Looking to Upgrade Amp & Preamp

I'm looking to upgrade my amp and preamp.

Amp: Adcom GFA-555
Preamp: Adcom GTP-400
Speakers: NHT 3.3
CD: Rotel RCD965BX

I listen primarily to rock, jazz, and electronica. The Adcom amp and preamp have been solid workhorses for me since 1990, but if they can be improved upon significantly within my budget, then I'm interested in upgrading.

Preamp requirements: (1) phono section unnecessary but if it's there, it's a bonus; (2) integrated tuner would be a plus, but not necessary; (3) five or more line-level inputs; balanced input/output a plus for future flexibility; (4) this being 2004, a remote would be nice; (5) solid construction; something that will last for decades, ideally; (6) good ergonomics and stylish appearance a plus (prefer black to silver); (7) surround sound is completely unnecessary and undesired. And, it need hardly be said, I want the best sound I can buy within my budget, given the above constraints. I'll spend up to $1500 for the preamp.

Amp requirements: enough muscle to drive the NHT 3.3's at least as capably as the Adcom GFA-555. Substantially better sound than the Adcom (otherwise there's no point to upgrading). [Inasmuch as the Adcom does not have any glaring deficiencies that I can hear, I cannot specify what 'better sound than the Adcom' means, but surely some of you have opinions regarding what specific improvements are achievable at my price level.] Ideally, it should be built like a tank, just as the Adcom is, and should be something that will easily last for decades. I'm willing to go as high as $2000 for the amp, *if* I am convinced that the sound improvement is substantial relative to cheaper equipment.

So, any and all recommendations are welcome. I'm perfectly happy to buy used equipment in order to get more bang for the buck. So far I have been looking into various models by Rotel, Adcom, Classe, Krell, and others, but there must be hundreds of manufacturers out there, and I need to narrow the scope to a handful of choices that are likely to be among the best bets given my requirements.

Thanks in advance for all suggestions.

Given your total budget, I'd skew it a little & go for a used Ayre V-5x and either an ARC or Classe pre. There are several models available & I haven't tried many of them but they work nicely together & there are no gain/impedance issues. I strongly suggest if you go this route you take advantage of the balanced circuitry.

I also listen to the same type of music you do w/large floorstanders & the only reason I sold my V-5x was to upgrade to the V-1x, both which are heads & shoulders above the Adcom in terms of sonics. I also owned the Adcom & have been on the upgrade path for many years.

Good luck!
As a prior owner of NHT 3.3's, get yourself an NHT SA-3 sub amp (1 or 2) and biamp those speakers.. the results are amazing!!! plus the flexibility is also amazing. Then you don't need a high end high current and you can use a lower more reasonable priced amp! I used an EAD Powermaster 2000 with 4 channels of 400 watts each to biamp the NHT's with the crossover in my EAD Signature. This really opened up the soundstage on the speaker. I also used an ARC D400 MkII amp that had amazing control and liquidity with these speakers.
My very humble opinion is, look for a Klyne SK-5A like mine. It will take some looking, but I believe this unit is still a contender today, twenty years after it was introduced. It contains an excellent phono preamp.
I would go stright for a quality integrated like the Rowland Concentra II or Plinius 8200 MKII. Save the money on interconnects. Todays integrateds are really good and practical.

If you want seperates the Quad 99 pre 909 power and 99 CDP would be terrific. I would strongly recommend the all Quad setup as they are synergistic.

My 2 cents...

Seeeing you have a pair of trente
Do you prefer the OTO over the Plinius 6200 mk2 ?
Can you describe the differences in sound between the two

btw did you ever audition the vac with the trente ?

I would love to hear your recommendations
Dear Friend Jbuiii

It is really hard to recommend, based on budget alone, in reality we should know more about your tastes before going into reccommendations.
Nevertheless like you I am an owner (happy )of a HT room comprised of a pair of 3.3's AC-2, and 2 pairs of super Ones along witha Velodyen 18"monster powered by a 1.26 KW didital amp.
I found the 3.3's have enough resolution, detail and space representation to take the best amplifierss and make them shine.
Since i am alittle bit in the industry I have tried several amplifiers thus far, including but not limited to Aragon, ARC, Krell, Plinius, Classée, Sunfire, Belles, Mc Cormack, Threshold Audio, etc. etc.
It is s long list I know.
Inj my opinion the 3.3's make a magical match with 2 of the amplifiers I've tried, first the Aragon, very very controlled, very quick, detail etc.e ct.
the best one so far is the Threshold Audio that currently sits on the botom of my rack is the S-5000e, from the new generation of amplfiers from Threshold.
Though I have to warn you this papa of a 250 watt per side will run HOT! to the touch. once stable in operating temperature.
It also brings the very best of the 3.3's and the 3'3's bring the best of that big amplifier.
Amp retails for $2,500 or so, very well worth it.
Read some reviews in soundtage they won awards etc. not impressed by that, just impressed to what it can do to my 3.3's.
Picks'em up and takes 'em places!!
is that good!!
As a preamp I have tried a few very revealing, but the cheaspest and most revealing and fast of the bunch is the new Adubible Illusions L-2 that came out a little while back uses tubes like underwear (change tubes every 9 to 10 months) but I found me a good source for those tubes, at $15 each and sound killer (ELetro HArmonix Russian Tubes 6922). Shop around you might even find a used one at a good deal.
A.I preamp, Threshold Amp 3.3 speakers, just pour yourself some good single Malt whisky,a couple good CD's or Vinyl if you wish . . . and magic.

In fact I just was listening to a CD I picked up in a pawn shop earlier today while I was waiting for a friend to be picked up from the airport, I killed some time, purchased some great CD's for cheap,came back and listen to the musical score from the movie DOn Juan de MArco, if you like acoustic guitars you'll love this one and the orchestration took me back to SPain, Mexico, and brougt me back here in a few minutes.
I hope this help a bit. take care
My reccomendation n this order
1 - Threshold
2 - Aragon 4004 or 8008, not the newer stuff
3 - Mc Cormack 200 W per side amps, also very good
Glad to hear you are updating the power to the NHT 3.3s - they are legendary!

I have a Magnavox D130 power amp hooked up on the mid bass and tweeters. Then I would recommend an RCA Power Rod A15C to run the low bass. Results will blow you away.

Enjoy the new soundstage!
Pass X-series are selling a lot due to a new model family that is replacing the X series for x.5 series. Grab an X250 and a passive pre, you wont regret it.


PS: Also backup the integrated amp option already expressed here (Rowland, Gryphon Tabu, Pathos) could serve you well.
don't want to be long-winded here because you've already gotten very good advice, but I wanted to mention that a tubed preamp (or hybrid preamp) will work wonders for improving upon the 3.3's sound. In fact, it's my opinion that MOST NHT speakers benefit from tubed preamp sections. (not that I have a specific one in mind, but i'm talking just in general - you'll have to figure out which one works best)
Start off by paying attention to the basics. That is, proper installation and positioning of the speakers, a solid AC system and attention to cable routing, clean connections and proper gear installation i.e. a "decent" rack.

Once you've got that done, get rid of the preamp / tuner combo. Those specific Adcom pieces are a sonic mess. I'm not going to make any specific suggestions here, but i would recommend looking for a preamp that is on the neutral to warm side. Given the Rotel CD player, 555 amp and NHT's, which are very tight / somewhat lean sounding to most people, a small amount of added warmth might not be a bad thing here. I am NOT advocating a direct jump into a tubed preamp though as some Adcom's have lower than average input impedances. Most tubed preamps won't mate well in such a situation and i've experienced that first hand in the past with different Adcom amps. I can think of an SS preamp that i think would work pretty well for you in this installation that can be had for under $800 on Agon almost any day of the week.

Secondly, get some "real" speaker cabling. Your NHT's are capable of very good performance and you've got a decent amp. While that amp is not in the same league as some others mentioned here ( Pass, Threshold, Ayre, etc... ), it is none the less a pretty solid performer. Having said that, using speaker cables that introduce non-linear power transfer characteristics into the equation can make or break a system. I'm going to suggest my "standard answer" here i.e. Alpha Core Goertz MI-2 Veracity speaker cables with their silver spades. Don't forget to install the Goertz impedance compensation networks at the speaker binding posts, which are included free of charge with the cables. The difference in warmth, smoothness, liqidity and finesse of the overall presentation may astound you.

Don't overlook the importance of cabling, but at the same time, there is no need to go berserk either. I have NO idea as to what you are using, but interconnects DO make a difference and are relatively system dependent. If you do a search here on Agon and even over at AA, you'll find that there are very consistent recommendations for several "reasonably priced" interconnects. Some of these come with a lengthy trial period, so take advantage of this type of offer when available. Nobody can tell you what interconnects will work best or you will like the best in your system, not even me ( who is a know-it-all) : )

If you take this approach, you'll end up with a very nice sounding system for not nearly as much money as what you initially planned on spending. This savings could be put back into your system ( the replacement of the tuner or use the tuner from the Adcom, power line conditioning, AC lines, room treatment, etc.. ) and / or more music to enjoy your "new & improved" system with.

One more very specific hint though. Your speakers need to be angled up in front for best results. By resting a laser level on top of your speaker cabinets, the dot should center just above your head and slightly off to each side of your ears at your seated listening position. You can then change the lenses to produce what is a flat line. The line from one speaker should produce the same height and level of "flatness" as the other. By varying how much the lines overlap, you can regulate the soundstage width, imaging and overall tonal balance. The tonal balance is varied by altering the ratio of high frequency directivity that comes into play due to beaming within the treble region.

I hope this helps and gives you something to think about. Throwing money at a system and replacing components won't necessarily get you better performance although it might change the likes / dislikes of what you already have. This is why i stress having a plan of attack and analyzing the system logically, not just forking over cash at random for a new set of problems. Sean

I agree with what Sean says about going all out. I went the gradual upgrade route and wound up spending very little money. I bought my Vandersteen 2ce sigs 2.5 years ago while I had APt Holman Amp and pre. I purchased excellent speaker wire with them. I bought some B&K Gear on Ebay and while it sounded OK I posted some amp-pre questions got some recommendations. I went through another B&K upgrade which sounded better but,then I tried tubes (counterpoint SA-3). This moved me into a whole new area. I then sold the B&K gear which sounded clean and nuetral but, I stilll didn't feel i was getting the performance out of the vandersteens that I could for the money. I moved over to an ARC SP9 MK2, installed some Amperex NOS tubes. Now i'm cooking a bit as I found a nice McCormack DNA-1 to pair with the ARC. I will stick with the McCormack as it is clean, powerful and nuetral and can be upgraded to world class level according to people who have this unit. The ARC can also be upgraded but, I am trying a Tube Audio Design by Paul Gruzbek for a syteal of a price. Anyway good luck. The upgrade path has been fun. i really learned how to listen and evaluate going this route and haven't spent much money in the process.....

Hi Jbiii: IMHO, there aren't two better combinations then the 1) Belles Reference 150A amp and Auricap preamp; and 2) the Marsh p2000 balanced preamp running either the 450 mono's or the 400 stereo. The mono's are way better but you've got a huge jump in price. I would list them in the order I have sonically. The Belles combination is very synergistic and will drive anything. Plus, if you ever want more power you can buy a second amp and mono them! According to Belles, this will be an improvement sonically as well.