A Rogue Magnum 99 is superb (aboout $3K). A Mcintosh C2200 (About $5K) tube preamp tube-rolled with Mullard, Telefunken or Amperex Bugle Boy NOS tubes and Herbies Hal-O tube dampers is about as good as it gets. Just my $.02
I've had both with my Bryston 4BST and loved the combination. Only thing I liked better is selling the 4BST and replacing it with the Mcintosh MC275 tube amp; much more vivid detail, nuance and punch than the 4BST.
Try an Audio Horizons TP 2.0 with 4 Siemens tubes and all the upgrades from Joseph Chow for under $2500.00 new.
I've been through a dozen or so tube preamps in the past few years, this one made me stop looking and start listening.
There's a thread here on 3-16-06 about this preamp, check it out.
30 day trial period, can't lose.
I was running an all Krell system. I started with a Convergent
Audio Technologies (CAT) Signature MK III. I tried a Cnary 903 and have since gone to a CAT Ultimate MK II. I really like the CAT stuff. I opted to go with the one without the phono as I much prefer my ZYX phono stage. I did not want to have to deal with the phono stage tubes. I will say that the phono section in the CAT was also very good. I had some gain issues.
I have also switched to tube amps (Canary 339 monos). Once I started down the tube road I realized it is the sound I am looking for. Enjoy the music.
Mick Maloney of Supratek builds the most beautiful and musically involving tube preamps I have ever heard. He makes both line stage preamps and line and phono stage preamps. Even if you are only playing Digital at this time I would recommend a Chenin at $2900 or a Cortese at $5000. Once you hear the phono stage in these preamps you will be dying to get into analog! Don't get me wrong, the line stage is also wonderful. These preamps don't should like tubes or like SS, they should like MUSIC! You can check out his line at www.supratek.biz
I am using a DeHavilland Ultra Verve with my Bryston 14bsst,also have caldera wire to my Tyler Linbrooks.Great match,nicew warm sound.
And the ss stuff continues to lose its following.
So sad. But hey, as jjmali says, once you start on the road of tubes, its all about the music.
You could sell your ss stuff and get a big Cayin intergrated tube, like the Tri88, the big brother to the A88. Big,bold, dynamic. You may have to go through europe to order it.
Get an Audible Illusions 3A. You will never look back. It costs far less then the Rogue and the CAT (Convergent) and has a wider and more detailed soundstage. PLUS various 6dj8 tubes really make vast differences. I saw one for below a grand recently.
Wow! Such a great response. I'll be up late tonight researching these pieces. Thanks very much.
Jgiacalo: I've actually heard the Rogue 99 Mag. That's what started me off with this idea for a change. Great suggestion.
Imin2u: I've also heard the Audible Illusions 3A. What a wonderful piece, and a great value.
I had BP25 preamp and 7BST monoblocks for three years. On a similar quest I auditioned a conrad johnson premier 17 preamp in the system. This really changed the sound considerably and I wished I could have had that preamp in the system for a longer period of time to really get into the sound of it. As I remember there was a sense of heightened sweetness to the sound with more detail and 3 dimensional imaging. Overall, the presentation was softened a bit relative to the BP25 but not in a negative way. Extension top and bottom was just as good but again different, bass was looser and highs were soft not sharp. You'd have to do this experiment for yourself. In the end opted for an preamp and amp upgrade that went the Krell route, but that's anothers story. The upshot is that I listen to my second system most of the time now, the heart of which is a cj CAV 50 tube integrated.
I tried the Lector Zoe tube pre amp and it finally made a trumpet sound like a trumpet and a french horn sound like a french horn. I use mine with an old threshold 4000 class a amp with magnepan speakers and it sounds great. I think it is a good idea to have a mix of SS and tube components. If you need a powerful amp you usually have to spend a fortune for a tube amp. Try combining a SS amp with a proper tube pre amp. The Lector Zoe can take many types of tubes and should be easy to tune to a variety of systems. Look for them on Agon for around $1400 ($2200 list).
Manley Shrimp. $1880. Underpriced for both its build and sound quality.
I greatly enjoyed my ARC REFII MK2, used here should be within your budget. I replaced the stock 6l6GC and 5AR4 with NOS tubes from Kevin at upscale audio and never looked back.
If you are willing to spend up to $5k there are lots of great no-miss pre-amps available. BAT, CAT, VAC, First Sound, Joule Electra, CJ, ARC. Come to mind. Supratek also. For line stage only, I would think that VAC Rennaissance, Supratek, Joule and First Sound would be where I would start. I had a CAT and found that it was too "high gain" and iwth the stepped attenuator, it was a problem getting the volume right.
Swampwalker's response says it all: YMMV. I have a CAT right now (Ultimate), and I love it. It's a great preamp, very engaging, but a bit low gain. I have the gain up pretty high. It's both natural sounding and toe tapping sounding. It really exceeded my Modulus 3a, by a mile. But that wasn't the most recent M3a. It did have the stepped attenuators (more recent than old), but according to AI the most recent ones are much more dynamic. So, if you go that route, make sure you know what you're buying. Nevertheless, a used CAT Ultimate is under your max budget. It is very dynamic, which was good to offset the non dynamism of my Quad 988's.
Lets not overlook the Aesthetix Calypso preamp. It performs at a lofty level considering its price. Very well made of premium components and has a dynamic and lively sound while being extremely neutral for a tube preamp. Best if all your equipment is balanced.
Second the Aesthetix, I sold mine when I integrated my 2 ch and HT, miss it still. It is also extremely flexible and offers many features that several of the others mentioned do not.
Try a used c-j 17LS2 there are some available used.
if all you need is a linestage then the 'first sound' line is absolutely superb and is upgradable...mr. emanual go is a great guy also....he has separate power supplies and separate channel controls also...
Lector zoe and an aloia amp is what did it for me. It took another leap forward with a thor power conditioner. I have lived with it for a while now and I am still amazed. With good live recordings there is absolutely no sense of speakers in the room. Acoustic and voice would be hard to beat for my tastes. Keepers, although the aloia amp hums slightly.
The Lector Zoe is quite the preamplifier ,it has loads of headroom and it is miles better than the good T.A.S review done over 4 years ago now a mk-3 ,and being able to use 6 different tubes types let's you taylor the pre exactly to your ear.
70s 6h-30 Russian tube is a great tube for this excellent preamp.I have found No preamp in the $5k range that truly
betters this preamp in more than one dept,and I have tried several big named preamps ,one of the best buys in all of audio amd this also goes for their great
I would like to add that the preamp is still called the Zoe MK-2 even though their have been no less than 3 upgrade revisions since 07 that is why I called it a Mk-3
for the record.
I also had a SS system for years. I tried the Audio Horizons 2.1. It sounded good in my system but not great. I knew I would need the full dress 2.1 for about $3400 or $3500 and then nos tubes. I had just sold my Pass Labs X-0.2 pre and wanted to replace it with something that matched or exceeded my existing level of sonics. I also wanted to extract $$$ from my system without degrading the music. I found it with a 1 year old Aesthetix Calypso...added nos tubes for $300...still put $1200 back in my pocket and could not be happier with the preamp. So I third the Aesthetix.
Try Jeff at Highwater Sound in NYC
ARC or Counterpoint would be up there in my world.Thats what I did for years with Bryston amps,good luck,Bob