What's the best preamp for my system?


Here's my system:

Theta Pearl Transport
Theta DS Pro Basic II DAC
Cary SLM 100 mono block amps
ProAc Studio 200 speakers.
Tara prism 33 interconnects
Nordost Super Flatline biwire cables

It has taken me 5 years and $4000 to get this far. I'm quite pleased with the sound now, but I'm ready to upgrade to a real preamp. I'm currently using a Carver C-2, it's dry and slightly more analytical than I like. My main complaint is that it has zero ability to provide a 3D spatial quality to the music. It's also a bit bright and forward, but I can live with that.

I have no bias toward SS or tube. I've heard both and believe it is possible to get where I want with either one. I've got $1200 max to spend and I would like to keep my price in the $1000 range so I can start looking for better interconnects and speaker cabels.

I've audtioned an Electrocompaniet 4.5, and an Audio Research SP12, and a Mcintosh C31V so far. The Electrocompaniet was good, but only slightly better than the Mac C31V, and not worth the $2000 the dealer was asking imho. The Audio Research was very dull sounding, almost like a dolby B or C filter had been added and my speakers were trying to drive through a wet towel. I don't think I like the Audio Research "sound". So far Mac is the clear leader in my listening research.

Other preamps I'm considering:

Spectral DMC-10 Delta
Rogue Audio 66
Sonic Frontiers

I've read about 30-50 reviews and I'm just plain confused about where to look at this point. Any guidance from those that like the clean, smooth sound of the Cary and ProAc combination would be gladly appreciated.



A used SF Line 1 or 2 are a great preamps if you don't need a phono section.
check out EVS attenuaters believe Ric is producing them again. You can't beat their performance at anywhere near their price.
Since you already like the sound of your Cary amps, you might consider one of their preamps such as the SLP-88. Alternatively, I also have tube monoblocks and the Musical Fidelity A3cr (available used for $700-800) is my favorite preamp. In my opionion, the A3cr bested some well-known tube preamps, which is why it's still in my system.

I auditioned the Rogue 66 and it provided an excellent 3D soundstage, but I found it to have a lot of noise and it wasn't very revealing of details.

Good luck!

If absolute accuracy of reproduction (including sound stage depth and width) is important to you, a Placette passive volume control or preamp would be worth considering. Check out http://www.placetteaudio.com They should be within your price range and come with a generous return, refund and trade-up policy.

I've been auditioning a new Eastern Electric MiniMax tube preamp for a week, comparing it with my Korneff transformer-coupled linestage, and have been very impressed, it costs less than $1200. And, I think it probably has everything you're looking for based on your complaint about Carver C-2, assuming that you can live with its three line inputs and two sets of output. I previously owned a much upgraded Cary SLP-94P, and this little wonder betters it. It also responds very well to different tubes and power cords I've tried. I have no affiliation with the very kind and helpful US importer, but I feel this little preamp deserves your attention.
I would also suggest Cary, but SLP-50 or 50A!
Today I received my new BV Audio P-1 preamp. It is absoulutely sensational. Clean, clear, detailed, and smooth. You probably cannot find a better preamp at any price. It is the first preamp I've had that does not degrade the sound to some extent compared to direct CD input to the amplifier, and I've owned at least one Stereophile Class A preamp by Conrad Johnson. I no longer need to run my Levinson CD player directly into the amp because I now own a preamp that is utterly transparent. Check out their website and eAudionet.com
Another vote for EVS attenuators at new price of $350 with 30 day trial money back offer from tweakaudio.com
Ridiculously cheap, but amazing performance if you just listen to one source like CD's. I have them on the inputs of my Cary amp, and they just let the music pass so the amp can do its thing. These were collector's items for some time when temporarily out of production. Because they are invisible in use you save on interconnect and shelf not needed. Leaves more money for best recordings you can find.
Eastern Electric MiniMax. I just recieved mine the other day. I auditioned it against the AES DJH Signature (CARY) at the store and ended up buying it. Check the reviews on the Website - www.eeaudio.com - If you can audition this at home, give it a try. You will be amazed.

Thanks for the advice. There were several good suggestions in there. I have considered the Cary preamps, but the ones I listened to in the local Hifi store were a bit too warm and relaxed. Imaging and detail was great, but the music seemed small and withdrawn. Granted, I have not yet heard the slp 50 in my system only as a demo with a V12.

The EVS attenuators sound really interesting! At $350 for a pair, I think they are definitely worth a listen.

The Eastern Electric Minimax also sounds inriguing. According to their website, my local Hifi dealer is a distrubutor, but he never mentioned them in my last foray. I'll have to ask about them too.

Again, thanks to all for the excellent advice!


I'd also consider the Audio Note M1, a great deal for the little piece at only around $1000 retail. Very quick, extended and neutral. Another thought might be an Adcom GFP-750. Inexpensive used and Stereophile Class A, supposed to be a hell of a deal.

Good luck!!