Atma-Sphere MP-1MKII (used) or the MP-3MKII new, blows all others away. No I am not a dealer or friend, just alot of expierience with "tube" pre-amps. ARC, CJ, Melos,Joule, CAT,Audible. The Atma-Sphere rules. Make sure you hear a unit that is fully broken in to really evaluate it, I think that is why we don't hear more about the pre-amps. They take forever to break in but it is well worth the wait.
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Have I got a pramp for you- Klyne 7.3LXBP retails for over $5600. This has been my personal preamp (of choice).I bought it prior to starting my audio company, Audio Tweakers. I have decided to own only products we sell, so out it goes. You won't find a better pre-amp, just different. This is a full function PA, balanced in/out, 2 separate outputs for multiple amps (subwoofer). Investigate what this preamp is about- natural sound and awesome flexability. The first $2750 takes it. You can e-mail me at email@example.com
With these preferences, I think you are needlessly constraining yourself by looking for a preamp with a phono stage built in. You can get a spiffy phono pre for around 1k used (I like the ARC PH3, but it isn't the only choice) and materially increase the number of your options for a 2k used nonphono pre to run it through. Folks with your preferences were the whole reason behind the availability of outboard phono pres even when virtually all one box preamps still had phono stages.
Me too,Bryceeboy.(sorry) I get carried away time to time.And yes I was a little testie defending my pre amps' honor.It "speaks" to me,but can't defend itself.I love this site.I'm new here,-2 weeks.Heck, I hadn't thought about sep.phono stage.See all the help we get here.Would love to hear Atma-Sphere. This site allows many products previously out of MY reach to become accessible.The dealers must/or should be worried. Buying used and having a place to sell your used stuff is GREAT. The dealers have had it their way to long.
i agree w/many of the comments on this list, tho i also suggest trying the cary slp98, & the melos music director. electrocompaniet & pentagon also make excellent fono-stages that can be used w/line-stage preamps. (i'm sure there are others, but these are what *i've* heard) also, i bet ya *anything* your wadia wood sound better run thru either of these (or most *anything* already mentioned), than run straight into your amp.
The Atma Sphere is a good pre amp, as is the expensive Vac signature. The Cat in its many iterations is a great unit. However the best Ive heard is the 2box NYAL NCP11 which shows up once in a while on ag. The bottom octave is hard to find, as it is correctly in most analog systems. Try and listen to the Melos too. There have been few real improvements in preamps that are real consumer products in many years.
Since we're resurrecting this thread, let's add a current leading contender: the Aesthetix "Janus" full function preamp with phono stage from the Saturn Series.