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?


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!