Preamp for ATC SCM 19v2 and Merrill Thor mono's?


Recently moved to a new place and I now have a dedicated 2-channel listening "area".  Area is one 11 x 11 foot section of a great room.  Depth is 24 feet but my chair is at about 11 feet from the wall I'm facing.  So I'm not too far from the speakers but the room is roughly 24 x 40!  

Currently, I'm feeding the Merrill's directly via an Oppo Sonica DAC with a hard drive full of hi-res files. I have a turntable (budget entry level) so a phono stage is a plus, but not mandatory.  I'm more likely to use the convenience of the Sonica app to surf the 15k hi res tracks than I am to put some vinyl down.  

My desire to get a dedicated pre and use the Oppo as a pass through DAC are to get better soundstage and perhaps a less clinical sound (yes, I knew the ATC's were revealing when I bought them).

I'd prefer that the pre have balanced outputs as that's what I have for my better stash of interconnects or I'd need to get some decent unbalanced interconnects.

Budget range is $3k +/-, bonus points awarded for being lower.  Pre-loved gear is fine.  

Tube or solid state, though I've never owned a tube piece of equipment so this might be a good opportunity (ATC 85 dB efficiency makes a tube amp a bit harder to make work).  

Thanks for the suggestions.  
admranger
Why not consider Merrill's own Cara pre-amp?  $3500 and balanced.
@ghosthouse

Thanks for the reply. Frankly, the Cara will not sound good with my wife continually pointing out that it’s not attractive. Extra distortion in the signal path...
Ah. I understand. That sort of input can definitely detract from the listening experience. (Now I’ve become curious what sort of pre-amp gear she does find attractive.) Obviously, if cosmetic considerations have to be factored in, these will of necessity drive the buying decision toward an even more accomplished preamp.

Given what you're looking for I'd seriously consider a tubed preamp.  ATCs are awesome speakers, but they seem to do more of an upfront presentation that doesn't do the 3D holographic imaging thing as well as some others, and a good tubed pre might help with that along with helping your system sound less clinical.  One I've been looking at is Vacuum Tube Audio SP14 by Don Sachs.  Pretty sure he offers a short demo period, which is nice, but it would also leave you enough left over to get your Oppo modified by Ric Schultz at Electronic Visionary Systems.  I'd think these two together would make a huge difference in your system and in getting you a lot of what you're looking for.  Best of luck. 

tube pre !
@arcticdethwhich of the seemingly endless options of tube pre would accomplish what I'm after in your opinion?

@soix 

I will look at the pre you recommend.  I have noticed that the Backert Rhumba gets good reviews, but it is over my price point.  Locally and way over my price point is a preowned AR ref 5 pre in the preferred (by my wife) black color. 

@ghosthouse 

i like your way of thinking!  "Why yes darling, it is expensive but look how good it looks in the room." My wife prefers invisible audio gear, but is learning to like things. Helps when I play music she really likes.  I will give a look at the Oppo mod you suggested.  I had already looked at ModWright, but that's her my total preamp budget.  I'd like the preamp that I buy to be a lifetime keeper if at all possible.   

There's a lot of chatter about Prima Luna it seems. The features and design philosophy seem good.  I wish it was balanced so I wouldn't have to spend extra $ for cables. Perhaps I can get a nice deal on some single ended cabling from Kevin...


You can quickly rule out quite a few brands if black faceplate is a must. That could (unfortunately) include some of the best options out there.
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@kalali

Black isn't a "must", but it's an easier sell.  
@admranger    

Sorry, wasn't me on the Oppo mod suggestion.  Was Soix.

Good luck in your search.  

(Do try to "stick to your guns" about something balanced.  I think it will pay sonic dividends.)
@ghosthouse

I am trying my best to stick to my guns on balanced, but that makes it harder, budget-wise.

Any of the BAT tube preamps worth a look?


The black audio research pre offered used locally (dealer trade in) is a Ref 3, not Ref 5. Asking is just under $4k. Is that worth a look? Maybe I can convince them to let me try it for a week or two in my system to see if it’s a good fit. Really don’t want to try the fuzzy logic to swing that deal though...

the same high-end store has an AR LS-27 (silver) and a McIntosh C2200 available. I’ve never been a McIntosh kind of guy (just no experience with them) but having the MM phone section is a plus, especially since my turntable is nothing special (so it doesn’t warrant a $$$ phone pre). I think I need to suck it up and schlep to the store (traffic isn’t my friend) and discuss.
FYI, here's a link to the Sachs SP14 preamp I mentioned earlier.  Only reason I'm forwarding is that one of the customer reviewers (toward the bottom) compares it to both ARC and PrimaLuna preamps he owns that might be of interest. 

http://www.tubes4hifi.com/SP14.htm

Thanks @soix 

I did read that review and it was interesting.  I love the boutique nature of the Sachs SP14, but I really want to stay with a balanced pre.

If I were going  single ended, I think I'd have to seriously consider the Linear Tube Audio microZOTL 2.0 line stage, especially since it is made here in the DC area.  https://www.stereophile.com/content/linear-tube-audio-microzotl20-line-stageheadphone-amplifier

I believe the SP14 can be ordered with balanced connections.