A preamp recommendation

Hello everyone,  I'm looking for a "neutral" preamp that does not emphasize and de-emphasize any frequency range but has just a tiny bit of warmth.  Accurate harmonic information resulting in natural instrumental timbre, outstanding sound staging and imaging, solid extended bass without typical under controlled bass of typical tubes or over damped bass of transistors, crystalline smooth extended high frequency, excellent micro and macro dynamics, and clear transparent sound are all important to me.  I don't like hyper detailed sound typical of some transistor preamps or overly smooth warm sound of some tube preamps.  Currently, my favorite preamp is an autoformer passive preamp which gives many of the sound quality I like, but it lacks the drive and impact I get from active preamps. I have auditioned some top preamps from Audio Research, D'Agustino, Pass, among others, but was underwhelmed due to lack of transparency, inaccurate timbre, and/or significant deviation from overall neutrality.  I don't care if the preamp is solid state or tube, long as my requirements are met.  All of my amps have input impedance of 50KOhms or above. Which preamp would best fit my taste?  Any preamp new or used $15k or under would be on my list. Thank you.


After ten years of season tickets to the symphony and step by step moving my system to sound like real music… to have the details in the correct contrast to the foundational sounds… so the mid-range is bloomed like it is in natural sound, the ss is articulate and detailed and without artificial slam… no question Audio Research. I m sure you can get an Audio Research Reference 6 for your price. But to get the full spectrum and fully fleshed out musical experience you will also nees an Audio Research Reference amp.

ghdprentice, I have auditioned the ARC Ref 6. Unfortunately, I found it colored and veiled IN MY SYSTEM.  ARC's new amps sound excellent. But thanks for the suggestion. 

I think the Bryston BP26 might tick all your boxes and possibly save you $$$. It’s as close to a “straight wire with gain” product as I’ve heard. Or, put another way, it sounds like a passive preamp with balls. It’s like a clean, clear, open window on sound and just completely gets out of the way of the music.

On the tube side and given what you’re looking for the Atmasphere MP1, Backert Rhythm, and Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL preamps would all be high on my radar, but if you’re running fully balanced the MP1 deserves extra consideration. Best of luck.

Audio Research would be the correct recommendation but I'm not a fan after owning two of them. No bounce, no excitement. 

"I’m looking for a "neutral" preamp that does not emphasize and de-emphasize any frequency range but has just a tiny bit of warmth."

The Benchmark LA4 preamp is my fav but it has no warmth. I love it with my KRELL Dou amp, which is warm. It also is great with a CODA #8 amp, which is slightly warm.

You will not find anything more neutral than that, expect the Topping pre90 that is very similar to the LA4 and much cheaper. The pre90 does not mate well with all amps, while the LA4 is bullet proof. Do not let the low price of the LA4 fool you into thinking it is low quality. I think it is the best preamp out there. I like it totally neutral.

I also own a CODA 07x preamp and it is colored but also a great sounding unit. 




I saw the Quicksilver Audio Line Stage Tube Preamplifier (Remote Version) listed recently on usam for $549. That is an amazing deal and might be what you're looking for. At the very least, it would give you something to try out and possibly re-sell if you don't care for. I've found it neutral/slightly warm and it's ruggedly built. It retails for $1595.



“ …I think the Bryston BP26 might tick all your boxes…”

+1 on this recommendation 

Thanks Soux. What do you think of the Atmasphere MP1 bass? I’ve heard it’s a fantastic sounding preamp. But some have said it’s biggest weakness is somewhat anemic bass compared to other top flight preamps. Also does it have a reputation for reliability? Unfortunately I’ve owned MA-60, and it was the most unreliable amp I’ve ever owned. 

How does the Backert Rhythm compare with MP1?

I’ll look into Bryston BP26, but I’ve found past Bryston components on the sterile side, but it’s been decades.

Thanks yyzsantabarbara. I’ve heard Benchmark before. It’s way too sterile for me. Most preamps using op amps sound that way to me.  However, the Coda 07x is a preamp I’m considering. I owned a Threshold FET9 preamp back in the 80’s and liked it. What type of colorations does the Coda have?

Hilde45, wow I didn’t know Quicksilver was still in business. Loved their old V4 mono blocks decades ago. Thanks

I’ll look into Bryston BP26, but I’ve found past Bryston components on the sterile side, but it’s been decades.

Bryston’s “sound” has evolved quite a bit over the years, and while I agree their older amps were a bit thin and sterile sounding I wouldn’t characterize their later offerings that way. As far as their preamps, I’d not call them sterile but rather neutral and very transparent. If the BP26 is fed something warm it’ll simply pass that on and likewise with something sterile. While it won’t add anything of its own to the sonic signature, its complete lack of noise or any kind of veil whatsoever lends a sense of openness and clarity that results in excellent imaging and a vast and unfettered 3D soundstage if it’s in the recording. It was my understanding these were the characteristics that are important to you and hence my recommendation.

As far as the tube preamps, I’ve not heard any of them but from the reviews I’ve read they are among the least colored or veiled tube preamps available, which is again why I thought they’d be good recommendations and I’d encourage you to read their respective reviews if you haven’t already (BTW I’d also recommend the Atmasphere MP3 but since your budget allows for the MP1 I mentioned it instead and maybe @atmasphere can elaborate on their differences as well as the bass concerns you have from reading the MP1 reviews). Anyway, hope this helps and FWIW.

@dracule1 The CODA 07x is warmer than the Benchmark LA4. That warmth to me seems like color. My new tube headphone amp, RAAL VM-1a, is so good that I decided to make some drastic changes today.

I also decided to get the new KEF LS60 (baby Blades) so my Benchmark LA4 and AHB2 are going to be orphaned in the Livingroom.

I will be putting up FOR SALE ads for the following::

- 1 year old CODA 07x preamp with 4 year transferable warranty

- Benchmark AHB2

- Audience FrontRow speaker cables with SPEAKON amp end termination (length suitable for monos).

My office system will be

- Benchmark LA4 preamp (sterile like I like it 😀)

- KRELL DUO 175XD a warm amp

- RAAL VM-1a headphone amp (7 tubes in this work of art)

The reason I had the CODA 07x was because it was the very best preamp for my bright RAAL SR1a headphones. It also is great with my Thiel CS3.7 speakers and all the amps I had with it, A CODA #8, KRELL 175XD, Benchmark AHB2 monos, Parasound A21+, D-Sonic Class D, LSA Voyager GAN 300, and NAD M22 V2 (maybe not so much with the NAD).

The CODA 07x also has dual XLR output that I leveraged for my headphone and 2-channel speakers. However, I like the orphaned sterile LA4 preamp more than the warmer CODA 07x and I love the tube VM-1a over the CODA 07x on the headphones. So no need for the CODA 07x anymore.






Thanks Soix, I’ll look into the Bryston and see if a dealer would willing to do a home audition.

yyzsantabarbara, appreciate the detailed explanation of your set up and taste.

We are a dealer for the best preamp in your price range, it will also beat preamps at twice its price. The Backert Labs Rhythm 1.3

for questions drvinyl@drvinyl.net

+1 for the Backert Labs Rhythm 1.3. It’s the best preamp I’ve owned but If the price of the Backert is too steep then the LTA is my next recommendation.


Coincident Statement MK II. A genuinely superb sounding Line Stage that utilizes the DHT 101D.

I also feel strongly with regard to the Atma-Sphere MP-1 Line Stage. Both are truly upper tier excellent.


maybe @atmasphere can elaborate on their differences as well as the bass concerns you have from reading the MP1 reviews). Anyway, hope this helps and FWIW.

@dracule1 @soix The MP-1 does not lack for bass compared to any of our other preamps, and actually goes lower than most tube preamps made on account of a direct-coupled output for which we have two patents (which allow for a reliable and simple circuit). In the case of both the MP-1 and MP-3 line stages, they lack the typical mid bass emphasis that many tube preamps have simply on account of no output coupling capacitor. IOW they might seem a bit lean in the bass at first, but if your speakers can show off the bottom octave you'll hear information that most tube preamps can't acknowledge. Put another way deep bass is one of their strong points.

Both the MP-1 and MP-3 are intended for balanced operation (the MP-1 was the first balanced line preamp offered to home audio back in 1989). Both are fully differential and balanced from input to output and both support AES48 (the balanced line standard) and can drive loads as low as 600 Ohms.

I would look at two units in particular.  For pure SS, Bricasti M20 Preamp.  Big sound and extremely dynamic.  Bricasti is known for being neutral to a hair warm and is really a superb unit.  MSRP is $12.5K.  You should be able to find feedback in lots of places on this.  

For tube, check out the Canor Hyperion P1.  My unit is currently out on demo and I am thinking my customer is going to buy it.  Stunningly good preamp.  I used it as the center piece of my system at AXPONA where we did get positive feedback.  If you are interested, I am sure my customer would offer his POV.  It is also $12.5K.  

verdantaudio, if your customer ends up buying the P1, can you ask him to give his thoughts here? Their website has no links to any reviews. What other preamps do you carry?   Thanks. 

Thanks guys on recommending SST Ambrosia, Backert Rhythm (I’ve looked into this), Simaudio, and  Briscati.  I’ll look into all of them.

I have question regarding the choice of volume control in these high end preamps. Some chose the Alps Blue remote control pot. Imo, it doesn’t belong in a preamp costing $10k+ or even in $6k preamp.  I know it’s easy and affordable way to get remote functionality but in my own listening tests, the Alps Blue just can’t compete with stepped resistor, optical, or transformer/autoformer attenuators. Some of these other options are expensive, but some stepped resistor remote attenuators can be relatively affordable option albeit still more affordable than Alps Blue. So why do some high end manufacturers skimp on one of the most important component of a preamp?

So why do some high end manufacturers skimp on one of the most important component of a preamp?

Agreed, terrible choice for deciding to cut corners. High quality volume control is paramount to achieving excellent sound quality in an upper tier preamplifier. The Coincident Statement line stage that I mentioned a few days ago utilizes very good quality transformers for V.C. And the Atma-Sphere MP-1 stepped resistors.



You’re described preferences align with my experience using the Herron Reference linestage. Best I’ve had in my system. I’ve heard the LTA in other systems that made good sound so is likely also a good choice. Hope this helps.

Dodgealum, I’ve thought about the Herron Linestage in the past too. I know they make excellent phono. I’ll have to revisit. 

Luxman CL38U C. Neutral w/some warmth. Also has an excellent three tube phono.

@dracule1 I am sure he will be happy to post a POV whether he buys or not. He is on vacation at them moment and we will discuss when he gets back but is active on Agon.  

  • I also carry Bricasti as mentioned above,
  • Art Audio which is customizable single ended gear
  • AVM which is stunningly good German gear and they have mid priced unit that is nice (~$6K) and a high end modular unit that is customizable.  
  • I am likely to add Jadis.  I am demoing a DAC of theirs at the moment and a customer of mine just bought their preamp after an extensive demo of multiple units and said it was a no brainer.  Beat out a list of very impressive units.  He insisted on a balance control and that ruled out the Canor.    
  • AGD has a wonderful preamp with a first rate R2R DAC built in.  
  • KR's P135 is an amazing, high gain preamp based on the 45 tube

I have several others but these are my best and most popular.  

Hi eric5kim, thanks for your recommendations. Have you owned any of these preamps? If so, can you describe you liked and disliked about them?

I completely agree with everything yyzsb... has said about the Benchmark LA4. I am auditioning one right now (and have recently been auditioning preamps-- like 6 or so recently- trying to settle on one) and it is certainly the absolute quietest preamp from an electrical/noise standpoint (i.e. black background) I’ve ever heard. Just blackness between and around the notes.

I would assess it to be the most ’neutral’ tonally without regard for price as well in that it seems to show you by comparison what the previous pre you just had hooked up was ’doing to everything’ passing through it. The other preamps’ ’signature’ style suddenly becomes more apparent. When a/b’ing recordings of the same piece in different halls for example, they sound the most ’different’ from one another via the Benchmark. I also cant identify a particular thing it does poorly or for that matter, well. There’s no ’huge staging’ or ’tremendous bass’ etc etc.

This said- it’s lack of doing ’anything’ means you better be sure you like what your amp does or the sound of ’no preamp.’

I liked for example, the synergy of my amp with the Schiit Freya S, which sounded-- maybe more ’fun/pacey’ and a bit warmer though less detailed than the Benchmark? And the SPL pre was more spacious/warmer etc. The LTA Microzotl level 2 was also significantly warmer and a bit ’denser’ but staged smaller etc. These qualities were evident with those pres with most every recording.

So... listening to a bunch of preamps recently has shown me that some are simply too much of a good (or bad) thing with my particular amp. Might be great with yours Trouble is-- dont think that says much about the preamp- just about the synergy with my particular amp/dac. Coda preamp (which I’ve been interested in as well) may be warmer per yyzsb... but with my amp that might like the LTA, be too much of a good thing.

So if its helpful, I don’t know if I’m gonna marry the Benchmark; I realized I LIKE certain colorations and ’fun’ factors etc, but it’ll definitely show you a thing or two about what your other gear is doing and one other thing- it’s somehow never ever brittle or ’bright’ in being so revealing- unless the recording is. (If I’m honest maybe I wish it added just a touch of warmth and had a bit more of an ’airy’ feel/expansiveness? Like if there was one single small glowing tube in there;) I like that sorta thing but it’s usually overdone (for my taste) when present. As I recall, the Freya S did this in my system but doesn’t have the detail or black background or finely granulated attenuation of an LA4).

I can also understand better after this shootout I’ve been doing why some think price is a bit of smoke and mirrors. That has definitely correlated with my recent experience. Loved the Freya S for example, and it’s the cheapest by a looong mile. Benchmark is second cheapest and it’s the most ’neutral’ of any up to 8 thousand. Never heard a 20k pre in my system; so cant comment there.

The Freya+ is also a fun preamp and really quiet. I was surprised a tube preamp could be so quiet and at that $1K price point. I agree it lacked the detail. 

One new piece of gear that I do not understand how it works is my RAAL VM-1a headphone pre + amp with 7 tubes. I expect it to be noisy and not that detailed. However, it is very quiet and the most detailed gear with the SR1a. It also does not measure that great. The LA4 in-comparison is unlistenable with the SR1a using a 2-channel amp (even a warm amp).

I am talking with someone who is auditioning a LA4 with a $10K mostly neutral DAC. He said that the LA4 and the DAC were a great combo but the DAC direct to amp was slightly better. That is a bit of a surprise to me since I tend to dislike DAC direct to amp and also find it a bit dangerous to use with some DACs. 

I got my CODA 07x preamp listed for sale. I want to get a second LA4 to replace it to make an all-Benchmark stack. I changed my mind on buying the KEF LS60. I am going with my original plan of the Yamaha NS5000 with an all-Benchmark stack. That will sound great. A slightly warm speaker with super neutral gear. 

yyz... was there some way other than tonal character in which you felt the CODA was much different from the LA4 or just slightly (or a lot?)  warmer?   In other words, to you, is it (roughly) an LA4 with an added dash of warmth?  Or are there other differences in terms of imaging/bass etc.  I'm sure many people myself included would like to know how those two square off in a bit more (forgive the pun) detail:)

@abramsmatch I think 9 out of 10 people on A’gon would prefer the CODA 07x. The CODA is not crystal clear or sterile as the LA4. Your comment above that you better have a great amp if you use the LA4 is right on the money. I have an incredible amp, the KRELL Dou 176XD paired with the LA4. This amp is supposed to be 175 Class A watts, if 175 watts are ever needed. It is a super smooth and a somewhat detailed amp. It also has a nice sounding bass, maybe not the tightest but I like it. It is also an amp that newer gets fatiguing.

Wit the LA4 I feel I am hearing just the amp, especially on the top end. With the CODA I feel that it adds some extra bit of sonic character to the KRELL. I think most people would find this adds to a slightly richer or moister sound. I am thinking of cake as I right this 😀 .I was using the CODA 07x with the KRELL for months and liked it but I knew it was not the cleanest KRELL sound.

Another thing that bugged me was that when no music was playing the CODA 07x had a tiny bit of hiss. You need to put your ear near the tweeter to hear it. With the LA4 is it pure silence. That hiss bugs me in a way that is likely irrational, but it does make me think about it. With the LA4 I do not have this irrational concern.

In terms of imaging, bass, soundstage. I cannot tell much difference between the 2. My room is a bit of a limiting factor. I agree with Terry London’s review of the CODA 07x. It is very much like tube based gear but with the benefits of SS gear.

I have come to the conclusion, after a lot of gear changes in the past 2 years, that I want the preamp to do nothing to the sound, such as the LA4 or Topping pre90. I do not mind a DAC adding some flavor nor the amp. My current big speaker are Thiel CS3.7’s which I feel are neutral. My next speakers for my second system will almost certainly be warmer and I am not enthused about using the warm CODA 07x preamp with them. A second LA4 will be what I use.


BTW - to give some context, to my ears, if the Schitt Freya+ is 10/10 in the warmth department, the CODA 07x is 5/10. The LA4 is 1/10

BTW2 - With certain gear the LA4 was unlistenable and fatiguing. I actually sold the Benchmark HPA4 (identical sound to the LA4) because it was awful with my RAAL SR1a headphones (using an amp interface box) and got the CODA 07x. The CODA was the very best preamp to tame the SR1a. I got the Topping pre90 ($799) to get occasionally go back to the HPA4 sound. It was a PIA to use so I sold it and got the LA4. I no longer need the CODA 07x to tame the SR1a since I have something that is made just for the SR1a and it kills the CODA 07x with the SR1a headphone (not a fair comparison).

I use the 07x with 2 systems (headphone and 2-channel) at the same time since it has dual XLR outputs. Some of my comments will be confusing if you do not know about the outputs.


Thanks so much! Very helpful yyz. For clarity, I actually was using a Freya S (solid state version) in buffered 1x mode, which I felt offered the best combination of clarity and tone with enough dynamics. (I preferred the buffered stage to the active and passive stages; the former of which was slightly colored and the latter slightly less dynamic). I’ve never actually heard the Freya + tubed version. I feel your description of the CODA places another fave preamp of mine near it on the tonal spectrum; the Hegel P30 which I also currently have in house. It too is slightly warmer than the benchmark with wider staging and more ’sweep’/dynamism’, but definitely less quiet in terms of background (not necessarily hiss per se) and general ’orderliness’ of sonics/instrumental placement. It’s also a touch forward with horns on certain pieces etc by way of comparison with the LA4, which seems to have a ’place for everything and everything in its place.’ I too had the Topping pre 90 and returned it due to poor remote functionality/reception and a sound which seemd even a bit more ’sterile/austere’ than the LA4 though I could have been biased as I hated the remote control function (you needed an add-on laser sight on your remote and special forces training to hit the exact and precise right spot to make the knob turn!).


I will add I have yet to hear the Benchmark sound ’too bright’ or un-listenable with either of my two dacs or with various wires and a couple sets of speakers (all with same amp though). It is always very listenable/never drives me out of the room-- but it certainly isnt ’warm and inviting’ overall- though with some recordings it actually can sound that way!


Wish I could hear the CODA...  HA! maybe I could if I buy it from you;)

I could have been biased as I hated the remote control function (you needed an add-on laser sight on your remote and special forces training to hit the exact and precise right spot to make the knob turn!).

So that is how to use the pre90 remote, I also had major issues using it. However, the biggest problem with the pre90 (forget what Stereophile says) is that it has volume issues with almost all amps. It worked great with the Benchmark AHB2 and the Parasound A21+. With about 4 other amps it was crap.

When I say the Benchmark LA4 was unlistenable I am only referring to the RAAL SR1a (a great piece). Just bad synergy there. With 2-channel gear the LA4 always worked, unlike the pre90.


I am just seeing this thread and rarely post on here but i would be remiss if i did not let you know about a not very well known brand…

The brand is Canor and i am listening to there Hyperion Preamp as i type this…This has to be the best preamp at any price below 30k-

Its tube based, built like a dang tank, separate chambers internally, neutral with a hint of warmth. I really cannot think of a box this unit does not check. This is an end game preamp.


For those that play at this level i highly recommend giving this unit strong consideration and the USA Distributor is one of the best in this business. He offers customer service second to none.

This unit replaced a Mac C22 in my system and won shootouts over the likes of AR and many others i tried in my hunt for the best Preamp i could find

Cheers and best in listening!

Hi gbrow thanks, what other preamps have you listened to below $30k? Can you describe more in detail what you like about it’s sound? 

@dracule1 I'd go with the Backert Labs Rhythm. I'm biased because I'm friendly with Bob & Andy at Backert. I've heard it in many top flight systems with a wide array of gear and it never disappoints. Never have I seen so many local audio club members gravitate over time to a brand as those in Philly have to the Backert preamps, after having heard them in multiple long listening sessions. "Word of ear", it's a thing. 

OTOH, if phono stage is important, the Atma MP-1 has a great one built in and provides the benefit of true balanced dual mono design if you can leverage those aspects of its design. Cheers,


Hi Spencer, I will contact Backert. My only criticism is the use of the low end Alps pot for volume and balance controls in a $10k preamp. Otherwise I really like the design. 

@dracule1 Ask Andy about that and don't be shy about voicing your concern. I know first hand that they listened to tons of parts alternatives are truly driven by sonic results and reliability in their choices. Andy is also a musician and meticulous and purposeful by nature. They are good eggs over there! Cheers,


+1 for Backert Labs. Bought a Rhumba 1.2 some years back and couldn't believe how it changed my listening experience and enjoyment. A couple years later I demo'ed the 1.3 Extreme and it delivered improvements on every sonic attribute right out of the box. Really great piece in my system and room; of course YMMV. Definitely agree with @sbank, nice folks at Backert Labs.