Balanced Preamp recommendations up to $5,500


I am in the market for a preamp with balanced ins/outs up to $5,500. I do not have a preference for tubes or SS. I am slowly weening myself off of my Cronus Magnum, however, for the next year or so, I will use this integrated as a power amp. I can use this as a power amp as I have already checked. I am fine with new or used equipment.

I have been researching Pass Labs, McIntosh, ayre, rogue. I am open to suggestions for the brands I’ve listed as well as any I haven’t. I’m looking for great bass, no harsh or etched highs, holographic deep image and soundstage. Sound that is detailed yet fun and not analytical.

Current system

VPI Scout 1.1 TT
Lyra Delos MC
Pass Labs XP-15 Phono Pre
Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum (version 1 with KT120 tubes)
ZU Audio Soul MKII Speakers
ZU Mission MKII Phono and Interconnects
ZU Event MKI Power Cables

asp307
Rogue RP-7 fits the bill nicely, and a plus if you're happy with Rogue, generally.
What about true balanced (ie, dual mono) tube HIGH BANDWIDTH preamp? Does such a thing exist on the face of the Earth?
madavid0
What about true balanced (ie, dual mono) tube HIGH BANDWIDTH preamp? Does such a thing exist on the face of the Earth?
True balanced and dual mono are two different things completely.

I'm very happy with my Pass XP-20

Take a look at Backert Labs. Their previous flagship, the Rhythm 1.1 for 6K and their current Rhumba Extreme for 5.5K.
I'm replacing a Rogue 99 Super Magnum with the RP-7.  I am really happy w/the sound using an Ayre VX5-Twenty and looking forward to the balanced configuration.
I have an Ayre K1xe.....pretty close to the best....has phono, remote....fabulous.
I would highly recommend the PS Audio BHK Signature preamp to hit exactly the sonic priorities you outline.  I sold my VAC Ren Sig II for it, and it just plays music so absorbingly.  I am sure you can get one for less than $5.5k if you contact a dealer (and they should let you audition first before committing to buy).  I bought mine from The Audio Surgeon in Michigan after getting a home audition.  It was an easy decision for me in my system.
What about true balanced (ie, dual mono) tube HIGH BANDWIDTH preamp? Does such a thing exist on the face of the Earth?
@madavid0 Yes, but to be clear dual mono and true balanced are two different things.

Our MP-3 preamp is based on the first balanced preamp circuit ever sold to high end audio (our MP-1). It has a direct-coupled output (despite being a tube preamp) and has bandwidth to about 400KHz.
Thanks for all of the recs, I appreciate it. I am going to explore Pass Labs further and look to build around my XP-15 phono pre. There are a lot of great pieces out there but I really have a ton of respect for Nelson Pass and I have a high level of 'pride of ownership' with my phono pre. 
You might want to consider a used Nelson Pass designed Adcom 750 with the blue circuit board. Stereophile rated class A. Then send it to Musical Concepts and have it modified to Elite level for 600.00.
This is what I did,I bought the Adcom new when they came out. 2 months ago i had it modified.The Modification is extensive and really elevates the sound imaging and creates a warm delivery.

The Ayre 5 series is very good for the around your price range. Not as good as the K1xe. And it will convert single ended signals to fully balanced when received. In addition, it is also possible to have dual mono and fully balanced simultaneously. The Levinson no. 334 amplifier for example. 

N
Quick update, I’ve purchased a Pass Labs XP-12 and I’ve upgraded my XP-15 phono pre to the new XP-17. Both pieces purchased through Mark at Reno HIFI (but of course.) Second purchase with Mark and I was able to take advantage of the upgrade/trade-in program. Also picked up a ZU Event MKII XLR to connect both pieces which will provide an additional 6db of gain.

Can’t wait to get these into my system and give them a go...will report back once they’ve settled in if anyone is interested.
@asp307   Great to hear you finalized on your choices. It will be interesting hearing your feedback on these latest Pass components. I'm surprised Mark didn't talk you into an XA-25. : )
@david_ten yea, the 25 is so highly rated however I love the concept of starting fresh with these two newer pieces...looking forward to it and will report back..
I'm very interested in your feedback on the XP12 and XP17 as I have not seen many reviews since they have become available....
@hifi78, I know it’s odd right? There was one review, in German no less. There was a video of interest with zu and Pass showing together which was somewhat helpful for the simple fact that I trust both companies to make good product. I have the XP-15 which was an eye opener when I introduced it into my system. One thing I did read was that Pass doesn’t roll out new models for the heck of it, there needs to be a dramatic change for them to update the lines. I think it was 7-8 years since the XP-15 debuted. I prefer that in a company rather than one with new models annually...that’s a wheel I don’t want to run on...I’ll keep you posted.
I love my Modwright 36.5. I would seriously considering Dan’s offerings. Great sounding gear. 

- Woody
I had the Rogue Hera II preamplifier with two XA60.5 power amps, and could compare it to Audio Research Ref5SE and Coincident Statement Preamp, all on Luxman M800’s mono and some Vivid speakers. The Audio Research was a bit as « raw » compared to the Hera, so Rogue was a better choice than the more expensive highly rated AR.
But finally, The Coincident Statement Preamp had far more transparency and fluidity than the two others, there is no secret: no coupling caps, the use of high quality coupling transformers and transformers volume control, external power supply made with many MKP caps, and the 101D tube triode in middle , no other active part in the signal path, and a true balanced design . Add to this the direct sell of Coincident and you have probably the best money can buy for 5500$. The Cronus Magnum may be the weak link after that?...

Regards, Nicolas.
I had a stock Aesthetix Calypso I recently upgraded to a Signature. After around 350 hours break-in time, I love the sound. It's almost dead quiet, going into my Krell monoblocks. It's neutral sounding and is fully balanced. 
I bought the Spread Spectrum Technologies(SST) Thoebe II  a few weeks ago. Came with the two options offered, Phono and DAC input stages. Also has HT pass through which I need since I use a  7-channel HT amp for two channel and home theater audio. The MSRP is $5200 but I found one for $3000. The professional reviews of the Thoebe II are excellent. I opened it to access the Ethernet port to install a firmware upgrade to add the HT capability. I can say it is well built and works flawless. The support from the SST people via email and Facebook is excellent.
Try any accuphase even the vintage. For me this is the last stage of any research. No more maybe this maybe that
The Sutherland N-1 may be a bit out of your price range but not by much and it is strictly single ended.  Maybe the best preamplifier on the planet. 
Check out the following links:
http://sutherlandengineering.com/products/n1/
Owners Manual http://www.sutherlandengineering.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Sutherland-N1-OwnersManual.pdf
Unless you are heavily invested in balanced interconnects and components with balanced input connectors, I am baffled by your criteria that limits the preamplifier to balanced inputs and outputs.  
perazzi280
Unless you are heavily invested in balanced interconnects and components with balanced input connectors, I am baffled by your criteria that limits the preamplifier to balanced inputs and outputs.
The OP makes perfect sense to me. It looks like he's using a turntable as his main source, and a phono cartridge is an inherently balanced device. I'm pretty sure that his Pass phono preamp is also fully balanced/differential, so it makes sense to then use a balanced, fully differential preamplifier in the system. Maintaining balanced connections will minimize the system's susceptibility to RFI and other noise, and will also minimize the extent to which cable characteristics will influence the sound of his system.

@cleeds @perazzi280 @atmasphere the pass xp-15 (and new 17) does not have a balanced input. My only source is a TT. I asked Pass Labs directly why no balanced in? FWIW, I received the following response: 

”Probably because there are no phono cartridges with a center tap (6-wires) . So in terms of what we do with a balanced circuit you'd have to emulate that imaginary mid point.. At those signal levels it's always been a step backwards at the first gain stage. The super-symmetry circuit does that quite nicely but only at higher signal levels. Secondary is SE cables generally have lower reactance per foot than balanced cables.”
I too have Pass gear now. Pair of XA 160.8s and a XP 20 that I bought from Mark. I also have a Xono phonostage that I bought from Mark 10-11 yrs ago. The Xono has balanced inputs and outputs.

Now that I found the appropriate Balanced ICs to use with my Pass gear; I am very happy with my system.

I am planning on the purchase of a Technics 10R with a Tri-planar 12” arm terminated with XLRs.

I am not a technical guy and would like to know if having the Tri-planar terminated with XLRs will give me the benefits that using XLRs from the Xono > XP20 > XA 160.8s has?

Will I continue to get the noise rejection, low level detail etc. by having the Tri-planar terminated with XLRs?

 I am surprised that the new Pass phono stages do not have balanced in/outs.
@nkonor , the Pass XP-15 and 17 have balanced outs, just not ins..
asp307,  

Thanks for response.

Same question using the Xono?
@nkonor I apologize however I’m not familiar with the Xono...I would suggest contacting Kent English at Pass Labs. He’s very helpful. 
aspu307,

Appreciate your response. I will contact Pass and Atmasphere on this site.

Thanks
asp307
@nkonor , the Pass XP-15 and 17 have balanced outs, just not ins..
That's not quite correct. What defines a balanced circuit isn't really the connector - it's the circuit. A phono cartridge is inherently balanced; that is, it has a separate hot for each channel, a separate ground for each channel, and an earth ground. So when you connect a phono cartridge to a balanced differential preamp such as the Pass, you're providing it with a balanced input even if it's using RCA connectors.

@cleeds I should have said no XLR ins..I think what you are saying was corroborated by Kent when I asked him. Thanks.
@asp307

I hate to say it (and also a bit surprised, given the source), but this statement is actually false:

”Probably because there are no phono cartridges with a center tap (6-wires) . So in terms of what we do with a balanced circuit you'd have to emulate that imaginary mid point.. At those signal levels it's always been a step backwards at the first gain stage. The super-symmetry circuit does that quite nicely but only at higher signal levels. Secondary is SE cables generally have lower reactance per foot than balanced cables.”
You don't need or want 6 wires to do a balanced connection!! - you need only 2 for one channel, for a total of 4. The tone arm ground acts as the shield of the interconnect cable and. Collectively, these connections are then pins 2 and 3 of the XLRs of each channel, and pin 1 of both channels (shield) is the tone arm ground. If there were a center tap (and if it were used) it would actually **degrade** the balanced performance. Instead, the input circuit is built to ignore ground and only amplify what is different between the inverting and noninverting inputs, which in this case are the pins of a normal cartridge.

I think Nelson knows this, my surmise is the answer given to you didn't come from him.

To take advantage of the balanced nature of the cartridge, and also the balanced differential nature of a phono preamp, the XLR connection must be used as it does not unbalance the signal in any way, whereas an RCA connector does. So while cleeds' answer above is mostly correct, the bit about the XLR connector as I have mentioned here should be recognized.

Our preamps have had XLR inputs for the phono since they were first introduced in 1989.
atmasphere,

Thank You, 

Clarity as is usual. I think you know that I am saving my nickels and waiting for the final design of the Technics 10R. Hope they design it with “Other arms” in mind.
 I did receive a notice from, I believe Panasonic, that a new tonearm was being designed and would come out at a later date than the 10R.
Nothing is final until you actually see it on the market. So, I am waiting and saving.
You seem to have answered my question. That, it would benefit me to have the Tri-planar arm cable terminated with XLRs as long as I had appropriate inputs to plug into at the preamp or phonostage

Thanks
Norb
You seem to have answered my question. That, it would benefit me to have the Tri-planar arm cable terminated with XLRs as long as I had appropriate inputs to plug into at the preamp or phonostage
@nkonor, If the phono section is actually balanced differential, yes. Its hard to imagine that it would not be, given how much dealers over the years have resisted using balanced connections on the phono! If you are comparing preamps for a customer, its a lot harder if one uses a different input connector. So it won't be there on a phono input unless it really works.

So the advantage is that the tone arm cable will simply not add or subtract from the signal in any way, which is quite unlike a single-ended connection where the cable can and will editorialize on whatever is going through it.

Seems to me if there is only one place to have a balanced connection, the phono is the place to do it. You'll get more of the signal and less of what isn't, which is what we are all after- the music.

I've heard both the 9.5" and 12" arms on the Technics SP10 MkIII, if the 10R is anything like that it will be one of the best arm/turntable combinations at any price. A lot does depend on how well Technics executes their plinth! I am looking forward to it...
atmasphere,

Finally, a down to earth response not blurred buy techno crap. Thank You.
 
You know that I am waiting for the 10R and hope that Technics is paying attention .........

Best
Norb
Check gamut D3i for sale in audiogone, bested everything I tried under 6k 
Post removed 
so how does the xp-12 sound  as compared to the others
@asp307 
I'd like to know how does preamp xp-12 sound too?
For balanced, try BAT (Balanced Audio Technology). I owned their VK-32 se model. It was agreat pre amp.