ARC LS26 performance for $2500-3000?


I have been auditioning an ARC LS26 for the past few days. It is a very nice! A lot more detailed than my Dehavilland Ultraverve, and more crisp, with air under the instruments. I am quite impressed. The things I enjoy about this pre are the detail, presentation (quite neutral), nice soundstage, and the general very musical presentation without being overly tubey. It seems to build on what the Dehavilland does, but only does it quite a bit better. I am hearing background instruments with more clarity than ever before: it is as if somebody washed my window after a big dust storm.

Unfortunately, I have budget issues (they didn't have the LS17 available for demo, and the LS26 is quite a bit more than I was looking to spend). Is there anything available for $2000-$2500 (max $3k) used or new that can match the LS26? If not, I guess I should start saving! My other preferred option would be a Herron VTSP-3, but that is even more $. I tend to prefer tube preamps, and SS amps. I have auditioned the Dehavilland (very nice with a Tung-sol Black Glass, but nowhere as detailed as the LS26, very easy to listen to and a great deal), a Classe CP-700 (smooth, easygoing, nice control, but a little flat) an Eastern Electric MInimax (nice tube pre, but definitely a price-point item, with a smaller soundstage but otherwise similar presentation to the Dehavilland).

Here are some that may have come up as options:

Lamm LL2 Deluxe
Joule Electra LA-100
Sonic Frontiers Line 3 SE (one just went for $2450)
Dodd Battery Pre
Pass X1

These all fall within my price range. I am sure there are many others. Amp choice is currently the McCormack DNA-225, to be upgraded by SMC in the future. With this combo, everything seems to sound good, it is just that the LS26 was way ahead of the others in terms of clarity, soundstage, and detail. I would rather save for the LS26 than save a few $ at this point in time and get something inferior, but if I could get something similar at $2500, I would be even happier!
Start saving. Unfortunately, you have heard the 26 and that sound is in your ear and mind. You will not be satisfied with anything else. At your price point there's nothing else you'll find that's going to match the 26 IMHO
I'm in a similar position, I have the LS-25mkII a very good preamp!!but can't afford at this time to move to the 26.
The 25 will get you close(with a good pr.of nos 6h30's)and its in your price range but its not the 26 and I'm not going to try to tell you it is but it is good enough for me that I don't feel a need to go out and hock my LP collection to get a 26. In due time I will make the move but until then I'm satisfied with the 25mkII
I hope this helps. If you want to know more feel free to e-mail me.
Also, the LS-5 mkIII is an all balanced preamp, so if your source components do not have balanced capabilities it probably won't work for you.
The only preamp that comes to mind is a Modwright 36.5 which you may be able to pick up used around 3K. In my search I was torn between the 36.5 and the LS-26 and had I gone for a DNA-500 I may have picked the Modwright, which I'm told is a great pairing. I'm thinking your DNA-225 would be a great match as well. Ultimately, I decided to keep my ARC 150.2 and went with the LS-26. I'm very happy with the decision but the Modwright may be a better choice for you given cost constraints, your amp and rest of your system.
Have an idea for you (sent you a pm offline, but it says your address may be 'experiencing problems').
Most truly differential balanced preamps can be run single-ended via the use of adapters, depending upon what is done with the ground PIN. If you would consider the LS-5 Mk. III, you should inquire. I have used Neutrik adapters with my Rowland Coherence II on both the inputs and outputs, and at the inputs to one of my amps, which is single-ended (fed by a long balanced interconnect from the preamp). All of this to say that I would be surprised to learn that the LS-5 Mk. III cannot be run single-ended with adapters (taking the example of the LS-26, its single-ended outputs are probably hard-wired versions of adapters - I believe the LS-26 is fully differential balanced as well).
One note: I cleaned up the tube's contact surfaces with some IPA and they must have been dirty, as the preamp really opened up. It is much improved, not too far behind the LS26 now! The Tung-sol black glass in there probably didn't hurt either!