I felt compelled to chime in here though I know nothing of any of the listed preamps, because you seemed to be decribing my preamp. I own a Sierra Audio K2 Fully Differential Preamp which I use to supply signal to two Sierra Audio Denali amps in mono configuration. They present an almost impossible load in balanced mode (1.1 kOhm), so that use of a stand-alone processor will have you unfailingly in the upper limits of the high volume threshhold. My example: the processor I use to do D to A duties on CDs and soundtracks is a Meridian 568 -- its volume limit is 95 -- alone I need it at 85 or so when I am 10 feet away. With the K2 in line, the difference I hear is that the sound doesn't seem as harsh or strained, but all the transparency is intact and I swear that it seems there is an extra measure of DEEP, DEEP bass information -- also seems there is more wieght, definition, tangibility of the sonic image. They retail for about $10K, so just outside your "new" price guidelines but I would think if you could find one used it be well within your used limit.
You have also left off the Rowland Synergy IIi, which would go well up on that list.
If your are running balanced XLR, then also check out the Blue Circle BC103.
Used Pass Aleph One preamps are available for about $1,500. It fully meets all of your stated criteria.
The Placette Active is truely an increadible piece, it is only single ended, unless you get a custom balanced version. It transformed my system, and I wish I hadn't sold it to go tube. I would also consider the Rowland Synergy IIi, which I also tested, the Rowland was a little more laidback in the top and presented a little wider soundstage but the placette presented a deeper soundstage. so testing in your own system is always the best way.
I found the Krell and the SIM gear to harsh on the top end for my liking, I didn't choose the Pass X1 because of ground hum issues various people experienced (do a search in the forums) and also you are best going completely balanced with the Pass. The Rowland was outstanding even with the Balanced to Single ended convertors and dead silent, but the Placette was even quieter. If you go to battery powered on the Rowland you can take it to the next level and save yourself some money on powercords.
Best service(never needed any but upgrades for HT pass through or any other questions) is by far Guy at Placette...
Rowland Synergy IIi - retails for $6K - you can't beat it at prices 3x with what you are looking for.
The Klyne is the way to go.
I just purchased an used, fully updated, Ayre K1-X, with phono stage and remote. So far, (and it has only been a very little while, so take note of that), I am astonished by the lack of a noise floor. I am used to having a low noise floor, having used good tube equipment from ARC, but to have none, is astonishing, at least for me. The sound is very nice so far, it is neutral, with no colorations that I can hear.
Also, if you are going to use analog, I highly recommend this unit, as the phono stage is really good. (Better than my ARC PH-3). Again, no noise floor even on analog.
WOW is the best description I can give. The phono stage is also user adjustable to match your cartridge.
Two thumbs up from me, so far at least!
The Ayre K-1x is probably the most neutral of this group. I, however, would much prefer the musicality of the Klyne 7LX3.5 or even the Rowland Synergy IIi mentioned above. The Ayre is the most transparent, but all your software better be up to the test. Great recordings will sound fabulous, but bad recordings will make you cry. In my experiences, most recordings are not great. I personally don't want to change my musical tastes, and listen to Audiophile Approved recordings only, to suit my equipment. I look for equipment that suits my musical tastes. The Klyne is more musical, and IMHO, sounds better on a much larger portion of recordings. As always, YMMV.
I bought a Levinson 380S based on similar - if somewhat more feature-oriented - criteria. It's not quite perfect, but it's fantastically engineered, and sounds close enough to totally neutral and transparent that combined with its user-friendliness and flexibility, I will happily stop here (well, I didn't *want* to invest even this much, but am glad I did) - something I couldn't say about previous attempts (or previous Levinsons). Maybe for those willing to forego some of the 380S's conveniences there's even more transparent units to be had for this money, I don't know, but at up to a grand below your used budget and easy to find, it's certainly worth adding to your list, and of an audition.
I have an additional thought to contribute. You also seek out a 3-dimensional sound. Well IMO, you are going to have a tough time finding that in any solid state pre-amp. You would probably be better off looking at some hybrids.
In response to Jmcgrogan2's comments:
1) I agree that it is one of the most neutral preamps, although I will be honest and state that I have not heard all of the ones on your list. The reviews I have read seem to support this statement.
2) My opinion is that when a preamp/amp is termed musical, it introduces colorations into the sound.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with being muscial or having colorations, if that is what you want. (I know, and have owned, several tube preamps that sound wonderful that have had colorations.) Your post, however, stated that you wanted the most neutral preamp possible.
If you want to introduce colorations into the system, I think you should consider some of the better tube preamplifiers. (i.e. CAT Ultimate, Hovland HP-100, ARC LS-25 Mk II, or a used ARC Ref. 2 Mk II, etc..) All of these sound very musical, and are every bit as good as any on your list, some are likely better if you are looking for a "musical" preamp.
I went with the Ayre because I was looking to reduce my noise floor, especially with my phono stage, and still get a very neutral and not clinical preamp. I got tired of living with the low level noice that tubes produce, even though I had a very musical preamp and phono preamp (ARC LS-2 & PH-3). If you are using a turntable, I highly recommend you give it a shot (along with the CAT Ultimate and the Hovland HP-100, all of which have very good phono sections, although the later two do not have remotes. In addition, I went with the Ayre, because I wanted to get a remote, so I could adjust the volume from my listening position.
My two cents worth anyway.
Good Luck in your search. It took me awhile to find a preamp that met my criteria (which was a little different than yours), just a couple of weeks ago. If you want, you can contact me in a few weeks to see what a more extended listening period does to my opinion.
PS One more thing. Why are you looking to buy NEW? Why not used? Let someone else take the depreciation hit. Typically you lose 1/3 the price just walking out the door, not to mention sales tax! If the unit is actually used for any period of time, the price drops down to half or less. I purchased my Ayre K1-X, with phono and remote for $4000, which is less than half the list price of $8,600. Just a thought.
This isn't my thread, I only responded. Yes, I said the Ayre was the most nuetral, didn't I? If that's what he's looking for that's my reco. I am using a tube preamp (BAT VK-31SE), with no noise floor issues. It has more body (you may call it coloration if you wish) that makes many average to poor quality recordings listenable. Your noise floor issues may not be from the preamp. I didn't use tube preamps for years, because of noise. However, once I addressed power conditioning and ground loop issues, there is no noise problems anymore. FWIW, I'm using two dedicated 20A lines, with a Shunyata Hydra plugged into a PS Audio high current Ultimate Outlet, which is plugged into the dedicated outlet. I've also isolated digital from analog via the two lines, each with it's own dedicated, isolated ground. A MIT Iso-LinQ on my cable line, and viola, most tube preamps are as quiet as the best SS, but with more body and warmth.
Of course this is all subject to personal tastes. If Daltonlanny or you prefer detail and information retrival, that's your choice. I'm willing to sacrifice that last ounce of detail for musical warmth. Yes, it may be coloration, but if it makes a recording more pleasureable to listen to, it's worth it. Many recordings that I listen to are not recorded with a Audiophile label, and can make me grind my teeth with a very neutral piece of equipment. That's why I prefer tubes and analog. They certainly don't measure as well as SS and digital, but they sound better, to my ears.
However, it's up to you, you pays your money, you makes your choices. That's why I added YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
Thank you all so much for your ideas and opinions.
I ultimately chose a used Pass Labs X 2.5 preamp.I am totally happy!WOW, this is a mind-boggling sounding preamp!
I 100% recommend this preamp to anyone!Easily beats the Adcom GFP-750 or Parasound PLD-2000 in my system!
Thanks again everyone!
Congrats, good luck, and enjoy!
I have to go with Thomasheisig since I just bought the top of the line Klyne pre-amp. Just throw the Pass Labs away and buy a Klyne : )
Daltonlanny: Don't take Nrchy to heart. Wait 12 hours first, *then* chuck your Pass overboard for something new ;^)
Hey Nrchy and Zaikesman, why do you guys hate the Pass Labs preamps so much?
I think the Pass Labs X 2.5 sounds exceptional in my system.My friends all agree and are blown away by its performance.What do you all not like about the Pass preamps?
They don't dislike the Pass, they're just having some fun.
Nrchy, I just picked up a Klyne too (really). Hasn't arrived yet, but it sounds like I will dig it. Anybody want to buy my Pass preamp?
No, but seriously folks....
Daltonlanny, congratulations on your new Pass preamp. It's a great choice!
Apparently Nate and I have to work on our comic timing...
DL, enjoy your music, whatever you listen to it though!
I like the Placette Active very much. It projects a large soundstage with clear delineation of all instruments in that soundstage. I also think it really gets the dynamics right. My only real issue is a touch of hardness and a kind of chill I get when listening on headphones (Stax Omega II). I have replaced my Placette with a ML Ref. No. 32, but that linestage is about 4X the price (I have loaned the Placette to a friend because I cannot part with it).
I also have listened to, and liked very much, the Ayre linestage. It has an airy top end and sounds reasonably dynamic.
The others, I am not as familiar with.
Thats ok. I know that you all were joking with me.Nothing wrong with having a little fun! Maybe we can go together in a few weeks and throw both the Pass and the Klynes overboard for something else!
Daltonlanny, you can throw both the Pass and the Klyne overboard for a tube preamp, hehe.
Zaikesman they say timing is everything, so I guess that leaves me with nothing.
The Pass Labs is a very good pre-amp. I don't have a problem with it, I just know everything I have is better than everything you have... it's part of being an audiophile!
Drubin did you buy the used 7 series that was posted here? Mine is still at Klyne. I can't get Stan Klyne to call be back.
Yes, I bought the used one. Why? Is it a lemon?
Drubin as far as I could tell you got a very good deal on a very good pre-amp. Let me know how you like it.
I'm looking forward to it.
Did you sell your First Sound Mk II?
No, still have the First Sound, which I continue to think is amazing. Just wanted to try out a Klyne. Part of the ongoing audio education. I wish they both had remote.
not familiar with us$ prices , my vote is yba 1 or if you can find used passion pre, even better..but from your list ayre or sim p5 ..drop pass labs have not heard the others.
it, all depends on the rest of system,and room,room treatment etc...ultimatly your ears
Having own all the pre-amps mentioned on the list,with the exception of the klyne(auditioned as a loaner)
The Placette Active in my opinion as heard in my sound room is more musical and transparent then the others.
I used the Placette Active with both solid and tube amplifiers,and has always been a pleasure to use.
It's a keeper and for that reason you rarely see them up for sale.
A message like this surprises me when, as of the date of this post, we have not shipped any HL-1 Preamplifiers.
Keith,I read literature about the HL-1 on your website and in Music Directs [I think?]Catalog back in January.
Thank you Lanny. You are correct, we have had the HL-1 on our website for a while. We delayed manufacturing due to a modification and concurrent work on the VTSP-2 (the tube version).
My last comment referred to a post by Joejr on 02-08-04 saying, "Having own all the pre-amps mentioned on the list,with the exception of the klyne(auditioned as a loaner)
The Placette Active in my opinion as heard in my sound room is more musical and transparent then the others."
Since we had not shipped any HL-1s at that time, he could not have owned one.
wow! no mention of the Spectral DMC30s for $6500.00. For a solid state preamp, has a killer soundstage and imaging.
Yes, I would second your suggestion. I have the DMC-30SL, which is even better - stunning in fact. Both are MUCH less expensive to buy in the US than the 230V European versions (sigh).
John Carter (from the UK).
Gentleman,I need to make a correction,I did not see the Herron HL-1 on the list. I have not own that pre-amp or have heard that particular model.
I apoligize to Herron Audio for this oversite on my behalf.