I propose Symphonic Line with super power supply for $8000.
One of the best Preamps commercially available.
One of the best Preamps commercially available.
I'm partial to the BAT VK51SE. But, I'll say any recomendation is system dependent. What else is in your setp?
For the Wadia owner above, ever try a top rank preamp in the chain? I had a 860, the BAT preamp helped it a bunch in my system. Better dynamics, wider stage, deeper stage, only exception was I thought that the detail was slightly better direct. This could have been interconnect related as I didn't have the same interconnects between the wadia and amp, as between the Wadia, pre, then amp. Used Transparent Ref xlr's direct, then Ultra xlr's between Wadia and pre.
I do agree though, saving 9k on a preamp, 1-2k of more interconnects and power cords, going direct is a steal. If you have to have a pre (lp's) it does help.
Mcintosh C2200 ($4500), Highly regarded and well reviewed. Recent Hifi+ issue loved it. Being a Mcintosh they had low expectations, but were greatly surprised at just how good it was, noting it was the most fun the reviewer has had with a component in a long time.
Others... deHavilland (~$3000), Blue Circle (but dual volume controls bug me)...
To follow up with what Kenscollik stated on skipping the preamp altogether. I also have a Wadia 861se which basically bypasses the need for a preamp it does save alot of money, and deletes the need for an extra pair of cables which to me is an even better route altogether. BUt I only have 1 source and a minimalist setup. Other folks have tapes,records etc, something the Wadia doesnt solve for. For me it was perfect, for others its not.
A few have asked what makes up the rest of my system, so here goes. Sony scd777es, Levinson 360s DAC, Parasound A21. For speakers, I have an older pair of Celestion SL monitors standing in while I finish my project that uses all high quality components. It's an MTM 3-way: Aurum Canton ribbon, Scan Speak revelator 5", and Scan 10". In a sealed enclosure. I know what some of you think, one of these DIYer's who thinks he's Joe D'appolito. It will be a fine neutral design. How do I know? Because the it's designed with the crossover on the outside so I can tweak them till I get it right. I also have measurement equipment and design software.
Also, I don't see replacing the 360S even though Levinson just discontinued it after suggesting in their site that they would offer an upgrade to allow decoding of hirez once that becomes possible/legal. So I have to use a preamp. Since I have the DAC and only use digital sources I really only have 1 source to the amp, plus my cable TV output, which might go completely digital in the future anyway.
I've really though about going without a preamp, before I bought the DAC and was actually considering Wadia. But so many seem to be against digital volume controls. I've read about it on Wadia's site and in some reviews and must say that it seems like quite a compromise. Removing the "least significant bit?" Isn't that how those things attenuate? I've never actually listened to a system set up that way so let that qualify everything I say here. I've heard others say that Wadia's digital sound is a little on the dry side and these were audiophile who had no vested interest in what I bought, so they weren't try to influence a buying decision. I'm really not trying do poop on Wadia, digital volume controls or anybody who sell, uses, or even just likes the way they look. (Don't they look fantastic?) Long story short? I need to use a preamp.
I also thought digital volumes had some question marks too. But the Wadia's volume control is probably the best preamp you could even own, especially if your only using digital sources. Its output uses both balanced outputs along with single ended, and allows you to best match up the output voltage with the input voltage range on the amps being used. The idea behind the volume is to set the output voltage range so that your listening volume is in the top 3rd of the output volume so that you dont lose any defenition. This actually gives a pretty large volume window from soft to relatively loud. But even in the bottom 2/3's with the output voltage set improperly I have yet to hear someone legitimately say they hear information loss, its just no the case at all. As for Wadia sounding dry. Just buy one and send it to GNSC for the ultimate statement upgrade and you can have the most musical sounding preamp/cd transport period.
Gryphon, Sonata Allegro, oops $15,000. but magic nevertheless. Of course what's $5000, among audiophile friends? HA! True dual mono, with "banks" of smaller capacitors istead of a few large ones gives it lightning fast response. Gryphon truly has its finger on the real pulse of music. It is, magic.
For the people who claim that they don't need one,(a preamp) I humbly submit that they are rationalizing, or have not experienced the wonder of a truly great pre.
Having said that, connectors and other factors, such as matching, with the amp, are critical, as is everything in audio systems.
The First Sound is also wonderful at a steal of a price of $4000. Emmanuel is a little slower in getting products out, since he is backed up, but it is worth the wait.
Bargain, preamp? the Belles 21A is a killer when used with the Mullard tubes. Almost no personality; clean clear,dyanmic and just fun. Don't look for any syrup there though.
Before spending a lot of money on a preamp, consider replacing your amp. The Parasound A21 is a nice little amp, but it's out of place with the rest of your system. With $10k to spend, you could buy a good preamp for $3-4k (Blue Circle, GamuT and Pass are possibilities) and a pair of JC-1s. Good luck!
The Supratek Syrah (sp?). I have not heard this, but it seems many people are very high on this handmade, all tube unit made in Australia. It comes with or without high-gain phono and has optional Remote volume and balanced outs. It is very pretty, and some folks whose ears I trust are saying very good things about this line of tube stuff.
Did I mention the First Sound Deluxe II for $3995.? It is dual mono, and wonderful. Hand made, copper lined chassis.
Go to the website, Firstsoundaudio.com and read the review, in which this pre is compared to Hoveland, Lamm, you name it.
For $4K its probably the best, at least in the minds of several Audiogon folks.
Yeah,(Essentialaudio) I've thought about that myself. I guess my thinking was, to get a system using balanced vs. single ended. I'm always willing to believe there's audio bargains out there and was hoping the A21 might be just that after I tried the balanced thing. Now I'm think about keeping the the A21 and getting something lower powered like a Pass Aleph for the top 2/3's of the spectrum. My speakers would undoubtably be better off bi_amped anyway and it would save a lot of time with the crossover. For anyone who's done it, 3 crossovers are a step beyond in difficulty.
I've heard great things about the JC1's, but I couldn't audition them because Denver, especially with this economy, does not cater to that level of high end, from what I've seen anyway. Funny considering we have Rowland to the south and Boulder to the north. I'm not going to waste someone's time at an "appointment only" shop when I can only afford their stuff at used prices. So if an of your guys are listening to this you can relax.
Even the local Levinson dealer only has one pair of 436 amps, and they weren't hooked up the last time I was there. On that subject, I once had a salesman accuse me of listening at his shop an buying online, not to my face ofcourse, but I could hear him in the next room and he meant for it to be that way, the coward. It really wasn't the case. That actually where I ended up buying my current pre which brings me full circle and now I'll stop this ramble. Hey, he was depressed, they were going out of business.