Conrad Johnson vs Audio Research vs BAT vs Cary

Just recently acquired a mint condition Threshold T400 and love its sound. It will soon be time to upgrade my preamp which is currently a Quicksilver Linestage 1. I'm considering within the $2500-$3500 the following - Conrad Johnson Premier LS17, Audio Research LS17, BAT VK-3iX, BAT VK31SE, and Cary SLP98. I know there is a bit of range here, but am interested to see who has done some direct comparisons, and who is pairing with similar solid state amps. Thanks.
i've owned bat and cary---very different sounds. depends on what you are after.

bat wilil have better detail. cary will be warmer (almost a bit too warm for me, but i still love that preamp)
Imagine me finding Keith in here! :)

I've owned an ARC LS26 (the 17s big brother) as well as the 98 (which was recommended to me by Keith) and enjoyed both.

The ARC and Cary are at polar opposite ends of the tubed preamp spectrum. The ARC leans dry and the Cary way, way warm but in a good way IMO.

Which will you like more? Only you can determine that. I used both with NuForce amps.
Add an Aesthetix Calypso to your ones under consideration. I used to have a CJ Premier 17LS2 and don't miss it, though it was a fine-sounding linestage.
First off, congrats on the Threshold T400, I've owned that, and it is one of the best SS amps I've heard.

Now I've owned many preamps, including the BAT VK-31SE, VK-50SE, VK-51SE, and had extended in home auditions of two others, the VK-32SE and VK-3iXSE. I've also owned the CJ Premier16LS mk II, VAC Renaissance MK II, and ARC Ref 3. Of all these preamps, the ARC Ref 3 was my favorite, followed by the BAT VK-51SE and the VAC. The CJ was too warm for my tastes. I've heard the Cary SLP98 several times, but it was also too warm for me.

All that said, my reco would depend on what you seek. If you're seeking more musical weight and authority, I'd go for one of the BAT preamps. If you're looking for more refined musical detail, I'd steer towards the ARC LS17 or VAC Standard LE preamps. If you're looking for old school tube warmth, CJ or Cary would be the way to go.

Just like ice cream, no one can tell you which flavor you will prefer.

If your T400 is DC coupled, you might want to consider how likely the tube pre is going to pass on DC.
Thanks so far for some very interesting answers. Another Agoner emailed me to say he had tried the BAT VK-5i with the Threshold and they were a poor match (probably impedance mismatch). Elsewhere on forums, I think it has been suggested that there is an impedance mismatch. Is anybody aware if the newer iterations of BAT preamps (e.g 31SE, 32SE, 3iX) might circumvent this problem?
If you want to use a tube preamp you will have to run it single ended. The balanced input impedance on the Threshold is only 600 ohms. Any CJ, ARC, or Cary run through the RCA inputs will be fine. The 31SE, 32SE and 3iX can also be used, but not through the balanced inputs.
My CJ Premier 16LS2 doesn't sound overly warm at all. When I first got this preamp my reaction was "it is not warm enough!" Everyone described CJ to be overly warm, but not in my system and to my ears. It's just slightly warmer but much smoother than SS McCormack preamp it replaced. I understand the older vintage of CJ gears are much warmer sounding. As far as detail, it has 95% of detail compared to Unidisk driving power amps directly playing SACD. I don't miss any detail missing in normal listening.
If you are thinking about a Cary SLP-98, the F1 version is not as warm as the standard version. I had a friend's SLP-98 F1 in my system for a bit and it really sounded lovely. A bit colored, but in a way that fit in very well with my system.

At the same time I had an ARC LS-26 I was auditioning. At least when mated with my old Pass X250.5, the LS-26 was rolled off in the low bass and had a strident courseness in the upper midrange that was bothersome. So, I agree with other posters here. There are many excellent preamps out there, but you really do need to try them out in your system. Preamps can sound quite different from one system to the next based on the electrical interactions of the system.

Good luck,
The cary SLP98 is an overachiever, very musically satisfying with nice warmth.

If you can find a cj prem16, grab it as it is light years ahead and just sounds like music IMO.
if a preamp approaches musicality it has no sound. if a preamp is not neutral, as most aren't it has some coloration. what is the sonic signature of the cj premier 16 ?? also, why is the premier 16 preferred over the slp 98 ?
So, I wrote BAT and Victor replied saying that BAT preamps will likely not be a good match considering the low input impedance of the T400, even using the unbalanced inputs. So, that rules out BAT. Dopogue has suggested also investigating the Aesthetix Calypso. Anybody have any more input regarding the Calypso matched to a T400 or similar SS amp?

the prem 16 has less coloration than the SLP98. It has a tighter bass and is more transparent top to bottom. It is still nice and relaxed in how it presents music thou.
hope that explains some of the differences.
thanks downunder. based upon your perceptions, i will rule out the cj. i am also considering an audiovalve eklipse and art audio 1, their newest line stage preamp using a pair of 6sn7s. i will be reviewing that preamp. the cary is a possible candidate, with audionote copper oil filled caps.

From reading many of your replies I think that you will really enjoy the SLP98. Let us know if you get a chance to audition one. I just put new tubes in mine and am thrilled... I thought it sounded great with the old tubes!

It is rolled off a bit up top and at the bottom compared to my ARC LS26 (which is very good IMO), but interestingly I don't find myself wanting for either ends of the spectrum.

I believe that if you are drawn to the music, you pay less attention to the individual aspects (super tight bass/high end extension/etc). Conversely, I think that the performance of individual aspects are sometimes used to justify the purchase of equipment which doesn't necessarily produce music.

Neither is wrong mind you, but I would classify myself as a member of the former more-so than the latter.
CARY SLP-98......CARY SLP-98....OR CARY SLP-98!

The BAT and ARC designs will work best with the SS amp. Both are very dynamic and quiet. The LS25 was my favorite pre, even over my Ref 2 and 3...the 6922's and Infinicaps with SS regulation plus a variable gain switch made it unbeatable. I just may get one again myself...I moss it:O)
FYI, the LS25MKII is OK as well, just not quite as sweet sounding.
You will be hard pressed to find a tube preamp that has a low enough output impedance for that amp. I have an Aesthetix Calyso. Its output impedance is 600 ohms. As a rule of thumb you want a input impedance of at least 10x that of the output impedance of the preamp. Maybe something like a VTL 7.5 that has a solid state output stage will work.
why not try the Quicksilver Full function tube pre amp it has a 12 0hm or lower output Imp
Cheers Johnnyr
Well, CJ for me was way too smooth and lacking openess, the Cary was nicely Detailed but almost too clinical and close to solid state for my tastes. I ended up preferring the Cayin A88T myself with SED KT88 power tubes, Mullard CV-569 (ECC35, 6SL7s), and RCA CV-231 (6SN7s). Wonderful front row live performance sound. Best of all I tried. By the way, for me, I found lowering the bias from the recommended 400mV to 336 an improvement.
"Threshold is only 600 ohms. Any CJ, ARC, or Cary run through the RCA inputs will be fine"

I don't think any of the Cary preamps would be a good match based on the impedence issues. The 98 spikes up to 6,800 ohms for its output impedence at 20 Hz. (according to the Stereophile tests).

This is a very low impedence at the Threshold and will make impedence matching very difficult for most preamps. I would do a search as to what others have had success with running their Threshold, particularly questioning the LFE performance. I would automatically be skeptical of anybody saying their bass is great when such an extreme mismatch is so apparently obvious.