Need a big favor picking a preamp

I recently tried out an Esoteric E-02 phonostage and have decided to buy one.  (It was a big step up from a Parasound JC3+, which surprised me.)  I'm working on my preamp stage now, and tried out a Dan D'Angostino Momentum HD preamp and the Exoteric Grandioso C1X


Dan's preamp was fantasic, but I makes me feel like I need to be wearing several gold chains when using it.  Perhaps also a toupee and some gold nugget rings.  "Gaudy" is the word when I look at it. 


I also tried out a Esoteric Grandioso C1X, which was fantastic, but a bit cold, and much of my system is already Esoteric Grandioso, and it's getting a bit fanboyish.   Unfortunately I did not have it when I tried out the E-02, but I assume the two would be excellent together.

I would say the D'Angostino preamp is "more musical", while the Esoteric more "more precise".

There's a third contender I have never heard on my system, but loved when I heard elsewhere on a similar system -- Nagra HD preamp -- it had the precision of the Esoteric and had just a tad bit of tube sound.  It's also startlingly expensive.

I tried out several others that just didn't fit my system: Pass Labs being one, which surprised me.

So, please advise:

D'Angostino Momentum?

Esoteric C1X

Nagra HD


The downstream are two Classe Delta Monoblocks, Bowers 800s, SVS PB16 ultras.  Upstream Digital: Esoteric K-03XD and Lumin U1  Upstream Analog: Esoteric E-02 and alternating between a VPI Titan and Esoteric Grandioso turntable.

Current preamp is a Prima Luna Evo 400, which I love the looks of, and punches WAY above its weight for the price, but it's time to go.




Thanks. Well said.


"Indeed, while it may come to a surprise for those who use Internet forums to make pithy comments, otherwise be rude to others, and lash out for no good reason (other than to sate whatever demon troubles them — a mistake, for it only grows stronger) the real purpose of forums such as Audiogon is to learn from others and to help others."

I'll second the Conrad-Johnson ART88. Just purchased one and It's beyond excellent.  Dual-Mono as well. Quiet, detailed and exceptionally transparent. 

As I mentioned to someone recently, be careful with your audition, you will not be able to un-hear this preamplifier's quality.

Sometimes you don't have to spend a TON of money to get superb results.  I have 2, Benchmark   LA-4 pre  amps in two individual systems. A little over 3K with remote, for each. I believe they also offer an HPA-4 ? which comes with a great Headphone amp, a little bit more money. You will be quite impressed!

30 day trial period, made in the USA (NY) Total money back if not pleased. Rory,a good guy who will answer the phone ( No pushing buttons all day)  Kind of a WIN-WIN

Oh, a 5 year warranty to boot!

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Well, I've made a decision and pulled the tigger.  Two triggers, in fact.

I want to thank everyone for their input and advice.  I learned about several brands and products I'd never heard of -- or had forgotten about.  I seriously looked at every single one of each of your recommendations, and tried out a few, either in a show room or in my system.  Even stole my daughter's LTA Microzotl (which, for whatever reason, thought of as a headphone amp) for an evening.

The Vinnie Rossi  Brama Meiter is stunning-looking and well-reviewed and the one that I could not audition because I couldn't find one located where I could reasonably justify to the IRS (and my board) firing up the company plane and checking out.  It will forever be the pretty girl with whom I didn't get to dance. 

The runner-up was the Audio Research Reference 10, a late entry here, of which there are numerous used examples for very reasonable prices.  I borrowed a buddies, and it is extremely good.  Very crisp.   He also brought in a Van den Hul The Grail SE (the one with the two power supplies).  I fell in love with this Phono Preamp.

Fourth place was the Dan D'Agastino's RELENTLESS (not Momentum).  I could only find it new and the dealer wanted more than MSRP.  I also couldn't try it out on my system and had to rely on a studio audition.  It has a distinct "house" sound, which, if you like it, that's great. B

The Esoteric Grandioso (C01X?) fell to third.  It has all the right bits, but something wasn't right, and we did blind A-B testing.

The winner was the Nagra HD preamp.  It had my objective list of requirements: true dual mono, fully balanced inputs and outputs, and just outstanding sound. Even used (at $36K) it was ~2X more than the Audio Research (used) it was superior.  But when I paired it with the Vdh The Grail SE, it was pure magic.  The two work exceptionally well together.


So anyway, I ended up buying the Nagra HD today (sending check Monday) -- and ended up buying a VdH Grail SE phono stage unexpectedly.


Happy listening, everyone.   And thanks for all your help.

Congratulations!!  Way to go!! You will be delighted with this product for a long long time!!  Keep us posted on your set up and share some pics!!