Amp/preamp suggestions in $3000-4000 range

Hi all,

I'm ready to upgrade my system and I'm going to start with the amp and preamp. I need suggestions.

My system is comprised of Kenwood L-07D and Oracle Alexandria turntables with Dynavector 10x5 and Benz Micro Glider cartridges, respectively, into a Unison Research Unico. The speakers are Vandersteen 2ce. I listen to a wide range of music from jazz and modern composition to beat up punk rock 45s, and everything in between.

I've had solid state amps most of my life and have tried some of the more humble all tube systems such as Antique Sound Labs and Jolida. I really love the sound of the Unico's hybrid design but it's not a great amp for the Vandersteens. Beyond that, I haven't much of an idea where to go. I prefer the idea of tube preamp and solid state amp but I'm not hell bent on it. I am open to an integrated machine or separate preamp and amp. Monoblocks are interesting as well. I'd like to keep the total price somewhere between 3-4K on the used market.

Any suggestions?


I would look at McCormack amps combined with with deHavilland tube pre. Other good tube pres in the price range would be Audible Illusions, Modwright, and VTL. I think that Vandersteens need SS amps unless you have a very high quality, fairly high power tube amp. In your price range I would stick with SS with the tube pre.
I have heard several systems using Vandy speakers and Ayre electronics. They have always impressed. I would look at used V-3 or V-5xe amp and used K-5XE preamp combo.
I have the 2CE sigs. I had a McCormack DNA1 which sounded OK. Then I bought a TAD-60 tube amp which blew the Mccormack away. Then went to the new TA-125 Monos which blew the TAD 60 tube amp away. Depending on what music you listen to I would suggest a tube pre and SS amp. I have the TAD-150 pre and TAD-125 monos hooked up. Best combo that I have heard on my system.
I've never heard the TAD gear, but if the McCormack got blown away, by an amp that got blown away by the TAD-125s, the 125s must be very good indeed. I think that one thing is for certain, with the 2CEs, a tube pre and SS amp is likely your best approach. Narrowing the choice on the amp side is a little trickier, but I'm sure there are several good choices out there. I would look for 100-200 watts to control the lowend, the VSs like some power. You should get some of the tube sound you might be looking for with a tube preamp. If the Ayre combo is in your budget, and don't mind going with a SS pre (Ayre is a very good one)that would be very nice indeed, running fully balanced.
A hybrid amp could be a good compromise between tube and solid state. last I looked there was a used Butler for sale here. 250 watts hybrid for about $1500. With the money left over you could then mate it to a nice preamp.

TAD has also come out with the Hibachi monoblocks. They were selling for under $1000 and there is one on auction now starting at $999. These are solid state and around 200 watts if I recall. Again, lots of money left over for a nice preamp.
I will second Butler recommendations, very nice amp. I am not the biggest fan of SS gear but I can see myself useing something like Butler or WFS amps. Preamps.....? I like Supratek, Blueberry, Dodd. Going all AR is another way to do it but I believe there are better fish in the Sea. IMO.
Counterpoint with upgrades is exceptional
Thanks for the responses. What a lot of information.

I am glad to see a consensus regarding tube pre and solid state amp since that's where my thinking has been at with the Vandersteens.

WOW! That Blueberry preamp is beautiful. Have never heard of Juicy Music but both my wife and I are instantly in love with the design. I'll have to see what threads we have on here about it. Is this a robust preamp that will last me years or is it a finicky boutique offering that needs frequent servicing?

McCormack and Modwright are both companies I've already been reading up on. Very curious about the McCormack DNA-225.

The Butler is intriguing to me. I am not familiar with hybrid amplifiers but the idea sounds promising from the review I read on 6moons.

I forgot to mention that I like to bi-wire the Vandersteens. That's one way to narrow down my amp choices, I guess. I noticed the Counterpoint supports bi-wiring.
In my opinion Blueberry is not just good , it is an excellent preamp for the asking price. It also comes in premium wood finish which looks great and adds to the overall enjoyment. Its sound is very rich, especially with Mullard tube. Its presentation is different then lets say Modwright preamp which is very clean, fast, transparent but
also.....almost SS-ish. More relaxed, smooth and a bit on the warmer side characteristics of Blueberry with SS amp might be a better choice IMO.

Butler is a power house with almost limitless dynamics and headroom. It doesn't sound edgy or vailed. It is a very well balanced amp that I can personaly recommend. There are otheres but not in your price range.

PS Audio GCA (100/250/500) series is killer. AND it's differentially balanced, unlike most of the recommendations
I've been reading all over the internet on this Blueberry Xtreme and I can't find many people with something bad to say about it. There's not a whole lot of talk about it here but it's wildly popular elsewhere.

I wish I could hear it but evidently they only do business across the web and I certainly don't know anyone who owns one.

I also really like the fact that it is geared towards vinyl.

Does anyone here have specific experience with solid state amps that mate well with the Blueberry and speakers like the Vandersteens?

Thanks for the PS Audio recommendation.
Rick, Based on your music tastes with the Vandys, you want an amp/ pre combo that will make them sound lively and balanced. While my B&k, McCormack, and TAD 60 sounded nice, the one thing that bothered me the entire time that I had those three amps was that I could not get well extended highs until I brought the TAD 125 into the picture. Whatever amp you settle on make sure that it pulls the Vandys forward. Many people say that they sound dark but, in my opinion, they just need the right electronics to show what they are capable of. I am sure that there are more choices than just the TADs but, just make sure that you can pull the entire spectrum out.

At the top end of your range I would suggest the Audible Illusions pre and Music Reference RM10 MK2. I heard this combo at Audio Connection in Verona NJ last week and it was amazing. It really maximized the potential of the Vandy's. I made them come to life.
Mariusz, are you saying that you think the Butler is a good amp to pair with the Blueberry? With both the Butler and the TAD 125 I'm unfamiliar with the hybrid amp design. Do these amps sound more solid state or more tube? If they are paired with a tube pre-amp are you likely to wind up with a really "tubed" sound?

At this point, I very much like the McCormack DNA-225, PS Audio 250 or 500, and maybe the Butler or the TAD 125.

The Butler is a very neutral and transparent amp. The bass is tight and deep. High end extension is very good. The amp is also very quiet. Their use of tubes in the design is somewhat different than other traditional tube amp designs. Lots of good information on their site.
Do not get me wrong....McCormack is an excellent is Butler. And no, Butler does not sound like true tube amp. However it is very well balanced, dynamic and not veiled or edgy like some poorly designed SS amps out there. I am not sure if the tube input stage in Butler helps in that regards or not. My guess is that it is somewhat responsible for its subtle (but with power and authority) rendition of music.

Blueberry is more liquid and warm sounding preamp then most modern tube designs. Pairing it with SS amp will give you the best of both Worlds. Power, dynamics of SS and richness of tube design.

IMO you can not go wrong with this approach of incorporating both designs to get the most out of your speakers.
You won't regret your decision. If you can always blame me..... :)


$3-4K has Paraound Halo written all over it.
I like Parasound Halo myself. Excellent SS amp for the money.
Consider a fully tricked out Ella (level three) with autobias option to eliminate the maintenance task of output tube biasing, and inquire if they will assemble the autoformer volume control (option 4b). I'll bet they will, as they offer assembly of the Ella.

They'll fall well within your budget and will be new units.

I've owned the basic Ella (my brother has it now) and it is a very nice amp that will surely shine with the premium parts. I also owned the Django passive and kick myself for selling it. I had DIY HiFi build my Django and the assembly was first rate. The new autoformer volume control may even better the Django, as some contend that autoformers are better suited than transformers for passive volume control.

Brian Cherry of DIY HiFi is all about sound quality and value without any fluff. If that's what you're after, look no further.
Get a used Spectron Musician 3 and spend the rest on the best preamp you can find. If you've never heard a Spectron amp, prepare to be amazed! Once you have the amp, you can audition different preamps till you find a combo that sounds good to you.

Do really want pre/power amp? A few days ago I heard a Symphonic Line RG9 integrated and at that price point it was the best I ever heard. I love (for some stupid reason) lots of boxes in sets pre amp with mono power amps with separate power supplies and transport with DAC with also big separate power supplies but the more I think about it the less since it makes to me. Unless you have unlimited funds or $7k or more for an amp I think integrated is the way to go. More bang for you buck. I am saving money myself for a Symphonic line.
I really wanted to buy a tube pre and separate power but for that budget it will be hard to beat a good integrated I think.

But anyway good hunting.

Good call on the integrated. I have separate transport and DAC, and until recently also had separate amp and preamp. I just picked up a VAC Avatar SE and the simplicity this brings to the set-up has been a big surprise. Not to mention the VAC has a built in phono stage and overall is an excellent sounding unit. My separates did some things better, but the price for convenience and saving space can't be overlooked. One can get an excellent integrated for $3k - $4k.
How about the PS Audio GCC-250? 250 wpc integrated for $3495.

OK. As PS Audio likes to point out, it's not an integrated in the classic sense, because the multi-input front end is not a preamp; instead, PS Audio's GainCell technology allows the volume knob to adjust the gain at the amplifier level, so the signal does not get processed or attenuated at the incoming line level as a traditional preamp does.

But from a user's operational standpoint, it's a 250 wpc integrated without the customary size, weight, or heat. Damping factor >1000. Should show your Vandersteens what for.

This would be on my short list.

Just give Mark Mdeenan a call. I may have spelled his name incorrectly. He is teh owner of Juicy Music and he also designed teh Paragon preamp in the 70's. His service is outstanding. IO had a Peach preamp with Klipschorns a few years back.

You may also want to check the Klipsch forum. Many there use Blueberry's. Mark had a pair of Klispch Belles when he designed the blueberry and Peach.

FWIW I use a Muscial Fidelity A308CR preamp and have a pair of Bryston 7B ST's and Classe CAM 350's with B&W S800's. I have not decided which amps to keep yet.

If you only need 200 wpc you can definately get the A308 preamp and either a Classe or Bryston amp for your $3000 budget. To me, the A308CR (SS Preamp) sounded more "tubelike" than a friend's VTL preamp.
You can find a set of our M-60s used in that range and they drive 2CEs beautifully.
By way of update, I purchased a used McCormack DNA-225 here on audiogon and am now in the process of selling some of my other equipment to get the money together for a Blueberry Xtreme2 preamp. Thanks to everyone for the tremendous amount of input. It's taken me weeks of surfing and reading to get through all of the suggestions. Cheers, Rickk
How about the PrimaLuna ProLogue 5 or Dialogue 5? They're around $1600 and $2600 respectively. Bulletproof, excellent resale value, strong support from the company.
Forget the tube pre-amp Solid State power amp paradigm. Get a quality tube power amp or integrated with sufficient umph I'd say 60WPC+ with current headroom meaning hefty trannies and you might find Utopia. It took me 8 years to finally figure this out.
tad gear is awesome