L-2 has much better control on Volume level, this is a ISSUE for audible illusions units
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Had the 3A once upon a time. Sound was ok. Not enough detail and air for me. Didn't want to try rolling tubes because not having a remote was driving this lazy audiophile crazy.
You will want to do some research on AI customer service. It has a reputation for being some of the worst in the industry. If you don't have a local repair shop that would fix an AI unit, I would not buy one.
Baring the known deficiencies, these are wonderful sounding preamps. But you do need to consider the synergy with the rest of your setup, and adjust accordingly.
I have AI Mod3a (with a custom 17 silver faceplate) that Ive grown very fond of. Im using Russian military grade (ultra low noise) tubes with dampeners. (They last for ever.) Im also using an after market Prelude power cord.
All I can say is the sound is phenomenal very full soundstage, clean highs, and tight lows, with nothing added. My AI has become the center point of a system that I consider to be final.
Im using the following inputs:
I use an older VPI Aries with a Rega RB300 arm and incognito wiring, with aVPI SDS. Im in between cartridges at this time The moving magnet phono section of the AI is very good, although I only have limited experience with other phono preamps. I will admit Ive been startled at times thinking someone was in the room when in fact it the realism of the vinyl.
Im using a Wadia 830 (modified by GNS), plugged into the tape monitor input. Besides sounding great the Wadias volume control provides the flexibility needed for micro adjustments to the dual volume controls (and high output) of the AI. Additionally the Wadias digital inputs allow me to run the audio from my digital cable box and DVD player (Oppo 970) into the AI.
Remember the days of wireless . Here too Ive got a unit with a variable output (controlled by the volume knob) to make micro volume adjustments. Plus the McIntosh MR77 (w/mods) sound real sweet.
I use a Logitech Wireless Music System to stream from my PC to the preamp. (Music that matters KEXP.com, Thank you Seattle). Ive also got a cradle for the ipod feeding into the mod3a as well.
For amplification Ive got the Mod3a feeding into a McIntosh MC402 (a new classic), which in turn drives Dynaudio Special 25s. (For two channel home theater Ive added Dynaudios Sub250 for that kick you back into your chair feeling.) Also I highly recommend using Discovery interconnects with your AI.
All-in-all, despite all the (well deserved) bad press the company gets, the AI Mod3a is still a great value for the money and can be the cornerstone of a darn good (if not reference) stereo.
While I respect Hiend2 and Eldarado on most AGon forum references, I have to disagree with them this time around.
I have the large stepped attenuators which are easily dealt with AND I had to contact AI service for brass screws which I had misplaced from tube rolling. The AI service assistant mailed them for free within days.
IMPORTANT: Do not use this pre-amp with the supplied Sovtek tubes. Anything you replace them with will sound thousands of times better. Even a donkey. (Perhaps this was Eldorado's "sound was ok" problem).
Also, do NOT ever turn this pre-amp off. The tubes definitely last forever by having them constatly warm. I'm talking 4 yrs my Cca's have been running like new. I can't explain it.
I used both for a considerable amount of time and the only thing they don't do as well as the mega buck preamps is play loud without a little bit of dynamic conjestion. Sometimes this can be a moot point with the right set of tubes. As for transparency, soundstaging and the like, they are right in line for a lot less money.
You know, they're only so many ways to design a tube preamp. AI uses the less is better approach choosing not to use a tube buffer circuit. This is why they are a little rougher on tubes but the sound is worth the omission.
These were some of the best preamps available back in the 90's and still hold up well in direct comparison to the newer models. I wouldn't hesitate to purchase one. They are a steal at the price they sell for used.
I will add this in defense of AI's service, they are good people who try to do the right thing. However, they are a small company and they must deal with a lot getiing these units out. They do have a good trade-in program also. Call Art and have a chat. He's a good guy IMO.
Imin2u: I can explain it. Tube gear using small signal tubes such as 12AX7's or 6922's is generally best left on 24/7. Quoting from the "TIPS & ADVICE" section of the owner's manual to my VAC Rennaisance 140/140 Mk. III tube amps:
"How long should tubes last? It has long been known in professional circles (and probably now forgotten) that a tube such as the 12AX7 will display BETTER performance characteristics after TWO YEARS of CONTINUAL operation than when it was new. In normal use it is not unusual for a low level tube to last 5 years or longer. Output tubes [i.e., power tubes used in tube power amps] are another story, as they are continuously providing significant amounts of current." (Emphasis original).
The expansion and contraction small signal tubes undergo as gear heats up and cools down upon being turned on and then turned off takes its toll over time. In addition, the voltage rush at turn-on is especially hard on small signal tubes. Tube gear with tube rectification is a lot easier on tubes at start-up, and some tube gear has a soft-start feature to soften the blow, but with a few exceptions, it's just better, for both tube life and for sound quality, to leave tube preamps on 24/7.
After three to five years, the tubes should be replaced, as they do start to "lose their luster", but they won't fail if used this way.
Regards to All Who Answer My Query on these 2 units,
If I didn't mention it before I want to use either of these a a Pre for my McIntosh MA6900. I also recently purchased a Cary CD 306 SACD PLayer, have Mc MR85 Tuner, ProAc Monitors, Audience cabling througout etc, blah blah blah.
According to some [& not others] there seems tobe a quality contol issue that maybe has been resolved with these untis & but I've also read they are wonderful pieces of equiment so ...
Well as with my other post/query as to the compatabliity of the Cary SPL2002 & my Mc. you've all provided a great wealth of experience & helpful knowledge & suggestions about these 2 pieces of gear. But as with my other post, this has answered alot of questions & raised some more.
So I might just have to do more research as to possible companionship with my Mc as some have said the PRe section is quite good & up to the task [maybe I do or maybe I don't need to upgrade @ the moment?], could be better as with most things in life but as I was looking in the $1000-1500 range max, I think I need to do more research or Q&A [ diff. to demo as limited options to listen locally.]
I really appreciate your time & effort & has helped me quite alot.
I have owned both. The 3A stepped attenuators are a pain.
To large of volume steps. I listen to piano music. All
recordings have an absolute volume. So many times the music was either to soft or to loud. So, I sold the 3A. But, fabulous sound. I currently own the L2. (Purchased
from BigTee---A great person). I have no desire to own another preamp. Fabulous sounding. The stock tubes EH6922 are flat sounding. So do some tube rolling.
Charandacafe: I formerly owned a AI 3 that I sent to Art for upgrading. After a year and too many phone calls and excuses , a audio reviewer aided me in requiring my unit, that committed hari-kari when turned on. The unit was returned & repaired and later sold to a person with full disclamer(s). While lots of folks extoll the product I went thru hell and lost a bundel. My experience is most likely not the norm , but a sorry state for any one to get caught caught up in that mess.