Well, the most commonly repeated truth here and elsewhere must be stated again: use your own ears. This is especially so since you are considering buying new, and spending a healthy chunk of cash. There are a plethora of audio shops which would love to spend time with you. Listen to what they have, and perhaps ask to take things home for the night.
Now, I have my own tastes and biases, and based on these I strongly encourage you to at least listen to the combination of a Linn Exotik preamp ($3200) and a Linn 2250 amp ($3300). If you like pristine clarity and realism, combined with great pace and timing - for me the backbone of any worthwhile musical experience - these must be auditioned. (While youre at it, listen to an Ikemi cd player.) But whatever you decide, you also might seriously want to consider spending more on your CD player and less on amp and preamp. I was a slow convert, but it has been clearly demonstrated to my ears that the source (digital or analog) is what makes the audio experience musical and involving. Good preamps and amps are essential once you have done the best you can in chosing the source, but in audio can never make up for what is lost upstream.
But to restate: listen, listen, listen. Don't trust what you read very much at all, even here, and perhaps especially in Stereophile. If you are like me, you will be surprised how much of what is recommended, even lauded, you end up thinking is exceptionally disappointing (take a dubious bow, Mark Levinson!)