How about a good passive? For under $500 you can make, assuming modest DIY skills, a passive using Shallco dual mono stepped attenuators, Holco resistors, good RCA's and internal wire, and have a preamp that will let more signal through undamaged than any active preamp. You do need sources with good outputs, but those are common these days. I got rid of a CAT SL-1 Signature Mark III with its signal path simplified at the factory for me, in favor of the kind of passive I've described, and I've never looked back. I love tube sound too--but you don't need it in a preamp if you have it in a power amp, in my experience.
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