The CJ ET3SE is fine for an older pre-amp. If you enjoy the CJ house sound, there is plenty of room for upward mobility. Keep me posted.
Your weak links, in my opinion judging by the components list, are your source and interconnects (AZ Wow).
audphile1 i had a oppo on it at first, switched to the nad, gave it a more mature sound. i love the sound of the wow's. not a fan of arc. sounded to mechanical for my taste.
jafant, tried to move my dna 500, had to pay some one to do it for me. between my age and issues was thinking of getting out of the audiophile thing all together. i know if anything was to happen to me my wife would be lost. thinking of selling it all and getting a more manageable system.....
@kennesawjet I had pretty much all AZ cables including Wow and all the way up to Absolute Copper. As you go up the line you get a noticeable improvement in clarity, resolution and soundstage while retaining the warm sound signature. One of the best combos and values is the pairing of Silver Ref II and Matrix Ref II. As to the ARC preamps, I’ve never heard one that sounded unnatural or mechanical and I had the following preamps in my system: LS15, LS16, LS25, Ref1 and Ref6.
These were paired with various amps and speakers starting with DNA-0.5, DNA-125, DNA-225, Pass X250.5, Pass X260.8 (with Ref6). Not trying to convince you but your statement about ARC sound is a bit unusual and inaccurate in my opinion. Keep in mind, you have to have all your components on the level. These preamps are revealing and will show you what’s up and down stream. It’s likely that either the source, the amp or thd speakers you heard with ARC preamps were not up to par. A low quality digital source will make itself known thru a transparent preamp like the ones I mentioned above. So perhaps that’s what you heard…just a speculation…since we hear things differently. Your system, your ears, your room.
+1 @audphile1 You might try waiting for a suitable used AZ Silver Ref interconnect to come available (I’ve got a couple pair but won’t part with them) and try that in place of the Wow and see what happens, and it’s also the cheapest and easiest thing to try. If it provides an improvement in the right direction you’re probably onto something, and adding more Silver Refs will give you even more as in my experience their qualities are cumulative. I’ve used the Silver Refs with my McCormack 0.5 for many years and find them to be a very synergistic match and provide precisely the sound characteristics you’re looking for. I can only imagine they’d be a big improvement over the Wows.