no-budget preamp?

Here's my situation: I just upgraded my CD player to a nice (albeit still low-end) Arcam. It sounds great when going straight into my tube power amp (a homebuilt job using mostly old Dynaco parts that has its own volume control) and my Spica TC-50 speakers. However, when I run it through the pre-amp section of my seven year old NAD receiver, the signal dirties up, I lose resolution, detail etc.

I want the convenience of the preamp for volume control, remote control, switching between sources, and the power amp does need a little gain on some cd's. But I've got literally no money. I know I have to spend something, but what's the cheapest option for a preamp that won't be a ruinously weak link in an otherwise pretty good sounding system?
No remote control, but the basic Bottlehead Foreplay tube preamp kit is $150 plus shipping. It uses two 12au7/ecc82 type tubes (supplied with the kit) which can be easy/inexpensive to replace/experiement with.

I have used one for well over a year now and highly recommend it. Compares well sonically with anything I have run against it (popular tube preamps in the $800-$2500 range).

It requires a good build and perhaps the addition of a snubber circuit (or two) in order to operate on the quiet side (for a tube preamp). Considering that you built your power amp this should not be a problem, plus there is plenty of help available in their forum.

Go to for more info and also check out the chat room/forum.

Mine is basically stock except for stepped dual mono volume pots (from Bottlehead) and the addition of a snubber circuit made up from cheap parts.

I never installed the C4S mod (you can read about this @ Bottlehead) as I'm not certain that I would care for the sound (the positive feedback of others describes a type of sound that I tend to shy away from).

In stock form it offers 3 source switching and if you go for the "stereo" volume pot configuration you then have a balance control.
I used to own a McCormack Micro Line Drive for very much the same reason. You can use this little pre as a passive device (just volume, balance and 3 input selector) or active and if I remember correctly you can adjust the gain in active mode. The only problem is it wasn't as good active as it was passive and I needed the gain. In passive mode it simply wasn't there, completely transparent. I have seen a couple of adds on Audiogon for the Micro between 200 and 300 bucks. Very well made too but unfortunately no remote. I had upgraded from an NAD tuner/preamp. Even though in active mode it wasn't great it was still much better than the NAD's. Happy hunting.
Check out Antique Sound Labs LH-01. Remote and tube regulation for $499 brand new.

I haven't heard it but I owned one of their integrateds and heard the tiny 2004 and for the price it is great equipment. Head designer is often on AA too and will answer all your questions. Good luck! Arthur
I'm the initiator of the thready, using my e-mail as i.d. Thanks for the responses. Just to clarify for Dekay, my power amp is a homemade job, but not by me. I'm tempted to try building a preamp, but have zilch experience building anything electronic, and no eqipment. I'm thinking the learning curve might be a little sharp. As someone once said to me about studying caballah: "yes, but after I retire." Am I overstating the difficulty of building something like this?
Some comments on your system: don't get rid of the Spica's, they have drawbacks but can really sing, esp. with the tube amp you have (I imagine). Replace the connectors and internal wire with cardas. I have a pair and got best results with Cardas Golden Hexlink 5 cables (used bought here for $300 or so). I had a Forte 2 preamp, and when I switched to a custom built passive from Savante Audio it made all the differnce.. I highly recommend passives, you will not want to go back to active unless it's a 4K or higher $$ klyne or something like FM acoustics. QED out of England made a $200 or less stock passive that would probably sound good, as the McCormack should too.
The problem you are having is using the preamp section on an old receiver. If you had a good preamp you would not be losing resolution, detail, Yada Yada..

How much is "a little money". Creek makes some small passive volume controls with selector of a couple pieces of gear. Can probably find a used one here or on eBay starting at $100.
In general, a low cost preamp with all of the features that you're seeking will not sound too good. You will probably need to compromise on the remote at minimum, and maybe some inputs, if you want the best sound for a low cost.