Advice? Less than $4k, solid state preamp, neutral to gentle

There are many many posts about recommendations for preamps, so many to sift through that I thought getting a couple answers off the top of your heads might be ok to ask for.

Here's my situation: I am looking for a backup, solid state preamp to work with (a) Quicksilver mono block amps and (b) a Pass XA 25. I have (c) two DACs that I like, a Schiit Bifrost 2/64 and a modded-out MHDT Orchid. My speakers (d) are Ascend Acoustics Sierra Towers w/RAAL tweeters, and I have three subs.

My current preamps are both tube -- one is a 6SN7 preamp similar to an Ultraverve 3 and the other is a Quicksilver Line Stage.

I like having solid state alternatives to tube gear both to hear different sonic presentations and also in case I want to give tubes a break or if a tube goes bad.

I have tried autoformer preamps (more or less a straight wire with gain) such as the Bent Tapx and I don't like it on my system. I need a bit more.

If money was no object, I'd probably go drop $5k on an Ayre KX-5. That is a bit steep for me at the moment.

So, the question is: What solid state preamp, less than $4k, used or new, would you recommend to give a fairly neutral to warm/gentle presentation? Or that you simply like for reliability, interface, etc.?



I would get a pre-amp that helps your system and room become more cohesive via room correction/DSP.. Something like DSPeaker Anti-Mode, an NAD preamp with Dirac or an Anthem pre-amp with ARC. The DSPeaker preamp will work with 4 subs so your 3 subs would be NP:

With a $4k budget (even with a higher budget) I’d go with the Michi P5 by Rotel. It’s been getting great reviews. Btw, I had the deHavilland UltraVerve, what a great pre. Really wish I still had it.

Good luck with your search.




Thanks to you both! 

I am hoping some come in with other options, much lower down.

See, the thing is: I'm paying for college right now, and that is a financial root canal. I shouldn't even be spending on audio, but a man has to be a man (and a woman, a woman), amirite?

yes get an older gen ayre... but ayre's tend to like balanced wiring though...

Getting a good solid state preamp with at least 3 sub outs is going to be a short list. Why not keep your pre and just get a device to integrate your subs like a mini dsp or dspeaker 8033? About $400:

Post removed 


Oh man, I get it. I got one in college and a senior in high school. That’s why I can only suggest that people get a Michi P5 for their system and there isn’t one in mine.🙂

I have the Schiit Freya S in my system and it is very good. You might want to consider it. Another that would be easier on the budget as well and looks to be great is the NAD C165BEE.




Here’s a used XP-12 in your price range.  Seems like a solid choice especially since you’ve got a Pass amp.  Best of luck.

Hatter Audio, Passive/Active Preamp - The Big

Choose Amtrans AMRG carbon film resistors and the active NewClassD opamp output stage for a total price of $2500.

  • Passive or Active operation
  • Selectable 3/6/9 dB gain 
  • Balanced and single-ended inputs/outputs
  • Outboard linear power supply
  • Large display - choice of colors
  • Remote control of mute, volume, balance, input, display brightness, and active-passive mode

Add their Tube Active Stage for a total cost of $4,400 for the preamp and tube stage.

I would keep an eye out on the anniversary wyred4sound preamp. I have the standard one and it's pretty much the sound you are describing.

Correction, their dac is the anniversary, the preamp I have is the STP-SE stage 2, great connectivity too.

Thanks so much to all for the additional suggestions. You've helped me form a short list.

I especially appreciate that the suggestion are breaking out into two fairly distinct price classes.

This would be the equivalent of a second car, but I need it to sound decent, or there's no point in getting it.

Well personally  I like the Ayre  k1xe  better than the newer ones and you should find one within your budget. If you find a k1 it can be brought up to the  ce standard. The k3 is also nice but it is a step.down but still very good. If you like Ayre stick with the best. 



Yes, you hit the nail on the head with Ayre. I auditioned several pre-amps before settling on the neutral character of the Ayre. You should be able to find a used K-5xe or 5xeMP, for $2k or less. There’s one available on Audiogon. And Ayre customer support is excellent. I own three pieces of Ayre equipment and they have been extremely reliable.   



Continued appreciation for the suggestions. That Schiit Freya might really be the sweet spot if I get chickensh*t about spending up to the Ayre or Pass levels.

Just pointing out that 3 subwoofers is only an issue if the preamp has no monaural sub output. So a Parasound Halo P6 would be perfect with a Y connector to creat a 3rd output. No need to spend more of your tuition money on a backup pre. 

You might also look into the Audio-gd HE-1 MK2 at Underwood HiFi or the Audio-gd Vacuum HE-1 LE their black friday sale is still on.


- Benchmark LA4 ($2500)

- Holo Serene

- SPL Elector ($3K)

- CODA 07x ($7.2K)

- Schitt Freya+ (I liked it with Benchmark AHB2 amps)

Prices are for new units, and I listed them in order of what I think will be neutral to warm.

I have not heard the Serene or SPL but going on what other A’gon members told me how they compare to the LA4.

I am likely going to end up with 2 LA4 preamps.


Personally, we would have the Parasound p5. 
AVA makes a no thrills pre. 
if  want to have a preamp rehabbed, caps, full cleaning, etc

look for a great cond Onkyo p-308

warm sound, smooth controls, great pre!

had t remove my B and K pro10-mc. Needs to be recapped and a new volume pot 

one of these days, will make the half day trip to sounds classic in Rockford, ILL. 

GREAT shop, great work. 

Parasound p3 or P5;are both great units. 

look for a McCormack used . Good preamps as well

why buy new? Save some money for single malt, krakus ham, pedersens bologna, and a bunch of new records or CDs. 

Hattor Big dual mono, AMRG trans + active stage NewClassD

my preamp forever

2400 USD


My kids had to pay for college on their own. We figured it would give them a better work ethic. Bought them their first car though. Used 

Good luck on the pre search ! 

Post removed 

The impedance matches between preamp and amp and between dac and preamp are essential. The ratio of the successor input impedance to the predecessor output imp. should be as high as possible. As a rule of thumb, 10 is the minimum, 100 is preferrable and 1000 is ideal to maintain flatter response curve particularily on the low frequencies. Among the Class A recommended SS preamp by Stereophile, your better choices will be (1) Benchmark LA4 ($2500) and (2) Rotel Mich P5 ($4300). In particular, LA4 has high input imp. as 80k ohm and low output imp. as 30 ohm (SE) / 60 ohm (balanced). Those specs will render high imp. ratios close to or exceed 1000 that are considered ideal match. The Rotel P5, on the other ahand, will also match with your dac and amp well if you use balanced connections.

No matter what you have decide to purchase, it is suggested that you list both input / output impedances of the preamp and calculate the imp. ratios to justify if it matches well with your current dac / amp.  Then look at the reviews from the reviewers you trust to find out whether non-measurable listening experience is great.  I was sort of hesitated to recommend the crazy low-cost preamps Topping Pre90 because of the mixed reviews from the reviewers I trust.

Thanks all, for the further suggestions and especially to @lanx0003 for the advice.

Yes, matching the amp and preamp will be important -- I've done that matching before and it would be a necessary criterion applied to any short list of options.

The Topping Pre90 is class A rated in Stereophile. Reviewer Kalman Rubison bought three (!) of them for his system.

The Pre90 is dead silent and completely neutral. 

130 dB S/N ratio.

It won't take away or add to the sound.

It replaced a  Schiit Freya in my system.


I've got Ayre....  it's about 10 yrs old....never had a bit of trouble with it.  Sounds great.

OP- compared to the Freya (with tubes), the Topping offered a little more clarity, and a little less bass "bloom".


It is all about personal taste.  According to Thomas (& Stereo), Pre90 is a colored preamp offering more forward, sharpening sound.  When paired with a system that is already revealing, it might be too much of a good thing.  It pushes the details almost to the limit.  Some people might be impressed by it but others (including myself) might find it fatiguing after a few hours of listening.  Other coveats include poor remote control (same remote across almost all topping gears) and the poorer SE performance.  

In my opinion, one you should consider is the Pass-Labs XP12.  I personally have the XP-22 and I purchased an XP-12 for my daughter's system.  In comparison to the XP-22 the XP-22 is a little quieter and slightly more dynamic, however the comparative sonics are quite close.  The XP-12 is a very smooth and detailed preamp, built like a tank, very reliable and well designed.  I believe used, you can find one for ~$4K or less.  

Good Luck in your preamp search !  


@tomcarr Thanks for the additional info.

@liquidsound The XP-12 appeals to me in part because I really really like the XA-25 already. Not that Ayre would be a bad match, but perhaps a Pass-Pass match is a special one...

I would look for a used Sutherland Engineering N1 Preamp.  They don't come on the used market very often.  I auditioned this against an Ayre and chose the N1.

More versatile than the Ayre but strictly single-ended. Instrument grade quality and checks every box.

Good luck