Preamp advice, all comments welcome

Hey guys, neat site I have stumbled onto! I am always very interested in the details and nuances of audio equipment. Honestly, some of the crazy stuff you guys do makes me wonder if it makes a difference. I guess i probabally couldnt tell at least.

Anyways, what I am considering is changing preamplifiers once again. I started with an HK825, then an adcom something or another, and now my McIntosh C26. Its funny, i like them all in thier own way. I just am looking for a different, more musical sound.

Now here is the REAL question. What would you guys reccomend for a preamp. There is no way I can afford anything over 500 bucks. I do like the sound of tubes. I was also wondering if there was any sort of upgrade that may keep me happy with my c26 for longer. (I am in college, and on a VERY limited income).

Here is what I am running for power amps. Still not sure which one to use for sure. I have a pair of adcom 535's biamping a pair of mortdaunt short bookshelfers (very happy with the speakers). I also have a hybrid amp (actually a car audio amp, with a 50 amp regulated power supply). Its a phaze audio tube driver amplifier, designed by butler.

Anyways, any thought or consideration is greatly apreciated. Thanks in advance guys!!!

Evan :)
look for a used AudioResearch LS3 can get them used for around $500...its a former Sterophile Class A.. a friend of mine has one....sounds super...and a good bargain
If you love the sound of tubes, it is tough to beat a conrad-johnson pv10a. If you don't need a phono stage, the pv10L can be had for around $550 used. Very musical preamp and a great bargain, imho.
Evan you might just need to apply some tweaks into your existing rig in order to enhance what you already have, & realize its full potential. Play around with cabling; interconnects & AC cords too. Browse the forums for tips on vibration control; cones, footers, shelving, etc. Look into AC power filtration & room treatments. Even at a low budget, it's amazing what you can do with what you already have; you just need to experiment
I'll second the recommendation for the conrad-johnson PV-10A if you like tube equipment and are on a budget. Another option would be the conrad-johnson PV-9A. Both are very nice sounding tube preamps that are reasonably available on the used market.
Thanks guys, keep that information coming :)

Ill be keeping the c26 regardless, i can always use it in my bedroom. Its in pristine shape, and I cant justify selling it just yet :)

However, i will look into the audio research unit, and the conrad johnson units.

Thanks alot guys= Evan
In addition to the ARC LS3 and CJ PV10, the other bargain pre-amp that comes to mind in your price range is the Audible Illusions L2. It's basically a Modulus 3 without the phono stage. It does have a pretty good quality headphone jack, too. You really cannot go wrong with any of these recommendations. Even by today's standards, they are big music value for the money. Additionally, you can tune the sound with different tubes in the future at relatively low cost. Good luck.
Look at an Anthem Pre1L or pre2L. Great tube sound and < $500 on the used mkt.
I really need a phono stage... how much money would that run me for a decent one? I guess i could use my mac preamp as a phono stage temporarily.

I like vinyl, but heard my freinds oracle alexandria and fell in love. I may hang onto the c26 and drop some change on a turntable/cartridge combo. Although i still need a new preamp :)

Thanks for the help guys- Evan

PS... suggestions for the phono stage are apreciated :)
A 2-box solution at $500 will be nearly impossible. A decent standalone phono stage, even used, will be a few hundred. You need to find a built-in phono stage. Used CJ, AI, ARC, Anthem, and others should fill the bill.