Your right...too much to keep up with. I just did a major system reconfig, and went from a Lexicon DC1 to a Sonic Frontiers Line 1. As I dropped off my Lexicon, I wanted to take it back fearing the same as you...what if I made the wrong choice!?!?! Well, the Line 1 rocks, and I am happy. There are some quirks with the Line 1 I did not expect, but there will always be quirks. Some name brands I would recommend in your price range are Sonic Frontiers or BAT. I'm sure there are many others, but can't speak intelligently about them.
Nothing wrong with small companies...I'd recommend getting someone from that company on the phone and get a feel for them. I have been impressed with companies like Transparent, Tice, Von Schweikert and Tyler Acoustics since I always end up speaking with the owners.
You don't live your life constantly second guessing every decision you make, do you? Well don't build your stereo like that either. This hobby is supposed to be fun, neurotically obsessing that you haven't bought the perfect component is the road to unhapiness and disaster. Everyone always knows the grass is always greener. So listen to what you can, find something you like, and enjoy it. Having said that,some small companines make great products and so do some larger companies. If you've amassed research, which it sounds like you have, select one of the three of four models you've narrowed it down to, choose one and be happy. And remember, if you ever decide to upgrade you can always sell it on Audiogon. Good luck!
In your price range, you could easily get a CAT SL1 mkIII. I auditioned about a half dozen preamps and the CAT was my favorite. It's reputation is well deserved. It is not excessively tube-y or overly dry, it's built like a tank, and really has no sonic signature except that it's not solid state. It sounds right for all types of music - and I listen to them all: classical, rock, jazz, electronic, ethnic, funk, blues, R&B etc. Plus, they hold their value well and the company is very responsive if you have issues...
for less than $2k you could find a rogue audio 99 magnum tube preamp either used or a dealer demo. call rogue and speak to mark o'brien. he is honest, reliable, trustworthy and will help you in your decision making process. his tube amps are downright bargains in the hifi world and deliver incredible value. mark is the type of guy that will tell you NOT to buy one of his amps if he feels it will not serve your needs. he is a pleasure to talk to and has gone WAY out of his way to satisfy his customers. for example, my 99 magnum was purchased through audio connection of verona, nj as a dealer demo. ups delivered the preamp after dropping it and smashing a corner of the sweet aluminum faceplate. i contacted mark who proceeded to file a complaint on my behalf with ups. within 2 weeks i had a new faceplate sent to me at no charge whatsoever. btw, replacement plates run about $80 from rogue. if you don't know, rogue offers stock and magnum models of all their amps, the magnums being outfitted with better caps, resistors, tubes, etc the stock amps are good, the magnums are at another level altogether and i would advise this route. however, stock amps can be factory modified to magnum status anytime you want.
my personal experience with the rogue 99 mag has been heavenly. the soundstaging is immense and the amp is pleasantly transparent. i will not bore you with more adjectives and anecdotes, the rogue amps need to be heard within your context. i'm confident the 99 will not be a letdown but rather a revelation at just how much you can get for uner $2k.
I'm very happy with my Atma-Sphere MP-3. The line stage is under 4K, more if you want to add phono (great phono stage, btw). It does run only balanced outputs although that can be adapted.
Yes, it can be Frustrating ( choosing ).
Thats a Great price range for a TOP tube PreAmp, you should be able to pick up a Very Good 1( here on audiogon ) - and it should make quite a Big difference ( I've tried many others )! Too bad you can't audition some on Your system.
Presently using a Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) VK-5i ( I bought on Audiogon for $1885.00 about 1 year ago )and just love it. The Sound of my VK-5i is Incredible, can't imagine it getting any better. But it will once I upgrade!
I am ( in a few months ) going to upgrade it to VK-50SE Status. The VK-50SE is considered 1 of the BEST Tube PreAmps ever made ( Class A - World Class ALL the Way). I have Not heard a Better Sounding ( or seen a better built ) Preamp. You can probably pickup 1 on Audiogon at a good price. Good luck.
Speaking of PreAmps, you might want to look into the Hovland, a great tubed pre, that you could most certainly buy here on Audiogon. It doesn't, however, have a remote. Other PreAmps of note are the Herron, Joule Electra's LA-100 and, of course, Cary (the 98 or the 2002). All of which, I believe, fall within your price range and sound very nice indeed. I would agree, that being able to listen before you buy is highly recommended.
Don't be afraid of spending less money. If a Audio Research LS15 should be available... buy it. Go to www.audioreview.com and check out what others have said. There are almost eighty reviews. If 80% are lying you still end up with one of the most highly thought of preamps on the used market. twelve hundred would be a fair price.
Check out the First Sound Presence. One is being auctioned here. This preamp is the only thing that this company builds and it does it very well. Probably among the best in the business if not the best. An upgrade path is available if you find it necessary, but the model being auctioned has satisfied many audiophiles as is. Musicality, detail, base, dynamics, build quality-this one has it all.
I have to chime in with the sanity pleas. I know that I lost some hair looking for my last pre-amp. I got a great deal on a Melos MAR 333-which runs balanced or single ended and can be had with a great phono section..the R in MAR means that its been to MElos Audio Restoration and has been updated with a new linestage-no more mosfets, just wired point to point. george Wright makes some great pre amps and great phono stages-www.thewright-sound.com-and i have to chime in on the excellence of atmasphere and joule pre-amps. Some rooting out may be done by your choice of running balanced or single ended, remote or not etc. If you find yourself in the middle of a demo and you realize you forgot what you were listening for and are just listening-that's the one.
its not really possible to make any helpful suggestions without knowing what system your preamp will be used in and what type of sound you like, i.e. warm, neutral, cold. do you need a phono, etc. as for generic advise, i would stick to well established names and buy their best models used. you can keep a good preamp for a long time provided the manufacturer stays in business and can provide parts and service. think conrad johnson, arc, bat, sonic frontiers, etc. (I'm still running an 18 year old arc sp10 and its now worth more than when i bought it 16 years age!)
Go with what have been proven names and are value!I was looking to upgrade my setup and I was going to get an ARC LS9MK.II and I wish I had now.If another becomes available I might wehn I have the $$.
ARC-Used are cheap!Great Value for the $$!
Blue Circle Galatea has a splendid volume control using Shallco ladder attenuators. CAT SL-1 Signture and Ultimate preamps use a series stepped attenuator whose lack of transparency I finally couldn't stand. (Their signal is put through many, many solder connections.) I'm a passive preamp fan myself, but if I weren't I'd certainly prefer the Blue Circle over anything by CAT. Some designers are wizards at circuitry, power supply regulation, and the like, and while these aspects are hugely important, a lot of their virtues can be thrown away through a mediocre volume control, IMHO.
Hey, lawrencegrac: I find it interesting that you would consider BAT a "proven name" seeing as how their first product was introduced in 1995. BTW, Sonic Frontiers is no longer in business as a 2 channel tube preamp manufacturer although parts must surely still be available through Anthem. Maybe our friend should also consider another real proven name, Conrad-Johnson. My Atma-Sphere preamp manufacturer has been in business 21 years.
I thought of C-J!I have heard about Atma-Sphere,but they are real pricey of what I remember!Antique Soundlabs,VTL,Classe',EAR and whatever happend to Quicksilver?
I read a post that was placed today about the Vol. Pot. Atennuator being of poor quality or maybe he had Gain problems or mismatch.
Stepped Vol. Pots are a real pain!Wonder why they did not suggest just modifying it?
With the Used market having a great selection of Tube Pre's it is a buyers market.Most people are turning towards the HT setup which is a good thing for those of us who look to 2-Channel playback.The guy who designed Spica's said he lost intrest after the move toward HT.Seems like it makes it a plain great market for us!I will get a Tube Pre-Amp and use my Lexicon CP-3+ when I need to watch movies!
You are correct. It does seem to be a buyer's market.
"I have heard about Atma-Sphere,but they are real pricey of what I remember!Antique Soundlabs,VTL,Classe',EAR and whatever happend to Quicksilver?"
I believe the gentleman mentioned 2 to 4K as a budget. That would include the Atma. Good suggestions on Antique Soundlabs and VTL. I don't think Classe makes tube gear and EAR seems to trying to turn it's back on tubes. Quicksilver is still around, tho'.
Yes, I'm all for people going to HT. More good 2-channel gear for me (heh-heh). Personally, Home Theater is O.K. for taking a break from listening to a good sound system in the dark, but I wouldn't want to spend a lot of money on it.
Your probably right about Classe,but I thought they made Tube Stuff before getting into Hybrids!
I did not wnat to go to far into a HT setup so I got a Lexicon CP-3+ and a B&K 5ch. amp to use for suurounds which was my alternative to getting an ARC tube amp for now.After I get my all my NEAR Speaker's I will look into getting the Pre-Amp.
My goal for a Frontend Amplification is a ML amp mated with an ARC or Tube Pre-Amp which is the finest setup I have heard for my speaker's.If getting a nice used ML for the Front is to pricey I will look into something like PS Audio's HCA-2 (new Amp) or there might be something better for less by then!WOuld not want to venture into all Tubes with all metal driver speaker's!
Will try harder to keep abreast of the changes in the Audio World as it's been a few yrs. since I have been seriously into it.Seems I drift back after awhile!Have been putting together a Mid-Fi system for a friend and have been re-tooling my system with new Speaker's and another go at a HT system!I hated my HT system when I tried to do it 7yrs ago and this is another attempt to see if it will be suitable without messing up my 2-Channel playback!
Best thing that has happened is finding NEAR's through the Designer and former president of the Co. who now works for Apogee!Got a pair of NEAR M15's with a spare set of Tweeter's and newly designed Woofer\Mid Driver's that are incredible($350).Went to audition B&W CDM 1NT's and these things blow them away.I have a Sub that goes down to 25Hz and the speaker's go down that far ,but the Sub adds a little more Impact!
M50's being refitted with a new crossover making them the most advanced version ever made.$2550 and I will pay $1000.Incredible speaker's for the cash!
NEAR's are in the same league as the Watts in my opinion having close to the same Tweeter in them(Inverted Dome).Might try refitting them with Scanspeaks at some point to see what diff there is!
I will look into the Atma from old Stereophiles I have!What are the prices on the used Market for them nad do they have a Phono stage?
Stereophile doesn't do Atma-Sphere, so no point in looking there. You might try soundstage.com or go on the Atma-sphere web site and look at reviews. I'm guessing the lower priced of the two pre-amps (MP-3) might go for around $2500 used if you could find one and yes, they make a phono stage (a real good one). I'm a planar man myself, no domes and cones for me (except sub-woofer) or horns.
Well I was a Planer Man myself till I heard the NEAR's!I have a set of Maggie 1.4's that are collecting dust now!The NEAR's give me the see through quality with the Bass that I was lacking with the Maggies & a Sub!
The Detail and Info that come through the NEAR's are better than the Maggies!It still blows my mind,but it's true.I hear more things I thought only the Maggies could bring out and more!
I did go through all my PHILES to see wht I could come up with concerning Tubes!I probably seen ATMA-SPHERE's some place else!
I want to thank you all for your suggestions and here they are.....Sonic Frontier (line 1),BAT VK 5i and VK5SE,CAT SL 1MK 111,Rogue Audio 99,Atma-Sphere MP-3,Hovland,Herron,Joule Elctra's LA-100,Cary 99-2002,Audio Research LS 15,and LS 9 MK 11,First Sound Presence,Melo Mar 333,Audible Illusions,Blue Circle 3.1 Gatalea,Antique Sound Lab,VTL..to name a few.
I have to guess that all these preamps must range from $800-$5000 and higher..
Am I wrong thinking the more money spent will always yield better sound.
More money means at least twice the price.
As Hbarrel stated ..don't be afraid to spend less $$$
So can I expect an ARC SP9 MK11 to sound as good as a Blue Circle 3.1 Gatalea?
Again there is no way I am able to hear many of these suggestions but it does give me guidance.
I think I have narrowed down my choices to BC3.1,Atma-Sphere MP-3,possible the Rogue 99 magnum but I've heard that it isn't even close to the BC3.1,and on of the ARC models.
I will be pairing this preamp up with a Bryston 4B ST.
to listen to blues,instrumentals,country rock and some roll.
How am I doing so far??
I should have added,I'm heading to the home of Atma-Sphere,
this week Minneapolis,MN area and am most definitely
seeking out a dealer and give the MP-3 a listen..
Looking forward to it.
If I'm not mistaking ARC and Bel Cantos also call that area home.