Pre and Amp Suggestions


Given the way these things go, I’m almost afraid to ask this question but here goes: I’m finally at a place where my front-end and speakers are at “destination” level-at least for me....for now.  My question is where and what to upgrade between these two extremes. The speakers in question are Revel Studio 2s which I love, and the front-end dac/streamer is the Lumin T1 ruining Roon. The Lumin feeds into an analogue bypass section (no digital conversion) of an Anthem AVM60 going in turn to two 200 watt mono channels of a Sherbourn 7300. In trying to answer my question, I would appreciate keeping to the following parameters:

-no suggestions of other speakers or front end gear, I’m in a good place where I am right now.
-no suggestions of power conditioners, cables etc. Let’s just stick to the gear.

Just looking for pre and amp recommendations (or really good SS integrated amps). The sound right now is quite neutral, but perhaps a little lean but very revealing. I’m not looking to drastically alter the sound or play louder, just looking for more of the “good stuff”, resolution, staging etc. Might consider a tube pre or hybrid but really have no interest in an all tube power amp or massive class A space heater anymore. Ok let the games begin!
spinaker01
The sherbourn is a mediocre design, budget grade parts for a decent circuit.

You’ll have to go to a neutral amp with higher end parts (resistors, caps, etc)

Maybe an older but excellent condition Rotel 1090 or similar.

Parasound A21 and so on. Something budget, something ok, kinda thing.

How about your budget? That's a good place to start!
Sorry, that is an important question I omitted. My budget for pre/amp or integrated would be About $10k
I’ve just begun using a Rotel RC 1590 and RB 1590. Lovely. 


The Pass integrated is definitely on my short list. As are the x60.5 monos. Either would be within my $10k used budget. 

The Revel speakers are not that hard to drive.  They dip just under 4 ohms at the 300hz to 400hz area, but mostly they are 5 ohms or above.  However, I feel these speakers can be touchy because of the metal domes tweeters and can easily sound too bright/harsh. 

The Pass Labs is a very neutral and controlled amplifier, but it is still a very strong amplifier.  I think it would be a good pairing with the Revel speakers.  You can get away with the INT-150 integrated (there's one up for sale for $4k).  If you can get an INT-250 within your budget, it is basically the newer 250.8 amplifier with what looks like a trimmed down XP-20 preamp inside the chassis.  Nice.  The INT-150 uses the older gen 1 amp (I think), but it would also be a great solution if you wanted to save budget.

There's a stand alone Pass Labs 250.8 amp on usaudiomart for $6200.  Then just add a nice preamp.

Oh, are you sure about that X60.5 monos?  I think you are seeing the XA60.5 monoblocks.  The "XA" series is full Class A amp which does get hotter and sucks electricity. Nice if you want a very smooth softer sound - would sound nice on your Revel speakers.
Thanks auxinput. Yes I meant the xa series. Even though I self eliminated class A amps, these I would make an exception for. I’m going to keep a close eye on the Pass marketplace over the summer, hopefully a nice gem will pop up. Thanks
I would encourage you to investigate the PS Audio BHK series products.  I am using the Signature preamp and the 300 Monos with my TAD CR-1’s, which can get too bright with the wrong inputs. The BHK stuff suits them mighty well.  Buying used, I am confident that you could find their Signature preamp and the stereo 250 amp within your budget.
Go beyond your budget and buy D’Agostino’s preamp and mono amps...I can assure you that you will listen to your rig a lot more because you simply will not be able to afford to do anything else.
Wolf....too funny, and too true. I have always had a soft spot for Dan’s work and used to run a pair of his KMA100s back in the day.  My first real taste of hi-end sound. I have considered a 302e, however they seem a little scarce on the used market. 
The newer Krell stuff (after Dan left) is more high resolution and brighter. It may cause your Revel speakers to be too bright.  Although, the newest "Duo" type amps might be smoother because they are the Krell variable-Class A circuit (which adjusts voltage as input signal goes up and down).
There are several dealers where you should be able to get the BHK preamp and 250 amp new within your budget. Their customer support and forum group make them an even better buy.
I do like PS Audio as a company. I watch the Ask Paul series and get Copper magazine as well. Not sure who carries them here in Canada but no dealer on the east coast seems to. Leaves me with a remote purchase or the used market for most things. I’ll keep an eye out for the BHK gear, thx
Some good suggestions here.......but I'd stay north of 200 watts into 8 on anything for the Studio 2's.  I had F208's and now Salon2's.  Revels like good power.

Pass a good choice...250 INT, 250.8, 350.8.  

I haven't personally heard it but the Krell 302e you mentioned I think would be great.

That leads to D'Agostino....look at the Master Power Stereo Amplifier....a real beast that is in your budget.

Two integrateds that spring to mind are the superlative darTZeel CTH-8550 and Gryphon Diablo 300. 

My personal amplifier choice is the Jeff Rowland 625 S2 which has outstanding synergy with Revel.

All of these can be had at good prices in the used market. 
Given what you're looking for I'd get the Allnic L3000 mkII tubed preamp and one of the PBN amps available here now (mini Olympia or EBSA1), take my ball and go home.  PBN amps are the clearest and cleanest sounding amps I've ever heard, and they throw a huge, layered 3D soundstage that betters any SS amp I've heard by a good margin.  Pair that with arguably one of the best tube preamps on the market that could sweeten the amps with a little of that tube magic and it's hard to see not being thrilled with the result (assuming the output impedance of the Allnic plays well with the PBN amps, which I didn't check).  Best of luck in your search. 

I would definitely check out the Luxman L-509X intergrated amp listed on Agon by 'whitecamarowss' for for 8499.00.  He has a thread here called "My Long List of Amplifiers and My Personal Review of Each".  He reviews this amp on the thread and tons of other amps.  It's very refined, detailed, wonderful soundstage, runs cool and would mate well with your front end and speakers.  I bought an amp from him a year ago and still am in contact with him.  He is good guy and great to deal with.  I would contact him and talk about your system and if he thinks the Lux would be a good match.... He's not pushy and will be straight with you....Good luck.
I have been following WCSS thread over the past year or so. The Luxman has been getting rave reviews but I can’t get past the 70s styling. (I know shallow). The JRDG rec of the 625s would not leave anything for a preamp, however, I have been keeping my radar spinning for a Continuum S2, which along with the Pass INT 250, and ML 585 are my top three integrated amps I think in this range. Of these three, which does the Collective think would be the best match for my Revels?
Call Keith Herron at Herron Audio to see if he will give you the package deal of a lifetime on a VTSP-360 preamp and pair of M-1 mono amps. Outstanding performers at any price, a steal for $10K.
Paul at PS Audio mentioned taking people's gear in trade, and giving full retail for it. When you buy from them. I don't know what the stipulations are, but they do in home trials too. Where they pay shipping both ways. Might be worth a call to see what they can do for you.
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For the amps I would do Pass Labs.
For the preamp I would go with tubes- that is if you want to reduce that 'leanness' which is a common complaint with solid state.
We make balanced tube preamps, so does BAT, ARC and Aesthetix and there are a few others. IMO/IME the ARCs tend to be a bit leaner but you may still want to do an audition.
The Pass is balanced of course, so it can take advantage of a balanced input. The reason to go balanced is that if it is done correctly, there is no going back to single-ended because if its done right, the interconnect cables no longer editorialize on the sound. Balanced lines were created for this very reason. To really take advantage of this capability though, the preamp and amp should support the balanced standard. The Pass Labs does, as does the BAT and our stuff but the ARC and Aesthetix do not, which means you may have to try different cables with them to optimize the playback.
Good luck!
Thanks Atmosphere, I am already a balanced practitioner. Much prefer gear that is truly differential. Not sure why you say the ARC is not balanced, the LS25 and VT100 is used to own definitely were. Though I do agree they were on the bleached side of neutral considering they were tube units. I think the pre was mostly to blame for that though with the 6h30 tubeset. 
Not sure why you say the ARC is not balanced, the LS25 and VT100 is used to own definitely were.
What I was saying is that although the ARC stuff is balanced, it does not support the balanced standard.

An example of how this is so is in a balanced line, the signal occurs with respect to its opposite, IOW the signal is the non-inverted and inverted aspects together, with ground being ignored. The ARC preamps do not ignore ground- each signal occurs with respect to ground rather than its opposite. The makes the preamp unable to control problems in the interconnect cable, meaning you have to audition the cable with the preamp, obviating some of the advantages of going balanced.
I.......did not know that. Thanks for the clarification Atmosphere. I learn something new every day. Cheers
I have to agree about the PSAudio BHK line of products. Amazing sound and relatively affordable for the quality they provide. 
I haven't heard everything out there, but I am quite pleased with the combo of a McIntosh tube/hybrid preamp and my Odyssey Audio Kismet amp.  Should be right aroud your budget, especially if you go to Audio Classics for a used but newer McIntosh preamp (like a C220 or C2300).  Roll the tubes to Gold Lions or Mullards and you are good to go.  Tons of flexibility, and the combo should give you warm, detailed, spacious and dynamic sound.  YMMV, of course.
I love the T+A Integrated Amplifier model PA3100HV.I got Best of show at the LAAS show with a pair of Wilson Audio Alexx speakers. This unit retails for close to $20K.I do have a factory Demo unit on the PA3000HV that I can sell at $11K.

I would also Consider Bryston Audio's Amp/Pre-Amp combination.
www.sunnyaudiovideo.com

+1 on Sunny’s T+A recommendation.

I replaced my Pass XP-20 and XA-30.8 (in my primary system) with the T+A PA 3100 HV. Despite doing so, I also support your looking into a Pass Amp / Integrated / Separates.

Since it hasn’t been mentioned: the Vitus SIA-025. I believe a used unit was listed for ~12K a few months ago.
I went thru a multitude of amps last year to get the sound right. Ended up getting back to my roots of Krell amplifiers. I currently using a re-capped Krell KSA-200S, and it has the variable Class A Bias. It doesn’t get hot like my other 2 Krells (KSA-250, KST-100). For the most part, these Krells are a bargain at their used price. I prefer the punch of the Krells over the Pass Labs "smooth" delivery.

Preamps are few and far away a crapshoot as to getting a good "really balanced" unit.

I currently am using a Schiit Freya preamp with (4) 6SN7 Tubes. The preamp allows for 3 levels of listening. Passive, JFET and 6SN7 tubes. Quite good sounding it is, and so flexible with the 3 types of available listening abilities. Tube rolling is easy, with the tubes sticking out for quick changes. Some of the NOS tubes put into the Freya really allow for some great sound.
I use an Audio Alchemy DDP-1 with DAC and preamp in the chain. The Freya is last, just before the amplifier.

The Audio Alchemy DDP-1 is used as the Volume Control with the Schiit Freya used as a way to switch 3 different types of sound into the equation. The Freya tube sound is so good, but some songs it’s nice to go to the Passive, or JFET sound on the Freya preamp and hear it with a little more edge in the sound presentation.

For some it would make sense to just use the Audio Alchemy Preamp. The sound is very, very good with the PS5 Power Supply add-on. Right now you can get both of the Audio Alchemy pieces for $1,500 ($1,000 off) at one of the dealers on the net. The DAC has 8 different filters to adjust to your liking. 4 of them upsample, and 4 of them are NOS.

Putting tubes into the equation with a preamp is something that I needed for Digital Music. I don’t spin Vinyl anymore.

To me... for Digital Playback.... a Solid State amplifier with a Preamp that has some Tubes to soften and add body to the sound. Always get as much power and you can afford.

For reference, I am using a high end pair of Martin Logans, along with a pair of REL S series subs sitting right next to them.

I would love a new Dan D’agostino Progression Stereo amp. In a few years, after the used ones come out for sale. I can dream.

spinaker01


post here if you get a demo w/ Pass Labs INT or Mark Levinson No. 585 integrated amp.  Happy Listening!

a $10k budget? there is almost too many options of mixing and matching! 
lots of good suggestions so far: Pass labs, Luxman, Atmasphere, ARC, Allnic, etc.

Dont overlook that Allnic that @soix suggested. It is an $11k tubed Pre that is selling in the classifieds for a paltry $3500 or so. Soix might be the seller, but no big deal. If I had the bones, this is what I would buy, or a tubed Atmosphere with a SS amp. 

but I agree that a hybrid system is more called for her b/c of the Lumin server DAC that, although is highly reputed, is still a "digital" device with a vulnerability of sounding too etched on the high end. and b/c an owner of the Revels noted a vulnerability of the tweeter sounding a bit too metallic. 

But you dont want Class A, so you can cross out the Pass Labs options. 

I dont blame your not wanting class A, I use Class D amps currently to keep the heat down and the energy bills down. Consider a quality class D amp with a tube or SS preAmp, like Bel Canto REf600 monoblocks, or any of the designs that are well-reputed on the Audiocircle website forums (D sonic, James Romeyn, etc).  look for the NCore switching designs, they are particularly good. 


Thanks for all the responses and suggestions, lots to ponder here. It’s likely I will go with either a Continuum S2 or Levinson 585 generally because they are more available. I’m still keen on a Pass INT250 or even harder to come by, a Vitus RI-100. I really have no dealers locally who carry any of these so it will be a leap of faith no matter what I get, unless I get ambitious and take a trip to NYC for a vacation/listening tour. 😎
Ok, let us know what you decide, 
but also consider the PrimaLuna hybrid tube/SS amps ... 
I’ve used a number of amp topologies over the years, including Spectron class D switching amps, other class A and AB amps, both of transistor and tube designs. There are a lot of decent well-designed amps and integrated units. 

My favorite? A set of ATC internally-powered speakers (ATC SCM-20A). No need for external speaker cabling.

But for a $10k budget, I would recommend the John Curl-designed Parasound gear. 
I can second the Spectron class D amps - start with a single unit and add a 2nd one when funds allow for a mono block set up with tons of power - add a Modwright LS36.5 dual mono preamp to provide a tube flavour and you have a great match - especially good for speakers that have low impeadance at higher frequencies- you should be under 10k used with a single Spectron and the MW preamp 
To @spinaker01

I was in the same boat and recently purchase a new pair of Studio2's, which are hands down absolutely fantastic. 

Obviously there are a ton of great options available and I can only give my perspective and hopefully you will have the opportunity to try some items out.

As many have already stated, Pass is a great fit (no surprise) and is what I eventually went with (mono's).  Really hard to beat pure class A and with your budget you should be able to find something. 

I have a big enough room so heat isn't an issue and well, I'm not in this to please others about "efficiency" of class A v.s. D or whatever.  They are truly awesome amps and highly recommended.  Super dynamic and really don't fall short in any area. 

I almost went with a int60 and I'm sure would have been happy, but I figured I would have been always wondering about the mono's.  Good luck.


Take a look to Pathos Italy brand -is #1 my opinion 
Redlenses03, what amps did you get the XA60.5? 
Preamps are few and far away a crapshoot as to getting a good "really balanced" unit.
FWIW dept: we made the first balanced line preamps. They are tube and support the balanced standard.
I have to admit, your statement is quite true- most of the balanced preamps I've seen over the years are indeed balanced, but its rare to see one that supports the standard. As a result, people get really variable results, but IME if the balanced system is set up right, there's no going back to single-ended- you just get more music.
Ralph, I was pretty shocked a while back when I read one of your posts that asserted that if components were properly designed to the balanced standard there would be no difference between interconnects.  Since then I've wanted to ask the obvious question -- why don't all manufacturers who produce preamps with fully balanced designs adhere to the standard?  Is there a downside or trade offs to doing so?  I've been scratching my head over this one for a while since it doesn't seem like it costs much more to adhere to the standard, especially if you're going to the trouble and expense of building a fully balanced unit from input to output.  What gives???
spinaker01 - After hearing an X250 in my space, that's what did it for me.  I then sought some pass options and after deciding not to go with the int60 (again by all accounts is superb) I went with XA100.5's. 

I am now on a pre hunt, but after those two large purchases I'm in no hurry.
 Since then I've wanted to ask the obvious question -- why don't all manufacturers who produce preamps with fully balanced designs adhere to the standard?  Is there a downside or trade offs to doing so?  I've been scratching my head over this one for a while since it doesn't seem like it costs much more to adhere to the standard, especially if you're going to the trouble and expense of building a fully balanced unit from input to output.  What gives???
@soix The problem is that its not easy to do. So most manufacturers just don't.

With power amps its pretty easy to support the standard, but with preamps its hard. This is because of the requirement to float both the inverted and non-inverted aspects of the signal. There aren't many ways to do that! In the old days when tubes were the only game in town, it was done with output transformers whose secondary (the output side of the transformer) was meant to drive a 600 ohm load. That satisfied the floating requirement and also the low impedance requirement.
When solid state came along things didn't change much in this regard, mostly due to the requirement to float the balanced signal. So in the recording/pro audio world, there are still a lot of products that have output transformers even though they are solid state.

Transformers of this type have much wider bandwidth than output transformers do on power amps, so they can be much more transparent! Most LPs and CDs in your library had a transformer somewhere in the recording signal chain. But such transformers cost something, although to anyone in high end audio, really not that much. You can use line transformers (for a few hundred dollars) with conventional single-ended preamps with excellent results if you set things up right, and have all the advantages that balanced line cables have.

So the biggest single 'short hand' that manufacturers use to cut corners is to dispense with the floating aspect of the signal; most are in the business to make money more than they are to see how far they can push the art, so adding an output transformer is often seen as an extravagance that eats into the bottom line. They may also think that the transformer is less transparent, and if it were only in that regard I agree, but if the cable starts to introduce a coloration or lack of focus or the like, maybe that's not so true.

The only other way to do it where ground is ignored is the way that we do it, which involves a circuit called a Circlotron. This allows for a direct-coupled balanced output that is floating with respect to ground. I think the problem here is that to do this right, you have to get a lot of things right from one end to the other, and to make matters worse for other manufacturers, my company controls the patent on this process.

So the competition has to use output transformers, infringe our patent, or just not support the standard. The problem with the latter is the baby with the bath thing; if you ignore too many aspects of the standard you also lose a lot of the advantages it brings.
I've always seen the cost of high end cables as a hidden cost of any single-ended preamp- in some cases I've seen them cost more than the preamp! Balanced preamps don't seem to cost any more than their single-ended competition in practice (although in our case we price according to a formula and most companies price to what the market will bear, so our gear tends to be less expensive), so the advantage of not having to buy expensive cables to make it all work would *seem* to be an advantage. But in 29 years of making balanced preamps, my experience is that most audiophiles don't care about the cost of the cables- I totally got that wrong.
Wow. Just wow. That was very interesting and informative Ralph. Thank you! I don’t mean to pump your stock here, but given what you said and my limited knowledge of electronics, there seems to be little or no downside to employing a Circlotron-type design -- except that other manufacturers would have to pay you to use it. Um, am I missing something here? (Obviously there are a lot of other circuit design and parts quality stuff that will have a huge impact on ultimate performance as well). Seems like kind of the advantages of your OTL amp designs but maybe without the heat and tube expense given the small amount of gain needed in a preamp? Or is that just a gross oversimplification or misrepresentation? Thanks again for your super helpful explanation!

@soix A lot of manufacturers don’t want to produce a circuit that they didn’t design, the exception being classic circuits from decades ago.

IME having a direct-coupled output at the preamp level is a boon for detail and neutrality, even moreso than at the amplifier output. The coupling caps at the output of most tube preamps are usually the most expensive that will be in the circuit. They are usually a compromise of being as large as they can be to accommodate solid state amps with a lower impedance input, while at the same time as small as they can get away with so that the inductance of the part causes the least amount of coloration. This often limits the preamp as to the lowest input impedance they can drive without loss of bass. When you direct-couple, you get the bass and detail at the same time and no problems driving low impedances. My speakers are 16 ohms and fairly efficient; I've driven them directly with my preamp and while it won't play much above a conversational level, it sounds fine and controls the dual 15" woofers with no worries.
My Vitus RI-100 arrives Monday. Very excited to get it in the rig!
Still settling in, but I’m quite impressed so far. Sounds almost class A but without the heat. The Vitus really locks on to the Revel Studios with an iron grip in the low end but has a wonderful mid neautrality and silky highs. Pleased so far!
I already had the hotel RB-1590 amp and finally found a reasonable deal on an RC-1590 preamp, which replaced my RC-1580. I was going to go to vinyl, for which the 1580 was designed. But, I decided to go all digital instead. With the 1590 pre/amp combination, the separation and soundstage are very good to my ears. Some have said that the RC-1590 sounds a "a little thin." I am not sure I would disagree. But, if it does sound thin, it is only very little so. On the other hand, this combination is one of the few I have had that I can listen to for many hours without feeling fatigue. The dynamics are very good. I have had combinations with the RB-1590 that sounded more dynamic. But, I could not stand them for more than about 30 minutes. So far, especially for the money I could afford, I am very pleased indeed with this combination. I no longer feel that my preamp is the limiting factor in SQ. I have some XLR cables coming, and I expect them to give me "thicker" sound. But, even if they don’t, I don’t feel the need for more. It sounds as good or better than most systems I have heard at quality shops, with less fatigue. Once you get to a certain level of SQ, the benefit/cost ratio seems to get smaller and smaller.