Quicksilver line stage, or a Conrad Johnson PV10.
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I have had the following sort of affordable preamps in the last 3 years:
- Schitt Freya+
- Topping pre90
- Benchmark LA4/HPA4
- Holo Serene
The Benchmark and Holo are better than anything at any price from my perspective of how a preamp should work. That is no noise on the speakers, no addition to the sound so all you hear is the other gear, and a great volume control.
I am going to sell my LA4 because I want to get the HPA4 (again). I now have a way to use the headphone amp of the HPA4 with my RAAL phones. I could not before.
Dont hate on it but Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2, excellent fully differential balanced 2 channel pre-amp, read the reviews, if you can find one, it seriously replaced my Krell KAV 250p, and no it is not a home theatre preamp, the soundstage actually blew me and a couple of listening buddies away, we went into it thinking how everyone else thinks about Emotiva equipment, but the proof was in the puddin as they say✌️🎶, excellent mc/mm phono stage also.
I concur with all the reviews already written about this preamp.
If you are interested in a kit, the Akitika PR102 is both transparent and well featured with modular options to include headphone and phono, with or without motorized remote control. Price is very reasonable for the performance. This is really the only true “budget” alternative to Schiit. Well under a grand.
It would help you narrow the choices if you first clarify features:
b. desired, not absolute
It's hard to keep the list short, but, for low cost ......
My suspicion is that used could match a new budget price and be 'better' and include more ......
Used, with remote volume control is a short list, and many sellers forget to mention the remote, so if interested, do a quick check elsewhere for manual/feature info.
I have made references in the past on this forum to the Pre-Amp suggested in a earlier post in this thread.
The basic model will cost not much more than what might be what the OP expects to spend a their minimum outlay.
The follow is a copy/paste from another thread. It will show one reason why I have made the suggestion about this model.
"One of the above KB1 owners had a Loan of a Bespoke Built KB1 at the time they were having demo's of Pre Amp's to be used with EAR Power Amp's, approx' £20000 of Pre-Amp's were home demo'd of which one was a EAR 868 and retailing at £5000. The Pre-Amp options were not limited to a Budget, the KB1 won the system owners favour, and a Bespoke Built KB1 is used in the system.
Note: The KB1 does not do full bodied/lush as a presentation."
-Bottlehead Moreplay (tube kit @ <$500)
-Musical Paradise MP-701 MkII (ready to go tube for <$800)
The MP can be purchased from a vendor in the US or Canada for less $ than those offered from China.
The Parasound P6 and the Z-Pre 3 sound virtually the same as preamps, that is pretty much silent. The difference is the features, the P6 has a DAC, balanced connections, and a variable crossover for the sub. If you don't need those features I would get the Z-Pre. I own the ZPre and have used it in my desktop system and my main system. Small, nice remote, sounds fantastic and not just for the money. Extremely clean signal.
Parasound New Clasic 200 Pre (the NC 200 Intergrated same but with power).
Lots of input/output options, built in DAC, MM/MC phono, Sub out, Hi-pass / low pass, HT by-pass, and tone controll all fully operational by one of the best remotes anywhere. Each input option can also have its own volume level match.
Why not a Schiit Freya +? They're amazing sounding USA made and worthy of their Class A rating. Nothing else comes close in price or features...you can tube roll, go passive, whatever. They even have a new one called a Kaya if you aren't a tube fan, similar features for 700 bucks, and I bet it sounds fabulous. What...too inexpensive?
Cheap killer preamp? The Chinese Weiliang-made MBL 6010d clone is just that. Just be shure to give it some good sounding op-amps.
BB OPA627 single op-amps + 4xTexas Instruments LME49720 dual op-amps makes this into a balanced giant-killer. Extremely open and dynamic, wery low noise. It dissapears like a good pre should do and to a price..