Soooooooo many possibilities...!

Hello folks :)
Humbly request to tap into the vast experience and knowledge that is the Audiogonners history.
What preamp and/or phono stage would give a really nice soundstage, and sound, with my equipment?
Said equipment consists of a pair of McIntosh MC1000 amps, a pair of McIntosh XR200 speakers, and a Denon DP 59L turntable.
Audio Research Ref 6 has not sold me, and, wonder if something else out there may sound better...  Also, is an Audio Research Ref 2 Phono a good route to go?
Thank you:)

Mcintosh C47 or C52. Honest review here:

You should of course try the McIntoshs but possible alternatives in tube are Conrad Johnson, Ayre and Prima Luna. 

Of course, make sure you have adequate room treatment first. GIK Acoustics can help you with that. 


Thanks techno_dude.  Just watched the UTube vid you suggested.  It has merits.  Especially its digital (when that time comes) and MM/MC features.  That said.  Have heard the C52 with Mac 601's in combo with both b&w 800 series and sonus faber speakers.  Found the soundstage lacking.  Would the MC1000 change that?  Also, thinking maybe a tube preamp would warm up some of the coolness of the SS Mac amps...
Eric, the room is in fairly good shape, but have been looking into getting it "tuned".
I use a Manley labs front end (Jumbo Shrimp/Chinook) with my Mac MC352 and I love the combo. Very palpable with lots of rise and decay excellent high freq extension with incredible mid range and very good low taught bass extension. I imagine a Stingray or a 300B classic would be very nice indeed.

Matt M
I bought a McIntosh C2500 preamp in almost new condition from Audio Classics for 4300.00.  It is a great tube preamp and sounds wonderful with the McIntosh MC152 solid state amp.  I have had many tube preamps and this reminds me most of my former Audible Illusions Modulus 3B but with tone controls and other nicety's.  If you like the lush tube sound (which I do) this may float your boat.
Hello Matt and thanks for the heads up.  Just spent 45 minutes checking out Manley gear.  That Steelhead phono is something that needs a lot more looking into.  Going to find a place that demo's that and give a serious listen.  Not really big on the looks, but, it's not the looks we listen to :)
In going the Mac preamp route I'd maybe go with the C52, but, it's ss... so kind of exploring other directions.  Trying to avoid ss for the time being.
At Audio Classics they set up a comparison demo for me.  Mac tube preamp vs Mac ss preamp.  While both sounded great, there was definitely that "warm" sound you hear about when they demo'd the tube preamp.  Which I did like.  Exploring for very strong phono... with that warmth...
Thanks stereo5 :)
Actually going to search right now to see if anyone in my area has that Manley Steelhead to demo!
Keep the suggestions coming though!  Paying close attention to all:)
ayre is solid state
and fantastic 
Aesthetix might suit you
the big hi end two box VTL is pretty special IMO
Lamm gear sounds great
i have a REF5se, tell us a bit more about what you found lacking in REF6

enjoy the search

i have done fair amount of business with Audio Classics..great people there

+1 on Manley Jumbo Shrimp/Chinook combo

I recently sold my C47... the DAC was very good sounding, but the phono stage was merely ok.  

The one piece of audio gear that I wish I’d never sold is the Atma-Sphere MP-3, and I would recommend an audition. Very quiet, and the soundstage is fantastic. 
Audio Research Ref 6 has not sold me
Just curious; which interconnects did you try with the Ref 6? Did you run balanced or RCA? If you go to the Cable forum and read the recent "Balanced Cables" thread, there is some great information from Ralph of Atma-Sphere about the XLR pin standard and the undeniable fact that many amp and preamp manufacturers do NOT comply with the standard for various reasons, some good and some not so good. So, ARC, despite their lofty reputation and perhaps for very good, rock-solid reasons, does not comply with the established XLR standard (this is IF Ralph is correct-when I contacted ARC directly as a Ref 6 owner, they refused to comment!). If ARC had complied with the standard, in all likelihood the quality and design of the XLR interconnect would not matter that much but because they did not, it does matter. A lot. I have a Ref 6 and a Ref 150 SE. The manuals to each emphasize in unusually strong language that the owner should use the very best IC they can afford to extract the full potential of the two pieces. The manual does not make any distinction between XLR and RCA. The Ref 150 SE is XLR only, the Ref 6 offers both forms of outputs as you likely know. I tried five different XLR's at various price points and heard tremendous differences among them. 
Glad to hear you like the Steelhead (thats what I meant in my other post not stingray), I’m sure Kevin Deal at Upscale audio would make you a great price on one,he sold me my chinook, if you decide in the end to buy one. The Steelhead is a phenomenal device, I wish I could have gone that route, but I am very happy with the Shrimp/Chinook. Also, did I mention how fantastic Manley Labs customer service is? Great Company to work with if you ever need too. Plus they sell tubes too.

Matt M

Maybe a Simaudio 740p. Should have a more carved soundstage than a Mac. Little less midrange richness , but a liitle bit more energy ( prat) in the sound. Personnaly I prefer the Mac  midrange , as I find this bold  warmth perfect for my music tastes...acoustic jazz with brass and saxophone... can listen louder without ear fatigue.
Hello tomic601.  Yes, Audio Clasics took very good care of me too.  And they were great to be around as well (no snobs:).  Re: your ref 6 inquiry.  It seemed to be trying to get to a bigger stage than was being heard.  The sound was making its way outside the speakers towards walls (big stage) and some sound "location" seemed to be where it was trying to be.  It just did not pull it all together...  for around $15k it needs to pull it together... although, in all fairness it could have been the room too...  it was not the best.  Still, for that kind of money, I'd expect more.
Hope that helps and thanks for the recommendations.
Hedgehog and Matt M.  Wow.  The positive feedback that has been hitting me in the face all day with regard to Manley Labs... it is really getting me curious.  No dealers in my area... may have to make it a roadtrip!  :)
Atma-Sphere MP-3...?  Tell me more Hedgehog...
Here's another recommendation for Conrad Johnson for your front end.
I have the tube LP260M se's and also a ss mf2550 SE, paired with an ET5 preamp and an ET3 preamp, respectively.  CJ has stopped making SS amps, but they are great quality, offer really nice sound, and are very reliable.  Paired with a tube pre amp (each of which uses a 6922 tube) produces full, balanced sound with a nice soundstage and dynamics.  I really couldn't ask for more.  And, no, I don't work for CJ.  I just think they are periodically overlooked and shouldn't be because of the quality, sound and being made in the USA.  Cheers
Hello fsonicsmith.  My buddy has the ref 6.  Thinking they were Copperheads or Taipan"s...  in any case they are not "stock" cables.
Will try to read the balanced cables thread you memtioned tomorrow sometime.  Thanks for that heads up.  Fyi  ARC.  They do have quite the reputation.  A strong established one... but, does it overshadow what might be some other excellent gear is my curiousity... so, I'm hunting:)  All day today people kept referring to Manley Labs as a "boutique" audio company... while at the same time praising them.  Dealers visited today, that do not carry Manley Labs, yup, praised them... and would not have said a word about them if they had not been asked about....  David and Goliath going on here?  Need to know more!
Technodude!  :)  Am wanting not to give up some of one thing to get some of another thing.  Want to take some time and get it right.  Yes, I know, that is like looking for the Holy Grail, lol.  Well, someone has to find it:)  And the sax coming through nice is a must.
I am a Manley fan and love my Steelhead. But I also love my Ref 6 and Ref 150 SE. But yes, the Ref 6 does push the sound out to the sides of the speakers, particularly when not yet broken in. This lessens with time but never goes away entirely and I can not disagree that for some, this is a fault and not a bonus. 
audioglow I like your style! 

Great forum, great audiophiles. 
@audioglow the MP-3 is balanced, very well built, quiet and does most everything well. I paired it first with a BAT VK250SE with very nice results, but when paired with an ARC VT-100mkII the music was simply amazing and engaging. The soundstage was huge, but coherent from side to side, top to bottom, front to back.

The phono stage is outstanding and quiet. Some might be put off by the slightly industrial appearance, but I like it's elegant simplicity. These days, a new one is beyond my reach and they rarely show up on pre-owned market.

Re-reading my post, I feel the need to declare that I have no affiliation with Atma-Sphere!
Check out the C1100 preamp.  It would be a good match to your amp and just disappears when the music starts.  The built-in phono is pretty good but you can always try an Allnic if you want even more resolution from your vinyl.
Liamowen.  That's a whole lotta CJ gear yer sport'n over there!  I've heard of Conrad Johnson.  Will look into them next week.  All of a sudden I'm slammed until Monday or Tuesday.
Thamks for the heads up :)
Thanks techno_dude, much appreciated :)
Hello theother greg.  Will loom into Allnic next week.  Thanks!
Yer funny hedgehog.  No affiliation, ey?  lol
Question for you, Matt M, anyone else:
Has anyone had any difficulty with the noise floor of the Manley Steelhead, or, with its producing a hum due to IC's or other wires being to close?  Would shielded cables alleviate or help alleviate this?
I’ve never owned the Steelhead, but my Jumbo Shrimp and Chinook were very quiet - no humming noise. I used them with both shielded and unshielded ICs. 
Greetings fsonicsmith:)  Personally I like the sound pushing outside the speakers.  Regarding the ref 6 experience.
An analogy.  Some houses in the suburbs around here have houses all in rows.  A home shares a property line with a house to the left and to the right.  And their lawns meet at the lines.  So a guy has a tractor mower and he mows all 3 front lawns (the neighbors have push mowers).  He starts at the front of the homes and with nice cuts/lines mows until he hits the street.  So, this guys young son wants to ride that tractor mower sumpth'n fierce (what kid wouldn't:), and, the guy really doesn't want to mow (it's flipp'n hot out there!).   So two birds one stone, up youngster gets on that bad boy and... yeeehaw, gits r going.  Wellllll... there are loops n circles n zig-zags n more.  Patches are cut, others not.  Its a patchwork maze.  Some places they way should be and others not making it.  Kinda like my ref 6 experience.  The property lines are the speakers and the mower went outside the property line.  And the lawn got mowed, just not nicely or completely... it did not come together into a beautiful picture.  Granted the room or the speaker location may have played a role...  Hey now, I never said it was a great analogy, lol :)  Will give the ref 6 another go sometime soon though:)
Thank you!
Rats.  Atmo-Sphere MP-3 has no remote.  Which would be nice.
The Manley Steelhead latedt version does.

Any relatable info for:
Audible Illusions Modulus 3B, Ayre, or Simaudio 740p?
Yes, the MP-3 does have a remote.
Call Ralph at Atma-Sphere.
An Ayre KX-R or KX-5 would also work.
All the research done this week mentions no remote.  If you get a minute and can post a link that would be great.
Given what you're looking for I'd try to audition a VAC preamp if possible.  Although it may be a little low brow for this discussion, Don Sachs SP14 preamps are getting great reviews and he offers a short in-home trial, which is really nice.  Backert may also be worth a look. 

For a phono pre I'd second the Allnic recommendation and add the Herron VTPH.  Along with the Steelhead they all get consistently stellar reviews.  Which one has the right flavor for you?  No friggin' clue.  Best of luck. 

Yes, Matt at Atmos-Spere confirms there is a remote.  For maybe 5 or so years now.  I must be reading older material.
Thank you gdnrbob
Atmo-Sphere MP-3 has no remote. Which would be nice.
We do have a remote.

Editing the website has become a nightmare since we changed ISPs.
With your Mac amps, be careful of impedance issues with many of the non-Mac tube pre-amps out there  --  for example the CJ ACT II is a great pre-amp, but did not play well at all with our MC452.  I ended up using the C2500 with the MC452 to very nice results (but you definitely will want to roll out the stock tubes that come with any Mac pre-amp).    


I have a Steelhead and am quite happy with it, although it is kinda goofy looking. The remote will only control the volume, and no other functions, and only in the variable output configuration. It is by-passed in the fixed configuration. As for the noise floor/hum issue that you asked about, I had issues in this matter when I first installed it in my system. I tried placing the power supply in different locations in my rack, re-arranged/moved cables, all to no avail. I finally located the power supply out of the rack, and on to the floor in front of the rack. Problem solved!! It is now dead quiet !! The umbilical is plenty long enough for trying different locations. I have a picture of my system on my profile here, if you care to have a look, and you will be able to see it's placement better than I can explain it.

+1 erik_squires
Always address the room first.
It will give you half of what you hear.
If you don't know where to start, read Jim Smith's book Get Better Sound.
I use Primacoustic panels and recommend them highly.
Don't spend another dime on gear until you nail the positions of the speakers and listening seat and treat all first reflection points.