I have the older model C2500 preamp and find it quite neutral. It is dead quiet with excellent dynamics. It cost me $4200 used and worth every penny.
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I had not listened to McIntosh for years, but the MC275 VI got my attention. I almost bought one for a third system. So, this lead me to listened to some of their other products. Based on the price, the C2500 is a very good preamp, but to my ears, its could be better - cleaner on the bottom end and a more open on top. For the same money I would get the Herron 360. The CJ ET7S2 is more expensive than both and is 2x your 6K budget. I used an ET5 and a Herron VTSP3 for years. The ET7S2 is many steps ahead of the ET5 and is closer to the GATS2 in its performance (read the reviews, they are spot on). The ET7S2 could easily be your last preamp. If you can find one used (probably no less than $7500), go for it. But if your budget is set, go with the Herron. The real question is whether a new preamp will make you want to change out your Thors.
Just a thought since you like the Thor sound someone is selling a TA-100 preamp and a pair of TPA-30 monos. You could possibly get him to part with the preamp separately.
Never heard Thor and no relation to the seller just remembered seeing that ad.
@jond Thanks for the link. I did own the TA-1000 preamp at the same time as the Thor monoblocks, and whilst it's an excellent preamp, particularly for the low $2k's that it seems to fetch, it isn't the best preamp in that price range by any means.
The Thor monoblocks on the other hand....I've yet to hear anything that comes close. I've had some similarly priced SS gear that's well-reviewed and respected and the TPA-60's have been in a league above. So I'm just trying to find a preamp that makes me feel the same way I do about the power amps....
I sold a CJ CT-5 a while back and it had that nice liquidity that I'm looking for. So I'm thinking the ET-7 might be a safe shot. But then I've never owned a McIntosh and some of the reviews on their newer gear seem really positive....
@cellorover - Thanks, that's good feedback on the ET-7MKII.