You need to tell us your budget and whether you are willing to buy used.
Either that, or tell us which models you are looking at, so that those audiogoners (I love that word), can give you their impressions of the units they have used.
I have had the old reliable ARC LS-2 in my system for many years, and still like it. (I have the PH-3 phono preamp as well).
Good Luck in your search!
if you budget is in that same price range, pickup an Adcom GFP750 for a bargain preamp (run passive when you're not listening to rock) and active when you are.. they sell for about $700 used here. The next step would be to upgrade your CDP. Don't do buy any singlebit players.
Sand/shot fill your speaker stands, spike them if you have carpet. this will help with bass response and imaging. If you stands don't have spikes at the top, then buy some "BLUE TACK" to stick them to the stands. (this can be found at any craft store to put posters on walls without tacks or tape)
The CJ might just need tubes, but it will never be a rock and roll pre-amp.
The Audible Illusions preamps(L-1, M3A or new L-2) form a synergy with the McCormack equipment and offer excellent sound. M3A has phono, other two do not. However, the new L-2 does offer a factory phono board as an option and is remote control which the others aren't.
For the price they are offered used, they can't be beat!
The ARC Reference stuff is better for a lot more money but not that much better and in some instances, highly debatable on an individual impression to what good sound is. I'm basing this opinion on having used all of the AI stuff at some point and direct comparison to ARC. I'm sure other opinions will be along shortly.
The McCormack amps are quite sensitive so you need to be careful with gain. I have heard and read many times that the AI pre's work well with McCormack. I would think passive's as well.
I've always thought CJ preamps are quite veiled also (haven't heard their newer "reference" units, however). Try to audition an ARC LS-16 Mk-II. These can be had in the low 2K if bought used. Let us know how it works out...
bigtee brought up an excellent point about the AI products I owned a L1 for quite some time excellent piece without the CJ bloom , no phono but a single volume control and no remote. the 3 and 3a both have two volume knobs for each channel which provides the purest isolated circuits but sucks if you tweek volume like I do for each song. Hence a Remote is a requirement for my preamp.
The ARC LS16 that Dweller recommends would also be an excellent preamp... and if you are in that 2k price range, and want to run single ended (RCA's) then there some Placette Actives for sale right now that are unbelievable performers with pinpoint volume control. This is what I've graduated to, and would give with your rock and roll system
I only plan on buying used & want to spend less than $1500, cheaper the better. I really want to stay with a tubed pre-amp. I really want great detail, huge soundstage & a slightly warm "musical" sound from my system. I rather enjoy the music but not miss any detail.
If you don't have any vinyl and you just play cd, may I suggest that you skip the preamp and buy a better cd player and hook it straight to your amplifier. There are many cd players out there that allows one to bypass the preamp section. Benefits are; you save money by eliminating one component (preamp) and one cable, plus you can achieve better sound if you choose the right cd player.
Just a thought...GOOD LUCK!
I have read horror stories about the Audible Illusions service department, which should also be a consideration. It is a shame as for years I have read about the virtues of this pre amp.
You may want to try a Rogue 99 Magnum which has a remote controlled volume and easily compete with the preamps mentioned and they have excellent service as I have experienced.
Audible Illusions L-1 works great for a rock system. Has all the characteristics of the ss pre but adds some warmth and air. And easy to change the sound of the pre with swapping of tubes. Actually i have one i am putting up for sale thats in great condition with 2 pairs of Nos tubes. Give me an email if interested. Good Luck !
I'd also recommend the ARC LS 15 or 16 models. They'll do what you want with little euphonics. No losses anywhere and extremely transparent.
As far as upgrading my CDP, does anyone have any suggestions based on my system & listening habbits?
Well Ive owned audio reserach LsI and Ls2Bmk2. Also Audible illusions M3. The audible illusions dosent have balanced output. No Big Deal Its not true balanced from in to out anyway.( AR ). Also the m3 dosnt invert phase which means you need to hook up your speakers backwards to be correct. they did this to cut down on circut parts. All the preamps are great the audible illusion is I think more transparent but the bass is lacking defintion at the lowest octave. All 3 are great. Was driving krell ksa250/300S amps on Bw801#3
My choice M3.