I have a CJ 16ls II and it is simply amazing. BAT makes very good equipment as well; can't speak for ARC.
I have heard both the CJ and ARC. I find the ARC to have the blackest background, but a bit sterile. The CJ 16LS is very warm and engaging. BTW, I own the Pass X1. Chose it over the CJ and the ARC. It is as Ivanj describes. Warm and very transparent. It does not possess the excess of harmonics generally produced by tubes, that causes all instruments to bloom whether they should or not.
It is easy to find CJ and ARC to audition. Very difficult to find the X1.
With the Soundlabs, I think I would go with the Bat, it has the dynamics that can really show off your speakers! I own a Herron matched to Merlins and McIntosh Mc2102 tube amp. It's a different set of goals than yours but I love those Soundlabs and If I owned them, I would go with #1,Ayre preamp or #2,Bat or #3,Placette. I would hate to water down the quickness of the Soundlabs with CJ or even my Herron. The Ayre does not have tubes of course but if you put one in your system, you will not care about the tubes! ARC is a possability but I have not heard them so...
Hello Hpfish, If you can try and check out the BAT 51se. As good as the 50se was and is, the 51se is a BIG step up from it. Bat is being very modest in my opinion on just how much better the 51se is over the 50. It does all the hi-fi things on a much higher level and at the same time is profoundly more "musically" engaging. Please give your self a chance to hear it in your system. Good luck, Thomas Colato
I thought the 50se was cold and sterile too until I played with isolation. The sound is incredible when properly isolated. In other words, I found I could tune my systems overall sound and speakers according to what I placed under it. If I wanted a big and dynamic sound, then I put granite under it. If I wanted to soften the sound and tune it for beauty, then I would put wood, any slab of wood, and maybe a book under it...nothing fancy. Just experiment. That pre is great once you figure out how to make it respond to your liking.