CD-transport : EAD T-7000
Pre/Processor: EAD TheaterMaster Signature
Power Amp : McIntosh MC-162 (160x2)
Speaker : B&W Matrix 805
A lot will depend on speakers you are using or want to use...
I would consider starting with a good tube integrated amp and go from there. According to your stated musical preferences I would go with a used Cary or AE or other better tube integrated whih has pre-amp out jacks so you can add a more powerful tube amp (or use the SS amp you already have when desired. The tube integrated will also elimninate the beed for matching interconnects and let you have the option of having both a tube system and the current SS system you already have.
If you really want to keep with seperates and are wanting to retain and use seperates you already have...go for the tube pre-amp first.
We can't really answer the "sound" questions as posed, exactly, because it's so very dependant on what gear you're actually using. Speaking VERY GENERALLY, though, the tube amp will give you the full "tube sound" right from the start, with either a ss or a tube pre. A tube pre may give you much of the smoothness and musicality of the tube treble and midrange, without sacrificing much detail and bass "punch", when mated with an appropriate ss amp. Neither is necessarily "the better approach" - it completely depends on what type of sound you want. Since you emphasize detail, I'd probably suggest the pre-amp first, but you'll find advocates for both approaches. Note that pre-amps generally use fewer and less expensive tubes, which can be a consideration when buying used.
The last question is a stumper - almost any tube pre or power amp is great for that kind of money ;) Right now, just on this site, there's a Dynaco ST-70 for $250 (a venerable amp with a bazillion upgrade options and a huge knowledge base available to consult); a Moscode 600 hybrid for $600 (I have a 300, which needs attention but still makes lovely music, in their day these were wonderful bargains and to my ear, still are); a couple Anthemn Amp 1s and Jolidas on the lower end, not to mention some QuickSilver Monoblocks in the $900s. For pre-amps, there's an ARC SP-14 for $900 (ARC makes good stuff, though I don't know the SP-14 at all); a Conrad Johnson PV-10a for $650 (nice unit with phono stage); and several QuickSilvers, other CJs; etc. Personally, I'd go with the PV-10a to start out, it's a reliable performer with a nice sound and a good resale (important when you want to upgrade!), but I look forward to the other answers you'll get as I know there are far more experienced tube-o-philes around. Good luck!
Supakit, I would suggest you follow Sugargrie's recommendation and try a good used tube linestage in your system. I have found that the linestage can have a greater impact on the overall sound of a system than most people realize. Amplifier choices are often highly speaker interdependent: there is a strong synergy that makes matching the two a sometimes challenging process for optimal performance. The linestage will be much less system interdependent and will allow you to experience the values that a good tube component can bring to your system. As others have recommended, the Conrad-Johnson PV-10AL is a very good choice to try.
In order to stay happily married, I have to hide most of my gear in a large cabinet. My tube preamp was slowly cooking itself to death in there so I sold it and got a Classe preamp, which I use with Quicksilver Monoblocks (they hide behind my speakers). The Quickies are little loose on the bottom and the Classe tightens them up a bit. If you get a tube amp you should plan on changing your speaker cables to something more revealing.
If you want to try a tube preamp, I recommend trying an Audible Illusions. It's what I would have bought if not for the cabinet constraint.
a new from Italy; I suggest you for Jazz Music, to change before your pre-amp; the best choice is ARC SP 10 MkII, but is more expensive than 600-800 USD (sale your car and buy it!). For power-amps is different; it largely depend from the kind of speakers that you like, if these work in low impedance I suggest KRELL or similar; if work in normal impedance, you can try tube power amps (if you have high sensitivity speakers buy a good 7-8 Watts mono-triode tubes, if not a more powered amp, but always acording with speakers).
And remember that the final test is to listen in your room with your ears!
From Italy. Diver.
while either way can work, at yer budget, i'd suggest going w/the tubed preamp. imo, ewe really have to spend big bucks on a tubed amp to get it *all* - the joy of toobs, w/o giving up what solid-state amps do so well. i don't tink this is the case w/pre's - in fact i tink the opposite is true - i tink ya gotta spend big bucks on a solid-state pre to get it *all* - the goodness of solid-state w/o giving up the joy of what toobs do so well! :>)
i *highly* recommend a melos sha gold reference or sha-maestro (their last iteration of this pre). it's in yer price-range, & it's a great-sounding pre - wonderful toob sound that gives up *nothing* to solid-state pre's. in my toob-pre search, i considered the audible illusions, & actually owned a magnum-version of the rogue 99, and the cary slp98 before ending up w/the melos music-director (the top-model melos). i ended-up trying the melos because of the sha-gold i'd heard a few years back. in my search, even a couple dealers that carried the audible illusions, rogue & cary, said the melos was better if i could find one...
good luck, doug s.
Start with tube preamp! Many tube power amps don't perform best with SS preamps due to impedance matching. Try EAR 834L or Joule Electra LA-100MKII ( $1050 in audiogon now ). For less money and good result, try counterpoint 5.1 or foreplay ( visit audio asylum bottlehead forum ) and tweak the unit yourself. After you get the preamp get some NOS tubes for the unit.
I'm having difficulty with this, but thought I should add my comments anyway. The problem I see is that the EAD theater master is being used as a D/A and a pre-amp. It may also be used as a surround processor as well--I don't know if this is the case, but I gather that it is. To add a tube pre-amp is to add another device in the signal processing chain. This, at times, can be beneficial. For example, if you were using a turntable and didn't want your analog converted into digital (EAD converts everything to digital). You could also make the argument that EAD volume is in the digital domain and therefore cutting off bits of information. By using the EAD tape outs to the pre-amp you would preserve the digital data. And another concern is that if you are using the EAD as a surround processor, you would need a tube pre-amp with a bipass circuit for theater use. (It's true you could just have a calibrated point on the volume for the pre-amp, but that's not very convenient). There are not many tube pre-amps(none that I am aware of) that have this feature. I have read somewhere (might have been on audiogon) about a modification to a tube pre-amp to do just this. At any rate these things should be taken into consideration. So, if you don't change the pre-amp, what to do with the amp. Well, Sedond was right, it takes a lot of money to get a really good tube amp, particularly at power levels that you are used to. I don't know if you need all that power, but if you do, I don't think you will find something you will be happy with in the $500-800 range. So, my 2 cents is to take into consideration the caveats of a tube pre-amp with your system. If those are not a concern to you--that's the way to go--I also agree with Sedond's recommendation of a pre-amp. If not, wait until your budget allows you to buy more tube amp.
Supakit, adding to the above, I suggest you AUDITION a reasonably priced tube (good recommendations above, IMO) on yr Mac. You like jazz, percussion, etc, if I read correctly, you will appreciate transient attack. So, go for a tube pre w/ good power supply, and fast. You may want to try a tube that matches *reasonably* with your Mac -- keep in mind that you may wish to chage yr amp in the near future, as diver suggests. In my (limited) experience, doug's suggested melos offer superb sound. Again, IMO go for reasonable sound w/ the Mac: you may be keeping yr new pre and looking for a new power soon enough.
supakit, abstract 7 is rite *and* wrong: he's rite in that if ya use the ead for a home-theatre set-up, ewe may want a pre w/a processor loop that will default to the ead's controls when switched to this loop. this allows *all* the speakers - even the two main audio speakers connected only thru the main preamp - to be controlled by the processor's wolume controls. he's wrong about there not being many toobed pre's that do this - arc, bat, sonic frontiers, & vtl are toob pre's that come to mind, that have this feature. i'm sure there are more. if ya get a pre w/o this feature, the only disawantage for home-theatre use is ya gotta use a standard tape-loop for the processor, which means having to adjust both units' wolume controls. having remote wolume controls for the pre & the processor make this only a minor inconwenience, tho, imo. but i'm not into home-theatre, so perhaps it's more of a problem then i assume... ;~) the melos, btw, while not having a default processor loop, *does* have remote wolume/balance controls...