I suggest a MODWRIGHT SWL 9.0 SE , you can find them used for $1500. This preamp sounds great at lower volumes and has warmth and beauty and tonal accuracy, one of the best bargains in tube preamps. Also I would highly recommend the Manley labs Jumbo Shrimp.These 2 preamps will offer a great match with your quicksilvers.
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You might want to consider the Herron VTSP-3A(r02), at $6550 new.
I haven't heard it, but Herron products just about always seem to receive glowing comments from A'gon members and other users, who also invariably mention that Keith Herron is an absolute pleasure to deal with.
It is described as having 100 step remotely controllable volume, which I would expect to allow 1 db or better resolution over most of its range.
Caveats are that all of its inputs and outputs are single-ended, and I have no knowledge of whether or not in-home auditions or return privileges are possible.
So you want a vacuum tube preamp. A quaint little box filled with 19th century technology, the warm orange glow of hot little glass bottles void of atmosphere but full of metals banned in most countries these days. Who can't be pulled back to yesteryear with those warm full tones magically pouring from those ubiquitous glass bottles. A miracle of genius and determination coaxing electrons through near lethal high voltage circuits. Oh the thrill of the music knowing death is just a finger poke away.
What an accomplishment creating sound out of decaying metal filaments spitting electrons into space. Wonderful, beautiful sound as long as everything is perfect: Bias voltage not too low or too high, no vibrations, heat not too low or too high, no radio signals/RFI to botch things up, connections not corroded and lastly humidity not too high or too low. So get your tube preamp, shop for just the right tubes, check the tubes for proper operation, check all connections, check voltages, let the unit warm up, kick back and enjoy.
Don't worry, I'm immersed in this hobby up to my neck too.
Al has a good suggestion heed it.
If you want good increment control over the entire volume range, this can only be achieved by a pre that has full range of motion control with your amp without having too much gain.
This pre can be set/switched to high or minimal gain, which means the full 100 steps of the volume control may be at your disposal. Instead of just from 7 o'clock to 9 o'clock for full level.
I really appreciate all the input, and reckon that we are all more lost without each other! There are some good suggestions to start; Cary SLP-05 gets frequently suggested, BAT, Herron and VTL. Curiously nobody mentioned Aesthetix. The 10Y arises curiousity... I couldn't find about costs. A suggestion had me thinking in a tangent...
Since my sole source is digital, then how about leaving out the preamp in favor of a DAC with a proper analog volume control? I don't need source selection, and can still consort with Tonywinsc about NOS tubes in my Quicksilver Silver power amps. My source is a PCM/DSD library from JRiver on a micro Zuma SoTM CAPs. Selling my current SS preamp and PCM DAC will net around $7500, funds that can be recycled into a PCM/DSD DAC with a proper volume control.
A potential candidate is the MSB Analog DAC, which does all this and potentially offers upgrade capacity. The volume control is 1db (78) stepped-attenuator. There's someone selling their Herron VTSP-3Ar02 here on A'gon because they did the same exact thing. Thoughts?
Second the Herron VTSP-3Ar02. Best pre I have owned by far and meets all of your stated criteria. Low or high gain setting combined with volume steps allow very fine gradations of volume adjustment. I'm using very high efficiency speakers and have it in the "low" gain mode and can select exactly the preferred volume for each recording. The Herron makes gorgeous music plain and simple. Give Keith a call and see if you can try one via him or a local dealer. Stellar preamp!
Ralph, Have you thought about Conrad Johnson? I have a CT5 that I believe would meet your criteria. I believe it's the first one of theirs with Teflon capacitors that really tighten the sound from the earlier generations of CJ.
I use it with Shunyata power cords and they may be responsible for some of the control as well, not sure.
Also, it has discrete volume steps (0.5db steps, I believe). Original list was $8k, but used ones should be a lot less.
CJ has replaced it with an ET5, but I haven't heard that so I'm no help on that.
I am on a similar hunt, looking to change my Music First Baby reference passive, into an Audio Research Ref 75 power amp. I say looking, because I think the Passive will take some beating. I don't particularly like the Arc reference 3 pre, cetainly compared with the Music First.
As Sabai suggested, I was looking at the Audio Horizon. It has good reviews and an enthusiastic following on this site. It is by direct sale, so good value for money and is available for home audition. The makers offer a wide range of possible upgrades and balanced and RCA inputs and ouputs. It seems a no brainer to me.
I first considered the C-J... they are hybrid... I was told they had a particular coloration.
Still, since I have a single source, a digital library, I could consider a DAC with a good pre out. Is that an oxymoron? Bad move? I email one owner of the MSB Analog DAC who loved the sound but did have reliability problems.
I did order at no risk the new Vinnie Rossie LIO; has a tube stage and DAC with off-grid supply. Might it be a step down for me? It will be here around the first of the year, so I ought to get some other preamps in for comparison. Maybe the ET5, maybe Herron. Nobody mention Aesthetix...
Hello again A'goners!
Still interested in what y'all have to say about a preamp; I'm been searching around for options. Recall that my sole source is SoTM USB digital, and any preamp I get must have small-step remote volume control to fit my music library and lifestyle. I have a wonderfully sounding Hegel P30 preamp for sale that does not have small remote volume steps. Im seeking a well-toned tube preamp that has articulate bass grip. I also now have a library of DSD files so might consider replacing my PCM-only DAC in the process. Heres my current list of preamps and DAC+pres to audition:
Aesthestix Calypso Signature (perhaps Callisto?)
Vinnie Rossie LIO, arriving in January. Shootout planned then!
Audio Research REF5SE
Grace M905 DAC w/ volume
MSB Analog DAC w/ volume
Auralic Vega DAC only
Heres some others that havent made the short list but could:
Lampizator 4 w/ 64 step preamp. But apparently requires manual DSD/PCM switching.
Allnic L3000 $12k 41 steps, 14 or 20db gain
Purity Reference 1db steps, $12.5k; also single-ended Foundation model coming soon
Balanced Audio Technology VK-33SE? 0.5db steps
Herron VTSP-3A(r02) - funny but a seller of this pointed me to the MSB Analog DAC.
Zesto Leto TAD speakers with these sounded best of my short tour of RMAF. Gaudy styling!
Correct me if Im wrong on any of these. So many well-reputed preamps without any volume remote:
Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe $6K
Thomas Mayers 10Y Linestage
Other remote-controlled preamps are out because they do not have small steps:
Audio Horizon TP2.3 Linestage (PCM only DAC?)
Music First Audio
Prima Luna Dialogue Premium
Audio Valve Eklipse; motorized Alps pot
Hey Ralph, have you looked at a Manley Labs Jumbo Shrimp ? It uses a very precise radio controlled volume remote called the Remora...O and by the way its a awesome sounding preamp. I use it over a McIntosh, BAT, Mod Wright, Prima Luna. I have heard all of them very intimately. The Manley is the best sounding pre amp for under $2100 used and $3600 new, that I have heard.
I would do the 30 day trial with the $7000 Placette Audio Active Linestage. It pretty much is the answer for your requirements. "good dynamics and detail, quiet background, uncolored and even tonality and good imaging, but I'm especially keen on articulate bass extension. I frequently listen at lower levels, so appreciate the bass extension."
The bass is simply stunning. It is unity gain so if you don't need gain in a line stage it will have a distinct advantage. http://www.stereophile.com/solidpreamps/1107pla/index.html
A friend has this and the bass is unbelievable. I recently implemented their totally passive remote volume control in my Loesch preamp and the bass improvement was stunning.
No tubes in this unit, but since it is transformer based, no solid state either.