300B built from kit
Fisher 400-CX2 with all original parts, including tubes
What an interesting experience. Each piece had its own sonic signature, though I wish I'd had more time to listen to the Bottlehead, but we developed an odd cable problem and only had one channel to listen to after the first tune. We never figured that one out.
The SP10 sounded like what I remember tube preamps sounding like. Sweet and with that classic euphonic tube sound. I felt it was a little weak on the low end but everything felt like music.
My own preamp is the SP13 and I'm totally in love with it. Exceptional detail, well controlled, strong and defined low end and it images with precision. String bass sounds like its acoustic. Just terrific. Audio Nirvana. I've bought my last preamp.
The biggest surprise of the evening was the Fisher preamp. This was the finest preamp Fisher ever made and was intended to compete with the McIntosh C22 and Marantz 7. This is a piece which is over 50 years old. That's 50 year old tubes, ceramic disc capacitors, etc. Wow... It had a similar tonal balance to the SP13, though perhaps not quite as detailed. I wish I had more time to listen to it. The friend who brought it over powered from a Variac because he wanted to bring the voltages up slowly given the age of the components.
The Fisher preamp was truly wonderful and would be a preamp anyone would love listening to. I feel it certainly belongs in the same class with anything anyone makes today, including my SP13. The "problem" with something like a classic Fisher, Marantz 7 or Mac C22 is that much of what you pay for is their "collectible" value, and that largely depends on how much of it is original. The unit we listened to last night would cost a good $2500 were you to be looking for one on EBay or Audiogon. Of course a Marantz 7 or Mac C22 in similar condition will cost you nearly twice that. $5000 is pretty much what you'd have to pay for a pristine Marantz 7 or Mac C22, so the Fisher is a better "value" in that regard. But it's still $1000 more than my SP13 and is still 50 years old.
Were you to find one of these things at a yard sale, thrift store or other such venue and get it cheap, it would be well worth repairing and restoring. There are a few guys out there who sell restoration kits for these things. Were you to find a Fisher 400-CX2 cheap enough and work it over, it might not have a high value as a collectible, but it would certainly be the center of a wonderful audio system.