Good usedpreamp recommendations up to $1500 or so?

Greetings folks,

I'm looking to purchase a preamp for my system, and would like some recommendations on products to consider. I have a few requirements, and even some bias to start with...

I have a MacIntosh MC275 as my amp, driving a pair of Aerial 10T speakers. Cables are Synergistic Research. A Cary 303-300 CD player is the source right now, but I am adding a Sonos to the system soon. Currently, I'm going direct from the Cary to the amp.

I want this to be a 2-channel pre, but if it were also a high quality 5.1 or other HT pre/pro that would be just fine. I care about the 2-channel performance the most, however. 5.1 would be a benefit for fitting the system into an inexpensive HT setup (I will get an inexpensive amp and speakers for the rest of the HT system).

I would like a HT pass-through capability if possible. I want balanced outputs. I would consider a smooth sounding solid state pre, or a neutral sounding tube pre. I have a preference for Pass Labs (other amps I've owned, but no experience with their pre's), Sonic Frontiers, Classe, Cary possibly. I've had EAD gear (Theatermaster Signature 8) and liked it, but felt it was a little clinical sounding.

So I'm looking for recommendations for a very good pre that comes in used under $1500 or so. If I had to stretch to $1700 or $1800 for a considerable jump in quality, I guess I could do it. I'd probably prefer to spend under a grand if I had my preferences.

Any recommendations?


!.Cary more than $2K

2.Audio Research more than $1,500.00

I am currently using SLp-98 paired with pair mc-225 and mc-2100.
coda or innersound
Seems to me the components and speakers in your system warrant a better preamp than what you will find at your stated budget.


The Cary and AR don't have balanced outputs unless I am mistaken? I don't think Cary made a pre with balanced outputs until the most recent one. I think I'd be all over the Cary if it had balanced outputs.


I'm with you here. What do you recommend? I was thinking about possibly a Sonic Frontiers Line 2 or something like that should be a good match to my gear, but I'm not sure. How high do you figure I need to go?

I also figure that a Pass preamp might match up well in performance.

Primare Pre-30, balanced inputs and output also
a HT pass-thru. Its in your budget and sounds good!
THe PS Audio GCP 200 is an excellent preamp. Google Affordable Audio dot org for recent review. They don't come up often, but well worth seeking
$2000-$2500 range you can find used Lamm LL2 Deluxe, Rowland Capri, and Dodd Battery preamp.

Also, new you can try an Audio Horizons TP2.1 in your system for 14 days.

Once you get into this price range the possibilities really improve.
TVAD is correct. . . and Capri is my own fav. . . true balanced design, XLR and RCA in and out, theatre bypass, remote, SS. I have written a lot about it elsewhere and truly like it. . . It does not attempt to imitate the sound of tubes. . . just do not expect a tube-like sound from it. . . or you will be disappointed
PS Audio PCA-2.
I beieve that you can get a Cary with XLRs but even if you can't try what i am suggesting.
I took a gamble on a very inexpensive preamp from the Cary's subdivision AES. I always forget the meaning Electronic Audio Solutions or whatever.
The preamp I bought from another Agoner on a lark was one of the AES preamps maybe the only preamp they made a few years back. It cost me $350, it uses 2 tubes, and has a single trannie, a big one but just 1.
It is called an AE-3 and I later learned had been the topic of inumerable threads. They all described it as a true giant killer and it measured up against much more expensive preamps. It was a magical and wonderful piece.
Somehow I missed all of buzz. When I hooked it up, after extirpating the Chinese 6SN7s first, (its only tubes are 6SN7s) and replaced them with something good. I had for an N7s... Suffice it to say it shocked the feces out of me. Stunned, dazed and confused because I hadn't heard a word about it being so good.
I went ahead put in some of the best N7s around, a pair of my Sylvania "Ws". I then invited a preamp designer and builder over for a listen. Again the sh** was blowing out. All he could mutter because of a plan to release his own totally new, innovative, patentable super pre. Which must retail for 12 to 15 grand due to it being costly to make, was Holy Sh**. That is "scary good and 90% of what I have built."
He owed me some money for a project he didn't end up doing so he asked if he could make it a DJH Sinature for me using the same mods that AE did. I said sure why not?
He said that the AE preamp, was actually stuffed to the gills inside and replacing the various caps hexfreds and such was difficult.
Once again now using regular Sylvania VT-231s from the 40s this time it sounded just as good but really no different. He said what I was thinking.
So I unhesitatingly tell you!!! not just recommend you get this pre or it's decendants. If you need to get the balanced destroying different ended ICs just do it.
The only model they sell new is much more expensive has a rectifier tube and various other changes possibly XLR inputs.
Also you must forget that it cost less than it should to keep the system elements proportional in price. It's up to a pretty high dime now. I think it runs about $1,500.00 new but obviously less used and do yourself a favor and just buy it.
Don't fall for it should cost some completely arbitrary percentage of the total system cost, just listen to it.
I am telling you my ammps are $5,000 my speakers a few years back $6,600 JM Electras brand new. My front end $2500 CDP and a VPI Scout TT. A 300 dollar pre doesn't exactly fit in although admittedly I have a pretty inexpensive set up when compared to many systems I have seen here. Yes I have Cardas ICs some AU24s ICs and power cords and Jena lab speaker cables that all cost more than that tinker toy preamp.
NONE have made my system sound better than this little preamp. The Cyber 800 Monoblocks had as big an impact for most critical change honors, but they cost 14 times as much!
Good Luck and believe me and you will see
Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I'm going to do some research on the preamps recommended and go from there.

If anyone wants to add anything, I'll be monitoring this thread for a while.