Need some pre-amp advice...

Hey there guys.

I need some pre-amp advice. I currently use a Lexicon MC-12B as my pre/pro, and frankly want to get it out of the loop for two channel processing. I need a pre-amp that will have the following:

Remote control
At least two balanced ins
Ability to drive Pass Labs X600s effectively
and the biggie *** must have *balanced* processor bypass.

That last one is a biggie -- there are not too many preamps that I have found that offer that. Ones that I am considering are:

Krell KCT
Pass X0/X0.2
Sonic Frontiers Line 3
Levinson 320S

I am not opposed to buying used -- my budget is ~6000. Could go lower, could go a little bit higher.

Speakers are Dynaudio Confidence 2, source is Wadia 861b.

I am not opposed to tubes, but there would have to be a compelling reason for them (no experience at all with them)


I absolutely love the sonic frontiers gear. you can pick up a line 3 on the gon for about 2 grand. You would have 4 grand left over. I have had the line 3 for years and not once have i heard something that i prefer except the new VTL pre (12 grand). Sonic frontiers is known for is absolute neutrality and i believe that their gear works wonders for almost any system
I like the Krell and the 320S, check out the ARC Ref II Mk II as well. You should be able to find one used in that price point. Good Luck.
Have you listened to any on your list? Personally, I like the BAT, but at this level, you got to listen to them yourselves. Don't buy base on what I like.
Thanks for the feedback -- I was concerned about the Sonic Frontiers, that the manual is none too clear about how the ssp bypass actually works. Could you shed a little light on it for me? I know that they are available pretty regularly. It sure would be a nice break, to find something cheaper that does what I need!

Thanks for any and all information.

Yes, I have listed to a few of them. Not the Krell or the Levinson piece, as the Lev is too new, and the Krell, my dealer does not stock. I have heard the BAT, but it was hooked up to BAT 150SE, through Eidelon Diamonds, so no real comparison to what I have. I have heard the ARC, once again on a totally different system, though.

Rowland Synergy IIi is amazing and is a fully balanced design.
I used to run a Wadia 850 direct into a BAT VK60. This was 4 years ago when the 850 was near state of the art. I brought home a BAT VK50se at that time. Wow, an active preamp really improved things for me. Mostly in the area of soundstaging, bass control, robustness of sound.

The BAT also fits your xlr criteria above. Should drive the Pass amps fine (search here, other have posted w/ bat pre's and pass amps-everything seemed fine)

If someone didn't tell you about tubes in the BAT you'd never know it with out looking. About as carefree as it gets. I owned my VK50se for 3-4 years with out any trouble whatso ever. I recentley upgraded it to a 51se and replaced the tubes (plug and play took about 5 minutes total-if you can change a light bulb-you can do this) not sure the tubes did much, after 3 or 4 years the old tubes were just fine.

Your preamp list is all good. They will sound different. You may have to try a few. IMO, you'll be just fine with the BAT.

I had your same dilemma. I was looking for a a two channel balanced preamp to run my Lexicon processor through. After searching and trying many tube devices and a Krell, I settled on the X0.2.
I have since separated the two channel audio from the seven channels of video related audio into two separate rooms. Now I do not need the bypass, so I have been auditioning preamps to see if any others meet my sonic needs any better than the X0.2. I have found none that do.

The X0.2 steps to bypass are still in my Pronto under the theater macro. I mention this because if you decide to go the bypass route, it is the easiest way to set up a "theater system on and bypass"macro to work from your theater chairs. Especially for the wife and kids. (My policy is the less family fingers touching gear the better. Prontos are cheap by comparison to the gear.)
Thanks for the advice -- I am leaning toward the Pass pre (X0 or X0.2) just because I love the way the two components sound together (amp and pre). I was wondering, though, has anyone had a chance to audition the X0 vs the X0.2? I know that the power supply capacitance was increased, and I believe that that is all the difference -- is there a large difference in the sound quality? I could imagine a difference in amps, if the power supply was increased, but pre-amps?

As you can see I am a complete neophyte when it comes to preamps, as I never really had the need to care about them. Now I do, and I find them extremely hard to track down the nuances of...

Preamps are hard, probably the most difficult component to get right. SS are either dark-sounding or sibilant. Tubes can be very good, but can also be lacking in dynamics or LF extension/tightness.

My own reference is an old Mark Levinson #38 with extensive mods. This thing is bullet-proof, balanced in and out, remote controlled, .1 dB volume increments and 7 ohms output impedance. Totally programmable and somewhat intelligent. Sounds dark before mods though. Afterwards, it beats every SS pre I have heard, including the Pass.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
BTW - the ML #38 has processor balanced bypass. I use it in a combo HT/2-channel system myself.
The X0.2 also added a 12v amp turn on circuit. I have heard both and bought the X0.2, not because of sound, but availability when I was ready to buy.

I had never cared to use the 12v kicker with the other amps, as I used to leave the other amps on all the time. When the XA160s came into the system I started using it. The XA160s run much warmer, so I put them into stand-by when they are not being listened to. Either unit should be an absolutely outstanding piece of gear in your system.

Unless you find an amazing deal on a X0, I would go for the X0.2, because it should be current for a while and you may sometime need the amp turn on circuit.

Best Regards,
Tube preamp may be bad match with X600s due to the amps' low impedance...

I think btw, there might be better choices ampwise for your Dyns...
Keith --

You have me intrigued. I know that you too are looking for an amp, what are your suggestions?

I prefer to buy from a company that does not penalize a used purchase in terms of warranty. What would you suggest for my system? I have heard the following with my speakers, listed in order of (my own) sound quality -- none of these were *bad* mind you, and they were listened to over the course of 2+ years, so take this with a proverbial silo of salt:

Levinson 33H (in the ballpark pricewise, but no warranty on a expensive, complex piece of equipment kind of scares me away)

Halcro dm58 (too much money, never heard the dm38, would have to buy used)

Pass X1000 (just too damn big)

Krell 450mcx (dealer set-up, they push Krell hard -- I would have liked to hear the 700 stereo, as that is in my price range.

Parasound JC1 -- believe it or not, these sounded pretty damn good, and the price doesn't scare me away, that is for sure!

I also am considering Plinius, but have never heard them outside of a show.

What about the Pass makes you think that it would not be a good match for the Dyns?

Thanks for all the info, guys!

In terms of the actual question, thanks for all your answers, guys. I have decided on a Pass X0.2, my local dealer made me an offer that I 'could not refuse.'