Specific Pre-Amp advice



I would really like to get some help from the Forum. Late 2017 early 2018 I am getting a new pre-amp. My options to hear gear are low (common issue). Probably be buying blind which I have done in the past in conjunction with research. Here is the run down. 

Budget: 2500 possibly pushed to 3k. Looking for used gear (pretty much ruling out new).

1. I am leaning heavily toward a tube pre.
2. I would like a remote but its not a deal breaker if it gets me better SQ
3. Line stage only. Don't really need a phono stage as I have a stand alone
4. It needs to be active. 
5. Feeding SS amp with 100k input impedance 
6. Primary used with Vinyl front end. Would like it to handle three sources. (Radio, Dac/CD and Input for TT)
7. 2 channel only no pass through needed or wanted. 
8. Single Ended RCA Connection. My amp does not have true balance connections 

Current System 

VPI Prime 
SS Aida Cart
MS Nova Phomoma 
Exposure 17
Exposure Dual Reg 4
Vienna Acoustic Mozart Grands 

I am looking to get more resolution. A more liquid sound. Bigger soundstage and get more of the recording space into my room. 

My preference is for an open/transparent neutral sound slightly tipped to the warm side in the highs. Slight roll off maybe. I like a fast quick musical sound with tight quick bass. Not looking for tube romance or rounded bass. I absolutely would like to stay away from bright sounding gear. Also super etched is not to my thing. I fall in the musicality camp. 

Any suggestions that would help me achieve this sound would be appreciated. These qualities defiantly take system matching into account. Pretty happy right now but I think I can do better.



darkstar1
I would opt for a straight passive preamp seeing your amp has 100kohm input impedance, a perfect match.

But you could:
Try the Schiit Audio Freya, as it can be a passive pre, active tube pre, or active solid state pre. So you can suit your mods. All with low gain so you’ll have plenty of range control with your volume control.
Plus it has balanced or rca input and outputs and comes with a extremely high quality 128 position relay based volume control, and it’s all remote controlable as well. For just $699 with a trial period, so you could send it back if you don’t like it.

http://schiit.com/products/freya

Cheers George
You just described the more recent versions of the ARC LS- series.  Mine is an LS-25 MkII and cost $2,500 used with new tubes a couple of months ago.
Cary SLP-98 comes to mind.
Interesting on the Freya choice. Way under budget. I don’t think passive will work with my amp. I read a post about someone not having luck with a passive with the dual 4. I don’t know the technical reasons behind it sadly. Maybe it just needs more gain?

I did dip my toe into the Schit line with headphones for a short period. I had the Valhalla 1 with Sennhieser HD600. Honestly I liked the sound but wanted to focus on one system. The amp was OTL and really that is where sound wise I would like to head but in a speaker system.

I will look into the Freya. It does not say its OTL but I will research it.
Randy 

Of the two dealers I have locally one carries Audio Research. I kinda of viewed them as pricey compared to the competition. I do realize on paper it really makes sense to suggest Arc. I have mixed feelings as some of the dealers setups leave me less than impressed while the main room with the high dollar Arc and maggies 3.7 does impress me quite a bit.

Some of the systems I have heard with Arc seen fade or bleached out while the one I love cost a fortune. Maybe I should go give them another shot and no the dealer would never let me take a pre home. He is not that helpful to be honest. 



darkstar1
I will look into the Freya. It does not say its OTL but I will research it.
No it won’t be OTL (output transformerless) you can see that in the attached circuit pic. But I’m sure it will be OCC (output capacitor coupled) the 4 big fat red ones, for each phase for each channel of the balanced output in tube mode.

http://schiit.com/public/upload/general/freya-PCB-1920.jpg .

Cheers George

For what it's worth, I did some detailed research on passive preamp stepped attenuators a while back for a different project.  The conclusion I came to was that the current products available from Khozmo were the absolute superior in any passive preamp.  Since you are running unbalanced RCA interconnects in your system (based on Exposure 17), a Khozmo Passive Preamp  Dual Mono with input selector (with what looks like 3 sources) is $558 shipped to US with all options (such as Vishay nude Zfoil and Takman REX shunt resistors).  They can be built with an impedance of anywhere from 10k all to way up to 200k, depending on the best impedance for your system.  That being said, this is truly passive and not introducing any sonic signature at all.  You are entirely dependent on the sonic signature of your turntable and amp.  Since your using a turntable, this might be an option.  I would not normally recommend a passive preamp for a digital DAC, unless you were using a tube-based DAC or a DAC with a nice Class A based output stage.

That being said, the amp may not have enough gain to work well with a passive preamp.  Some amps can have a gain as low as 26db.  While this can, obviously, work with passive preamp, usually people like to have an amplifier with a gain of 30db or more if they are using a passive preamp.  I couldn't find the gain for your Dual Reg 4 amp.

Since my experience and skillset is all on the solid-state side, I will refrain from giving a strong recommendation.  However, I did do a little bit of research into ARC in the last 8 months (just for the heck of it).  What I found is that ARC usually seems to be more neutral and fast for a tube device (definitely not slow or laid back like some tubes).  However, I did find that you could not try different tubes because the tube choice of ARC can only be obtain from one Russian manufacturer.  This won't be like swapping out 12ax7 tubes to get your preferred signature.  I will say that ARC puts a --tremendous-- amount of work into designing, testing and fine-tuning their designs.  All their equipment is hand-built and hand-soldered.  Their board layout and design are excellent.  All board traces are very thick and heavy for good current transfer in signal and power supply.  That being said, they are designing towards their own idea of the "best sonic signature", which may or may not be what your idea is.  Their listening room is also setup a certain way (they use a LOT of QRD diffusion panels on the front/side walls which may affect the end-result sound).

If I was into tubes, I would probably heavily consider an ARC preamp.  For example, there's an LS26 on audiogon now for $2489

Jeff Rowland Capri S for $2,495 on audiogon.  RUN!
Thanks for all the help so far. 

I guess I am going to listen to some Arc again. I am going to email the current president of Exposure. He responds quickly. Hopefully he will know the gain off hand. Also info about running a passive into the dual 4. 

Jeff Rowland has never been on my radar. Will do some research. 
In your budget range, you have a lot of good preamps to choose from.

I recently upgraded my preamp and ended up choosing a Don Sachs custom 6SN7 model 1:  http://www.dsachsconsulting.com/custom%20line%20stage.html

Base model is $1,699 with the following options available:

• Change one pair of basic 6SN7 tubes to Shuguang Black Treasure CV181z $129
• Upgrade from cherry case to walnut $40
• All film cap power supply using Mundorf Tube Caps $150
• Change one set of RCA inputs to XLR (balanced) using high quality Cinemag line transformers $225
• Change the output capacitors to one pair of Jupiter Copper Caps $60
• Change the output capacitors to one pair of Duelund CAST PIO-Cu (expensive, but even better) $375

Since all units are custom built, Don will build your preamp to match your particular amp. I can attest that Don is very knowledgeable, honest and really knows his stuff! 
A new Rogue Audio RP-5 all tube preamp sells new for 3,500.00.  I am sure you can get a used one for far less.  This is a full function preamp with an excellent mm/mc phono stage with many adjustable options.  It is fully remote control and I like this to my previous other preamps.
In my system, I much preferred the Rowland Capri to the ARC LS25ll. But $2,495 is only ok if it is the S2 which it doesn't say it is. The original sells for way less. No longer sure on tubes and active ?

Pass XP-10 is selling for great price these days, under your budget
darkstar1,

I am thrilled with the HERRON AUDIO VTSP-3A  tube pre-amp, and you might be too.  I run mine through a solid state power amp.  When I was looking for a pre like you are, I don't think I was able to find anything but praise for the Herron.  Hifi Shark shows that they have sold used under 3K.

http://www.herronaudio.com/index.html
If the dealer is not that helpful, then forget him.  The entire brick store idea has got to provide something to keep the mail-order channel at bay.  So let him go out of business, and buy from one of the many places selling new on the internet, or a private party with used equipment.

I'm a fan of ARC.  They sweat the details.  many great components for < $2,500 tho
darkstar1

As you correctly said your dual 4 is 100kohm input impedance, which makes it a perfect match with the Schiit Freya in all modes.
As not only does it have a great impedance match, but if you look in your user manual you'll see it only needs 1.2v input for full wattage output, so it also has a very good input sensitivity for the Freya being low gain in all 3 modes. You don't need a preamp with high gain, you'll be using the volume control down near zero.

Cheers George 
nordicnorm

Wow those like nice. I am not really into amps for looks but those look amazing. Starting to see a trend in my research and your suggestion for preamps based of the  6SN7 tubes. 

I also am looking for and upfront presentation. I prefer first 10 row vantage point. My speakers are laid back so I want to overcome it with gear that has a more forward prospective. With my current setup I have achieved this and would like to continue it. 
Exposure Dual 4 Reg has 24db of gain according to the President. So fully passive may be out. My research in the past found a thread stating the amp was not a good candidate for passive pre-amps. 

Guess it now makes sense. 


Exposure Dual 4 Reg has 24db of gain
As your amp manual states it only needs 1.2v in for full wattage (clipping) output. Most sources give >2v output, even many phono stages.

Cheers George

An Aesthetix Calypso is in your price range
Darkstar, you might want to check out Manley Labs Jumbo Shrimp ($2500 used with remote $3800 new) would be an incredible addition to your system then you can get rid of that Nova for a Chinook( do your Prime justice) ,down the road (night and day difference). Talk about adding tubes!  I use this front end and the results are sublime indeed. Also, I like the Modwright SWL 9.0 I heard they made a new updated one? The original sounds very nice. They make one of the best Phono stages as well.

Matt M
"Khozmo were the absolute superior in any passive preamp."  Unless you use TVC or auto formers that is!

Get a Counterpoint SA-2000 and send it to me for upgrades.  It then will sound better that anything mentioned above.  Or I can send you a 6SN7 design to hear.

Happy Listening.
BTW, you will want to upgrade your source material.  Based on your screen name, the newer Dave's Picks and other releases with Plangent technology should be interesting, and the anniversary releases of the regular albums too.
Modwright was on my list. The 36.5. Yeah the phono stage could and will be better someday but I need a preamp and a better record cleaner first. I also was trying to add the tubes in the pre and trying to keep the phono section with higher gain SS to reduce noise.

I Have compared a 3k Sutherland to Nova and it really didn't impress me. Way on the warm side. Bass was to bloated. It did bring vocals a bit more out of the mix but I didn't see it as a upgrade as much a sideways change.

Also heard Ayre phono stage. I honnestly think the Nova is pretty good for 500 bucks used. I actually think my pre-amp is the noise maker. It really is amazing for the price but compared to higher end stuff it does a have higher floor noise. Its also older and could use some maintenance. My amp has been recapped with high quality capps 3 or years ago.
Used CJ preamp will fit all the above.
Up your budget and but a Herron Audio VTSP-3a.  There might be a used one around.  Definitely hold out for it.  You shouldn't have to worry about upgrading the pre-amp again.
I've had Audio Research preamps and the Jeff Roland Capri. All very good, but not as liquid as the Marantz SC-7S2. 
I will +1 on the Rogue Audio RP -5 piece. I only have the RP-1 but it is built on the same technology with less features. The RP-1 create nice space and air in my system civilized my class D amp. The RP-5 utilizes 12AU7 tubes. It also has a user configurable phono stage which is pretty cool ( maybe you current unit already has that). My RP-1 has been performing flawlessly for months now so I am really happy with it. I called Rogue before I bought the piece from my local dealer and chatted on the phone. Very nice helpful conversation. Lots of reviews on RP-5 out there as well.

I primarily stream Deezer at redbook quality and also spin vinyl. Really love how Mofi vinyl sounds through the system.  My next move will be upgrading to an MC cartridge to see how the Rogue controls that.

Here is a quote from one of the reviews:
"I did not hear any vintage “tubiness” through the RP-5 — especially in the bass; the piano’s lower register was spot on. The hybrid design keeps the low end fast and clean. For a combo preamp’s phono stage housed in a full-featured preamp, the Rogue RP-5’s phono circuit sure is worthy of separate status. "


Here is the summary from Stereophile review on the RP-1 and again I agree totally with the "spacious" comment.

"

In summary
I believe that Rogue Audio’s RP-1 will join the ranks of such preamp folk heroes as the Dynaco PAS, the Hafler DH101, the Conrad-Johnson PV3, and the NAD 1020—and the Apt Holman, the Supraphon Revelation Basic, and the Audible Illusions Modulus. All of these are moderately priced, high-performance models that countless audiophiles have used to step up from receivers or integrateds to separates.

However, the RP-1 was more effective than any of those classics at preserving a recording’s vital energies. I believe that the RP-1 is not necessarily a stepping stone on the way to something better: I see it as a fully worthy final destination.

Compared to any preamplifier I know of at anywhere near its price, the RP-1 reaches deeper into the music to excavate a stronger, more precise, more spacious musical presentation. Most important, it delivers music that lives. Highly recommended."

Linear tube Audio MZ2-S. I just got one. I ordered it with remote and 3 inputs. Comes with a very good linear power supply. Biggest bang for the buck I've ever seen.

Randy 11

Keeping up with GD release seems like a full time job. I love a lot of the Dicks Picks. I have a few orginals and several of the MOFI releases plus some bootleg shows off the board on vinyl. I have never heard of  Plangent technology. Might need to check that out. My musical tastes are very diverse more so than many people. 

Ebm

I know CJ used to have a romantic/rich house sound and then it was changed. Is CJ really slightly warm to neutral now? Just another brand I want to hear but have not. My speakers add a bit of warmth and bloom. Trying not to go to far with a good thing. 

Bpolleti 

You pretty much made me aware of Herron in the analog forum. Yes I am interested in their gear. I was in St. Louis and talked to the owner and even though he was located in St. Louis there was no place to here his gear. Same situation with Well Tempered. Disturbed with dynavector out of St. Louis but you have to drive a good ways into IL country to hear that table???? They do make is hard for you to audition gear. I just assume buy blind then chase products around the country. 

A year or two ago I was in Berkeley and literal could not get the salesman to play the Nova phono stage. He wanted me to buy blind in an empty store. So I just went ahead and bought one blind for half the cost here. I have no ideal what many dealers are thinking theses days. I know it was not a make or break sale but dear lord I was the only soul in the store. That is pure laziness. 
darkstar1 OP
Exposure Dual 4 Reg has 24db of gain according to the President.
That's a much higher input sensitivity than what your manual states at 1.2v. It's 50% higher.

Cheers George
  
Plangent technology uses (IIRC) the bias signal to remove wow & flutter on old tapes.  Downloads of the hallowed Cornell show from the Betty board should be out soon, tho the discs are sold out.

I've heard the better Rogue amps when auditioning 3.7i Maggie speakers and they sounded nice, tho I did not compare them with other amps.

I have an ARC LS-25 Mk II pre with a Sunfire amp.  I may audition the Benchmark amp to see if it sounds much better.  I am likely to stay with a SS amp and tube pre - there is an entire thread on here about amps for Magneplanars (my speaker choice).  I can post my short list form that thread if you want. LMK
Yeah I have the Cornell show on vinyl ripped from the board. They sound really good. They were bought a year or two ago. 
If it were me, and i were wanting to improve on the same qualities you stated in your OP, and knowing that your speakers tend somewhat to the warm side, I would be looking for a newer all tube active preamp know to be neutral (as in not the classic warm sound). At your used budget there are many to consider. Like you I would have to do my homework prior to finding the 'one' 
Mesch 

That is the point of this thread. I have some preamps in mind but looking for suggestions from some of the people that swap gear often or achieved the same thing I am looking for in their system.  


Darkstar1, I understood, and did not mean to sound like I was 'talking down' as I believe you have rolled more equipment through your system(s) than I. I was only supporting a active tube pre route over a passive pre one for obtaining your goals. 
Yeah I am going with active. I don't really roll much gear. I think I am 3 pieces of gear from maintaining my system for a long time. Premamp, Record cleaner and possibly a phono pre. 

Yeah I agree I don't really want to take a chance on a fully passive amp. I don't like selling at all. So yeah I totally agree with you. I really am leaning towards a Used Modwright 36.5. 

I also like the idea of Herron or Aesthetix but it would be pushing my budget. I also have a rare dark horse pre that someone is selling now that I doubt will be there when I am ready to buy. I am fighting the urge to buy now but the would create a war zone of the home front and honestly it would be justified.


Must agree it is easier to buy than to sale, kinda like house shopping these days. Best to know what you truly want prior to purchase. 

Good luck in your search.
@darkstar1 Have you read about Backert Labs preamps? They are in your wheelhouse and if a smaller newer company is okay for you, their sound quality is pretty great. Tube rolling is easy, allowing you to adjust the forward/laidback perspective that you are interested in. I've heard them in about 5-6 systems and they have all been winners. Cheers,
Spencer
+1 on the Linear Tube MicroZotl2. It is amazing sounding piece that sells for less than 2K!!  My wife who is a professional musician actually noticed when it was in my system (on demo) About to pick up mine!I  Put NOS. tunes in it and it is sublime. I have had the CJ Art3 and it is in that class. The Backert, the Heron, and the Modwright are all excellent. 
That was supposed to be" put in NOS tubes and it sounds sublime"
 Baranyi this sounds interesting. I never heard of it. l like the Idea of OTL line stage. Thanks will definitely put it on the list. 

I have the Micro ZOTL and the newer MZ2-S pre. This is a world class preamp with a real world price. I can't even explain how good it is but if you read up on David Berning's designs you will begin to understand.
Well I like the idea of the MicroZ-s

15 day trial
Within budget new
Remote
Tube options
Added benefit of Headphone amp
Light Weight... could be moved upstairs for headphone listening easily

I just was forced to pick up a clean Technics 1200mk2 due to a unbeatable craiglist price. Let me just say its way better than I even imaged it could be. Hell I could use it for a headphone setup by the bed after using down stairs in the main setup.


I concur with those extolling the Herron VTSP-3A. I have owned several preamps from ARC and Modwright and while each had virtues the Herron is a far superior linestage. Keith is a pleasure to deal with and builds intelligently designed, reliable equipment and then supports his products in the field with unmatched integrity. While Herron is perhaps better known for the VTPH-2 phono stage, the VTSP-3A is an equally spectacular find. I'm driving a solid state Modwright KWA-150SE with mine (50K input impedance) and together they always make great music. At a lower price point I would look into the Linear Tube Audio MicroZ2s. I heard this with the ZOTL40 at Urban HiFi a few months back and though the system and room were unfamiliar they made very good sound. Mark and his team at LTA are great folks and are producing innovative, world class Berning designs at real world prices. Definitely worth checking them out! 
Dodgealum 

What great input. I know you can't exactly know where the Micro Z2s stands because you were not familiar with the room or system but please elaborate as much as you can or can take and educated guess on the differences between the sonic signatures between the Herron and the Mirco. 

Any input on sonic signatures/presentations styles and differences Between the Herron, Modwright, Arc and the Micro would be very helpful. I know not perfect but I am doubtfully there are to many here with the insight you have as you heard all of them. 

This is the exact info I was after and you are familiar with top choices including the ARC. 

Any info greatly appreciated. 
I made the jump from solid state to tube pres with ARC gear (SP6B then LS17) years ago driving ss amplification.  I liked the tube "laid back presentation" with silky highs but the mids were slightly masked and I lived with the low end bloom.  The channel separation and resulting imaging was not what I was used to having had dual mono ss pre's (ML and Krell).  Tube rolling improved the sound overall and it was fun to listen to (albeit with "euphonic coloration").   

Last year I went out and listened to an LS25 and some of the latest ARC gear...  I heard a friend's dual mono Balanced Audio Technology tube pre (with full access remote control) and bought it on the spot (VK-31SE can be found used for under $2K now).  The pre offers balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA ins/outs. For me, it offers the most realistic sound I've heard yet with the best attributes of tubes/solid state combined to reproduce music for under $2K.  The build quality is outstanding. The downside; this unit uses (4) 6H30 "super tubes" - sources are extremely limited so no tube rolling (and they're expensive).  I'm told to expect five year tube life so the life cost is manageable.   

Micatel
 
Do you find BAT warm moving from your SS state gear. Everything I read in marketing always states how warm the gear is. 


The ARC gear I had was much warmer sounding than the ss pre's.  The BAT I have is very neutral since changing interconnects to the amp (the mids were actually slightly forward with the cables I had been using for the ARC gear).  I can understand how some describe BAT as warm since it never seems to "strain" regardless of volume (great headroom).  

Dark: I enjoyed my time with both the Modwright (LS100 and 36.5) and ARC (SP16, LS26) preamps but for me the Herron had a better mix of features and sonic attributes. The sound of the Herron is very clean yet musical. Not at all colored, sterile or smeared. It is the quietest linestage I've ever used, has some very useful features yet is very simple and reliable in operation. It never inserts itself but rather allows the essence of what makes music enjoyable to come through in a very emotionally engaging manner. With regard to the LTA equipment, I would not venture any type of comparison since I did not hear it in my own system/room. I am very reluctant to make any kind of specific claims about a piece of equipment unless I try it for an extended period of time in my own system/room or in a system/room with which I am very familiar. That said, the LTA gear has unique design characteristics that merit consideration and Mark and the folks at Urban HiFi are stand up gentlemen who are very passionate about bringing David Berning's work to a broader market. If you are serious, they may let you try a linestage at home so you can see for yourself how it sounds. Best....