Bottlehead Foreplay III
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The Cary brand known as AES I forget what the letters mean. The original AE-3 pre-amp sold as a kit or manufactured for you beats the living daylights out of any other preamp I ever owned and is just about the best I have heard. They cost an astonishing $300-$350 used. They only make the modded up DJH signature now which is about 3-4 times as much. The plain one sounds as good as the modded one so try to get a plain.
The unit uses two tubes both 6SN7s and has one big trafo. Looks like a toy plays like a big city orchestra.
I was stunned, my buddy a preamp designer himself said WTF that is Scary good. No joke it's pieces like this that makes sense that will make it through the coming financial storm
The only caveat I have is that I collect 6SN7s and have been using some of the more desirable ones around. You don't need the most difficult to get or the most expensive. However I would invest in a good (decent) pair if I were you. Afterall you just saved thousands on the pre!
I've had my head in the budget preamp space for quite a while.
The Bottlehead Foreplay III stands out as one of the best bangs for the buck, but it's slightly more than $350. A new unit is $449. They're hard to find for less b/c owners usually modify them with better caps, volume attenuators, etc. Building a kit is a great learning experience if you're into that kind of thing. Bottlehead gives great support and there's an active forum to ask questions.
AES (Audio Electronic Supply) is owned by Cary. They used to offer kits, but don't anymore. I had the standard AE-3 for a while and found it to be bloated. At times, the bass was out of control which muddied the midrange and skewed the whole presentation. I was using RCA Red Base 5692 and Sylvania 6NS7GTB at the time -- neither are known for being muddy, so I can only attribute the bloat to the preamp. You can easily find the AE-3 for $350. It's certainly not a bad preamp. It has a silky midrange, smooth top end and it's very quiet which is hard to beat for $350. If your speakers are bass shy you might find a nice synergy. It might work well with monitors.
There's a big difference between the standard AE-3, the DJH and the AE-3 MkII. Kevin Deal from Upscale Audio had this to say about the three:
With the regular AE-3 and now AE-3 Mk 2 the bass can be a little bloated depending on the application, but the AE-3 DJHs front end topology is slightly different. It is direct-coupled, meaning there are no coupling caps between the input and output stages, which makes the preamp much more dynamic. I think it has incredible bass, great imaging, airy highs.I now own the DJH and positively confirm what Kevin says. It isn't bloated in the least. It's a completely different beast compared to the standard AE-3. The bass is fast and tight. Overall, it has a nice balance between warmth and detail. IMO, the only drawback is the gain at 20 dB. They sell for roughly $750-800 used.
I had an Audio Experience Symphonies V2R for a brief period of time. I paid a ridiculously small amount for it (something like $300). Unfortunately, my unit had a loud buzz that turned out to be a circuit problem. Despite the noise, it was a surprisingly nice warm sounding preamp when the volume was cranked up. I decided to return it rather than have it fixed. New it's $448 plus shipping from China.
I've heard a lot of praise for old Dynaco Pas preamps. They sell on eBay for $150-300 depending on the condition. There's an active community of folks who restore them. They claim it sounds phenomenal. I haven't heard one to confirm, but if budget and performance are your priorities, you might check it out. The only downside is they look dated.
while upgrading from from a cambridge audio c500 this year, i ended up trying 2 tube pre's. first a cayin sc5-s(sp.?), then a music angel. the cayin is built like a tank, has a great remote, and sounded really good(at least to my ears!), but the music angel was much better. if the music angel had a remote, i probably would have ended up keeping it. on some music, i actually prefer it to the classe dr6 i ended up with. so good for so cheap it's almost stupid.
Thanks for your providing my demented mind with a few facts..Like the name of the company. I bought it plain and thought it was just as you describe the latter versions to be except I never did have a sense of bass bloat. I am not a buzzy bass or even a bassophile.
I used speakers for 25 years that couldn't woof a woof -really below 100 cycles you heard almost silence. That never bothered me a bit. Since then I have kept those old Klipsch Heresies made in 1976 then modded by my kids 20 years later who crinkled the dust covers on both. I also use VSA VR2s last batch or so from San Diego and finally a pair of JM labs Electras 938 and 7 more pairs? Anyway the Electras have 2 X 7 or 8 inch woofers each and are front ported in the bass enclosure. When I got them home, I thought I was being bassed to death. Now since getting tube monos and this pre it is sheer nirvana (OK it took 5 years but who is counting).
Just a couple of thoughts again I appreciate your input. I haven't the reference frame on the foreplay. I have heard a couple times but they didn't hold my attention. I was honestly more fascinated by the 2A3 amp blasting some La Scalas that I bought. I can't say if the foreplay is good bad or anything.
The notion you and Uncle Kevin share regarding bass bloat was not remotely a prominent feature. it wasn't evident to me or anyone who had heard it.
I really listen very carefully I am a gear idiot and like my toys and my music. A couple of potential explainations are- I disagree with your assesment of the 6SN7s you chose the 5692 are well known for their smooth soft attack I own a couple pairs just because I collect this tube. The GTBs are also on the warm colored side IMHO very euphonic but suffers attacks of hayfever periodically with a buzzy chesty resonance which makes them a great choice. The tubes you picked are great tubes but not buzz busters. I am using "Ws" tried Tung Sol GT Round plates regular CHS VT231s and Ken Rad . If it was going to hammer me with bass the CKRs would have done it for sure.
The second issue is that Boy Genius owed me a power supply or sub or anything I said in desperation eventually. He read the Modding hype on the AE-3 and said except for the rectifier I can make this a DJH sig in two days. I grabbed the chance just to settle with the guy. He and I were both convinced it would probaly sound worse. All I can say is that it sounded fine with no noticeble deficits or unwanted sounds whew!
A very smart well versed all round great guy here on the Gon and now elswhere in addition, said he couldn't get over it either. If you think the modding tightens up the ?Flabby loose bass? then sure if you can afford it do it. either way it's a steal.
My only question is how good or bad is the AES phono pre. I ended up forsaking my ARC SP6 B. I still have it but it's not hooked up. An SS phono stage is en route I hope, it is the Graham Amp 2 SE another giant killer so they say. Tubes when really put to the task of multiplying a weak signal a hundred thousand times, shows off every pimple in it, their real colors. Only a precious few can make a real quiet floor and then maintain that state which by definition they can't, believe me however slow and insidious it is, they will burn out. It is just physics what can you say. Since I love everything else tubes do, I am a devoted tube guy just not for phono stages. When I open a store here on the gon to dispose of all this shit. I will try some new stuff, maybe a Foreplay.
The notion you and Uncle Kevin share regarding bass bloat was not remotely a prominent feature. it wasn't evident to me or anyone who had heard it.It may have been room mode excitement in my case, but I've heard others comment on the bloat. Clio09 said the same thing here:
I think it's typical of the Cary house sound to be a little bloated on the bottom end. Mids are Cary's strong suit IMO.The fact that I didn't hear it with the DJH using the same tubes is reason enough to believe that it was the preamp. If I had been more diligent with tube rolling maybe I could have tamed the bass, but I didn't want to spend the time and money to do that.
I disagree with your assesment of the 6SN7s you chose the 5692 are well known for their smooth soft attack I own a couple pairs just because I collect this tube. The GTBs are also on the warm colored side IMHO very euphonic but suffers attacks of hayfever periodically with a buzzy chesty resonance which makes them a great choice.Maybe the AE-3 emphasized some of these euphonic qualities. I think we both agree these are decent tubes. I was only trying to point out that the same tubes didn't sound bloated in the DJH. Maybe bloated is too strong of a word, but I can't think of a better way to describe it. Don't get me wrong, the AE-3 is worth checking out. But in my opinion, the DJH is a much more balanced-sounding preamp. You'll find others that agree at Audio Review. These seem like honest reviews if you have a minute to read them.
Can't speak for the Bottlehead Foreplays never heard one, but check out a nicely updated Dyna Pas 2 or 3. Pretty amazing sounding.
I had a Music Reference RM5 mkII (Stereophile Recommended Class B) many years ago. I sent it back to Roger Modjeski to repair a very minor problem with the mute switch and the audio dealer gave me a PAS 2 to listen to while I waited. When the Music Reference returned, I didn't want to return the PAS 2. I liked the PAS 2 a whole lot better.
Never heard the counterpoints but a SA3.1 supposed to be a nice preamp too...