Try the Ayre K-3X preamp with phono.
Ayre discontinued it because the X upgrade brought it sonically very close (maybe too close) to the K-1X. Used for $3k to $3.5k it is a steal.
The only drawback to the K-3X is it only has 33 or so volume notches. This can be a problem is source components have too much gain and/or your speakers / amps are too sensative.
I can't comment on a direct comparison, but if you can use a Silver Rock or Bent transformer passive unit, they will be much more transparent than virtually any active line stage. The transformer controls eliminate the impedance problems associated with resistive element passive pre's. However, you still must have sufficient output from your source to do this. 2v is usually sufficient. Also, if you use phono, there is potentially too-low output from an outboard phono stage, without an active line stage to boost it. If you are careful at matching the components, it can be better than any active pre.
I always look at the volume control in an active preamp since so many designers get lazy here and use one that in effect throws away some of the benefits of great circuitry.
A striking example, IMHO, is CAT Sl-1 III and CAT Ultimate, which use a series stepped attenuator, pushing the signal (and ground) through a whole lot of resistors and solder joints. IMHO, any potentiometer is worse than the best (ladder) stepped attenuator, and I believe the Cortese uses a pot (but wouldn't want to be quoted on that). But if you can use a passive, you'll get more transparency than with any active preamp, IMHO. So I agree with Twl on that. I've built stepped attenuators into a phono preamp, an AHT DM-P but it could be any, and then went out directly to power amps, saving the extra cable that using a phono preamp and an active (or separate passive) preamp would entail. I recommend that to people with the DIY capability to do it. What I literally did was build both the main AHT chassis (small) and the attenuators into a surrounding chassis. For transparency I think that's hard to beat.
The Silver Rock has no peer in active pre-amps. Twl is correct. If it works in your system, there is nothing better. I will never go back to an active. I couldn't stand the coloration after living with a Silver Rock. By the way, I had a Supratek Chardoney as well as many others.
Glreno - I believe the Supratek you had was MY first Supratek and it was a horribly malfunctioning and miswired unit from the factory. That particular pre had an interesting history as it was a unit (I asked Mick to make) with several MAJOR circuit and design mods. For whatever reason, the changes/mods were not executed correctly, several blunders were made and the result was a preamp that didn't work. Mick eventually sold on Audiogon to a member who formerly owned a Wyetech Opal (I think you'll know who I mean) and in turn, that person I believe re-sold on Audiogon within a few days....
This particular unit was unique in that it was Piano Black, with Chrome top and gold knobs.
Anyhow, I feel its not exactly fair to draw any conclusion regarding the performance of a Supratek based on what one heard from the infamous "Gold Knobbed Chardonnay".
Wow! That's a real bombshell, Brian. You're saying that Mick sold an obviously defective product on A'gon, knowing that it was improperly manufactured (by himself)? That doesn't represent his product very well. "Horribly malfunctioning and miswired"? YIKES!! Was it dangerous? How many high-end manufacturers would sell an obviously defective product that they assembled, knowing that it's performance would be evaluated as the benchmark for that product's capabilities by whomever happens to be the next unlucky owner? The more owners that have it (and there will be many if it sucks), the more bad opinions are created about the product. And all will be saying the same thing..."what's the big deal with these Supratek pre-amps?" I know I am. And so is Jeffga. High-end audio is a comparatively small market, and word spreads fast. I'm amazed that he would allow this to happen. Was this disclosed to Jeffga when Mick sold it to him? Why wasn't it shipped back for correction, as opposed to "dumping" it on A'gon? This could be the topic of a thread all by itself.
In effect I have had two Syrahs. One was an early unit; I believe one of the first three in the U.S. The other was that unit modified by John Tucker of Exemplar Audio. The modification came first because of one channel of the Syrah failing. It would have cost me $350 to have Mick repair it. After repair John talked me into making it parafeed with a active load on the output tube and then into using the 6N1P rather than the 6SN7. The modification has since been done on three other Syrahs. They become more dynamic and much quieter.
I have since bought the full blown Exemplar preamp which includes no phono stage and has a fully SS power supply. It surpasses the modified Syrah. I then got the H-Cat. As I have said before, the H-Cat makes even the best tube preamps sound tube like without sounding SS itself. But the awesome aspect of the H-Cat is sound staging. It recreates an image that must be very much like the actual recording session. There were some early problems with it, but it has performed flawlessly the last six months.
I agree with Glreno that Brian's announcement will hurt Mick's reputation, and the value of all of us that currently own a Supratek preamp. My recently arrived Syrah is perfect and equals all of the excellent reviews here on Audiogon for build and sound quality.
I would encourage Mick to consider recalling the "bad" Cortese. In addition I recommend all Audiogon sellers to be honest about the condition of their equipment as it will then encourage more people into the high end market, which includes listening experimentation and resale of components. The component integrity of the high-end community is quickly noticed.
Glreno, good questions! And I agree with you.
When I ordered that preamp, I asked for it to be a single chassis unit with balanced output. These two "options" were not done right but they didn't cause a dangerous situation. No worries there.
To the best of my knowledge the faulty preamp was returned to Mick a while ago. Recently when I inquired about an upgrade of my Syrah, Mick suggested I return my preamp to him and not sell online since it too has a few factory errors. He informed me that he didn't want ANY MORE malfunctioning or mis-implemented preamps floating around out there.
Whatever the case, he seems to have learned a lesson.
Thanks Brian for clearing-up the recall issue with the "incorrect" Cortese. This confirms my opinion that Mick is serious about providing a high quality product, and is striving to improve his designs and internal components.
Good for Mick! Small manufacturers need to be mindful of their reputations, and the damage one or two bad products can cause to them if allowed to make their way through the audio community. I just wish I would have had the chance to hear a good one. Thanks for the info on the other pres, Tbg. Is there a website for these things?
I was the next person in line to own the
"Gold Knobbed Chardonnay".
To make along story short: At Micks request, I sent the unit back for replacement.After receiving and finding it to be in excellent condition cosmetically, I was given the option of 1)replacement with a new Chardonnay at no cost. 2)upgrade to a new Sarah-I pay the difference. 3)or take back the original unit unit of which he had removed all the components and rebuilt from scratch into a - Cortese Line Stage. This also included replacing entire seperate power supply unit with a new one.
The Cortese is everything and more than I had hoped for.
This transaction took place over a considerable amount of time and I did pay shipping both ways, but considering the outcome, I couldn't be happier.
As far as I am concerned, Mick has given new meaning to the concept of Customer Service.
More than satisfied.
I am looking into the Cortese too.
Anyone know how it would stack up against BAT 50SE, ARC LS 25, etc.?
Wadia 861-->Avantgarde Solos.