Levinson 380S or Hovland 100?

I've recently migrated from primarily HT to 2-channel. I just added a Sony 777ES SACD player to my system, which consists of Aerial 7B's driven by an EAD Powermaster 2000 amp (400 watts/ch). Interconnects are Harmonic Tech Pro Silway MkII.

While I still enjoy HT, 2-channel is now taking up 90% of my time and interest. Now I must find a preamp to go with the SACD player. I've never owned tube gear, but have read tons of reviews and opinions regarding it's unique sound. Here's my question. . .

In the $6,000-$7,000 price range, what are your opinions and suggestions? I'm leaning toward the Levinson 380S. I feel comfortable with the fact that it's SS and I am familiar with the Levinson reputation for quality. Is this unit in the same league with the preamps mentioned in the previous "Hovland-pre thread?

I just read the Stereophile review on the CJ 17LS, and this could be in the running as well. Again, I'm inexperienced in the tube world, and don't want to be a slave to maintenance, tube replacement and such. Or are today's units virtually maintenance free?

Any first-hand info and opinions will be greatly appreciated. I love my SACD player, and want to be sure I'm getting the very best out of it I can.


IMHO, yer barkin' up the wrong tree with your two candidates. Have a listen to a BAT VK50SE, and your search will be over. If you are not amazed and your soul stirred by the result, come to Massachusetts and you can kick me!
That's how sure I am about this. I bought one, and 5 of my audiophile friends bought them after they heard mine.

Paul, I,m coming to Mass. this week on business, I'll come by and kick you - just kidding, I have heard both the BAT and CJ mentioned above and they are both excellent. I really like the CJ sound, it's pretty consistent throughout the line. The BAT was however unbelievable. It is now on my short list with the CJ17 and I also want to check out the Hovland. Thanks for the tip.

Thanks for your input. The guy I bought the SACD player from is a big BAT fan. In fact he sold the 777ES to pick up a BAT CDP. I'm going to contact him for his opinion.

I think the VK50SE might be a little outside of my price range though. I was planning on picking up the Levinson at dealer's cost through a friend. How does the VK30SE compare to the VK50SE?

The price difference may make it possible. What would these units go for on the used market? What would you consider to be a fair price?


Here's a url for used VK50SE right here, at $4700.
$4500 would be better, but $4700 is in the ballpark.
Here's the url:


Paul's 11th commandment of high-end audio: BUY USED!

Listen to the Hovland... Buy the Hovland. That simple.
I've owned the Levinson 380, the CJ Premier 14 and the BAT VK-40SE, all somewhat similiar to what you've mentioned here (as well as 10 other preamps). The CJ gear was sweet but seemed a bit dull in dynamics unless you cranked up the sound. The BAT had the warmest presentation of any solid state preamp I've owned. The Levinson 380 was pretty even and neutral, not as warm as an Aleph P nor as raw and supercharged as a CAT or as quietly silky as a Rowland Synergy...
I've heard great things about the Hovland and the VK50SE but ended up with (a different) Levinson with which I am very satisfied. It'd be great to own any of these preamps.
Check out Thor TA-1000, one of the best preamps out there, regardsless of price. It also mates well with SS amp.
happy hunting.

May I ask which Levinson you wound up with? With all your experience, you must have had a particular reason for going with the Levinson.
Check out Convergent Audio tech. Ultimate Preamp. I have had it for a year, a great preamp..
i tink there's a 380s here on a-gon for ~$3.5k. but i *know there's a melos ma-333r yust put up here for $1900. *that's* the pre *i'd* buy... amazing dynamics, as accurate & detailed as the best solid-state, but still has the soundstage depth & warmth of tubes. w/output impedance of 15 ohms, (30 ohms in balanced config.), it'll drive any amp, & there's absolutely *no* toob-rush noise.

good luck, doug

Thanks, Doug. Someone else suggested a Melos also. I'm not familiar with this brand since I don't recall reading any articles or reviews. I'll do a little research and see what I come up with.

In my mind I've been going back and forth between the BAT VK50SE and the Levinson 380S. Both cost more than I truly want to spend. Then there's the SS vs tube thing.

There's even the possiblity of getting a new EAD Signature 8-channel processor with the new 8-channel analog bypass. It depends on EAD's implementation of the bypass. Their current processors sound very good even without the bypass. Trying to combine 2-channel & HT, this would be the most elegant solution.

I wish there was a way to audition these things in order to make an informed decision.

Thanks to all who have offered suggestions. All of them are still under consideration.

ken, to get some negative info on the melos, check out the little *spat* i had w/leafs on the "Have Rogue Monoblocks, now what?" thread here... ;~) as discussed in the thread, melos - the company - *did* have enuff serious problems to cause 'em to go under... leafs obviously prefers the rogue preamps, tho i doubt he's ever heard a melos. there was yust posted to the a-gon classifieds a rogue 99 pre for $1450 if yure innerested - i'd still go w/the melos. :>)

regards, doug