This may not be the right forum for this, but I am selling a battery operated preamp on this site that, quiet honestly I believe is world class.
It's a reflection audio OM1, and I believe you will not get a better preamp at the price I am offering it for. It includes a superb phono stage as well though, which may, or may not be a problem.
Just another option.
Sorry, I should have mentioned that the OM1 is fully balanced, in and out.
There's a used $2,700 Atma Sphere MP-3 on sale here
that perfectly meets all of your criterion. Do a web and forum search for reviews.
Musical Fidelity M6PRE, which does have a phono stage, otherwise fits your description ("just neutral and clean") and is well within budget. Lists for $2400 new. But no headphone jack or tone / balance controls if those are features you'd want.
Aesthetix Calypso. Has everything you want, and then some. Used ones sell here on Audiogon in the $2500 range.
Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE is exactly what you're looking for. Check out the misc. reviews at 6 Moons and the rest of the net.
Look for a used BAT preamp. The Atma Sphere is also a player to consider.
The MP-3 mentioned earlier can have the phono stage installed at a later date if desired. The phono section is fully differential and balanced; FWIW historically was/is the first balanced phono stage ever built.
The Doge 8 at $1550 and the Doge 8 Clarity at $1950 are both excellent preamps and have a very good phono stage. It is very good looking and unsurpassed in performance at anywhere close to its price level. It is available at Pacific Valve.
A new Kavent S-33 is much cheaper than 3K, and will stuff the monkeys out of most gear 3 times the price.
Lots of good stuff in that price range - I second the Aesthetix Calypso. If you research this, don't let the folks who tell you to tube roll scare you off. The stock tubes sound great. I have used both the stock tubes and NOS tubes from Andy's Vintage tube services and while they are different, they both sound great, and the stock tubes are more neutral...
Another vote for the Doge 8 preamp.
I'm looking for something under $3000 used, transparency, detail, and holographic imaging are my priorities. Something that adds color is not what I want, just neutral and clean.
So what might you suggest?
I suggest you stretch your budget a bit and get this:Ayre K-1xe Preamp for sale here on Audiogon for $3,700
I've had one for several years, and have been very happy with it. (In fact, it is now the oldest major component in my system.) FYI, while the one for sale does not have the phono boards, if you ever want to upgrade your phono preamp, the internal phono boards are near reference quality. (Note: The K-1xe has been discontinued, but it remains a reference quality preamp, IMHO, and Ayre does provide service for these still.)
My two cents worth.
(FYI, I have no affiliation with the seller of the aforementioned K-1xe.)
I have a K1xemp and its as good as you can find. If you want the phono boards, you can easily send it to Ayre who will be happy to install them for you. The phono input makes the 2nd input the phono input which reduces by one the total inputs. There are 3. Understand that you should use XLR connectors from your turntable as well for optimum performance
Sounds like a Bryston BP26 might be right up your alley. Ultra transparency, dead quiet background, holographic imaging, absolute neutrality with nothing added, and a the balance of a 20-year warranty if you can find one. Best of luck.
Check out the Parasound Halo JC-2
I think the Modwright 36.5 used is at less than $3000 used and a tremendous buy. In my system it outperformed ARC, CJ and other brands. Look up the review in Positive Feedback because the reviewer, Bob Levi, I think is spot-on in his comments.
I should add that I replaced a Calypso with the 36.5 and preferred the 36.5 over a BAT VK51se. The Modwright has much better bass than the Calypso and better 3-D imaging. The call is closer with the BAT, but I thought the Modwright's transparency was clearly superior.
Great suggestions guys, really appreciate it ... although I can't say it's made my decision any easier :) But I do have a lot of stuff to consider, and narrow down my choices.
Being without a pre for so long it is tough diving back in. There are so many great pieces to choose from that I'd rather not spend $20K working my way into one that I finally love.
You could also consider a used Audio Research LS-26 which is full truly differential balanced design on all in/outputs. Great unit and within your price range
Many great suggestions, here, Vapor1. Having personally owned BAT gear -- I can recommend it. A manufacturer not mentioned is Jeff Rowland...I own a Consummate and believe vintage JRDG sound excellent :-)
BAT was one of our customers before they started out on their own...
Atmasphere,Please clarify,Are you saying that the founder of BAT bought your products for thier personal system,or that you built products for them?Thank you .