Help - Need Preamp under 5K for Class D amps

I’ve been looking at preamps for some time now and now that I’ve finally taken delivery of some audiophile quality speakers it time to find this device.
My current setup is as follows:

Line Arrays in the form of AV123 LS-6’s driven by a pair of Nuforce 9 SEV2’s. No pre in the signal path. Source is a Slim devices Transporter. All files EAC ripped FLAC lossless compression.
AC services:
VH-Audio power cords service the Nuforce’s in Flavor 4 version as well as the Power conditioner. Dedicated circuit utilizing a Furutech outlet and Furutech silver IEC connectors, Furutech gold plugs on the opposite end on power cords except on the Transporter end where I use a Oyaide 079.

Adona Rack and a considerable amount of room treatments.

So what I hear while sitting on the couch is a pretty resolving system with pinpoint imaging, a decent amount of bloom, dynamics galore and a generally pleasing sound except… I’m not quite where I want to be in terms of just being able to relax into the music. I’d like a bit more air, or bloom or warmth? Sorry I don’t have the right description but perhaps the fact that I have NO pre is the problem in general. Overall sound seems to be a bit clinical. Maybe that’s the word.

This is why I ask the help of my audiophile brothers and sisters here. Running my MAC RCA Palladiums’ doesn’t improve this much over the balanced cables I own which are DH-Labs DIYers. Having a home theatre system in tow that utilizes the Nuforce’s as well I find myself constantly moving interconnect cables which is annoying at best.

I’ve been looking at Dan’s Modwright 36.5 and auditioned one from a fellow Audiogon seller. I couldn’t get a handle on it’s attributes from that audition – too different a system not to mention that I didn’t like what I was hearing from his setup. Others pre’s I’ve been interested in are as follows:

Parasound Halo JC-2 – No tubes but does that really matter?
Aesthetix Calypso
Audio Horizons 2.1
Modwright 36.5

Thanks for your advice.
Have you thought about having Modwright upgrade your Transporter with their Truth mods. They add a tube output stage to the TP. The results are amazing and would most likely give you what you are looking for.

See all of the reviews on the web by goggling "Modwright Transporter".

By the way, the Aesthetix Calypso is a great preamp although I have never heard it with a digital amp.

Good Luck,

The Truth mods are definitely on my radar. I thought however that the pre would give me the flexibility to cure my cable swapping issues when viewing home theatre.
Dodd battery pre. It crushed an Andio Note M3 and I am a fan of their products.
I've heard a lot of good things about the Dodd. I thought about building an Audio Note pre as well as I love DIY.

I'm looking for a theatre bypass function. In the interest of keeping 2 channel and HT seperated, and needing a multichannel amp anyway, I could in theory simply switch speaker cable outputs in some manner. Trade-offs you know. Speaker switch VS HT bypass?
I have the Dodd and love it and would certainly suggest that you consider it. However, since you are specifically looking to add warmth, I would also suggest considering the Red Wine Isabella, which is also a battery powered tubed pre whose end users have consistently described as having a warmer presentation than the Dodd. The magic of the Dodd, IMHO, is its transparency moreso than warmth per se.
You might add these to the audition list.
TRL Dude $3500
First Sound Presence Deluxe MKII $2400-4800
Cable Co,has a pre coming out,it was in their last "update" e-mail.They have the linestage and were waiting on the phono-worth a call.
I don't believe a tube preamp is the solution to your problem, but it would be a good addition to your system nonetheless.

The NuForce amps do not lend themselves to relaxation. I have auditioned them with a tubed preamp ($15,000 Atma-Sphere MP-1 MK III).
I am using a tubed Audio Horizon 2.1 balanced and after using Nuforce P-8, P-9, going with a tubed preamp with my Ref 9 SE V2s was a positive move for my systems delivery. I did not audition any others as i was totally satisfied with what i was hearing with AH. YRMV

I was a AV123 user Rocket RS 1000s like there style but moved on.

Desalvo55 good luck with your fine system
Desalvo55, I run a class D Halcro MC20 through a pair of Newform Research hybrids. Have made some significant changes to my system to achieve the very goals you mention. Last year, I bought a Cambridge Audio 804c player and a pre-owned AtmaSphere MP3. The sound was full, detailed multi-dimensional and ultimately more impressive than engaging. I also had a hum in the system that I could not resolve and took the pre off line. Recently, I purchased a Cary sacd 306 and a used Audio Horizons tp2.0 pre with the balanced and noise reduction upgrades. The synergy sounds like what you are looking for. Relaxing, is your goal, and what I have achieved. I would attribute that to the Audio Horizons. The Halcro is described as clinical and brutally honest, to a fault. The Cary, to my ear, has an analog quality. The Audio Horizons seems to tie it all together in a package that gives you the music in an honest, revealing, expansive and non-fatiguing way. I am a jazz musician and have have developed a ear for the way instruments should sound - not just the music. I get that with the system I now have. You may find the Audio Horizons to your liking. It is considerably south of $2k, even with options, and is returnable. Hope this helps. David
Deliberate1 has identified the problem, IMO...and the solution is not found in one component.

The OP has a source that adds to his problem. Maybe Modwright's version of the Transporter would be a step in the right direction.
I know exactly what your talking about, I had the same problem.
Getting a tube pre-amp will steer you in the right direction, but IMS changing to a gold IC was the icing on the cake, it gave me that rich tone and fullness I was looking for. The sound is still detailed and resolving but, has more meat on them bones.
I agree with Tvad the solution isn't one component. You will have to try different tubes,PC,IC,isolation devices,etc. until you get good synergy and the sound you like.
I have a Supratek Sauvignon with upgraded V-caps in my set-up and the sound is wonderful.
I've been playing with our newly formed setup. LS-6's are sounding quite lovely. I can't get over just how beautiful the cabinetry is. Cabinets were worth the money I paid for these! Getting back to the pre I just listened to a Itlain made Lector paired with my Nuforces running to a pair of Usher Be718. Sounded quite nice.

I don't have an issue with my Nuforces. What I love about them first off is their lack of signature. They just seem to amplify sound. Last night I used our Onkyo 885 as a pre. In pure audio mode it didn't sound bad but after a while we missed the ambiance, detail and energy that we love without a pre. I know this isn't a audiophile qulaity piece but you get my message. I don't want to give up what I have in energy, I wish to add some timbral accuracy and control to the whole mix. Getting the truth mods to our TP doesn't solve our problem (people should have such problems :-| God are we blessed) although it is a possibly later on.

Another vote for AH. It seems many Nuforce owners like these. TRL "dude". Gotta check that out too as I heard mention of that pre before.

What about the Lamm LL2 used? One hell of an engineer..
The TRL Dude would be the best of the group you mentioned.I have heard/owned the first two on your list and the Dude easily surpassed them. Loved my AH 2.1, but the Dude is much better in my system and room.

No remote option however. Also not likely to find it used here. $3500 new.

I would think the Dude is a great match to the more "detailed/clean" sounding amps you have.

I have not heard the Lamm LL2 but based on all the reviews and comments it might be a great mate with your amps.

I think a pre with beautiful and meaty mids would be ideal for you. Dude and LL2 would fit the bill well.
The Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri will do an exceptional job, well within your budget. It's as resolving and involving as you'll hear. Look for GuidoCorona's review elsewhere on A'gon.

I am intrigued by the comments about the TRL Dude preamp. It seems like an excellent value. What tubes does it use?

Some of the LL2 Deluxe's features include: tape loop, two sets of outputs, three pairs of RCA inputs (for a total of four inputs including the tape input), phase switch. The volume controls feature "click stops" and hash marks which make matching left and right quite easy.

These may or may not be important to each user.

I need all the inputs for my sources, and I utilize the tape loop to interconnect two systems in my home via an Audio Control balanced line transceiver
In general tubes will get you more midrange warmth and bloom. But this is not always the case. I am sure the TRL will give you this while also improving a host of other things we all want in our sound systems.

If $2500 was was budget, then I would say the AH 2.1 and Lamm used are your best choices. But if you can spend $3500 I am not aware of a better pre for what you are trying to accomplish them the Dude by TRL.
Check out this German's a steal for their build quality and suits your budget perfectly
Audio Valve Eklipse Tube Preamp
I believe the Dude uses 6SN7 tubes. TRL has always liked the RCA red base 5692s.
Cannot find info on the "dude" dudes. Is there a pic with some info?

That Audio Valve Eklipse looks very nice. Got kudo's from stereo times Mike Wright. Wonder if it has HT bypass. Funny that there's many pics of it's front panel but NONE of it's back panel that I could find.

Anyone here heard a lector?
No info on the Tube Research Labs website. Just call Paul. He hand makes these and stands behind them. Also, when you buy from Paul he will always update your unit as changes are made.

Not as pretty looking as the Eklipse, but its the sound that matters.

Gotta call the dude for info on The Dude, dude.

It sounds like your hearing the preamps, and while you enjoy their initial addition to the presentation your hopelessly a transparency junkie. You might try a tubed output stage on your source. IMO getting the preamp off the AC grid is key to switching amplifiers. Unfortunately there's not much out there and what there is can be pricey.
First play with speaker positioning. In the wrong spot speakers will not open up. Sometimes you only need to move them a half inch. Also, are you biwiring or biamping... are the amps balanced?

Biamping, and running balanced (when your entire sysytem is) will bring more air.

Cables need to be upgraded!
Currently I don't have a preamp to listen to other than when I connect to my Onkyo which sucks the life out of my music. If I were to get off the AC grid I would go with Dodd which is a possibility cause if there's one thing I learned after all these years in this hobby, it's paying close attention to the AC end of things.

If there isn't so much as a pic of the "Dude" it's a hard sell with the wife unit and myself!

Still looking but many excellent recommendations. I like that Audio Eklipse unit (at least by looks and from what I read) as well as the Audio Horizon. What about BAT?
You want to see the backside of the Audio Eklipse...
Here is the grande view ;-)
Back view of the Audio Eklipse

Looks as good behind as it's in front.
And according to Mike Wright, it beats the Conrad Johnson Act2 that costs 3 times with the correct NOS tubes.
Forgot to add, more eye-candy close-ups of the Audiovalve Eklipse on the Korean online store below.
Hi there
Guess we are both on the same quest...Looking for a good preamp to go along with Nuforce. In my case, kinda looking at either:
1. TRL Dude
2. Audio Eklipse

Tough what about u Desalvo.

The reason TRL's Dude is only $3500 is because they are a small company and they don't play games with the paid reviewers. They don't have a fancy wedsite and Paul is simply a great circuit designer.

There are other folks like me on this site and AA that can confirm how good his stuff is.

Sure, you can spend more money on a foreign piece that will be hard to service if needed and not sound as good.

The Dude is simply in a different league and will end one's desire to trade up or around. No, it is not eye candy nor a brand that you can boast on.

If remote and looks are needed, then the Dude is not your man. If you want beautiful music beyond what you thought was possible, then the Dude is the one for you.

Have fun. I am sure the other preamps mentioned will sound very good. I am sure you will enjoy one of them greatly. I have to. But the Dude and the 225 amp from TRL are really a breakthrough in home audio.
One other idea for you. I think another good choice, for the money and to accomplish what you want when mated with your Nuforce amps, is the Cary SL98 tubed preamp. Having owned this I know it will give you the meaty mid bloom you desire. Very nice preamp for the money.

The AH 2.1 is also a wonderful choice, but is more neutral sounding then the Cary. My long time favorite preamp.

The Conrad Johnson LS 16 is also so meaty and full through the mids and would also fit the bill nicely. I owned this one also.

The Dude has all of attributes mentioned above, but offers so much more in term of bringing live, bold and powerful sounding music home.

In the same price range as the Dude you can have the Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri, including a phono stage. This little is incredibly quiet, yet organic sounding at the same time. The billet aluminum chassis provides incredible RFI and EMI shielding and is designed with Class D in mind.

Audioforever – I’m feeling the Audio Eklipse as well. I have to factor in WAF and that unit is a beauty. Hell, I’m fortunate to have a converted audiophile wife. I think she’s crazier than I am. She wanted the LS9 line arrays which stand to the ceiling!

Not having any pics of the “Dude” and little information, I don’t know if I can go there. I like the Audio Horizon 2.1xx as well. Those can be optioned for the HT bypass and are well regarded on this forum.

I have little experience in tube gear. I owned and loved an AR LS15. I had borrowed back this unit and listened through my Nuforces some time ago and found it rolled off… the music. This was when I still used my Def Tech BP2000’s. I was surprised just how awful it sounded and it kind of worried me regarding choice of preamp’s. Now I have completely different speakers (line arrays) and many other upgrades and improvements. I know that I can tailor the sound through cables to a degree. I understand tubes will also affect the sonic quality of just about any pre to a point. So if we can find something reasonable and we’re willing to spend up to 5K (that’s a lot of cash in our world!) as I heard it often stated that the preamp is the heart of the system. I’m sure that can be argued about!

Many good points here. Now I need to check out that Jeff Roland designed Capri and the Cary.
Anybody with a pic of the Dude?
Thanks again for all the suggestions.
I've owned the Cary SLP-98 and with the right tubes this is a very fine preamp. It is colored with the traditional Cary house sound focused on lush mids. The bass is not as tight as I would like, but its not bad either. I've heard that the Cary transformer coupled mod and F1 model of the SLP-98 presents a different sonic signature that is more neutral with better frequency extension and tighter bass.

I also own and am currently using the Rowland Capri. You can snag one here on Audiogon right now for $2100 including phono stage. An incredible deal IMO. Dcstep has accurately described the Rowland sound. It is a very quiet preamp with excellent frequency extension. Seems to transfer the signal accurately and effortlessly.

However, compared to my TRL preamp, which Brian Weitzel says is sonically comparable to the Dude (although totally different design), the Capri has a bit less kick and frequency extension. While the Capri claims to go from DC to 300k HZ, TRL claims that the top end of the Pre-1.5 is left wide open. Not that Paul Weitzel is a spec fanatic. Far from it in fact as what he is more interested in is the end result.

While Grannyring has mentioned that the Dude is not eye candy, you could talk to Paul and see about getting one built with a custom chassis that would be more appealing to you and your wife. Well worth the call to find out. More food for thought, I customized my D-225 amp with rosewood side panels made for me by another Audiogon member. Improved the looks dramatically.
The problem with small companies that's kind of run like a one-man show is that you do not have support reliability.
Just check out their bad publicity on head-fi forum
A complain
I rather spend more money with established companies, who cares foreign, contacting them is just an email away with the advent of internet.
As far as Audiovalve goes, they have existed for a long period and the Eklipse is a very mature design which was reviewed by Art Shapiro in the very 1st issue of Positive Feedback way back in 2002
Not only that, Audiovalve claims that the Eklipse is supposed to be the culmination of 15 years of preamp design
So I guess in 2008, the current Audiovalve Eklipse is a 20-year old mature design ;-)
And as far as german products go, this is supposed to be a steal. Check the price way back in 2002 and now, just attribute the price increase partly to US$ decline and you will know the quality/price factor is very high.
Since you are using the Nuforce P9 already, moving to JR Capri is most probably a lateral move, high quality solid state pre-amp to another solid state preamp. You may be better off keeping the Nuforce P9 which ia already among the best SS preamp for the money, and I would to place my money on P9 if you do ever manage to compare it to a Capri ;-)
I'm beginning to wonder if Hotbird has a vested interest in Audiovalve that should be disclosed in the threads.
I own the P9 Nuforce pre-amp, and do not currently own any Audiovalve equipment. But it may be the next pre-amp that I may upgrade to after perusal of Teajay's review whom I respect. And may I ask if the rest have vested interests in TRL, as I read on the head-fi forum that they have an odd following
Forgot to add, I do not know Teajay personally, but stay probably a million miles away on the opposite side of the world and other than correspondence on his threads, I have no vested interest in Teajay ;-)
Enthusiasm and respect. Got it.
Hotbird - I do not own a preamp other than my Onkyo PR-885CP (something like that) pre-pro which doesn't cut the mustard for 2 channel. So I run direct from Transporter to Nuforce amps. Not an ideal configuration!
Sorry, I was referring to Audioforever posting a few threads earlier, who did state he already owns a Nuforce P9.

I don't know you from Adam, but I can tell you I'm not odd. Well, not too odd. I have posted much on Agon and have owned lots of good gear. Please check my feedback and see I am not a "one note song on TRL" and am quite known to many on this site as both a buyer and seller.

Why would you call folks that like TRL gear odd? I think I know why. Seems those of us who have found very special gear from smaller , unknown companies are marginalized.
I knew when I starting posting of my amazing new find this would happen. Very sad to me. Many of us Audiophiles are to closed minded to really learn and discover.

I would be happy to send a pic of my Dude to those who would like it. Not sure how to do it in this thread - computer skills are marginal.

I have read the one or two negative posts and can say that has NOT been my experience with TRL. Seems some folks just can't stand the fact that a small company has come up with some of the best sounding gear regardless of price.

Paul at TRL actually updates any gear that is out there and brings them up to current spec as part of his service.
He has always retuned my emails and answered my calls.

Hotbird, I see you have no feedback?? Seems you are not a known quantity as yet. I don't know you and will cut you some slack, but please don't call me odd and suggest I push TRL as some sort of secret employee.

Audio abd music is fun for me and I share when excited about great gear.

Have fun.
I don't know one manufacturer that I've come in contact with, and whose equipment I was interested in purchasing, where I haven't found at least one customer complaint on a forum or through some other sources. It's the nature of the business.

Recently I had someone contact me about a manufacturer whose component I just bought who ragged on its reliability and their customer service. Checked with the manufacturer and got their side of the story. Then put the pieces together myself to come to my own conclusion. As usual there are always two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between (in this case closer to the manufacturers claims which were well documented).

A point well made is that boutique manufacturers like TRL, APL, Intuitive Audio, etc. are not for everyone. There is a leap of faith required and some risk. I have found the risk was worth taking. Others have opposite experiences.
I have owned my TRL M-225 mono amps for about two months and all of my dealing with Paul & Brian have been very timely and professional. As Clio09 states every manufacturer has a few upset customers. TRL could not stay in business all these years w/o treating their customers right. BTW my TRL mono amps are the best I have heard and that includes very expensive tube & ss.
I live way over in South East Asia and don't consider it viable selling 230V equipment with expensive shipping in a US-targetted Audiogon, thus no feedback. Even then I do not change equipment that often like fashion, and most of the time I do trade-ins with my local dealers when I want to upgrade some stuff once in a blue moon.
With regards to the "odd following" term I used, it was in context of those referred in that head-fi forum thread (check the posting there by someone called sejarzo).
There are 2 sides to every story, but at the same time there's no smoke without fire. Anyway, if you can dig up any dirt on Audiovalve, let us know, as I think many would want to consider it as next upgrade after reading Teajay's review (plus Mike's on Stereotimes), so it's best to be forewarned and let the interested parties make the judgement ;-)
I guess I should add my 2 cents. I've just dealt with a small manufacturer AV123 whom I purchased some line arrays from. My experience was miserable. Emails and phone calls messages largly ignored, lost, unanswered, overall a frustrating experience. It wasn't worth it. The speakers we received are worth way more than we paid for them. The cabinets are worth more than we paid IMHO! They are drop dead beautiful. They might even sound great when I get a decent preamp. I see no downside if you can find these in stock. I know Mark Shifter tries like hell but I might imagine that there's too many folks to please. We were one of them!

Still, we were in suspense for 6 months wondering what and when we would have. We didn't need this type of drama at this stage of our lives. All it would have taken was a phone call.I agree with the last gentlemen that there are two sides to a story.

Now we wish for a product that performs just as our Classe's (amps) and our Def Tech's performed, flawlessly for 12 years. They should have blown up for as careless as I had become as an experimenter ! But excellent design and execution on their part ruled the day for us. To many other things screwing up or breaking in our busy lives to have to worry about our stereo equipment breaking. Maybe I'm just upset that our coffee maker is broken...

Sorry, off on a tangent - forgive me please.

I digress. Red Wine Audio has come out with the Isabella. On paper and review it looks like a fine preamp. Doesn't actually "look" all that fine but is said to perform steller. It's a battery powered unit that will perform with AC as well if I read it right. Has a DAC option which I don't really need and is built with a USB option (with DAC option) meaning, bring on those digital files. That in itself is intriguing. Who's heard of this, knows this preamp or is familiar with Red Wine Audio?

Where's the HT bypass? Is it so stupid to stack speaker cables coming from a multichannel amp and a two channel amp provided you NEVER send voltage from both sources? I had to ask so shoot me.

I think that was about 2 bucks worth in this economy.
Desalvo55, I have learned the hard way that you cannot make decisions from these forums or reviews. It is very difficult because everyone seems to listen to different types of music and has their own system interactions. I listen to a lot of classical music so my priority for sound will probably differ to those who like electronic music. You also don't know the level of experience of the people in the thread. This hobby is definitely one that brings more sophistication the longer you are exposed to it. There is also no way to know if the participants have vested interests unless you know them personally. Manufacturers have even been caught using an alias to support their own products.
I have heard most of the gear mentioned above and even spoke to Teajay by phone today. I have heard his Audieclipse and thought it sounded good in HIS system. It is actually quite nice eye candy also. I have no idea what the Audioeclipse or any of the other gear mentioned would do in your system. I have bought a number of pieces because of a thread or a review. Most times I have been not been happy with the outcome. Just my 2 cents, Bob

The good news is you can try an AH 2.1 and possibly a Dude and keep the one you like better. I think both offer a trial.

You can even buy a used Cary SL98, CJ LS16 etc and again keep the one you like and sell the other one.

I have done just this over the years and now know for myself which preamp giants are really fair, good and great.

My experience is most dealers won't do that, but the smaller direct companies will.
hey desalvo55,,

"Who's heard of this, knows this preamp or is familiar with Red Wine Audio?"

i have the RWA Isabella with dac option and this is one sweeeeeeeet sounding premap and dac! much more tonally rich, blacker background, and more punch than the modwright LS36.5 i tried first. as far as "looks," the Isabella is very solid and well built but like other rwa components it is not flashy with chrome and gold and lights. you don't think about it when listening - you just listen and enjoy. well that has been my experience at least. i have posted about here on agon a few times so do a seach. I also have the RWA 30.2 and it is is a great amp. now i'm all off-the-grid and am finally done with my system and enjoying every minute of it! well, i still want to try those rwa cables, but not right now.

the good think is rwa offers a 30-day trial so you only lose shipping if it is not for you. the other thing you might want to do is check out the rwa forum on audiocircle for more feedback like this one -

i havent sighed up to post there but i lurk there all the time. i like vinnie @ rwa very much and like how he is active on his forum and how responsive he was to my phone calls and emails before i bought. this is much more important to me than a product that that fancy wood panels or chrome n' gold, but doesnt sound as good and does not have the designer who is as good to work with and interactive with his customers, and who doesnot stand behind the product with a money back trial period.i need to here the equipment in my systme with my ears. reviews are nice to get an idea what might be interesting but you just need to listen and decide what is best for you.

good Luck