I am selling my Quicksilver full function pre that was rewired by a professional with MIT wire. It opened up the sound and tightened up the bass, but left the beautiful Quicksilver sound. It's much less than what you are looking to spend, but I'd put it's sound up against most in the 3k range. New it cost 2k plus the $300 upgrade. Full 5AR4 rectifier section. It was purchased in 95 I believe as I got my Silver Mono's that I'm also selling off at the same time. It's in great shape. I've changed over to Ayre solid state stuff and am selling off three systems. I even have what was top of the line MIT MH 770 speaker cable that was tuned for the Quicksilver amps. Please let me know if you have interest. you can't go wrong with any of Mike Saunders, Quicksilver equipment.
I would add Modwright to your list.
jmarke, There are currently 2 CAT Signature Mk2 preamps offered here on agon for around $2700. One is silver, the other black. Both have the phono stage option.
CAT SL1 - feel free to contact me for additional information. Great phono stage, versatile and built like a tank.
I am selling a deHavilland Ultraverve 3. Should crush the competition.
Tube Audio Design 150 Sig well below your budget but you would never know it.
The CAT would seem to be the obvious choice, though it does not come with a remote.
Emotive-not to be confused with emotiva
I suggest looking at the Atma-sphere MP 3. It doesn't have a remote and has an excellent phonostage.If you can find one with Teflon caps and upgraded regulator you would have a very dynamic and transparent preamp. Usually sells for around 2600. Ralph reactivates the warranty if you do any additional updates.
Thanks for all of the great info. Lots to sort thru, but that's half the fun of this hobby in the first place. Much appreciated.
In that price range, I would look pretty hard at an Audio Horizons preamp. I had one for a couple of years and thought it was absolutely top notch. Both the line stage and the phono stage are excellent.
Be forewarned that CAT pres have stepped attenuators and high overall gain which was a problem in my system. YMMV.
The CAT volume control is just plain wrong. It's way too course (I believe each click on the volume is 3db). It's too bad, as the CAT preamp is a very good sounding preamp (I used to own one). With this preamp, on too many recordings, the volume will either be too low, or too high. The best analogy I can come up with is you can drive 60 mph or 80mph, there's no in between.
As far as your original question, take a listen to an Audible Illusions. I think it's great.
Other options in that price range may be a Hovland HP-100 or a VAC Standard LE preamp. The VAC would have a remote control.
I would remove the Supratek Chenin from your list, I used to own a Supratek Syrah, and found it to be incredibly poorly constructed and unreliable. Just my own experience of course ymmv but thought I would give you a heads up.
I would 86 the Atma MP-3. Was a horrible performer when I heard it years ago at the Atma/BAT dealer compared to the BAT 31SE. I owned and loved the 31SE. Perhaps the newer 32SE would be worth a try but I have no experience with it. Tha CAT SL1 is an awesome performer if you seek dynamics and resolution. The BAT is more about 3D and bloom. Both have excellent bass coverage. The BAT has an optional phono board which is quite impressive.
I can't offer much as my pre is a Lamm LL2, wonderful but without phono section. At the time I was shopping for a preamp, though, I was considering McIntosh C220, and I thought the Lamm outperformed it by a wide margin soundwise even with a Mc tube amp (I own). Mc is higher in the list regarding ergonomics, but lower on sound quality, I think.
The situation might be similar with some other recommendations you are getting. CAT, Atmasphere, Joule, Hovland likely focus on sound more than ergonomics. My final 2 were the Lamm and First Sound Presence, but that one doesn't have a phono section either.
Doge 8 Clarity. Make sure it's the Clarity version.
Has remote, great sound, great phono section. Must replace tubes with good NOS stuff to get best sound.
This preamp easily bettered all of my previous tube preamps - VTL 2.5, Bill Baker modded Ming Da, TAD 150 Signature, Audibile Illusions Modulus 3. Really hard to exceed this performance for the price. The Clarity version has a true tube phono section and accommodates MC carts or MM carts.
When I replaced my VK 31SE with the MP 3 the veil was lifted. My Soundlabs A 3's opened up. I had a pair of VK 55's paired with the atma-sphere. I suppose, synergy comes into play ..... Once again, many updates have been instituted since the 31 was introduced. The MP 3 remains an Editors Choice.
I am a former owner of the Chenin and I owned two versions of the SLP-98, the stock MM version, and the direct coupled F1 MC version. This is my experience in my system:
Pros: Very good phono stage. Later Chenins have the same phonostage as the Cortese. Quiet linestage. Has a clear sound. Easy to delineate the space between the performers. Brings the performers into your room with a forward, but very listenable presentation, if that is one of your goals.
Cons: My Chenin had a bit of glare to it, especially with female voices. It had a modified volume control, though, which I think contributed to the glare. I had a stock Cortese, and never felt like there was any glare to it (I sold the Cortese to try the F1, then sold the F1 for the Chenin). It is getting harder to find Chenins on the used market, and Supratek is no longer making the Chenin.
As for build quality, I had no issues with my Chenin or Cortese. They are point to point wired, which might look messy, but some say it has sonic advantages. The capacitors are good quality. I did have a loose wire that was probably loosened during shipping. It was easy to find it and reconnect it, and I am not very technically inclined.
Pros: The phonostage is very quiet. The linestage has more of a meaty sound than the Chenin. A little laid back compared to Supratek, not forward sounding, but images are still full sized with good tone, if that is one of your goals. Easy to listen to for hours.
Cons: Not as detailed as the Chenin. The F1 version is better than the stock version if you want more detail. I could never get into the phonostage, which is why I sold the SLP-98. Neither the MM version or the F1 MC version was as engaging as the Chenin or Cortese for me, and clicks and pops seemed more prominent in the Cary.
Both are very fine preamps and great value in the $2k range, used. I like the Supratek sound better, but this is just my personal preference. I know others like the SLP-98 better, and I might even be in the minority. Hope this helps!
The Lamm LL2.1 is outstanding from real thing reproduction. But it has no remote (degrades sound quality), no Phono section. Most internal Phono boards are cheap and inferior anyway....
When you want all in one box, probably Manley Steelhead is a choice....
I own the Exemplar Audio Exception Pre-amp and it makes beautiful music. You can get one for around the 3.5K range. I have owned the Parasound JC-2, First Sound MKIII, Coincident Audio Line Stage, Conrad Johnson and the Sanders pre-amps and this is my favorite. All of the above I have owned are top notch but I prefer the Exemplar. Give John Tucker a call he is a real gentleman and a topnotch designer.