Going back to Axpona 2017,a Golden gate DAC has been a dream of mine. Virtually every single high end room there was using one, even the famous, Million Dollar Plus system that Von Schweikert put together. I was also fortunate enough to manage to have a couple private listening sessions with components I knew well, used with a Golden gate, to truly show me the brilliance of the DAC.
Skip forward to a bit over a month ago when I was finally able to purchase a mint condition GG, after having it sent to the factory for a full checkup and having the warranty reinstated. When the unit arrived in it's superb flight case, I quickly connected it up, and sat back to listen witha good audiophile friend who owns a Big7. Our initial, extended listening sessions the did not go well. The quality of bass and depth of bass suffered a real setback, and other elements of the sound were a bit muddied. My friend then suggested connecting the GG direct to my amplifier and using its built in volume control. I did so, although that was absolutely not the direction I wanted to go, but further listening clearly indicated that, my system simply sounds much better using the Golden gate directly into the amplifier and eliminating the preamp from the chain.
And, honestly that disappoints me in ways I can't entirely explain. I really, really have liked my preamp (and it's a respected, and not at all inexpensive preamp on it's own) but when using the Golden Gate direct, with the supplied "high end" tubes from Lampizator (the KR PX4 tubes and Emission Labs 5U4G ) there is simply significantly greater clarity, balance, solidity of bass, and overall sound. When the preamp is inserted back into the system it returns to being muddled and lacking dynamics. While its very clear that direct connection to the GG produces much better sound, and while that sound is very. very good, to excellent, it's not "great" and greatness should be possible.
Based upon that concern, I had access, through a friend, to a group of Golden Gate owners. Out of twenty people I reached out to, sixteen admitted that their systems produced superior sound when the Golden Gate was used with a complementary preamp that it synched well with, sonically. Across the board, those GG owners emphasized that a preamp that took the strengths of what the Golden Gate provided and enhanced those strengths was what was needed. However, the preamps they were using were EXTREMELY expensive, across the board.
I am hoping that some forum members here, who either own a Golden gate, or have significant experience with one, might be able to recommend preamps that will effectively work with, and enhance the Golden Gates output that are not astronomically priced. I would be looking at a maximum budget of $6k, for a used preamp.
Thank you for any expertise, recommendations or other assistance you can provide.