Preamp Shopping - Parasound, ML, McIntosh

I am looking to replace my MiniDSP SHD with an Analog preamp. Trying to keep well under $7k - contenders are Parasound JC2, Mark Levinson No. 5206, McIntosh C49. RE: the JC2 - I know that I would also have to get a DAC and Phono Pre to have "apples to apples" here, but I can get by with my current DAC and phono pre for a bit if I went that route.

Current components are as follows:

  1. Revel F226be speakers
  2. SVS 3000 Micro sub
  3. Parasound A21+ power amp
  4. Denon DCD-1700NE SACD / CD Player
  5. Parasound XRM Phono Preamp
  6. JVC QL-A7 Turntable with AT VM540ML Cart
  7. Streaming with Roon (Tidal and Qobuz) as well as DSD and FLAC files on my NAS

Essentially, I want DSD Capability (SHD does not support DSD), and do NOT want to digitize / sample my analog sources. With MiniDSP, everything is converted to digital @ 96khz. I love the convenience of the SHD, but I am hearing some artifacts / popping at certain bitrates using Roon and feel that I am not getting the most out of my analog sources. Also, I thought I would have a transformative experience with Dirac Live as my listening room is "complicated", but I wind up preferring the sound without Dirac, despite innumerable measurements taken. Same goes for bass management- I thought it was a must, but am loving the sound with my Revel speakers fullrange and the lowpass on the sub itself set to 55hz or so.

The Mark Levinson 5206 pre is especially tempting right now due to the large discounts - however that gives me pause. I see very few reviews on this and very few discussions about it on the forums. Is there a performance / quality / reliability issue with this model? Anyone have experience with it? It is also the most expensive of my current options.

I think I understand both the Parasound JC2 and the McIntosh C49. But I would like to hear if people are having any issues with the DA1 DAC in the C49 with ROON.

Also - I assume that the Phono pre in either the Mark Levinson or the McIntosh will be better than my Parasound XRM. Is that a correct assumption?


What specific sound characteristics and improvements are you looking for?

I am looking for relative transparency - I like the neutral qualities of my speakers.  The most important things to me are DSD Capability and a true analog signal path for my analog sources.

My miniDSP Studio plays DSD just fine and sounds good with a better DAC.I.

I've always had analog amplification  for analog sources.

Hello @jazzman999 , The Mola Mola Makua and the Audionet Pre1 G3, while a little more than some of your choices are far ahead sonically (to me).  Both the C49 and JC2 were dull and veiled comparatively. and I had them in my home with similar amps and speakers.  I was amazed at the difference.

Look for a Zesto Leto Ultra.  Amazing sounding preamp can be found used at a reasonable price 

Linear tube audio ,with their excellent Lundahl transformer option isa superb vacuum tube preamp , David Berning designed it and they made it even better 

just under $6k made in U.S.A , myself  a guy who mods my own gear and other 

Loudspeaker Xovers , this preamp has far  better internal parts several excellent reviews, on YouTube they even have a breakdown of. What’s inside buy with the

6 sn7 tubes, then there are. 2 more tubes types  you can choose from 4 in total.I have heard this several times against much more expensive gear very natural and detailed ,far better parts quality then the mentioned others .

output capacitors the excellent ClarityCMR from the U.K check it out.

I still believe a CAT SL1 mk3 with upgraded Black Path wiring & Caps in 2018 Line Stage is as good as what’s out today. Ken’s gear drives many HIGH End systems with his amps & Preamps thru the many years he’s been delivering Reference Gear to the people. Many are eliminating preamps and using front end of DAC or Streamers. I believe that is a mistake . When  it comes to great gear delivers great sound, especially Tube preamps

I've gone through a number of preamps over the past few years. I understand that you want DSD and that's great but leave that to a separate DAC and focus on your preamp and the heart of the system. All inputs run into it and it can have a tremendous effect on the overall character of the system.  

Based on what you're saying you're looking for I'd try a tube based preamp, particularly one with 6SN7 tubes. Someone mentioned the LTA microzotl. That's a great unit and hot right now but there are lots of other things on the market. I have a ModWright LS100 and it's the best sounding thing I've heard in my system. I keep having upgradeitits out of habit but I don't want to upgrade it. It sounds too damn good. You can find one used in the 2500 range or from TMR for a bit more. Backert makes a nice unit that you can put 6sn7 in. You might be able to find a used Atma-Sphere MP-3 with the phono stage in it used as well. If I were to upgrade that's where I would go but I think my phono stage bests the built in one so havent pulled the trigger. 

Thanks for all the replies so far.  I am struggling a bit with the "all in one" aspect of some of my choices.  Sometimes I think that a simpler analog preamp with no phono pre and no dac is the best choice (thus the JC2).  Thanks to everyone for the suggestions- it is not making it easier!  But then I think, having a good dac that is upgradeable and a good phono pre in one unit would be nice, thus the McIntosh.  I am a "tube guy" as a guitar player with many vintage and modern tube guitar amps.  I just do not have any tube hifi products.  That makes me think about the McIntosh C22.  I have always been an admirer of the brand and have loved the sound the few times I have heard Mac tube based systems.

Coda 07x...just a superb sounding line stage! It's a ss pre...but has the virtues of a tube sound!

Hello jazzman999 I just bought a new rouge  audio rp7 tube preamp and the sound is awsome. The price was 5000 and matched with a bryston 4b if you want to spend 7500 you can get the rp9 but I could not see spending the extra 2500. You will have to get a phono preamp it dose not come with one. I went with a pro ject tube box DS3B  for 1300 and my linn turntable has come to life. I have a cocktail audio x45 for my digital needs i run a pair of dyn audio special forty speakers and a rel s510 sub. Seriously look at rouge  audio. I hope this helps email me direct if you have any questions thank you Michael 

IMO it's not a good idea to match different SS product(brands) without listening first due to synergy issues. Vacuum tube preamps(different brands) have a very high rate of successfully enhancing a SS amplifier, provided that the preamps output impedance is at least 10x lower than the power amps input impedance. 

I can only speak to the C49 preamp, but one feature (which I'm sure you are aware of) is that the DAC (DA1 in this instance) can be swapped out as technology changes. I have two McIntosh units with both current modular DACs (DA1 and DA2) and they are good sounding DACs.

There is something to be said for synergy between components.  Might the Parasound preamp be a nice match for your current Parasound amp and phono pre?


There is a used Mac C2700 on for $5800, now that's a great deal on a fantastic preamp, DAC2 board installed as well so that covers your DAC needs and has ARC input if you want to integrate your TV into the system.  Tube though but preamp tubes last for a long time. 2 x phono stages as well as more inputs/outputs then you'll ever need. 

I have one and am very happy with its performance and build quality/ functionality. 

Aric Audio Motherlode. I cannot recommend him, and his wonderful tube gear, more highly! Call him and I can almost guarantee you will have him build one for you. And you will be within budget...

The CODA 07x is a tubey preamp. It is a bit noisier than I am accustomed to so I sold it. I have a CODA #16 amp so this was a surprising move by me.

The Schitt Mjolnir is my headphone preamp but works with 2-channel. I find this one way better than the Schitt Freya+ that I sold. The Mjolnir is not uber detailed but a really fun listen.

The Benchmark LA4 is my reference preamp (Livingroom with #16). I love this one.

My other reference is my office preamp, Holo Serene. Love this one too. Very similar to the LA4 with a touch more warmth.

I would not trade the LA4 or Serene for any preamp at any absurd cost. I want a preamp to not add to the sound (too much). The Mjolnir does add to the sound, and it is great for short periods. For long-term, I need the LA4 or Serene.


The A21 is built so well at its price, but it isn’t neutral and added an obvious chestiness to recordings in my system. Revel speakers, especially the newer ones can present a load and the a21 does drive them easily, but when I had the A21 driving my revel salon 1 with a classe pre (can’t remember model) they were handily outmatched by a hegel H360. Today I would look at a used H390 for the newer dac, but a mac c49 retails for the same as a h390 and with the a21 anchoring the system will still leave you short of your goal.


Sorry, just reread op and saw the + on the a21 and cannot speak to the new model.