I too have been a Linn/Naim guy for a long time. Don't tell anyone but taking your Kabers Aktiv using Linn amps with a great tube preamp is just devine. The used Linn amps are an incredible bargain and exhibit speed and driver control beyond anything you would expect from them. I first did it on the cheap with an older Audible Illusions preamp and was very happy but had a chance to use a Supratek Syrah in my system and now own one. I did try a CJ Premiere Ten in my system and it sounded very good at its price point but didn't exhibit the speed and bass control that I was looking for. The Syrah is a match made in heaven, maybe. Well, I'm sure tube amps would be heaven. Maybe the solid state stuff is on the stairway getting there. Good luck.
Bob. I ran a Naim HiCap/62/140 for over 10 years and had really bought into the PRAT mantra/cult. Sadly, it turns out. About a year ago I sold it all rather than pay what I consider to be far too much money for either a "recap" of my equipment or the new line of electronics. I auditioned several systems including the 202/200 with a Flatcap and XPS. I finally settled on an Audio Research 100.2 and a SP16 with phono. IMHO the Naim is simply no longer a good value for money. Back in the days when I got my stuff they built high quality, affordable gear that had limited applicability (driving classic British two-ways, for example). Now their stuff is priced beyond belief and, while the sound remains quite good, there is better stuff out there that can drive any speaker you want to run with. My ARC set up clearly trounces what Naim currently offers and for less money. I know I may piss some people off here but the whole PRAT thing is absurd. Naim has managed to cultivate this niche within the land of audiophile nervosa with clever marketing and a dedicated (or should I say "committed" sales force). Have no fear--turn away from Naim without regret. They have lost their way and will never return.
I applaud your interest in experimenting and trying new combinations. Clearly, what will work for you is a matter of taste.
I am NOT in any sort of Naim cult, although I currently own a CDS3, the only piece of Naim gear I have ever owned. As far as solid state equipment goes, I like certain Naim pieces I've heard, like the NAP 300 and the 252 linestage. I can't really say if they preserve timing and pace any better than competitive gear, but I do like the way they deliver the full harmonic palette of instruments without sounding overripe and soggy. Some other solid state amps I've heard and liked include the big Hovland amp and Ayre amps.
If the speakers you like are, as you say, power hogs, I think your approach of looking for a tube linestage to combine with a solid state amp makes sense. I personally find that most of the "magic" and charm of tube amplification is substantially diminished in high powered designs (I like low power triode tubes). I am not familiar with the Kabers, so I will not make any specific recommendations. In addition to any recommendation being system-dependant, tastes vary so widely. For example, the recommendation for the Audio Research setup would be the LAST thing I would recommend myself. I find their tube equipment, particularly linestages, to be dry, harmonically bleached and bright, more so than virtually any solid state gear of competent design. I cannot see how anyone who likes a CJ linestage would have any interest in the SP16, but, you should really see for yourself.
I'll second what Dodgealum has to say about Audio Research replacing Naim gear. Although I still believe that Naim is better than most of what's out there, I also agree that Naim has priced itself into the stratosphere. I've never heard as much life from a Naim amp lesser than the NAP 500 that could compete with what I'm now getting from my ARC VS110. $24,000 is just insane money when considering the ARC costs $4500!
I used to think tubes are slow, especially on the power amp end. Listen to the newer stuff from BAT, McIntosh, and ARC and you'll be surprised how much PRaT you can get without sacrificing your high-end detail and soundstage.
Another option if you absolutely hate tubes is the under-rated and under-marketed Exposure line. I first moved from an CDX2+XPS2/82+Supercap2/250/SBL/Fraim system to an Apple iBook/Musical Fidelity A3.24 DAC through an Exposure 3010 integrated and some Totem Hawks and my wife and I instantly agreed: a big improvement in sound quality and musicality with no penalty in speed or dynamics. Oh yeah, over $10k in our pockets helped matters too.
My advice: go and hear some of the modern alternatives before making your decision. Luckily for me and you, Naim gear keeps its value very well and I was able to get off the upgrade-itis elevator without taking a loss.
The Naim Nait 5i integrated offers tremendous value and wonderful music in a reasonable application. The Naim CD5x is an excellent mid-priced source that stacks up well against the competition. Seems to me you can only assess $24K components with reference to others in that stratosphere.
Certainly, Naim doesn't hold a monopoly on PRAT. Nor are its virtues limited to PRAT. Sticking to what I've heard myself, you get clean well- balanced music free of artificial effects, such as oversized images or added spatial FX. It is cool running and fuss free, and has proven longevity. Solid value, IMHO, at least into the 'Recommended System 2' range. After that, I can't comment from personal experience.
Back to your original question, have you considered the Copland 305 hybrid pre-amp? I confess, I haven't heard it personally; but it comes highly recommended by a couple of sources whose ears I've come to respect. Sounds like it might pair well with your kit.
I'm more of a Linn fan since their products are so reasonable on the used market. The Naim prices chased me out of being a continued customer and I didn't reall care for the cabling issues associated with them. But, I don't really see why there is such criticism offered up in this thread. Sure, there are other manufacturers worthy of consideration. I've no problem with that at all. What I would urge you to do if possible is borrow a tube preamp and insert it into your existing mix. The results will astound you. I cannot comment with experience with Naim and what I propose but with the Linn gear the benefits by doing so will show you just how well designed their amps are. I continually get comments from club members about how wonderful my system sounds and for about 20% of the cost of theirs. And this is from members who routinely criticize each others systems fairly harshly.
Panderso said, "Seems to me you can only assess $24K components with reference to others in that stratosphere."
Why not? This is the whole point that a lot of us are saying about Naim - you can compare it to equipment that is a lot less expensive. Same goes with the Nait5, which I'd argue is at least matched in performance by the Sugden and Exposure amps for less money.
I asked a similar question on the Naim site and couple of members suggested hybrids such as those from Croft or Unison Research. They had some other suggestions but I don't recall what they were. I was doing some research on the Unison Unico, but I have never had a chance to hear one. Or you can find a Fisher 400, a tubed unit that does well with PRaT.
I will chime in, I too have Linn and have owned a fair amount of Naim, I also own tube gear, 1st off...IMHO a worthy tube preamp would be the VTL 2.5 just a sound value for the money...concerning Naim...I found as you go up the ladder you get more of the Naim sound....could be a good thing or a bad thing, depends on what you like...I found with my small speakers...the upper end Naim gear was too much....they really should be matched with larger more demanding speakers....yes it gets mighty expensive quickly. I am fooling around with a Naim 5i and I think it is a good value...the Naim sound..one box..small...it does a high pecentage of what the bigger gear does and it is a whole lot cheaper. Anyway good luck on a good tube preamp
Thanks for the responses! I appreciate the thoughts. I've been up and down the Naim ladder, all the way to 52/active SBLs, and got back with Linn.
Can you all recommend a good pairing? Like, for example, would a CJ PV9 or PV12 match with a MF2200? Or would an ARC SP14 work well with an ARC D200/300/400? Etc. I'll sort out the speakers later....