My vote is for either an arc ls25 or bat vk30se.
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madnut (fascinating screen name--are you a long-time reader of ae newman?): i'd be interested in learning the basis of your contention that $5k is the "value/price" point of all audio gear other than speakers. is this a guess or an experiential observation? BTW, to make this fair, i think you should know that my experience does not support your view.
Corfedboy--I suppose the price of inflection is really relative. For the 95% of the audiophiles, perhaps $5k is the price/performance value point. Of course I cannot speak for others, this is just my observation with no hard data to prove. With my limited experience (I've only heard gear costing up to $20k), I've found that under $5k I can hear major differences between gears. With gears above $5k, most of the time there are definite improvements, but these improvements are not really "cost justified" from my perspective for the performance gain...by the way what do you recommend as the best preamp under 5K corfedboy?
I agree with Cornfedboy. I think you can find significantly better preamps than BAT or ARC at the >5k level, although I must admit to not having heard the VK-30SE. If you can, listen to an Ayre K-1 or K-1X, a Hovland HP-100, an Aesthetix Callisto, or a CAT, and then let me know if these don't offer "significant" improvement. To me, although these products all sound different, these are the top of the line in preamps and set the standard for tonality, neutrality and musicality. In the right system with otherwise excellent electronics, they will make a huge difference which, in my opinion, is worth it regardless of the difference in cost. The Hovland is quite "cheap", especially if you don't need the phono section. I think without phono, it comes in just at 5k new. There are many people who have heard it who consider it the best of all. At this level, what is best is pretty subjective. I would definitely try to at least A/B the Hovland under the best conditions possible before buying ARC or BAT.
If you already have an PFR and like it, you might find the sound of the ARC's a bit thin when compared with the warmth of the CJ. If it suits your tastes sonically, then it'll likely make a fine addition to your system. If not, I might suggest giving the CJ 17LS a spin. It has the notable CJ sound but is a sweeter than the PFR and has much larger soundstage. Cheers...
7p62mm, i *hope* ewe can get a mint used unit for <$3k, as ewe can buy a brand-gnu, unopened-box unit for ~$2750, shipped to your door! ;~) i strongly considered this unit (coulda gotten one used for $2.1k), but took adwice of someone who owned the s/f line-3 *and* the melos music-director, & i went for the melos. like ewe, i'm happy & don't wish for anything else - *that's* what's important w/audio gear, imho!
You're right Doug. I bought the line 3 used for $2700 last May on auction. Right after my purchase new units came out of the wood work. I chalk it up to my bad luck. I don't have the warranty but I have never had any problems with the Line 3 so far. The Melos may be better don't know as I have never had a chance to listen to one. Not being able to audition before making a purchase is a big disadvantage to the used/internet market. I am curious about what your opinion is about SS preamps. I know that SS units would not have the background hiss and lower maintenance than tubes.
I am a CAT Ultimate owner and I auditioned the Hovland for the first time last Saturday. I found the Hovland to be very neutral, very smooth. Its dynamics are present, but not world class like the CAT. Its midrange was quite liquid and it showed very good presence in the mids but still less than the CAT. It did throw a decent soundstage both side-to-side and front-to-back but significantly less than the CAT. It did have a beautiful high end which was better than the CAT. It is not bright but it is right up to the limit. It is extremely detailed and the highs sound "spotlit" in a most engaging and attractive way. The deep bass performance of the Hovland is disappointing. On my deep bass test, the Hovland did not really move air. If solid deep bass is important to you (40hz and below), you will find that this preamp cuts off those frequencies. All in all, do you have to ask which preamp I found to sound better?