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I tried five highly regarded pre-amps, three tubed and two SS, and bought the Placette dual mono active line stage because it was terrific in my system. Money was not an issue, my budget was up to 15grand, however I consider this piece a total bargain at $4500,00. It is sold direct and would be a least another 4 or 5 thousand if sold in retail stores
Of current production SS preamps that you can find used, the top Lamm (it uses a tubed power supply, but is otherwise fully solid-state) or the preamp in the DCC2.
The Blowtorch is said to be supurb, but it exceeds your budget and I have never personally heard it. Ditto for the Burmester pre's.
The Spectral preamps can be incredible, but they are a different flavor that not everyone will like and have to be partnered very carefully with associated components and speakers.
If you can do without a remote and don't mind hi-fi geek aesthetics, the Lamm will outperform all but a handful of preamps, be they tube or solid-state.
Frankpiet, I guess you should expect such greatly divergent views given the broad nature of your request. I think that some of the units recommended here are second rate, at least in my system. What it really comes down to is great diversity of tastes, limited exposure to the variety of available products, and the need for personal confidence that you have bought the right unit. You will unfortunately have to try to listen to these yourself if you can. Life is hard!
Thanks a lot so far for your very kind thoughts. I´ll start to audition by the end of next week several pre´s in my system - strangely some dealers strongly recommend to add the optional line-stage module to the Audio Aero Capitole cdp. as it is said to even outperform the Hovland the Ayre and the CAT which I will audition next weekend.
Can anybody prove that statement to be right or wrong?
In respect of Burmester - forget these amps - they do not reproduce music. Spectral I´ve heard - great but only in a true Spectral system with MIT cables. Lamm I can´t comment on as they have not been on my short list so far. The most positive feelings out of the forums I currently have with the Ayre K-1X Evolution - but that is unbiased as I haven´t heard the unit personnaly.
Frankpiet, the pre-amps that I compared the Placette to were, ML-32 reference, Weytech Opal linestage, Hovland, Lamm reference, and Ayre. None of them were bad by any means, but with my gear synergy was the best with the Placette and matched my personnal taste. As far as the Placette website, just go to the manufacturer's list here on the GON and it will give you the address. Hope this helps.
Teajay: thanks a lot. I´ve just send an email to them - and got already a reply - very nice. Will follow up on that.
1markr: I´ve just spoken to the german distributor of AA. He told me, that the optional line-stage module in the AA offers the maximum in sonics to be achieved as the complete audio signal of the AA Cap. runs through the internal line stage - to him an external pre-amp would only add colouration to the signal - sounds a bit bizare...
I agree with Teajay that the Placette is a very good contender in the below $10,000 bracket. I own a Placette Active linestage, although it is now a backup to a much more expensive Levinson Ref. No. 32.
The Levinson is much more flexible and controllable (.1 db step attenuation and balance control, phase inversion, etc.), but the sonic differences are quite subtle. In a system that could use more dynamic life, at the expense of a touch less smooth and refined sound, the Placette would beat out the Levinson. In short, I think it is a GREAT linestage for the money.
I had a friend who owned a Placette and thought it was good. Until he heard the H-Cat. The Placette is gone.
Like other passive units, the Placette has a purity to it. I do think the Topdog was a better sounding passive unit. For me, however, the lack of dynamics with passive units looses all the pace of music.
There has to be a match with the speakers, amp, and source. One man's trash is another man's treasure. So exactly what do you want to purchase this preamp to go along with???? What kind of sound do you want? what kind of music do you listen to??? All important questions before you delve into before even deciding ss is the way to go. Let alone a $10,000 one!
Guys thanks for the very nice and helpfull comments so far. I recently had three pre´s in my system: Jeff Rowland Concerto; Ayre K-1X Evo. and Chapter Audio Preface - the Chapter was by far the best of these three solid state pre´s although he has to be combined with a balanced external phono pre (my favourite is the Clearaudio Basic Synergy). In the next round I´ll compare him to Hovland HP-100 and CAT SL-1 Ultimate. So the quest continues.. But right now in my system the Chapter was by far the best. The Placette might be a great unit but looks awful and its built quality is quite "unusual". Didn´t even put it into my system although a friend borrowed one.
Frankpiet, when I first saw the Placette dual mono active line stage, I to also thought it was an "ugly ducking" untill I heard its sonic's in my system, than it became a "swan" in my eyes. I just paraphrased John Mark's words from his Absolute Sound reveiw were he gave the Placette one of the Golden Ear awards for that year. I have no idea were your coming from regarding its build quality, the inside parts/layout/consruction are world class and the chassis is well built, just not very pretty. My prior reference was a Mark Levinson 32 reference which was a great pre-amp and delightful "eye candy" but could not sonicly compete with the Placette in my system. So, my question, asked with respect, why would you not listen to this piece if you had it at home, instead of writing it off without any real audtion in your system? I also did listen to the Chapter pre-amp, it was not in my sytem but a system I was used to and found it to be good, but not on the same level of performance as the Placette. It would be great to hear your response. Thanks.
Teja. The answer is quite simple. First: as the system is standing in our living room my wife would be quite dissapointed if it wouldn´t fit. Second: I always try to get the best mixture (build quality, reliability, design, flexibility and sound).
Regarding the ML - I really don´t like the sound of their sound as it is to artificial and not involving. Thats why I previously owned Ayre and Jeff Rowland. But the big Coherence II is no longer produced (the best pre I´ve heard so far) and the big Ayre is not very appealing to the eye and the build quality is just average.
The Chapter seems to me to be a good bridge between both worlds. But probably I should look at very good tube pre´s ?? Don´t really know as there is so much good stuff around.
Frankpiet, thanks for responding to my inquiry, but you did not answer my question regarding the build quality statement that you made about the Placette that was negative. Not if you find its looks acceptable, but its parts and construction. By the way are you an audiophile or a mouse, to let your wife stand in the way of a home audtion, never! Just KIDDING. I'm just very interested why you did not a least listen to the piece, since you had it at home. I don't think I ever brought home something to audtion that I didn't listen to just because of the way it looked.
Teajay. I haven´t had the Placette at home in my system. A friend had it but it was not connected as we were listening to an Audio Note M 3 - superb performer.. As I´m not a technichian I´m not really interested on the platine layout (then I would have to buy Spectral gear:).. No I´m always trying to combine aesthetix and performance. I recently auditionned the Synergy II i as well. Very nice, but no phono option..
The best preamp under $10,000 and actually, one of the best at any price is:
THE SPECTRAL DMC30SL.
I replaced an $18,000 Levinson No. 32 (with phono stage) with the Spectral and never looked back.
I also owned a Krell KCT and the Spectral is in another league altogether.
The Spectral is astonishing.
Contrary to popular belief, The Spectral pre-amp may be used successfully with virtually any amplifier and with virtually any high quality audio cables.
Spectral amplifiers previously required Spectral (only) preamps and MIT cables but recently, Spectral has introduced amps that will match with other preamps.
Jprice. I know the Spectral gear quite well. Very good sounding amps and digital equippment - BUT system synergy still is an issue. Regarding Spectral I personnaly would be very happy with DMC 15SL + DMA 150 S II. Krell sound is to boomy and to artificial. My current favourite is the Ayre K-1X Evolution (which is at 13.000,00 -to expensive for me).
The Chapter Audio Preface was very good indeed, but offers no phono option which leads me on the SS side to the new Rowland Concerto Pre + phono option which I´ve not heard so far (except of good things).. Probably I should carefully listen to tube pre-amps ???
Hello to everybody. I´ll go for a tube pre-amp. After excessive listening sessions at several dealers I must admit, that even the Ayre pre can´t compete with the Hovland HP-100. So My short list is down to: Hovland HP-100; CAT SL-1 Ultimate; Aesthetix Janus and Supratek Cortese.
Thanks so far for your kind help..
Allow me to ring in here. Sorry I didn't see the thread sooner. I own or owned a Placette Active Linestage, and Audio Aero without Preamp, added the preamp, VTL 7.5 & a CAT SL1 Mk 3. To confuse life just a little. The Placette was much better than the earlier generation of the CAT. The Audio Aero sounded better running through the Placette than running direct. Don't know why. My Placette was single ended $4500. Go balanced & really have fun although Guy will try to talk you out of it. Anyone who criticizes the build quality of the "interior" of the Placette. is nuts. No one can come close. His parts cost is one of the highest in the industry. Add a few hundred $ & have him use a nice case in a color you prefer. I bet you can get him to do it. He can also customize it for you if you need extra features.
Now my VTL 7.5 was very close but it had more synergy w. my MB 750 amps & really dealt well with the cancelation of noise in a fully balanced configuration. But it is very close. My system benefits from a tube preamp & fully balanced so it became my preference. I miss my Placette. It just worked. Those who criticize it owned the passive. Two different animals completely. The Audio Aero even being run directly into my amps in balanced was not synergistic (no preamp built in, meaning it is its own preamp but can't function as a preamp on anything else) with my system. After I added the Audio Aero full preamp section into the Capitole sound definitely changed. I don't know why. If I blind folded you to compare the Audio Aero direct to the Audio Aero through the Placette you would probably not get it right. The bass is a tad more solid if that. Somehow the Audio Aero does benefit from the preamp, I found out why but honestly now I don't remember. In the end it is very close. The ergonomics of the Placette leave a little to be desired. But Guy of Placette. is one of the nicest & most honest guys in Audio. He makes money, but only if you benefit. He will never try to sell you a gimick & stands 100% behind his product. Anyone criticizing the Placette really doesn't know what they are saying.
Now, using the preamp on my Audio Aero for my Meitner setup (don't ask, I have a lot of things going on these days) the Audio Aero is no slouch. It is a great preamp. I only paid $1500 for my upgrade & it basically gives you a mostly new unit. It is excellent as a preamp. I understand it now goes for around $2000. I am not sure though. If you want to save some money then do that. You won't be disappointed at all.
What should I say once you get to the top the VTL 7.5. Well it is amazing, but the jump between the Placette & it, really is diminishing returns on a large scale. I also bet, a balanced Placette for nearly double the price might compare very closely, but not ergonomically. Very few preamps will have the ergonomics of the VTL.
What would I do. It depends on what you want to spend. Each step up in money gets you better sound sort of. Maybe just different. Audio Aero preamp compared to VTL 7.5. The 7.5 is better, but the Audio Aero is still great (surprisingly good once you compare it to anything). It depends a lot on your system. You can save the money & have fabulous sound. Most audiophiles won't ever know the difference although they say they will. I would as GUY Hammel says it, save some money & spend the rest on music.
My longest post but I really hope I helped.
Dgad, thanks a lot for your very helpfull reply. Yesterday I´ve auditionned a Hovland HP-100 in my system and it did raise the soundquality of my AA (without the optional line-stage module) to a complete new level - which surprised me a lot as I always thought that the AA run directly into my Ayre V-5X evolution amp would be the best way to go.. nuts..
Bass was tighter and had more body through the Hovland, the heights were more extended and the complete soundstage was more focussed (things I miss a bit when using the AA compared to my former Accuphase).
Would you say that the optional line-stage module of the AA for US $ 2.000,00 is on an equal level then the Hovland line stage for US $ 6.500,00 ?
Frankpiet, I recently auditioned (twice already) the VAC (Vacuum Amplification Company) Renaissance II at a frend's place. Each session lasted approx 4 hours.
Ren II is tube-based, fully balanced, has phono stage, remote controlled. Sound is astonishingly detailed, open, sweet, tight in the bass, throws a very large three-dimensional sound stage with very accurate instrument placement. By the way it does look gorgeous and even passed my better half esthetics acceptance test. Her comment was in fact 'gorgeous!'. Lists approx 8K. What I also enjoy is that the creature sounds fantastic without having to resort to wild tube rolling.
The front plate is laquered black with a multi-layer coating that gives the surface a sense of shimmering depth. The knobs/controls are gold-color. Construction appears to be excellent. Ren II is in my own very short list of pres I am considering for my own system.
Oh yes, I was forgetting one of its most useful features is an output impedance well below 100 Ohms, which will make it easy to match it with most any amp.
Thanks for the very interesting hint. I did some listening to Hovland HP-100; Nagra PL-P and Brinkmann Marconi on saturday. I must admit: the Hovland was the "worst" although in my system a better performer than the Ayre K-1X. Brinkmann builds a great unit - on the same extremely high level then the Nagra which by far outperformed the Hovland - but unfortunnately the Marconi offers no phono section. The Nagra is something VERY special. Hopefully I´ll have the chance to compare it against the remaining contenders on my short list: Convergent SL-1 Ultimate; Aesthetix Janus and Supratek Cortese.
Dgad: I´m highly interested in your comments about the AA with and without optional linestage.
I did some comparing pretty quickly. All very confusing. Here it goes & this is firm
EMM Labs going through Placette is not as good as Audio Aero going through Placette.
EMM Labs going through Audio Aero is better than Audio Aero (who cares, this is about preamps but it is all in the chain).
EMM Labs going through VTL is much better than Audio Aero going through VTL.
Now for the big answer. The Audio Aero does sound better direct than going through the VTL 7.5. Very slightly but noticeable. It was more transparent would be the best way to characterize the sound. The VTL was using an Elrod power cord & the Audio Aero was not. Long story short, more in the chain the less the transparency but tubes can have a major benefit in many environments. I am guessing the extra interconnects definitely hurt and that the Audio Aero gain might have been too high for the VTL which could affect the sound. I had the Audio Aero fully open.
If you want a preamp w. out phono on the cheap & are dedicated to the Audio Aero I strongly recommend the upgrade. Then purchase a lot of music. It is really that good a preamp. Is it on par w. the VTL. Not really, but it is very close. It isn't completely user friendly and takes up no space. All major improvements. The tubes are on all the time anyhow so you might as well enjoy it. The VTL is better than the Placette in some ways, and equal in other. Maybe a little soft in the bass compared to the Placette. But the Audio Aero direct was not soft in the bass. All so close that it isn't worth thousands of dollars.
Good luck. I will be doing a little more comparing right now as I am curious about the EMM through the VTL as compared to running it through the Audio Aero.