Pass Labs X 2.5 has the features you are looking for. Can be found used here on Gon for around $1800.00
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I'm not spending a lot of money at this time. I'm waiting for Henry's preamp release. Like I said, I have an Adcom 750. I know things can get better with a great preamp, I just don't know how. In other words, I live in ignorant bliss.
RLF had a good suggestion. I'm surprised no one else has jumped in with their suggestions. Amarandae uses a Supratek Chenin. Audiofankj uses a First Sound Presence Deluxe MkII.
Wow, nice preamp Rlf! I am sure that is a glorious combination!
I have spoken to a couple, perhaps a few that are using the Supratek preamps with the H2o's and are very happy.
I owned the First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II prior to driving to Henry's and auditioning the H2o's with the Adcom GFP-750, Henry's "Fire" preamp, and my preamp I brought in tow. I personally felt my preamp easily "bested" the other two. As well it should with the price point differences taken into consideration as well. In all fairness, Henry was still tweaking his preamp, and I "hogged" the sweet spot when my preamp was in the system. I still wish I would have let Henry hear it from the sweet spot. Off axis listening is good for some areas and not for others.
I can attest the First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II is a phenominal combination with these amps, however they are not all the inexpensive with a retail of $4200 and improve with a better after market power cord. They are also rare to find on the used market.
I would look for a used Supratek or First Sound here on audiogon if you aren't in any hurry.
LoL - disregaurd all of that, I just reread your post. You need HT pass thru and balanced. Scratch the First Sound as they are all single ended. I too think the Suprateks are limited to perhaps one or two balanced options.
In your quest I would have the Aesthetix at the top of my list. I am not sure how the Synergy IIi would do, an excellent preamp, but I think it may be on the cool side, and the H2o is very neutral - liquid, but not warm. Perhaps BAT preamps would have HT and balanced as an option as well.
Good luck and keep us posted.
Forgot to mention, in my experience I felt the latter Sonic Frontiers gear, the 1, 2, etc. to be a bit too sterile. Yes, they employed tubes in their design, yet to me it was not discernable by listening. Too "untubelike" for me.
I would also mention the ARC line, perhaps an LS15 or LS25 ... I have owned the LS15 a few years back, perhaps not as euphoric as a Supratek or a BAT, however slightly on the warm side...
Again - good luck
I'm not familiar with the H20's, so I'm not sure how much value my opinion offers. With all due respect to Audiofankj, it may just be that quality that I liked so much in the Sonic Frontiers 3. The SF line stages manage to maintain the harmonic integrity of tubes without the usual colorizations. Truly balanced, DC coupled, low output impedance, just the ticket to mate with solid state amps. From what I understand about these digital amps is that the quality that they seem to share is a transparent neutrality. I can't thnk of another tube line stage that could maintain those qualities better than the SF's.
Unsound & Mr.Bill - By all means thank you for chiming in. I should have mentioned at that point in time (many years ago, obviously) I auditioned in home the Line 1, and only heard the Line 2 at the dealers. My funds were less modest back then. However, I have had no experience with the Line 3, and I will say the SFS-80 power amp made by Sonic Frontiers has been one of my overall favorite tube amps I have owned. It would be unfair for someone to "disqualify" a preamp that is a great contender based on my blurb above. It sounds like SF hit one out of the park with the Line 3 and should also be auditioned.
Not to mention the SF gear was always built like a tank, and that remote is also one of my all time favorites! Thanks again for setting the record straight as we are all just trying to provide information from personal experiences to help out.
I have a modded SF Line 3- HUGE $$$ capacitors; top-o-line diodes; resistors, etc.- we put $900 in PARTS ALONE into it- result? Well- let's just say it's one component I will never part with, and it will be the heart of any system I build- never underestimate what a great preamp can bring to the table.
Unsound is right though- it also mates well with SS (although I have mine with a ARC VT 100MKIII right now). It is VERY neutral, but also has the best bass I have heard from a preamp. The problem I had (with the unmodded stock version) was the mids- not quite 'involving' enough. Post mod though different story- more natural sounding, any perceived thinness gone, and allows the signature of each amplifier you mate with it to come through very clearly- highly recommended...