First Sound all the way! The Art Audio is good but not in the same league as the First Sound. Not even close.
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I have David Gill's latest masterpiece but I also recognize that the First Sound is a highly regarded product. I previously owned a Presence Deluxe about 12 years ago and replaced it with a Rowland Synergy II when I acquired a Rowland Model 10 power amp (which only has balanced inputs). So really what we are talking about are system dependency and optimization issues. It's impossible to discuss a component's value/performance in a vacuum. That being said, I believe the First Sound does not have a remote which would be an instant deal killer for many aging audiophiles. So....on to the Alana. The Alana is now in its Mk III version which can only be identified by removing its cover and seeing the designation printed on the board. I had mine upgraded from Mk II to Mk III status and a year later David offered some inexpensive parts replacement (i.e., new resistors, capacitors) that further improved its performance (not enough to call it Mk IV). Among these changes was a resistor and a capacitor change (I did the former but kept my Mk II Hovland cap which I understand may no longer be available). When he initially did the upgrade to Mk III he also installed balanced outputs to optimize its interface with my Einstein LITD power amp (all balanced design). So you get the sense that David Gill offers some extra features that First Sound may not (balanced connections and a remote). David also believes that his implementation of the remote volume offers a slight sonic improvement over the non-remote version (which can be retrofitted). So how does it sound? In a word well balanced with a lot of value at its price point and well above. It has both macro and microidynamics to spare with great soundstaging/transparency as presented through my Tidal Piano Cera loudspeakers. It replaced an Aesthetix Calypso and when I made the purchase decision (remember I bought it as a Mk II) it also went up against a Conrad Johnson CT5. I have no compusion to replace it. I should also let you know that there is a real benefit to living four miles from the designer/builder!
I am not going to be a wellspring of vast information regarding your desired comparison; I have only heard the First Sound at shows (RMAF, etc.) I have researched them with an eye towards a purchase sometime in the future but for present, my Gill Alana (upgraded to Mk III) will suit me just fine. I trade it out of two systems looking for the synergy of the whole; my other pre's are a Hovland hp 100 and an Ayre K-1. The Alana shines with its honesty and a slight bit of warmth, but does not seem to color the music in the least. The upgrade improved the darkness between notes, and while I may be getting lazy, the remote is most welcome when I shelve the Hovland. Mr. Gill is a responsive pleasant gentleman to deal with, and while I cannot say what the sound would be in your system, I can only say this pre is not leaving my home for the forseeable future.
Farmdoc, David did a resistor swap to reflect his latest approach to parts selection. Very inexpensive but made a significant improvement (particularly given the cost). My upgrade (to Mk III) was also done a year ago and David no longer uses the Hovaland caps for new production units as they are unavailable. Clarity and Mundorf are now offered although the Mundorf commands a premium price. David is pragmatic enough to say that the cap options will result in a different signature (although not necessarily better). He did say that the Mundorf option would probably be the best although he was hesitant to make a qualitative judgement over the Hovaland.