I think you are at the junction of deciding tube vs SS for a pre-amp. Also, it depends on how many and what kind of inputs you need, and whether or not you would like a DAC built in, and new vs used. Simplest would be the Peachtree Nova, bypassing the built in amp.
The VTL 2.5 when available is really very good. Provides a little quality tube sound and comes with a remote. Build quality is good too and under $1k.
First of all,"best" is in the eye/ear of the beholder.No one can tell you what's best for you.If they say they can,they are full of crap.That being said,why not try an Emotiva preamp?It's a fair assumption they are made to work together.Just a thought.Good luck.
How about a used Cary/AES AE-3 DJH?
Second the VTL,good luck,B
Used Adcom GFP 750, which was an exceptional value new...and at about $700 used, even more so now. Being domestic and therefore easily serviceable is a plus. Very neutral preamp...check reviews. Stereophile Class A for the 2 cents that is worth. It has balanced outputs also, which is nice...unusual at its price point. Can be switched to passive for unadulterated sound if not listening loud.
If you do not want to add color (some people love it) to your amp, try Bryston 60. It is an integrated amp, but it has output from Preamp section. I have used it with Cary SLA-30 amp and I loved it. You can find one in Ebay at $ 600-1200, if you are lucky. This integrated amp itself is a wonderful amp, if 60W is enough for your system.
peachtree nova is a good choice if you could use the DAC also, pre out to the xpa-2 would sound great
I should have mentioned that I'm kind of wanting to stick with a solid state preamp mainly because it will be left on continuously.
Disclaimer upfront: I have one for sale.
The Bel Canto PRe3 is a fantastic preamp. About as transparent as you'll find, a pleasure to use, balanced in and out. Meets all the criteria you stated and would be a good match for the Emotiva. Read the reviews.
Would be helpful if you told us what you're using now and what sound qualities you're looking to change and/or improve upon.
Soix - I've been using a Musical Fidelity A308 for a few months now and just picked up a B&K PT3 series 2. Both are nice but looking for something with a bit more air, detail and transparency. Maybe the Bel Canto mentioned by Timrhu would be a good one to try.
That helps, and the first thing that pops to mind is something from Bryston (I own the BP-6). Thought the Adcom recommendation was a good one too, but I remember reading they had some reliability problems in the past but not sure how widespread it was. That should not be much of a concern with anything from Bryston. Best of luck.
Tzh21y - I heard the Pass a few years ago and thought it was a bit on the dry side; overall very nice though.
Conrad Johnson PFR. Past Stereophile class a component and with good reason.
The B&K PT3 series 2 preamp that I just purchased on Audiogon a short time ago for $300 is really a nice sounding unit; can be completely operated from the remote and mates up very well with the XPA-2 (also has a built in tuner).
If you can find a used Odyssey Tempest it would be nice.
I'm currently enjoying a Kavent S-33 preamp. It has 1 set of Balanced inputs to go along with 5 regular inputs. It also has 2 pair of outputs and a set of balanced outputs too. It is very similar to the Vincent SA-93 preamp. The remote is very solid as well and can reduce the gain by -10dbs.
Another preamp if you can find it is a McCormack TLC-1 with remote volume control. Very rare but it does sound good too IMO.