Why buy used? Check this out!
Had a SF SFL-1 years ago so I know that pre. The SF Line 1 is a step up over the SFL-1 so that would be an improvement as well and is a remote control unit. I've owned a ModWright SWL 9.0 SE and that's another more punchier, great preamp in that price range. Not heard the Herron's but they get great press by reviewers and actual users.
Won't go on and on what's the best for the money but yes, many preamps in your budget will outperform your SFL-1. I would add I listened to several ARC preamps below the Reference units that I felt the little ModWright outperformed; not saying the ARC's aren't nice preamps but I think for the money or less they're better options. The Reference preamps are another story and a lot more money but hold their own against similar priced and costlier competitors.
ModWright is bringing the SWL 9.0 SE back as an Anniversary model that might be something to call Dan on to see when it will be out. I believe that will be around $2K new.
I have a great recommendation in your price range... or any price range. Don Sach's tube preamp, based around octal tubes (6SN7's), is a glimpse of heaven for under $2K. It is better than a fully rehabbed Harman Kardon Citation I and is quick, liquid, detailed and dead quiet. Don is among the nicer and more approachable audio folks in the business and is brilliant. It comes with an excellent wood base and the tubes are exposed for easy tube rollling. It is the best preamp of the dozen or so (Berning, CJ, Klyne, Modwright, Belles, et. al.) I have had over the past 45 years. You can find it by searching for "Don Sachs Consulting" and look under the custom line stage. He has a killer phono preamp and is nearly completing the development of a KT88-based amp that he feels betters the HK-CII for about $2.5K. Whitestix
One more to consider, Modwright, the LS100 and discontinued 9 series, would be well in range second hand. Excellent products and great manufacturer support. I got the 36.5 Pre, which might be in your price range and it is not going anywhere. It is better than the Audio Research Ref 3, which costs a lot more.
again I want to thank every body. You have been wonderful bunch. I want to apologize for not responding quicker to post. I've been under going chemotherapy treatments and it's taken a lot out of me. Now that's out of the way. lol. I picked up a BAT VK-5 for a steel. So that's the Pre-Amp I'm using now. All I can say at this point is what a difference tubes make. There are a lot of other Pre-Amps I would really like to try. But for now I'm satisfied with the BAT VK-5. I'm hearing things I've never picked up on before. Oh wait that might be the drugs. lol. The music seems to have picked up little nuances i've never noticed. It's hard to put into words. It seems as though you can feel the music.
I want to thank every one again. It's nice to know that this place exist. Where everyone is willing to share their knowledge and experience. Good Luck and Best Wishes. Richard.....
I haven't had this BAT VK-5 very long, but Oh my what a difference there is between this Pre-Amp and my SFL-1. I have even had my SFL-1 Modded with larger and better caps. I know that I can make very slight changes by tube rolling with the SFL-1. Nothing like the changes I can make now with the BAT VK-5. And the 8 (6922) tubes it takes. Please don't get me wrong I have enjoyed my SFL-1. But it's not even on the same level as the BAT VK-5. I can't believe the difference. I can't believe how much music I was missing. Also how the music is so non fatiguing even after 6 or 8 hours of listening. the best way I can explain it is that you feel the music it seems to come to life. I hope that helps you