Oh well, I didn't want this to be a discussion about my preamp here, but I feel I owe it to the Audiogon community to share my honest findings with them since I depend upon these forums so much.
The preamp is an Apex Pinnacle (TAS reviewed it in the current 7/2011 issue.)
I actually bought it as a headphone amp as I am relegated to headphone listening sometimes for domestic reasons, and have to say it's a great headphone amp. (My balanced Sennheiser HD800s are amazing and sound like a whole new class of headphone with these. I think the Pinnacle maybe have been voiced with HD800s, but I'm just speculating here. My balanced Denon D7000s are also spectacular with a whole new level of resolution and a relaxed flowing sound where I can listen for hours to them.)
I then tried it as my preamp, and it was a real revelation. Every little musical element is just right there in its own space without any hard edges or analytical sound, even the smallest detail. Edges of each sound are not hard/soft, just natural. I can just breathe out and take it all in with no anxiety at all. I did not think a preamp could make such a difference. I would have thought my little used SF Cremona Auditors turned into megabuck monitors, like the TAD ones I heard & was really impressed with recently at the Axpona NY show (OK, without the deepest bass or big sound, but in my smaller space, the tonality is superior with the Pinnacle/Cremonas). The same goes for the wonderful MBL (101E?) room at the Axpona show (with all MBL electronics). All because of the Pinnacle. Everything, vocals, instruments, percussion, are just soooo listenable, with a golden glow and a rich detailed texture.
I really can't describe it, but now I really feel what it means to have an emotional reaction to the music,where you kind of choke up from some familiar music.
And this even happens to my good old plain redbook CDs (an EMM XDS1 is my only source), with both classical (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven on cheap Naxos CDs) and the Beatles, Mamas&the Papas, Carole King, Supremes, Madonna, the Animals.
Now, I have not owned many high-caliber preamps, so I can't compare this to others that may be as good, but I have owned a Mac C46, a Van Alstine Ultra EC+, the big Levinson No. 32 (for few years), an RSA B52, an ARC Ref2, and a Threshold T3. All of them had different sounds, and I liked them all more or less, but none provided as dramatic a difference as the Pinnacle. Like I said, I have not had any of the esteemed modern tube preamps here like Shindos, Carys, CJs, Joules or ARCs, so maybe this is just my first intro to a fine tube preamp in my house, but on it's own, there is pure magic tonality and music coming out of my little Cremona Auditors.
So I may just suck it up and live with the volume control annoyance, and maybe hope in the future a new Attenuator or some gain control can be had for the amp down the line.
There are also some headfi reviews of the Pinnacle (Innerspace gets it right over there I think, along with 4N6), mostly as a headphone amp, comparing it side-by-side to a Leben for instance, that echo my sentiments.
And there's no remote on the Pinnacle either (I sure wish there was). If there was a 100 step attenuator and a remote, I would call this the perfect preamp.