BAT REX II
Veloce Audio LS-1
Tenor Audio Line 1
Audio Research Ref 10
Even though this is an old thread, gear changes as does what is available to us all after a few years of depreciation and new entry's.
I would add a different take to "the best" from a tight budget perspective versus hi end models. I've had the opportunity to demo or own Classe CP500, ARC LS17se, Modwright SWL9.0se, BAT VK3i, Canary 980 and Pass Labs X1.
My humble little semi-custom YS Audio A2 Balanced Gold preamp is the unit to beat at a meager $1,600 brand new. You can tube roll the heck out of it and it rewards with dividends. Fully balanced, zero negative feedback, tons of XLR connections, balance/gain and remote. One literally would have to spend over $6,000 to beat what this preamp can provide to your system.
Cheers and Happy New Year!
Super Old Thread, but similar seekers may want to check out the MP-3 Fully Loaded or even better the MP-1 from Atma-Sphere.
I would highly recommend the Caddock Resistors and Vcap Upgrades. The MP-1 Pre-amp is a Destination Pre-amp for me it can easily run circles on pre-amps that cost 3-4 times higher.
We are talking about a 26K Pre-amp (Fully Loaded with Phono). The MP-3 is a small contender which fully loaded will give at least 90% of the performance at much less hit on your wallet.
The best, in a cost is no object system, would have to match my taste, my other components and my operating requirements (remote control, balance control, etc.). That can be done best by finding a builder who makes stuff that sounds good to you and having that builder then make a custom linestage/preamp that specifically fits your requirements. I had the builder of my linestage put in remote control of volume and a balance control. I also opted for transformer outputs that match the transformer inputs of my amp (other buyers from this builder have opted for capacitor-coupled outputs or having both types of outputs). I have also seen and heard other interesting linestages from other custom builders includes some with highly unusual features, such as a two-way crossover.