try a melos sha-gold/gold reference or sha maestro (latest version of gold reference). i heard the gold a few years ago, it was great! i ended up buying the top-model, the 2-box (linestage) ma-333/music director.
I would recommend the McCormack DNA-1 active pre-amp which can be purchased within your price target. Then somewhere down the line you could send it to Steve McCormack to be upgraded, at which point you will have a pre-amp that would compete with many class A pre-amps.
Blue Circle BC-21; If you want great phono built in a Conrad Johnson PV-9a
Take a look at the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A. I have seen them recently (without high gain gold phono board) for as little as $900.($2400. new) on this forum. I own one with the gold phono board and it is one outstanding dynamic preamp. Stereophile rated it Class A up until 1 issue ago(deleted only because they hadn't auditioned in a long time.) Good luck.
Check out a BAT VK 3i or the VK 20, both great pre-amps, the 3i is tube and the 20 is SS. I would be wary of the Melos product, as customer service is a bear and you may not have the best luck with QC. Also on a short list, the Audible Illusions Mod 3A, which has dual volume pots, something I love!
Audiolaw, 2 great preamps i would recommend to you, are the Classe DR6 Preamp. This is a great preamp. Someone on Audiogon is selling it for 900 dollars. Its listed for 3000 dollars. Another great preamp i would recommend to you, is the Perreaux SM3 preamp. This preamp is from the late 80s. This preamp sounds very natural. Someone on Audiogon was selling it for 400 dollars. It listed for 1800 dollars. Here's the link to that add. http://gonmain.iserver.net/cgi-bin/cl.pl?preatran&984707762&class&3&4&
Here's the link to the Classe DR6 preamp. http://gonmain.iserver.net/cgi-bin/cl.pl?preatran&983393625&class&3&4&
The VTL 2.5TL is excellent......try to get the V.2. version....call VTL with the serial # of one you're considering to find out.
If you like extreme high rez and you already possess a set of high rez speakers, then I recommend a used Spectral DMC-10 for under 1K in excellent shape. Spectral owners tend to be meticulous about their equipment. Plus their service dept. is suberb!! They will tune it up for under 200 bucks. If you like a warmer sound, then stick with cj or ARC, because service will become a factor sometime in a tube component lifetime. If it does not work almost of the time then what is its worth???
BAT VK-3i or SF Line 1, SFL-1/SFL-2. All are extremely transparent.
For the money, a Threshold T3 is a great value.
I haven't heard anyone comment about the Adcom GFP-750. What do people think about it? I've read the reviews, but I would hope to get a plurality of opinions about it. Of course, my ears will be the deciding factor, but thoughtful opinions are always appreciated!!!
If you can find one, I've heard good things about the Musical Design SP2-B. I just picked up a used one for well under your cap and had it sent directly to Musical Designs for a tune up and some tweaking; total still under $1000 including interconnects.
I would recommend a Cary SLP 50 A, not the B, if you can find one. The A is great, especially with oil caps. The sound is rather remarkable for such a small (in stature) preamp. Good luck.
Blue Circle BC21. No doubt.
After having repaired my Blue Circle no less than eight times, I purchased a SF Line 1. Not only does it sound far more transparent than the BC21, it has proven to be very reliable. The unit also looks and operates like an expensive preamp ought to.
while i'd still stick the melos sha-gold as my 1st choice, before getting a cary slp50, i'd pony up a few more bucks for their current slp98. won't bust that $1k budget *too* badly if ya get one used, & this is a nice unit, w/future upgradeability...
Sorry for the mistake in model number. The pre-amp is the ALD-1. The DNA-1 is the McCormack amp.