Best Used tube Preamp 1700-- 2500: advice needed

I'm seriously shopping for a new (used) preamp that will outperform my VTL 2.5TL. Even tho I think the 2.5TL is a really excellent preamp for the $$$, reading about (presumably) better preamps has given me the urge to upgrade. Also, I'm thinking that in my system, it's the next logical component upgrade (?). (Rest of my system is ARC VT100 MkII, B&W Matrix 802 S3's, CAL 25 CD player, & Rega P25 with a Benz Glider).

My priorities: I'm seeking better sound-staging & imaging, & generally "better everything", sound wise. Remote control is important to me. I also listen to about 30% vinyl, so a built in phono pre would be nice (as I have with my current preamp), but I've resigned myself to probably shelling out for a separate phono pre. I'm a tube convert, so I'm mainly thinking of tube units. Looks & ergonomics could possibly sway me if the sonic qualities are there.

And I guess looking not just for a great preamp, but kind of one of those "hidden jewels" that perhaps perform like much more expensive units. Right now, I'm considering, in order of interest: the Joule Electra LA100, & the VTL 5.5TL. Also, the ARC LS25 MkII or REF One?--(sorting out all the various ARC models & upgrades can give one a headache, but it's a logical choice given my current ARC power amp), or a C-J Premier 17LS. Various BATS (VK-5i--or??) have interested me, but I always seem to read comments like, "this BAT is really good, but the soundstage (or whatever) isn't as good as an ARC, or other preamp, etc. etc." Then there's the CAT......which I'm kind of reluctantly ruling out because of no remote, but the optional built in phono pre would be really nice, & I do understand it's reputation. Naturally I'd consider others......Cary's, Bel Canto's, etc.

I'm thinking that these are all pretty excellent choices......& when I buy used components sight unheard it usually seems to come down to opportunity/price/my gut feeling/phase of the moon/lots of reading, advice. etc. Or, I could pick one, & hold out for that.......

Any advice on any of this would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Steve
I like the Space-Tech-Lab tube audio equipements very much, I buy their QA-115 pre-amp ($1280) , VP-105 power amp($1980), 512X DAC and speakers. I have compare thru the market a lot of hi-end vacuum tube equipments. Even their highest model can't approach the performances of those equipments I got. So just check their web site with the www and .com add to the company name above. You might find something you really dreamed for .

I have a CAT signature Mk.III that I am going to list for sale soon. It has the phono section, color is black, complete new tubes 2 months ago. I will ask $2850 obo so this is very close to your price range. No remote is a bother but I love this preamp. I had traded my Audio Research LS-2 on this a few years ago. The CAT worked well with my Audio Research D-400 until I traded it for Symphonic Line amps. I am selling the CAT Signature because I finally found something better-the CAT Ultimate! If you have any interest in buying my preamp let me know. Otherwise good luck in your search! Craig.
The Conrad Johnson Premier 14 is a great pre with remote , Can be had for under $2000.00 warm engaging dead quiet... Very musical Great from top to bottom deep clean base , startling midrange and shimmering high end, lots of ins & outs! SE only ! Phono optional, you sound like you would appreciate a higher quality outboard phono like the CJ or ARC or Sonic Frontiers (THE SFP-1 Sig. is AWESOME !)and very reasonable $ .
Try Sonic Frontiers SF2 or SF2SE or SF3 or SF3SE. All but maybe the SF3SE can be found used in that price range. I have the SF3SE and it is amazing. See mys system listed in the virtual systems here at Audiogn. Peace. Keith
It seems to me that you are doing this investigation of preamps almost "on paper" rather than going out and listening. I say that your effort should be concentrated in hearing as many of these pre-amps as you can, particularly in your system if possible. Without going out and listening, you are engaged in an almost theoretical exercise where the rules of evaluation have nothing to do with the most important factor by far: how these products sound to your ear. Forget the factors like ergonomics, whether they have remote control or not. You might find that some of these units impress you sonically so much over others that you are willing to abandon one or more of those factors of lesser importance. If not, you can always raise these for consideration after weighing the sonic issues. If you want to rely on others' advice, I think it is better first to establish your own opinion of as many of these products as you can listen to, and then to solicit others' advice or read and see if your estimation coincides with what others think and write. In your listening sessions, I have found it very helpful to take notes as I listen. It helps a lot when it is necessary to recall that listening experience a month or two later. Also, for every listening session write down all the supporting equipment cables etc. Try to use supporting equipment which is similar to your own and where there are differences from what you use, try to assess the synergy of the preamp you are auditioning with the various components and make educated guesses about whether the preamp will have good synergy in your system. Among the products which you mentioned, I would say they seem to be all over the map as far as sonic character is concerned, so it doesn't seem like you have yet determined what sounds good to you or fits well in your system. You need to listen to a lot of different products to find that out. Good luck.
I will suggest Counterpoint SA-11. It uses 13 tubes (6080, 5R4GYB, 6GC5, 6JC6A and 5651) in power supply section and 4 tubes (6SN7) in audio section.

It brings me VERY VERY VERY close to live performances I attended in Carnegie Hall / Metropolitan Opera House. That's only way I can describe this machine.

Happy Listening!

how about checking out the Granite Audio #770f.. wonderful tube preamp with a tube phono stage for about $3000.00---- for specs .. check out our catalog on audiogon .. we are a showcase dealer or

I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage as I have never heard the VTL 2.5, but here goes.

Obviously, an ARC front end would work well with your amp. The LS25 with a PH3 phono stage(around $1000 used and can be upgraded to the SE at your leisure) would be a nice combo but I doubt you could get the LS25 for $2500. Figure $3500-4000 for the pair plus another set of interconnects and your getting to the point where a used CAT ultimate(I know, no remote control) or Hovland 100 is possible,both of which would be a large stepup from where your at.

On the value front, you might want to consider an Audible Illusions M3A. In its latest version it offers amazing sound for the money and can be had used for about $1300-1700. It includes a MM phono(you didn't mention the output of your glider)But a moving coil option is availble for $500 and can be added at a latter date. I beleive remote control is available as an option but you should check with AI.

A "hidden jewel" that you may not have heard of would be my current preamp, an Atma-Sphere MP3. You've probably heard of their OTL amps, but they also make 2 preamps, the least expensive of which is the MP3 which lists for $3800 but if your lucky you might be able to find one used for around $2500. Sorry, no remote control but the sound is stunning. It replaced an excellent Audible Illusions M3 and the degree of improvement in speed, transparency and imaging kind of shocked me. It has a built in phono stage that can drive moving coils. It has only balanced inputs and outputs which means you can take advantage of the balanced inputs on your amp, but also means your going to have to change your phono cable to a balanced configuration(all phono cartridges have balanced output so maintaining a balanced connection into the preamp is the optimal way to go. Check out the Atma-Sphere website for more info and reviews. Have fun.
can't go wrong w/ the joule. but it does not have built in phono. but MAN, hard to find anything it does wrong.

i picked up a used mk2 for $1200---the older models can be upgraded as you want, or you can enjoy (which i haven't stopped doing) and use the spare cash to buy the phono stage.

other ideas:
first sound
audible illusions (good luck if it breaks though--i've heard some stories re: customer service that scare me)
cat & lamm, but pricey.

good luck, the list / $$ you're talking about all but guarantees a dream unit.

I'm with Otto. The SA-11 is a very rare bird, and the original company is out of business, but Mike Elliott does still do upgrades on all his models.
Try finding a SA-5000 or 5.1 (includes phono) - already a great sounding piece - and considering having some mods done on it. Or even to the SA-1000. Sweet, detailed, organic sounding, top, bottom, midrange, it's all there. With some models, tube-regulated separate power supply (important sonically) and the possibility of converting to true tube-driven balanced output.
I had my SA-3000 modified and it really sounded outstanding.
Check it out:
I'm just a satisfied customer, not an ad agent.
Rogue 99 with phono and remote, $2400 and you can get it for less once in a while. There is a "magnum" version with higher end componentry.

I have listened to a lot of preamps and I bought the Rogue. I think it performs as well as anything I have heard in the up-to-$5000 category.

It also has an inconvenient but available headphone jack (in the back)

It doesn't have balance control. Oh well.

Read Audioreview feedback on this. Something like 15 people have rated it a 5 of 5, and Mark O'Brien at Rogue is one of the great guys in audio.

I have Bryston 7B-st's and a Meridian 508-24. I'm into top-of-the-line-at-nonstratospheric-prices gear, and I think the 99 fits right in with the 7B's and the 508. It also adds tubes to an otherwise all transistor system.

Try it. You'll like it. It's a new classic.

And I have no financial or personal interest in the company!
If you can find one which is impossible,because everybody who owns one wont sell it,like me.CONRAD JOHNSON PREMIER III.....If you do find one expect to pay between 1200.00 to 1500.00.....
Craig, do you have a phone # or is there a website for Convergent? And is the phono section on your Signature MM or MC? Also, how would you compare the Ultimate to the MK III......(I did read the comparision in the 8/99 S'phile). And, in going for the Ultimate, did you compare it to any other pre-amps (besides your Signature)? Feel free to e-mail me when you list your CAT, thanks, Steve
The BAT vk3i is a very musical but detailed sounding preamp and should be relatively easy to find used. If your lucky you may be able to source a First Sound Presence Deluxe which will compete with the best of the best.....a remarkable preamp!
NIce system

I also own Audio Research gear
an LS 2 MKII (whihc I am replacing) and a D200 ss power amp

two upgrades

1) Audio Research LS 5 preferably MK II
just an astounding preamp
much more musical than an LS 25 but all balanced ins

The Hovland, JOule and Sonic Frontiers are all nice choices

I'll be doing my upgrade after my next tax refund in 02
so I'm in a similiar boat

2) You Cal cd player may be a big limitation in your system
the transport is good, I own an Icon and have sold and auditioned cal's myself.
A small dac upgrade can really open things up musically
and you won't believe how good your B&W's are (sold those as well)

I bought an EVS Millenium II recently
the seperation of instruments, clarity, imaging, tonal balance and lack of digital harshness were jaw dropping
and at $1050 it's a steal

visit ric at
and search on EVS here and at audioreview to see what all the hypes about
First Sound Presence Deluxe MKII.
Try SF Line 3. It's a killer pre-amp. Call Upscale Audio for price( I just bought one for unbelievable price).
I would look for a used ARC LS5 MKII. I own this one and have done in home comparisons to the REF 1, the newest BAT and found it to be the most resolving and musical - even better than the new ARC pre-amps. I would start by replacing the tubes if you find a used one so you know how many hours are on them.