Do you need the preamp to fix any type of problems like a harsh tweeter or do you just need something more neutral. I ask because so many people find the highs on those speakers to be very fatiguing, myself included.
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Hey Pete, I would look at one of the Ayre preamps they are solid state and always get high praise, (5 or 7 series). Also, If I were you I would highly consider added a Tubed based preamp because that Esoteric can sound really hard to listen too at high volume for a long session, IMO. Preamps from Manley Labs, Modwright Instruments, McIntosh can inject a certain organic liquidity, with such rise and decay and PRAT too! that you cant get from a solid state. The preamp is THE component that makes the most difference in the way your system sounds, and you can pull your hair out and go crazy trying to find that magical combo (but when you do its goose bump city). EXPECT to go through at least 3 or 4 of them before you find the one you like the best. It is a very important piece to get right..take your time. It took me at least a year of listening and trying different ones.
We have similar eclectic musical tastes. I also have a Levinson (331), Transparent cables throughout and use Wilson Sophia 3 speakers. I went with the McIntosh C2500 and am very pleased. Not only do the tubes add musicality, but the preamp has a great DAC and is a swiss army knife of connectivity to future proof your system. It's also just inside your price range. You could also look at AR preamps. They're also excellent. Mark
Matt has made a solid suggestion with McIntosh. Audition a C2500 for a single chassis tubed solution with integral 32/192 DAC or a C500 dual-chassis system (no DAC, but you can get a choice of tube or SS). A final way to go might be the C1000, but that would be a budget stretch. That one can have both tube and SS stages - a sweet solution if you have the scratch and space. Find a premier level dealer and give them all a listen as you might be very pleasantly surprised. Good luck & happy listening!
As long as you are not looking to fix any problems with the upgrade (a good thing in my opinion), then here's a few recommendations.
Solid State: Ayre K5, an ML to match your amp, and maybe a Rowland or McIntosh SS, but with either of those you'll really need to try them in your system first. The Ayre would be my first pick.
Tube: Aesthetix Caplyso, Whatever BAT is in your price range, same thing with ARC but its a must audition in your system. The Aesthetic would be my first pick.
Due to the equipment you list, I left out anything single ended. Also, have you ever tried connecting your Esoteric directly to your amp? I know that you may not want to go without a preamp, but depending on how it sounds direct, may help you select the right preamp.
I really like the McIntosh C2300 or C2500 depending on your needs..If your willing to drop some bells and whistles, a Modwright SWL 9.0 used or a new LS100. Also, I really like the Manley Jumbo Shrimp or the Manley labs 300B! What amazing sound! partnered with a great solid state amp like you have would be a great match, keep an eye on impedance matching ..it does matter. the output of the pre should be 10 times or even greater apart than the amps input impedance. Example... 200ohm output from a pre into a 20,000ohm or HIGHER amp input is best to look for.
Hi Pete, Seeing you don't need a phono section, The K-03 has a fantasic low output impedance (47ohm rca & 100ohm xlr) at 2.45v, that will drive anything perfectly without any added colourations that a preamp will introduce, you should give it a try first before spending up big on a preamp to see if you like the uncoloured sound it will give.
" Esoteric’s K-03 SACD/CD player and DAC ($13,000 USD), is one of their newest models of this type. In fact, it also contains a 32-bit internal volume attenuator that permits it to be connected directly to an amplifier."