Banter check out the Supratek. The Chenin which is the model I have sells for about $3500.00 new and includes a world class phono stage, remote and HT pass thru. These pre amps are hand built by Mick Maloney in Australia. Ive had mine since December and IMO this pre stomps all over the VTL 5.5 which costs a lot more. I think it is better than the 7.5 as well. These are the only two tubed pre I have experience with besides the Supratek. Check out "preamp deal of the century" under amps pre amps here on AG. I believe its the only thread with over 1600 entries. I bought mine strictly from input I read about here on AG and e mails with Mick. They are very transparent excellent speed, base, slam, air, detail, tone, huge sounstage, liquid, on and on and on. I was running direct from Wadia 861 and now I actually have more detail than running direct. Its definately worth checking out. Good luck
If you can afford it the Joule Electra LA150 at about $5,200.00 is an "end of the quest" pre-amp. Used you can probably get it for around $3,000.00.
I will respectfully disagree with Tonryan. I had the Joule Electra LA150 in my system (mated with Joule's OTL amps), but proceeded to sell it shortly after getting a DeHavilland UltraVerve w/remote. The UV did everything better, imho. Perhaps it's the 6h30 tubes that I do not like, since the Joule was the second preamp with that tube (the BAT VK-51SE was the first), and I did not care for the sonics of either.
Or even a Joule Electra LA-100 Mk III. Not as good as the LA-150, but a fantastic preamp nonetheless. I love mine.
Used for around $2000 with remote. You will see a lot of Mk I's that were upgraded to Mk III status. But a "real" Mk III with remote is fantastic (this is what I have).
Best of luck.
OR the Joule LA100 Mk III for 1800 or less.
deHavilland UltraVerve. Great sound. Great build quality. Great customer service and support. Except for the 6SN7 tube, which can get a bit expensive for NOS, the tubes are cheap to replace.
I just purchased a SAS Audio Labs 10-A linestage. It is currently running at 1,995. It has receive rave reviews from MGD at Bound for Sound, and at the Audui Circles. I replaced a Bryston BP-20 with it that I liked very much. The strengths of the 10-A are:
2. Tuneful Bass
3. Rich mids
4. Natural Timbres
If I had to state a weakness I would say that the images are not outlined in a sppoky way like some units do, but it still images very well. You really get a good sence of hall with the unit. I believe Steve Sammet, the owner, still offers a 45 day money back guarantee
I've been living with the Poeta for a year and a half, very pleased with it. It would be nice to have a remote control, but that's a tall order for a preamp of this quality/price point.
I agree with Czbbcl, the Conrad Johnson Pre in your price range. Great company, good support, reliable, woderfully musical. All the virtues of a tube pre, great midrange, sounstage etc, but quiet and reliable. I have heard others but use the Premier 17 and do not forsee changing
Cary SLP-98 with factory options: oil caps and direct coupling (not sure how compatible the latter is with SS amps, however). Ballsy yet refined w/good NOS 6SN7s...NOT for playing background music! Comes with remote. Replaced a $5K tube linestage in my system and I've never looked back.
Do a search here on First Sound, and read the soundstage review. It's amazing. Ditto the Supratek recommendation.
Have heard great thing about Aestetix. Of course excellent choices also available from VAC and VTL, CJ and so on.... man ther are MANY good ones to be had!
If budget is of no concern:-
CAT SL1 Ultimate Mk2
First Sound Presence Deluxe
A lot of good suggestions above, and a few interesting items that I have not yet heard (e.g., First Sound Presence Delux). Not knowing what sound/change you are going for, I would say that everyone's suggestion is merely a recommendation to AUDITION these items before buying, unless you enjoy the game of trading items.
Here are my suggestions on items to consider. Some are pretty hard to come by, but if you are game, they are worthy contenders. To me, these have that something extra, hard to describe, that make music sound vibrant and harmonically rich. They are:
1. Audionote (u.k.) (Anying from the relatively modest M-3 through crazy-expensive M-10)
2. Emotive Audio (Sira or the quite expensive but amazing Epifania)
3. Deja Vu linestage or preamp (something made locally in the D.C. metropolitan area by Deja Vu Audio, a McLean, Va. dealer).
how could i foget audionote? also a tremendous preamp!
Try the Tron Syren (www.tron-electric.com). Tron amps are hand made by Graham Tricker (and only him!) in the UK. His tube amps are of the highest quality regardless of price. However, as they are made in tiny numbers, most people haven't heard of them let alone heard one in the flesh. They are designed for the ultimate in performance, regardless of price and use bespoke components and specially designed circuits with short signal paths. I have just bought his own demo Meteor preamp (the Syren predecessor) and I have heard the Syren at length. It sounds like music with all the grain removed -remarkable. If you're in the US, he is prepared to sell you one on approval, although I doubt you'll want to return it.
Alternatively, you could buy from his website his second hand Nucleus line preamp and Nucleus phono stage (circa 1999) which is also excellent.
audible illusions modulus 3a, vtl ultimate, CAT SL1
I will also second C123666's answer on the Audible Illusions 3 and of course the CAT, if you can afford it. I just placed NOS tunsgram 6922s in my AL-3 and it sounds astounding.
Do you require full remote control or just volume control?
I like the Emotive Audio Sira linestage and the rather pricey Epifania. Neither are remotely controlled, but Fred Volz, the designer/builder, said that he could put in a remotely controlled volume pot. I know he was looking into the remote control modules offered by Welbourne Labs at CES, so perhaps he could also put in remote control of other functions, like input switching and balance control. Check there stuff out at Emotiveaudio.com.