Lamm M1.2 were nice, Audio Research 210 better, ASR Emitter Exclusive 2 even better ;-)
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We have mixed and matched a number of different pre,s and power amps with our demo BE-20'S. One suggestion would be using single or 2 bridged Usher R-1.5,s power amps, along with the new Audio Space Ref 2S pre amp This combo provided wonderful mids along with great bass control...
My speakers are Watt/Puppy 8 - still I own Spectron monoblocks and for a few months, I am in waiting list for Joule-Electra "300" preamp. I been told today that in a few days it will be shipped and I will post my impressions.
BAT VK52SE or better REX (not 51 with solid state power supplies) are also good preamps but at $250 per tube with need for re-tubing every year or two (6-10 tubes?) - can't be even compared with "300" where you need to re-tube every 10 years or so and cost of full retubing with NOS tubes is....$210. Nothing can beat it. Sorry.
I am using the Spectron M3 (with Bybees)/Joule Electra LA-300ME combo with Vienna Accoustics The Music speakers and find the pairing to be magical (ICs are Jade Hybrids). I have never heard the Ushers so I can't comment on their sound or how they will interact with the Spectron but I can say unequivocally that the Spectorn/Joule combo works very well. If you do go with the Spectron amp I would also strongly recommend the new Spectron Remote Sensing speaker cables. Simon Thatcher played a major role in their development ane they work synergistically with the Spectron amp (much better than the earlier versions which I also have). As noted above there is a wait list for the LA-300 but it is definitely worth the wait.
If 200 lbs weight and generated heat does not bother you then Plinius Reference is a great amp. One of the best around. A touch better then Spectron in highs and touch worse then Spectron in the bass and slam areas. Midrange, I much prefer Spectron but with Bybee filters only. Without Bybees - if I recall well, both are about the same (except weight and heat)
ARC Ref.3 - no comparison with BAT REX or Joule-Electra LA-300 or VTL 7.5, in my totally subjective opinion. Dry, no life-like presentation which you will need so much combining your tube preamp with transistor amp be it Spectron or Plinius.
All The Best
The Joule/Spectron is a known combination and is considered by many to be ideal. The Spectron amp does take awhile to fully break-in...ideally a 1000 hours. If you can swing it I would highly recommend the V-cap and Bybee upgrades. That would be the ultimate.
Regarding Mr. Moskowich's comments regarding BAT preamps...where do people come up with this stuff?
NEW BLUE NOTE AWARD 2009 for Spectron.
"...what really has my juices flowing is using these amplifiers in monoblock mode. Apart from the obvious benefits of monoblock configuration -- massive power providing near-infinite headroom and freedom from clipping -- the monoblocks sound even faster, sweeter and more relaxed, have superior bass depth and pitch definition, and throw a larger, more dimensional soundscape than a single stereo Musician III.
No, they don't mimic the special quality of tubes -- a kind of creamy sweetness in the harmonic presentation. It is easy to understand the appeal of that tube sound; it has had a grip on me for years. But what the Spectrons do is, to my mind, ultimately even more impressive. The "full boat" Musician III Mk II monoblocks --with the Bybee A.C. internal Bullets and V-Cap options -- have a crystalline purity in the reproduction of every voice and instrument that sounds more to me like the essence of live, unamplified music -- which I attend, on average, more than once a week year-round-- than any other amplifier, at any price, based on any technology, that I have ever heard."
- Wayne Donnelly, EnjoyTheMusic November 2009
To answer properly we have to go into rather specific details of these components and I do not believe that this is wide knowledge, so let me try to answer your question(s):
1 Joule-Electra is reality is NOT pure single ended preamp. This line stage uses a phase splitter to process the unbalanced audio inputs as two BALANCED signals thereafter dramatically reducing preamp induced distortions and then sum them together before the output.
2 Spectron stereo is not fully balanced amplifier. It has balanced inputs (w/XLR) and outputs.
3 Spectron monoblocks are fully balanced regardless of your input be it XLR or RCA - makes no difference.
4 I have read that you are particularly concern about the highs in Spectron. I believe its highs are very good as is but we also offer so called V-Cap upgrade where Oil and Teflon caps are installed into power supply for additional filtering - this produce even better (silkier) highs and midrange. There are other things can be done in amplifier to further improve it e.g. installation of four HiFiTuning rail fuses will add to "liquidity"
I hope I answer your "technical" questions.
I understand your concern. Better power supply filtering just clean music's highs and midrange from all kind of garbage electrical current brings with it even with best power conditioners. It should not add or subtract anything.
Beryllium tweeter and Beryllium mid are also do their job of "honestly" transmitting signal they receive with no or ultra low coloration - this why your concern is absolutely justified as any abnormality will be more readily shown itself with B-20