Tube Preamp suggestion for the uninitiated

I'm a graduating medical student from UW Madison, and have a relatively limited budget that involves selling off everything I own on ebay in order to afford nice audio equipment. (In case you wanted to know...)

Currently have some TAD Hibachi monoblocks and monitor audio RS6 towers, and I need some tube loving preamplification after my VDAC. I have about $900 but could scrounge up to $1k if deemed quite necessary.

Perhaps advice from someone who knows what they are talking about and has the freedom to buy and try a couple of preamps? Something with nice low end and to smooth out the highs? Please no advice if you've only owned one preamp and like it! That doesn't count!
Look up in the archives for views on the Conrad-Johnson PV 10, various, PV 11 with or without phono or PV 12 with or without phono. Formerly owned the PV 11. All of these should be about 1,000. or less. All good products.
Go with a Cayin 100 and sell off your current amps, that way you will put financial balance into the system.
I've owned TAD 150 Signature, VTL 2.5. Like them both and each cost me < $800. TAD phono section is not so good. My VTL does not have phono. Both have basic remotes.
Have not personally heard Manley Shrimp, Juicy Music Peach but have read the are also good.
The original Quicksilver Full Function preamp has extremely low output impedance making it compatible with a wide range of amplifiers and cables. Look for the later version with 5AR4 rectifier and stay away from modified units. This preamp is over built by today's standards and has been replaced by a preamp listing for $4,000.

Conrad Johnson PV-10 and PV-11 preamps are too boring.
The only preamplifier I can think of in your price range would be an Audio Research (I owned a SP9 MK II, SP11)before moving on to more expensive BAT tube preamps. An intro to tube preamplifers:

If you can stretch a bit/haggle I highly recommend this BAT preamp (I owned one for 8 years):

I've heard good things about Rogue preamps, I haven't owned one but evidently it's a good value. Otherwise you're left with a variety of preamps from China:

Jolida, Shanling, Shengda, Dared etc...
Congratulations on finishing med school! I agree with Buconero that you might want to consider selling your amps and buying a quality tube integrated. You'll also save this way by not needing to use an interconnect. Your speakers are fairly efficient at 91db with 6 ohm impedance, so any 40+ watt tube integrated will probably do the job. In addition to the Cayin, I would take a look at the Rogue Cronus and Manley Stingray.
I second the Conrad-Johnson PV-10 or PV-11. Look for one with a phonotage. You might want a turntable someday. A nice C-J preamp like this should come in a little under your budget, leaving money for some interconnects.
I am extremely appreciative of the responses that I have received so far. Thank you all very much for your time, experience and expertise.

Two mentioned getting an integrated tube...maybe this will set your teeth on edge but I actually had a TAD-60 that I sold to buy the Hibachi monoblocks on blowout ($545 shipped) because I wanted to try something different and heard good things about them paired with a tube pre. I liked the TAD-60 but the bass was a little loose and it was JUST pleasant to listen to. The Cayin and co integrated seems very cool but I doubt I could land one at $1550. Maybe if I send pictures of the cardboard box I live in (student loans are killer these days).

Speaking of interconnects, I heard Wal-Mart carries this great brand called Belkin, what do you think (I kid! I kid!). Actually, I need some advice in this realm as well. What is a good RCA interconnect that won't make me embarassed when my kids ask how much it costs as we eat white rice by the candlelight after the economy tanks (I still kid). I have heard nice things about Blue Jeans Cable,, Chrome Audio, and also some random DYI projects. However, you really believe that I have to spend more than $50 on a 1m RCA interconnect, please speak up.

To complete my ignorance, if you have any suggestions on speaker wire that follows the same vein as the RCA bit above, let us have it!
01-21-11: Eslaudio
... I agree with Buconero that you might want to consider selling your amps and buying a quality tube integrated. You'll also save this way by not needing to use an interconnect.... In addition to the Cayin, I would take a look at the Rogue Cronus and Manley Stingray.
Abso!ute Sound's review of the upgraded Rogue Cronus Magnum really has me intrigued. For a few hundred more for the Magnum version, the output power jumps from 50wpc to 90wpc, and is upgraded throughout with better caps and whatnot for better transparency. It has only one set of 8-ohm speaker terminals, but they can be user-modified (without solder) to 4-ohm taps. The review said that this amp has the transparency and realistic midrange we like tubes for, but also has wide bandwidth, deep, controlled bass, and speed more like solid state. It used to be that a tube amp that could do both (e.g., VTL) cost big bucks.
I don't know that you have to spend more than $50 but if you did I would suggest Nordost's Red Dawn, they are available used for about 150-220 on average. I enjoy Nordost with tube equipment especially as they seem to provide some edge or speed that is somewhat marginally absent without. Others may differ on this. Look them up in the archives for further info.
Preamps that I have used that you can get used for less than $1000 that you should put on your list are the Magus (with a very good phono section) and the EAR 834L (which is a line stage only). But, FWIW, I've never used either with a SS amp.

If you want a more neutral preamp consider the Quicksilver Line Stages.

The EAR would be my choice. It is a very simple tube amp (and it looks it!) in a small box with 3 tubes. Its tone is very flexible with tube changes (there are only 3) using new production (cheap)tubes and they are not stressed at all. So it is a minimal maintenance unit. Problem is they don't come up too often.

At this level of components Blue Jeans IC's and Canare 4sll speaker cable are just fine. They are cheap, well constructed, and well worth the few bucks you will pay.

Hope that helps a bit.
I would look at a used CAT. It was my first Hi-End preamp and is still hard to beat. A cheaper alternative, if you can find one is the Audible Illusions Modulus 3a.
awww, poor belkin getting thrown under the bus!

their pureav stuff is actually good - and really good for the prices you can usually find them.

their speaker cables in particular are really quite good.

poor widdle bewlkin.
The tube preamps from Mapletree Audio are supposed to be very good for their price. Another Audiogon member I know well is using one and he's owned the likes of the top end CAT and Joule Electra preamps. Same would go with a company like Decware. Great bang for the buck.

As for cables. Mogami would work nicely for a start. There are also excellent budget speaker cables out there as well. Someone recommended JW Audio advertised here on Audiogon and after taking a look myself am tempted to give them a try. One thing about cables, lots of vendors offer trial periods so don't be afraid to try out some and send back those you don't like.
I continue to send thanks for all of your great suggestions!
Audible Illusions tube preamps are excellent (you can probably get a new one model 3A for $1200) as well as the old Counterpoints if you can find one cheap. The Rogue 99 is nice with CBS 6SN7 tubes (the tubes are cheap and work great in this preamp) and the Mapletree (6SN7 based) is a good choice. ALl these IMO are much better then the CJs and Quicksilver in my comparisions.

As far as ICs try the auctions here on Agon that have a money back trial period. Or make your own.

Happy Listening.
The main problem with tube preamps in this price range (used) tends to be noise - not in the sense of prominent spitting and motorboating like cheap tube equipment, but they obscure detail compared to better tube pre's or solid-state designs. You also don't tend to get much of a power supply. Unfortunately, things start to get a lot more interesting around $2k.

I would second the above recommendation of a used BAT (they're differential balanced and relatively quiet).

Another well-made preamp that can be had for a bit more than $1k is the Sonic Frontiers Line 2. It's unspectacular, but does less harm than most things in this price range (it's also fully differential balanced and quiet). It has a good remote and an outboard power supply, which is unusual in this price range.

One of my dealers thought so little of the Audio Research LS-2B it that he insisted that I order the $800 cheaper LS-3 (which I did).

The Audible Illusions are solid high-end preamps and have outboard power supplies, but customer support is notoriously poor. The circuit does not have a soft-start function or tube rectification, and because most people running it turn the preamp on and off, it blows tubes a lot as a result - it's an excellent example of the need to keep most small-signal tube gear powered up 24/7 in order to extend tube life. It has hot-rod dual volume controls (a separate volume control for each channel), which some people find annoying (notwithstanding the improved performance), and no remote. It has a very good built-in phono stage.

The CAT is a true high-end preamp, but even the Mk. I's usually go for $2k. They also have too much gain for a lot of amps (there's too little range in the volume control), and don't have a remote. The power supply is hardwired to the main console with a super-thick, inflexible umbilical that could tether the Queen Mary to a dock - it's user-surly in this respect. It has a very high-quality on-board tube phono stage.

I would steer clear of entry-level conrad-johnson gear.

The vast majority of tube preamps have difficulty driving long interconnects - try to keep the interconnect running between the preamp and power amp to two meters or less. And whatever you buy, retube it before running it (the beauty of tube equipment is that when you retube it, you basically have a new piece if gear). Preamps have a subtle effect on the sound of a system and can take a long time - months - to properly evaluate, so be patient. "Subtle", however, does not mean unimportant - quite to the contrary, as every good system has a good preamp. Good luck.

Oh, interconnects - Kimber Hero works very well in a lot of systems, but it's unshielded, so it can be noisy in the wrong system.
My constant answer the amazing AES AE-3 for much less than your budget but hard to find on the market. Only one dealer has any new ones left and it is heavily laden with expensive upgrades including a special paint job from Upscale audio, virtually doubling it's price . The plain Jane model is super but you have to find one used. I use one that cost $350. The rest of my system BTW retails for about $15K and I have no sense that I can really upgrade to anything else. I did roll some great tubes into it but any good OS tubes will improve it.
Another crazy solution to your problem is to buy a recapped refurbed vintage tube amp. I am using a Fisher 400 while in temporary exile that continues to amaze me. It may be a stretch to get a lot of volume out of such an amp but if you don't play too loud it's very good. These amps always have tube phono sections.
Now the best part of your medical career begins NOT! I know.
Mechans MD
Okay...well, I caved and went with the TAD-150. I'm sort of inbred here, buying all TAD gear, but I've been thrilled and it appears that many others have out there. Thank you for all of the wonderful advice. I'm going cable shopping now!
Thumbs up on your decision for the TAD-150. I had one for about 3 years or so. It just sounds right, musical, and throws a wide sound stage. If your finding your system dark/bright look to your other components. This preamp is dead neutral. The preamp is built very well but there is one thing to watch for. I was moving my preamp one day and accidentally pushed in one of the plastic display lens for the tubes. They are only attached with adhesive. Enjoy!!!!!
duly noted. Thank you.