Well, after months of grumbling and searching, I finally started my next round of upgrades. Got a great deal on a 15-year-old Rotel power amp that looks absolutely perfect and sounds absolutely fantastic. (I swear the extra wattage is giving me an extra octave of bass, even if it's only 30 watts more than what I had before) This now means that I'm using the preamp of an integrated into a power amp, and so a preamp will be my next move, as I can hear the limitations of the (1975, solid state, albeit discrete) preamp into the (1994) amplifier.
I've got basically three ideas, and I'm wondering if anyone can give me some input on them. Those of you who know me know that my financial situation limits me such that used gear is pretty much the only option, since I don't think there's much in the $500 range new that's an actual upgrade.
a) A preamp/tuner combo. I miss having the radio in my system, and I'm hurting for space in my listening room. Adcom and NAD have both made this sort of thing in the recent past (GTP-550, NAD 1700) and while I've never heard an Adcom piece, they have a good rep. NAD is often astonishingly good for the price, but I don't think I've ever heard one of their preamps. I could care less about a remote control. I'd like a decent phono stage, but could just as well do without one and buy a cheap outboard one (or build a fairly decent one for the price of a cheap outboard one). I don't use tone controls, I don't use the loudness button unless I'm listening with headphones, and really the only bells and whistles I need are tape loops (preferably 2, but I could live with 1 if there's a second pre out) and a mono switch. Any ideas along this line?
b) Something of an earlier generation (pre 1990) that I could mod heavily to get decent results out of. (e.g, buying a Dynaco PAT-5 and sticking modern op-amps into it or a Hafler 110 that I could ship off to Musical Concepts or something) Specifically, how does the PAT-5 stack up to a $500-$1000 pre today? (Considering that I could get a PAT-5 for about $100-$150 and then ship it to Frank Van Alstine to be modded beyond recognition for another $600, once I had the $600 saved up, this might be an option)
c) There's a lot of tube stuff from the late 60's to early 70's that has a good rep and isn't hideously expensive. I like the sound of tube pre's (I like the sound of tube power amps, too, but can barely keep my guitar amps in EL84s). How does, say, a Dynaco PAS-3, an early AR pre, or even a Heathkit stack up to options a or b above? Yes, I know the Marantz 8 is great, but if I could afford one, I'd have a much wider choice of options in general.
I have an almost pathologically wide taste in music, everything from classical to jazz to rock (especially psychedelic) to folk. Something that does one thing well at the expense of others is not much of an option.
Any advice? Suggestions? Products to steer clear of?
(Jeff W.-- if you're reading this, I still owe you some tracks I promised to email you. I lost your email. You can get mine from Stephen.)