You might also consider the Rogue Audio 99 preamp which has received many favorable reviews and has a built-in phono stage.
18 responses Add your response
It really depends on how much of that midrange bloom you are looking for - all the pre's mentioned are great and it is more a decision of taste than quality and accuracy! The AudioNote M2 has more bloom than any of the pre's mentioned but probably lacks in many of the other area's. The Lamm and First Sound are options along with Blue Circle, they have a new ballanced pre that sounds great!
The blue circle 21 and Rogue are about the same price new and used and both supposedly sound great. I have 10t's and unless you are going to get some big power tube amps like VTL 450's, a fast powerful solid state amp is needed for 10t;s. I am using a Spectron and it is 500 watts channel into 4 ohms. It runs the 10t's well. You might want to try mono block bel canto evo's. Have fun, sounds like you are on your way. I use a VTL pre 1 tube preamp /and a passive unit also. Enjoy the music.
One thing to consider for HT is that the pre-amp have a bi-pass or an input that has goes straight through with no gain for your main channels. In solid state there are quite a lot of pre amps that do this, but in tubes it's a bit rarer. If I'm not mistaken I believe the CAT does have this feature (it's also a great pre-amp), I'm not sure about the others. Of course, if you find a pre-amp you love that doesn't have this you can always have a particular volume setting that accomplishes this--but I've had a system set up this way and it didn't bother me at first, but after a while it got old setting the volume all the time.
I use the vk-5i with the ph-3. Wonderful, warm sounding system. I think the vk-5i is actually in the league of the ARC ref1 sonically - I think it may sound a little better (they're different - you need to decide). I've owned both. I was unimpressed with the LS16 and LS12. It think adcom 750's put them to shame to be quite honest
I have heard that CAT's are a little finicky and very dependent on the tubes that you use with them.
I tried an AA 3A and didn't like it. More for ergonomics that anything else. No remote, and the volume steps are way too coarse. This may not matter to you. It sounded pretty good, but I think the BAT and upper shelf ARC stuff are the best I've heard.
A great preamp/phono combo you should look into is the vk-30SE w/phono stage. I borrowed one from a friend and was very impressed with it. Very transparent and quick.
I owned a CAT for many years before resigning myself to solid state. It was a fantastic preamp. I upgraded from the original signature to MK II and later MK III. All 3 versions were wonderful. I also owned an Audible Illusions Model 3. A good preamp but not in the same league as the CAT. The CAT is not the last word in its resolution of detail but it throws a huge soundstage (blows away my current Spectral DMC20 II) and is wonderfully musical.
I have a BAT VK-5i and Just Love it. It was MY 1st Venture into the Treaky Tube World, Money Well Spent. I Can't speak about the others, I Haven't Heard them, but the BAT is a Class A (Legendary) Pre-Amp. I got mine on AUDIOGON at a Good $. The VK-5i CAN be upgraded to the 50se Level for about $ 2000.00. The VK50se is 1 of the Best Pre-amp available. Try doing some side-by-side Comparisons (use your EARS and the Specs). Good Luck!
The vk-5i and vk-50(SE) do not have optional phono boards. You must buy an outboard unit such as bat's p5 or p10.
The vk-3i and vk-30(SE) do.
The vk-5i has a fairly different sonics to the 50SE. They both have the bat 'house sound' which is a gloriously warm midrange, feathery well defined high notes, and excellent bass. Also, to paraphrase J Scull, the music has a 'breathing' quality. The 50SE is more transparent and revealing. The 5i has a little more of a 'glow' or vintage tube sound to it. I do run NOS tubes. One of the unique characteristics of bat tube equipment is that it produces extended high notes, yet remains warm and listenable. SS preamps can be a little 'too accurate' when playing high notes.
I own the CAT sig.Recently did an AB with the Hovland and the VK 50SE and the Herron. The Hovland is real pretty, and has by far the best WAF factor. The CAT has far sharper claws than any of the above. IMHO waaay better bottom end than the Hovland, faaaar more dynamic than the Herron and loads less grain than the BAT.
The Phono stage on the CAT is also something to consider.
I vote for the Kora Eclipse pre-amp. As far as I know this is the only tube pre-amp on the market that offers:
1. fully remote operation (everything from source, volume, and on/off) 2. both MM and MC inputs
3. balanced and single ended op 4. Headphone outputs
5. processor circuit (remote controlled)
6. true high end sound that is high class B or true Class A.
thanks, Rich M.