Cant help you out with the pre amp, but would love to hear what you think of the upgraded 225,as I have the stock unit. Good luck
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For balanced, find a used ARC LS-5 and consider yourself very lucky and done.
I've seen Steve Huntley at GNSC sometimes have one for sale, and he would be a good one to talk with if you need more info.
Frankly though, I would make sure you weren't going to eventually go multi-channel or at least need a remote. In which case, you may want to find a unit with a HT-bypass. Actually, the McCormack RLD or MAP could be had and probably modded too by Steve for under your budget.
We're not quite there yet, but buying a 2 channel preamp is almost as dead as investing in a pricey redbook-only CDP.
Labtec, they will drag me out of my stereo room before a multi-channel unit finds its way in there. In the big screen room, OK, but not in my sanctuary! :-)
How do you think the ARC you mention compares with somethign like a BAT VK30SE?
I was under the impression that the RLD was unbalanced only, with or without mods. Am I wrong?
Actually, you are right about the RLD. I forgot about the strictly RCAs.
As for the BAT, that would be a good choice too based on my limited experience. It is very well made and has a nice character that should work well with most amps.
The LS-5 though is just magical in some ways. Almost everyone who's heard it seems to agree that it just completes an audio system like few other preamps. It should work great with the McCormack.
Again though, I would talk to Steve McCormack and Steve Huntley for further info. Those are guys with credentials that won't steer you wrong. I've been in the hobby forever and gone to almost all the major shows over the past 4 years, but still don't have a fraction of the actual experience of those guys. I suspect most people on the message boards fall under that same category.
Vladimir, it is true about the impedance. One must choose wisely in that regard. A finely discrete voulme contril is also necessary.
I tried a Bent passive with the Mc at one point. It was superb in many ways, and turned out to work perfectly in another person's system, yet I missed a bit in terms of dynamics and low end cotrol with mine. I'd have to do a loaner plan in my system before buying another.