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


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.