Affordable Decent Preamp & thoughts on Emotiva XSP-1 vs PS Audio Stellar Gain Stage

Shopping for / Researching a good, solid, Pre-Amp for my system.

Currently using the Pre-Amp stage of a "classic" NAC 7220PE Receiver
AMP = Emotiva XPA-2 Gen 3 (has both Balanced & Unbal Inputs)
Speakers = ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 on stands / Goldenear Amplified Sub
Sources = Bluesound Node 2i / CD / Occasional Phono

System is in my Living Room (NOT Dedicated "listening room"), so speaker placement etc is less than optimal and subject to approval of Wife - so, want something decent but "bleeding edge" would be of little benefit...

Current "Front-Runners" for Pre-Amp (up to around $1500 budget)

  • Fully Balanced (consumer design for low-noise)
  • HAS Phono Stage
  • Plenty of Inputs and Outputs
  • Sub Management
  • Remote
  • Kinda’ BIG
  • Aesthetics - a bit too much Blue LED
  • US-Owned company, but made in China
  • Sleek, Simple design (slimmer / less "gaudy" than EMO)
  • PS Audio reputation for Sound Quality tuned by extensive LISTENING
  • I can get it at a substantial discount from MSRP
  • Appears to have a quality DACT built-in (but, I’m an admitted DACT Noob...)
  • Remote
  • No built-in Phono (but currently not using it a lot - know I can get affordable external phono stage)
  • Wish it had one or two more balanced Inputs for future flexibility
  • Seems like "Less for More $$"
  • No dedicated / managed output to run my sub (but my sub has Speaker-Level I/O and built-in controls)
I KNOW that most of the units that Audio people "in the know" RAVE about / trend towards TUBE types - but I’m really not ready to jump on that particular bandwagon yet; but may consider a used Audio Research or similar if I can get one in my price range (Also looked at used Bryston BP16 if I could find one at a reasonable price)

Second the Freya, but the S since he wants solid state.  True balanced, neutral, and below the budget limit.  
I'm looking at the emotiva right now myself. It has everything i'm looking for. If it wasn't built in China I would probably have already got it. That being said it has a nice warranty and from everything I can find their customer service is top notch. 
I thought they had moved much of their building to the US. Not sure where the parts are made.
In your situation I’d consider this Anthem AVM50 prepro. It’s got a decent preamp section, but maybe even more important given your limited speaker placement options and sub you might find Anthem’s room correction and sub integration capabilities to be very advantageous -- perhaps even more so than going for a more pure 2-channel pre. Best of luck.

If you’d like to try tubes you could do far worse than this Backert Rhumba for a little over your price target...

or this Sachs SP14...
Yeah - I’ve also been debating one of the SP14 kits and building it myself. It seems that nearly ALL of the Preamps that many rave about DO seem to be tube types, and for a single-ended design, the SP14 gets strong reviews from a few whose opinions I trust.

I suppose that a YGGY would be a good "stepping stone" (particularly if I can dig-up a used one at a good price) to explore this option as it allows operation with and without the tubes and with a "Pure Passive" mode to boot.

Units incorporating Truly Balanced Circuits (those with more than simple transformer-coupled I/O) to drive Input / Outputs with Tubes seem to be largely beyond my price range.