Need balanced pre with HT bypass/remote/

I recently bought some great used ATC SCM 150ASL active loudspeakers on this site. They are wonderful replacements for my VMPS RM/X's, but they have put my great-sounding Modwright SWL 9.0 SE into a tizzy. Due to the SWL being single-ended there are numerous ground and buzz/hum issues that have arisen because of rca-to-XLR, etc.. Some grounding straps have helped quiet it up in 2 channel but the HT bypass continues to have noise now. Jensen isolators may help, too, but it's getting crazy. Anyway, I'm also susceptible to phase inversion and I use to be able to swap speaker leads when i thought things would sound better that way; I can no longer do that with the ATC's (no speaker leads). The Modwright inverts phase, period.

So, I am in the market for not simply a replacement for the Modwright, but I want a significant upgrade if I'm gonna do this. The table stakes include true balanced outs, remote control, HT bypass (or unity gain-fixed gain), and an invert phase switch if possible. The following are a list of contenders based on my internet surfing over the past couple of days. Any opinions on these would be very helfpul. I've read quite a few user opinions, and most list the Ref 3 as tops, but a couple folks claim they like the new LS26 better, and it's almost half the price (neither are likely available used). The other top contenders would be possiblly available used or new:
* ARC Ref 3
* ARC LS26
* ARC Ref 2 Mk 2
* Aesthetix Calypso
* Pass Labs x0.2 (no invert function)

My 2 channel equipment is mainly:
* a wonderful sounding Modwright tubed-modded Denon 3910 for redbook and hirez
* a SOTA Saphire tt into a Dynavector P-75 stage (will soon upgrade SOTA, and possibly Dyna down the line)
* ATC SCM150ASl active speakers with triamps internal

Note: Although I also have a 5.1 and 7.1 setup in this room, driven by the modded 3910 hirez surround and DVD into a Denon 4806 acting as a surround pre (soon to Anthem D2 for balanced needs into ATC surrounds, as well) it's mainly my 2 channel sound I'm focused on now.

Feel free to add a pre of your choice, but it needs to include the basics. Thx much,
Update: Need to add VTL TL-7.5 to that list. The investments are getting pretty big now, though.
AVAC Renaissance preamp is an option, too.

This link is to the Mk I version. There is now a Mk II version.
Greetings, as far as your noise problems go, you need to cheeter plug all your components and get a good AC treatment set-up.

As for upgrading your pre-amp, I would seriously consider a Placette, in my experience they are the best pre-amp available, period.

They're also made in America, come with a 30 day money back gaurantee and a lifetime warranty, along with a lifetime trade-up option.

Also, no one builds anything even simular to a Placette, there basically a box stuffed full of very expensive Vishay S102 resistors. That's why nothing sounds as good as a placette.

Happy listening
Thanks. The VAC has no invert phase function, though, but neither does the Pass Labs. What is the price of the MKII?
You want it all, huh? :)

Here's a link to the VAC pricelist.

BTW, from what I've read, if money were no object I'd likely buy the Arc Ref 3.

Have fun.
Have you talked to Dan about balancing you current pre.
Just wanted to say that I think the choice to go active is a smart one.

I would recommend the Bryston BP-26, which I sold my Pass X1 for, but it doesn't have a unity gain input.

Of course, you could consider the new Bryston SP-2 and get everything in one box and simplfy your system at the same time. See the recent review in Stereophile. This would be my choice.
i have and love a VAC Ren mk2, but AFAIK, it is not a true balanced circuit. it has xlr or rca outputs, however, and so may fill the bill. it does have a very nice remote and ht bypass.
Thanks for the responses so far. I want to go active, and do NOT want to do cheaters everywhere. I cheater'd the ATC's and my great UK contacts at ATC went ballistic, saying that it's quite dangerous and unstable. It was quiet as hell, but dangerous. I believed 'em. Not sure Dan will mod the SWL to go balanced. It's more architectural to that than a simple mod, I think. I'll ask, but doubt it. Dan and i talk regularly so if he'd do it at all, he'd do it for me.

My ATC's are quite revealing and fairly agrressive. My listening preferences range from Cassandra Wilson and Miles Davis to Radiohead to Rickie lee Jones. A lot of jazz, alternative and female vocals, but then again Peter Gabriel and some quieter EMI stuff too (Pat Metheny, etc.) I love redbook, SACD and when I upgrade my vinyl, I'm looking forward to rediscovering my huge vinyl collection.
Just so you know, it seems when anyone hears Placette, everyone thinks "passive".

Although it's true Placette makes the best passive pre-amp, they also make the best active pre-amp.
Hands down winner is the ARC Ref preamp I have ever owned.
I respect the reviews that Placette is getting. However, I don't have them on my list cuz I don't think they have an HT bypass or invert phase capability, let alone their balanced out versions are more than a Ref 3. Not to say they aren't good; just aren't compatible with my needs. Th website has little info.
Accuphase C-2400 meets all requirements plus it has an optional MM/MC phono module too which isn't at all bad.
The BAT VK-31SE would also give you everything you're looking for. I can't comment sound-wise on the VK-31SE vs VK-51SE, but the 31SE has two XLR inputs and 3 RCA inputs, so depending on your source components, if you need RCA inputs the 31SE may be something to check into. I have one at the center of my combo 2-channel and home theater system, and it is dead quiet, no noise issues at all.

The new BAT VK-42SE may also be something to consider.
Calypso meets your requirements and is a bargain for it's sound quality. Also you could add the Sonic Frontiers Line 3 to the list as it meets most of your needs.
Tedmbrady, I'm really am starting to start sound like a Placette pusher. I really should call Guy at Placette and see if I can get some kind of compensation!

If you want any indepth information abount Placette products, just call Guy at placette. He's owner, designer, builder and brains behind Placette.

He's also one of the nicest, most available and definately most informative guys in audio.

Also, it sounds like you need a custom designed pre. Well once again, you can't do better than a Placette, Guy will be more than happy to custom build a unit to your exact needs.

Try that with other companies.

Again, Happy listening
I had the BAT 31SE in my system for several weeks, and I thought that it had a noticeable roll-off in the high end. I ended up buying a Cary SLP05, which has balanced outputs, remote control, and HT bypass. It does not have a phase switch, but it does offer a tube-based headphone circuit if that's of interest to you. In my system, this preamp is incredible - providing detail, wide soundstaging, as well as punch. Good luck!
No, keep it coming. it's refrshing to see someone so enamored with a company and its founder. Good stuff.

I've been reading your posts here and at AVS. Have you heard or know anyone who has heard bot the LS26 and the Ref3? A poster on Stereophile's forum claimed he liked it better than the Ref3!? I realize many say it's slightly favored over the Ref2Mk2, so it seems to be a bargain...but the age old, is it 90% of the Ref3 and I'll forever be kicking myself for the other 10%? I realize this hobby leads us into the diminishinbg returns area fairly quickly, and then the slope becomes quite steep.

I appreciate evryone's coments so far. Here in N. Ohio we have little if any hi-end dealer network, much worse than 15 yrs ago. Luckily I travel the East Coast and will do my best to hear these pre's in varied (yuck) environments. It'll be like comparing apples to ash trays, though. Goodwin's has a few that they might be able to set up in a fairly consistent environment; I'll try there very soon.

I haven't seen anything on the BAT42 yet. And I'll look into the others, too. I realize that I can't drive all the cars in the world, but I'll try to pick a few and go with it.

Cured the noise on the HT bypass for the time being (cheater'd the surround processor) but this needs to end soon. Keep 'em coming, though.
FWIW, a group of us (4 to be precise) A-B-C2-D'd my VAC Ren vs a Calypso, a Lamm LL2 and a Doshi. There was no comparison. The VAC quite superior to all but the Doshi, and between the 2 it was a chocolate vs vanilla comparison. No winner just personsal taste. At new prices, the Doshi was the value leader for sure, but I do not know if they are available as balanced or w/HT pass-thru. Remember that the VAC will accept balanced in and pass balanced out but i do not BELIEVE is has true balanced internal circuitry.
I believe that Nick will do HT bypass, and he'll definitely do transformer balanced outputs (as well as inputs). The remote volume is nothing he'll touch, though, so something likethe Palcette volume control would have to be a mate.

I'm not worried about full balanced throughout, just that the ground is done right so as to eliminate any hum issues by way of XLR.
Try blue circle, they have what your looking for.

I have the same Modwright Preamp and a Lexicon MC12B processor, please what do you exactly mean by "...cheatered the surround processor"?

Thanks in advance and I apologize for sidetracking the thread momentarily
Althought the LS26 is terrific in every way it lacks much of the magic that the Ref 3 has.

The Ref 3 still gets my vote
I meant that I removed the ground loop from the Modwright's HT bypass by ungrounding the surround processor (in my case a Denon 4806 used purely as a pre/pro, amps are all external) by using a two prong cheater plug, and also by running the HT bypass input (front l/r's from Denon) through a Xitel ground loop isolator. I'm less concerned about my 5.1 sound right now, although this is purely a band-aid until I get a balanced pre (subject of this thread) and a balanced pre/pro (like an Anthem D2). I still need to get the remaining active ATC surround speakers so my 5.1 setup (let alone my 7.1 setup) is not well-matched right now anyway.
Thanks. Damn, was hoping the newer tech in the LS26 helped it move past the Ref 3, or at least catch it...but at half the price I wasn't ready to bet on it. :>)
At 1/2 the price you are indeed getting darn close to the Ref 3.

Audition both. The LS 26 is terrific BUT if you can swing it go for the Ref 3
The VAC will fill your bill, Ted, if you don't need the true balanced circuitry. The remote on the VAC is quite nice, FWIW. Volume (motorized), input change, tape mon off/on, mute, and bypass in/out.
Is that the Renaissance or the Ren Signature? The Signature version seems awfully expensive, even compared to the Ref 3. I can't swing >$10k.

The recent Sonic Flare has a couple of interesting takes on ATC actives. They love 'em but warn that synergy with a preamp is quite counterintuitive. They are surprised by the great marriage with, of all things, the YBA Passion 400, but even YBA doesn't have that piece on their damn website. Anyway, their warning is that ATC eats preamps for lunch and it's system synergy is quirky.....great :>(
no one calls me Swampkiller to my face, not even the die hard preservationists or disgruntled neighbors ;~) it was the Ren mk2, but not Sig. Should be available for about $5k used.
What do you think of these:
1. PS Audio GCC500 control amp with mods, pass through
2.moon p3 &p5-both have pass through, pass through and balanced
3. Primere p 30, pass through & balanced?
I am looking too:
LOL...I am so sorry for calling you swampkiller. LOL. It makes me laugh, though. Anyway, I will try and give a listen to the VAC. The closest dealer is in Michigan, and he has ATC's too, so should know something. He loves the Doshi preamp, as do many on the 'gon but Nick won't implement remote control; says it's too much of a sonic compromise, based on his design.
Take a look at the Blue Circle Pre's
Apology accepted, Ted. if you can audition the speakers and the pre, then that seems the best way to go, esp. if they are known to be finicky about upstream components. BTW, from what i have read recently the Sig upgrade is fully balanced. Does anyone know if that's true about the non-Sig?
Man I wish I could find some ATC active owners! Here are four more that have been recommended, and a repeat idea from Bob Reynolds (the lowly pre section of the Bryston SP2 ssp).
Herron VTSP2
Cary SLP05
Ayre K-1Xe (from ATC review)
Sim Audio P-08 (from ATC dealer)
I was looking for the same type of pre over the last 6 months. I had a chance to purchase a BAT VK50SE, an Aesthetix Calypso, an ARC LS25, an ARC REF1, and a BAT VK-5i. These were on my short list.

Then recently I purchased a Cary SLP 2002. This has most everything you are looking for: fully balanced design, single ended and xlr inputs/outputs, fully regulated power supply, remote, true HT bypass, but no invert switch. Therefore I'd recommend this or the Cary SLP 05 for the next evolution and step up. I am very happy with my choice.

Here are a few considerations....

My goal was to get something with a tube sound, something like a conrad johnson, not the neutral sound that many of the newer preamps are moving to (I find that 6h30 tube preamps are often noted for neutral sound). The Cary has been described as a great tubey preamp, like CJs. Many of the others listed in this thread are noted for their neutrality. Decide what you prefer for sound, if you prefer anything at all.

The BAT VK-5i is supposed to be a great tubey preamp. Most of their newer stuff is all designed more for neutrality. It was the #1 BAT on my list. I stayed away from neutrality. My system was very neutral and analytical to begin with. I wanted to balance things out a bit with a nice tubey preamp. For neutral one should also consider good SS pre's too, imo.

HT bypass was very important for me since I have a hybrid HT/2 channel system built to an audiophile level. And I found that many HT bypass preamps out there aren't optimal. The Cary has a true HT bypass, it completely bypasses the preamp, the preamp can be shut down and tube life saved. Many others out there (BAT, Aesthetix Calypso, etc.) only have unity gain, but the signal is still processed by the preamp coloring the sound and using up tube life. That will hurt the speakers timbre matching in the HT side of things. Be aware of this and find out exactly what type of HT bypass a preamp has. Decide what you want. That will narrow your choice.

Hope this helps.


the alaapaudio group on yahoo has 4 ATC active users as members
Dougs unit has Remote control of volume
The question is what topology are you comfortable with?


Sorry to be late to your question, but I have the same hum issue. I recently bought ATC active 20's and have a single-ended Art Audio DM-VPS tube preamp.

In addition to balanced operation, check the output impedance of any preamps you consider. I don't pretend to understand the engineering, but I do know that the active ATCs generally have very low input impedance (@10k ohms). Therefore, a preamp with low output impedance would be the best match, all other things being equal. Otherwise, you may get rolled off bass. Among the tube preamps you listed, I think the Calypso is the best choice judging by Stereophile impedance measurements, plus the reviews are all very positive on the sonics and musicality. If you check the web page, ARC recommends that virtually all its tube preamps should be matched with power amps having input impedance of at least 20k ohms, so they probably aren't as good a match for your ATCs. I'm pretty sure that BAT preamps also are better matched with higher input impedance amps (even BATs with the six pack, apparently).

Other tube preamps you might consider for balanced operation with low output impedance include Blue Circle as suggested above (but watch out for phase inversion), Sonic Frontiers (supposedly great, but lots of tubes to deal with) and possibly Atma-Sphere.

I am probably going to sell my Art Audio, even though it's terrific, and switch to solid state for now. It's an easier system match and less work than a tube preamp. Hopefully, the sound won't be too edgy.

Good luck.
Thanks Roberts4152.

Update: I'm currently trying a Bryston SP2, and although it's day job is a pre/pro, the analog 2 channel bypass portion of it is the well-regarded BP26 pre. Although I've lost a little bit of air from the Modwright, it's sound is much much quieter (balanced) and the soundstage is much wider. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs, tradeoffs. My cables for this setup are the measly Mogami/Neutrik balanced cables that I've burnt in for about 200 hrs and so far it sounds very good. I don't think this will be my final setup (I miss the air around instruments) but so far haven't figured out how to match my Modwright to the ATC's without all the hum. Even tried a set of ground lift adapters on the XLR's and while at first they were fine, they began humming later in the session!!?

A second huge variable is that I take delivery of the new Ridge Street Audio Sason speakers next weekend. Long story but the ATC's were simply a great find while I waited for the Sasons to be built. Steve @ Ridge had offered a 45 day trial as he begins to introduce these speakers to the larger market, and I took him up on it. He is driving over from Indiana next Saturday and we'll set em up and compare to ATC's. The comparison is whacked, of course, cuz ATC's are active and use their own amps. Everything past the preamp changes. But it's all about the system, so I'll be using the Modwright, then maybe the SP2, to drive a Krell KSA-100 for now. Will update l8r.

Back to the preamp search, two new and completely pardoxical preamps joined my list. The MBL 5011, and the Bent TAP TVC preamp. One uses incredibly sophisticated (and expensive) topology, the other is a passive pre with active switching (including HT bypass, invert polarity, etc).
i have another model of active ATCs (20A) and it is quite a pain in the ass to get a good preamp sorted. the speakers are just too picky, and from everything i've heard the standouts were a) electrocompaniet EC4.7, a later version with a gain adjuster on the back, with 0dB setting - for great musicality, flow and involvement but with unfortunately dark upper mids and rolled off highs b) pass labs X2.5 that produces very good sense of natural atmosphere and realism.
don't even think to bring cary near ATCs, they have too much impedance and too much gain for a good match.
the same goes for krell 250p, which is a good electrical match but otherwise it is too sterile and bright.
anyone tried ayre K-5xe?
Gordan, it is my understanding that a Cary SLP 2002 preamp has a low output impedance. Unconfirmed it has been mentioned at 440 ohms single ended. I'll try to confirm.

The ATC SCM150ASl input impedance is 10K ohm. This exceeds the general rule of thumb of a min 1:10 ratio that many people on audiogon have previously discussed.

As for gain, one can use lower gain 6FQ7/6CG7 tubes or send the volume board into Cary for a simple mod to lower the gain.

As for the Cary 2002 now that I have listened to it extensively for a couple months I find it amazing. It really opens up the soundstage on my system so so much, and has a sonic signature in between tubey preamps (Eg, early CJ's) and notable neutral tube preamps (Calypso, SF3, etc). It has lots of air and beautiful mids and highs. Tube rolling has shown me I can further tweak the sound quality too. It blew away a $3K SS preamp I tried in my system.