Do you really want to correct deficient bass from your source with a preamp that adds bass and otherwise colors the recording? If you want that, you can do it as a much lower price point than $10K.
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How about a little more information about your system, and your requirements?
Do you require a full function preamp, or merely a line stage preamp? (i.e. do you need a phono stage?)
Do you need a remote control?
(And if so, can you live with a minimal remote, (i.e only control volume and mute), or do you want it to handle everything?)
Do want it to be a fully balanced design?
(i.e. do you use XLR cables?)
Do you have a preference between Solid State or Tube?
By narrowing this down for us, it will help us make a more informed recommendation for you.
My main suggestion is that you rule out any candidates that are not fully balanced designs. Besides the usual advantages of fully balanced architecture, and the fact that the Spectral amp is fully balanced, I say that because like probably all Spectral products the DMA180 has ultra-wide bandwidth.
Which means that keeping ultrasonic nasties such as digital noise from coupling onto the signals that are sent into it will probably assume greater significance than with amps that have more conventional narrower bandwidths. The common mode noise rejection of balanced interfaces will certainly be helpful in that regard, and with a very high quality system such as yours it would not make sense to use a component with balanced interfaces and an unbalanced internal signal path.
And if you end up looking for a tie-breaker between preamp candidates, my instinct would be to go for one with narrower bandwidth, say 100kHz, rather than the Karan's 300kHz rating, or other preamps that have even wider bandwidths. Again, to minimize the possibility that high frequency garbage will find its way into the power amp.
A case could perhaps be made in the opposite direction, that you want a very wide bandwidth preamp to maintain an overall system bandwidth consistent with the Spectral's, but in so doing your system would become wide open to the effects of radio frequency and/or digital noise that may be present, with little or no advantage as I see it.
05-14-10: WindowsxNot to dissuade you from solid state, but the Spectral amp specs suggest it would work fine with a tube preamp.
Can you be specific about what aspects of the tube preamp/Spectral combination you did not like?
What tube preamp was being used?
Lastly, since you seem to be headed toward a new preamp regardless of whether it will be the best solution for your bass issues, I would encourage you to try and audition the SMc Audio VRE-1. It's fully balanced, quiet as outer space, and would work well with the Spectral amp, IMO.
05-14-10: RleffConsidering the impedance and sensitivity specs of both the Atma preamps and Spectral amp, I do. IMO, there's no issue from a matching standpoint.
However, the question to Windowsx about what he found unsatisfying about the tube preamp/Spectral combination is pending.
So, until he responds, my answer is a qualified yes.
Tvad and Almarg, do you think one of Ralph's pre amps would work for him being a fully balanced design?I have no relevant listening experience upon which to base an opinion about how well the Atmasphere preamps would match up sonically with the rest of the op's system. But in terms of design characteristics, specs, and price the MP-3 certainly seems well worth considering.
Its 200kHz bandwidth is somewhat wider than the 100kHz I arbitrarily mentioned, but still seems well within reason relative to the issue I raised.
The MP-1 has a specified bandwidth of 400kHz, but in any event is outside the op's price range unless he purchases it used.
I second Tvad's comments, also.
My unsatisfying tube preamp...not that I dislike tube but I have tube system in my bedroom so I want to setup solid state system for this time. And I skipped DMC-30 for future upgrades of poweramp.
I may switch to something else at some points of time ahead. But yes, if I were to consider tube preamp for next ones, I'd like to try either First Sound or BAT.
For frequency range, I prefer wider bandwidth since Rockport seems to like it that way. I maybe wrong though.
05-14-10: WindowsxWhat was the make and model of the tube preamp?
I don't know that we have any more info at this point that will help to narrow the recommendations beyond a basic laundry list of what people like.
Well, since you wrote "I personally prefer fully balanced solid state preamps ...", I can recommend either a new Ayre K-5xe-mp preamp, or if you wish to get slightly better sonics, a used Ayre K-1xe preamp. (The K-1xe has the added benefit of an excellent, albeit optional, set of phono boards. These phono boards are near reference quality, IMHO, and a major reason why I bought the K-1xe.)
The build quality of Ayre products are top notch, and the sonics are fantastic. (Read any of the reviews of either preamp, and you'll be impressed, especially by the reviews of the K-1xe.)
The Both Ayre preamps have remote controls, albeit while the K-5xe-mp has a full function remote, the K-1xe has a fairly basic one, that only controls the volume and muting.
A couple of caveats:
1. I own the K-1xe myself, (and have for about 6 years).
So, take my recommendation with however many grains of salt you like!
2. The 1-series of equipment, including the K-1xe preamp has just recently, (as in the past month), been discontinued by Ayre. (So this means the prices will probably start coming down.) Used, they tend to go for around $3-4K, depending on whether they have the phono boards, and which version it is.
3. Ayre products are known to sound better via balanced connections than via single ended connections. So if you do use them, make sure that your primary sources do use balanced outputs. (The K-1xe has six inputs, 3 balanced and 3 single ended, and I use all six of them, with my primary ones, (phono, CD and SACD), being connected via XLR cables.)
Good Luck in your search.
The anti-passive nuts may come out of the woodwork but you have a great setup to try it on. A Placette or one of Jeffrey Jackson's transformer based units would work well. Unless you need the gain you are better off without the coloration of the active preamp. Cheap enough to try and why spend $5-8K when you can get better results much cheaper, that is unless you are one equates more money with better sound.
Well the question here really is which pre-amp is best for your needs. As has been said many times before, if you're going to use a ss amp, then add some balance with a tube pre-amp (eg: Hovland HP100) or if you're running tube amps, add a ss pre-amp, however based on your need for more low frequency oomph, at your budget level take a look at Nelson Pass's statement pre-amp X0.2. That is a serious 3-chassis reference pre-amp. There is one for sale right now on AG for $4200 that can't be more than 18 months old. That is a $10k retail pre to be had at a bargain.
The newer XP series preamps from Pass are better than the older X series. I had the X-1 and the now the XP-20 and the later is much better, though more expensive. Pass believes that the XP-10, a one-box unit is sonically superior to their former reference three-box X0.2. For less than $4K, I would look for a used XP-10. But I'm not sure I would mix Pass with Spectral. Why not at least listen to the Spectral preamp?
You're right Peterayer. Thanks for stepping in and commenting. The latest Pass amps have been reviewed as having a sonically neutral character, so I would have thought should work well with Windowsx's Spectral amp. I'd try to get loaner spectral & pass pre-amps and a-b test them with your existing rig.
Please take a look at the E.A.R. 912 preamp. I believe it can be had well under $10k and I highly recommend it. I've had it in my system as a loaner and I was very happy with it.
Has a remote and an excellent phono stage. Link: ear-usa.com
Do a search on it and read the reviews, competes with preamps well above it's price.