Why are you targeting the pre as a means of solving fatigue? Maybe is the speaker/amp combo...FWIW I had a 1080 with the older B&W CM4 and they worked fine. Upgraded to the 804S and got fatigue. Replaced the 1080 with McIntosh MC275 (tubes) and it is magical. BTW, I still have my Rotel RC1070 pre, which is the next to go in the upgrade list.
The amp/speaker combo is arguable the most critical link in the chain (without wanting to start here the old argument about whether source or speaker/amp is more important!). If you are comfortable with what you have there, then looking for a pre is fine. Otherwise you might be better off saving for a while longer.
My 2 cents.
Unless your local guy is incredible, I would agree with the advice to wait and save. I have a Rotel 1095 that I think is a little harsh sometimes, but great on the stuff you like. I was advised to make my next move a tube preamp, but the advice was to go big and make it a Mac.
Well, about why I think I should get a preamp, it is quite a long process as everyone has gone through. I originally has a Rotel 1055 receiver with my CDM 9 NT. Then, I change it to a Denon 988 to take advantage of the 7.1 and the DTS-HD master for Blu-ray. Then I found out the sound for music is not as good as my Rotel receiver before. Since I thought the amp and the speaker are the most important component, I got the Rotel RB 1080 and use the Denon as the processor/preamp. Base on my research, it is not a bright amp. However, I am still not satisfied with the result. Therefore I decided to try adding a preamp. And to my surprise, the effect is much more significant than changing the amp. At this point, I believe changing the preamp will give me the biggest effect. And I would like to keep the speaker and the amp. So .. if I wait and save, what are the suggestions?
OK, fair enough.
Have you tried Rotel RC1070? It was $400 new back 5-6 years ago, and I still have it. It's a good match with the RB1080.
If it were me I would probably try and save more and buy a used unit from A'gon. Maybe a Rowland Capri? Sorry can't help much in that price range. McIntosh, Classe, Rowland, Mark Levinson, Conrad Johnson are generally regarded as good matches with B&W. Willing to have tubes?
BTW, if you decide to buy older stuff make sure to have it recaped.
What sources are you using,interconnects and speaker cables?
But since you like female vocals and want a smoother midrange that to me means a nice tube pre amp.
Rotel RC 1070 is one of the candidates on my list, but it seems it has mix reviews, and it is more expensive than NAD or Adcom. Does it sound warm and smooth with the RB 1080?
For the tube preamp, it seems my choice are very limited for my budget of $400. I can see there is a Dynaco PAS 3, is it good? Is there other good suggestion? How do you feel about a home built unit? There is a local guy who build tube preamp, and he can build one for about $300, and he said it is "rebirth" of Pas 3, and from the photo, the circuits are very simple. Is it trust worthy?
I can't answer how the RC1070 sounds as it's the first pre I've had and don't recall very well how others sounded back 5 years ago when I was hunting. I guess the RC1070 + RB1080 + B&W CM4 combo sounded better than other options back then. But remember that with the 804S I thought the sound was a bit too harsh, maybe due to the higher resolution of the 804 vs CM4.
Can you try it? Many Rotel dealers also carry B&W.
About home built units: be careful. Do you know people who have any of those units? Any reason why you should trust the person making the offer? Assuming it's a good faith offer, does he know enough to make you a good pre? Keep in mind resale value will likely be close to nothing.
Since it is a local dealer can you do a home audition?
I have no experience with the pas3;perhaps another member will have some information on that unit.
Thanks for the reply. Yes, I agree with you about the resale value, since it is home built, it is impossible to find any reviews, and this is also one of the reason holding me back. I can go to do an audition, but it would be in his system, and it doesn't guarantee how it sound in my system. It seems a saver bet is to get a SS preamp like Rotel or NAD.
But you also think the RC 1070 + RB 1080 + CM 4 sounds a bit harsh, I think I will hold back for the Rotel since this is exactly the reason I sold my Adcom, and the Rotel is more expensive, so, it seems a bigger risk to take.
FWIW, I meant RC1070 + RB1080 + 804S sounded harsh. With the CM4 the 1070+1080 sounded good to me.
So maybe try an NAD preamp. C-16"X" series from the last 10 years or older. $400 budget is fairly limiting. Or perhaps an old Carver, Hafler or Phaselinear preamp - but not really sure any of these are a step up from the Adcom or Rotel, just different.
Gte,if you can up your budget to $600 there is a Quicksilver preamp available. Had one in my system and enjoyed. Also good reputation.
The 400.00 price for tubes is tough;the MFA Magus would do what you are looking but is over your limit;maybe a offer a little over your limit would fly maybe not.
I found a used Rotel RC 1070 at a decent price. I will give that a try. I think I won't lose much even I don't like it and sell it back out. If that doesn't work for me, I guess I will try out the home build tube unit. That guy seems to build quite alot of tube preamp and amp, and seems to know what he is doing.
BTW, there is a Meridian 562v selling for $300. It seems it is a good price. It seems it is a processor and preamp .. is it a good unit for the preamp? I can't find any review on it. And since it is a much older unit, is it worth the effort to get it also to compare with the Rotel, and sell one out later?
I got my RC-1070, it is not as musical and dynamic as my previous Adcom preamp. However, on the other hand, it is not as bright and not as harsh.
If you feel the Rotel is not the near term answer for you, I suggest on the budget end looking for a good used NAD preamp. It will be more musical. For a slight step up, and just above your curent budget (more like $600 to $700) - I suggest looking for an older Audio Research or Conrad Johnson. Performance of the last two will be leagues ahead of the Rotel or Adcom.
try a older conrad johnson pre amp. like a pv-10b on down to pv-1.older cj-preamps has the sound you are looking for.the price is about $650.00 on down. you can always resell and get your money back.
There is a Transcendent preamp up for sale for $450. Don't know the preamp, but their amps have an excellent reputation. Also don't know the output impedance of the pre and the input impeadance of the Rotel, but you would want at lest a 1:10 ratio and the higher the better.
Thanks for the replies. It seems I am going to try a tube pre, and will have to increase my budget to 700-800. In that range, I can find some Audio Research like the VT-60. How does the Audio Research sound compare to the Conrad Johnson? I read some good reviews on AR tube pres. I will do some research on the CJ as well.
To genralize, AR is neutral and SS like, with tube bloom, CJ is a warmer, more traditional tube sound. This is a generalization, but proabably true of the vitages that can be purchased for the price points you are looking at.
There is an older solid state preamp made by Conrad Johnson, a SONOGRAPH SD-1 beta, for sale on Agon now for $220. No affiliation with seller, shopping for preamps for myself and ran across. This was a well reviewed product when released, but I have not heard it.