Although it doesn't meet the remote control, balanced, or HT bypass requirements, I would recommend the Transcendent Sound 'Grounded Grid' preamp. Available as a kit or sold direct as an assembled product. This tube linestage will do justice to the frequency extremes. It would otherwise meet your needs and budget.
The ARC LS-25 MKII vs the CJ 17 MKI, well the ARC was more detailed in the overall presentation and the CJ a little sweeter sounding with less details and dynamics (more tubish). I would have preferred a preamp that combined both of them. The ARC Ref 2 MKII would be the combination IMO. Cannot help you with the others.
Another suggestion. Bat vk30, it can be found under 1700-1800 with remote, maybe phono. Balanced with unity gain for ht and great customer service. I have heard a few ARC pre's but don't know models. I agree with bigkidz in that they are very detailed but not on the warm side, they have been around forever and service should not be a problem. Can't comment on CJ or SF.
You might also consider a Convergent Audio (CAT) SL-1 Signature preamp. They can be had within your price range. I used to own the CAT SL-1 Mk. III, and found it to be an excellent component. It is very well extended at the frequency extremes and very neutral for a tubed amplification component.
The VTL 2.5 seems to fit your needs for everything except its not balanced. Very detailed with a touch of bloom/warmth in the upper bass and midrange. It has HT bypass, a remote and 2 outputs (for subwoofer). But maybe the BAT mentioned above would suit your needs better.
The LS 16 mk 1 (not mk 2) has lots of bloom. It is a very good sounding piece.... The mk 2's use 6h30 tubes that are faster, cleaner, and more dynamic, but do not have nearly the bloom the mk 1's using 6922 tubes..... If you are looking for bloom, stick with the 6922 tubes....
Modwright 9.0SE. Does not have balanced but does have HT bypass. Reviews will becoming out soon but if you wait until the reviews hit you will be on a waiting list. Dan has made a killer preamp.
I am VERY happy with my LS 16 MKII. It is very, very good. However, how it interacts with your system is anybody's guess until you try it. It worked wonders with mine. It elevated my Maggie 3.6R's to a level I did not know they could attain. The dynamic life that the MkII allows music to express is breathtaking. A definite step in the direction of a "you are there" type of realism. If "bloom" is defined as bringing you closer to feeling the breath of living vocalists and instruments, the MkII has it in spades. If you mean a warmer, lusher, tubier, rounder, euphonic sound, no. I've heard the Calypso and I think it would give it a good run. The Calypso is also not "tubey" sounding in the traditional sense. It is simply very neutral. I wouldn't hesitate to compare them. My previous linestages included the ARC SP-14. I can't speak for the BAT or Sonic Frontiers units.
I probably should add that the other night I spun Voodoo Chile from Electric Ladyland(CD) and was simply floored during Jimi's solos. You could tell how hard he was attacking the strings on his Strat. You could even discern that it was a natural maple neck and the it screamed through the Marshall stack with the proper growl. Just like a "live" Marshall. I heard dynamic and harmonic details that I didn't know were captured on that recording. Yes, the LS-16 MkII is pretty good.
I should have mentioned that the CAT preamp does not offer balanced outputs. Also I do not believe that it offers a HT pass-through.
Thanks everyone so far,
Mthieme, how good is the Vk-30? I used to own a Vk-500, and it sounded pretty good, but sort of broke up a bit when asked to rock on complex pieces. The DNA 500 was a definite improvement. Could you elaborate on the strengths/weaknesses of the Vk-30?
Magnepanmike, I understand what you are saying about the 6922 having more bloom, but I am not looking for at 360 degree swing, just a little more bloom to the mids without sacrificing the extremes, so maybe the LS16 Mk III would do that for me, or is it totally sterile like a SS preamp? Also, can you tell me if there are any other significant weaknesses to that piece, like tube glare or harshness in the HF?
Kira, is the Modwright 9.0SE a tube preamp or SS, and does Dan have a website with information posted on this?
I have a vk3i presently, but owned the vk30 in the past and had sold it to raise some funds. BAT's tube gear seems to be where its at in their line. That said I own a vk200 and have not had any complaints to speak of, and have been thinking about the 500 so I'm interested when I hear you say that. Anyway, the VK30 has a much better complement of controls and programmable options than the VK3, more than I had use for actually. It has dual power supplies, balanced and single ended in and out and was very easy to use. I would not say that it is overly warm or syrupy if you know what I mean, but had a very good balance. Dynamics and soundstage were excellant, and I never had any problems with reliability. I can't comment on changing tubes since I never did.
Mitch2 - the Modwright is a tube linestage
go to www.audiocircle.com, on the left hand side click on Modwright and you will find plenty of info
Have owned LS-15 and SF Line 3, currently have Line 3 SE and LS-16, have heard LS-25 II and Ref 1 extensively. My favorite has to be Line 3 SE. Better extension than all of the one I mentioned above, much better transparency, and wider soundstage with better imaging. Sterile, maybe a little, but you can fine tune it with NOS tubes. But I think it's more musical than Ref 1 overall.
Thanks Semi, your comments are very helpful. In your opinion, how much does the LS16 give up to the LS25 and the non-SE version Line 3, and in what areas. I am narrowing down to LS16MkII or Line 3, probably to be upgraded later. Thanks
I owned the BAT VK-30 SE and the ARC LS-25 MKII was a better preamp when we compared the two in several systems. The BAT seemed to limit the dynamic flow of the music, like something was limiting the sound. I never heard that when the VK-30SE was in my system, ever, but there it was. So out went the BAT.
Mitch2, I am using a Counterpoint SA-5000 with my Alon V MKIIs. I have to say that with good tubes, it works really well. As a hybrid, you will get some warmth in the mids but decent highs and good bass, well defined. The Pass X-1 preamp went a little lower but did not have the sweetness in the mids. The Counterpoint SA-5s and 5.1s usually show up for around $700 and it is an all tube unit, worth a try in my opinion but no remote and no pass thru.
Hope this is helpful.
Bigkidz, I had sort of a similar issue with my Vk-500 amp, while the bass was great, and it sounded quite good at lower to moderate levels, when the going got rough...like during complex passages at moderate to higher volume...well, dynamics (especially the midrange) seemed a bit constrained. Since the power supply was more than adequate, I always suspected the mosfet output, but I am really not qualified to even speculate on something like that. Have not had a similar issue with my DNA-500. Anyway, that is one reason I did not look harder at the BAT models, along with the suspected HF rolloff some previous BAT owners have mentioned. I did go ahead and purchase a SF Line 2SE. I thought hard about the Line 3, but didn't want to have to worry about 12 tubes, and would not have been able to swing the SE upgrade right away. KR didn't seem to find too much difference between Line 2&3, except maybe the bass and a little in the HF. I am hoping the better parts in the SE version will help with any HF issues, and will allow more bloom in the mids. I would welcome any suggestions for best tubes to use with this unit, and where to get them. Thanks again to all who responded, you provided good suggestions, but I had to start somewhere. Also, the 270 ohm output of the Line 2 is lower than many tube units, and should be low enough to mate well with the (sort of low) 10k ohm input of the DNA-500 (at least it is greater than the 10:1 rule of thumb).
The Kora Eclipse has all the options you're looking for.