I am currently using an ARC LS-5 (GNSC mod) with excellent results. I would consider limiting your choices to units w true balanced output to optimize performance of the V-5XE.
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The K5xe is an excellent solid state preamp at its price level. However, they're better to be had in the tube arena. The Ayre K1xe is an excellent preamp anyway you want to slice it but very expensive. If you have the money, it mates superbly.
I agree with the BAT 51se recommendation also. Good match.
Frankpiet, I thought of going with an Ayre pre with my V-5xe, but wanted tubes in the chain. After a ton of research I went with the BAT VK51-SE. If you don't mind the price of the BAT, I think it's as close to a perfect match as you could ask for. The venerable Mr. Bigtee and I both found that certain tube preamps will cause a 'hum' when matched with the Ayre. I would highly recommend BAT or try a home demo if you go with another brand.. or check with Ayre to avoid a compatibility issue. Btw, you might check TAS review of the 51SE. The reviewer gave a slight edge (in his opinion) to the BAT when compared to Ayres K1-xe. ..good luck
Whatever choice you make get a truly differential balanced preamp. The Ayre gear is meant to be run with a balanced signal and although it sounds okay single-ended balanced is the way to go. The mere presence of XLR outputs on the preamp does not necessarily imply a balanced signal. Atma-Sphere, Audio Research and BAT are balanced and I believe Aesthetix is too. CAT, ModWright, Herron and (most- perhaps all) VTL are single-ended.
Ultimately there are better preamps than the K-5xe or K-3x but within their price range I haven't heard a preamp that is absolutely better. The affordable tube preamps are more different than better in any absolute sense.
Frankpiet - I had trouble with a DeHavilland Ultra Verve when matching with Ayre. This is in NO way a knock on the DeHavilland as it worked fine with another SS amp, and at it's price I think it's one of the best buys out there.. but for some reason it and the Ayre wern't compatible.(Hum) The deHavilland is single ended.
Just heard Hovland HP-100, Nagra PL-L and Aesthetix Calypso (have heard all before but never against each other in one system except of the latter one). Hovland (less dynamic and less resolution and tightness than the others but a midrange to die for). Nagra to analytical but extremely tight bass, great micro / macro dynamics and air around Instruments, tons of details - but surprisingly quite uninvolving. Calypso despite the glowing reviews quite flat and noisy (probably stock tubes were not burned in, but great ergonomics and nice to look at). I´m very keen to listen to CAT SL-1, Ayre K-1x and BAT VK-31 SE.
Having owned the 31SE for 2 years, and heard the Calypso many times in my system and the system of its owner, and both compared directly to the Callisto Signature which I now own, the 31SE is a mighty fine product. If you want to stay in the $3000-3500 range, you need to hear the 31SE vs. the Calypso for yourself. Going by anyone's else's opinion on what is "best" is likely to leave you wondering forever if you did the "right" thing.
Compared to the Calypso, the 31SE's strengths are its portrayal of space and decays. Compared to the 31SE, the Calypso's strengths are its low-level resolution and coverage in the trebles. Both do a good job in the coverage of the frequencies. The Callisto Signature significantly destroys both of these to convey all of these strengths in a "great" way, not simply "good".
I have wanted to know how the 51SE and many others have stacked up to the Callisto Sig, but the only thing that will likely me let this magical piece go is to find a full-function preamp to make life easier than the multiple chassis Io/Callisto combination.
Frankpiet--not at all. The 31SE is a great preamp at prices on this website. It just isn't a 51SE---just looking at the build quality alone, its quite obvious. I spoke to BAT on this, and they think the 31SE perhaps is the great bargain---though it definitely isn't the 51SE. The 51SE is even more transparent, liquid, and forceful in the bass. It exudes a "blackness" to the background that needs to be heard to be believed. Good luck!
Frank: The cost to upgrade a VK30SE to a VK31SE was $1300 when I did it three years ago. The cost from VK50SE to VK51SE was a few hundred $$ more than this. The 30SE was so very muted in the trebles; this was significantly refined with the 31SE. I suspect a similar improvement was made with the transition to the 51SE. My gut feeling is that the 31SE would be the more tonally coherent product compared to the 50SE. They are both in the same price range on the used market so take your pick.
24phun: The CAT sound has "synergy"? Synergy to what?
I have a lot of experience with the CAT Ultimate II vs. the Aesthetix Callisto Signature in my own system. A CAT dealer loaned me the Ultimate three months ago and I have done much listening with both the CAT JL-3 amps and the Wolcott mono amps driving SoundLab A1s.
The CAT products are not about synergy - they are about phenomenol low-level resolution, excellent coverage at the frequency extremes and dynamic contrasts like few if any other product lines can match. One must decide if these strengths are a priority or to go with another product that perhaps has a greater presence of harmonic textures, ambience, decays, portrayal of space, etc.
My own experience has consistently been that the preamp can make or break the performance of the system far more than the amp. I would find a preamp that put a smile on my face like no other, then nail down a speaker that worked well within my room and budget, AND THEN find an amp capable to drive the speaker and provide the balance in many sonic attributes with the rest of my system. Buying a preamp to match my amp seems bass ackwards here.
24phun: I´ve learned from Charles Hansen that he likes the SL-1 VERY much, but values the Aesthetix and BAT gear as well. Next weekend I´ll be able to compare Hovland HP-100 with BAT VK-31 SE and Ayre K-1x. The Hovland matches as well very good with the V-5xe (I´ve already experienced that in an all Ayre system driving Avalon Ascendant speakers). Can´t tell you about HP-100 vs. SL-1.
So, here we are. After comparing HP-100 to VK-31 SE and Pass X-1, X 2.5 and Rowland Synergy II i I ended up buying Ayre K-5xe and added several modifications. The result is amazing !! US $ 900,00 for mods turns the already impressive K-5xe into a giant killer. Leaves X-1 and X 2.5 as Synergy II i (last two previous units in my chain) far behind. Musically more involving + added speed, transparency and detail compared to VK 31 SE. HP-100 nice, very appealing but not as a partner for V-5xe.
Next higher level was Nagra PL-L (GREAT), CAT SL-1 Ultimate MK II and Ayre K-1xe (all great units) but a) to expensive for me and b) the difference is not that huge to pay twice the money.
The following mods were done to V-5xe and K-5xe:
adding of damping material (case work); set of three Stillpoint Universal Resonance Dampers underneath each unit; one Shakti Stone on top of the V-5xe; replaced the cheap fuses with high-quality gold-silver ceramique fuses; replaced power inlet with a high-quality cryo treated gold-silver one; use of Walker E-SST on all contacts (fuse contacts as well); replacement of Diodes, etc. with highest quality parts; taping of the cooling device of the V-5xe (tip from Chrles Hansen) - total amount for the K-5xe US $ 900,00.
Good to hear that you found a satisfactory way to upgrade your sound. If you like a particular manufacturer's sound, it makes sense to stay within the family. The approach of trying to compensate for one perceived weakness by finding a component with the "opposite" characteristic usually does not work, at least not predictaby. I like your approach of upgrading the existing components which you happen to like.
By the way, although I am a tube person, I do like the sound of Ayre gear even though they don't sound remotely like the tube gear I have.
Larryi, yes you are right. The next upgrade will be either a bigger Ayre pre-amp (hopefully Charles will design a more appealing (to the eye) successor to his sonically very good but designwise very poor K-1xe or I will upgrade to the forthcoming Boulder Series 800 integrated and get rid of my Ayre Series 5 pre-power combo.
I've heard the top-of-the-line Boulder linestage and phono stage in a system with other components which I have some familiarity. The system sounded very smooth, pure and sweet, but it also seemed to lack the dynamics and liveliness that are the hallmarks of the rest of the components. Because systems are tricky to evaluate, I cannot say that this is an inherent characteristic of the Boulder components. I am just bringing this up for you to consider when evaluating the Boulder integrated.
By the way, the flexibility, controllability and ease of use with the Boulder gear was up there at the very top (similar to Levinson, BAT and the VTL 7.5).
Larryi: a friend of mine owns a Boulder 2008, 2010, 2020, 2050 set-up connected with TaraLabs Zero and Omega cords to a pair of Acapella Sphäron Excalibur speakers, cd-drive is Barclay X-1, turntable is Micro Seiki SX 8000 MK II - never ever heard music reproduction like this. Better than life like - o.k. the set-up is worth 550.000,- but o.k. If the 865 integrated is at least able to reach 75% of the top-components - I´m very very happy.
I have had problems with four different pieces of Audio Research gear, so after 10 years of struggling with it, I changed to the Ayre-K1xe and I absolutely love it. to me the Ayre K-1xe sounds better than the ARC Ref II MkII preamp I traded in. And I am relieved to be rid of trouble. Try to listen to an Ayre K-1xe with your system. I think you will be glad you did. Tube woes can drive one nuts!
Frankpiet: I too am looking for a tube preamp to match the v-5xe and am looking to spend no more than $3K used. I have narrowed it down to 3: CJ LS 17 mark 2; Aesthetix calypso; and Hovland HP 100. I know that good results have been had with the Aesthetix and Hovland but has anyone mated the V-5xe with the CJ?