Geh7...the important link for the preamp is with the power amp downstream from it. The Thiel 1.6 is a very highly resolving speaker and deserves high quality electronics upstream of it. What is your budget? Are you looking for any specific features/connections in your next preamp? What's your budget?
Geh7, although frequently classified as Mid-Fi, the Rotel 1095 is a very good amp that should be able to drive your Thiels fairly well. The 1.6's require some power to sound their best, and IMHO the preamp and amp together should sit slightly on the warm side of neutral for these speakers.
Consequently, if you'd like to just get a preamp, I imagine it should sound pretty good. I don't know your preamp budget, but I'm assuming it's less than the cost of the 1095 new. A preamp from Rotel is an obvious choice, but you can consider other possibilities such as Classe, Marsh, Electrocompaniet, Cary (tube), BAT (tube), and Musical Fidelity. This is by no means a comprehensive list.
I think the best question to be asking right now is, "What is your listening preference and how does your system compare to that right now?" If it's just fine, then don't do anything. On the other hand, if you feel that you have deficiencies with certain types of music, for instance, then that may assist us in making recommendations.
Both of you are on target with your thoughts and questions. Budget is flexible, but let's say 2k. Jazz and piano sound good now, but rock can be a little harsh. I do have a second zone hooked up very conveniently with the Pioneer, but I do not want that to limit good choices for the main system.
I would agree that Rotel is a lot better than people give them credit for. I own a pair of CS2.4 and I have found them pretty easy to drive... not what I would have thought...
But anyway I have tried a few amps now and I really like the new bread of class-D amps with Thiel. I would keep your Poineer and get a good integrated amp with a home theater pass through. The way you could upgrade your amp and preamp that the same time and still have the Poineer running the second system with the pass though.
A brand I have really liked is Wyred 4 sound. I would give the STI-500 a go, read the review and see what you think, a steal IMO at $1,999.
FWIW, despite lost of dealers pushing them, I've never cared for the Rotels with Thiels. IMHO, there are much better choices for not too much more money. YMMV. I do think most speakers and the especially Thiels benefit from a quality amplifier more so than a preamp. The tube pre suggestion might be a good one, so long as it works well with your preferred amp.
The best combination with Thiels I've heard yet is a Plinius preamp / amp combo. Of course, that is well beyond your price range but you could easily get a Plinius 8200 integrated amp that might do just the trick.
What is your source? If you're complaining about some harshness with rock, it's possible that this originates at your source components, and that the Thiels are just being ruthlessly revealing (which is generally what they do).
If harshness is your complaint, assuming the source is not to blame, than I agree that a tube preamp might be the way to go. Some of the options at that price range include used Cary, Audio Research, Consonance, Conrad Johnson, Audio Mirror, Quicksilver, Marsh, and too many others to list.
Is there a way that you could, say, borrow a preamp from a dealer to try it in your system and see if that might be a potential solution to your problem, or if the problem lies elsewhere?
Also, I would make sure that you optimize the positioning of your speakers before making any final determinations on the upstream electronics. (Do a search on Google for speaker positioning.)
I'd agree with Sufentanil, that you should aim for slightly warm side of neutral. I have the 1.6 and IMO, I don't think the Thiel's sound analytical or bright like some people do. I think they just sound extremely transparent. In other words, they sound like the amp that drives them. Put a spectral, or pass, or ayre, or goldmund amp behind them, and they'll present that sound. It's up to you to find the flavor you like.
That is why I'd also agree with Unsound in stating that (for thiels) the amp/speaker combo is more important than the pre / amp combo.
Thiel makes a good product, but they require some system balance. Personally, I think Thiels should be paired with an amp that costs at least as much as the speakers themselves. Some systems work with 50% system budget going to the speakers and 50% at everything else. Some people build very fine sounding systems that way. It just doesn't work with Thiels
That said; you may want to buy a pre with the idea of an amp upgrade in the future. I think the suggestions of Plinus or older Classe are good ones. I might also add Sim Audio or maybe VTL (if you want a tube)
Personally, I think Thiels should be paired with an amp that costs at least as much as the speakers themselves. Some systems work with 50% system budget going to the speakers and 50% at everything else. Some people build very fine sounding systems that way. It just doesn't work with Thiels
I own Thiel 2.4s and my amplification (ARC pre and amp) are 4X the price of the Thiels and the 2.4s keep up very nicely. Tobuns is exactly right. Thiels are very transparent and require high quality amplification. I think the Rotel 1095/Thiel 1.6 combo may sound a bit lean or to some analytical. What i would do is put the Rotel up for sale and add the proceeds to your $2K budget and buy a used Pathos Logos integrated amp. It's a hybrid tube/ss amp that puts out 110 wpc into 8ohm and 220 wpc into 4 ohms. That amp is very musical and I think will make a great match with the Thiel 1.6s. If you have a Pathos dealer near you try to audition it (preferably with your speakers). It's a wonderful amp and should have more than enough juice to drive your 1.6s with ease. Plus the one box solution will help you save on a set of ICs as well. My 2c worth.
When I used the Thiels with krell amps. The BAT preamps added a some warmth and alot of body that was missing.
Thiels are a very clear and serious window into the quality of your gear and your recordings too. You will hear the change in hiss on early Beatles recordings - where they spliced the tape! This will sometimes prove fascinating and other times a distraction.
Hi all ! For the way this system is described I would certainly lean to the Melos SHA-1 headphone amp / preamp ..tube driven with a warm sound .