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Audible Illusions 3A or if you prefer less warmth the L1. A friend has a Marantz 7C that he claims is tops. It has had the usual maintenance plus a rebuilt (rewound) power transformer and also the addition of a custom designed volume pot that maintains the soundstage and detail as the volume drops. My personal favorite is the L1. I withdraw the Pas3x in favor of these.
I would think that the CAT SL-1 (any model) would have to be in just about anyone's top ten. The CAT just eclipses everything else I have heard, especially if you do your own tube rolling to match the rest of your system. Yes Avguygeorge, I will stand up and be counted. Bass extension, midrange presence, soundstage, dynamics, transparency, smoothness. I just don't see how it can get much better than this. But, my mind is still open and while I haven't heard everything mentioned in this thread, IMO, some of the suggestions just don't compare. I understand listening evaluations are subjective, so don't get mad at me guys.
Jadis JP80mc, my favorite for years. A classical lover's heaven! Also the Aesthetix IO (haven't listened to the matching line stage, but if it's anywhere near as good, it should be included). The ARC SP-10 Mk II is also a classic. In the less expensive stuff, the Audible Illusions 3A. Everything else mentioned is also worthy-there's no shortage of fine tube preamps.
Essence Audio Jasper: These hand made 50# behemoths are utterly neutral, wonderfully musical and best of all, do not fail with years of listening. At $10000 new they are a bit pricey but can be had on the used market for a fraction of the new price. If you love tubes and demand reliability, this is the one.
There are many who prefer the SP-10 (which I recall is a two-chasis unit) to the SP-11 in their MkII versions. The SP-11 was more neutral and had better deep bass, but certainly lacked the tube bloom and dimensionality of the SP-10. I had an SP-11 for 4 years, it was the first high-end preamp I'd owned. Back then, I was slowly being weaned from solid state to tubes, so I probably would not have appreciated the SP-10 as much as I do now. A classic case of tube vs. (hybrid) solid state preferences, I guess; your taste would decide which was "better". From the prices of used 10s and 11s, I'd say they're both held in high esteem by audiophiles. The SP-9 was ARC's attempt to make a budget SP-11 hybrid, and in its MkI version had mixed reviews; it certainly did not have a tubed preamp sound. I can say that the SP-15, which was the SP-11's replacement and had half as many tubes as the SP-11, never seemed to have the critical or popular success of either the 10 or 11. By the time it came out, I was growing enough in my appreciation of tubed equipment to prefer my SP-11 and resist upgrade fever. Had I been into the high end earlier and owned an SP-10, I probably would have resisted the urge to get an SP-11 as well.
Reprince is right. So far as the differences between the SP-10 and SP-11, certainly the 10 euphonized the sound more than the 11 which was more transparent and probably closer to neutral across the board (hybrid). The 10 with all tube power supply has the ability to make more music sound live without any loss of musical information, an ever lovin bloomer. It just pulls you into the music, you really don't care if it's ultimately accurate or not. Interestingly enough I have just done an extended listen with the 10 Mk2 in my system and with an upgrade in caps, wires and resistors it just might hold its own against the top tube pre-amps out there.
Tubegroover: I would not doubt it; my JP80 is a pretty old design as well, and I'm not selling it soon (I heard somewhere it was similar in circuitry to the ARC SP6, but with a much better power supply and point-to-point wiring). A friend of mine redid his SP-10 with silver wiring and had a great-sounding pre (don't know if he still has it). Not a bad product to buy used and try a few upgrades on.
I have owned an ARC SP10Mk2 for many years. It's wonderful, but it could use a bit more clarity. I've thought about upgrading the internal parts, but I would hate to destroy the original voicing, and also the resale value. I know Great Northern Sound Company can do extensive mods, but for the price, I could buy something state of the art used! Do you guys have any suggestions? Thanks.
go to the tech-talk topic & czech out the *believers vs non believers* & the ps-audio threads. yule learn that all electronics sound alike, w/the possible exception of toob-stuff - which sounds distorted, so those of us who like toobs obviously prefer more distortion... ;~)
that said, i defy ewe to find a better-sounding preamp than the melos music-director for ~$2k used. or for *any* price, for that matter... :>)
my opinion, of course! doug s.
Martin, without a price range it's kind of tough to answer your question. There are plenty of suggestions in this thread above. If you listen primarily to classical or jazz, I'd suggest a used Jadis, but that's not cheap, even used; also, among the newer equipment, the Herron line and phono stages are excellent, with a very clean, detailed yet dimensional presentation. But I would not dismiss the thought of having your SP-10 modified by Great Northern Sound or another skilled modifier; I think that you'd find that may bring you a "state of the art" preamp as well. There isn't that much new in preamp circuitry that I've seen which would make your preamp obsolete, and I would expect that upgrades in capacitors, resistors and the like might give you the added clarity you're looking for without necessarily losing the character of the unit that you like. Just my opinion.....
Jadis JP80 to draw me into the music, as once the all tube, two chassis Beverdige did in the seventies. JP 200 balanced with the Aesthetix IO phonostage in front has given me the most musical, dynamic and deadquiet vinyl rendering, which I've heard on my stators so far. Might fiddle around with tubes in the future, but doubt if I'll ever change this vinyl setup again.
Greetings, Rcprince! I commend you on your mnestic powers.
Yes its all broken in, except for my ears. I am still of two minds. I find the IO much quieter with a wider and deeper soundstage and a tad better separation between indiviual instruments. Probably, I must grudgingly admit, that its also more neutral. But I love that tad of euphonic coloration in the Jadis' mids, I love that bloom of individual instruments, that sonic aura, the JP80 can place around the sound of a solo violin and above all the holographic rendering of voices. The 200 does this even more than the JP 80. They are sonically very similar, only the 200 has a punch, which I never thought possible from a preamp. So I've found the Aesthetix/Jadis 200Bal a very happy marriage. However so far I mainly listen to chamber music through this combination. For big classical stuff or opera I have myself a Jadis fest with the JP80 as the RHIAA phono part through the 200's. Unfortunatedly the latter are only on loan so far, so if I suddenly disappear from Audiogon, I will probably have been caught robbing a bank in order to keep those four chassis marvels.
I have owned the SP-10, SP-11, and JP-80MC. I have auditioned the JP200 but never extensively as owning. The SP-11 has never been a contender. Interestingly, the SP-10 improved markedly when re-tubed with 6922s for 6DJ8s. I still remember the utter musicality and enjoyment from this preamp as unsurpassed. My JP-80MC usurped the musical crown until I had to re-tube it. I was never able even to approximate the original magical qualities of this preamp despite replacement tube sets from Jadis, RAM, or $$$NOS. I still longed for the re-tubed SP-10. Now I would'nt think of using a preamp (tube or SS) without a remote volume/mute control at least. But I'd be hard-pressed to rack my aural memory and choose between these two classics for the front end honors of my apocryphal audio valediction.
Kublakhan Call Leonard at ARC (763) 577-9700 for upgrade info. I would also speak with Steve Huntley of http://www.greatnorthernsound.com phone 651-578-0657. Used to work for ARC and does mods. He would be throughly familiar with the differences and might offer greater insight. He personally has a 10 Mk2 that he has modified. Personally, I wouldn't pass on a SP-10 for a PH-3. If you ask Leonard I'm sure he would tell you that their current PH3 phono stage is better so I wouldn't be so ready to take his word for it.