At $3k, I wouldn't bother with separates and would plump for something like the Plinius 8200. Get a great deal and buy it from NZ at way below the US price.
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I agree with Redkiwi, but if you want separates you might consider Sonic Frontiers Pre-1 or Pre-1L, the former with phono, the latter without. I had a Pre-1 and a CAT SL-1 III at the same time, and the Pre-1 stood comparison quite well. Depending on power needs, you can get a Pass Aleph 3 for roughly $1000, and unless you prefer tubes (as I do), it would probably make you happy. Total cost should be under $1600 for a Pre-1 or Pre-1L and an Aleph 3.
i can't help but recommend rogue audio tubed gear, it's what i own and i can say i've been very satisfied these last 7 months. clearly there is stiff competition in the market and better gear, but i think you have to spend considerably more.
my rogue 99 magnum was had for about $1900 and a very well cared for rogue 88 power amp (non magnum) was bought used on audiogon for about $900. sounds like this fits in your budget.
you can always buy non magnum versions and have them magged at the factory. check out www.rogueaudio.com for more info, or better yet call mark o'brien. he listens, does not push, and provides great customer support.
btw i think i've recently seen a 99 preamp for about $1300 on this site. you may also consider the m120 monoblocks since you seem to have the budget.
compare against whatever else you can if possible.
hope this helps
I had an anthem Pre 2L for a while. It does a great job with most everything I threw at it. You can pick up a used one for about 650. As far as amps go, anthem makes some nice ones that compliment the pre. Check out their website. Also, I've had pretty good luck with the more expensive Parasound amps.
For $2K, you could have a BAT VK3i tube pre and a McCormack DNA 0.5 dlx ss amp(125 wpc) or BAT/DNA1 (185 wpc) for $2.75K. Very nice combo. Either would leave you with some $ for used cables. A lot depends on what kind of music you listen to and what your present/future plans are for speakers (in terms of the load, current demands, etc.)
I would get a McIntosh amp and pre. I have owned 5 separate systems and then I got a Mcintosh setup and I find it is the best in looks and sound. I am now a Mc man. I tried my C712 pre with amps from other makers and it did not sound as good as with the 3 Mc amps I have used so I would buy them as a pair. There are 50 years worth of used ones so a good deal is not too hard to find (except on recent ones). Arthur
Depending on the power requirements of your speakers and the size of room, your needs are difficult to determine. I will however recommend several systems I have heard which sound very good. The Bryston 4BST and BP25 preamp can be had for under 3K, and is well spent money. They are capable of handling just about any speaker out there. An integrated recommendation is the Rowland Concentra 1. This is a fabulous piece, more refined than the Bryston combination, but with less power and muscle. There is no magic in separates, they can sound good or bad depending on how they are matched to your system. I also would recommend the BAT VK200 and VK3i, VK30, and other BAT preamps. They are also very good and reasonably priced. The best advice I can give you is to find someone who has speakers and a room size similar to you and find out what they have heard and other info. Then you will have better direction. Jallen
I'm going to assume since you're switching from a receiver you might not want to jump right into tubes, but there are some fine recommendations for tube stuff above.
In terms of solid state, you could have one helluva good start with an Adcom GFA-750 preamp(around $1200 new) and a used McCormack DNA-0.5 Rev. A amp(around $1500) and still have some cash left over for decent interconnects. If no 0.5 Rev. As are available(or if you don't want to buy used stuff) you could buy a new McCormack DNA-125 and still be close to your budget. Another amp option would be the Odyssey Stratos that should work well and only set you back $1000 mail order direct(and you can upgrade to monoblocks later if you want).
The McCormack amp should work well with a passive preamp, and if you're open to that route you should definitely check out the Placette passive unit(the one with 3 inputs). Any combination of these amps and preamps will deliver a huge performance boost from a receiver and meet your budget. Best of luck.
Lot's of great ideas here for you Dave. Personally, I like Sugarbrie's suggestion of the Blue Circle separates, because that's what I happen to own. There are some VERY viable combos mentioned here too, such as the VK3i with the McCormack DNA 0.5, and ARC combos. I would also offer up the Rogue 66/88 combo as well.
Redkiwi's idea of getting a good integrated is a great plan as well. The Plinius is an awesome machine. I used to own the Simaudio Moon I-5 and also the Electrocompaniet ECI-3 integrateds, and can vouch for their quality.
Go out and sample as much as you can. Everything depends on your taste in sonic reproduction as well as your accompanying equipment, so listen to as much as you can. But the suggestions listed previous to mine are a great place to start looking. Have fun and happy hunting!
melos ma333r or sha-gold-r preamp: tubed, remote control volume/balance, great sound - able to compete w/the bestout there, imo - $1k-$2k used.
amps: electrocompaniet aw60ftt, aw75dmb, aw100dmb, aw120dmb. killer solid-state amps, not tube-like, but still warm, w/o losing any detail. amazing current cappacity. $800-$2k used...
these also work great together, imo... but, i'm biased - i use a music-director (last iteration of the ma333r) w/two wertically bi-amped aw60ftt's! ;~)