Best Sounding Passive Preamp

What is the best sounding inexpensive passive preamp? I may have to send my preamp in for repair which could take a while and I don't want to be without music. My top priority is sound, but I don't want to spent a lot of money as I will be putting my preamp back in system upon return. Help please.
Not spending a lot? go for creek OBH 10 Going for a kilobuck killer? Look for a Mc Cormack TLC in the seconds ad it should be in the $550-$700 area but is capable of outperforming most amps 2x or 3x the price.One note though with this preamp.It operates either passive or active.When in passive not disconnect power cord,many Mccormack users have found this to have an effect on the outcome on the system. Passive Preamps are also tricky with interconnect matching.
I've owned the Creek, Adcom passive control unit and McCormack Line Drive Deluxe & TLC and for the money ($150 "used")the Adcom is great (if you can find one). However, by far the best passive pre amps I've ever run across are made by Reference Line. A Preeminance I, series II or III will run about $400-500 used while the top of the line Preeminance II will run around $700-800 used. You can also find them with a remote volume control. Make sure that the unit has the stepped attenuator and direct input. I bet you will be floored by the dynamics, detail, and robust but easy sound of these units. You may not WANT your active line stage back. See Stereophile, Volume 20, No.7 for a review. A few cautions with any passive. Make sure your source components have a low output impedance (under 200 ohms is best), your cables aren't wierd (like MIT with their little boxes)and fairly short, your immediately down stream component (x-over, amp or whatever)has a reasonnable input impedance (20K ohms or more)and finally you have enough overall gain in your sustem to get the volume you want. Good luck!
I agree with 1953, the Reference line gear is top notch. As noted above make sure your gain is adaquate. Good listening!
I haven't heard any commercial passives besides the Chase RLC (a great choice for you, incidentally, and I've seen one listed, Audiogon or Audio Shopper, for $60). But if you want to MAKE a passive that will (maybe) make you want to sell your active preamp, get in touch: It's easy to make a passive for a few hundred dollars that SHOULD be better than virtually all commercial passives, and I qualify this only because there are so many I haven't heard. Inferences from parts quality are seldom wrong, though.
I have the Chase RLC preamp. It has a remote control and 4 inputs with balance, mute, bass and treble all controled by the remote. Stereophile mag gave it its blessing as being transparent. If u have a preamp without a remote control, u can connect the Chase into the tape monitor and then u will have a remote control of ur volume!
Find Brad at Virtual Mode in Connecticut. Extremely well-regarded inexpensive passive preamps.
I assume that your source has enough output to directly drive your amplifier. If your source has the ability to control it's output level why not scrap the passive preamp and go directly to the power amp. You will eliminate any unwanted coloration or noise and certainly save yourself a few dollars. After all, a passive preamp is only an attenuator.
If your looking for a passive, you should really go to Rick Schulzes site his EVS passives are the best out there and very reasonable. Back in the day I had one in my system and it was great. In the end I had to go with tubes but I had one for 6 years in my system. Stereophile had them as Class A (for what thats worth). Best-Gary
You should look at Placette. Not as inexpensive as these others, perhaps, but state-of-the-art sonics. Plus, in-home 30 day trial.
The best sounding with the purest signal path is the Axiom made by Luminous Audio. they are $160.00 with shipping in the usa. It uses caddock resister and is shunted to ground so the actual audio signal does not go through the potentiometer. The worst passive ive owned is the Creek and the adcom. They are horrible. Good luck
Look for an EVS(Electronic Visionary Systems)passive produced by Rick Schultz some years back. It retailed for around $450 new and it's about as clean and transparent as you're going to get.

I owned it, a couple Reference Line models, and an old McCormack or was it Mod Squad back then? At any rate the EVS used a pair of stepped attenuators for gain and balance and had a "straight thru" mode where the only thing in the signal path was a couple RCA's coming and going, a very short piece of wire and one or two resistors. Can't get much simpler than that. It was by far the best sounding passive I've heard.
Lightspeed Attenuator - do a little homework. You won't regret it.
I have owned a few passives: Bent AVC, K&K with S&B102, Placette RVC, and Goldpoint. All were bettered by the Lightspeed Attenuator - but all were first-rate and the tranformer and autoformer units are much easier to match with amps and cables. I also hear the First Watt B1 at RMAF and the system sounded quite good, but not my system or room so that is just a tentative observation; but how many things by Nelson Pass don't sound good?
For me it is the McCormack TLC-1 stock or Deluxe. To me they look and sound great. I especially like the feel of the controls of either preamp.
At one time, the Reference Line passives were thought to be among the very best, any experience with their gear versus the TVCs and AVCs that have come to market since then?
Will second Jedinite24. The McCormack TLC-1 is hard to beat, if you can find one.
An Axiom from Luminous audio... You can't go wrong at that price it's a no brainer. Great to have as back-up.

Oh, one I forgot to mention that was first-rate is the $135 Pot-in-a-Box from Music Reference. On the down side, it is built with a cheap plastic box (though a metal box version is available for 3x the price), on the plus side, the plastic box is non-ferrous, and it has an extremely well made Noble attenuator made many years ago, that isn't made anymore because of the high cost of manufacturing. When you don't need buffering, hard to beat, except for the $450 Lightspeed Attenuator.
I have both the TLC-1 and the Lightspeed. The McCormack is maximally convenient and very good sounding. The Lightspeed is maximally inconvenient but practically unbeatable sounding. Both are around the same price, i.e. cheap, so there are some very cost effective passives out there.
I bought the Axiom from Luminous Audio when my pre went to the shop..and thought I was buying a cheap POS to fill I surprised. It made me realize passive is worth a second look.
Scp, try the Lightspeed Attenuator - not much money either, I think you will like it since you must have a passive friendly system.
I bought 20 kits of parts from luminous after trying their pre-amp. Used with a Naim NAP250 & AVI Monoblocks.
Inside there are just two Caddock resistors & one 10K Noble Pot. The resistors are 2k87 ohms. The rest is a box, wire & 4 phono plugs. ( Must use Caddocks for best sound, we tried all the others, as was the case with the Noble pot)
Cost to buil DIY is about £20 max. Only suitable for line level, CD etc. Just perfect, clear, deep bass but controlled & beats active pre-amps if driving direct from a CD.
Deradave, try buying or building an LSA DIY - no pot better than no pot. Not the killer value of your DIY, but I think you will find even better performance if you can believe it.

I notice the consensus in the Agon chattering class is the TVC/AVC "kill" resitor based passives. Not my eperience, but I do wonder what a TVC/AVC would be the better approach, there obvioulsy some systems that would be better served by some impedance matching provided by them.
BENT was the best of all I tried, till I tried the LSA, but certainly at the pinnacle of passive options, and likely the best TVC (like the AVC even better), plus a lot more flexibility than the LSA which is a little hairshirt, but....

Interesting. I purchased the LSA recently and have been A/B'ing it against the Tap-X. It is very close but in my opinion I find the Tap-X has slightly better drive in my system at least and produces a more open soundstage.

Are you running very short interconnects between the LSA and your source and between LSA and amp? Would be interested to hear your thoughts on how to get the best out of the LSA.


Short ICs with low capacitance (Cardas GR). By the way, Clio9 has started an LSA Forum at his new website for - A good gatheirng place for LSA fanatics to share ideas. I can very easily see someone using the BENT for life and being very, very happy, especially getting off the merry-go-round:). In fact, I might buy one again, I do miss remote and balance control - it certainly would be at the very top of my list for passives to consider, though I'm not sure if John is still selling them; that is not clear to me as it seem he wanted to sell to OEMs.
The DIYHiFi Django AVC (Silk autoformers) I'm using is the best passive I've tried - including 3 transformer based units and a couple of "pots in a box" (built my 1st in '85). Does VERY little to the signal and is very flexible in its utility. It's a keeper!
Doak, have you tried anything with the Slagle autoformer? I noticed I preferred the Slagle AVC (Bent)to the S&B MKII (K&K TVC). Funny that John at BENT switched from S&B to Slagle due to S&Bs actions, but I think it was also made for a better (relative term as both were excellent)sounding piece.
Folks, just curious, are you trying to help the OP who posted 10 years ago or you just need a reason to talk?
If you want the Very Best the Townsend Alagri is the one to get. One of the best products OF ANY KIND that HIFI Critic has every tested. In another price range altogether. Yes I have one and use it with my CJ 350 or Gamut 200. WHAT EVER you are using now this will be better. I also have Audia Flight and custom tube pre and this is the one I use!

I use a Schiit Sys, two inputs and volume control, all for $49. Very transparent.
I use a Schiit Sys, two inputs and volume control, all for $49. Very transparent.

+1 for this.

Simple test is, to go direct from source to amp, with a very quiet starting CD (eg:Ravels Bolero), with your finger on the stop button in case it gets too loud. 
This is the most transparent transfer from source to amp you can possibly ever get.

Then get the closest to that with a passive pre in between.

Cheers George  
I just ordered a Schitt Saga. It is both passive and active, in case I want a little tube sound. I will compare it to my Transcendent Grounded Grid Preamp, a great bargain its own self! I'd like to spend a little money, before I spend a Lot!
Schitt Saga
This must be a bit new, $300 more though, should keep the tube lushness guys happy.

Cheers George
I guess I must be one of those tube lushness guys. I already own a Schitt Asgard headphone amp, which impressed me enough to act like a Math guy and try the passive pre/tube combo, just in case!

Slowhand, if I might intrude, thanks in advance:

M Brown, I own the SYS. Currently use it with a Dynaco ST-70. Have not compared it to my Jolida Fusion all tube pre in my primary system.  Also own the Schiit Valhalla all tube headphone amp. Would like to know what you think of this new Schiit passive/tube active.
I have spent a frustrating evening trying to hook up my Schitt Saga passive/tube active preamp, which arrived today. It is so passive I can't get any sound out of it. I emailed Schitt and got a pretty quick reply from Nick L, but only to ask questions re muting and if I had bad interconnects. I have good interconnects, I am listening via those same interconnects to my Transcendent Preamp,and Eric Clapton sounds really nice on my Audio Nirvana modified Thorens 125. I have checked my right to right left to left on all inputs and outputs. Fooled with every input on the Saga with the cool little remote: Nada, nada, nada. 
More will be revealed, but not tonight!

Michael, thanks for the info. Hope to hear that Schiit takes care of you.  No sound either passive or active? 
I was just too dumb to hook the Saga up. I started all over again and followed directions, for a change, and despite my learning disabilities, got it successfully inputted and outputted.
The sound is quite refined both buffered and non-buffered. I don't know if Schitt is a tongue in cheek operation, making fun of the whole audio circus; in any event, I like the sound. My Transcendent tube pre was,by comparison, blurred and lacking air with more pronounced peaks in both voices and instruments, especially guitar. I had a CD over my PSAudio Lambda transport and Classe DAC 1--and 180 gram vinyl Eric Clapton's "Unplugged"..
Still listening, no doubt I'm sticking with the Saga. For $350? Come on Man!! What's not to like?

Glad you got things worked out and are happy with results. They make some really good Schiit for the money in my experience.
I wonder why no one mentioned Prometheus passive pre, any one have input on that?
Prometheus is a TVC passive (Transformer Volume Control).

These tend to have a "signature" sound, and are not as transparent to the source as a potentiometer, ldr, or switched resistor based passives. Some love their colouration, some don’t. And if they use a winding on the transformer/s with some gain they can "ring" a bit. (they also tend to be expensive for a passive)

Cheers George