Audio Research LS-25 MkII.
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Try to look at the Space-Tech Lab, their balanced pre start from less than US$1K and have a very good review from actual users. I have listened to their products both in the shop and my friend's place, very accurate, natural and opened sound, highly impressed. I am a brand-name freak, not even care to look at these small potatos before, I only will put an eye on Krell, Mark, Jadis, Cary, Conrad-Johnson, Audio-Research.....same as many other stereophile guys, but this small shop completely change my stubbon mind, I didn't met any brand-name products can beat down their musical liveness performance yet, of course their external appearances can look much better. I didn't have any of their products yet, I guess pretty soon I will be one of their customers. They are just like a small hole in the dam being neglected by most of the people right now, but I guess they can do something really big. Their web site is www.space-tech-lab.com
Hi - You owe it to yourself to hear the new Audio Van Alstine Trancendence 7 Preamp before you buy anything. It doesn't have the "name" factor of some of the elite stuff others will recommend, but it will sound absolutely superb, and the phono is outstanding. It's well within your budget, and you won't regret it for a minute. Here's the link:
Still looking for Tommy The Canexican,
We have some similiar equipment. I would recommend that you go for just a few bucks more and look for an ARC LS5MkIII. It's ARC's best next to the Ref 1 and Ref 2. It has great medrange magic and is much better than the LS25 which sounds more clinical. It would mate great with your ARC amp, CD2 and PH3. It's truly fully balanced, has a remote and is a steal at the current prices. Good Luck!
Your tubes cost almost as much as the preamp. It oughta sound good. I've invested heavily in tubes for my SupraTek also. I can afford to because I didn't have to spend $10K to get the sound I was looking for.
If you have to have a balanced output, then you don't have many options. BAT or SupraTek. SupraTek's phonostage recieves a lot of rants.