Best budget preamp for my entry level system?

Greetings everyone. I need some input on the selection of a pre-amplifier.

After years of making the most of and enjoying my existing budget system, I'm kicking in a few dollars to upgrade my system. I'm currently using a Marantz 2215B receiver, a Pioneer PL-550 turntable, a pair of Boston Acoustic CR-9's, an old junky JBL sub, and a bluetooth adapter to connect to my i-phone for streaming audio....

So far I have purchased the following replacement / upgrade components: Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend Speakers, and a Emotiva UPA-200 Amplifier.

>>> Any recommendations on a pre-amplifier? I'm definitely thinking pre-owned, and something around $300. Would want to connect my existing turntable, and a good quality CD player to it in the future. Also like to use my I-phone as a source as well through either a bluetooth adapter, or plugging in directly. I mostly listen to classic rock and rock.

Thank you, any feedback provided would be greatly appreciated!


How about a used Proton integrated amp? They have pre/amp in/out jacks, so can be used as a preamp. I have one that I paid $50 for! Made in Taiwan at the same factory as NAD, back in the 80's. These are killer-sounding integrateds! Both pre and power sections rival today's four-figure gear! If I had nothing else I could happily live with my Proton!
A receiver with pre-amp outputs might be a good option! I have a NAD receiver with pre-amp outputs stashed in my storage, but was leaning towards not using that particular piece because I find it to be bright, and might not be the best pairing with the Zu / Emotiva equipment.
The terms budget system and pre-amp do not compute. Being on a budget it was quite frankly a mistake buying a separate amp. Separate pre-amp and amp greatly increases the cost and complexity of your system. Integrateds are by far a better value especially when trying to save money. So much better in fact you will be well advised to sell that Emotiva amp and Marantz receiver and then with the funds buy the best integrated you can find.

(You might want to keep the Marantz. It has a tuner and a phono stage you can use, and it just plain looks good. The Emotiva though just needs to go.)

As for integrateds there are lots to choose from. A few things to consider- tube or solid state? Find a few to compare by listening. Do not go by watts or any other specs. That is how you wind up with boat anchor monoblock power amps. You want a budget system you need to be selecting by listening comparisons.

You play records. Good. The phono stage in your Marantz is your baseline. Its a pretty low baseline. Just about anything you get will be a big improvement. There are some integrateds with built-in phono stage, and there are lots of budget stand alone phono stages.

As far as stand-alone phono stages go, keep in mind the situation is the same as with your preamp power amp in that they need to be connected. That means another interconnect, and another power cord. You don't have to spend a lot on those but you won't get as good sound if you don't either. So at the budget end you'll get the most sonic bang for your buck with a good integrated with a decent phono stage.

What is good? What is decent? Only way to know, listen to em.

Check out the Schiit Audio Saga.  They are clearing out the last of them with intro of the upgraded models.  It's on B stock for 200.  I bought this and compared it to my Parasound Halo P5 and it was no contest.  The Saga was clearly superior with more detail and therefore imaging.  

Buy their stand alone phone pre and you're set.  
I agree wholeheartedly  with Millercarbon,  It would make your system much more complicated.  Yes It's a good idea if you want to seriously upgrade your system , but your next step given your budget is to my mind to consolidate sell and start over and and buy integrated. 
You read what these audio nut bags,  myself included ,spend on just a piece of wire.  I am pretty cheap by these standards.  I was already to tell you that the best pre to get is a 6SN7 based unit but these run about $1,200 which is cheapish for high end pres but way out of your budget. 
You've done it and started the slippery slope,by buying an amp, well if I were you I would patiently scour the used market for a great deal. But There are a lot of headphone amps that are also pres and the Schiit suggestion seams cogent  if it has a phono stage you might want to  give it a go.
Thanks for all of the helpful feedback received!

I checked out the Schiit website, looks like they make some good quality equipment. Great specs, lots of great reviews, and I have seen the Schitt name referenced in quite a few discussions in these forums. MANI Phono stage, SAGA preamp, and the LOKI tone control (EQ) can all be had for combined cost of less than $500.

A quick search on e-bay shows lots of integrated amps available. 

Unfortunately, listening to the equipment prior to purchase isn't possible in most cases, at least for me anyways. Lots of research, lots of review reading, and then buying equipment that has a good return policy is the best approach. Zu Audio and Schitt both have a good return policy.

PS Audio Sprout (used) would be an integrated option or a used Parasound P5 pre if you want to keep the Emo amp...decent burr-brown dac, phono stage, bass management.

wont get you to the promised land but decent sounding, well built budget pre with options

+1 on the Schiit Saga.  I own one and love it.  The newer Saga S is a solid state version for more money ($299) and the Saga + ($400) is an updated version of the original tube-based Saga.
Youre better off surfing local classifieds . Finding something that was not bad but is now 300 bucks. I hate seeing people throw away money for half measures and circulating junk around . I would wait and find something local for 500 bucks . Which you would find with  online sellers for more like 1000. At least then you would have something a little heavier built , just try to avoid gimmicky crap.... just good old 2.0 
NAD 3020i or 3225pe. Great all around units, and fit the budget well if you find one in decent shape. I’m using. 3225pe as a preamp with a pair of NAD 2700 power amps (250 WPC into 8 ohms) vertically biamped to my Energy Reference Connoisseur 70 speakers. It started out as just a NAD 3020i and a pair of Energy Reference Connoisseur 30 speakers, and I was very happy with the sound quality, but the upgrades became available and I couldn’t turn them down. 
I agree with millercarbon! Sell the Marantz and Emotiva. Buy the Mani, Saga and a Schiit amp. Pass on the Loki - no real need for tone controls! The three Schiit pieces should fit your budget. And they would be new under warranty!
Dynaco pas 3x.... schitt saga paired with mani are also great suggestions. 
@roberjerman.....I have a Proton D540 running a set of Dahlquist DQ10’s....sounds amazing.
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I read the review on the USP-1, sounds like a lot of bang for the buck. The most up to date Emotiva equivalent is the PT-100 for $329, and includes a DAC, phono input, etc.
If you hadn't already purchased the amp, I would have suggested an integrated. Since you have the amp, and wish not to sell it, the PT-100 offers allot for the money; phonostage, DAC, headphone amp, and 3 additional line level inputs. 
For well under $300 you can get a B&K Reference 20 or even a Reference 30 preamp and, although not 2 channel, they perform exceptionally well in 2 channel. These originally sold for around $2500 and have a lot to offer. I own one of each along with a lot of other stuff and I am amazed at how they clear and detailed they are. 

To play vinyl you will need a phono pre. A Schiit Mani for $129 would serve perfectly.
the newer preamp has built in DAC, and related inputs. Nice, saves money, need for more cables both signal and power, and saves space:

 Unless you get the 'I need a better DAC bug', in which case, I would be happier with the matching style of the older Pre-amp.
Well, the USP-1 is ~10 years old. The PT-100 is new. Not knowing the comparative build quality or sonics hard to say which way to go. Likely the new one could be returned if it doesn't work out. Both seem to offer much at their price point.

Matching style is a consideration. Only the OP knows to what degree.  
The USP-1 is old, but it uses linear power supply and it looks like it even has a discrete audio stage.  The new PT-100 is all op-amps on a single board with switching power supply.  Also, Emotiva is not as cost effective as they used to be due to move a lot of their manufacturing away from China.  Ultimately, they just don't make them like they used to.

Older equipment is not always bad for 2-channel audio.  10 years is not a really long time.  I would start to get concerned in the 15-18 year area.  I have used and tested a lot of older equipment that beats the crap out of current year stuff.

Unfortunately, 2-channel preamps are always going to be more expensive than other technology and they tend to keep their value.  You could look at some older HT processors.  They were marketed at a very high price, but they lose their value extremely fast.  For example, the older Krell HTS 7.1 processor retailed for $8500, but was sold used for $2k about 12 years ago and can be gotten for around 500-800 today.  The KAV-280p pearmp of the same generation continued to sell used for around $2k even though it only retailed for about $4k, and still has a high $1200-1500 value today.  Point being is that you can get some pretty damn good preamp equipment by buying a old HT processor.  The B&K Ref 20 and Ref 50 mentioned above is an example.

If you look at audiogon, there are several around $300 or less:  Outlaw 990, Outlaw 970, Rotel RSP-1068.  The also have pretty good DACs.  The downside is they never have a phono input for turntables, so you would have to get an external phono preamp, but for the money it's an amazing deal.
Don't listen to the blow hards who want to denigrate what you have. It's why I rarely post here! Your Emotiva will be fine. I've heard them in some very nice systems. Don't see a reason to buy an integrated just to use as a pre. Seems like a waste of money to me. I say buy a Schiit Saga and Mani ( I own a Mani, Modi, and Vali) and sit back and enjoy the music!
I love the look of the late 80s, early 90s Yamaha stuff and it’s Uber high quality equipment. Just got a cx-630 630 with remote for $55 off eBay and it does it all.
  Greetings , I too have Zu Omens, and  would recommend Schiit products . I have a Bifrost, Yiggy , and the Loki . I chose the Rogue RP-1 for a pre . But by the time you get a power cord and NOS 12AU’7’s , it’s too expensive . I rotate a Dennis Had Inspire 12wpc, Marantz 2223B , Sansui 9090, and Dynaco MK III’s. The Omens pair well with clean SS or low power tubes . I would try a Saga and build/buy a pair of the DIY First Watt clones . You will be best served by a pre with a really low noise level as the Omens are such a high DB. Again look at Schiit ! Also on the Loki , I can bump the bass up and don’t need a sub . And when running SS or high gain , I can knock off the top to alleviate brightness. If you can afford the class A Schiit amp , go for it . Look up the article on Schiit at the RMAF 2018. My buddy heard the system and said it was great . And this is from a guy running DeVore speakers and a SET amp . I hope this helps . Cheers , Mike   
I'm curious.  Why would you choose those speakers?
This is easy.  One of your very best values in budget gear are the Hafler line.  For a preamp, look for a DH110.   In fact, there's a Hafler DH110 on EBay right now for $169.  Snap it up.
Other really good lower cost values:  older Dyna PAS 3/3x tube units; Counterpoint SA-1000 tube unit.
Paint me stupid , but I like their sound . Maybe others do too ! 
Johnkent3 does the Yamaha CX-630 use traditional relays or solid state switches for input selection? I’ve got a NAD 1600 preamp/ tuner that has solid state switches, one of which had become defective and causing distortion. I’ve liked the quality that Yamaha stands for, and might replace the NAD 1600 with one of these. 
Well, regarding the USP-1 vs. PT-100 comparison, given the information supplied by auxinput, between these two choices I would be inclined to purchase the USP-1 due to design approach/build quality. I agree that 10 years does not represent 'old' for an amplifier. Provided the condition of the USP-1 under consideration was in good condition. 

There are other used preamps that could also be considered. Makes from NAD, Rotel, Jolida, Vincent, B&K, Hafler to name a few. I would look for a 2-channel pre.

Does your receiver have pre outs? If so use it as a pre and save additional funds for a more substantial upgrade if so desired.

Check out the Parasound Zpre3 add here on audiogon. Might just be the ticket.

Update to this thread: I ended up buying a used NAD C162 preamp for a good price, so that I could give the Emotiva UPA-200 amp a run with the new Zu's, my Zu's finally arrived yesterday, so here's an update...

I have to say, right from the start, I'm very impressed with the level of detail in their packaging (Zu Audio). The speakers were shrink wrapped, then placed in molded foam, and then boxed. They arrived unscathed. Nice little recess in the top of one of the foams that was holding a small box of accessories and paperwork. The full range drivers are shipped with a protective plastic cap on them to prevent damage. Also received separately this week where the available / alternative rubber feet (instead of carpet spikes that come with the speakers) and 25 ohm load resistors to drop the ohm rating of the speakers down to 8/9 ohms if needed. Gotta say, the box was prepared like it was a valentines day gift. Each item wrapped nicely in some paper with the zu audio logo on it, and held in place with Zu stickers. Bottom line, impressed with the level of detail of the packaging.

So i removed the speakers from their boxes, added the feet and load resistors to them, and put them in place. They are beautifully finished, I went with the rustic hickory finish (These are the Omen Dirty Weekends with the available $100 tweeter filter cap upgrade). They are extremely solid, about 60 lbs each, and the craftsmanship is quite impressive. Initial placement is about 7' apart, slightly toed in towards my listening area, and to start were pulled about 2 feet from the wall. I had already installed the new Zu Mission speaker cables, connected to the NAD preamp with the Emotiva Amp, so I plugged them in and went for it.

It was now now 7:15pm, and I had about and hour of listening time available, and earlier this week had written down some songs that I intended to demo the speakers with. All were sourced from my iPhone via a bluetooth adapter (not the cleanest choice, I know, but convenient)

I listened to the following:

Dave Brubeck, Take 5
Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tin Pan Alley
Dire Straights, Money for Nothing
The Eagles, Hotel California (off of the Hell Freezes over Album)
Tool, Right in Two
Boston, Foreplay / Long Time (Used my turntable for this track)

Immediately when the first notes of take 5 started playing I was in awe, such a significant difference / improvement over my previous speakers. Crystal clear highs, strong mid range, and lots of low end. Prior to starting the demo, I had disabled my sub, and quickly came to the conclusion that I wont be needing it, ever. There seems to be much better stereo imaging with the ZU's (left / right channel transition), very apparent when listening to "money for nothing".

The build up of "right in two" was very enjoyable, the Zu's handled this track with ease. Very impressed with the accuracy / responsiveness of this speaker, the intense drumming in this track sounded very sharp and detailed. One of my favorite tool songs, I listen to it often. I've never heard it sound so good. My old speakers had difficulty handing this song at half volume, some muddiness in the bass, just sounded sloppy.

This weekend I intend on doing some wire management, and also try the Marantz receiver, will also experiment with removing the load resistors to see what kind of difference that makes with both the Marantz and Emotiva / NAD setup. Also continue to play with the speaker placement.

So my initial thoughts on the Zu's are that they sound amazing, are extremely well built, and definitely worth the $1,100 bucks! They blow away anything and everything that I had demo'd in the Magnolia room at Best Buy, so glad I did not give into temptation and buy the Def Tech's that I was impressed with.....

Might consider the Schiit Freya + (the one with the tubes). I have one and love the sound.

Congrats on your purchase! 
For anyone reading this thread after the fact, some thoughts come to mind. Starting a thread here(or most audio forums) and asking an open ended question like what budget preamp should I buy, is not going to be very helpful as you can see above. Dozens of different suggestions with little consensus.

If you’re putting together a system, you should start by selecting the speakers, everything flows from that decision. Buying an amp or pre unheard because the price is right is rolling the dice and losing. I know this because I have lost more than a few times.

After deciding on the speakers, you need to find an amp and pre that will compliment the speakers. That’s because it’s very possible to get components that clash with the speakers. That is, they do not sound good with a particular speaker for many possible reasons.

So if you’re going to next start a search for amp or pre amp or integrated to go with your brand of speakers, that would be a good specific question to start a thread with(in fact, put the brand and model of the speaker in the title). You will still get plenty of suggestions from people who do not own the speakers, but they are easier to weed out so you can get feedback from actual speaker owners.

I would not recommend the above NAD C162(or any other NAD components from that era). It is about 15 years old, was designed when Nad had recently come out of a near bankruptcy and was making really cheaply designed gear. I had the C372 and the 12 years later built C326BEE was easily better sounding.
213runnin; thanks for the feedback. In general I agree with your comments. However, in this case I did purchase the speakers first, and then pursued the purchase of a modest preamp so that I could try the emotiva amp with the Zu’s. The NAD preamp was short money, and to be honest it sounds pretty damn good.

i do like the Schiit audio stuff, as well as peachtree stuff. Will most likely go in the direction of buying something different after the holidays. Bottom line, the Zu’s sound great, that was a great purchase.

Thanks for everyone’s feedback and guidance! 

The important thing is you are happy with your system.  Go enjoy.  

The important thing is you are happy with your system. Go enjoy."