I suggest auditioning both the 1.7i and .7 Maggies. I prefer the latter.
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As a recent owner of Don Sachs latest preamp--which fully loaded lands just at the top of your $2.5K price range--I can confirm that it is just tremendous. I think the Backert Labs and Supratek suggestions are also good. I couldn't be more pleased with the Don Sachs preamp, and his KT88 amp is just as good.
+1 for Backert. I had a Rhumba 1.2 before upgrading to the 1.3 Extreme. The 1.2 was super in my system and responded very well to tube rolling. Buying used limits your ability to demo so you'll have to proceed with some blind faith if you go that route. Backert has a nice trade in/up program so you might try reaching out to them to see if they have used units for sale or demo.