$8000 budget on Pre-amp

looking for opinions on a pre-amp to mate with pass labs XA60.5 & Vienna Acoustics Mahler speakers. I have a budget of $8000 give or take $500.

Thank you in advance
Audio Research Ref-5 SE
Why not Pass XP 20?
Before Die Muzik, I have owned Vienna Mahlers for several years and wrote the review for TAS. Fantastic speakers indeed. I have used three different pres with them with excellent results...

ARC Ref 3 -- wonderfully resolving, mildly tuby and pastel in its tone, wonderful almost completely linear bass.

Rowland Capri (V1) -- greater dynamics, resolution, and staging than Ref 3, but with a slightly light tone in the bass region. The new Capri S2 has exceeded greatly performance of the original and no longer shows the peccadillos in the bass region

Rowland Criterion -- simply sonically and musically stunning for all audible parameters. No longer in production, but the current Rowland Corus is very close. One is available used on Audiogon in your price range.

If you were interested in Ref 3, please let me know via PM. My unit may be seeking a caring adoptive parent, and will be well inside your budget.

A shocking preamp and I mean shocking how good, is the Manley 300B which carves out space better than any preamp solid state or tube, greater warmth then the ARC stuff, with a great sense of flow, and it is very involving and you can get a brand new unit with warranty and no issues for $5,800.00 this thing is a bargain.
The VAC Phi Alpha currently listed on Audiogon. No, I have no relationship with the seller.
Thank all for the responces.
I am picking up a couple of demo pre's Saturday,
an Audio Research LS27 & an Ayre KX-5.
I would suggest you take a look at the Herron VTSP-3AR02. I had several Audio Research (SP16 and LS26) and Modwright (LS36.5 and LS100) preamps prior to acquiring the Herron and the VTSP-3AR02 represented a significant step upwards from these well regarded models. My search for an extremely quiet, musically compelling preamp has ended with the Herron. I am not sure how it would mate with your Pass amplification but I believe I have seen this combination elsewhere. You could check with Keith on this as he is very honest and willing to talk through whatever questions you may have. The Herron is well within your price range.
The Shindo Auriges is a stunning preamp. It conveys the emotion of the music better then any pre I have ever heard. The VAC pre's are also very nice
Pass XP-20
I will "third" the VAC preamps. A used Renaissance Signature II would be worth waiting for. They are wonderfully musical, yet resolving, and can drive any amp load across long IC lengths, if need be. I have seen them sell here in the $8k or lower range as line stages.
Thank You all for your responses.
Here's where I'm at, I've demoed the BAT VK-33, Manley 300B, ARC LS27 and to date the BAT is hands down the best pre-amp of the bunch, way more inner detail and sound stage.
I'm having trouble finding a VAC, Shindo or Herron dealer near me(Chicago).
SoraSound in Chicago carries VAC as well as Rowland. See the list of VAC dealers at:

Bigiron2: I use a BAT VK-300se and agree it's good stuff.
Do you happen to know the vintage of the 6H30 tubes within?
I've been pondering whether to spend the $300 apiece for the
NOS military grade.
No Dweller, I'm sorry I do not
Did you ever demo the KX-5? I'm interested to see if it's anything like the KX-R Twenty given that they both use the diamond output stage.
Music First Baby Reference. Contact the US distributor and see about an in-home trial. Mind-blowingly good.
Bar81, No I have not demo the Ayre, and after my very poor experience with Audio Consultants in Hinsdale IL, I wouldn't even consider giving them any of my money, so unless there is a more respectable dealer in the Chicago area I've given up on Ayre.

Drubin, Thank you for the input, I will look into Music First.

Also had an opportunity to try the Manley Labs 300B that Audioorcale suggested and he is correct, for the price it is an outstanding unit, just lacking the tight bass control & micro detail I heard in the BAT VK-33.
Hi Begeron2, have you tried to contact Sorasound? G.
No Guidocorona, I have not.
I think the VAC is above my price range, unless a used one comes up.
Does anyone know the real story of the DUDE preamp, It looks like the way to go but a little leery after reading about it on audio shark ?
How about a TRON Seven - either line-stage or the pre-amp with on board phono? Great boutique British tube pre-amp with impeccable build and excellent SQ.
There's a new Shindo pre in that range, and a Shindo Massetto can be had used if you get lucky.
The top VAC preamps can be had for around $8K used, without the built-in phono stage. I love my Phi Beta.

I also think the Music First passive drubin mentions is phenomenal--liquid, detailed, dynamic, harmonically full--really does it all. A comparison to my VAC was a toss up in my system, and the MF is quite a bit less money--with no tubes to futz with. Not sure how it would mate with Pass amps but it was outstanding with Bryston 28B-SST2.
I'm a big Ayre fan....(totally Ayred out). Excellent customer service, battleship construction, and fabulous sound. Of coarse, all components have to be tried in your system for interaction pluses and minuses.....what fun
I own same amps with the Music Culture mc-601 pre (former dsigner of MBL). This pre smoked the xp-20 and some others. This one will leave you with pletny of change from $8k budget.
Hi Bigiron,

I wonder if you had a chance trying Ayres KX-5 preamp?

Have you ended your quest for the best preamp?
If yes which on is your final choice?


I have a Dude. A few teething problems with Paul - like some superficial quality control - knobs not fitting, etc - but in the end he came through, fixed everything and it does sound spectacular.Best I've heard. And I've tried most of the top $8-12K preamps. The Dude and the CJ Premier 16L would be my two top 2 preamps.