If you live near Seattle come and listen to my Electrocompaniet EC-3. It has balanced outputs. Moving coil phono section is stunning. I will be selling it for around $700.00 when I get my new Passive pre. It has a warm tube-like sound, yet it still has great dynamics and detail. I have used it with my Quad 57s.
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I currently have the Ayre K-5xe and Rowland Capri inhouse for a side-by-side evaluation. I am shocked at how musical the Capri is. The K-5xe may eventually bloom into an equal performer (just had the "Evolution" upgrade), but at the moment, the Capri is way out in front. The ONLY thing the K-5xe may do bette is pinpoint imaging. Otherwise, the Capri is just stellar. It really draws you into the music. I simply don't want to turn it off.
If you can find one used for less than $2K, I would jump all over it.
Thank you for the fast answers. It seems you all may have felt the anxiety that I have been feeling when you are so close to having your dream stereo to tinker with.
I like the passive Idea. Not familiar with the brands. Any reconditions. I like depth and precise imaging and more of a analytical sound vs, the warm sound of a tube setup.
What passive pre-amps do you recommend with regards to my analytical taste? I need balanced in and out and a remote.
Passive units control the volume still, right?
I'd look at the Vincent SA-T8. Dick Olsher is a long time tube aficionado and perfectionist reviewer, and he gave this hybrid an absolute rave in the Dec. 2008 Absolute Sound. In addition to its 4-in/2-out single ended connections it has 2 pair xlr inputs and one pair out.
passive preamps do control the volume--typically they use a manual attenuator knob, tho i've seen some that also have remote volume control.
in general, a passive preamp more transparently passes through the sound from the source than an active preamp--i.e. it will impart less color and character than an active preamp. the passive usually will have less distortion and noise; disadvantages might be reduced high frequency level and less punch. all that said, if you use a passive pre, it will be your source and speakers that determine your "analtical taste"--in other words the passive pre will merely pass through whatever signal is presented to it.
as for brands, look at placette audio (which has unbalanced ins/outs and remote) and channel island (ditto)--either should work well for you.