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yes, it seems that there *was* a dumb assembly mistake that caused the problem - a clip holding the innards to one of the volume pots came loose, causing one channel not to work. i knew the electronics were ok, because i drive a second system in another room from the melos' tape out, and both channels worked fine on whatever source was playing on the melos thru that system. melos fixed the problem at no charge, and at the $1800, used, that i paid for this pre, i think it will see off anything near the price. (i have the music director) the melos sha-gold, at half the price, is prolly 95% of the sound of the music director, w/o the two-box separate power-supply and dual-mono construction. it's actually more user-friendly, w/6 inputs instead of only 3 on my m-d, and the sha-gold has what most headfone-users consider to be the best headfone amp available.
prior to settling on the melos, i tried a magnum-version of the rogue 99, which i actually enjoyed, tho i got poor bass-response, due to an impedence mismatch w/my system. (rogue sez that the 99's output impedence is 100 ohms, but my testing w/resistors across the outputs indicates 2200-2400 output impedence is more likely). i also was not crazy about the rogue's lack of a balance control or a tape-monitor loop. not having a tape monitor loop meant i couldn't use my dbx 3bx for compressed radio, unless i was willing to leave it in the signal path at all times, which i wasn't willing to do.
after i sold the rogue, i tried the cary slp98, which can be had for ~$1300 used. i really liked it a lot - more accurate & transparent than the rogue, imho, and better frequency extension, impedence problems of the rogue notwithstanding. also much more user-friendly, w/tape loop & balance controls. i prolly would have kept it, but yust after i bought it, i found the $1800 melos music director. my prior familiarity w/the melos sha-gold made me yust have to try the m-d - i figured i'd buy it & sell one or the other after comparing them. well, nice as the cary is ( and dennis had is fantastic, too), the rogue is in another league altogether - outstanding dynamics, transparancy, accuracy, soundstage - this thing has it all. at one point, i was investigating buying a new cary from audio connection in nj, and i mentioned i was considering a melos sha-gold for ~$800. a-c said buy the melos, & they felt confident they'd never hear from me about cary stuff again... ;~) i think they were right!
If your front end componets have beefy output stages, the amp has a high input impedance and you are using the preamp as an attenuator anyway (more on this later), try a Reference Line Preeminance II passive preamp. It will offer up a stunning amount of detail and dynamics (yes, dynamics from a passive preamp). It will NOT sound tube like but it will also NOT sound like solid state. Just VERY open, relaxed and detailed. They go for about $700-800 on the net. Otherwise, I too recommend the Rouges as the only active pre-amps I can stand. However, there is another possibility, kinda od but it works. The Music Fidelity X-Can Version 2 (Stop laughing!). Out of grins, I tried mine as a preamp by going to Radio Shack and getting a couple of adapters and pulling the signal out of the headphone jack. Wow was I impressed! Cheap, cheap and did I say CHEAP. Open, dynamic, with that palpability that the Rogues have....and only $250! Strange looking and only one input but it's definately high end. To see if you're a candidate for a passive preamp, just hook your CD player directly into the amp. Cue up a disk that starts out soft and builds in volume. If you find that you need to turn down the volume to get to your desired listening level, then you are using the preamp as an attenuator and all that active gain stuff is just in the way, causing distortion. That's why a lot of manufactures are going to preamp designs that are passive up to unity gain, and then bring in the active stuff after that. You do have a lot of GOOD choices out there for under a kilo buck....we all should have such problems. Good luck.