Cayin, Citation I, and yes I own it. I use it to mostly play vinyl.
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Based on cost/build quality, probably recent top of the line Audio Research REf pre-amp or similar VTL, or MBL maybe.
Based on sound quality, that's a hard one! The sound quality performance of a good pre-amp is largely determined by the overall system it is used in. Also, features play an important role in best pre-amp for each case or individual. People value different things there which is why there are so many.
I will say that I have heard top notch sound quality from a variety of pre-amps at various price points in recent years, starting with some that can be had for not much.
I've heard several Berning amps and while I'll say they were good they didn't make me run out and buy one.
On your pre-amp question, the best I've heard is the SMc VRE-1b, simply stunning. I had a Kondo M1000 ( over $95,000 retail) and the VRE was much more 3 dimensional sounding and musical that I quickly sold the Kondo.
The best I have heard so far is our own, but of course I should be expected to say that. I like it because there are no coupling caps at the output, unusual in a tube preamp. This makes it very fast with very deep bass.
Other preamps that I also like a lot:
DeHavilland, ARC REF Anniversary, Aesthetix Signature, CAT and the Lamm. I'm also a big fan of the H/K Citation 1.
Conrad Johnson ART is my best so far. Their ACT 2.2 is close.
A big factor in trying to name "a" best is the road that leads from that preamp i.e. amp>speakers>room>ears. I've used these pres with ss,tubes,tripath chip type amps and with Magnepans,med-eff and hi-eff speakers and have enjoyed the outcome every time.
the preamplifier nut is one of the hardest to crack.
I really enjoyed my Threshold FET-10/HL linestage - though a little dark, it never got in the way of the music. The matching -10/PC phono preamp was good, but I've heard better.
I'm now running a Quicksilver full-function and found it's a good balance between musicality and audiophile tricks 'n' treats. Sure, I've heard more transparent/detailed gear, but the Quicksilver is a non-fatiguing good 'all-rounder'. Perhaps once I've upgraded my front end I'll check out some better units.
This is a weird thread. The OP says he's not selling anything, then pitches a preamp from a manufacturer with whom he has a commercial relationship. He asks for opinions on "best single best preamp you've ever heard," but asks that we listen to the one he's pitching before answering. To me, that sounds like selling.
Wrm57, I can't speak for the OP but the fact that he didn't mention his company and that he disclosed that he was a speaker manufacturer doesn't throw up a red flag or indicate a hidden agenda from my perspective. I think the guy is genuinely impressed with Berning and if you're not aware, the amp he mentioned was voted amplification component of the year in TAS, for what that's worth, SOTA regardless of price. As in all things audio, some will agree and others will feel differently. There is NO question that Berning's designs are technically cutting edge and original. If you get the chance do a bit of research or listening if you haven't already.
I never even for a moment thought you were inferring that he was pitching speakers by the fact he didn't mention his company and I surely got that you suspect that there may somehow be a cozy relationship for financial gain between him and David Berning, the reason I responded. In any case I feel pretty certain that Berning would be unaware of it, no conspiracy theories or hidden agendas on this one my friend :)
Call me suspicious but when I first noticed this post a week ago, I too thought all the Berning praise was a bit odd. Especially since the OP was supposedly seeking opinions from others.
After rereading the OP, it seems to me, he's already made up his mind, Berning is the best?
Of course we know how these threads always go, ask for an opinion and whatever each poster owns, it's the best!
^^ Yes, and the English language assigns a definition to the word 'best' in that there can. Be. Only. One.
Yet all manufacturers will tell you they have the best. They can't all be, so they must all be lying, as are all the reviewers, dealers and distributors. This is such endemic problem in the audio world, audiophiles are so used to it, that the only way to tell how something sounds is to play it in your own system.
The funny thing about that is that the objectivists and subjectivists find themselves in the same boat. The spec sheets certainly don't tell the story, so you have to take it home and play it.