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.


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;)