Opportunity to buy the best Preamp... but which?

On the tube front... AR Ref3 vs. CJ ART3 vs. VL TL-7.5 vs. Wavac PR-T1?

Or on the SS front... Burmester 808Mk5 vs Dartzeel NHB-18NS vs Krell Evolution2 vs MBL 6010D vs Halcro DM10?

My preference would be a neutral tube based model.

Any opinions?

That is some list, you probably couldn't go wrong with any of them. I would check out the ARC Ref 3 and the BAT VK-52SE/Rex.
And I will add VAC Ren Sig Mk2 at that price, or VAC Ren Mk2 for a few thousand less.
I second The Vac Renaissance Signature Mk II, I have owned about 5 or 6 top of the line tube pre's in the last 20 years and nothing comes close to this especially if you have a T.T. the phono stage is second to none. Can't help with SS although I would love to try the Dart.
What about Supratek Grange?
Hello, I'd add the gorgeous McIntosh C1000C to your list. It consists of a "control box" (9k) and your choice of a solid state or tube preamplifier section (8k each). It can be used with both tubed and solid state sections together to make a three box system(total $27k), which can be switched on-the-fly between tube or solid state per remote control, or for tubes only (total $17k). It's sapposed to be pretty neutral sounding... I've thought about the tubed version only for my system in another year or so..., but the cost!! Also, I've talked to BAT about the REX. It's an 18 tube preamp and goes for $18k. It looks like the price for reference preamps are skyrocketing in cost. I don't know how much you want to spend, but I'd give these two a listen.
Hey Hooper! I thought you had a Coinnoisseur?
i heard a preamp at ces that i would purchase before i would consider any of the aforementioned preamps. however, it is the classic tube sound, euphonic and lush.uspect that while i like it very few who would read my post would concur with me.

anyay, here it is: navison special edition mk 1, at $4000. the designers are from north vietnam, but they have a california office. they exhibited at the st. tropez.

there is a possibility i may review this product.

i certainly would include the 'first sound paramount se' preamp in any discussion of the best tube preamps.i have heard 2 of the initial pre's mentioned and the 'paramount se' imo..is better.
You should consider the Audio Horizons TP 2.0,check out the threads in the discussion forum.You may want to think twice about Calloways recommendation in light of those comments.
You have nothing to lose with a free 30 day home trial.
You should go to www.H-Cat.com, website of North American Products and check out the P12R preamp. You should really try to audition this preamp before you drop big bucks on another preamp. How does it sound? Like the Real Thing. MUSIC. Doesn't cost you anything to try it.
I had the ref 2mkII and ref 3..I own the 202 Krell now. When used with the 402 amp in balanced mode, it is just about flawless...almost like being in Boston symphony hall!
Messenger all tube preamp. Yes, I own it and love it. The Messenger is a legendary piece and has taken best of the show honors at CES in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Nuff said.
I think the guy's asking about "the best preamp" rather than "my preamp":)

In this light, I suggest you consider: for tubes the Art (which you referenced), the big Aesthetics, and perhaps a CAT.

In SS, the FM acoustics. Maybe the MBL or the Burmester...
Tube territory:Audio note kondo m-77 or M-1000MKII, is the best, others second line Aestethix, ARC ref3, First sound, VAC..perhaps Wavac and Shindo top of the line near Kondo
SS preamps:MBL, FM, Boulder, Rey audio, Connoisseur CTC and Soulution, best relation price/quality soulution, best absolute perhaps FM top of line.
I would add Einstein to your tube list - to consider; and CTC Blowtorch (I believe it would have to be used,i.e. I think production has stopped) to your SS list.
It sounds like a fun project -- looking for a preamp without heavy constraints on price. But, at best, we can only suggest what to look at, because it is nearly impossible to guess what sound you would prefer and how the preamp will behave in your system. Personally, I find preamps and linestages to be the most sensitive and unpredictable components when it comes to working with other electronics. Linestages that sounded terrific in some systems can sound aweful in others. For those reasons, there can be no single "best."

It would also be helpful if you would say what kind of features you require (e.g., remote control, phase inversion, balance control), whether you have any space limitations (e.g., Audionote M-10 comes in four very large chassis), and other such detail.

Of the linestages you have listed, I have some familiarity with the VTL and the AR. They are pretty nice units and have good remote controls and are quite versatile. But, there sound is more in the solid state camp than the tube camp, so, if you like that kind of sound, I would say stick to solid state.

If you are looking for the kind of harmonic density and correct "feel" of tubes, and if you are looking for the natural sounding transient attack of good tube gear, you should look into the following: Kondo M-77 or M1000, Audionote (uk) M-10 (crazy expensive, though cheaper models sound good too), Emotive Audio Epifania (I own a version with remote control and all of the teflon cap upgrades).
I would go for SS preamp, IMHO, the signal is so low tubes can get unreliable. I dont like tubes on the preamp, again IMHO.

I think a manufacturer that does passive is certainly familiar with transparency, so I would recommend First Sound or Placette if you dont have a TT.

For full function with Phono I really like the Metaxas top of the line, very interesting oscilating power supply, etc. Any system we connected it to sounded wonderfull.

RaulĀ“s Essential is also up there, very clean and transparent.
Halcro sounded very nice...I dont think you can go wrong with FM.

I am curious about Supratek, never heard it but I like the gain!!

That's not me. I do have the Connoisseur. Same name, Andrew, but different person. We have similar tastes, though. :)
C'mon Hooper.....just how many audiophiles do you think are named Andrew anyway?
What, do you think we are fools? :)

John (well, there may be two John's, since it's so common a name)
since there are about 500 'best', past and present, spend the money on one you like the sound of and that is made by a company that has a long history and a secure future. many of the models/brands that are beloved for a year or so when they launch, soon are oddities.
The EAR/Yoshino 912 is worth your consideration, especially if you want/need a flexible built in phono stage.

Does your list come from personal experience or just guessing based on reputation? I've heard many of the preamps listed and I find huge gaps in performance between these various models. Listing every preamp with a high price tag or a good review doesn't help anyone.

Jfz, the last CTC Blowtorch to be completed is available, although perhaps not for long. It is a classic but is too much trouble to build.
Thanks for all the replies!

Let me explain a little - I'm in the market for a new pre-amp with almost no budget constraint. I've heard many of the pre-amps I listed, but not in comparison to one another, except for a couple though not extensively.

I left out from my list some obvious brands, like BAT, Boulder, Einstein, McIntosh, LAMM, Linn, Levinson, because I don't particularly like them sonically.

Having said that, I guess it was obvious to me before my post, and now after so many replies, that choosing from that list is probably a question of "flavour" rather than finding one Good-Better-Best among them.

With that in mind, do you think we've reached the age of Renaissance for Pre-Amp designs? Are there any new designs that leapfrog all these top machines?

>>I'm in the market for a new pre-amp with almost no budget constraint<<

We all should have such problems.

Why not buy 2 or 3?
I would.
Take Markwatkiss' advice and save tons of money by trying an Audio Horizons TP 2.0 preamp for 30 days.

It's really worth a listen, I'm not affiliated with the company, just a very satisfied listener.
Andrew; based on your tastes...

"My preference would be a neutral tube based model."

.....you are looking for a preamp that has a bit of the sweetness of tubes, but not euphonic warmth.

i have heard all those pre's on your list and to my ears the darTZeel NHB-18NS will give you both the sweetness and neutrality you are seeking. it is the only one that is battery powered.....which really does set it apart in areas of low noise and dynamics. it also contains a world class phono stage. if you choose to use it with the darTZeel NHB-108 amplifier you will save money on interconnects at it uses a propietary BNC 'zeel' cable which has amazing performance, can be any length up to 1 kilometer, and is relatively cheap.

any of those other pre's and others mentioned in this thread are very good.....you are right....it becomes a matter of taste and context at this level of gear.

good luck and have fun with your choice.
I have to agree with Marty & Swampwalker:
VAC Renaissance Signature Mk. II with phono.
I believe the guy who sold it to me commited suicide (just kidding), but I know he misses it.
Sounds & looks are absolutely stunning!
Are there any new designs that leapfrog all these top machines?


Only subjectively. In reality, no, there is simply no clear winner. Sorry, if only it were so easy, we would all just put the other companies out of business and all simply buy 'the best'. In the real world it doesn't work like that.

I don't think you can point out 'the best' in any field though. Cars, homes, boats, wines, ice cream flavors, preamps, amps, they are all just subjective choices.

In the end, only you can decide what you like.

There's been no discussion about SE/balanced... in preamps this can be a big deal on account of the interconnect cables.

So- if funds are unlimited for a preamp, what amps do you have? Will they accept either input?
Balanced operation is definately a big deal ultimately, and should be mentioned. As for "the best", it all depends on what your going for...sympnony hall/jazz club or pop/hip-hop..etc... If re-creating the ephemeral nature of live instruments is a standard, then one can limit the field substantialy. If one only needs to have sufficient bass and treble to connect to pointless pulsating rythms or the inconsequential ramblings of the pseudo-musicians so prevalent today...well, you see my point!
Mikelavigne makes a point about the Dartzeel pre linked via bnc to their amp.
I had a unscientific experience listening to orchestral music, with that pre:

The Dartzeel 18 vs the FM acoustics 255: the 255 was better driving a Dart amp (more sense of immediacy and urgency in the music). BUT the Dart connected via bnc to the Dart amp was as satisfying as the FM-A
If it were me, I'd buy a Wyetech Labs Pearl and be done with it.
01-23-07: Weez
If it were me, I'd buy a Wyetech Labs Pearl and be done with it.

So the Pearl is better than the Opal?
Does Wyetech Labs know this?
Just call Stan Klyne at Klyne Audio Arts and have him buld for you what you want. Just doesn't get much better than this, unless you buy FM Acoustics.
Any Shindo preamp would satisfy you. Listen to Shindo Petrus or Giscours if you want the best. Shindo cannot even be lumped in with other manufactuers. I recommend you listen and find out.
Gregm, thanks for the feedback on the dart vs FM.

2 questions.

you mention the dart pre was 'as satisfying' as the 255 with the dart amp; was it more similar sounding to the 255 or was there significant differences in the balance?

i'm not sure you have one of the FM Acoustics phono stages, but if you do.....were you able to compare the dart internal phono stage to the FM?

Herve used the big FM Acoustics phono stage as his reference when he designed the pre and phono stage so i would expect there to be considerable similarity.

FM Acoustics is phenominal gear.
Mike --
the Dart was similar to the FM in the mid to upper mid range. In the high frequencies, the FM showed more energy. Note that where details of the music were concerned, the Dart did not require you to "strain your ears" i.e. the Dart+Dart was not musically lossy or lacked homogeneity. Cymbals for example had more energy and slower decay (i.e. they were perceptibly present longer) with FM.

Also please note that the speakers were adequately set-up and the amplfication homogenious enough in both cases so there where no aberrations such as, the percussion being in front of the violins in an orchestra, for example...

Riaa: haven't made the comparison, unfortunately. The FM (122 in this case) has 2 user user-controlled de-emphasis pots in front which allow versatility -- but would probably complicate comparisons (unless maybe if set flat on the FM?)!
Viola Audio Labs.
Viola Cadenza or more expensive Spirito modular preamp.
Greg, thanks for the details on your comparison. i would have liked to have been there.

best regards,
first sound excellent but soundstage is too small..just buy cat ultimate roll tubes to amperex and close your eyes.
hard to beat except AN Kondo or perhaps Jadis...the list is REAL SHORT!!!!!
believe you are seeking the least inaccurate preamp.

only you can determine that by listening. no preamp is perfect. all have flaws which are detectable, given enough audition time.

only you can determine which deviations from neutrality are acceptable to you.
Seven attendances at the CEs, no less than five to each show of Frankfurt, Milano, Paris and London give me enough experience to say what I said, and as i have been from 1995 to 2001 , the owner of one of the largest group that distributes around 20 brands, the best of the best brands, give me some experience, but I need to say that still I have doubts, almost about SS preamps, but not about tube preamps. Now from the freedom and distance to this business I can say what I really want, sorry if my tastes are different, but this is a subjective world, I respect all the opinions and tastes.
I've seen the Connorsiour 4.2SE referred to as one of the best in the world, however there is also a Connosour 5.0 and according to website a 6.0 in the works, both of which are positioned as even higher end products i would think they are very much near the top of the best in the world
I had the AR Ref 3 and the CJ Art 3 and several others but the new Einstein " The Tube" is the most musical of all, hands down. I also have a second system which has Avantgarde Duo's and I use a Meridian 861 pre and just recently added the Meridian 800 cd player after going through about 20 cd combinations over the last 2 years and this was the best combo by far.
I also use my Meridian for a high end Home Theater system as well but when used for 2 channel it is an incredible preamp and I would take it over any of the ones you have mentioned. It is the one piece in my system along with my Duo's that I have never had the urge to replace.
Einstein's "The Tube" preamp is good but ultimately more colored and more difficult to match with a system. It's presentation is forward (ala B&W speakers), soundstaging is OK but not Ref 3 territory, and it's ability to capture the way live music breaths and expands and changes it's dynamic envelope is replaced with a sense of artifice which imbues a presumed quickness...but it misses the beauty that connects all the notes together. A ref 3 needs proper setup and time in a system to be fully appreciated. One must also appreciate exceptional music and have a great reference point (BSO perhaps)! As for Meridian, owned the G6 and demo'd some of the other reference gear. Meridian reminds me of very good Hi Fi, exciting and flashy but missing the soul of a performance (great home theater stuff..if that's your bag). By the way, the ref 3 needs about 500 hours before it shows it's mustard..and it needs a great power cord, the stock one would take it into average land.
Are there any new designs that leapfrog all these top machines?

There are certainly preamps that have technology that do represent breakthroughs. In addition a top preamp will have the best coupling caps available and things like that...
Components are like Ice Cream, everybody likes a different flavor. Even when you get to Vanilla where you don't want anything colored you find out ultimately there are different flavors of Vanilla. I sold the AR Ref. 3 to my neighbor with a reference system and still find it lacks what I am looking for in music which is purity, to my own ears.
I think anybody looking for the perfect pre needs to listen to several and decides what sounds best to them afterwards. We put the AR 3 and Einstein in 3 different systems with high end power cables and top of the line components. 4 out of the 5 people preferred the Einstein in each system. But, I have several friends that own the AR 3 and believe it is the best piece they have ever owned and to their ears it very well could be. I am not saying either piece is better, I think you have to listen to them in your system and see what the synergy is.

That is why some of us never stop buying and connecting new pieces looking for the ultimate in synergy in our system. Also, a G6 is not an 861. In the system that my 861 sits, and this is just because of they gear and the way it is set up in this system, the AR3 was fully exposed as something I would never own for a long period of time.

When I put it in my second system did it really start to shine. But in that system the Einstein shined brighter and the ears that were here and that agreed have been in the business for over 30 years with many credentials and also we had a high end stereo reviewer.

I just hate it when somebody states one piece is the best over something else. It is purely personal taste. The best is what the individual themselves percieve is the best sounding to them. What makes them want to get up and dance, gets their foot tapping, etc. That is what good music is about.
"Are there any new designs that leapfrog all these top machines?"

If you have followed the H-CAT thread and its new technology/ies advertised, corroborated by its owners, there sure are new designs that leapfrogs these top basic design machines at thousands less.

Me, I will stick with one of these top machines though.
while one may have the opportunity to buy the best preamp. the best preamp only exists in one's mind, not in reality.

best is a value judgement, determined by criteria devised by an individual. another individual may devlop a different set of factors. there will always be a disagreement, because priorities differ. it is more relevant to decide what you like rather than so-called quality.