I have a BAT VK 3Ix pre I use with my A21, and yes, it works wonderfully. But I believe this concept would work well with most SS amps, unless they are overly warm. But even then . . .
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I LOVE my McIntosh mx110z Tube Tuner/Preamp. I would replace it in a heartbeat if it died.
The z version has gone up in price, a bit over your budget max.
Earlier version, mx110 (has black horizontal volume control) is less money, also highly praised.
This early mx110 has been re-furbed, it has ink worn off the front panel, easy enough to fix with a sharpie
some info about the difference of earlt and later z versions here
McIntosh MX 110 (EARLY)
MX 110Z (LATE)
The way to tell the difference at a glance is the concentric on/off volume and rotary balance control on the late version; slider balance control on early.
Other refinements include end caps which are slimmer and vertically "Veed" on later version.
There doesn't seem to be much of a consensus as to which may sound better which suggests they probably sound essentially alike.
Agreed 100% with Steve, cosmetic condition is paramount; functional issues can always be tended.
A highly regarded and quintessential piece of vintage Mc. An essential for the vintage Mc collector.
Have a look at the Linear Tube Audio MZ2 - great tube preamp and a wonderful headphone amp with remote volume. With the upgraded power supply it is a bit over $2K new. Hard to find used but there is one on AudioCircle currently. It won't provide a lot of softness or excess tube warmth if that's what you are looking but it made my system come alive with presence, immediacy and enough tube sound to take any edge off digital sources (all I listen to). Easy to tube roll with as well - I changed the stock NOS input tubes to 60's Mullard 12AU7's and am very pleased.
@matt00 try the SP16. They have easy resale. Maybe for you it blows it out of the park. That’s the trouble with this, any recommendation should be taken as a suggestion only. You’ll have to audition some. What works for some systems might not work for another. Look for models that are easy to sell (generally any ARC is an easy sell) or buy from someone or company that allows a trial period. I think overall, you will find most preamps “different” and whether that is “better” is up to you and your ears.
+1 the LTA MZ2 with the linear power supply. Very quiet and neutral, and you can change tubes to add a little more warmth if you want. I believe there’s a way to do an in-home trial, which would make this a no brainer IMHO. I’d be surprised if you didn’t hear a meaningful improvement. Thought the Rogue was also a good suggestion. Best of luck.
+1 for BAT. I have a BAT VK-600 solid state amp paired with BAT VK-6i tube preamp. I love the combination of the heft of my class A amp with the relative warmth of a tube preamp. You can get pretty close to your $2k budget for an older, but excellent shape BAT preamp with patience. I wouldn’t expect much success overall spending less than $2k though, but I suppose it could be possible with the right circumstances.
Although all the recommendations are good recommendations, the difference as already pointed out is they are different but not better. The reason why is that the designs are similar and changes are because of the tubes used, the caps and resistors, all low end parts. IMO buy an old Counterpoint preamp and send it to me. For under $2K I will build you a point-to-point wired preamp using a better transformer, AC filter choke, better wiring, resistors and capacitors. All that will be left of the Counterpoint will basically be the chassis.
Matt, if you can solder, have patience, identify components and are not a "glitz queen", then this Japanese TU-8500 is a killer tube preamp for only $550!!!!.
MM & MC phono inputs, high or low switchable preamp gain.
Better than probably anything else up to $2k.
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Check out a used Ultraverve by deHavilland. I had integrated amps and separates based on 12Au7 tubes for years, then tried this 6sn7 signal tube based pre. In my system the 6sn7 pre gave me what I was looking for, bigger soundstage, instruments and voices just sounded more natural. Just my experience. Everyones ears are different. Rolling that 6sn7 was much cheaper also. I was surprised how much impact a preamp has on a system.
I would not go for a tube preamp with a parasound amp i have owned a parsound amp for twenty years and even my audio research pre amp will not work with it the impedance mismatch is too great to overcome. Find yourself a better solid state pre amp even a good vintage one will vastly out perform a new parasound preamplifier. I have owned two parasound preamps and switched to other companies offerings because of better sound reasons.
I just got a gently used Audio Research SP17 and am very happy with it. I mostly listen to vinyl then reel-to-reel. Much greater texture and resolution than a Parasound Halo 2.1 Integrated Amp. Using the AR SP17 with a Rogue Atlas Magnum III amp. The switch from SS to tube might have something to do with it.
I have a Rogue RP-1 and likes it. Stock tubes crapped out after a few years but I put in some Mullards that sound nice. The guys at Rogue are good as well, always answer the phone and up for a chat. Phono stage is well regarded. Only knock is the cheezy plastic remote, mine is dead from to many hard wood floor hits. Easily replaced.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Audio-Research-LS2-mkII-Classic-Tube-Hybrid-Preamplifier/174557950276?epid=... add 1975 6N23P SSW Reflectors (easy to find on eBay, look for those sold by Svetlana in Ukraine) and it will blow away most anything under $10K.
I have the version with remote and have had it since 1993. It has run many newer much more expensive out the door in demos.
The Don Sachs preamp will be found for about $2000 on the used market when they show up. New they're about $2500. This preamp is just the VTA SP-14 in a pretty chassis. The SP-14 is available as a kit for all of $1100 and fully assembled/tested for about $1500.
i do not recommend the rogue audio rp 1. it only has 3db of gain and sounds anemic.
i do highly recommend the rogue rh 5 linestage headphone amp.
multiple gain options, balanced connections and stereophile class a. a bit more expensive but twice as good as the rp 1.
i owned the rogue rp 7 for a while too and preferred the sound of the rh 5 !
I understand the concern about output impedance with tube preamps. According to Aric my Special preamp has an output impedance of 200 ohms across the audio frequency band.
Must say the VTA-SP14 would interest me if I was looking for a new sub $2000 tube preamp. I am not, very happy with my Aric Audio one.
The Don Sachs Model 2 is more than just an SP-14 in a pretty chassis. Don uses upgraded caps, wiring, attenuators, and yes, wooden cabinets. He also mounts the tubes on top (instead of inside), so it is obviously much easier to change tubes, and looks much cooler. Speaking of cool, having the tubes on top prevents excess heat inside the chassis, which prolongs the life of the unit.