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I love the Schiit Freya+Blue Jeans XLR
you up and running for under $1200
The volume system is one of the very best anywhere.
Tubes can be instantly bypassed from the remote.
Unbalanced inputs can be balanced.
Changing tubes is easy.
Two sets of RCA outs for subs or recording or broadcasting via Bluesound
I’ve been running a Classe Audio Thirty preamp in balanced mode for many years. Given it was made in the early 90s you should be able to pick one up for a few hundred now. In addition to balanced out it has one balanced input plus RCA inputs labeled tuner, cd, video, and phono/aux. The phono/aux input on mine is used as aux as I have no turntable. Jumpers are included with it so you can switch it back to phono. I have a Schiit Modius on order so I can take advantage of its balanced input. While some have described it as mildly dark I have always found the Thirty to be very neutral. It’s the reason I’ve used it for so long.
I support the Schiit Freya + suggestion as well. I picked one up used at a great price, and it's been audio nirvana ever since.
I had a single ended headphone amp that had humming issues. I tried some of everything including changing power supplies but it persisted. I replaced it with a balanced rig and all has been well since.
I use the Freya + in my main system and wanted to try something different in my bedroom system. As with the OP, I would like to hear about more pre-amps in the sub $1K arena.
There perhaps needs to be clarity and (dare I say) agreement over what 'truly balanced' actually is, circuitwise. There seems to be different opinions.
Recently I have contributed to a debate concerning the Audio Research Ref Phono 3SE. This is described by AR as 'fully balanced'. Yet a glance at the back plate reveals phono inputs only.
When AR were questioned as to how the amplifier can be fully balanced, they said:
All very strange.
'The Ref Phono 3SE does not have balanced inputs'.
Why not? Many of AR's other pre-amps have balanced inputs using XLRs. What magic is the ;phase inverter circuit' and even if it works, why bother?
'What turntable are you using that has balanced outputs?'
Very strange response, entirely off-message. Turntables don't have 'outputs'. At this level everyone uses separates. The output is from the cartridge and can be connected balanced or not, at choice. I am afraid the responder is a marketing man, not an engineer, and knows little.
So is this amp 'fully balanced' or not?
Best to steer clear. As I did, and bought the vdH Grail SB that can be run fully balanced or single ended - has to be one or the other from input to output.
Can someone help please. AR don't seem to be able to.
IMO AR is not the same company since Mr Johnson left the stage. Pity.
OP, stay the course. You're on the right track. Those here questioning simply are ignorant of the sonic benefits by having a fully dif balanced system
Recently Paul McGowan put out a YTV which can help
If $$$ is tight you could get a Parasound 6 and use the XLR circuit only, then sell it when funds allow you to upgrade
TMR has a Audio Alchemy DDP-1 + PS 5 at <$1300. It's a fantastic pre Stereophile reviewed it in March 2000ish. I have one
For new, the Freya + is a no brainer for its price. In used, you should find many...
One of the Coda Contiunuum Preamps or CL or CLX... (these are all nice sounding)
Audio Research LS9, LS12
Muse Model 3 Signature
Classe 5 or 6 or CP47 or CP50
I suspect that the Gustard recommended would be good for the buck $700, but to be fair, I've never heard it.
I hope this helps, Tim
I went the route of Emotiva XSP. You can get it fir $700-$800 used but in great shape. Full balanced design. Lots of hookup options. It does not have a DAC so I added my own. It also has a home theater pass through to let you surround sound receiver or prepro use the front two speakers and amp. Later I will upgrade to a Rouge RP7 or RP9 which is very similar but is tube and a much higher level. Even if I upgrade I will not get rid of the emotiva it is that good. There is a matching DAC that is also worth more that I have. One more option. Get a really nice DAC that has volume control. Good luck.
When AR were questioned as to how the amplifier can be fully balanced, they said:@clearthinker The ARC phono section doesn't have a balanced input. The only explanation I have for this is a failure to realize that call cartridges are balanced sources? Or maybe they worry that dealers won't like it if it uses an XLR input. Dunno. At any rate it sounds like its a single-ended input with a balanced output.
My Triplanars were supplied with balanced connections (XLRs). ARC owns a Triplanar (I know people over there as we're in the same town). So this shouldn't sound weird to them. It does sound like you encountered someone in marketing that didn't really know what was going on.
Schiit Freya + is your best bet. I run it’s balanced outputs to the balanced inputs of my amp. Everything Else in the system is single ended and it converts them to fully balanced. Before running balanced I ran all single ended with hi-end cabling and the system sounds better fully balanced. Please note that my Freya+ took over 200 hours of burn-in before sounding its best.
If you want tube, the Freya is likely the absolute best for the budget. It can sound really excellent with some choice tubes.
For solid state, there was a suggestion for Gustard P26. I think that would be the way to go. On the P26, you can actually upgrade one op amp in each channel (since it's a socketed op amp). Put in a Burson Vivid V6 or a Sonic Imagery and you have a discrete Class A analog stage!
Therefore, expensive cables aren’ts as important also.Oh how I wish this were true!
I argue this with ignorant people on a regular basis. I can even hear the difference between 0.5 an 1.0 XLRs of the same mfg
I've made this point before on other threads but it bears repeating here: If the equipment used with the cables supports the balanced line standard (AES48), then the interconnect cables will not impose any important sonic artifact.
The proof of this is simple: if you've ever heard an RCA or Mercury recording from the late 1950s, the microphone signals of those recordings were passed through some very long (+100 feet) balanced line cables. This was before any exotic interconnect cable industry existed; quite literally the balanced line standard in use at the time **was** the exotic cable technology!
For some reason, the balanced standard is mostly ignored in high end audio. We made the world's first balanced line preamps for home audio and at the time (1989) it didn't occur to us to not support the standard. After all, if a method of making interconnect cables be absolutely sonically neutral and inexpensive, you'd think audiophiles would be all over that.
But almost right away, other manufacturers began making balanced line products also, and we saw that the standard wasn't being supported. Part of this was probably because to do it right you need an output transformer (or you do it the way we did it, but we have two patents on our technique, which is direct-coupled). I suspect that the marketing department thought that would be a hard sell or they didn't want the cost in the product. I don't know; I've never asked. But it appears that some manufacturers don't even know that there is a standard.
At any rate, if you don't support the standard, differences in cables will be audible, which isn't how its supposed to work.
One of the best tube preamps I have owned was the Aesthetix Calypso, which is fully balanced. Years ago, Paul McGowan of PS Audio claimed that his reference DAC at the time, the Perfect Wave, sounded best with no preamp in the chain and should be run amp-direct. He then changed his mind after he auditioned an Aesthetix Calypso, which became part of his reference system until PS Audio started making and selling its own tube preamps. I don’t see any used Calypsos for sale currently, but I would keep on the lookout for one. Years ago, I paid $2,200 for a Calypso, but have no idea what one would cost today.