Please suggest good balanced Preamp

I woould like to get your experiences with and recomendadtions for balanced preamp with XLR input/output and possiblly balanced design from input to output. Cost around $3500 or less (used or new) would be good. Less is better. My criterias are :
1. Extreme transparency.
2. Extreme low noise. S/N > 100 dB.
3. Phono is not required but I have no objection if it has phono.
4. Minimum one pair of XLR input and one pair of XLR outputs.
5. Remote will be good but I can compromise a remote for the quality of the preamp.
6. Tube (preferable) or SS

I tend to prefer tube preamp over SS, but very good SS pre is not out of question. I am too lazy in tube rolling business and like to stick to the stock tubes that comes with the pre from the manufacturer. I know, I will miss the best capability by not rolling tubes. But I don't want to fill up my house with tubes.

Few recomendadtions I have received are:
ARC Ref 3 (out of my price range)
Ayre K1xe (little over my budget even used)
Pass Labs XP10 (this may be within my budget if used)
McCormack VRE-1 ( model ??, have not seen in used market)
VTL 7.5 (way over my budget even used)
Atma Sphere MP-1 (also costly)
Asthetix Calypso (many complains very noisy, does not fit my criteria).

What can you suggest for an exceptional balanced tube preamp of similar caliber of preamps mentioned above within my budget ?
Add the Jeff Rowland Capri to your list. This preamp really surprised me and has great synergy with my VAC tube amps.

While you mention the MP-1 being expensive, the MP-3 should be right around your price range. An excellent tube preamp.
I use a Simaudio P5 which fits your criteria. It's a bit dry for me (looking to go tube myself), but it is very quiet, very transparent, fully balanced, and has a good remote (though the remote is ridiculously heavy). You may even be able to move up in the Sim line at your price range used (new models P7 and P8 I think), thought I don't see any on the gon right now. You should definitely be able to get a P5 under 2k. Cary SLP05 gets very good reviews but I've never listened to one myself. -Dave
I have a Asthetix Calypso and am very happy with it. they had a bad batch of tubes that is why the noise complaints. but it is very open and transparent.
Without knowing what amplifier you will be using it's hard to make a recommendation. Can you elaborate?

I also own an Aesthetix Calypso and have had no noise issues either.

Good Luck.
The Aesthetix Calypso with the right tubes (nos Amperex, Mullard, Telefunken, etc) has very low noise and the sound is spectacular!
How abaout the Parasound Halo JC-2. Retail is $4000, a good dealer (such as myself) could certainly get you one for less than $3500, and this pre has the XLR input and output you seek, and has received an exceptional review in Stereophile.

It is best with a warm-ish amp, or a speaker which can benefit from detailed components.

If I can help, please let me know.
Hi all, I appreciate very much for the great suggestions and valuable inputs.

The preamp will feed an active crossover (Pass Labs XVR-1) which in turn will feed a pair of VTL MB 300s for H/F drivers and a pair of KRELL 350C Mono Blocks for the LF drivers.

Clio09, How much is the diference between MP-1 and MP-3 soundwise ? Have you listened to MP-3 ? Can you give a little more sense of the sound of this model ? I will have to do some research on this one though.

Programmergeek & Bwos, I am glad that you are able to bring down the noise level of Calypso pre. This pre seems to me very promising if the noise is not the issue at all. I don't know why so many users have complains about this preamp on noise issues. And I wonder if nos Amperex, Mullard, or Telefunken tubes reduce the noise floor of Calypso (which is the major downside of this preamp) then why the manufacturer do not ship their unit with these tubes. Is there a sonic compromise using these tubes ? As I said "it is an absolute no, no" to me if I have to search and experiment with various tubes to make a preamp listenable after paying big bucks for the preamp itself.

Dbw1, I will keep an eye on Sim P8 though.

Buff, I have to listen to JC-2. But before that I will consider MP-3 or Asthetix, becauase I like tubes. Somehow in my mind something tells me that "go for the tubes". -:)

Thanks everyone and have great listening.
I think you have a very good list already, plus the other suggestions are good.

I would add a (used) BAT VK51SE on the list. You can get one for right about $3700-4k.

I agree with the other poster on the Aesthetix. I would not worry about noise with the right tubes.

Good luck, nice problem to have, some great choices !
I'd go for the K1x, you might even find an e model with phono for a little over your budget. That would be a great unit. It's got everything you are looking for and is one of the absolute best sounding preamps out there.
I have listened to the MP-3 quite a bit as I know a few people who own them. At CES I sat with Ralph Karsten for about an hour listening to the MP-1 with vinyl as the source (Porcupine Tree no less, Ralph is a big fan). The MP-3 is very transparent and detailed. It packs a lot of punch in the low end, but overall is very tonally balanced and accurate. One of the best tube preamps for rock music IMO, but I've enjoyed listening to all types of music with the MP-3. The MP-1 stretches it even further, but considering the price difference I really think you could be happy with an MP-3.

Please note that each time I've listened to an Atma-sphere preamp it has been mated with an Atma-sphere amp. I think this contributed to the overall sound I heard.
I agree with Ejlif about getting the Ayre K-1x, and if possible the, (e) version. It has everything you stated you want in a preamp, (except the tubes of course!).
The used price of the K-1x is typically around $3,500, w/o phono; the K-1xe, again w/o phono, is about $4,000, and the K-1xe, w/phono, is about $4,500.

(Of course I would say I agree with Ejlif, since I have one, as does he!) The Ayre K-1xe is a reference preamp, and the phono stage is near reference, IMHO. I have had my K-1xe for 5 years now, and I don't see myself upgrading anytime soon.

Good Luck in your search.
The Atma-Sphere preamps utilize a lot of tubes. When you detect a bad tube, tracking it one down is reasonably time consuming.

I owned an MP-1 preamp, and as great as it sounded, the tube maintenance involved was clearly going to be an issue for me, so I sold it.

Something to consider...
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Your list is already excellent. Any preference would have to be very much subjective and synergy would certainly be critical (so what's new?!). Add Modwrights LS36.5 - It has a 6H30 tube output and is tube rectified. One set of XLR's, no phono (Dan makes a separate phone stage) and meets all other criteria you list. I'd say it's very linear, clean and neutral and it throws a soundstage like nobody's business. Fairly rare on the used market, but does appear on occasion at or around your price point. The power supply is upgradable if you want to go that direction at a later time. Disclaimer: Modwright is among my clients as a photographer / graphic designer. I've been using and enjoying Dan's products years before he became a client.
I don't know what the Pass X-over's impedance is, but Pass amps tend to be on the low side for tubes. That said, the Sonic Fronties Line 3 SE might work for you.
It isn't truly balanced end to end but I'd also consider the McIntosh C2300. I know you mention you don't like tube rolling but rolling the 2 linstage tubes to something like Amperex or Telefunken SP would bring out the best in this premap.

I've been very satisfied with mine and it is in the high end of your price range used. It has plenty of XLR inputs and 3 XLR pairs of outputs.
The Atma-Sphere preamps utilize a lot of tubes. When you detect a bad tube, tracking it one down is reasonably time consuming.

I owned an MP-1 preamp, and as great as it sounded, the tube maintenance involved was clearly going to be an issue for me, so I sold it.

Tvad, would you elaborate on this? The MP-1 has 18 tubes total. If you got a noisy channel, why not just swap tubes two at a time (between channels) until the bad tube is found? Nine swaps would be the maximum number. Then once the bad tube is is isolated, just order another matched pair?

Also when you say tube maintenance, are you talking about something beyond troubleshooting a bad tube? To me it seems tubes last a reasonable amount of time such that the gain in sound quality is worth a little maintenance every couple of years. OTOH, a full compliment of replacement tubes can be pricey and I understand the ongoing expense over the years is not nothing.

I recently bought a Cary 120S tube amp and I have to say, I get what the tube afficionados go on about. I like it enough that I'm thinking about moving up to Atmasphere. Still I do get that tubes are a bit more of a hassle, hence my inquiry.
02-01-09: Wireless200
The MP-1 has 18 tubes total. If you got a noisy channel, why not just swap tubes two at a time (between channels) until the bad tube is found? Nine swaps would be the maximum number. Then once the bad tube is is isolated, just order another matched pair?

The MP-1 uses 10 6SN7 and 8 12AT7 tubes. The method you describe is correct. For me, that's a lot of tube maintenance and trouble shooting (remember, I owned one, so I've experienced it).

My situation was complicated by the fact that the MP-1 would have to be uninstalled and removed from my cabinet (and then reinstalled) every time I had to track down a bad tube.

It was a hassle. Everyone has their own level of maintenance they are willing to endure.

If someone is considering this preamp, I would suggest they place it on the top shelf of a rack where the top and sides are easily accessible with a screwdriver.

I still use tube equipment, but the gear I own is a bit shorter than the MP-1, and I can remove the top covers and replace tubes without having to remove most of the components from my cabinet. The MP-1 is too large to allow for this in my system.
Tvad, what tube equipment are you using now, in particular for the power amp? How does it compare to other brands you've used?
FWIW, the line section of the MP-3 has 4 tubes. The MP-1 line section has 6 tubes. Either way, the tube warranty is for a year.

If you are one who is into swapping tubes, then I recommend you run the unit without the cover until you have sorted out which tubes you want in the unit, and use cables that are long enough to allow the chassis to be moved for easy access, thus avoiding Tvad's objections. Longer cables are not an issue with either preamp- the MP-3 can easily drive 50 feet so an extra foot or so behind the unit can guarantee easy access.

Both units, like any tube preamp, make some heat so we recommend (in the manual) that if the unit is in a cabinet, that there be at least 2" above it. This will also make it easier to deal with if you have to pull it out for a tube replacement. In either line section, the tubes are operated well below any of their maximums- we've seen tubes in the line section of the MP-1 go over 50,000 hours. We don't have good data like that on the MP-3, but we have seen the tubes in them last over 7 years with lots of use, so in a nutshell, the line sections don't eat tubes and don't have a reputation for it either.
I'm using Pass Labs XA-60.5 amplifiers with a Lamm L2 Reference preamplifier.

The Pass Labs is the best solid state amp I've owned bar far, and perhaps the best amp I've owned or solid state, although the VAC Phi 110/110 was exceptionally good, too. I've owned some excellent tube amps that were poor matches for my speakers, so a fair commentary is impossible to make.

The Lamm L2 Reference is the best preamp I have owned in most respects, although I have owned some outstanding tube preamps over the years (ARC Ref 3, First Sound Presence Deluxe II, Supratek Cortese, and others...).

I apologize in advance for not writing a comparison/contrast essay on the dozen or so amps I've owned.
ARC LS-10 solid state....used around $2k.....they come up for sale a couple of times a year here on the 'Gon.
Cary SLP-05 is outstanding preamplifier.
Would you describe type of music you listen most? What other equipment you have? I suggest find a set of songs you like most and listen most. Use that set of music when you try out different pre-amp. You would be able to tell one does more details or better stage than the other. With that, finding the characteristics are more imprtant to you.

I found Conrad Johnson 16LS is great and end up with ART2. I think CJ is great for vocal music. I do not care about deep strong bass or find the stage from a orchestra. None the less, 16LS or ART2 perform above average all around.
If one is spending the kind of dollars required to purchase an ARC REF3, CJ ART2, Lamm L2 Reference or similar, then the preamp ought to excel on all music. If it doesn't then it's not worth the money, IMO.
Tvad is absolutely correct without reservation.
One Preamp that just came out that shoots Way above average and has several innovations is a company that for years was doing all the PS audio mods Cullen engineering
Better known as Wyred 4 Sound. I have their ST 250- amp
which replaced my Edge G-4 amp which was very good.
Their New Preamp may be even Better.It is pure passive with a twist it uses over 147,000 Uf of capacitance just for the power supply,with -0 capacitors in the signal path
and it is Buffered to match whatever Impedance is coming in
which was the biggest drawback of passive preamps in the past and is fully balanced input to output not like many that just have xlr jacks.This preamp has a very natural tone with a natural warmth,and does some things better than several of the $4-6k preamps I have owned it images spot on, even at low volumes the performers
are identifiable.Not many preamps can do this well symphony or rock and roll. By selling direct I found out you save at least 50%, for when you go to a store there is a solid
50 point+ margin I am a 30 year + Audiophile and finding the best for my money is now what it is all about.
The Parts quality is superb ,all Nichicons best Bipolor capacitors, the volume is totally digitally controlled -out of the circuit and each channel has matched Dale Vishay resistors,
the best national semiconductors opamps,and pair matched Toshiba f.e.ts, and a sizable Torroidial transformer and many proprietary tweaks went into this design.If I stand behind it it has to be good for I have had systems of at least $50k in the past !
I would also consider the K&K Audio.
Aria WV units. Meet specifications exactly.
The Aria WV5 Standard Line preamplifier is $6700. The OP is looking to spend $3500 or less.
Sorry didn't read that.
Is the K&K balanced from front to back?
FWIW, I have had my MP-1 for 5 years and never had to replace a tube. I wouldn't trade/sell it for the world - because, naturally, it just sounds so good.
If your limit is $3500, I would go with the Calypso, which is in my second system and is deathly quiet with Mullard 1960 NOS tubes.