Preamp for Lamm M1.1 monoblocks

Any general recommendation on what preamp to use with Lamm M1.1 hybrid monoblocks?

I am using Boulder L3AE at this time. I used to match the monoblocks with the Lamm L1 preamp but I was getting over-excited about the very faint power-supply hum and regretfully sold it.

Budget is USD $4000 or less.

Source: Ayon CD2
Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Mahler
Music Genre: Would listen to anything other than rap and heavy metal - mostly orchestral and vocal.

Thanks in advance!
I use the Ayre K-1xe, with my Lamm M2.1 hybrid monoblocks, and I am very happy with it. Used, they are running about $3,500 or so for the line stage version. (FYI, mine has the optional phono boards, as I run mostly vinyl. The phono boards are near reference quality and this adds a bit onto the price though, but is well worth it IMHO.) The K-1xe is now out of production, but Ayre is still servicing them, so no worries there. (It was a Stereophile Class "A" preamp just a few years ago.) A couple of points to consider though: It has no balance control, and the remote volume control is a bit noisy when in use, (i.e you can hear the motor when it runs), but of course it is silent when not in use. And the volume control design is one of the best ever made, IMHO.

The K-5xe-mp is nearly as good as the K-1xe, (or so I am told, as I have not heard it myself), and used that unit runs about $2,500. (FYI, it is a line stage only.) It is still in production, and is also rated Class "A" by Stereophile.

FYI: Ayre equipment is designed to run using balanced cables, and the M1.1 is also a balanced amp. So if you are running single ended (RCA) cables, I either recommend recabling to balanced (XLR) cables, or not bothering with the Ayre preamps, as they sound better when used in balanced mode. (I use Nordost cables both running from the preamp to the amp, (Quattro Fil, XLR terminated, interconnects), and bi-wired Valhalla Speaker cables to the speakers, just in case your interested.)

My other friends both use Lamm M2.2 hybrid monoblocks, and they use slightly more expensive preamps. One uses the ARC Ref. 5 preamp, (used about $6K or so), and the other uses a Conrad Johnson Act II, series 2, preamp, (if I recall correctly), and it runs around $6K used also. (Both of which as a bit out of your price range unfortunately.) However, if you can find a used ARC Ref. 3 for around $4,500 or so, I would stretch your budget and get it, as it is a great line stage preamp, and very nearly the equal to the Ref. 5, IMHO. (If I did not need a phono stage, I would have bought my friend's when he upgraded to the Ref. 5 a couple of years ago.)

Another friend used to use the Lamm L2 Ref. preamp with his M2.1 amps, and it is a very musical preamp. (Lovely sound!) However, it did seem just a touch dark sounding, so be aware of that. (Also, it is not a true balanced preamp, has no remote, and has two volume controls, rather than a balance control.) But if you like highly musical preamps, (and don't mind a touch of darkness to the sound), and are a purist and don't need a remote, then perhaps this preamp is the one for you. Used they tend to run around $6K too. Again, a bit out of your budget, but perhaps you might be able to stretch your budget a bit, or find a guy willing to deal, as these have been out awhile.

My two cents worth anyway.
Good Luck in your search!
You could also consider a Lamm LL2 preamp, less expensive than the L2 but all tubed. Similar arrangement with the dual volume controls, and I don't believe it runs balanced either. As with most Lamm equipment, the highs are probably a little rolled so as Kurt says it might sound a little dark. Very seductive midrange, though. Not quite as refined as the L2, nor does it go quite as deep in the bass (a little warm in the bass compared to the L2), but these differences are small and mainly noticeable in a head to head comparison. Worth considering along with the units Kurt mentions.
Since the source is digital a little darkness wouldn't hurt.
In any case, it is a matter of taste, the preferred music and particular recordings.
Great instruments and concert halls sound different too.
Somewhat off the subject, in my very modest system I prefer Purist interconnects with some recordings and DiMarzio with others. And, yes, if I am in the mood I do switch cables. I suspect that much more expensive Purist could replace them both but not necessarily, who knows?
I would go for Lamm LL2.
It is nor true that these Electronics is rolled on top. When someone writes that, he has some colorations in his Systems and should look here first. Or he has problems to understand what is going on. Lamm units are among the most natural sounding gear on market.
LL2 is delivered with normal tubes (not bad, but you can go for Mullards for example, they are really special).
I found the M1.1's to have a bit of darkness and slightly rolled highs. I found the positives to be very good dynamics, nice fat bass, and a seductive, textured midrange. I will second/third Rcprince and Syntax that, for me, the LL2 Deluxe was it with the M1.1's. You could spend a lot of money and not get better sound. Other good recommendations were provided by Kurt. At 41K ohms load, almost any preamp will work with the amps, it is just a matter of what you find to sound the best. Since you liked the L1, I would definitely try the LL2 Deluxe, then enjoy your music.
Hey Syntax,

Actually, all of my friends that have listened to the aforementioned Lamm L2 reference preamp, believe it is "just a touch dark sounding". Notice I did not say it was "rolled off on top", as it is not that apparent unless one does a side-by-side comparision to another preamp, albeit another very high-end preamp! (Such as the aforementioned ARC Ref. 3, which is what I heard it compared with.) And again, it is highly musical. (I would not have recommended it otherwise.)

(BTW, you have a very impressive system, and those speakers are breathtaking to look at, so I can only imagine how they sound!!)

As an 6 year owner of the M2.1 amps, I am aware of their limitations, and one of which is that they, like the L2 reference preamp, is just a touch dark sounding. (And until I can upgrade to the M2.2 amps, (which fixed this very minor problem), I will happily live with it!) As I stated, Lamm products are very musical, and have a lovely sound. (To paraphrase the NRA, you can have my LAMM when you pry it out of my cold dead hands!) ;-)

However, Syntax does bring up an excellent point. The Lamm amps, and especially the hybrid amps, are excellent products for tube rolling. (The hybrid amps only have one tube in each amp, so tube rolling is "relatively" cheap.) I have upgraded from the stock Sovtek tubes, (which are just okay, and the sound is good using them), but going to a nice NOS tube can yield impressive results. Upgrading to something like the Amperex Orange Globe 6DJ8, will yield very good sound, and will cost less than $100 for the pair, (so that is a "no-brainer" upgrade, IMHO). And upgrading to something like the Amperex Pinched Waist 6922 will yield the ultimate in sound from these amps. Unfortunately, they cost at least a few hundred for a pair. (All of my friends, including myself have upgraded to the Amperex Pinched Waist 6922 tubes, or something very simliar.) One of the upsides to tube rolling, is that one can minimize the touch of darkness that the M1.1 and M2.1 amps have, so that one does not even notice it.
Wow all of you have excellent advices! I am more than willing to bump up my budget since a few of the suggestions sound really promising!

thanks a lot again for all the invaluable insights!
I would look into a Blue Circle Preamp... Similar house sound to the Lamm, a little more SET midrange imho, both throw great stages... musical as all get out. I find the BC leading edge not always as crisp as the Lamm, but the tonality and humaness of the BC is more prominent over the Lamm. But the BC gets more of the air and hall info right. You have nothing but killer options in front of you - so its all about what you hear in your room! (love your Mahlers too!)
I have M1.2 monoblocks and owned the Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe, then Musical Fidelity hybrid kW and now have an Audio Research Reference 5. Each move was a step in the right direction of improved transparency, attack and dynamics. The Ref 5 gives me the tube bloom and dimensionality with natural attack and dynamics. The Lamm was nice, but lacked transparency, obscured some musical detail, and I missed a remote control for volume.

So given your budget, you might try a used Ref 3. If you want to understand the sonic difference between the Ref 3 and Ref 5, read Jonathan Valin's review in TAS.

Good luck!