Bryston BP-17 cubed or Benchmrk LA4 Preamp

My old Levinson No. 38s preamp is getting a bit long in the tooth. Oh, it is working fine; I've got the itch.

I have recently used a Cary CAD-120s in my system and found it less musical than my Bryston 2.5b cubed power amp, so tube preamps are out. Seems I just can't "appreciate" the tube sound.

I've been researching preamps. The Benchmark and the Bryston BP-17cubed (or other Bryston preamps) are the two that seem to meet my price and feature desires. But sound....don't know how these units differ. How different is the sound compared to my old Levinson? Which one(s) would you recommend?

My speakers are Usher V-604, a 2-way MTM floorstander, and a HSU sub.


Thanks for your help.

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xkevemaher

Budget is $6K USD. Both of the preamps above meet this criterion.

I'd like hear opinions on at least two things:

1. Between the two preamps I've mentioned above.

2. Between either of the two above and any other preamp that I should consider within the price range.

Both the Benchmark LA4 and Bryston BP-17^3 are designed to be reference-oriented devices. So things like frequency response, etc. will be very similar. The noise floor on the LA4 is lower. The BP-17^3 has more inputs and outputs, plus a headphone jack and the option for DAC or phono modules. They're both excellent options.

The BP-17^3 has been discontinued, so you will likely not find it available new. But it does mean you may be able to find a used or demo unit at a better price (I have a demo unit available). The BP-19 replaced the BP-17^3 and still fits in your budget. The BR-20 is a little above your budget.

@nekoaudio  I'd like to hear more about the demo BP-17 you mentioned.

Please PM me if you would like.

I have seen new units for sale at a few online retailers.

What is the difference in the sound between the  the BP-17 cubed and the BP-19 cubed?

The Benchmark HPA4 preamp is the LA4 preamp with a great headphone amp inside. It is a fantastic piece.

@soix Well, I'd like the preamp to be neutral. Not sterile or shrill, but no tubbiness either. I need all the inputs and outputs the BP-17 has although I have a workaround for the LA4's inputs.

Don't need a DAC or streaming. I have a Bryston BDA-3. I don't stream.

Not looking for improvements, just replacement for an aging ML No38s. If colored at all, I prefer a slightly warm preamp.

Given what you’re looking for sonically you’ve identified two excellent candidates IMHO.  I can’t speak to the Benchmark, but I owned a Bryston BP6 (very similar to the BP26 minus the balanced connections and separate power supply) for years and it is the quintessential “straight wire with gain” type component.  It simply passes on what it’s fed without editorializing, and it’s very quiet that leads to a large 3D soundstage due to what I perceived was a complete lack of background noise so individual images just pop to life.  I’d guess the BP17 sounds more alike than different from the BP6, but that’s just an uninformed guess that it maintains much of the Bryston house sound.  Just my experience FWIW, and best of luck.

I've bought preamps twice.  Both times I did a bunch of research, obsessed over it for a while, and then decided I didn't believe 98% of what I read and just bought Brystons because I believed they were close to as good as you can get and last forever.  I bought a BP25 for $1000 in about 2008 and a BP26 about 5 years ago for about $2100.  Both work perfectly.  No noise in the knobs, connections all work perfectly.  When I replaced the BP25 with the BP26 I thought it eliminated a very slight honkiness but it was so subtle that I only noticed it that one time.

Very sensible. This was my approach when buying the Bryston 2.5b cubed.

The LA4 seems pretty good. Tough choice!

I’ve owned both as well as the 2.5B, and while I often extol the virtues of the Benchmark, I would recommend the Bryston in this case.  The Benchmark is quieter and very transparent, but the Bryston is more musical especially with the 2.5B amplifier.  The  amp has a bottom up voicing and the preamp a top down voicing IME, and therefore they are very synergistic.  The preamp is very fast also, very immediate.  But ultimately you probably couldn’t go wrong with either.  The Benchmark holds their value well.  The BP17 can be had used for just over $2k.  My only problem with the Bryston was it was slightly noisy in my system (I.e., a hiss coming from the speakers, whereas the Benchmark is dead quiet).  


Extremely helpful insight. I don't think that I am sensitive enough to pick out this subtle effect, but I'm glad you can.

I don't really know if my system is on the warm side or cooler. I have nothing to compare it to. No local audio nuts or stores nearby. I purchased a Cary 120s tube amp to get a warmer sound, but found that it did not appreciably alter the sonic presentation. My preamp is the ML No. 38s and speakers are Usher V-604. The Ushers provided a touch of warm. I want more. No more tubes for me.

I've had a the Levinson No. 38s in my system for so long, I can't remember how it affects the sound.

I'm not sure if you are familiar with the No. 38s sound. It is a pretty old unit. I've read a Stereophile review that it describes it as "neutral" which can mean "clinical" or "etched" or "detailed". Perhaps this preamp is pushing my system toward the cooler side.

So my questions are: will the BP-17 cubed be warmer or colder than the No. 38s in my system? What are my options for a warmer sounding preamp within the $6K price limit ($6K new list price). Any Bryston preamps?

At that price level I’d take a hard look at the Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL preamp that uses tubes but they last forever in this design so very low cost/maintenance.  And you can swap tubes to get exactly what you want and they offer a home trial period.  Just another option FWIW.

I have owned a lot of Bryston gear. Including the BP20 preamp (not the same level as the BP-17).  Bryston always gives me a bit of fatigue. Even the BP-17 and the 4B3 with Vanderstream Treo speakers had that hardness on top that I knew so well from the Bryston SST line I had.

If you want a neutral preamp, The LA4 is amongst the very best at ANY price. I would use the LA4 with any amp I owned at any price. Now if you want colour then the LA4 is not for you. The LA4 will sound like your other gear.

I use the LA4 with my Sanders Magtech amp at the moment, no fatigue. The LA4 was also used the following amps:

  • CODA #16
  • CODA #8
  • Parasound A21+
  • Benchmark AHB2

All of the amps sounded great with the LA4.

BTW - I owned the Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp. I would think that this amp is better than the amp in the BP-17. I found the BHA-1 fatiguing. In comparison the Benchmark HPA4 preamp (I stupidly sold) was state of the art for a neutral sound (no fatigue).


@kevemaher sorry, but I’ve got zero experience with Levinson.  If you’re looking for  warmth, I’m not sure either of these will give it to you.  I think the Bryston is even cooler sounding than the Benchmark.

Now, I've been looking at the Pass XP-12. It has all the features I am interested in.

I've read that it is warmer sounding than the Benchmark and Bryston preamps. Will it match well with my Bryston 2.5B^3 power amp?

New ones are at my price limit, but I can pick up a used model for about the price of a used BP-17^3.

Opinions on the warmth of the Pass XP-12? Thanks.

@kevemaher If it has a volume control, have you tried connecting the BDA-3 directly to your amp? You would need to turn the gain way down before doing this. The sound will tell you which direction, warmer or more neutral than the M-L, you are looking to go.  As mentioned above, The Benchmark LA-4 is "neutral" as is the Holo Serene preamp. The tubed LTA microZOTL is another excellent option. While I never heard the Pass XP-12 it is probably very good but maybe a bit warmer than the ones mentioned above. Not sure how you feel about Ayre preamps but they are  also on the slightly warmer side and the reliability is up there with Pass electronics.

I could try this test using the volume control on my Oppo BDP-105 to play digital media and files. This seems to be a good way to estimate the sonic signature of the 38s.

I want to stay analog all the way with my other sources - a tuner and two cartridges - so I will only use the above for testing. I need a control amp to select the different analog and digital sources. After the preamp, my system is all analog (EQ, crossover and speakers). The only digital components are the Oppo and the BDA-3.



I bought a Pass Labs XP-12, used for about the same price as the Bryston and Benchmark preamps. I will get it tomorrow.

The reason for the switch to Pass is that the buzz around the Pass gear is that ii is warm(ish) sounding. The other two are probably neutral. I'm looking for a bit of warmth, so...

I replaced the 38s with an old Apt preamp, I have recapped the PS. Yes, it sounds different....better to my amazement. Vocals and strings are a bit clearer and the entire sound is smoother, with no audible edges (the Apt is from 1978!). Only downsides are no balanced lines (XLR) and no remote. I've made a special cable to change male XLR to male RCA. No ground loop hum. But the lack of a remote is a bit of a pain.

Anxious to hear the XP-12!

Congrats on the Pass XP-12!  Let us know how it sounds in your system. The Apt Holman preamp was legendary in its day.