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Adcom is always a good buy and price point. I owned a Levinson 38S - it was a fine preamp until I experienced the Mcintosh C42 - it is extremely natural sounding and versatile. It also has an 8 band eq which mostly stays in the defeat center mode but comes in handy on some cd's yes even my SACD's to adjust glare and not so well recorded selections. Nice to look at too/
There is Stan Warren's own personal hand made passive preamp for sale in the classifieds. If you don't know Stan, he was one of the founders of PS Audio (The S in PS is for Stan). Stan has made some nice preamps over the years under the PS Audio and Superphon namplates. He is asking $600. Stan is a genious, so I would assume this thing sounds really nice.
You could also consider a Creek OBH-10. It is basically a volume control, so it will be the same as running your CD player right into the amplifier. Can't get any cleaner than that. It has one input (just enough) and a remote. It lists for only $229. AudioAdvisor.com has a demo unit for sale for $169.
One of the best "value" tube preamps is the Conrad Johnson PV-10.
a very good purist type preamp is steve deckert's "zen triode" design (zt pre). dual volume controls and outboard power supply, not many concessions to ergonomics (only 2 inputs, no remote). it does allow switching between low and high gain, and different output capacitor couplings, so it's flexible as far as the kind of sound you can get.
i own one, as you can probably guess.
it is extremely transparent sounding. it is also unique in terms of both features and sound for the price (about $900 with a lifetime warranty).
well if this sounds like an ad, i guess it is.
if you don't need much gain or switching, you can look into his passive design, which is $400.
The bottlehead preamps are excellent also and dirt cheap, if you are at all interested in building one yourself. www.bottlehead.com
the adcom is good but good the best tube designs are clearly better soundwise when it comes to adding gain to the signal (tho better, rare at the price level). by the way, the decware designs are not at all tubey sounding in the sense of warm, instead, they are totally neutral and minimalist, preserving fine detail in the signal.
If you are just using one source and your amps don't present a wicked load to drive I would highly recommend the Placette Audio passive volume control. It is very transparent and neutral and really shines with SACD and other high resolution sources. It can't hurt to try it, it is factory direct with a 30 day money back guarantee. If you want something to color the sound look into some tube units like the PV10/3A/etc.
Sean....Stan Warren will build you one if you don't mind the wait.
I also know of a Stan preamp that a dealer in Georgia had for sale on consignment. If you email me I will dig up his Agon user name, or email address when I get home late tonight, so you can contact him. It was never listed for sale here.
Gthrush1, i hardly think that anyone, regardless of income level, would place a $35K component on their short list of "good values".
Sugar, as to the SW piece, i'm not really in the market for a preamp right now. As i said, it was strictly a matter of curiosity. I've had some of his older original PS designs and was wondering how far he had progressed. I'm sure that he has come quite a ways, as parts quality itself has improved pretty drastically. Sean
Get the new Bent Audio Transformer based volume control (Stevens & Billington TX102 transformers, Seiden switch), it is basically a quality passive that doesn't have the impedance matching problems of resistor based passives.
It looks simple to build and the people on audioasylum who have tried TVCs have been very happy (I am still thinking).
Acoustat PreAmps the MRP and the RP-2 are just about as good as they get. PreAmp designed by James Strickland and the Phono sections designed by Frank Van Alstine. Rugged build quality and the sonics are fabulous. Usually can be had for around $150.00 on auction sites. Appears you play a lot of CDs. Well both of these excell at CD playback,taking the grainy edge off the CD sound. Have owned more PreAmps than I care to remember.The Acoustat represent a true bargain in high end pre amps. You can spend a great deal more,but doubt that you will find a better preamp under a grand.
None. Why use a linestage if you don't need one? If you only have one high level source/cdp look for a cdp with an analog volume control like the Resolution Audio 55 and Audio Aero Capitole. You will also eliminate one interconnect saving money and improving the sound. Yes, one less interconnect makes a big difference. Another way, but maybe not as good, is to look for an amp with an attenuator built-in or find someone who can install an attenuator into your existing amp. I really believe that an active linestage (only) is just another way for the manufacturer to sell another component.
Thank you all for your comments. Any thoughts or experience with this product? I'm looking at the EVS Ultimate Attenuators to use as a passive pre. They seem to have the shortest and cleanest signal path. Looks good on paper! Any reason these wouldn't give the "cleanest" transfer of signal from my source? (sacd player) As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated.