best pre-amp new or used for under $500?

Hello there, just bought a 2-channel power amp and need pre-amp advice. My budget is low, as the title above states, and the power amp is a Rotel RB-1080. Speakers will be either Ascend Acoustics Sierra 1, Dynaudio Excite X16 or Totem Rainmakers. I have not auditioned these speakers yet, they are on my list because of reputation, look and price. Source is a Yamaha CD changer, will upgrade that after the speakers arrive. Room will be small, 12x12x8. Would prefer to have a couple sets of pre-outs so I can hook up a sub if necessary. A remote is an absolute must, my listening sessions are 90-120 minutes long. Thanks in advance and happy listening.
I would look toward NAD gear. Good sound for reasonable money. You could buy a 326 BEE for $499 and sell the Rotel as the NAD is an integrated amp. Very positive press on the product.
By all means, check out a used Morrison ELAD. I have been using one that I bought new for 9 years. I know that there is a lot of hype about it being the best ever, etc., and that can be a real turn-off. My experience has been that it is utterly reliable, quiet, and musical. Is it the best ever? I would say no, because last year I bought a Joule Electra LAT-100 mK III, and it has more depth and dimensionality to the sound, as tubes will, but the Morrison is still a great sounding unit. I will never sell mine. You can frequently find them used in your price range.
Sorry Realremo, I jumped the gun. I just looked back at your thread and realized that you need a remote controlled unit which the Morrison is not. Sorry about that.
Ck - I think the 326 is 50wpc, my Rotel amp is 200wpc and the speakers I plan to buy like a lot of watts, so I don't think I want to go the integrated route.
Roxy54 - thanks anyway, always good to hear about new gear. I will research the brand.
I have already considered the following:
parasound new classic 2100 (goes quick on Agon)
Anthem TLP-1 (very rare to find used)
Emotiva USP-1 (those bolt on metal strips look cheap)
Pacific Valve Audio gd PS 2 (just found this one, link:, does anyone have one of these units?)

How about a used NAD pre? Not sure what models to look for thought.

Rotel RC1070s go for <$350 and would be a natural with your amp.

A better pre is the B&K PT3 or PT5, but they don't have the phono stage which the Rotel has. Not an issue if you don't need a phono. The B&Ks have a sub out, and also dual main outs.
How does $70 sound? Well, here ya go:
Creek OBH
DUDE, Get a Pioneer C-91 Pre-amp!
I have one, and bought it used for
around $300.
It has a VERY AIRY sound, and has
a very OPEN SOUND.
There's a couple of them on ebay.
Just make sure that you get one that works
Properly! Some of these, because of their age,
due exhibit problems based on the previous
owners, use OR Abuse towards them.
It comes with a remote, so find one on the
bay that has the remote. IF it doesn't come
with a manual, I can send a copy through email,
and you can print it up.
ALSO, Some of these do get bad contacts
on the volume knob.
It requires a 1.5 alan wrench to take off
the volume knob at 2 points.
For future reference.
My first choice is Nakamichi CA 5. Do not buy CA 5 MKII it does not even sound good. NAD 1020 is very good preamp for cheap. The Nak has a killer phono amp!
I would reconsider the Emotiva USP1. the bolts on the strip may look cheap, as you say, take them off and look inside. for $399 with a remote. It has no tone controls and a few other features you may find useable.
If you a Rotel amp why not match it up w/a Rotel pre-amp? It would cosmetically match. How about an RC-995? That would be my choice since it has a remote and it is a very good pre-amp. For a song you pick-up an older Rotel pre-amp (RC-970/980BX) that would sound very nice but would not have a remote.
used mini max for $500 if you're lucky
If you intend to listen to cds only, I'ld go for a used McCormack TLC.
Bottle head.
1st-ly, thanx so much for all the comments...
Ddan6815 - I have researched the USP-1 at length, and it does feature fully variable high and low pass filters, which is a total anomaly in mid-fi, I cannot find anything else that has this. Do you own one? I have heard no complaints on this unit, but I am wondering about spending a little more and getting something like the PS Audio PCA-2,, something that had a much higher original retail price...older technology...I am unable to audition pre-amps, most of them that I find in the brick and mortar shops are beyond my reach. I know Emotiva has an in-home trial, but the company is so new...
Kotta - I like the RC-995 suggestion, it has two sets of outputs and also balanced output, matches the balanced output on the amp. I will watch for this one, does it have a remote control? The more modern Rotel pre-amps do not have balanced output. Interesting that they eliminated this. XLR is not a requirement, but it is interesting as an upgrade path.
Tbromgard - I eventually want to get into vinyl, much further down the road...
Koven - is it not a sin to mate a tubed pre with a SS power amp...
Energizer - I have neither the patience, skill nor time to put together one of their kits. I leave that to better men.
IRD purist, I have owned one twice because i regretted selling it, there was one here for under $400 STEAL. I now have musical fidelity a3cr which is GREAT for around $600-700

oh sorry no remote, look for a musical fidelty
NAD 118 Digital Pre. Great tone controls.Onboard Dac-sound adj.`s in digital domain.Overall sound competes well against higher end pre`s.No Pre-outs. You could hook-up your Sub@speaker level.
AS a matter of fact, I do own this unit, along with the ERC1 cd player. with their generous return policy you cant go wrong. give it a try
Ddan6815 - you must be referring to the Emotiva USP-1. Do you run a subwoofer?
yes, I run a Velodyne fsp18, which I recently aquired. I run my Apogees full range, using the crossover of the sub instead of the usp1 crossover, If I was the run my Apogees using the high pass/low pass filters, I would use the crossover from the usp1
Ddan - I ran a pair of B&W 685s with a HSU sub for about 6 months, until I bought the Denon AVR. I used a 15 year old Yamaha integrated, connected the sub to the B speaker terminals, and just used the crossover on the HSU, so no high-pass for the 685s. When I bought the Denon, I tried high-passing them, and was not satisfied until I bi-amped the 685s with the Denon's rear channels. Even then I thought the sound was better running the 685s full range. Now that I have the Rotel to push the 685s, the sound is much better. Still not sure about the Audessey room correction on the Denon - this is why I want to check out a pre-amp with bass management.
Some folks highly recommend tubed pre-amps, like the Anthem Pre 2 L,, doesn't have bass management but does have two sets of pre's, so I can use the crossover on the powered quality pre or bass management I guess is the dilemma.
Hello. I happened to stumble across this thread, and thought I'd make a suggestion that may be worth considering. How about the purchase of an Oppo BDP-80? Yes, it's a respectable DVD/CD/SACD player. You can connect the Oppo directly to your amp via the left/right output directly into the left/right inputs to your amplifier. The Oppo features its' own volume control, so you totally bypass the use/need for a separate pre-amplifier you'll have full volume control via the Oppo' remote. Depending on the model 'Yamaha' CD changer you're planning to use, you may find that the Oppo proves to be a step 'up' from your 'Yamaha'. You can purchase the BDP-80 for less than the $500 you have in your budget, and, simultaneously add a nice piece of equipment to your setup.
Well, that's how it goes, first I buy, then I check it out....Yah, I just put in an offer for a Nakmichi CA5 MK11, and first thing I read here is that it doesn't sound good. Many years ago, I owned a CA5, and regretted ever selling it. But maybe a mod of some sort will bring the MK11 up to standard.
UPDATE - I now play 2-channel music through the Denon, using the Audessey room correction and the "restorer" set to "HD." The latter is meant to give detail and weight to the high and low frequencies. Using all of these processors isn't really a purist, audiophile way to listen to music, but it beats the hell out of the Denon's "pure direct" mode, and I'm pretty happy for now. I had to play around with speaker placement, listening position, and all of the settings on the Denon, but I have arrived at a fairly good place for 2-channel music. Wouldn't it be something to buy a dedicated pre-amp and new speakers for my basement office, and not get better 2-channel sound quality than my HT rig...? Well that experiment will have to wait until the economy comes back...
Ok, so I got a Nakamichi CA5 instead of a CA5II. Got a question; any ideas about some simple upgrades in the circuitry?
I would recommend you to stretch your budget to under $800, then you will have alot more choices. I went through similar path, from Adcom ($250) to Rotel ($350) to Audible Illusions ($700), and the AI is a different league. For instance, there is one factory refurbished on sale now for $675 with 6 month manufacturing warranty. To me, it is a good deal. Just $175 over your budget, and it is a greatly praised preamp. And there is a Cary slp-88 for $750.
acurus rl-11? totally under-rated.
Gte357s - I understand the extra $300 gets me into the next level of used gear. Have been looking now for a while, and have seen even some McCormack gear hovering around $850, and have also seen nice Anthem tubed pre's around $750.
Since I have to also buy the speakers tho, is it better to put that extra money in the pre, in the head unit, or in the speakers? That is the age old question.
It's hard for me to get past the Peachtree gear, since I really want to get into computer audio, but it would be a shame to find out its just too much of a time eater to mess with a laptop as a transport.
Anthem TLP 1. A full-featured, overlooked and great sounding pre-amp (and tuner) that sells new for 900 or a grand. Should be able to find used in your range.
GoBlue - Great suggestion and DEFINITELY one that I have been tracking. I have seen them for a great price IN DENVER and my heart was as broke as my bank account. LOVE the TLP 1 because it's Anthem AND it features bass management, which is something I am interested in because I am still oscillating between montitors vs. full range speakers.
Realremo: I recently bought the Anthem gear (TLP 1 and MCA 20 amp) for my dad to replace an older Mac receiver he was using with newer B and W 703 speakers. The pair was a huge improvement, and comes quite close to true high end without breaking the bank. The TLP's contour feature is useful to boost audible bass at lower sound levels.
About where to put money, I would say the speaker and preamp. I tried upgrade my amp, very little difference. I also tried an external DAC, although not a very high end version, also no noticeable difference. But after I upgrade the preamp, I can hear the difference right the way. And of course, the speaker should be the first component to buy in my opinion.
Gte357s - what head unit were you using before you tried an external DAC? And...which DAC, preamp and speakers are you talking about? Agree regarding the amp, I doubt I would be able to hear an audible improvement over my Rotel RB-1080 unless I spent 3x or 4x the money ($1500-$2000). Right now I have to get the pre-amp above the Rotel's level.
Although my Denon 3310 is doing pretty well in my little office. I took down the home theater system and moved it into my office, renovating the living room.
There is a small but insistent contingent of A'gonr's that insist on spending the big $$$ on the head unit first...But how much fun is that?!?
Right now, I am using Sony Blu-ray player, Maverick Audio DAC, Audible Illusions L1 preamp, McCormack DNA-1 Deluxe amp, and B&W CDM9NT speaker.

I had a Rotel CD player before, and then I compare with the cheapy Sony Blu-ray player, can't hear any significant difference. Then I thought the DAC in the Blu-ray player is the weakest link, and I want to go digital to stream music file from my computer, so, I bought Maverick Audio DAC. It is cheap, but reviews are not bad, so just to give a try. I don't think there is much audible improvement comparing to the Blu-ray player. I am not thinking to try out a tube DAC. For the amp, before I upgrade to McCormack, I use Rotel RB-1080. I don't have a chance to do A/B test, but the McCormack is slightly better based on my memory. But again, the improvement is not as big as upgrading the preamp from Rotel to AI.
If you are patient, you will find a Muse 3 @ $500.00. You won't find a Signature 3 at that price, but you won't find a better value than the Muse... Neutral, airy, nice slam and a remote to boot. Do your homework, read the reviews everywhere you can find.
I, like others can say, up your budget, but you'd be hard pressed to beat the Muse 3 for $800.00 to $1000.00 if what you are after is neutral and a remote.
This thread was not really started about DACs, but I thought I would relate the experience I had pushing music digitally through the Burr Brown 24/96 DACs in my Denon receiver. I dragged my old Toshiba HD-DVD player out of mothballs and used its optical output to pipe digital signal into the receiver, using a cheapo "redfish" plastic toslink cable from Best Buy (sacrilege on this forum?!?). Compared to my 15 year old Yamaha changer, all frequencies sound more extended and detailed. I can hear more of the music. Can't say too much about any improvement in imaging, I think the 685s trade that for neutrality. But anyways, a definite improvement.
We'll have to see what effect the loss of the changer has on my listening tendencies. The Yami changer has been boxed.
UPDATE - bought a Halo P3 last February, used on A'gon. Very happy with it.
UPDATE - bought a PS Audio DL III, running lossless AIFF into it from my PC laptop, Windows 7, iTunes--Pangea USB--MF Vlink--Wireworld COAX--DL III--Rotel RB-1080, sounds so good I'm probably selling the Halo...!
Audible Illusions....
Audio Refinement Pre5