looking for ideas on a tube pre amp


I recently purchased a new pair of Focal Sopra #3 speakers and would like to try a tube pre amp with them. My main listening speakers have been Magnepan 20.1s with upgraded x overs for several years I purchased the Focals mostly to give my listening room a breath of fresh air even though I doubt I will ever part with my Maggies. I am currently using the Parasound JC2 preamp with the JC1 amps and mostly XLR cables so it would be nice to have a pre with XLR connections, I have been looking at the Audio research pre amps it would be nice to from someone that has tried several pre amps, I am giving myself a budget of about $2500. 
jeff99
I was in the same situation last year, substantial investment in XLR interconnects as well. I was leaning toward ARC and considering CJ, but wound up with a Primaluna Dialogue Premium. Purchased new, it left me with enough dough to pick up some RCA cables to match. I’m so pleased with the purchase. This is one component that I am likely never to sell. It’s about as solid and musical as I could imagine and a ton of fun to operate. It makes my all digital rig sound fantastic. I’d replaced a Cary with it; and though I loved the Cary, the Primaluna has the clarity of my prior SS preamps (Parasound and Ayre). Focals are fantastic- enjoy the ride..! I’d previously auditioned a slew of tube pres from CJ, Cary and BAT and really liked the BAT pres for imaging and sounds stage.I felt like the Primaluna is as good, better build quality, and less costly and finicky.
Thanks for the reply, I should have mentioned I am looking to soften the vocals without losing detail and soundstage. I will look into Prima luna.
jeff99, When listening to a Primaluna Dialogue don't over look the substantial impact tube selection can make in taking you to the tonal response you want. It can make or break it, tube selection that is. Stock tubes are rarely ever the 'last word' in potential.
Have you thought about contacting Keith Herron (Herron Audio) to see if he has a VTSP-1 trade-in that would workd for you?  IMO, that preamp, with all the latest mods, outperforms any new or used ARC preamp with a current price twice that of the Herron unit.
I used BAT VK-31se with jc-1s for a while and loved the combination. I would look at a used BAT if i was looking, I'm sure you can find a nice BAT in your price range. 
I believe Ralph of "Atma-sphere" does a balanced tube pre, and to boot it's direct coupled,(no output capacitor coupling). Which to me colours the sound no matter which type of cap is used, always best to go direct coupling (dc) as the best sounding coupling cap is no cap.

Cheers George   
Personally, I'd keep the JC2 and change the tweeter caps on the Focal to Mundorf MKP's or Supreme's.

Still..... ARC is an interesting perspective.  Their new stuff isn't like their old stuff. If you are looking for a more mellow presentation, the new ARC or CJ should be great.

If you want it more forward and clinical, the old ARC.

Best,

Erik
Ditch the Focal's, they do not compare to the 20.1's!

The 20.1's deserve the best amplification.

$2500 is too cheap a preamp.
Vincent SA-T8. The most musically involving Pre-Amp for the money I've heard and then some. Fully balanced, it has sublime dimensionality and an ability to draw you into the music like few others.
BAT VK31se is good one also BAT VK3i. All good at any price range especially with solid state balanced amps -- near-perfect match indeed.
Lots of choices, I contacted Atma Sphere about the MP 3. The BAT is also interesting, I think I am going go with the Atmas Sphere they are only a few miles from me. I will be retiring overseas in a few years and they will change the voltage for me. All of my audio gear will be going with me I have no intention of letting any of it go.
Hello Jeff Try a Single ended preamp .a Direct Heate Triode preamp as they are called .i can tell you one thing if built right 
they are very quiet and fantastic on detail Nine purer 1 stage only
tat is why they are called  Direct  if you may be interested send me your email I will get you a few pics of my build all transformer based,PJ.
Jeff- I think you probably cannot go wrong with an Atma-sphere product.  Ralph Karsten provides customer service that is unequalled.  Do your amps have balanced connections?  The Atma pre-amps only have balanced outputs.  
+ one for Atma-sphere Amplifiers and Pre-Amps. In my opinion they are world class products. Iv been a dealer for them and compared them to many products in the USA and EU as well as asian products. To my ears nothing sounds better. Not only is Ralphs commitment to his client outstanding his products are ultra reliable and will give you years if not decades of musical pleasure.
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Add another $1500 to your budget and get an Audio Research Reference 3.
.
I've run a Rogue Audio M99 Super Magnum tube preamp with Focal floor standers and it calmed them down quite a bit.  Still Focal revealing and transparent sound but warmer...

Rogue RP 1 or the RP 5 made in America both great preamp's at their price point. You can call Bill at Rogue he'll be happy to answer any questions you have. 
Check out the Dehavilland Ultraverve 3. 
It's an all tube design using the robust sounding 6sn7 tube in signal path along with tube power supply. This pre provides big pure tone great bass and very well detailed. It can be bought with or without remote. I own this pre and am very pleased with my remote version. It's very quiet. I've owned the atma-sphere MP3 and was not happy with it. It is not a quiet preamp. The dehavilland Ultraverve 3 is never bright and never boring. It's a great sounding pre for $2500. I recommend giving Kara a call with any questions. She's very friendly and easy to talk to. 
Hi Jeff99,

Exactly what do you mean when you say  "...give my listening room a breath of fresh air"  what is missing in your original set up,  what are you attempting to rectify? More Detail, Depth of Soundstage, More Bass...

I suspect that your Magnepan 20.1s are not getting enough power. I believe they are a better speaker than the Focals. 
I have my magnepans sounding fabulous nothing is missing over the years I have tried multiple amps and other components and am very happy with the current set up. I have also had other focal speakers including 1038 be 918 profile L&R utopia BEs another speaker that has past through is the Sonus faber Elipsa Se. None have been better than my Magnepans. I never expected the Sopras 3s to be better just different (the breath of fresh air) hence wanting to try a tube pre with them the sopras are fantastic speakers and I think a tube pre would have great synergy with them I almost never stay within my budget when I start looking for components the 2500 is just to show I don't want to spend a fortune to try a pre I would also buy used so if I didn't like it I would simply sell it. 
What is it with you guys who feel you have to throw ever more money at something thinking it just can't be any good if I don't drop $2500 on a preamp or $35,000 on a pair of speakers?  Look into a VTA SP14 (tubes4hifi.com) with an Aikido circuit.  You can build it for less than $1000.  For a reasonable amount more, they'll build it your spec.  Get it with stepped attenuators and balanced outputs if you like.   Then take the $1000 you saved and go to some concerts or buy some records.

You could REALLY save yourself a boatload by buying Aikido circuit boards, power supply, etc and build it all from scratch.  Glassware Audio sells most of what you need.  You can build a preamp equal to that $5000 name brand for 1/10th as much.  But then you wouldn't be able to sneer at the rest of us who don't drop that kind of bread, would you?
You might consider the new DECWARE ZEN TRIODE PREAMP (ZPTPRE)...  Up to 3 fully balanced inputs, dual mono construction, guaranteed for LIFE!, starting out at under $2K, and handmade with point to point wiring right here in the good old USA.  Mine has all available options and is shipping this week.  If it sounds ½ as good as my DECWARE headphone amp I'll be just ecstatic.


Good Afternoon Jeff,
Sorry -  I was mistaken and assumed that there may be an issue with your original set up, thank you for clarifying for me. That being said I would agree with your assessment to check out the Atma-sphere. Its a product that has always been on my short list, yet never made the rotation.

"I almost never stay within my budget when I start looking for components"
- I love the honesty-

Generally I have favored Sonus Fabers over the Focals, both older models, and have watched Rogue Audio put a hurting on ARC. As far as BAT, a solid company, but I have a suspicion that Atma - sphere will give you more bang for the buck. Have Fun
You Have Atma, Herron and DeHavilland. It's great to have such fine choices in this price range. Either way you are in for a treat.
Personally have a Zesto Leto, balanced and transformer coupled with very low output impedance which helps with the long run to my Mcintosh MC 60s. 250 Ohm out to 500K Ohm input keeps plenty of pressure in the line. 
With the JC1 and it's 100K input impedance you can match with any of the above.

This is one factor that I am likely never to sell. It’s about as satisfying and musical as I could imagine and a ton of fun to operate. It makes my all digital rig sound cool.