Parasound, John Curl, and they look cooler.
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Not sure what dollar range you qualify as affordable. I have the same 22L2 speakers. Using a VTL 2.5 tube preamp acquired locally w/o shipping for $775. Very happy with it for money spent. For my secondary system I acquired a Antique Sound Lab Line 1 DT tube preamp for just $150 here on Agon. Suprisingly well made. What a sleeper, sounds darn nice for what paid.
If you really want to go budget try B&K older 2 channel preamps. Pro 10, Pro 5.... CS-117. My friend has a B&K CS-117 pre, ST-2220 amp running MMG Maggies. One of the best sounding systems I have heard for a total cost of about $1,200.
I've always felt Rotel's value was in power amps, and not preamps. This goes back decades, but not so long ago I sold a Musical Fidelity pre locally, and the buyer was instantly impressed, feeling it was a great improvement over his more current Rotel.
Without having experience with either, I would gamble on the Parasound.
I'd consider the RC-1090 preamp that preceeded the 1550. I had two of them and liked them better than the BAT tubed and SS preamps that I also owned. It would have great synergy with your amp. You don't need a balanced preamp because your amp is not truly balanced even though it has XLR connections. There's a positive review of this preamp with your amp here http://www.rotel.com/content/reviews/amplifiers/rb1080-rc1090-absound-nov01.pdf. The Parasound does have nice features that you might like such as balance and tone controls and the Rotel does not.
Thanks for all the comments, guys. Some of my other requirements:
remote control, must have, this is a deal breaker
Must have a local shop in Denver that will work on the pre-amp, I have that in both Parasound and Rotel. I don't want to have to ship the pre out to get it worked on, this eliminates the Adcom.
The rotel units are attractive to me because the remote would work with a CD player. Parasound does not offer a CD player currently.
I really want tone controls. The Rotel RC-1090 is a nice pick, but the bass/treble knobs on the 1550 look really good too.
Anthem has some nice units too, there is a local shop that will handle repairs, not sure if the Anthem remote will also run one of their CD players, I know their CD-1 changer is well-regarded.
Agree regarding Rotel power amps vs. pre-amps, I have read their pre's just aren't that great for the money, not like the power amps.
Musical Fidelity is also a decent choice, but a little more $$$. There is a local shop for these. I like their full-size DACs, planning to add one in the distant future.
I think it was the MF A3cr that I enjoyed for a while. I see one just sold that had been listed for $550 (I think). Another Musical Fidelity pre I really liked was the X-P100. It was one of the small cased with an oval shaped faceplate units from some time back. This little thing sounded great, wish I had held on to mine. Classic high value find IMO.
Have you had this system for a while and now want to upgrade pre, or are you starting from scratch?
I ask because I understand the Quads are supposed to be very resolving, and I used to have Rotel RB1080 + RC1070 pre with B&W speakers and when upgraded to B&W 804S (more resolving) I ended up upgrading amp as it sounded brittle. Just a thought there.
I would shoot for a used tubed pre, if I were you...but then I have moved to tubes for all my amplification. The proposed VTL would be nice.
If you want to stay with SS, then Rotel would be a logical choice. The RC1090, also suggested, would be nice. The RC1070 is also nice for the price, very silent.
If you believe you will continue to upgrade over time, then I wouldn't get fixated on any given brand. Also, having a local shop is nice, but so far I have never needed service on my units...
My two cents
After I blew all 4 rail fuses on my Rotel RB-1080, I took it into ListenUp in Denver, a local Rotel dealer. They treated me right. I am glad that Lewinskih01 has had such great luck with used gear, but if something else happens to anything I buy, I would like to be supported locally, I really like that face-to-face thing, except when buying used audio gear, obviously.
I haven't bought anything yet, I have auditioned several different floor standers and have found the Quads to be my favorite. I like a resolved sound with a wide and deep image, and the Quads deliver that. they also go quite low, if placement is correct. The finish is great for the used price. The Focal 826 chorus was 2nd place, but only due to price.
The Quads should arrive sometime in January. The pre might come after tax season, and I just want to make sure my research is complete. As this is my first true 2-channel system, I am starting from scratch here. I already have the Rotel 2-channel amp in my HT setup, so I am going to move it down. I will be upgrading over time, and my next rung on the ladder is probably going to be McCormack or Krell for the pre and head unit. But that will take a few years! I am aiming low for now so I can get into the office with decent sound while I slowly build up the piggy bank again.
I guess I've been lucky. I would probably behave the same as you if I had had your same experience.
I also need to upgrade slowly over the years, so I know we want to take time and think through our upgrades.
Let me suggest you try the RB1080 and Quads before you decide on a preamp. You might find the 1080 to be too edgy with the Quads (like I did with the B&W) and might decide to spend less on a preamp and to upgrade to an amp that better matches the Quads. Rotel RC1070 is cheap and good for such a case. I had it with my McIntosh MC275 amp and was good.
Get the amp+speaker combo right. Otherwise you'll be looking for a preamp to compensate whatever that combo doesn't do right...not the best approach in my view.
I hope this helps, even if I'm kind of throwing you in a different direction.
My general listening setup consists of a (Rotel) RC1090 pre, RB-1092 amp, RCD-1055, RLC-1040 & B&W N804 with a ASW800 sub. A nearby lightening strike disabled my RC-1090. Filed my damage request with APC (they made the RLC-1040)and thye told me 4-8 weeks before a decision would be made and that I could not repair my preamp yet in case they wanted to look at it. In their defense they are sending me a S20BLK so I can send them my RLC-1040 to look at. Anyway, I could not wiat that long so I went out to get a substitute pre - a RC-1550. I was not looking to get too excited because I had a RC-1070 before my RC-1090 (a big upgrade). Mt dealer did not have any RC-1580 is stock. Well, to my surprise I am very pleased with the $620 (what I paid) RC-1550. I am not missing much if anything in musicality - it is a very strong pre for the monies. I looked for a cheap replace/hold-me-over pre and was treated to a nice piece of stereo equipment. This setup is for background listening. My main system is McIntosh equipment with Sonus faber speakers, just to give you an idea of the equipment spectrum I ma enjoying.
The P3 is an OK little pre-amp if you can live with OPamp sound. I spent a bunch of time modding one I have with upgraded PS components and high end opamps, but it still did not sound anywhere as good as a JC-2 with discrete components.
BTW, John Curl had nothing to do with the design of the P3. I hear he dislikes the use of Opamps in the audio chain and would never design an amp with them. The P3 was designed by the Parasound Taiwan team of engineers.
I am using a JC2. The P3 is a good little amp for the money, and sound amazingly good even with it's opamps. Most low cost (ie under $1000) pre-amps use opamps these days. I still have my P3 and use it for less critical applications.
My input comes from the Parasound CS dept, and yes, even the JC1 and JC2 use opamps in the design (just not in the direct audio path). J Curl uses opamps in the servo DC feedback circuits of the JC1/2.