i vote for option #1, bat 50se, particularly if you run fully balanced. the ARC would be my second choice. CJ stuff is too warm and not my cup'o'tea. don't know about the joule tho....
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I am a dealer for BAT and recommend it highly. I have also heard many good things about the Joule. The ARC LS25MKIII, I would avoid.
I would also recommend an alternative to your system. Get rid of your Wadia transport and DAC and get an Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD Player. It has a remote volume control and tremendous output. It is very pure and dynamic sounding. I have not heard it's equal and frankly my comparisons show that it rivals SACD.
Since I am a dealer for the Audio Aero as well, it may not seem as objective as other's suggestions, but I assure you I can put you in touch with at least 10 people that share my views that have owned Wadia, Levinson Reference, dCS and many other top digital systems.
It depends on how would you enjoy and/or listen to. If you spend most of the time for music listening I suggest you should get CJ 17LS because this preamp has a warm, sweet sound and a lot of details at midrange and dynamic. If you like a digital music or movie I think the Aragon Soundstage is the best fit for this category. I own a CJ 17LS, which I connect to either a MacIntosh MC2102 100watts vacuum tube or a SimAudio W5 amps. The CJ 17LS is pretty much matching with those two amps and producing a fantastic soundstage. In addition, you can read reviews in Audiorevolution.com or Stereophile in May 2001 (I think!) But the best way you should go ahead to visit any local highend store to listen of audition a CJ17LS then you can decide to invest in those non-affordable budget's stuff.
i do not think you can go wrong with any of these. when you get to this level it seems to be a matter of taste of how we voice our system. well my vote is for the joule. i have not a-b'd the bat or cj (but do a search on audiogon; someone else has). i have heard the joule vs arc. different sound....arc is a little sterile for my tastes. jud (at joule) has a new la150 that is supposed to be better than the 400. i am sending my joule for the upgrade. good luck
In general, ARC sounds very neutral or even sterile as someone else has already mentioned. I own an ARC LS16 and have listened to ARC LS25 series. Also owned an ARC VT100MKII tube amp and sold it and kept my CJ amp but thats another story. On the other hand, I had a CJ PV-14L pre and it was sweet but rolled off the highs and lows way too much, in my opinion. I have not tried a "Premier class" CJ preamp though so I cannot comment on the 17LS.
I am currently using a McCormack TLC-1 passive/active preamp and like it better than: Adcom GFP-750, CJ PV12L, CJ PV14L, ARC LS16, all of which I own or have owned at one time.
I suggest the lamm ll2 It is so musical great midrange dynamics to die for and a nice punchy bass Just what the dr ordered for a digital front end No glare or grain like audio reseach stuff. it has great pitch and harmonic balance
classical sounds so good Forget about balanced interconnects Get high quality rca and you wont ber sorry.
Class A single ended to the very end!
Let me ask you something.....who has a Dual Mono tube preamp with dual mono power supply which is housed in it's own seperate chamber with LIFETIME warranty and it's also SET design with point to point soldering. No Circuit boards. Purist/minimalist design and under the principle of LESS is MORE. All silver/teflon wire inside. Remember DUAL MONO design with seperate power supply that's is also DUAL MONO, ie, each channel has it's own seperate power supply. Don't forget stone quite and LIFE TIME warranty....all for under $1000!!! Does anyone know?...I do....
Absolutely correct Abecollins....The DECWARE ZTPRE is a bargain. I can not understand why people spend thousands on crap like ARC or Conrad Johnson or Joule electra or Jadis (good stuff but OVER priced and probably do not come with a life time warranty or the build and purist sonic quality of the DECWARE)....and as for Redkiwi...very funny..lol
I would suggest making sure your speakers are well away from the side walls (shouldn't be a problem with your room) so the reflected sound shows up at the listening location with sufficient time delay to avoid smearing of the highs. I have avoided WAF unapprovable room treatments in this way and it works OK. Then....trade off the NHT. I found them terribly bright and if you still have brightness issues with Classe and cardas i don't think a tube pre-amp will save you. My 2cents anyway.