Help with finding ultra-transparent pre-amp

I got a new player, Wadia 581i SE, and once I hooked it up directly to amps I realized that my pre-amp is not transparent enough.
To make a long story short, I would like to find a very transparent pre-amp to be inserted between player and amps (no coloration, no shift in tonality, and no loss in dynamics, micro or macro), that would result in a sound indistinguishable from the sound of my player going directly to amps.
Essentially I want a wire with attenuation control. Balanced connectivity is preferred.
I tried a transformers based passive pre-amp (it was a custom, very well executed job), result was not good, not only that it killed dynamics and resulted in a dull and uninteresting sound, but transparency was in fact worse in comparison with my present pre-amp.
Is there such a transparent pre-amp, or it is just a pipe dream?
The cost is of course to be considered, I would not go for anything that is more than let’s say 3.5K, new or used.
I have been reading about Placette (resistor based), has anyone had any experience using it in a system that has very resolving front end?
The rest of my system:
Bryston BP26 pre-amp
Bryston 7B SST amps
PMC IB2 speakers
the best preamp is no preamp, After you connected the CDP direct you realized your current pre was not transparent? Forget about adding another component in the signal path. go direct and spend your money elsewhere.
I never was able to get good results w/ the Wadia going into ANY preamps. I finally realized that Wadia sound best going direct into the amplifier.
A couple of options:

Atma-Sphere MP1
ARC Ref 3
The Passive linestage or single-source remote volume control are passive. The active is just as clean, but provides a class A buffer and gain.

All of them use the highest quality attenuators avaialable.
Have a look at Lamm. LL2 or L1 would fit your price requirements.
Don't skip the preamp. The Wadia might sound more transparent with no preamp but the benefits of a top notch preamp in a system are immeasurable.

I suggest the Ayre K1x.
Sorry, I missed the price point.

Lamm LL2 Deluxe is not balanced. It sounds great, but I wouldn't call it ultra transparent.
I agree with the Ayre recommendation. I would also consider SimAudio or Pass if you want active. On the other hand I would also look into a passive like Promitheus. It is supposedly extremely transparent though perhaps missing the weight you get from an active.
I too agree with the Ayre recommendation. They are very transparent. The K-5xe is easily in your price range. The K-1xe might be in your price range if you can find one used, and without the phono boards.

Good Luck!
Hi Sashav,

Not to beat a dead horse, but did you adjust the internal output switches in the Wadia for highest output voltage(0.3V to 4.25V) and set the 7BSST to 1V input sensitivity when you tried the Transformer Volume Control(TVC)?

Seems odd that such a bad performance resulted because, on paper, your system should have been perfect for a TVC with the Wadia's high output voltage and low output impedance of 15 ohms into the the Bryston's 1V input sensitivity and 20Kohm balanced input impedance.
SASHAV: If you want an ultra transparent preamp, please try the H-Cat preamp. They have a 30 day money back guarantee if you're not satisfied. An incredible preamp IMHO. Go to
Wyetech Pre. I think the Jade is in your price range. I have the Opal and it is as fast, dynamic and neutral as you will find in an SS or tube pre. No balanced ins or outs, though.

Probably one of the few (only?) units in the price range that would fit the bill is a used Ayre K-1. I'm actually trying to find the same thing for my Wadia 861se GNSC Statement and have a KX-R arriving next week for home demo.
A used Atma-Sphere MP-3 is in the price range, and is differentially balanced.

My MP-1 is very transparent, and I believe the MP-3 has a similar house sound.

The Audio Horizons preamp is another possibility, and it's available with an in-home trial.

The problem was not with 7B SST input sensitivity or Wadia’s output (which I did not adjust BTW), and here is why.
I had another player available during this mini session, Esoteric DV50, which gives much higher voltage on output, problems with TVC were the same. Music was louder, but still dull, no dynamics, and with loss of transparency in comparison to Wadia direct (Esoteric of course could not go direct to amps since it has no its own volume control).
Also, TVC I had was balanced unit, so I used 2V setting on 7B SST which works well for balanced, it was balanced out of Wadia into TVC and balanced into 7B SST.
Bar81, please let me know what the results are once Ayre arrives.
BTW, have you ever compared your Wadia with 581 SE without GNSC mods?
Sashav, will do, should be here on Saturday. As to my 861se, I upgraded from a 850 straight to the GNSC model.
What about one of stan klynes' pre amps?
You have a great CD player. I like the Wavestream Kinetics preamp or 2nd choice would be Wytech Labs Opal or Jade. These tube preamps are super clean sound adding no sonic signature to the sound. Have fun.
Anything from Pass Labs....their preamps don't add or subtract anything, they are dead neutral.
Sashav- I used the Placette Passive Linestage for few years. The Placette Passives(you may already know) use no attenuator at all. They are a resistor ladder, built exclusively of Vishay Bulk Foil resistors(virtually invisible in an audio circuit). Bottom line: Nothing will be added or taken away from your signal but level, when you require. Now the caveat: If you choose the passive route: Be certain your sources have enough output voltage to drive your amps/speakers to satisfying SPLs. there are a lot of recordings out there that were engineered at low average levels, and are(or were to me) un-exciting at the SPLs that result(ed). I bought an inexpensive passive attenuator to experiment with(a Creek) first. The vast majority of my collection was quite satisfying, and the Placette was extremely transparent with my system(which is all about definition/resolution from top to bottom- without glare/stridency/etc).
Sashav- I should have included this with my last post, RE: Availablility of a balanced Placette. Read the last two paragraphs on page one of this review:( You may want to download and check out this review as well: (
The issue with the Wadia has been that while its a great player, the volume control gets you into trouble. In basic terms, its no good below about 85 on the display- you loose too much resolution. So to get the best results with it you have to have a good transparent line stage.

The way you set up the Wadia is to set the internal jumpers to the lowest output setting available, then run it in the preamp.

With some amplifier/speaker combinations, upon resetting the output level as above, you can get by without a preamp, but otherwise, the result **should** be that if the preamp is a good combination, it will actually sound better with the preamp than without.
Direct drive is better than through mediocre pre but a superior pre will beat direct drive every time. My dcs stacks sound excellent driving my power amps directly but improve much further with a Boulder 1010 pre. Look for the balanced tube pre such as atma mp3 or asthetix calypso or Modwright 36.5.
I have expereinced the same thing with a GNSC modified 850. The most transparent I have heard was an Audiopax per-amp. Although I did not take it home to try in my system, I spent a few hours with it at a shop in NH. I could not hear any clear difference between the system with the pre in or with the Wadia direct. In my system, the best I have heard is the Pass X1, which accentuates the midrange a bit, which could be good opr bad depending on system matching. I have not been able to identify drop in resolution due to the digital volume control, although it is difficult to tell due to the change in percieved sound as volume changes. My experience has been that the drop in resolution due to adding a preamp is quite obvious, more so than anything the DVC does. I have not tried an AtmaSphere pre-amp, though.
I disagree with Tvad..............the Lamm LL2 Deluxe is one of the best preamp when using 1950's black sable mullard tubes and all the Vishay caps are replace with Vcaps TFTF/OIMP and Mundorf silver/gold caps. Those who have not heard a Lamm LL2 Deluxe with these modifictions are missing out on an extreme preamp at its best. Check out my system and you will see what it takes to make a great system much greater by ten fold.
04-25-08: Jagdynamics
I disagree with Tvad..............the Lamm LL2 Deluxe is one of the best preamp when using 1950's black sable mullard tubes and all the Vishay caps are replace with Vcaps TFTF/OIMP and Mundorf silver/gold caps.

I did not say it wasn't a great preamp. I owned one. I know how excellent it was in my system.

However, I stand by the statement that it is not as transparent (neutral) as many other preamps (although it's also not rolled off, bloated or lacking extension). It's what made mine so musical. I used mine with Mullard Blackburn 12AU7, 6922 and 6X4 tubes from the late 50s and early 60s.

Also, I was speaking about a stock Lamm LL2 Deluxe preamp, as this is what 99% of buyers would be purchasing.
Tvad, sorry you took this personal, I am only telling Sashav that the Lamm LL2 Deluxe can be a good choice and not to rule it out because of one negative thread. If you don't like what I have said, then take a hike and leave your thoughts out of this forum.
Sashav, good luck on finding the right preamp. I have had many high end preamps and I have found this LL2 deluxe to be just as good as most very high end preamp as a stock preamp and at a very reasonable price. With the modifications that I have done on this LL2 Deluxe, it will be very hard to find any stock preamp to out perform this preamp.

04-25-08: Jagdynamics
Tvad, sorry you took this personal, I am only telling Sashav that the Lamm LL2 Deluxe can be a good choice and not to rule it out because of one negative thread. If you don't like what I have said, then take a hike and leave your thoughts out of this forum.
Offering an alternate point of view is not an indication of taking something personally, unlike lashing out at someone for expressing it.

In fact, it seems we agree about the LL2 Deluxe's transparency/neutrality. In November you wrote:
11-30-07: Jagdynamics
I replace my accuphase c-2800 preamp with a lamm LL2 deluxe and the lamm lack in detail with high's/lows until I replace the stock tubes with mullards.
You wrote the LL2 Deluxe lacked detail in the highs and lows. Lack of highs and lows are characteristics of a preamp that lacks transparency and neutrality.

If you re-read all I have written in this thread, and all I have written about the LL2 Deluxe in about 25 other threads, you will see that I owned one and that I loved it.

IMO, in my system, it was not as neutral as the Modwright, Atma-Sphere, First Sound or Bryston preamps I have owned.

Lack of ultimate transparency/neutrality doesn't mean the preamp doesn't sound wonderful. In fact, I enjoyed the LL2 Deluxe more than the Bryston, Modwright and First Sound preamps, and if the LL2 Deluxe was balanced (a preferred requirement of Sashav's mentioned above), it's a good bet I'd still own one.

Frankly, we both seem to be admirers of this preamp, and we are both believers in the benefits of using Mullard Blackburn tubes. So, other than differing opinions about the degree of neutrality of the stock unit (which your November post indicates you actually experienced), I cannot understand what your beef is.
Well, took delivery and set it up about 10 minutes ago. Cold out of the box it's obvious this is something.
beware of what you want, for you may get it, tehn what ?

most preamps tend towards the "truth". pick any solid state preamp, and most tube preamps. you won't be disappointed.
you will attain as much resolution as you want and more.

here is a simple suggestion: nuforce preamp.
Bar81, no more suspense please, let’s hear impressions, from the cold start :)
BTW, what is the rest of your system?
I agree with Mrtennis. There are many great solid state preamps along with tube amps that will do well with the Wadia 581i SE. To name a few solid state preamps that I have enjoyed in the past were (Accuphase C-2800,MBL 6010D ref.,Spectral DMC-20 ref.,) tubes: (First Sound Paramount Mk II SE,VTL 6.5 sig.,CJ Art series 2, VAC Renaissance Mk II sig.). The reason I chose the Lamm LL2 Deluxe because of its price range, and it perform the best for its resolution (1.5hz-400khz), extreme transparency (neutral) when using my Stax 4070 cans/SRM-007tII driver. By using the Stax system and having a very good source, I was able to be very critique on the audio gear. Good Luck!
Not much to say as I've been out all day. Based upon my casual (and short) first listen earlier today and brief fifteen minute check in about a half an hour ago the KXR has seemingly already exceeded my expectations; suffice it to say there are no issues with regard to transparency.

The rest of the system is: Wadia 861se GNSC Statement, Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Focal Alto Utopia Be speakers, MIT Magnum MA ICs/SCs, HRS M3 platforms/kits for all components and a mix of VH Audio Airsines and Shunyata Anaconda Helix Alphas for power with MIT Z-Stabilizer III HG units.
bar81, more please! Also, what is your current pre?

Overate yesterday so here I am up at 4:30 with some lovely heartburn and decided to listen to another couple of songs and Charles may be right, the KXR may actually be a bigger jump than the MXR.

As to preamp, I was using a Levinson 326S and am currently driving the Wadia direct.
Looks like I'm all in; the KX-R is something that I still can't comprehend - it's a SS unit that has the best of tubes and of SS. Just a stunning accomplishment by Mr. Hansen.
How does KX-R perform in terms of transparency, when compared to Wadia direct?
Bar81, does this mean you are purchasing it? I REALLY do want to audition one...though I think I am afraid to (rather my wallet is afraid).
It's more transparent (I know this may sound counterintuitive at first but think about it).
Yes, my dealer and I have a call scheduled for later tonight to work out the final details.

The KX-R is a statement piece, much more so than the MX-R.
We have also found that if you run the Wadia through a good line stage, that it is actually more transparent than running direct. Of course, we do it with tubes, but its all balanced.
There are preamps that are detailed and apparently transparent and dynamic, and then there are preamps that can convey the texture of the instrument's sound as well as the inner details and dynamics. I would hope that the latter is what you are looking for. The best ones that I've foind seem to be tubed.

There was an Audio Prism Mantiss silver signature preamp here on Audiogon that would be a steal, and it has all the attributes I speak of. It is a bit old these days, but an amazing preamp none the less.

Thanks for the confirmation guys; that's the true genius of the KX-R, all the benefits of tubes, without any of the drawbacks.