best transparent pre amp

looking for a pre amp that will allow an excellent source to shine through unobstructed. Neither add or detract from the signal provided.

Will be mated with SS amp.

You are asking the right question
"Neither add or detract from the signal provided"
This is called being "true to the source"

But need more info, what is the rest of your system
Source name and model?
Poweramp name and model?
Speakers name and model?

Cheers George

to date, the (3) best that I have auditioned;
ARC Ref5 SE (tubed)
Conrad Johnson Act2 Series2 (tubed)
Pass Labs XP-20 (solid state).

I mention these models because in own way are simply outstanding and mate very well w/ a solid-state Power amp.

Most importantly, which brand(s) cabling will you be using?

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
I have heard a few good ones. The Soulution 720 stands out as one of the finest I have heard but was comparing different systems.
Mixed bag of interconnects

Grover hofman zx
Gabriel gold passion
The amr comes with its own which I have been told is quatrofil (spelling incorrect)
Dvdgreco, your amp has a very useful high SE input impedance at 99.5k ohms, which is great for many ways of controlling the volume active or passive.
But what is your source??

Sorry just saw Amr cd 77.1 soon I will see what it's capable of doing and will then give some ideas.

Cheers George


Your amp has a very useful high SE input impedance at 99.5k ohms, and only needs 1.2v input for full power.

And your future AMR CD77.1 has a nice low output impedance which is <100ohms with more than 2v output.

This combination is perfect for a 10kohm logerithmic passive preamp. Like the $49 Schitt Sys (linked).
As you can see all you need is passive preamp which will give you, as you say.
"excellent source to shine through unobstructed. Neither add or detract from the signal provided."
It will be the most transparent way of controlling the volume and getting the source signal to the poweramp.

Cheers George

In addition to the above recommendation, I know that a $49 passive preamp seems stupid, when you've auditioning multi $K preamps you mentioned.

But read these very educational words from the master himself Nelson Pass. Your system is perfectly suited for this.

"Nelson Pass,
We’ve got lots of gain in our electronics. More gain than some of us need or want. At least 10 db more.
Think of it this way: If you are running your volume control down around 9 o’clock, you are actually throwing away signal level so that a subsequent gain stage can make it back up.
Routinely DIYers opt to make themselves a “passive preamp” - just an input selector and a volume control.
What could be better? Hardly any noise or distortion added by these simple passive parts. No feedback, no worrying about what type of capacitors – just musical perfection.
And yet there are guys out there who don’t care for the result. “It sucks the life out of the music”, is a commonly heard refrain (really - I’m being serious here!). Maybe they are reacting psychologically to the need to turn the volume control up compared to an active preamp."

What do you have to loose, it's just $49

Cheers George

I just purchased a Simaudio 740P preamp to drive my Pass X250.8 and it is very transparent.

I'm more impressed though with the separation and depth between the instruments. I was not really ready for the latter and it is amazing how live the music now sounds. I've had a Berkeley Alpha II DAC and tried that directly into my amp, but I still prefer the sound I have now with the preamp in the chain. In absolute terms I don't find the high price for the preamp worth it, but in audiophile terms based on what I've spent for the rest of my system, the preamp was definitely worth it.

I've also tried Wyred STPSE, Pass XP10, Hegel P20, and Mystere preamps in my system. I could definitely hear differences between them all; the Wyred and Hegel were excellent for their MSRP.

Good Luck in your search.
Extremely transparent pre-amp: Esoteric C02; very happy with this preamp in my system as it gives that transparency, top to bottom frequency accuracy, sound-staging, etc...and so much more. I believe there is one up here selling used from someone else as of at least this past Friday/Saturday....
VTL 7.5 iii. Breathtakingly clear and natural sounding. Like a pure mountain spring in sunlight.

I just received the brand new battery powered solid state darTZeel NHB-18NS preamp. I owned the previous model for 9 years. it's astonishing how 'not in the way of the music' it is. and also the super low noise floor and amazing dynamics. the thing is alive.

very natural sounding with a harmonically rich and textured mid range and very transparent. ambience and nuance retrieval is off the charts.

combines the best of tubes, and the best of solid sounds like music

easily the finest preamp I have heard, and includes a world class phono stage.
George knows what's up. Drop $60 on a Schiit Sys passive preamp and see how you like it.
I use a Bryston BP6 with my McCormack DNA 0.5 Rev. A and it's extremely neutral and allows the amp to display all the 3D imagery it's capable of. Really just sounds like the proverbial straight wire with gain. Passive also sounds like an interesting idea. I was going to suggest Placette but not sure how it would compare to the much less expensive Schiit mentioned earlier. Best of luck.
George is correct in that if a preamp imposes a coloration a passive control, even a very inexpensive one might be better.

It's not cast in concrete though- passives have problems of their own that have been expounded upon a lot over the years, just like active preamps.

If OTHO if an active preamp is free of many of the pitfalls that a line section has to face, it will be found to be more transparent.

The line section/passive control has 4 functions:

1) Control volume
2) select input
3) provide any needed gain (with a passive of course if set up right you won't been needing any)
4) control the interconnect cable from the preamp to amp.

It is 4) on this list that is the least understood- heck, most audiophiles don't even think that is possible and wind up buying some really expensive cables to deal with/prevent cable artifact. This is also the thing that passive systems don't do at all (essentially its mathematically impossible, and many line sections don't do very well with this either). But if the line section **does** prevent cable interactions from occurring, it is very likely to also be the most transparent; introducing the least coloration.
I always thought Stan Klyne made a great solid state pre amp; mine was a 6lx3p and it was a great pre amp.
Dvdgreco, if you do choose to go with an active preamp, I would think twice before choosing some of the models that have been mentioned. The concern in some cases being that their gain may be so high that you would be forced to use the volume control undesirably close to the bottom of its range. As was mentioned, the AMR 77.1 apparently has a full scale output of at least 2 volts, as most digital sources do, and your amp (assuming its sensitivity didn't change as a result of the "silver upgrade") will put 370 watts into the 4 ohm impedance of your 87 db/1W/1m speakers in response to an input of only 1 volt.

I note that the older Herron model you mentioned has a specified gain of 14 db, and the VTL model that was suggested has a gain of 13.2 (single-ended out) or 19.2 db (balanced out). And as with many CJ preamps, the ACT2 Series 2 that was mentioned has a VERY high gain, in this case 21.2 db. Those numbers are all too high for comfort, IMO, in relation to the relevant parameters of the rest of your equipment, although in the case of the Herron the issue may be mitigated by the 166 steps its volume control provides. I haven't checked the gains of any of the other models that have been mentioned.

I note, btw, that the currently produced Herron VTSP-3a provides an 8 db gain mode, in addition to a 14 db mode, and I have no doubt that it is a wonderful product. And like many other Herron owners I can attest to Keith Herron being an exceptionally wonderful person to deal with. However the VTSP-3a costs $6550.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
I'm using a Tortuga LDR1B-v2 passive pre. I replaced an Audio Research REF-3 preamp and the Tortuga bettered it in every category. It has bass slam that I only expected from an active pre. Very clean, extended treble. Mine is a balanced unit and lists for $1800. Don't let the low price fool you into dismissing it.
We have a customer that did exactly the same thing by replacing his Ref 3 with our UV-1 preamp (line stage only version) and he said exactly the same thing. It gave him some pause as the UV-1 line stage costs about the same as the Tortuga; I think he sold the Ref 3 used for more than he paid for the UV-1.
If you are looking for transparency above all else, then a Passive seems the best route. I tried out a number in a mini shoot out and was surprised how different they were. I was expecting more variation in Active Pre's, with, by definition more components.

The absolute standout was the Music First Audio Baby reference. To me, it was as good as, but very different, to an ARC Ref 5SE. Yes, no question though, you trade transparency and neutrality, for some macro dynamics and base grip. If transparency is your key requirement, I would say a passive is the way to go, with the proviso that you try it in your system first. Modern sources seem to have very high output voltage, particularly digital, but for vinyl with long cable runs, you might run out of steam.
Actually the idea that a passive is more transparent is a matter of dispute.

You have to keep in mind that a well-designed and built active will have distortion that is a tiny fraction of what it is in a power amplifier!

A passive has no distortion but is extremely prone to artifacts from the interconnect cables. This is unavoidable: it is purely a math issue and has nothing to do with the quality of the control. Anyone using a passive control knows how important it is to select the right cables for their system and to keep the cables short.

A good line stage can control the cables so well that they become moot insofar as the system sounds.

The bottom line has to do with budget and audition. If it works for you that is what is important.
$60K for a passive pre-amp???? Must be a joke or drug-induced hallucination :-)
Oops...too much coffee, mis-read the thread. Apologies, I thought I saw "$60K", not $60. Guess it's time for caffeine-rehab :-)

If you're budget conscious, try Emotiva.  They offer in-home trial w 100% satisfaction guarantee and been getting great reviews.