I have the Ayre K-1X preamp, and I am very, very happy with it. (I sincerely doubt I will be upgrading this unit for a long, long time, if ever.)
I too wanted a preamp with a remote, so I completely understand your wanting one. (Adjusting the volume while sitting in the sweat spot is almost not an option.) Be aware, that the remote really only controls the volume (& mute) though, nothing else. (Although it would turn your K-5X amp on and off, I believe. I know it works with the V-1X amp.)
I picked this preamp due to its remarkable soundstaging and imaging capabilities, as well as its outstanding phono stage. (I listen to vinyl mostly, btw, and it is much better than my old ARC PH-3 phono preamp. Quieter, better frequency response, and fairly easy to adjust the gain and loading too.)
One point I should make: It is very revealing, so you will need to have really good electronics, especially your source. (Your Levinson cdp should work just fine. I use a Resolution Audio Opus 21 myself, but I highly considered the levinson too.)
My previous preamp was an ARC LS-2, and the Counterpoint 3.1. Both were good (The LS-2 was very good in fact), but not in the Ayre's class to be honest. By the way, it works very well with my Levinson No. 23 amp, driving my Revel Studio Speakers. I also most of my components with XLR cables, as this preamp was designed, from the ground up, to run balanced. (In fact, even the phono input is set up for XLR.)
I have not heard the Lamm, but have heard the BAT at a dealers. It is pretty good, but I think a better comparision would be to the BAT VK-51SE actually.
Good Luck in your search.
I have a BATVK30SE feeding an Ayre V5x. Audience XLR and speaker cables; Avalon Ascendant speakers.
Works great!! I think you will like having a quality preamp. BTW I used (not with this exact set up) to have a Wadia 850 driving the amp directly. You lose a bit of transparency when you add a preamp. But, I really like having the preamp - I think it adds more than it interferes.
From reading your post it was looking like you might be thinking that the Ayre K1-x is a tube preamp. It is a solid state preamp actually. Sounded like you were looking for a tube preamp.
thanks for the fast replies. To clarify Ejlif's point, I am interested in tube preamps, but added the Ayre V-1x (which i know is SS) to that mix because it has some tube like qualities, and would presumably mate up well with the Ayre amp.
I think I'll bring home a few of these and let my ears be the judge. Unfortunately, no Lamm dealers locally.
I'd be cautious before adding a Lamm w/o hearing it in your system. Recently, a friend was auditioning many preamps, and in his Classe Omega/Eggleston Andra/Wadia rig, the Lamm was a poor sounding match to all who heard it.
From all the great feedback I've read here on Lamm, it is probably just a synergy thing, but that's the point! Cheers,
The Lamm is incredible but I also ruled it out of my system because it doesn't have a remote (plus it has a volumn knob for each channel because it is , also it only has 1 XLR in and out I believe, and I don't know whether it is truely full differencially balanced. You can rule out the CJ equipment as it is not balanced.
I run a Rowland Synergy IIi on battery that you should consider if you are looking for a fully balanced design. The other ARC's to look at are the LS5 MKIII, LS 25 MKII, of course the Reference 2.
If you really wants a high quality tube preamp, Audio Note M6 phono is the one. It smokes any other preamp out there. Only its bigger brother M8 and M10 can beat it. The phono stage is absolutely gorgeous. The output transformer is copper winding in the primary and silver with high content of nickle in the secondary winding. It also uses expensive caps such as high gate. All the internal wiring is silver.
Artg, if you are interested in a high quality tube linestage with remote, I encourage you to add the Aesthetix Calypso to your short list to consider. It offers many of the sonic virtues of its more expensive sibling, the Aesthetix Callisto, with the addition of a very flexible/functional remote and a single chassis.http://www.musicalsurroundings.com/aesthetix.html
I will echo Sbank's comments about the experience with the Lamm in that particular system. I was there also and heard exactly what he described. We were all puzzled by the result, but it was unequivocal.
"We were all puzzled by the result, but it was unequivocal."
I'm not. The Lamm is not a tone control. It allowed you to experience the Classe gear in all its glorious crapulence. If the owner wants to keep the Classe Omega, he'll want a non-transparent tone control of a linestage. Then he can play synergy games and end up with a system that doesn't do anything very well. If he wants a good sounding system, he'll re-think the Omega, explore alternative front-end options and buy a preamp like the Lamm that allows him to experience the superior sound of his vastly improved electronics. I'm always amazed when I see threads like this which demonstrate that something so simple can be made so complex. I will not be re-visiting this thread for this reason. There's just not enough hours in the day.
Hmmm... I guess Speakerdude will not be a useful partner in any further discussion. But then, I'm still working to decide how useful that last little diatribe was. It's kind of hard to get any more transparent to the sound of the amp than not having a preamp in the middle at all, which was the point of reference.
So speakerdude says all youre hearing is the limitations of your amp and source and Rushton says you can't get any more transparent to the sound of the amp by bypassing the preamp meaning all youre hearing is the source and the amp.
Nice work Rushton. You just made speakerdudes point for him. Rock on speakerdude!
wait a second - to quote my old friend, Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" As the person who initiated the thread, I appreciate there are many opinions on gear, and that opinions clash frequently. I was interested in hearing what others had expereinced with the preamps I was/am considering. I did not throw out the Lamm b/c one guy did not like it, not did I go out and mmediately buy a BAT, Rowland or Audio Note pre b/c others loved them. This is a hobby boys, please treat it as such.
OK, enough of that s#&t. I'm auditioning an ARC LS25 MKII and Ayre K-1x (and hopefully a BAT 51SE) this weekend, and will report back.
SPEAKERDUDE, dont go away permanently.....
Im listening to an ARC LS25 MK II - I LOVE IT! I finally understand what all the fuss (tubes) is about: micro dynamics, notes that have a beginning, a middle and an end, the sweet, resonant tones within Lucinda Wiliams' voice. Yes!
I definitely could live with this. I'll listen to this thing a few days - then onto the BAT 31SE (I think the 51 is a bit out of my $ range).
upon further review, this quest is far from over. Now that Ive had a nice taste for what a good tube preamp would do in my stystem, its now time to check out a few GREAT tube preamps: VTL-7.5, VAC Renaissance, Atma-Sphere MP1, and the Audio Research Ref II. Lam L2 also an option, though I want a pre with balanced in and out, and the L2 only has balanced out....
Oh yeah, I also updated the speakers: gone are the Dynaudio Contour 3.0's, in are the Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage (well sort of, they are in transit)
more to come.
IMHO I think you would be doing yourself a disservice and would be amiss if you didn't listen to a (well broken in) BAT 51se. Enjoy the search!
I have heard a lot of the preamps that you are either considering or which have been referenced above. I have also included below some models which are relatively close to ones which you were considering or referenced above:
BAT VK-51 SE
Of course, I heard these, for the most part, at different times, often with different equipment and different music. Most were heard side-by-side in A/B situations with at least one other mentioned here. In one or two cases, a unit was heard with comparison to something not listed, like the Hovland HP-100.
Of these listed above, the only one which I thought was outstanding in a whole lot of ways was the Ayre. It is smooth. It spreads the instruments out well in space. It reproduces detail, but in a natural way. It is just a little cooler than natural, in my opinion. The dynamics are a little understated. The phono section is superb.
To the list, I would add/reinforce Convergent Audio Technology Ultimate and First Sound Presence Audio Deluxe Mk II. I would also throw in the Herron. These first two sound quite different and do different things exceptionally well. CAT is known for smooth-as-silk, effortless presentation, incredibly solid and deep bass, stunning dynamics, sweet, mellow, lush midrange, great soundstage. Maybe not the best in EVERY category, but way up there in just about all and when considered as a whole, a very difficult product to beat. First Sound is stunning to me for its midrange transparency. There just seems to be nothing between you and the music in that range. Although it is quite neutral, you wouldn't call it that because vocals almost seem live. You have sensation of very low noise floor. Excellent soundstaging. Bass is good, but in my system, not as deep as CAT. Dynamics are good, but not as good as CAT. Transparency of the First Sound is like nothing that I have ever heard, including the CAT.
There are probably others, and I, just as all the others who have posted on this thread, can't tell you what to buy, but you can't say that you have surveyed the top preamp terrain if you haven't heard these two ... and the Herron.
Have you heard the Supratek Chardonnay or Chenin? If you have, is it in the same league as those models you mentioned?
Thanks for the additional recommendations - there are a TON of good preamps out there - all you need is money. I had read great things abou the First Sound gear, and was considering it, but I have two requirements it (and a few others like CJ, Hovland, LAMM) does not meet 1) XLR in/out 2) remote.
Im also considering the VAC Renaissance II. we'll see. I'm convinced that some of the fun in this hobby is the chase - you know repressed hunting instincts....
Understood about your requirements. Still, I think you should hear as much of the quality gear as possible in order to see if the gear that you end up buying measures up.
A CAT can be ordered with XLR out, but it will not be balanced. Not sure about XLR AUX in. Of course, not much point in XLR without balanced circuitry. You are right though. Neither unit has remote.
I haven't heard the Supratek models. I posted on that thread "Preamp Deal of the Century", offering to put my CAT and First Sound up against a Supratek, but there have been no takers. There has been at least one other thread where one or more responders rated the First Sound ahead of the Supratek. Here is one:
Note the responses of Kalan and Noble110. Kalan has posted on other threads about the virtues of First Sound. Kalan and I have the same model of the F.S. which is one level up from the standard model typically sold. For some reason, his seems to be on sale currently here on Audiogon. With that one and a F.S. Paramount on sale, which is one step up from the F.S. Presence Deluxe 4.0 that Kalan is offering, there is a lot of great product for sale right now.
Is the standard F.S. model the Presence Deluxe II?
I believe you've the Presence Deluxe 4.0 - that's outside my budget.
A used Presence Deluxe II is closer (slightly more expensive) to the price of a Supratek Chardonnay. These are the two models I am considering, given my budget constraint. It's not fair to compare a Chardonnay to a Deluxe 4.0.
One thing I like about the F.S. is the ability to upgrade and presence of local agents.
I full appreciate that the First Sound might be as good or better than some of the other preamps on my list, but my source (Levinson 390S) and amp (Ayre V-5x) both perform *much* better when run in full balanced mode. This is a simple fact, so conceptually its hard to look at preamps that put both the thing feeding it and the thing it feeds at relative disadvantage.....
Im still learing about this stuff, and my gear is in flux as of late, so tell me, do you think Im being unecessarily limiting in my approach?
Yes, the full name of the standard model is First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II 2.0. I don't know how much better, if at all, the 4.0 is over the 2.0. I have only heard the 4.0. Moreover, the F.S. linestages have many options in the sense that many people send them back for little upgrades which are offered but not reflected in new model numbers. Sometimes, it is hard to know which unit is being offered and what "version" it is. If it is older than 1 1/2-2 years or hasn't been back to F.S. in that time, it is almost certainly not current. The local dealer network, depending on where you live, may not be that deep for F.S. products, but anyway, I think the product is very much worth consideration for how it sounds. Perhaps you'll do an audition of F.S. Presence Deluxe Mk II 2.0 and let ME know how it sounds?
I can't say whether you are being too narrow in the way that you are approaching a pre-amp purchase. For me, there are always 4 questions to ask when evaluating anything new:
1. How good can this product sound?
2. How will it sound in my system?
3. If the answer to question 1 is fantastic and to question 2 is only OK, then am I willing to make changes to my system to make it sound fantastic with this new product?
4. How much will it all cost and are the changes worth it, considering the cost?
Beyond that, I am willing to listen to anything, any technology, any price range, even if I am not willing to buy everything. To me, its the only way to learn what sounds good. If, as you say, transparency and vocals are high on your list of "must haves", I can't say how you can rule out the F.S., if you have an opportunity to listen, without trying. These are the things it does exceptionally well.
I agree that you already have fine gear and for you, the answer to one or more of the four questions may mean no upgrade or at least none that I suggested listening to.
You may find that the Ayre preamp a better match to your V-5X and your Levinson player. As I said in my original post, the Ayre preamp and amp (I listened to the K-1 and V-1 combo) did many things exceptionally well. If the V-5X is a step above the V-1, that may be very much a keeper and worth building the rest of your system around, but there is no harm in listening to other things.
thanks again, Rayhall. I concur and would agree with your philophy of listening to as much gear as possible, it's just not always practical. I do have local BAT, Atma-Sphere, VTL, Audio Research, and Ayre dealers, and they do allow for take-home auditions, but I feel unethical doing this knowing there is no way I'd pay anywhere close to retail new on any of these items given the HUGE used market out there......
As for synergy, The V1 is actually the higher powered version of the V5. the V1x and V5x are upgrades to the original V1/V5 products, much as the K1x is an upgrade to the K1. If what you heard was the non-x version of that set-up, you'd be suprised how much better the 'x' version sounded (better bass, wider soundstage, more dynamic).
I'm all hell-bent on a tubed preamp mostly because I audiotined a mid-level tubed preamp (AR LS25 MK2)and loved what it did for the sound. Following that logic, I thought - what about even better preamps, which leaves me where I am.
Funny thing about the FS gear, I have a LOCAL guy selling a Paramount for $4K, which by all accounts sounds like a crazy steal. I almost bought it on reputation, but then I had a (fortunately brief) financial scare a month ago and backed out of the deal. anyway, all's clear on the $ front, but Im resistting the single ended, non-remote option. I guess I could buy and try, with the intent to resell if things are not to my liking. at these prices, it shouldn't be that hard to resell at close to purchase price.....
I had a totally balanced system with GamuT CD1R, Pass X2.5 preamp, and GamuT Mk. 3 amp. This was an excellent combo. I then ventured into a tube preamp which is single ended (deHavilland Mercury class A, no negative feedback, triode design). I use the wonderful Cardas XLR RCA adapters. The sound is wonderful in every respect. See my brief review on the "other" forum on 11/03/04. The Mercury comes with a remote option. Needless to say I do not missed my balanced system at all. The less expensive deHavilland Ultraverve was Enjoy The Music.com preamp of the year. I would be very surprised if the top of the line CAT, VTL or BAT improves upon the Mercury. which is 3995 retail with remote. I highly recommend you include this gem with your other auditions. You can talk to Kara the designer whom I imagine would arrange for an audition.
Update: after some listening, I decided to go with the Ayre K-1xe. Overall imaging and transparency champ, with some admirable tube-like qualities, yet no tube hassles. Obviously mates well with the Ayre Amp, and the combo of Ayre and Sonus Faber (i got the Guarneri Homage - an unbeleivable speaker) sound GREAT. Down the line I may add a sub, for for now, Im in audio nirvana.
Having done SS w/ the Ayre, I must say I also loved the tubed gear i auditioned. I just got a good deal on the Ayre, and this timeless piece will always be resellable in the future, should I decide to go nuts again. to review the recent wholesale changes to the system:
The "Old" System:
Amp: McCormack DNA-1
Source: Levinson 390S
preamp: NONE, I Used the 390S direct into the DNA
Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 3.0
Cables: Audince AU24 speaker, Cardas Golden Cross IC
Amp: Ayre V-5x
Source: Levinson 390S (i kept it)
Preamp: Ayre K-1xe
Speakers: Sonus Faber Guarneri's
Cables: Cardas Golden Reference all around.
Other: PS AUDIO P300 Power plant on the source and pre
THANKS GAIN for all the helpful opinions and advice. This is a very enjoyable forum to have for all us audio nuts.
Congrats on joining the Ayre K-1X club!
Also, good choice on the cabling. I too use a Cardas Golden Reference between my amp and preamp. (Although I do use an Audience AU24 for my cdp to preamp cable. It works quite well too.)
If you use the PS Audio P300 on the new Ayre preamp, let me know how it works out for you. (Ayre suggests not using any power conditioning, so I have not experimented with that as yet. Instead, I am spending my money on having dedicated circuits installed, this Monday as a matter of fact.)
Hope everything works out well for you!
Hey Kurt, i have yet to use the preamp WITHOUT the P300, but i will try it. I think this is a little different than a conditioner (which I know Ayre poo poo's), it's a power regererator. It just makes grade A current (vs filtering or modifying it), and I will say it made a big difference w/ the Levinson CDP. Il l try it and see what happens straight into the wall....
One last thing. Look into the "evolution" upgrade for this preamp, it runs $500, and accrording to the AYre people its a HUGE diffference. I will be doing it in a month or two, once I recover financially from all this spending!
WHOA - what was I thinking, the Ayre preamp sounds much better running directly into the wall (vs into the P300 multiwave). More dyamic, richer, though perhaps a little noisier. I'll take it!
Thanks for the update. I appreciate your testing that out.
Glad to see you really like the Ayre! (I will let you know if running dedicated lines helps out, as those are being installed tomorrow!)
(If you are ever so inclined, the phono boards are really very good in the K-1X. They are ever so quiet, very dynamic, and great frequency response. Plus, by not having a seperate phono preamp, I save on not having to buy another damn expensive interconnect!)
By the way, please update me on the "e" upgrade to the Ayre when you get it too! If you think it is worth the $500, I will get it done too. (Although, I will be bummed being without my preamp for probably a month or so. Maybe I will send it off when I go on vacation.)
Kurttank - Please tell us all how you like your dedicated power line.
Well, I have had a chance to listen a little more to my stereo after I had the dedicated circuits installed.
Definitely better bass response. Seems a little quicker, deeper and better defined.
Most definitely quieter background on both CD and analog.
Really apparent on the analog though.
My imaging seems better too.
(However, I will point out that a week or two before I put in the dedicated circuits I switched my stereo around 180 degrees. (i.e. I put in on the opposite wall from where it was before.) I know I have been playing around with my speaker positioning, which I think might explain some or all of the better imaging. However, I believe that the better bass response and the quieter backgrounds are definitely due to the dedicated circuits.)
Is it worth doing? In my case, definitely!
(PS I seem to definitely like the word "definitely", don't you think?!)
ok, so not that anybody here cares what I'm doign with the system, but today I joined the 'dark side' - I replaced my beloved Ayre V-5x with an audio research VT100 MK III. Lovely sparkle added to the system, albeit with slightly less resolution that the Ayre. The tubed amp mates very nicely with thew SF Guarneri Homage and the Ayre K-1xe preamp!
Hey, I care!
You're in the Ayre K-1X club now, and we take care of our fellow members!
Interesting that you mated a solid state preamp with a tubed amp.
Let me know how you like that after you have had a real chance to do some listening. At some point, I will be upgrading my amp next, and if tubes work out well for you, I might consider it. (My only problem is that I need a fair amount of power, due to my Revel Studio speakers. I figure at least 200 wpc, and double that if I can afford it.)
Glad to hear you like the sound of your upgraded stereo! (I was on that same merry-go-round for the last 18 months, and I finally managed to get off it. The dedicated ciruits, and rotating the listening position by 180 degrees finally did it! I am looking forward to just sitting back and listening to the music! Well for a little while at least!)
Not that anybody cares what the "big reviewers" do, but Michael Fremer of stereophile, a devout tube nut, uses the Ayre K-1x as his reference preamp. Most people like having tubed preamps to drive their ss amps, but if you can afford the power, or dont need as much of it, a tubed amp does very nicely. In your case, I think there are plenty of high powered tubed amps worth considereing. VTL, Audio Research and Manlley Labs come to mind. At a more ridiculous price point, the Lamm hybrids would definitely meet your power needs as well.
I would not try to send you into another buying frenzy, but you owe it to your self to at least AUDITION a tubed amp (maybe an Audio Research VT200), or VTL monos - just to see how where the other half is coming from. I may end up with other gear in the future, but as of now, there will be tubes in some form or another.
Remind me what amp you're using now with the Revel's, and what kind of music you're into these days....
Well to be honest, I am not a big Michael Fermer fan.
(Which is ironic, since I am a big analog fan.) I just feel his reviews are catering to the subscribers of Stereophile. (More so than most of the others, well, except for Sam maybe.) I really took exception to his review of the Ayre P-5x phono preamp. He pointed our that Ayre specifically states that their phono preamps are best used via the balanced inputs. He then goes on to brag about which balanced phono cables he has in his home. (Then he states he did not bother to use them. This is the sign of a lazy reviewer in my opinion.) Anyway, enough about him!
Regarding your suggestion to audition some really nice tube amps, I have with a friend who audtioned 4 really nice tube mono-block amps with his system. (My friend's system is the system whose sound I am chasing. He has an ARC Ref. 1 preamp, a Aesthetix Rhea phono preamp, a VPI HRX turntable, with a Koetsu Urushi cartridge, and he uses Avalon Eidolon speakers. Great system.) Anyway, we tried out the Kora Cosmos (100wpc), the BAT VK150's, the Manley Neoclassic 250's and the VTL 450's. His main music listening selections are typically symphonic pieces and jazz. With the symphony music, he listens at realistic sound levels (ie. loud!), which really tests an amp. The Kora sounded great, but only with small Jazz pieces. It sounded compressed with larger symphonic pieces. The BAT sounded better with the symphonic pieces, but not as good with the Jazz. The Manley's sounded really good, but he managed to get it to clip on a rather large and loud symphonic piece. The VTL managed to do everything right.
(Howeer, one thing I noticed in listening to these four tube monoblock amps however, was that when we went from one amp to the next, increasing in power with each amp, in seemed that they lost some of that tube "magic" as the power increased.) That is one of the reasons I have not gone back to a tube amp. That and the cost and hassles of using tubes. I am not a tweaker, and don't really want to be caught up in the whole tube rolling and biasing ritual that tube amps require. (Yeah, I am Lazy. Perhaps I should be a Stereophile reviewer?!)
Anyway, I am currently using a Levinson No. 23 amp. It has 200 wpc, and sounds really good with the Studio's. At some point, I would like to go to monoblocks, but I am unsure which ones to get. I know that I need at least 200wpc, and would like to have more actually.
FYI: I had picked out the Pass Labs Aleph 1.2 monoblocks (based on research only mind you!), as being the closest a SS amp gets to tubes. However, due to them being a pure Class A amp, they run VERY HOT (it was told to me that they were like having 2 1200 space heaters in the room!), and they use a kilowatt an hour of power, even when they are just being warmed up. Another owner of them told me he could not use them during the summer, as they made the room sweltering. (I live in California, where we have high temperatures 5 months out of the year, so it would require owning two sets of amps That is too expensive for me. And no, I don't have air conditioning.)
Anyway, keep in touch as to how the Ayre and the ARC tube amps work out for you!
I've just extensively auditioned the K-1x vs the BAT VK51se and the Calypso. With my Krell amp and Revel speakers the Ayre is the best by a mile. The Calypso beat the BAT. This order really surprised me. I expected the BAT to beat the others hands down...but it didn't. The BAT's only leg up on the others is dynamics. THe Ayre has more detail within the notes, more harmonic interlayering (musical) better sound stage etc. I actually compared the Ayre with the Big (25K?) Boulder and the Ayre was just more musical and relaxed without any lose of detail or upper register definition. Guitar and pianos put out a lot of upper harmonic structure that I've only heard through the Ayre. I've never listened to the Lamm.
Buy the way I'm referring the the K-1xe. I listened at the factory in Boulder last week. I've never even heard the earlier K-1x version(s).
A funny (yet predictable) thing happened when my wife found out how much I paid for that ARC VT100 (new)...... 1) I had some splainin' to do, 2) i slept on the couch, 3) I returned to that dealer, tail between my legs and apologetically asked for my money back :(
Oh, well i loved the combination so i will eventually own SOME tube amp to go with the K-1x! Maybve after I sell the V-5x.
Kurt - if you get the itch for mono amps again, audition the Herron M150s. The are outstanding, especially the latest editions...and don't pay attention to Fremer's ancient review in S'phile. The Herron preamps are excellent as well.
More trading of gear - things moving very much into tubes. I sold both the Ayre V-5x and K-1x.
My new amp is a Berning ZH270, which is simply astounding! It is by far the best thing I have every heard in my system. I've also upgraded cables to Valhalla biwired and RCA's. On the preamp end, I ended up getting a First Sound Presence Deluxe which will be arriving in the next 2 weeks. So really, only the digital source (Levinson 390S) and spkrs remain (Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage + Rel Sub). I will say to SF owners - they LOVE the Berning amp!