I'm really pleased with my BAT VK-3i. After about 5 years I replace the tubes with New Old Stock (NOS) and the improvements were more than subtle.
I also have DNA-1 (stock) and Thiel 2.2's.
I recommend to use passive preamps since McCormacks are too sencitive for the tube drive. They're designed to be used with McCormack preamps that have basically 0 gain. Becides McCormack preamps that I consider bright in active mode you can use:
1.Placette passive(remote optional) is a-bit above $1k
2.Audio Synthesis passive rempte preamp(used is even under $1k)
3.Never had a chance but according to the blasting reviews you can check bent audio transformer volume passive preamp.
I can make a counter suggestion. I'm using a McIntosh C-38 with my DNA 1/B driving ML SL3s. WHile I love the flexibility, durability, and smoothness of the McIntosh, I have a usable volume range between 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock, anything over 9 and the room is over-pressurized and not really comfortable. Still no distortion at the louder volumes, just far more than needed in a 16*25 room
I used a Kora Eclipse tube hybrid preamp with my DNA-225 (same 100Kohm input as the 1.0) and it was a very nice pairing, indeed. The matching, from an impedance standpoint, would not have seemed logical but the sound was great. As such, I would not dismiss the idea of a tube preamp out of hand.
Within the next few days I will have complete and introduced into my system the Bent passive that Marakanetz mentions. Will post my impressions when things settle in a bit.
I also highly recommend the Placette Passive or Remote Volume Control. Both models are remote controlled, it's not an option. The difference is the Passive has three inputs standard and the RVC has one input. The Passive new is $1400, used generally $800-$1000. RVC is $1000 new and $600-$700 used.
I don't think you will find a better sounding unit for the price, and the remote is a bonus.
20-50 hours. A mere nanosecond in relation to audiophile time! :-)
Eagle, please know that I wasn't trying to "one-up" the Placette, on a cost basis. I've heard it is very good, also. Actually, the Bent CAN be had a bit cheaper in kit form, but because I have only recently reacquainted my hand with a soldering iron, I let it best to let John Chapman do the construction.
...to my simple philosophy about breakin'-in i'd say that $hit will never become a flower within the time and there are ONLY small changes occur during that period. much more larger proccesses occur with human psychological and audiable adoptation (even during these 20...50 hours).
speakers and source devices have one more mechanical factor blended with both mentioned above.