CAT vs. AR LS25 vs. AR Ref 1 vs. Hovland

I have narrowed it down to these 4 preamps. I do not have the resources or the dealers to listen to all back to back. Any thoughts out there? I have a Pass aleph3 proac 2.5, basis 1400, theta miles. I am looking for the most transparent, highest resolution, tightest bass. Thanks!!
Well you won't get great, extended bass out of a Hovland, nor great dynamics although it does have some assets (great highs). It is quite musical, but the CAT is more so. CAT has GREAT dynamics, is extremely transparent and neutral and has superb bass extension. CAT produces a terrific soundstage side-to-side and front-to-back. Although it has very good detail, I find it more smooth than detailed. It also has one of the best phono sections anywhere right on board. I am not familiar with those particular ARC preamps, but I have never liked the ARC sound (too dry sounding for my taste). I think it is no contest, but then I am a CAT bigot (with an Aleph 4, by the way). The only thing I would say negatively about my system is that, due to the Aleph, it is a little bit laid back in the upper mids. You can tune this by exploring the world of NOS tubes for the CAT, if you wish. The CAT is very sensitive to tube changes.
I've got the ref 1. I have only compared it directly to an aleph P. The ref 1 is slightly less transparent and detailed than the aleph P, but does give the music a wonderful warmth and aliveness. It's very smooth and has excellent bass with a huge soundstage. The ref1 also get's extra points for build quality, features, and an ultra fast remote control. Since you do have the aleph amp, I would suggest you try an aleph p with it. The Aleph P w/the aleph 2's is a magical combination. Since they are both very transparent you get amazing detail and clarity. I tried 3-4 preamps with my aleph 2's, and the aleph P is the best match. The adcom 750 was very good too.
I have just purchased a new LS25 and had auditioned the Ref 1, the Hovland and the Herron audio units. Frankly the Ref 1 was out of my price range. My listening preferences are toward neutral sound as opposed to euphonic. Hoveland and even the Herron (less so) were more typical tube sounding units. Not quite the right bite to the trumpet or snap to the snare drum. Too soft for my tastes. Vocals on those units were lovely and round and fleshed out though. The ARC LS25 was just right for my tastes, and has a terrific soundstaging ability. Better than the Herron or Hoveland. The Hoveland is beautiful looking though... the ARC Ref 1 is not worth the money in its current version, and I understand that an updated version is coming out (two tubes, like the LS25 rather than 4). I also just replaced my Phono stage. This time I prefered the Herron audio to the ARC P3SE. I also listened to the ARC Ref Phono, but again... out of my price range. The LS25/Herron audio phono stage combination is pretty awesome and a relatively good value. The ARC unit is bomb proof. Everthing simply works just as it should. Good luck. MG.
Congrats Mgx1138:

I also own the LS25 (the MKI version with NOS tubes)
I think it is a very underrated performer. It simply gets out of the way and allows my system to make beautiful music.

The tonal balance (with NBS power cable) is on the "slightly warm" side of neutral without sounding "tubey"

I also am using the ARC PH2 (a great phono stage in my estimation) in an all balanced configuration (VT100 MKII amp.)