Thoughts on the best "budget" amp/preamp combo?

Hey guys,
I'm looking for suggestions for the best amp/preamp combo that I can find used for under $1250 (or in that neighborhood). I'm also considering integrateds, but really would rather go the amp/preamp route. I don't need tons of power, I'm driving a pair of fairly efficient monitors in a medium sized room. I would however like to be over 100 watts or so, and prefer solid state.
What do you think?
Thanks, Jb3
At that price and also considering you would need a decent cable of around $200 used to connect the two, I would seriously consider going to an integrated. An integrated such as the Primare A30.1, Plinius 8100/8150i would probably best most preamp amp combos at the price used. However, if you are sure about doing separates, maybe look to a Used Linn LK140/Kolector combo using Nordost Red Dawn, should be around $1300-$1400 used. Another may be the Belles 150A Hot Rod and a Passive pre-amp. Lastly the Marsh 100w amp/remote preamp combo may run around $1400 used if you go lower than that you may end up with a Rotel or Parasound system that an above mentioned integrated would outclass as a whole. Heck, even a bryston B60 would sound better than inexpensive separates. Its 60w go a long way with the right speakers, you could then spend more on your source. Best of luck.
The worst is thinking of $200 used cable to connect between amps. Think of $20 RadioShack or MCA (you can only get them from and spend the rest on good separates. I would highly doubt that Bryston B60 would sound better than McCormack separates(DNA1 with Micro Line Drive) with cheap wire in-between.
I'd also think of high powered integrated such as Plinius or Primare.
Hey, its all just advice based on my years of experience of trial and error. I certainly wouldn't want to come across as a know it all when I offer advice.

I may have offended with sensitive cable difference talk it seems. A blanket amount of $200 doesn't mean much if a model can't back it up so I should have been specific. A $200 used Red Dawn or Maple Audio Works Ambiance will clear up any thoughts on a cheap signal passer including the Rad Shack if the other equipment is worthy of the exposure. I easily hear a difference for the better with Linn Aktiv gear which is very revealing to begin with, the Red Dawn reveals more, period, or I would have saved my money. I also have Rad Shack and Linn cables for less demanding applications. I agree they are decent for cheap.

If a person likes a cheap cable just as much then its good, save the money. The music is what matters. I know what I hear and thats not for debate. Each person needs to decide, we don't have to be rude.

I didn't think McCormack was in the same league as Rotel and Parasound, plus I have never heard them so I left them out of my few inexpensive examples. There are many others that could be better than this or that for arguments sake but I was just offering advice on gear I have actually heard. I'd venture to guess the Bryston could be as or more enjoyable just the same. Again, I am only advising based on experience having owned many combinations including the Primare A30.1, Plinius 8150i, Bryston B60, Parasound HCA1200II, Rotel RB1080. 980, RC995, Belles 150A, various preamps. Now to my Linn Aktiv gear, which for musicality, I have not heard better but I am sure it exists.

Great feedback - kinda!
Look at the Parasound Halo amp and pre-amp for $1500
I've been very happy with my pre/pro combo and it's right in your range--conrad johnson 10 pre (can be had w or w/o phono stage), $500 and McCormack DNA .05 (100wpc and also can be had in Deluxe trim), $600. The CJ has two tubes, but they're a common variety , are easy to replace if needed, and mine have lasted quite a while. Good luck and have fun.
Marakanetz is correct...although I'd recommend the Signal Cable (sold here by Frank) for $36 instead of Radio Shack.

The point here is that when you're trying to squeeze the most out of your budget, put the bulk of it into the components. Cables are important, but not $200 worth - at least not at this price point.

I think that a McCormack DNA 0.5 and a TLC-1 or Deluxe Line Drive preamp will get you everything you're looking for and keep it under budget. Oh...and I'm pretty sure that most would agree that the McCormack separates will outclass a Bryston B-60 or even Plinius 8100.

You can probably find both of these pieces in excellent condition for under $1,000 delivered. Spend the other $250 on music.
A Naim Nait 5 Integrated (used at about $1000) mated with a pair of good, efficient monitor speakers is worth considering. Leave the money for good speaker cables or good interconnects between CD and amp.
AGI 511A driving either a Forte' 3, 4/4A or a 6/6A ( depending on power requirements ). If you shop carefully, this combo should be available for about $6-650 or so.

The AGI is a phenomenally fast preamp that makes other preamps sound slow and veiled. In stock form, it is capable of very good performance when properly set up. It also happens to have a very good phono section in it, one which rivals those costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. This preamp can be modified for world class performance due to forward thinking of the engineer and the very short yet excellent circuit he came up with. Obviously, one can "go to town" and spend a lot using premium parts or perform some very simple yet basic upgrades that are quite effective sonically and monetarily. Due to their age though, it is possible that any AGI's purchased on the used market may need a small amount of TLC. Keep this in mind for any / all used components that have been around for a few years or more.

One word of caution about the AGI. Since this is a two pronged power cord without being polarized ( both prongs are the same size ), one really has to check for proper plug orientation for best results. I have mentioned this to a few others running this preamp and they have told me that they can't believe the difference that this makes on this component. Then again, when something is designed for optimum performance, changing ANY of the variables is bound to result in a noticeable shift in the parameters of operation. Most gear isn't designed this well, so the differences in AC polarity aren't as obvious.

As to the Forte's, these are the "budget" amps that Threshold offered. The model 3 was built and designed by Nelson Pass and is a bi-polar design. It is VERY "sweet & airy" but slightly lean sounding in most applications. It is rated at 200 / 350 wpc. Nelson Pass sold Threshold / Forte' to PS Audio and the amps after the 3 were built and designed by them. Quite honestly, these amps are better than anything PS has ever offered to date by a wide margin. The 4/4A is a Class A amp rated at 50 / 80 and sounds very good with better tonal balance than the 3 but possibly not quite as "airy" or "delicate" sounding. The 6/6A is the Class AB version of the 4 and is rated at 200/350. It offers more headroom than the 4 ( obviously ) and can be a little "bloomy" or "full bodied" sounding. Depending on your power requirements and the tonal balance of your speakers, one of these is bound to work. The difference between the 4/6 and the 4A/6A is that the "A" versions offer balanced ( XLR ) inputs.

The one drawback to the 4's & 6's are that they use specific output devices that are no longer manufactured. With that in mind, a good tech could subsitute other parts ( for both channels in entirety ) and still keep the amp running with nary a problem. The parts for the 3 are still available, so that should not be a concern if looking at one of these amps.

All of this gear sounds markedly better if left on 24/7. Since all of these amps are of a high bias design, they DO run hot. If running a highly capacitive speaker cable or reactive speaker loads, i do recommend the use of a zobel network at the speakers. This will keep the amps from going into oscillation, resulting in more consistent sonics and performance regardless of the load. The preamp itself can't be turned off when plugged in even though there is a power switch on the front. All this switch does is to activate the switched outlets on the back of it. Don't use those outlets and leave the switch turned off.

Obviously, careful selection of cabling is required if you want to obtain the full potential of any system. Good cabling can be found quite reasonably if you play the "Audiogon game" on a regular basis. Using a system of this calibre WILL easily reveal the differences in cabling. As such, don't fool yourself into thinking that generic crap will give you the same results as more advanced cabling that takes advantage of higher grade conductors and dielectrics arranged in a more technically advanced geometry. A good pair of interconnects and speaker cables of reasonable length shouldn't set you back more than about $150-250 for a system like this. Lesser systems than something comprised of these components may be able to get away with lower grade signal cabling due to being less musical and revealing at the same time.

While i do believe that power cords can make a difference in a system, the AGI and the Forte' 3 both have captive cords while the 4 & 6 have IEC's. Either way, at this stage of the game and budgetary conditions, i would save power cord considerations for last after your initial investments have been secured and you are familiar with the potential of the components as they are delivered.

Please bare in mind that these suggestions are not to imply that there aren't other valid combo's out there. I'm simply trying to pass on some combo's that i know work well and offer phenomenal bang for the buck when properly set up. I haven't tried everything under the Sun, but i have tried these. I know that they work well together when mated as pairs to make up the back-bone of a very good but reasonably priced system that strives to offer "musical accuracy". Sean

klaus at odyssey just finished his new amp(100wpc)&pre combo.(1500 with speakers and wires)
its in your $ range when you delete speakers .

i realy enjoy my odyssey stuff(4 monos)
its not on his web sight yet,dont email him either-he hates it-spend a buck and give him a call, super service and a pleasure to deal with.
Best preamp at ANY price range would be the Adcom GFP-750. Nelson Pass's passive design is still one of the best at ANY price range and most people will agree on this. You can grab one in excellent condition for under $700. Which leaves about $600 left over. I personally like Rotel 2 channel amps in this range. Smooth SS amps. Rotel is probably one of the most underrated products in its price range. An RB 990, RB 1080 can be had for in the $500-$600 range. This would be a very solid combo.