Preamp recommendation please..


I'm looking to buy a 2nd hand preamp, to match my Krell Evo 302e amp.
Speakers are Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand.
I like setups based on tube preamps and SS amps, but this is not a must.
Most important for me: Transparency, Musicality & Drive. Smooth sound, not thin or clinical.
Fully balanced models are preferred.
Budget is around $3k.
Any help and information would be greatly appreciated.


I'd suggest a used Atmasphere MP-3 everything you have asked for it has IMO.

(Dealer disclaimer)


I enjoy a tubed pre-amp mated to a solid-state power amp myself.
Keep me posted & Happy Listening!

You're spot on with your assessment on tube pre-amp and SS amps.  I am currently using a Modwright Elyse DAC with KWA150SE.  

If you can find one, I would recommend Aestheix Calypso (standard version).  

Good luck!
EAR-Yoshino 868.
Primaluna DiaLogue Premium preamp. Cost @ [new...$3,200.00] is on target also. I own one and it is just plain awesome.

krell preamp
Thanks for the interesting ideas.

Any experience with the ARC LS27, which sounds transparent to me. how about its musicality and drive?

I also read very good things about audio gd's preamp, and its compatibility with Krell amps, through the 'semi-cast' output and interconnect.
ModWright LS 36.5. Guarantee it has more PRAT than the LS27. I've heard many newer ARC and they are very nice preamps; not referring to the Reference models here. Latest ARC I dragged home was a LS25 MKII. It was a very nice pre; very clean, not sterile but I preferred my former ModWright SWL 9.0 SE for having more drive and being musical.

I wanted to go balance into my Pass so ended up with the ModWright LS 36.5 which is a killer preamp. Hands down bettered my SWL and the ARC LS25 MKII. I'm sure the LS27 is better than the LS25 but bet it is similar in its overall presentation; very nice neutral pre but not much drive. 

Thanks adg101.

Any SS candidates?

MBL 5011..  Music culture.. Electro-Companient..  are these preamps tranparent, smooth-sounding, with drive? or others.. Tnx.

Pass Labs XP10. Reno HiFi often has used units around $3K. Mark offers a 30 day money back trial. Doubt you return it. 

I agree with adg101, re the Modwright 36.5  and ARC. I use an ARC 75 SE power amp and very much like the ARC pre's, but I think they are expensive at full retail. I bought the 36.5 and it is staying where it is. I compared it to the ARC Ref 3, not at the same time, but I clearly prefer the Modwright, at a big saving.

 I am sure the ARC Ref 5SE would be better than the 36.5, but at more than twice the price? I had a listen to the two box 36.5 when I bought mine, it really is very good indeed and again, much cheaper than the REF 5SE


another recommendation for ModWright... i use an SWL 9.0SE with a SS amp and absolutely love it.  i prefer it to all my previous preamps (Aesthetix and Pass Labs amoungst them).
The amp has an input impedance of 100k ohms.  That opens up the field to include most tube pre-amps. 

My suggestion is to try to find a used Herron VTSP-3 even if it might be a little above your budget.

An alternative would be a Herron VTSP-1. 

Keith Herron can bring both up to the latest specs and even take the VTSP-1 far beyond its original performance.  The VTSP-1 at the current mod level is quite good.
I would look for a Krell EVO 222 preamp!  CAST is incredible.  CAST cable at 1.5k pair sounds better the XLR cable at 10k pair.  There is a speed, resolution, coherency to CAST that is one of Krell's ace up their sleeves.  The EV222 ought to be around your budget too.  The even better EV202 (2 chassis) preamp might be found at a steep discount that's close to your budget...maybe?  Krell power amps sound especially good with Krell preamps.  
I can recommend two preamps that I am currently using. The Roague RP-5 and the sonic frontiers line 1.I also like a tube preamp with A solid-state amplifier.
I have the Modwright 35.6.  I am using the set with Pass Labs SS amps.  Sounds amazing! You could start with the single box, then upgrade to with the power supply 2nd box later.  This will allow you to have a good preamp now and a reference preamp later. The best of both worlds.

First Sound products are 'end of search' pre amps.   
I bought a used Classe CP-65 used more than 5 years ago and I have never felt the need to change. I think it's great. You can probably get one used for between $2000.00 and $2500.00 
I use a Schiit Mjolnir 2. For the price you can buy it, a bunch of different tubes, and still fall back on solid state if you want.
Krell power amps sound especially good with Krell preamps.  
CAST is incredible.

I 've heard this in the past.

I also read that Audio GD has a great preamp (Master 1).. quote from their website:

Master 1 is compatible with KRELL amplifiers.
A cable can be made with one side connecting to Master 1 ACSS outputs, other side to a KRELL amplifier CAST inputs.
The ACSS output pins:
Pin 1, GND
Pin 2, Hot
Pin 3, Cold
KRELL amplifiers have lower gain versus audio-gd Master series amplifiers when using the CAST connection, so customers can custom order the Master 1 to have higher ACSS output gain if expecting to connect to KRELL amplifiers.

Costs under $2k, including tax and shipping costs.

Happy to hear any comments about this option.

Don Sachs builds the finest-sounding (and looking) tube preamp I have ever heard.
For <$2k it comes with the top-grade silver/gold/oil Mundorf coupling caps that will handle any solid-state or tube impedance inputs, XLR balanced input, and superb master and channel pots and source switch. I have mine populated with metal-based MELZ 6H8Cs, and NOS RCAs, though any good NOS 6SN7 Sylvania or RCA works fine in them as well. These are built pretty much to order so expect a few weeks' wait for delivery, but well worth it. Don is located in Nelson, B.C., but through an arrangement with Canada Customs he drives over the border to the U.S. for weekly shipments so no duty charges or hassles with Canada Post. I finer preamp you will not hear.
Hands down "First Sound".  I have the Mark 3.  It fronts a Conrad Johnson Premier 140 with Teflon upgrade.  I had listeners over last weekend.  I actually sold one my CJ amp.  I have the Sonus Faber Luito 3 way floor standing speakers ($5,000).  The buyer has the Sonus Faber Guarneri ($22,000).  He along with the others were absolutely floored by what I was getting out of my system.  Blown away by how powerful, musical and relaxing my system is.   I know a huge part is the First Sound preamp.  I had Airtight and Mcintosh preamps before the First Sound.  No comparison.  The depth of base, clarity, musicality, consistent tone from top to bottom.  It is just so nice.  It also uses a pair of 6922 tubes so you have a little room to shape should by using a Telefunkin, Siemens, Bugle Boy or GE5670 tubes.  Emmanuel the owner of First Sound has come to my house twice and helped me to understand how to really tune my system.   That also helps it to stand out.  He is one of the nicest and honest people I have worked with.  The preamp is also highly upgradable.  The basic chassis is already designed around a mono platform.  The power supply is external.  If you get a second power supply the unit is true mono.  From there you can upgrade the stepped ladder attenuator, capacitors and some other parts.  I have the base unit and just don't see how I could need anything better.  I have seen used units for $3,000 + or -  on Audiogon.  The attenuator is based upon resistors in a ladder.  Only 2 at any one time in the signal path.  This is considered the best way to control volume.   If the volume is not working correct with your amp, Emmanuel is very good at building a new one to meet your needs.   See his website for a better understanding of what he offers and pricing.  If you see a used unit, call Emmanuel and see what he can do to bring it up to snuff for you.  You may need to do nothing.  I have a friend with a stock Mark 2.  He loves his unit and sees no reason to upgrade it.  Try one out.  I think you will hold onto if for years.
Tnx kingrex.

I had a chance to try the FS MKIII at home last week. Great preamp with exceptional built quality. But I felt, like with other preamps I’ve tried, that the compromise on the transparency side, is too much for me.

As I’m thinking of upgrading my source (Denon 5000), I started thinking about raising my budget towards $4k, and look for a used, one box pre+source, going direct to the Krell.

Happy to hear ideas.

Some people appear to find it a bit bright but the solid state ARC LS3 was a Stereophile Class A component that only listed for $1,200 back in the 90s and can be found for under $700 now.  They are superb.

Hello K302.  As a question, not a challenge, what do you mean by the compromise on transparency?  I though the FS was transparent, but my basis for experience is limited.  I have only had the McIntosh and Airtight preamps.  I have also had the integrated Rogue Audio Tempest, Cary SLI80 and a Rega Osiris.  To me the FS blew them away.  It does have a lot of bass but I get no hiss from anything.  Are you comparing it to solid state?  Maybe I am biased as I prefer tube equipment and look beyond some distortion.  I did just replace the CJ amp with a Transparent Design Audio set of 1570 monoblocks.   Holly smoke, most amazing amps I have had to date.  I did try a solid state amp between, but it was too black between passages.  When it played, I heard so much I could not relax.  I just keep listening to hear more.  It was flooring in that sense.  However the harmonics and decay of instruments with good tube gear is so inviting and fulfilling I just can't leave it.  Anyhow, thanks for any input.  Learning as I go.

Owe, as an aside.  I did spend 2 days in San Francisco's Elite Audio and heard the VAC amps powering Kharma S7 speakers.  The Kharma floored me.  Compared to my Sonus Faber full range Luito, that speaker was transparent.  I never though a 2 way could be so full and rich and complete with information.  I guess that's what you get when you invest $22K.  Ouch, not me.

Hi k320,

If your source budget was slightly higher, how about going straight to the top - Krell Cipher CD/SACD player!  You can message me for details.  It's AWESOME, will make the DVD-5000 sound positively broken.  The Cipher's level of detail is shocking.  The control, weight of everything, percussiveness...everything else sounds soft.

Pared with a CAST preamp you'd have the full setup.  :-)


I had an in house audition of a Krell 302 e with my Prima Luna Dialogue Premium  with CBS 12au7's. This is with Thiel CS5's. I thought that the Krell sounded a bit, well, shrill to my ears.

Whatever you do, get a test drive first if you can.

dsper, if you want to take the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium preamp to the next level,consider a pair of the NOS Philips 5R4GYS Rectifier Tubes. I use them and can’t recommend them highly enough... Just awesome.

Hi aolmrd,

I have a pair that were in my old Prima Luna preamp so you are right that I should try them..

How would say that they change the sound?


Dsper,hello again.

Here is my post from another recent PL thread...Mark

"Just installed two of the Phillips 5R4GYS rectifier tubes into my PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium preamp. With only a few hours of break in time.. I would consider these a must have tube for this preamp. Right off the bat, the increase in sound quality is huge. The impression of a more natural tone to instruments and voice is just plain awesome. The emotion and feel across the board is something to behold. And all this from a brand new,unused...non broken in pair. WOW!

The music now has meat on the bones and a true quiet elegance to the sound that was hugely lacking with the stock PL 5AR4 version. The review from Positive Feedback is spot on and true to this NOS tubes virtues... If you can...get a pair ASAP,before they are g-o-n-e. I am very happy I took the plunge. Hearing is believing. "

Solid State: for about half that money, you can get a Bel Canto Pre3... Nice, neutral preamp,  good dynamics too. You might lay your hands on a Coda 05 or 07X at that price. 
Buy brand new wth warranty. If you want something approaching a live music experience, Vincent SA-T8. Fully balanced, tubes, under your budget. Comes closer to a live musical experience than some higher priced, highly regarded pres i've heard. Dynamic, transparent, deep and wide soundstage and very musical.
Found a used ARC LS27 - MINT.
It came with 2 sets of XLR Transparent cables.
Connected to the Krell via balanced inputs.
Great match.
The tubes touch, and still very clean, quite, and transparent.
Costs more than my original budget, but worth every penny.
TNX for sharing your experience.

I have purchased 5R4GYS rectifiers for my Mc60s. Two have bitten the dust and a replacement purchased from Upscale arrived shattered in the packing. Three attempts to contact them on their website, once by phone, no answer. 
Hard to find but I suggest you to search about SF Line 3. It's amazing.