HELP!!! I need a “GOOD-CHEAP” preamp solution???


I would appreciate the community’s thoughts about replacing my NAD C356 BEE integrated amp (it’s being used as my preamp) in my modest but nice sounding 2 channel audio system. Why replace the NAD? The remote no longer talks to the amp, I’ve already replaced the large pc board ($275) and it’s running hot with a dark brown spot on the blue pc board. Scary. 

Ideally, I’d like a tube preamp as I enjoy the “warmer” side of neutral. Laid back, spongy, non-fatiguing highs, meaty bass is me. Fast, accurate and transparent need not apply.

The digital source includes an older Theta Carmen cd transport to a Cary Audio dac (100 t) with a pair of vintage Mullard 6922’s in the output stage. Off to the NAD to a $400 Emotiva A300 (150w) amplifier. It’s a high gain (28db) and a bit forward/bright with my speakers. The speakers are my first pair of bookshelves. A recent move found the new man-cave just 11’ x 11’ x 9’. They are a nice pair of Focal Chorus 807 V W Prestige bookshelves. A sealed SVS SB-2000 sub fills in the blanks for the Focal bookshelves. Where’s the warm, analog tt you say? It’s coming. Zu Audio rca’s/speaker cabling with Acoustic Zen interconnects and AZ power plugs. 

Now, the big question. I know there’s a ton of options out there. But, what direction to go? Need to think budget (let’s say <$1500) Does a guy gamble and go vintage tube pre or SS used??? Is buying a 90’s preamp risky? For example, a CJ/AR/PSAudio/Classe/McCormick DNA etc. What sounds good? (I know, I know) is reliable and fun to listen to. A pre that might have good synergy with the extended highs and metal tweets (Al/Mag) of the Focals???

Is there a good used, inexpensive and dependable “sleeper” of a preamp (ss or tube) that you like???
keeferdog
I have a Schiit Freya and it not only sounds great, but is utterly unique at any price...USA made, 3 operating modes (preamp and remote selectable) of passive, FET, or tube (I use the tubes mostly, and the other modes to make sure the tubes are being honest), various fully balanced or single ended ins and outs, 4 6SN7GTB tubes for tube rolling fun, and 700 bucks. Not sure if it's a "sleeper" as it's a well regarded bargain home run from this refreshingly quirky company, but there's nothing I know of that comes close to this thing in price or otherwise.
Sounds like good Schiit! Off the top of my head, Schiit seems to build mostly desktop solutions. Is it fair to say, they’re branching out and into some 2 channel audio products vs the headphone amp/dac components? Also, isn’t there a new turntable in the works etc? Thanks for the input wolf. 
I also agree with those that suggested the Schiit preamps. I own several of their products and have not been disappointed, a lot of bang for the buck at their price range. Of course paying more for a preamp could deffinately buy you more as per other suggestions above.
Burson audio soloist about 700.00. Burson solid state has a rich full character. A sweet little pre.
A year ago I purchased the Luminous Audio Axiom II, Walker Mod, 3 in, 2 out, single ended, remote unit ( New, under $1500 ). I could not be happier. Enjoy ! MrD.
Van Alstine Vision is unbeatable under 1K and a contender under 2k .
I've heard systems that went from 5k to 25k and the AVA needs no replacing .
As mentioned several times above, the Schiit Freya is a no-brainer.
The only criticism of the Freya (and my other little Schiits like the Loki and 2 Magni 3s) I have is that the LEDs are too bright...if you take the thing apart like I did to put a some green marker on the lights (this works), you may spend a lot of frustrating (trust me...I nearly went insane, or more insane than otherwise) time getting the LEDs to line up with the faceplate holes when putting it back together...not recommended, but they eventually popped into place...still a GREAT preamp with more features and a silly cheap price. Mine is on right now...can you hear it? No? 
Um, despite needing a preamp, have you considered different speakers? They have the largest affect on the sound. A generalization but I’ve heard some of the lower end Focals and didn’t like their metal tweeters. I’d find it hard for anyone to say the house sound is warm or analogue. In the 807 stereophile review, they compare to 3 other speakers and amongst the various comparison notes, the Focals are stated to have the brightest treble of all of them.
Van Alstine 
Quicksilver
Odyssy Candela

ARC SP 15 and above, killer, still supported tank, sounds great


Sonic Frontiers Line 1 or Line 2. Once you have one you’ll never need anything else.
Classe SSP-25 $250-450 if you look or make an offer. Utilitarian in nature but solid 2 channel. Can find a programmable remote if need be. Cheap but been a favored purchase. Sorry, chump change budget dude. I find that I keep spending more though?
Another hearty vote for the Schiit Freya.  I’ve got one and love it.  I’m running a pair of CBS Hytron 6SN7s in the voltage gain and a pair of tung-sols as the followers.
I also have the Emotiva A300. Originally ran it through a rebuilt Conrad Johnson Premier 2, all tube preamp. Still the sound was as yours, forward, bright, grainy and irritating. The CJ slowly expired and too much $ to fix. Got a previously owned Van Alstine SS/ Tube preamp from Van Alstine. Same sound problems. Replaced the Emotiva with a heavily modified Adcom 535 (done by Hoppe's Brain). Huge difference - sweet and rounded, full mids and lower mids. Just budget nice sound. Point is, no matter what you pair the Emotiva with, probably won't tame it. It is what it is.
I feel compelled to point out one negative characteristic of the Schiit Freya that I auditioned recently.    When one moves the volume control knob, the pre-amp emits a clicking/beeping sound that gets sent through the speakers and competes with the sound of the program material.   According to the Schitt salesman I spoke to, this "feature" can't be shut off.   Frankly, it was a deal killer for me, as there are so many other pre-amps to choose from that don't do this.   
I would recommend the micro zotl mz2 tube pre-amp. Check it out at lineartubeaudio.com

Wow. Thanks for all the great input!

Sounds like the Schiit Freya at 7 bills is a no-brainer. Lots of fans. I was surprised to hear about the step attenuator (relay-volume) can be heard through the speakers when raising the volume? Weird. 

Ive checked out all the preamps mentioned in your replies. Please keep em coming!
I bought an Audio Experience Symphonies from Y S Audio in Hong Kong about 9 years ago for around $300 and had some mods done here in Australia for another $250. The mods consisted mainly of replacing the caps with Blackgates ( no longer available)  and the tubes with RCA NOS 12ax7. The guy that did the mods custom builds amps and preamps costing $20,000 + and he indicated that the preamp when modified sounded as good as any pre he had heard from either the USA or the UK costing  up to $4000. I note that the pre sells for $633 now and is now using Sonicaps. You could probably get a used one for less. My pre is stll going strong and sounds great. I know US buyers are rather suspicious of Chinese products but this amp designer is the real thing and it's worth while having a look at the website.
I think the Modwright SWL-9.0 Se is a great choice. As pointed out by winoguy17. I would take it over the Odyssey, Schiit or Van Alstine anyday. I have a Schiit product, but the Modwright is a couple steps up. IMHO
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I'm in agreement on the Modwright recommendation completely over the Freya.  Quality gear backed up by a great company where you can pick up the phone and talk to Dan or his small staff about any problem plus the support of the many owners in his forum on AudioCircle.  
Two all tube preamps within your budget: Quicksilver Line stage ($999), Jolida Fusion ($1350).  Neither have phonotage.

The Quicksilver has some what lower gain than the Jolida and has 100 ohm output impedance. Would mate well with your amp. I own the Jolida which I use with a BEL 1001 MK5.
I have no familiarity with the Emotiva amp you have, and not being personally critical ,  I'm not sure that sticking into the equation relatively higher end preamps - Modwright or a few others mentioned - makes much sense with a $400 amp. andrake effectively points this out in his post above from his personal experience with the amp in question. Might want to consider that more
Just spend the big bucks and get one of these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01HEQJGPC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02__o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc... I know, I know, it's just a joke but I tried it and it sounds surprisingly good on my system >Conrad Johnson MF2300A  > Magneplanar 1.7

Quicksilver,CJ, and MicroZotl2 would all work well.
The Freya has a well regarded and well publicized (at least among those who actually look at the available information) volume system described on the Schiit site thusly: "Most preamps—passive or active—use a potentiometer for volume control. Freya uses a sophisticated microprocessor-controlled relay-stepped attenuator for perfect channel matching and zero distortion—and with 128 steps for ultra-precise level control. You can hear it clicking as you turn the volume up and down." Although it seems silly to have to say this, It's a sound that exists only WHEN YOU'RE ADJUSTING THE VOLUME. Clicking physically, disturbing whatever your listening to sometimes, but there's a simple reason for it being there as it's a better, much more sophisticated and more accurate system than a wiper in a pot. Jcder...this is a benefit, not an issue, and is simply another part of a well designed preamp. I've found that the micro adjustments from the 128 steps is a useful and cool thing. Your salesman is an idiot.
@andrake I get it. I recently demoed a First Watt F7 for one week in my home system, from my local dealer. The Emotiva is approximately a 28db gain amp vs the F7’s 14db. Class A vs AB. All I can say is WOW. I was impressed. The synergy with the First Watt and the Focals produced a smoother,almost tube like tone. I never knew how good the Focals could sound.  I found myself enjoying longer and non-fatiguing listening sessions.I struggled with the idea of giving back the The First Watt but it’s 3k new ($2400 for the demo) vs $400. Now, I know.

The Emotiva is OK for a 150w stand alone amplifier. A bit forward sounding for the Al/Mag tweets. I did have to disconnect and remove the two noisy, cheap and unnecessary heat sink fans. The amp runs very cool. The First Watt? Um- Class A produces a nice source of heat for the man-cave for the week. Point being budget creates constraints. I like the Modright and believe me, I won’t have the Emotiva long.  
There is a used Quicksilver linestage preamplifier for sale here on AG. Asking price is $559. Less than 2 years old. If I was looking for a tube pre under $1500 I would give it a try. Could always resale it if it does not meet my needs. Does not have remote. 
Used to own a Modwright SWL 9.0 SE so can speak honestly on this piece. It is indeed a Giant Killer and will keep one up late listening to music. Tried several preamps before I moved up the the MW 36.5 and the 9.0 made many seem boring to listen to. The 9.0 is just flat out fun to listen to and has great PRaT. It’s built very well and not sure anything near the money will complete.

Good luck. 
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@mesch Thanks for the heads up. I just finished researching Quicksilver Audio. Had never heard of them. What’s wrong with a tube pre x2 12ax7 USA buildt (Stockton, Ca) product? Looks like they’re building a new integrated amp, a phono pre and power amplifiers. There’s also one for sale on FleaBay for $499. Anyone else have experience with QuickSilver Audio???
Quicksilver is a nice preamp. I had the one with no remote. Can't get much better for the price.
@yogiboy I’ve talked to Klaus in the past. At times, it seems like he’s got folks waiting for his products? His stuff seems like a “good value” buy? So what’s the story on Van Alstine? I’ve heard a lot of favorable reviews here. Any additional input. Thank you!
@keeferdog
Not much to add only that Van Alstine seems like a good bang for the buck. BTW, I use that Quicksilver preamp that is mentioned above. The only reason I did not recommend it is because it is very basic having no mono or balance control. It is point to point wired and great company support. If you don’t need those features you should grab it! Quicksilver has been around for 35 years!
The simple easy answer:

Find a nice used Counterpoint SA-2000 on eBay replace with some good tubes such as JJ Telsla 6DJ8s for starters and enjoy. From there you can upgrade the unit with a few resistors, capacitors, volume control and then tube rectification modification. Or try a Prima Luna for the warmer side of neutral.

Happy Listening.
Schiit Saga - $350. The end.
As yogiboy stated, Quicksilver has been around for 35 years. I am taking interest in their integrated and headphone amp. Only reason I own the Jolida Fusion over it is that I knew a dealer that provided me the Jolida highly discounted. It also has no balance or mono function. Does have HT passthrough, in addition to 3 RCA inputs a single XLR input, an XLR output and 3 RCA outputs (1fixed, 2 variable). I do use the XLR outputs though wouldn't need to. Service from Quicksilver or Jolida is known to be great. You can call either company and obtain good advice on how their products will fit into your system. 

The Van Alstine would be another contender, I am not as familiar with it.

I have no experience with the Schiit Freya or Saga. Do own, have owned, some of their products which I have found to be 'high quality for the dollar' products. 

Good luck in your search.
The Saga...I forget about that thing and it really has to be at the top of the tube "bargain" heap...great user reviews, and for many it's all the preamp you might need.
Try ebay for an older onkyo.

 I love mine!! Quiet, features, reliable, amazing preamp.

P-308 is a sublime preamp, and a be had for not much money. 

Recommended!
Sugden Headmaster is a headphone amp/preamp with three inputs.  It is shocking good and found used for between $500-700.  Class A design with a great tube like sound.  And fast.  I mean really quick.  The attack of instruments and vocals is immediate.

One version has a remote.  I run a Manley 300B Neo Classic preamp and it is 80% as good as that.
Hi, you can get a great CJ, AR or AL for under $1500.  All sound great.  Older we’ll build tube preamps are a great bargain and will last.  Don’t b afraid to purchase.  
Hey if you are getting rid of your nad 356  maybe you would sell me the phonisragphono stage part ???
let me know thanks 
[email protected]
Schiit, Audio has a nice little preamp that is both vacuum tube
or solid state you choose which one sounds better with remote 
for around $800 and beat many preamps 2x the cost if on a budgeta solid choice and you can upgrade the vacuum tubes to 
much bettter quality for even better results ,upgrade the fuse,
and a respectable power cord as with. Any preamp a must .
Schiit, Audio has a nice little preamp that is both vacuum tube
or solid state you choose which one sounds better with remote 
for around $800 and beat many preamps 2x the cost if on a budgeta solid choice and you can upgrade the vacuum tubes to 
much bettter quality for even better results ,upgrade the fuse,
and a respectable power cord as with. Any preamp a must .
In the meantime, its a no brainer to buy yourself a Schitt SYS for $49.  It has inputs for two units, you can run your CD player and another source, so you can have music while you take your time and look for your preferred preamp.  You will not regret having it.
Brown Audio Labs. hands down.
Take a look at Don Sachs pre.  Or better yet, call him.  I've been through a bit of equipment in my time and when I plugged his "all in" custom preamp into my system I knew I had made the right choice.