If I were shopping in that price range, I would seriously consider ARC Ref-5, Atmasphere MP-1 and Wavac PR-T1 (used).
I'm sure there are other great tube preamps though.
I'm sure there are other great tube preamps though.
Full function or line level only?
You did not specify
I will assume you mean line level only, and so here are three that my friends use or used. (FYI, I use a solid state preamp, the Ayre K-1xe, which is a full function preamp.)
The ARC Ref. 5 is one of my top choices. ($12K new/$7K used) Lots of inputs and it has both single ended and balanced inputs and outputs. Lots of features which are available on the remote control.(Very neutral sounding, without any tube bloom. Could easily be mistaken for a solid state preamp, IMHO.)
(Note: The Ref. 3 is very close to the Ref. 5 sonically, and if bought used, it is a bargain, (@ $5K), IMHO.)
Lamm L2 Reference is another. ($15K new/$7K used) Very, very musical, but a slight bit dark sounding in comparison to the Ref. 5. It does not have a remote, nor is it a true balanced preamp. (Note, the unit itself is actually solid state, but the power supply uses tubes, so I am not sure if this counts for you or not.)
The Conrad Johnson ACT 2, Series 2, ($16K new/$10K used) is also very nice. Lots of inputs (SE only though), and a remote.
My two cents worth anyway.
I own a REF3 and had a REF5 for demo and as per Kurt_tank posting(Note: The Ref. 3 is very close to the Ref. 5 sonically, and if bought used, it is a bargain, (@ $5K), IMHO.)
I agree with him, I did allot of research and decided to place an order for a VAC Signature MKIIa so this will be interesting.
I also have solid state amplification, mono blocks so when I was doing research a couple of areas were important to me;
1. True balance design
2. RCA and XLR connection, in my current set-up I use all XLR cables so the pce had to offer XLR outputs and inputs.
What are your IC connections?
There are some great choices above but because of my basic requirements many were eliminated, the Einstein MKII interested me but after more research just too many tubes, runs too hot and I personally don't have an appropriate spot for it.
What's the rest of your set-up, are you looking for line only or including phono, I ordered my VAC with phono.
As the proud owner of a VAC Ren pre, I was flabergasted (astounded, amazed, etc) when I heard the Veloce LS1 battery powered tube preamp (about $14k or so). This is easily the single most dynamic, blackest background, most musical pre that I have ever heard in any system. Having taken one home for audition ( with the corresponding matching phono stage also battery powered), I am now in the process of trying to figure out how to pay for the one I have ordered.
Having owned CAT, Joule, and Atma-sphere, I would say that 6550c's observation should be given some serious consideration; you at least need to try a Passive - in the right system, you may not need to spend $18,000 to have SOTA sound. Try a Bent Tap-x for $1,000-$2,500; it is worth comparing to anything mentioned here (not that it would be your first choice, but for some, yes).
Hello and thanks to all that have posted his opinions, in relation to the passive preamp , I used-owned the best Bent model and the excellent expensive audio consulting, is not the way for me, another way is to use the dCS as preamp, for me is posible if you don´t use very good preamps, but always that I compared this solution with a excellent preamp, I have seen that this is not the solution.
Surprise by the ausence of names as CJ, Kondo, Vacuum state and for so much presence of the ref5, I never heard it, but the ref3 , for me and sorry for the people who owned, owns or like this preamp, is a very good preamp, but not exceptional, because for me it don´t have the soul that you can hear with Kondo, Connoisseur(SS), perhaps in the appropiate system with FM, Soulution, Boulder, Sovereign..
Then surely I need to explain more what I´m looking for: one preamp that sounds as this that I think that are excellents preamps, but tube preamp and with a very good price, is this a chimera- pipe dream?
I have a small list of contenders, but surely they are so small brands, that is practically imposible to hear them:
New Aestethix top of the line
Then I hope that one of you can say: this is a lot less expensive and as good as the more expensives ones
Unfortunately I haven`t had a luck to hear it myself. It just seems to me that many reputable reviewers and other people who have a significant experience with upper class gear are extremely enthusiastic about Concert Fidelity. It also seems that CF gear is not very tubey sounding in it`s classical meaning but is more targeted to open and realistic presentation. So if you are looking to add some some tube warmth and bloom it might not be your first choice.
I´m sure that some members here have had a luxury to hear it so their options will be most valuable.
Hi Emigene. I have not heard the Marriane 300 version, though I think HP just gave it a rave review - for what that is worth. It might be somewhat system dependent, as one would expect, but with Merlin speakers, I like the performance of the Joule very much. Since you have tried the Bent, I would say you have given passives their best shot, and they are not for everyone.
I have been to a private audition where the Veloce LS1 was put through it's paces in a very good room and rig with Magico M5's & MBL 9011 mono's. It was compared to the EAR 912 preamplifier (that had been tube rolled) and another preamp (can't remember name) that was more expensive. The Veloce was the best one, 2nd was the EAR but the differences was clearly heard. The veloce had Bigger soundstage, tighter separation, quicker and less veil.
I'm not a fan of the looks of the veloce but it's was beautiful to listen to and the remote worked well.
I prefer the separates to the Ars. I like both the Joule single-ended RCA and the MP3, but if I had to choose I would proabably go with the Atma Combo, but the Joule is no slouch with the Atma M60s. I don't really feel qualified to tell you which you would prefer. If you had the Joule pre and the Atma amps, I would proabably stick with that.