Are you very restricted financially? If not, here are a few models that sounded nice with an Antares (this is just my limited experience - not an exhaustive list):
*CAT Ultimate (tube)
*Symphonic Line RG3/3 (ss)
*YBA passion (ss)
*Ayre (the 2nd from the top model)
Incidentally, I also listen to and judge by, classical. Overall, if you have efficient speakers, I would suggest you consider/ try a matched passive.
Fianlly, if you have money to invest and want the "best", lots has been said about the CTC Blowtorch. I haven;t heard it, but people with excellent systems, musical knowledge and reasonable ears have and have been impressed. It's very expensive.
If you want to actually hear what your amp can do, get the Placette passive. Clearly (no pun intended) the most transparent "pre-amp" I've ever heard. I own one by the way, and it replaced an $8,200.00 pre based on sound and music making ability. However, if you need to alter or "tailor" the sound of your amp because you think something is missing or is there that shouldn't be, try a few pre-amps. Most of them make good tone controls.
Yea, that is why Placette makes a more expensive active preamp, so you can have the option to 'tailor' the sound.
The Placette active line stage would be nice. But along those same lines, I would not discount the Pass Labs X-1 nor the Chapter Audio Preface preamps.
I've owned all of these and are all top runners in their solid state price categories.
I've demo'ed the Ayre K3-x in my home a few years ago and was not very impressed. It could have had to do with it's built-in 'Ayre conditioners' that may have affected the colorations and resolution.
Hi Stehno: Interesting about the Ayre (I guess it's the same model I listened to).
I found it very "neutral" sounding. I can't remember any gross negatives. Coming to think of it, I can't remember major positives either -- other than it was in the "enjoyable" list!
I have found the Hovland just produces music in the most compelling way. After owning tons of passive and active designs over the last 20+ years I can confidently tell you that transparency is not the only issue and can in fact keep you from exploring what makes music seems the most real. The Hovland makes virtually every source enjoyable from Tuners, SACD, CD etc. The latest configuration of the HP-100 clears up any concerns over the very earliest versions.
Gregm, to better qualify my statements about the Ayre k3-x.
I should note that I was unaware at the time that Ayre puts multiple 'Ayre Conditioners' strategically throughout the frequency spectrum.
Since I was unaware of this, I was using my Foundation Research LC-1 passive in-line power conditioner attached to the Ayre.
It's usually a big no-no to double up on line conditioners of different manufacturers anyway.
That could explain some of the coloration and suck out in the midrange. But I'm not certain why it was not that resolving unless it is the same reason.
Naderson makes a very good point about transparency. I got hooked on passives when someone loaned me a Creek OBH12 and it made music more real than my current pre-amp at that time, a $2,000.00 tube type. That was at least 6 years ago and I have tried a number of pre-amps since and am more than satisfied with the Placette and it's ability to just let the music happen. However, Nanderson states that music making is the most important thing and hopefully all of us would agree. Try everything at least once and stick with what plants you in the music chair most solidly night after night.
I am curious and I'm not looking for confrontation here. As I've never listened to a passive pre and althought I hear from others is that the transparency is usually quite good, the dynamics are most always weak at best.
In fact, as I recall, I believe Guy Hammel, owner of Placette, claims that the majority of his active linestage customers are current/previous owners of his passive pre's.
I'd be interested to hear what others have to say about the macro-dynamics associated with these passive pre's.
Especially when one claims it's all about the music.
I am using a highly modified Bottlehead Foreplay with my KR Antares and I have no complaints. Just for a comparison, I have ordered a Luminous Audio Axiom passive preamp. It is quite inexpennsive ($125) and is supposed to be a very good passive but it only has one set of inputs/outputs. I will most my comments on the two preamps in a few weeks.
Get thee to a McIntosh dealer and listen to a C-15 or similar. Pretty awesome and rock solid--, the last one you will ever have to buy. buy a McIntosh switched power outlet and you are ready to go.
I know I'm not "an other" but here goes - I have a small (11 x 13.5 x 8.5) room although it's plaster with a cove ceiling and heavily braced floor. I get tremendous dynamics from the Placette and have tried it against 4-5 high rated expensive to very expensive pre-amps. I actually get less dynamic expression from the actives. One thing that always tips me to this is that I keep turning the music up during listening sessions. I don't do this with the Placette passive. I still get startled on a regular basis with this system. However, not many CDs are produced with wide dynamic swings, but many classical recordings literally hit me with shock waves.
We were at a small restaurant last weekend and heard a Spanish styled guitarist with female a singer. He also startled me a few times, the singer did not. She had a pretty flat delivery.
Again, I've tried everything from a Krell & Classe to C-J and BAT, still like the presentation of the passive. Oddly enough, I thought the Krell had the worst dynamic ability - I kept increasing volume until the room shook which at that point the music was gone. My room does that at extremely loud levels.
Excellent idea, though. Let's hear from more people and hopefully those who are not trapped by the glitter of high priced gear.
The Placette Active is actually a "no gain" preamp.
The two output amplifiers only lower the output impedance to a very low level to improve accuracy of the signal transfer.
If you are interested in a very transparent, active linestage, you might consider the First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II Linestage. Despite having a high degree of transparence, it has excellent dynamics. I have this linestage as well as a CAT Ultimate preamp and I would say that the First Sound will give a more immediate, more present rendering of the music. The CAT is more weighty in the low mids and low bass, has stunning dynamics, has a beautiful harmonic structure, but is a bit more bloomy in the mids and just a bit more diffuse in the mids. The F.S. is stark by comparison. It is the ultimate in clarity, quietness and delivery of a black background from an active unit. Rock-solid, very stable imaging and very wide soundstaging on the F.S. Female vocals can be outstanding with this unit, depending on the recording. I like both the CAT and F.S. for different reasons, but if you are biased to hear midrange accuracy, clarity and transparence over midrange sweetness and musicality, I would say that the F.S. is worth an audition, particularly since it also has considerable dynamics.
The F.S. has a relatively high output impedance of about 1700 ohms which could be a problem with certain low impedance solid state amps, such as Pass amps. This might cause a loss of dynamics and some low-bass rolloff when the F.S. is matched with such an amp. I doubt that would be a problem with your tubed KR Antares.
I don't know about "best", as that is purely subjective based on personal preferences, system synergy, etc...
My personal "best" is also the First Sound Presence Deluxe mkII. It outperfomed 5 other good preamps that I've had in my system over the last year or so.
Actually, there probably is a 'best'. A line stage should perform the following functions:
1) control the effects of the interconnect cables in the system. In general, transistor units do this rather well and tube units do this rather poorly, passive units do it the worst.
2) provide a proper volume control system. This means that the position of the volume control should have no impact on the quality of the sound (a big problem with passive setups and digital volume control systems, a very noticable issue with the vast majority of remote volume control systems).
3) Gain is helpful, but not manditory- a lot depending on the amplifier being used and the efficiency of the loudspeakers being used. Generally moderate and lower efficiency speakers (92db or less) will have some benefit from a little gain in the line section, unless the amplifier has a very sensitive input. If the unit does have gain, that gain must be wide bandwidth (+100KHz) and low distortion.
4) provide an input signal switching capability. This again is not mandatory, for those who only have one source. However input switching can greatly add to ease of use (and if the stereo is hard to use, it will gradually get listened to less often). If input switcing is present, it should be sonically transparent.
Given thes things, ultimately the goal of reproduced music is to sound identical- indistinguishable- from the real thing. To this end the line stage is critical, and this is not about taste, it is about accuracy. Most transistor units tend to impart a stilted quality that is instantly recognizable to the trained ear. This raises the bar on transistor units, leaving tubes to be the main contendors. The possible exception might be a buffered unit with an extremely high quality volume control, but the higher resolution systems usually have no trouble revealing even the relatively transparent buffer circuitry.
I have found that it is unwise to set up a system around equipment that has symbiotic synergies. If this is done, it becomes very difficult to upgrade, plus there is the issue that the synergy is almost always hiding something, including detail in the music.
Choose, and choose wisely.
The Messenger preamp and the Meitner Switchman 3.
HANDS DOWN THE MESSENGER PREAMP.
I'm currently driving my Caanry power amps with an Audion Premier line stage. It uses a pair of 6922s, and has seen off a couple of good SS units and a transformer-based passive in my system. It's not crazy money, either.
If you've got bux, think about the CTC Blowtorch.
Hard to answer "best" type questions, since most people's sampling of available products is small or shortlived. I can say that I love my CAT Ultimate and prefer it to some preamps I have owned in the past, including: Audible Illusions 3A, McCormack Passive (TL1?), and several ARC preamps I have used in the past. You need to make auditions with CAT on your must listen list.
I am surprised that we don't see brands listed here such as
Any praise for these?
I've had both the passive and active Placettes (I think I may have actually bought one from Stehno) and there has never been a problem with dynamics. I was amazed how just the bass extension and dynamics improved with even the passive. If you are careful with cables and vibration sources using them, you will be amply rewarded.
First Sound Paramount Special Edition.