Knucklenutz, for that price you might try a Sony P9000ES multi-channel preamp. It is Sterophile Class A rated, multi-channel capable (in case you ever buy a multi-channel SACD player or DVD-A unit).
It really isn't bad - pretty clean sounding and priced (new) within your targeted range. Look for it online.
You might try a used Adcom GFP 750. I have one in my 2 channel system & it is quite good. You have the choice of balanced or single-ended (RCA) inputs & outputs and passive or active gain.
It is also remote controlled and probably good enough that you'll definitely upgrade your power amp before you'll need to replace the Adcom.
The only glaring limiting factor I've encountered is that the single ended inputs are close enough together that you can't use some premium interconnects with large RCA barrels-like Transparent.
You can find these used for $700-$900. Check and make sure the owner had no problems, there were quality control issues with some of these. I bought mine locally, just 4 months old, from someone going to a tube pre-amp.
You can check owners comments on this piece at www.audioreview.com
Go to the Bottlehead.com site and get a Foreplay kit (tubes). The DIY is great and very easy on this kit. Great sound and support.
If you do not want to venture into tubes with a do it yourself consider a used Rotel on this site. They are tough to beat for the price I see them go for here.
Ih the $300 to $500 price range, if you want a good new preamp that pretty much means one of the passives. The names escape me but quite a few have been recommended here and someone will chime in. The Adcom GFP750 mentioned above is out of your price range, but the earlier GFP565 sells for $275-300 and is not bad, pretty good match for your amp and also has a decent phono stage if you want that option. Another very good option is a used Anthem Pre1L (no phono) for $400. You'll need to buy 4 tubes, probably another $80-100. The Anthem may give you a more holographic three dimensional image, but will not be as quiet as the Adcom. Expect some tube noise and a little transformer hum (audible close up - not while listening to music).
If you can stretch it a bit a used Rogue 66 will provide many years as a backbone to a 2 Channel set up.
Oh, a good choice new, or almost new, is the Monolithic Sound PA-1 line stage. I notice Underwoodwally has a couple on sale now.
I third the recomendation for the used Gfp-750.And mates nicely if you ver need power with the 5802 (300 watt) amp.The CD player means a true balanced signal path all the way through.Also can't remember the dodel number but NAD (118?) used has balanced signal path and can be mated with the 218THXamp @225 wpc.If you have the taste for it (like natural mids and can deal with softer bass and rollled off highs) saving up and dropiing $1500 on a CJ,VTL,Rogue etc intergrated amp gives most audiophile bang for buck.The VTL has 85 wpc and since tubes clip soft it's like 150 wpc versus a SS amp.Really cheap would be an old passive Adcom SLC control box if your amp is big enough and your sources have enough gain.But go into debt it's patriotic to keep the economy pumped up.
P.S another good choice would be a a CJ PV10 or 12 tube preamp.Will soften any harshness of a SS and give you the goods.PV10's can be had for $450-650 add a couple of hundred for the PV12.Pre-amps can give tht great tube sound but the tubes don't need to be biased and last 2to 3 times longer than power/output tubes of a power amp.
Like Natalie, I recommend that you make the stretch. Today I saw an Audible Illusions Modulus 3 (not 3a) on Audiogon for $700. I owned that preamp until I got a Meridian 518 digital controller that gives me volume control of my dac. It's killer. The only slight downside to that pre is that it doesn't go aaaall the way down below about 30 hz. If you're planning to get speakers that don't go that low you'll be fine.
Another alternative. If you're going for a cd-only system, you might want to consider a cd player with a volume control and eliminate the pre-amp altogether.
A caution about your room. If you're planning to use homosote as a sound-proofing material, all I can say is that I know of two bad experiences with homosote (it's that stuff that looks like 3/4 inch-thick cardboard). In the first, it was put in an amateur-built vocal sound booth for recording. In the other, it was used as soundproofing in a dedicated listening room like the one you plan to build. In both cases, it created a very nasty, almost metallic sounding slap-echo (clap your hands and the echo sounded like you were in a metal tank). Do a little research about matierials for your listening room, and happy listening!
If you want to stay with your amp for now, you may want to try an inexpensive tube preamp. Check out AMC, Antique sound labs, Sound Valves or maybe even a used Dynaco PAS.
Paul: Is the preamp that you are thinking of the FT Audio unit which retails for $500? This is the one that had interested me.
David, no, I hadnt heard of that one, but it looks good. There have been several mentioned here, and one or two in Stereophile by Tom G ("Sam Tellig") and also listed in their recommended components in the last few years. I think Creek makes a really inexpensive one too. I've never been in the market for one, so I havent paid attention to the brand names.
I think some of the posts above have ignored the initial request, $300 to $500 and short on cash because of remodeling. I think there are good choices in that price range that Chris would appreciate hearing about rather than recommendations to spend more than he wants to.
Paul, a friend uses the Creek with one of the Aleph/Volks amps with good results. I almost auditioned it in my system, but he had forgotten the remote @ home (Palm Springs) and the unit had been left on mute. LOL. Kitch said that the Foreplay preamp he built stock (and then upgraded) was a nice sounding tube unit (both ways) and I believe that even loaded (with the upgrades) it caps out @ around $300 (the stock kit is $150). It states at the website that it is a good kit for the novice (you only require basic soldering skills).
Thanx for all the input so far....you guys have been great...I appreciate it...I will keep you posted with what I decide on....but by all means keep this thread going ...it will be a few weeks before I get a preamp....I will post maybe some pictures with my progress....thanx again Chris
Actually, the Creek passive is a surprisingly good little piece of gear - it convinced me passive is the way to go once you start putting better components in the system. It will also let you know whether the components, including ICs, are as good as you think they are - so there is that caveat. I sure found out what the sonic characteristics of my cdps are - which is why I'm now on the prowl for a better one! But in my opinion, keeping things simple in the signal path is a very good thing indeed, and with a passive it's pretty dang simple. Signal go in, signal go out. The Creek does have remote volume control, so there is that bit of circuitry to consider, but I can't say I noticed any particularly egregious influence on the sound from it. It may be a tad less refined than my "better" passive, but there was also a tad bit of a price difference. I also lost the remote volume control capability, but I guess I'm either not as lazy as I look, or am becoming an audio purist of some odd variety. In any event, imho, at this price point, I'd second the Creek as a very attractive option.