So what's a good preamp?

I know that's a broad question but I've been using a series of passive preamps for the past 12 years and now I have an amp (Joule Stargate SET) that really like to have an active preamp ahead of it. I'm really not sure where to start. Budget is $1500 or less probably used and I only listen to vinyl so bells and whistles are not an issue-- if there was such thing as an active single input preamp, that could be great. I'm just not sure where to start looking, although I'm sort of interested in the ARC SP16 because I've been told that it has a nice neutral sound by some friends. My priorities are versatility because I listen to lots of different music from jazz to folk to electronic/dance to soundtracks.
Since you listen to vinyl only, I assume you have an active phono stage. You may want to consider upgrading that instead. I say this because you know the value of a passive line stage. $1500 is a hard price point to work with, even for a used active preamp.

I'm not saying that you can't get anything good. Depending on what you like, it may be possible; just difficult. If it were me, I wouldn't get anything without trying it in my system first.
Well, I sort of agree with Zd542. It would be tough to find a preamp worthy of your amps for under $1500.

That being said, I have two suggestions. I do see a Joule Electra LA-100 that is currently for sale on Audiogon for under $1200. There might be some good synergy with your Joule Electra amps. The other option would be to look for a used Audible Illusions L1 or L2. That's probably your best bang for the buck at that price range.
Check out the E.A.R. 834P. A few are listed here.
See if you can find a used Emotive Audio (*NOT* Emotiva) Poeta, or it's predecessor the Erato. Very simple - a selector and volume knob - and really terrific sounding.
One you hear SAS Audio Lab preamps your search will be over.
Thanks for the advice. I've seen the Emotive Audio before, just beautiful. I'll grab one if it pops up. I'm thinking about the LA100 but it's a MK1 so I'm it seems overpriced a bit. I just plugged in a Hagerman Clarinet and that wasn't very good. It's a shame I can't just stick with the LDR volume control I'm using now which sounds incredible but hums. Really isn't a solution for that out there that I've been able to find unfortunately. LDRs are really lovely transparent things... they just don't play well with the Joule (because of grounding issues) which I'm NEVER parting with until I win the lottery.
I'd look at the Modwright 9.0 at that price point. They don't come up very often and might be more than $1500, but I also love my Musical Fidelity kW preamp. A beast. Huge power supply. Will drive anything. A hybrid design. An older Pass preamp may also do the trick.
I'm also thinking K&K Maxxed Out with built in volume control. Maybe that's the best solution. I know someone with a Modwright. I should see if I can borrow it.
Dhcod. As a prior stargate owner I can vouch for their use with my joule la100. MK2 in my case. Where are you located? I could be persuaded to let you borrow it. I have just re-tubed mine and still use it daily
That's an incredibly nice offer. I actually got the chance to hear the Mk1 yesterday in my system. It was a little tube-ey if that makes sense, sort of thick around the middle and a little rolled off the top. I'm sure subsequent revisions attacked that problem. The owner said I'd be real happy with an LA150, given that I'm coming from a passive preamp. They were apparently more transparent. I'm guessing they are a lot of money but I'm on the look out. These Stargates are real good. Can't imagine upgrading from them. What did you move on to?

I agree. That is a really nice offer.
Check out the K&K you won't be sorry. Along with the Hagerman Trumpet it's one of the best phono stages I have had in my system. Too bad about the LSA, did you talk to George about potential fixes for the ground issue?

That was a very generous offer. :)

04-02-13: Dhcod
I actually got the chance to hear the Mk1 yesterday in my system. It was a little tube-ey if that makes sense, sort of thick around the middle and a little rolled off the top.

I note that you are using Purist Audio Museaus cables. You do realize that you just described their sonic character too, don't you? I do understand that you may want to buy a more revealing preamp, so that you don't have to change cables too. Given that situation, you may be searching for a ARC, VAC or Aesthetix, though I doubt if you could get an Aesthetix in your price range.
Dhcod- your general description of the 100 sound is pretty accurate. but note that there were different versions with different internal wires. (purist v. cardas). I would also suggest that if you have not yet returned your unit that you try it with silver ics and a "clean" power cord.
Wyetech ruby stunning
If you are interested in solid state I think Klyne makes one of the best pre amps; as tubed goes you already have heard from what I consider the leaders.
I see a Joule Electra LA 150 mk II for sale for $1995. A little above your price range, but maybe you can talk the price down a little.
Gone :(

Kbuzz-- Thanks for the comments but unfortunately I don't have that system anymore. Sadly we had to move to a much smaller place (sad because of the stereo, love the place) and everything had to go. I've started over with equipment that fits both aesthetically and sonically into the new place. I'll update the profile when I've figure out the preamp. Luckily there's a nice place in the corner for the amps otherwise I would have had to live with something small like a chip amp-- eesh.
I updated my system.
Jmcgrogan2 has you covered. +1. If you like your amplifier then mating it with a pre from the same manufacture is a no brainer.

Next to the speakers the phono and pre amplifiers are next in the chain.