Good preamp with Merlin TSM speakers?

I own Merlin TSM bookshelf speakers which are nicely detailed but a bit on the dry side with my Modwright 9.0 se preamp. I'm looking for a preamp to warm up the sound and thinking about CJ tube pre. Suggestions, ~$2k or under? I like the detail of the Modwright but would like more flesh on the bone. I use Tube Audio Design ss monoblock power amps ("Hibachi").
Years ago I had some TSM speakers driven by a sonic frontiers SFL2 preamp and pass aleph 1.2 mono amps. The sound from that set up was amazing. I may not recall the exact name of the preamp but it was the 2 chassis unit.
CJ, Cary, or Joule Electra should offer you a little more "flesh on the bone".
Would love to get a Joule Electra... but $3k+!
A Joule Electra LA-150 can be had for far less than $3K, be patient.  A word of caution, Joule is out of business and support is limited. Give Rich Brkich of Signature Sound a call as he has taking over the support of both Merlin and Joule.  Great guy, he will give you straight advice.
Would love to get a Joule Electra... but $3k+!

You can get a J-E preamp for much less than $3K, as brf mentions.
Be patient, I see them pop up once a month or so.
Also, as brf mentions,  Rich Brkich of Signature Sound is a great contact for J-E.
Thanks for the tip! I'll keep my eyes peeled.
"Far less"...being what?
Let Google work for you. Hifishark is a good website, as it searches various websites.
Looking there now I see a LA-100 mk III listed for $1,600 and a LA-150 mk II listed for $3,450.
Here, take a look:

You can also click on Sold/Expired listings to get a handle on what the price should be. I would bet that $2,500 would get you that LA-150 mk II if you wanted it.
You could probably pick up the LA-100 mk III for $1,250 or so.
It’s not easy selling products from a defunct company.
Merlin and Joule are a match made in heaven.  There's a reason Merlin is always shown with Joule gear.  It's THAT good together!
Joule is out of business, but the topology in the 150 is nothing exotic. I had the 100 for a couple of years, and my tech had no problem working on it. It was a nice pre. Smooth and detailed
I see an ARS-Sonum Filharmonia integrated listed for sale. I hear it's a good match for Merlins as well. Which way to go?
I would recommend a deHavilland UltraVerve. Just buy it new from Kara Chaffee. She will custom make it for you to match your amplifier and with lettering. Class A. 

I was a dealer for Merlin and Joule Electra and deHavilland. Much preferred the deHavilland. 

Give me a call with questions.

Bobby used to recommend the all of the following depending on the system & user goals:

Joule Electra
At most shows these two brands were almost always featured. 

First Sound
Analogue Audio

@pmboyd Of all the Joule preamps, the older LA-100 (MKIII which is the last version of the LA100 being the best due its construction, the remote used, etc) will be the one with the most "flesh on the bone"... the later LA-150(MKII) is better in a number of ways and retains much of the LA-100MKIII's tonal character (due to its dual mono all 6350 tube based topology mainly... gives better soundstaging, bass goes deeper with better definition etc).

@jmcgrogan2 has a good bean on what used units are going for in his post. Well cared for used units are not hard to come by, and I am available if you need support, tubes or service or just want to give a used unit you buy a check-up before paling it into service in your system.

The Ars-Sonum Filarmonia is a great match for the TSMs (its what is playing in my listening room right now), but it is a integrated and it sounds like you want to stick with separates. Full disclosure, I am the sole authorized dealer/distributor for Ars Sonum products in the USA and I do have used Ars Sonum amplifiers available from time to time as customers upgrade or move on to other gear (contact me directly or watch for my ads here on audiogon for when i have such items available).

Back to Joule-Electra, I have recently made a number updates and additions to my Joule-Electra reference/information page on my web site. It has a bunch of scans of old product literature, show hand outs, etc and even old price lists, plus PDF scans of (or links to) reviews and other assorted info. I still need to get around to adding (scanning to PDF then uploading) owners manuals though.

One last note to pmboyd, what versions are your TSMs??? If a older version (i.e not the last Black Magic version), have you considered updating them??? I know a guy who does that exactly as Bobby P at Merlin did. ;-)

Hope this helped!

Rich Brkich
Signature Sound

Bobby used to recommend the Joule Electra to me as well when I was a dealer. When I heard the deHavilland I dropped the Joule Electra line completely. Those stupid Russian " super " tubes suck........the life out of the sound. 

@soundsrealaudio Based on your comment, I see you are focusing on (and sounds like have only heard) the one version of the LA-150 (the MK1) line stage which was made for a couple years which used the 6H30 and the 6C45 tubes in the line stage. No, it was not Juds best preamp. Most of the Joule preamps out there use NOS 5751 and 6350's in the line stage (LA-100) or NOS 6350's (in the LA-150MKII line stage - which is not a Russian super tube, but a sweet American made dual triode form the 50's and 60's)... IMO these are Joule-Electra preamps which sounded best. These willl not sound like a UltraVerve (which is a good sounding preamp, just had one here for a checkup a few weeks ago), but are very good sounding preamps in their own right.


My Merlins are mmi version, serial numbers 4167 & 4168.

I'm not married to my ss monoblocks, in fact, I'd like to simplify providing I can achieve equal or better sound. Selling the amps, preamp and various wires would pay for the change.
I have the TSM-MMM with master RC running with a Jolida 502a. Vintage tubes, Cardas cables. Could it be any sweeter? In my room this is an amazing set up.

Oh geez, sorry...Just read PREAMP in the header post.

I dont run with a preamp.

Well Sophia Electric has a stunning little integrate, EL 34's that will light up your Merlins. If your Merlins sound a little bright and forward then you might consider a new pair of speakers. 

re soundsrealaudio. What do you recommend?

Sorry about not getting back with you sooner. I am not exactly sure what you want to do. The deHavilland Ultra Verve sometimes shows up on audiogon. Would you prefer an integrated or would you prefer separates? So the Ultravere would be the statement piece in a very high end system...meaning if you upgrade other pieces of gear your Ultravere will live up to any upgrades you can imagine, speakers, amps etc. 

If you are happy with your set up and just want a smoother more musical sound then you could sell you amp/preamp and go with an integrated. I loved the sound of all the Sophia Electric gear. Japanese triode makes some very affordable integrated gear. 

You can email if you want more " free advice " . I don't sell anything that I am recommending. I did at one time. 

@pmboyd - I actually have 2 Joule Electra LA-100s.  I would be willing to part with one for about $1K.  Shoot me a PM.
I purchased a Line Magnetic 518IA Integrated about 3 years ago and it has been a perfect match for my Merlin TSMs.  I'm getting bass I had never gotten even with solid state and tone is nicely fleshed out without ever getting anything near syrupy or "golden."  I have heard wonderful things about the synergy between the Ars-Sonum Filarmonia with Merlins, but I haven't heard that combination personally.  All I can say is you really should try the LIne Magnetic.  The amp is $4500 so a bit more than your $2k preamp + Hibachis (and you'll need to budget for some tubes), but you can sell your interconnect between your power and pre and save a lot of rack/shelf space, in addition to having an amazing partner to your Merlins.