first sound's 'statement' preamp certainly is in the top grouping that can be labeled 'the best'.i own one of the fs paramount mkII preamps and know how good it is and soon will have it upgraded to the statement level
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I've heard a few of the contenders, some in systems I am familiar with, others in somewhat alien systems. One of the best systems I heard had the Audionote (uk) M-10 linestage and phono stage. But, that is a huge and extremely costly setup (well over $100,000). Of course I would have purchased it (NOT!) if it came with a remote control.
My other favorite is another tube-based linestage, the Emotive Audio Epifania. I've placed an order for one with the premium teflon capacitor upgrade (I auditioned a model without the teflon capacitors for two weeks) and remotely controlled volume and input switching. On good recordings, the sense of a performance in a real hall, with notes blooming and then decaying in space naturally, is absolutely amazing with this linestage. It makes my current ML Ref. No. 32 sound so artificial and mechanical, by comparison.
I've also heard nice sounding systems with the NAIM 552 linestage. I know this sounds odd, because it sounds so different from the Audionote and Emotive Audio gear, but judged on its own terms -- emphasis on detail, dynamics and precision, this is a very special linestage that manages to have all those qualities and still sound musical, relaxed and satisfying (it lacks some of that magical "bloom and huge image scale of top tube gear).
I've heard the Connoisseur and the Boulder linestages and phono stages, but not in systems I am completely familiar with, so I cannot comment on the sound. Both are very pretty to look at though. The Boulder is also, like my Levinson, extremely versatile -- an amazing array of adjustments can be made by a very logically worked out remote control.
The Viola Cadenza is simply superb, outperforming the Cello Audio Suite and Cello Encore preamps in very parameter, and those most assuredly are highly regarded. Whether it is the "best" is an open question to which there is no definitive answer, but it is certainly one of the top preamps, to my fallible ears at least.
I think you should buy a used B&K Pro 10 since cost is no object. They can be found used for about $250, and in the buffered unity-gain mode will probably equal or surpass the high-priced pieces you are considering... The preamp has no remote, but has an outboard power supply and a nice MM phono stage. You may want to upgrade the phono stage at some point when funds allow. ;-)
If cost is no object then a travel budget shouldn't be either. You need to get out and listen to all of the preamps that interest you, no matter where they might be. Remember it's a process to be enjoyed every bit as much as the result. Have fun and happy listening! Oh almost forgot, check out the brand new reference preamp from Air Tight, I can't remember the model designation, but it shouldn't be hard to find.
I agree with Herman. www.reflectionaudio.com
There isn't much chatter about this product on the net although there was one post by a person who directly compared this preamp with some very notable contenders, both tube and solid state. Unfortunately I can't remember the other brands he compared.
I believe customization is available. Unlike some other battery powered products this preamp has balls, very dynamic and quiet. The preamp section never sees AC voltage even when it's charging. It's difficult to tell the difference when listening in the charging mode or in play.
I was lucky to find a loaded Quantum used. Unfortunately, the only comparison I could make was with a late model Audible Illusions M3A w/phono which was completely out classed in every aspect, and my Eidolons don't lie.
21 entries and more than 21 candidates! I bet there are more than that. So here's my recommendation:
1. Go with tubes.
2. A good preamp can drive interconnects over 25 feet with no ill effects at all.
3. Avoid remote control volume systems except those where a motor drives the volume control, which will be based on a multiposition switch. All other volume controls fall short!
4. The preamp will be built with a custom wire and if not handwired, then will sport custom materials in the circuit board (not FR4 IOW).
5. It will have the very best caps and the very best caps are Teflon.
6. The signal path will be simple.
7. The outboard power supply will be heavily regulated.
These 7 features are essential! This should help you rule out some of the non-players.
I heard a lot of preamps, and only a few are excellents preamps. Among the SS preamps the new Connoisseur 4.2 surely is the best with Vitus,Viola, Boulder series 2000, MBL,CTC, FM and Burmester very near, and probably only reyaudio preamp is equal or better than Connoisseur.
But for me the best preamps, or better the preamps that are more easy to work with , are the tube preamps, they are less expensives than the best SS preamps, because as there are so many few excellents SS preamps they are very expensives.
Among the tube preamps there are many gems: Kondo M-1000,emotive audio epifania and Messenger are for me the very best, but Callisto and VAC are very near and a little behind are ARC ref3, EAR, VTL 7.5, ACT 2
I have the 2010 Boulder Pre along with the 2050 Monos. I have to say that I haven't listened to many of the above listed well-respected names, but all I can say is it's a GREAT preamp, no sound colorations, very fast and very natural. It is at least 2 classes above than my previous ML Ref. Preamp. Yes, it's insanely expensive (but so are the most of the above) but you'll love it...
the darTZeel NHB-18NS is the best i've heard; and i've heard many listed so far. battery powered and including a world class phono stage and remote volume control it is hard to beat. if you are using a darTZeel amp you can use the 'cheap' 50 ohm BNC 'zeel' cables which likely humble any other interconnects and can somewhat pay for much of the upgrade if you have a long run of expensive cable between pre and amps. since it is battery powered it doesn't matter what power cord is used....saving more money and simplifying setup.
the darTZeel does not sound like solid state or tubes....it sounds like the source it is fed....and yet it is easily the most dynamic preamp (you have not heard dynamics until you hear battery power) and has the lowest noise floor i have heard.
it should be on any short list of best preamps ever.
Also consider the Boulder 1000 series preamps. This is the first Boulder product I owned before replacing it with the 2010 preamp. I find the Boulder 1000 series to offer much of the quality of 2000 series in the areas of neutrality, musicality, and timbral accuracy. Where they are different is in dynamics and soundstage depth. The 2000 series offers very natural changes in dynamics - or said another way - the music ebbs and flows as live music does. The soundstage in the 2000 series also has greater depth and layering, and even more detail without loss of musicality. But the 1000 series offers fantastic sound in these areas too, bettering most competitors. The improvements offered by the 2000 series are not proportionate to the increase in price over the 1000 series, at least in my opinion. However, you posed the question about the best preamp, regardless of price...
Sirspeeedy, i did hear the Ayon Spheris at CES along with their amps, the Lumen White speakers, and the Blue Pearl tt.
hard to comment specifically on the preamp, but overall the system sounded very good.....in a slightly 'golden' way. lot'sa tubes sounds like lot'sa tubes.
i did go back twice to the room because i really enjoyed it; the second time they were using the Messinger preamp; which did make the system sound slightly more neutral and fast.
Best? Who knows? In the end, how you react to a particular preamp will be a function of your tastes and the remainder of your system. I would also suggest that ease of use, reliability, ease of repair and dealer support should be considered. Also, do you need a unit which has balanced inputs and outputs? I owned a CTC Blowtorch for many years and was very pleased with the sound. I still feel that it is in the top three solid state units available, but it has no remote and cannot accept balanced inputs. More importantly, it lacks that last little bit of magic that tubed units seem to have. The solution for me was an Einstein preamp. It is tubed, retains the speed, detail, low noise and imaging of the Blowtorch but in addition has better, more impactful bass, better dynamics, is more three dimensional, better image density and tonally is truer to the sound. In addition, it has a very well thought out remote, balanced inputs and a balanced output. Is it the best preamp in the world? Who knows? But it is one of the very few units which I could live with long term. And it does have magic!
I have been achieving some of that 'magic' Fcrowder mentions with a combo of Steelhead running thru the MM input, to the Lamm L2, using the latest Titan. Not saying it is the 'best' but the combo achieves more than the sum of its parts. And, while I appreciate that these are 'production' units they probably work fine in a range of other systems. The Lamm, used, is a bargain, and while the Steelhead is not so readily available used (yet), it offers enormous flexibility. It is an interesting combo. (Haven't tried some of the others mentioned).
Supratek needs consideration.A Supratek Cabernet has taken my system to a completely different level of performance[and I used a Metaxas Marquis before].
I hear Supratek is also developing a dual cicuit topography with different outputs for bass and mid/highs.There has always been this compromise between optimal performance in these often conflicting areas and this makes a lot of sense where bi amping is possible.
Since my first version of the H-Cat P-12 line stage about three years ago, I have always been greatly impressed by its precise soundstage and instrument location. I now have the new P-12B 5x which is the 6th version I have had. It is the final version and is now in substantial production.
It is such a substantial step further than even the previous version that I still have as to suggest a new circuit. It is merely a greatly refined version, but I would seriously doubt if anything will approach it. I have never heard bass like this nor such a sense of the recording venue. Realism is the only appropriate character that I can think of to characterize it.
All that I can really say is look for reviews and give it a listen if you get a chance.
I have a Wyetech Opal and it surely should be mentioned as a contender. The reason you never see them on the used market is that it is a "legacy" product; built to last a lifetime and with so pristine and reliable a design, and with such high construction and parts quality, owners like myself have no interest whatsoever in the preamp "flavor of the month". And at the price it is a great value. It is the one component in my system I have NEVER thought of replacing.
Krell 300cx amp
Dodson 218 DAC
CEC TL-1X transprt with RAM mods (includ. Superclock 3)
Von Schweikert VR5 HSE spkrs
Elrod Statement,2 Sig and Nordost Valhalla PC's
Valhalla and AQ Sky IC's
Stealth Sextet bal. digicable
PAD Venustas spkr cables.
Original Hydra power cond.
I currently have a Boulder 1010 on loan (normally I use Nagra PL-L which I like a lot) and I must say in my system it is by far the best pre-amp I´ve ever heard (resolution, speed, detail, imaging, soundstage, neutrality, ..) are at the very top. As power amp I use Ayre V-1xe which replaced a modded V-5xe.
Is it the best pre ? Don´t know as there is Boulder 2010, FM Acoustics, Ayon Spheris, Kondo M-1000, First Sound Paramount and a handfull of other state-of-the Art units but I believe at this level its just a matter of taste and system synergy.
I have been using the General Electric single tube mono 6SC7 phono preamp for 40 years. Original NEW cost $12.99 (twelve dollars and 99 cents). I have A-B compared this to 20 professional radio station phono preamps and it was the winner. I have no intention to look any further for a phono preamp. G-E sold tens of thousands of these pre's; more of this preamp from 1950 to 1960 than any preamp in audio historyI invite comparisons up to $125,000. Comments?