Bel Canto Pre3 is amazing and will delight you! $1,000 used....
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ROWLAND CONSUMMATE (USED). outboard power supply, bal. in/out, best metal remote control with fast/slow volume adjustments (200 steps). very tough to beat for $1800 (sometimes less). only problem is the display becomes dim after awhile- annoying but inconsequential as you can turn it off anyway, or send it to the factory to be refurbished. 2nd problem- in another league from NAD.
I should note that SP-16 has a very good built in phono stage. It requires at least one very low noise 12AX7 tube as the main of the three in the phono section to perform best though.
I don't think the Bel Canto pre-amps come with built in phono, but I could be mistaken.
Built in tube phono sections are best when you play vinyl regularly. For occasional vinyl use, it may make more sense to have an outboard phono section with a tube pre-amp. With SS, tube life is a non issue, so there is less to be concerned with regarding good performance in a tube phono section/pre-amp. Phono pre-amps are very sensitive to noise. Only the best quality tubes and shielding from external RFI/EMI noise will do.
Thanks. I will look into all of your suggestions. WIth the Graham Slee phono stage, I don't need a phono stage on the pre-amp. I checked out an Audio Research SP-14 and LS-5 and Rogue Audio Metis today in person. All sound very good, but the LS-5 wouldn't work with my NAD amps, so I'd have to upgrade those now, as well, and I don't think money will permit that right now. Today was the first time I had heard a tube pre amp, and I don't think I can decide based on a few minutes of listening if that's the way I want to go, or to stick with the SS sound I've known since 1996.
If you can find it the Von Gaylord LAD-L2 is an outstanding preamp and usually fetches about $2k or less used. Add $300 or so for a pair of Shuguang Black Treasure or Psvane CV-181 tubes and take it up another notch in performance. I largely prefer the LAD-L2 to the Conrad Johnson CT5 it replaced. I have read of another user here who replaced his BAT VK-51SE with the LAD-L2. These are both highly lauded $8500 units.
I've used the Bel Canto C5i pre section, which is similar to the Pre3, and while nice it is not in the same league. Same goes for the Placette Passive Linestage and Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE.
I don't want to sound like a fan boy but all Von Gaylord products have been superb in my experience and have taken over most of my system.