Climbing the Preamp ladder

Bat vk-3, Manley Shrimp, and am currently using a Bat vk3-ix. you see I like tubes. what is a good step up? not just different. I use a Rogue stereo 90 tube amp with Aerial 8 speakers. I have a musical fidelity m1 transport and a wadia 121 DAC. I would like to stay under $2500.

thanks for everything in advance.

How about this:

No affiliation with the seller but Jadis has a great rep for sound quality and looks like a great deal especially if you're looking for a bit more warmth and richness.

I too am looking to move up in the pre amp arena.  not a big fan of bat gear.   do like modwright, joule, hovland, and vtl stuff.  I currently have Conrad Johnson pv 12 and want to move up to maybe the et series, but cant afford that.  don't want to settle for classic se 2 and don't want to go used stuff.  vtl get a lot of pub specially when equipment is reviewed, currently talking with them to get the 2.5
I own a BAT VK5 (not for sale) that I upgraded to the 5i years ago. I also had Upscale Audio do a tube upgrade. Despite these upgrades, as I heard other gear as time moved on, I was not totally satisfied with the sound, and back then the Audio Research offerings were better (IMO). The VK5i also runs way to warm (hot), but not sure about your VK3. This may be due to the tubes getting over-cooked.

I also love tubes, but I realized the importance of system matching your components. I wound up with a CJ Premier 11a amp back then, because I could not quite afford the BAT VK60 mono blocks. I always felt, that this combo never really worked that well together and was holding my sound back.

After this experience and moving forward, I worked diligently to system match my components, but had a fairly recent surprise. When I replaced an integrated amp that was better than my old CJ/BAT combo with my new 300b mono blocks, I found myself without a line stage. So, I inserted my 1990 Boulder L3AE line stage into the mix and got lucky. My system transformed into the best sound I have ever had and I can now hear anything I change. This doesn't mean that the Boulder won't get replaced, but I have at least gotten to a resting place where I trust my sound and gear.

My point, when you're trying to choose a new/used component, is to try and make sure that it will mate well with what you've got and keep building out your system with that in mind. Avoid, apples and oranges.

Sorry I can't help with your specific question and don't mean to start a debate, but have you considered a passive preamp as an option? I'm also seriously considering to upgrade my preamp and been reading up on the pros and cons of passive vs. active and like to hear why folks, particularly the ones who are planning to upgrade, don't consider the passive route more often. Please ignore this post if it's taken as hijacking the OP's question.

P.S. I mean something like FW B1 or similar.

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I would try the Wadia directly into the amp since the dac has volume.  You may be surprised how good it can sound. I ran a PS Audio dac directly into my Stereo 88 and later a Stereo 100 amp with great success. And it doesn't cost anything to try.

One word of caution... Make sure the volume is turned all of the way down before you plug in into the amp.

i have tried running the wadia directly into the amp. not too bad. for some reason i have to stay old school. i have considered conrad johnson but don't know what is good in that line. same with audio research. also the modwright ls100 or its predecessor. the backert labs lesser pre also has me intrigued. thanks for all  your help guys. i know it's a bit of luck finding the combo that works for you. who could upgrade my bat besides bat?

dpm2340 and kalali, I've tried passives before and always found that they tended to "thin" the sound and lacked power and punch/prat.  Not anymore!  I highly recommend the Tortuga passives.  They come in several flavors ranging from the LDR1 (one single ended input, 2 single ended outputs) to the LDR1B (same, but balanced) up to the LDR3 and LDRxB (3 SE inputs, 3 SE outputs) and LDRxB (same but balanced plus one SE input and output).  Prices range from $995 to $2850.  I'm using an all balanced system with the LDRxB for my main controller in a biamped system.  One output feeds the M/T amps and the other goes to the bass amp first goes through the LDR1B and from there to the bass amps.

These things will change your opinion of passives.  I could get into details, but one great feature is that you can set the input impedance anywhere from 1k to 99kohms (SE) or 2k to 198kohms (balanced).  You can save up to 5 settings and switch between them on the fly.  I've found fine tuning input impedance to be indispensable to get the best sound from your source(s).  It also makes it possible to use two passive controllers in my system by allowing me to find the optimum impedance settings.

One last thing, if you have a balanced system, you can request that the LDRxB include absolute phase control from the remote.  This feature adds no signal degrading circuitry or switches and is also something I would not want to be without, now that I hear how important that feature is.

The control software allows you to recalibrate the LDR's response anytime you want, so LDR drift is a non issue.  Last thing, go for the battery power supply, it's well worth the cost.

Best, Robert

I have owned a few preamps and two of them in the 4K price range. I now use the $1100 linear tube audio Micro ZOTL2 as my preamp. This pre is mainly intended to be a head phone amp and a good one it is but it is the best preamp I've ever heard period. The transformer less design is so pure and distortion free it is unlike anything I've heard. It is the latest creation from the genius of David Berning.

Check out the Aesthetix Calypso.  It fits your criteria pretty well.
The best preamp would sound like "nothing", like (straight piece of wire), I have yet to hear one that does this, all are coloured in some way and the reason they all sound different.

You have that piece of wire at your disposal as Wadia have gone to great lengths to give you this, by going direct.

From your Wadia instruction book.
"Variable Level Outputs The line-level output stage on the 121 is a new design capable of driving the input section of any amplifier directly; even through extremely long interconnect cables. We call this ability DirectConnect with Digital Volume Control, and it allows the user the benefit of bypassing additional interconnects and analog circuits used of a traditional configuration with separate pre-amplifier. The output stage can be adjusted (via the remote control) to match the overall sensitivity of the installation. Each of the 3 reference voltage settings, 4Vrms, 2Vrms, 1Vrms, will actuate a relay that routes the audio signal through a single high-quality, 0.1% metal film resistor to attenuate the full-scale output. This is in comparison to resistor networks, where the audio signal is routed through different combinations of multiple resistor arrays in order to attenuate the maximum audio output of the circuit. The benefits of utilizing a single resistor in place of a resistor network (traditional volume control) are two-fold: • First, the 0.1% tolerance of a single resistor is much tighter and accurate than the combined tolerances of multiple resistors. • Second, the use of a single resistor avoids the complex signal path required in the implementation of a resistor network, which would direct the delicate audio signal through an additional number of separate components, solder joints, and circuit board traces. Once the optimal output voltage is identified, further volume adjustments are made via a digital volume calculation based on a 32-bit scale. The key to high performance Digital Volume Control is overall system resolution. The Wadia 121 has 64-bit processing and DAC
3900 Annapolis Lane North . Plymouth . MN 55447-5447 . 763.577.0593 . www.wadia.comWadia Digital
resolution of 32-bit. As a result, a 24-bit signal from a digital source can be attenuated as much as 48db without loss of the original information. When this system is attenuated, the original 24-bit data is shifted towards the least significant bit. In the second drawing below, the system is attenuated by 24dB. Notice that four least significant bits from the DigiMaster Interpolation are lost, but the original 24-bit information from the source is fully preserved."
Cheers George
i didn't know this. all i have ever done with the remote is change volume. i guess i'll have to figure out how to make the changes. thanks. by the way can i buy a remote?

There’s a full review on Stereofile talking about this unit. Sounds like a great source component.

dpm2340 OP

i didn’t know this. all i have ever done with the remote is change volume. i guess i’ll have to figure out how to make the changes. thanks. by the way can i buy a remote?
If you get in touch with Wadia, they could have a s/h unit they may sell you if not a new one.
Or if you ask them they may give you the codes so you can program a universal remote to do the job, it’s all doable.
Your Rogue Stereo 90 is 1v in for full output, so you would set the Wadia’s "reference voltage setting" for 1V or 2v if you can't reach the desired volume on quite cd's/albums.

BTW: what happened to your remote??
Cheers George
my little buttons for volume up and down are cracked.they still work.
Make sure no moisture gets in, and on a dry day seal them up with a thin wiped layer of some clear silicon sealant.

Cheers George
Not sure if it would be a step up in all areas, but there are brand new Audio Research LS17SEs for sale here now near your price range at less than half their retail price.  Also a new PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium in your price range as well.  Not familiar with your preamp or what specifically you're looking to improve upon, but I'd think these units might at least be worth a look.  Best of luck. 

thanks for all the suggestions. last night I tried the DAC directly to the amp again. this time I made sure to adjust the voltage setting with the remote. it did change, in that the mids and highs were much more . . . call it forward or louder. i'll listen to it like that for awhile. however the search continues.
thank you,
Hello, dpm.

Until just six weeks ago, I was in your very shoes. I had spent close to a year searching for ’the’ preamp that was going to keep me satisfied for a long time. I wasn’t interested in an incremental upgrade. I wanted a big increase in SQ without my having to shell out a ton of money. Of course, that is not always an easy find in our hobby, is it?

My old preamp was an AVA T8 tube pre that I had purchased from an Audio Circle acquaintance. It was my first tube pre, and I liked what it did for my sound. However, I found myself wanting even better sound. [I’m sure you’ve never experienced this itch. ;-) ] I forced myself to be patient in order to listen to/audition as many preamps as possible before committing to a choice. Well, I think my patience finally paid off with my recent choice.

I’m now the very proud owner of a Don Sachs SP14/Model 2 6sn7 tube preamp. The base price for one is $1699 USD. The price goes up as you make changes and improvements. My unit was $2900 because I added just about everything imaginable.

The sound it produces is almost not tube-like. It does a great job of disappearing and offering amazing clarity. Instruments (piano, strings, brass, drums, etc.) take on that ’in the room with you’ sound and vocals though the performers were ten feet in front of you.

Okay, that’s a bit over the top enthusiasm, but that’s my experience. I’ve written about it in the tube-a-phile circle on Audio Circle, and other owners have chimed in with similar testimony.

Don is not "mainstream". He is a boutique manufacturer armed with many years of experience rebuilding Citation amps and preamps who finally decided to build new preamps to sell. I auditioned his amp/preamp in his home and got to hear the magic firsthand before deciding. My new preamp gives me nearly the same SQ that a big name company’s preamp would give me, but at half the cost - in my opinion, of course.

I am not affiliated with Don and I won’t get any bonuses/commissions for posting this although I wouldn’t mind a couple beers. :)

I haven’t posted on Agon in a long time, but I’m a regular at AC.

Good luck with your search. Enjoy the journey!


hi, if you can stretch your budget  slightly more at $2995, i highly recommend BackertLabs Rhumba preamp. i took the leap and i wasn't disappointed, now i'm going to upgrade to their flagship pre, it's that good. All the reviews are spot on, and it certainly outperform the highly respected Coincident Linestage which was in my list previously but not anymore. I'm sure you would be glad about the pre and hold onto it for years
keep me in mind when you want to sell your rhumba. what pres have you tried that the rhumba bettered? i listed mine.
Rhumba matches well with my genre of music. It is dynamic and revealing and have energy in the notes yet with touch of velvet smoothness. Its is not overly rich in tonality and don't have that weighty tone to portray piano well but i'm happy because i'm not the person driving at accuracy. i guess you have to figure out yourself by tube rolling to find that specific musical quality you prefer.
If you listen to solo; vocal; jazz or african music etc.. Rhumba may be better by other pre that cost less. It depends on your taste, but if PRaT and detail is your priority, i can assure you that Rhumba outperform any preamp out there costing over 8-9k