Which Marsh preamp ??? Are you talking about the SS version with remote or the tube version ??? Sean
Mated to the Marsh a400 amp, I prefered the Marsh p2000t pre-amp over it's ss sibling. Thought it a touch more musical in all the ways that tube lovers describe the difference between tubes vs ss. HOWEVER - I also thought that the music played made a slight difference in which pre I would choose. For rock and roll and such, I liked the quickness of the ss pre - it got completely out of the way and let all the edge thru on the guitar licks and the snap of the snares. But for classical piano and female torch singers, the tube pre just made it sound so full and completely live I was amazed. The difference isn't a loss of detail so much as an enhanced smoothness and musicality. Also, since I have alot of relatively rough early recordings, where "edge" is not an asset, I preferred the tube unit. But both were utterly dead silent when not playing - recordings are unadorned, uncolored, and unaccompanied (precisely as I believe they should be!). Not that either of the two Marsh pre's don't do some particular sound well - both are terrific values, IMHO. The differences are really really subtle, and I'd highly recommend either preamp (esp with the matching amps).
I don't know the Belles pre, so no comment there.
While i have not heard the tubed Marsh pre, i do own the SS version. It is a pretty versatile linestage ( no phono ) with a very reasonable amount of inputs and dual outputs for ease of bi-amping. It also offers the convenience of a FULL function remote. When this is activated, you can literally watch the motorized controls rotate on the face of the preamp. Even with the motors and all, i never had any reason to question the Marsh in terms of "noise pollution".
The thing that i found most curious is that this pre offers NO balanced inputs or outputs yet the Marsh amps DO have balanced in's. Go figure.
I found this preamp to sound quite warm compared to most other SS designs. Even with this warmth, i was still able to detect a slight amount of "splash" or "tizz" to the treble. The soundstage is very deep and layered but slightly drawn back or recessed in my opinion. It is not as quick as my AGI by any means, nor does it have the detail or overall pace.
While on some recordings the SS Marsh might come across as being overtly "creamy" or "luscious" sounding, i think that most audiophiles would find this to be a welcome change of pace from most of the other SS pre's that are currently available. As i described it previously, it is much more along the lines of what one thinks of as being "tube" sounding rather than the SS piece that it is. The lack of "punch" due to it's laid back presentation is most apparent on uptempo stuff like hard rock, metal, etc... If one was into light jazz, small classical ensembles, folk / acoustic based music or female vocals ala Diana Krall, the Marsh can sound quite seductive, sexy and full bodied. As such, one would have to be careful to audition this piece with whatever else they intended on using it with. This means electronics AND music as both will reflect the owners personal tastes and outlook.
I also found that it was pretty particular in terms of what it was hooked up to in terms of amplification. While it did not do anything real "wrong" with any of my Nelson Pass designed amps, it wasn't comfortable with my Kinergetics KBA-202 Platinum Monoblocks or my Perreaux's. While the Pass amps do have a slightly "cooler" sound than the others and didn't blend too bad with the Marsh, the Perreaux's strong bottom end combined with the warmth of the Marsh was just WAY too much. The Marsh / Kinergetics combo was neither here nor there and didn't excite me one way or the other. After some trial and error, i found one amp that it did match well with ( VERY WELL overall ). This amp was Bob Carver's "big" Sunfire Signature. Since the Signature has a basically smooth yet open and quick sound to it, the warmth and body of the Marsh seemed to fill in the gaps quite pleasurably. From the various comments that i've read about them, i think that the Marsh amps might have similar sonics to the Sunfire product line. As such, teaming the Marsh's together would probably make an excellent match.
One other side note was that the Marsh does seem to be power cord sensitive. Given its' warm nature, i would NOT use a "dark" or "smooth" type of power cord with it. While the music did seem to come from an UTTERLY black background when i did this, the pace of the system was hurt too much. As such, something that is relatively neutral should suffice best if everything else is well balanced. Sean
One item I've always had difficulty with was grasping concept of "pace". Would you mind giving us a brief once over on that? It would lead in nicely to explain the one difference you and I had with the ss version of this pre - I definitely didn't sense any lack of "punch" with it, but then I certainly don't have the experience with it you have, auditioning it with several amp combo's. In any event, thanks for your (once again) superb review.