What qualities stand out in really good solid state preamps?

Recently I posted on the Herron HL-1, asking people what they thought, how it compared, etc. It's been sold and that's ok. The search continues. 

But it raises a question I'd like to ask folks:

What attributes do you look for in a good solid state preamp?

Some qualities — quietness, durability, seem pretty obvious.

But what other criteria do you use to differentiate between solid state preamps?

How can they differ and what matters to you?

Please let me know!

P.S. As I've looked around, I've begun to learn more about some of the legendary preamps — made by companies such as Threshold, Ayre, Bryston, Pass, Apt-Holman, and others. It's good to have these names as references, but it would be even more useful if I knew what these brands conveyed, sonically. I've played with the idea of getting a newer Schiit preamp and then I wonder -- what if there's a "classic" preamp out there, used? What would it deliver that was worth searching for?


I’d have to say objectively the best will share characteristics of extended smooth frequency response, low noise, and low distortion.

That was easy, eh?  But wait, there’s more….

In addition to that features matter. Does it have the needed inputs? Outputs? Any other desirable features to help tune the sound?

Then comes aesthetics. Looks matter, as does feel. High quality preamps have controls that are a pleasure to use. Smooth, firm, functional, robust . Ahh….

I think that covers it.



Neutrality. You do not want to notice a preamp. It's only supposed to be a switching center. It's should be revelatory not additive.

Really comes down to what sound characteristics you’re looking for, but if I was to boil it down to one word it’d be refinement. Specifically, a pre that is naturally detailed and not harsh or etched along with being well balanced and offering good tonality. 3D soundstage is a strength of tubes, so to the extent you can get a good dose of that in a SS pre that’d be a big plus. I think a good example of such things, and given that you were looking at the Herron, something like this Ayre would be in the ballpark…


Hope this helps somewhat, and best of luck in your search.

@hilde45 I want my SS preamp to not add anything to the sound. I have 3 preamps and 2 of then adhere to the non-additive principle.

  • Benchmark LA4 (30-day home trial)
  • Holo Serene

You are not going to find anything quieter than these 2, except the much lower quality Topping pre90 (I also owned it). There was an online review somewhere that compared the 2 units. The reviewer preferred the Serene over the LA4 though he was splitting hairs. I prefer the better functionality and the slighter more neutral sound of the LA4. Both are exactly what I want in a SS preamp.

I also have the latest Schitt Mjolnir preamp (Class A). It is supposed to be their best ever preamp. I used to have the Freya+ and I like the Mjolnir much more than the Freya+. I use the Mjolnir with the Schitt Aegir amp for my RAAL headphones (or I used to, not sure if that will continue).

The Mjolnir is a good preamp that adds color where as the other 2 are great preamps.

A SS preamp that is tube like is the CODA 07x preamp (sort of like the Mjolnir). I owned that at the same time as the LA4. I decided that I wanted neutrality over tubiness in my 2-channel rigs. I use tubes on headphones (why the Mjolnir may not be needed anymore).

I want my SS preamp to not add anything to the sound. 

So there is nothing beyond tonality -- the only difference is warmth or tubiness vs. neutral/non-additive -- which matters for you?

If noise or quietness is the only factor for you, I am still stumped how you differentiate between preamps, other than the way they suit your tastes (color, functions) or create synergy with your existing equipment. 

Thank you. Is "refinement" a way of saying "neutrality"?
Unlike others here, you mention soundstage, which I have heard is possible in SS preamps, though people associate it more with tubes. Others don't mention it. Maybe all the sound-staging and presentation of instruments sounds the same to them.

The Ayre has a great reputation -- I'm trying to find out which sonic attributes these famous preamps are known for -- beyond just being quiet or neutral.

@fuzztone  @mapman 
Another vote for neutrality or neutrality or lack of noise/distortion, etc. 

If you listened to 10 neutral preamps, would there be anything else sonically that would help you decide between them or would it all come down to non-sonic attributes?

Either there is nothing at stake except quietness/neutrality or there are additional descriptors not yet mentioned.

E.g. I recently compared two SS preamps. One was inexpensive, Chinese. The other was really great parts and design by a local DIY'er. Neither preamp added tonal "color" (i.e., tonal character, such as warmth) but they presented the music differently. In one, the soundstage was bigger, fuller (maybe not more detailed) and instruments and voices had more presence, body, realism -- that "in the room" quality. These were not mentioned by above posters, so I'm concerned that I am superimposing them onto what I'm hearing -- unless others have noticed these, too, but are just not mentioning them. 

So for me, sounds more like a Conrad Johnson than an Audio Research.  😁

I like colorful liars with excellent dynamics and imaging.  The midrange is especially important along with a treble that doesn't call attention to itself.

I'm less concerned with low noise, given my predilection for tube gear... but of course in a SS preamp I'd expect it to be dead quiet.

@hilde45 Exactly.  Just because a preamp can throw an expansive and transparent soundstage with properly placed performers left to right and front to back does not necessarily mean those performers are life-like with body and meat on the bones.  For me, it's a matter of 2-dimensional versus 3-dimensional images (performers) and what I am still trying to ascertain from those who own the Holo Serene KTE.  This solid state preamp is described as neutral, dynamic, transparent and very revealing but does it present the performers in a 3-dimensional way way with a body attached to their voice or instrument? I have owned the Ayre K-5xeMP mentioned above and it is an excellent preamp but it wasn't until I replaced it with the Ayre K-1xe that performers (images) had a more 3-D and round presentation in space. In short, the music was more believable (for me, in my room, with my equipment). So, tubes or solid state I am looking for the same things: a believable presentation of music by real performers in real space. LIVE is the reference.

pre-pump should provide enough pressure for the main pump first before anything else is desired.


@hilde45 After either listening or owning for a while about 1/2 dozen preamps, I found that warm preamps that add extra euphonic sound is unsatisfying to me, preamps such as a Coda 07x, Luxman c900u.

My goal is to let the preamp produce the sound of the amp, source, and cables without adding to the mix. My current Livingroom system has a warm amp with a slightly warm speaker. Adding a warm preamp to this would be a disaster for me.

Interestingly, my friend who is a huge tube guy and is currently building a tube preamp (to sell) that is going to cost more than any gear I own, loved my SS Holo Serene preamp connected to a SS CODA #16 amp. He was really hearing the CODA #16 + source + speakers. He was comparing my Livingroom speaker to speakers that were $600k 17 years ago.

In my office I have a Benchmark LA4 connected to a Sanders Magtech amp and Magnepan LRS+ speakers. The LRS+ is more on the neutral side, I let the Sanders dictate the sound of this system. For me that is easier to get the sound correct with less additions to the sonics.

The most satisfying thing for me was getting the positive feedback of my friend who is straight shooter and loved both systems. I told him before he came over to bring over a great tube preamp to my place because I thought he would hate my preamps. In the past, he hated some of my prior gear and told me issues I had with my small office system.

BTW - I sold my friends tube headphone amp to buy the Sanders Magtech. Now that I earned enough cash I bought back the tube headphone amp. I am not averse to tubes.

You ask a good question. I have owned high end amps and preamps since the late 1970’s with Threshold being the first. I finally moved up to tube amps over the last decade.


Different people are looking for different sounds. Some want “high end” sound, which is often exaggerated treble and bass… transparent, highlighted detail, lots of slam and imaging. Lots of older high end solid state equipment has this sound… partially because it was not known how to get good mid-range bloom and great rhythm and pace in solid state into solid state.

This has been improving. Pass recognized this earlier than most with his XA series amps, Now much more natural sounding solid state amps are available from companies like Pass. Going back even ten years though you can loose much of the rhyth and pace.

Getting more natural / musical sound comes first from a good tube preamp… like Audio Research or Conrad Johnson. Then if you are unwilling to go to tubed amps, look at Pass x series or XA series.


There are lots of companies doing the less natural, “high end sounding amps”, like Luxman. There is also MacIntosh, who does powerful heavy midrange / bass amps with under emphasized detai and treble. These “muscle car” like amps are really good at rock music.


@yyzsantabarbara The Holo Serene is said to have excellent holographic soundstage qualities though perhaps this is more a reflection of upstream and downstream gear and cables since the pre is very neutral.  Would you characterize the soundstage in your main system as having "palpable presence"?  I am just so intrigued by this preamp but never heard it and don't know anyone locally that has one.

I have 2  systems, ( only Rock and Roll)  Each is hooked up with an LA-4 Benchmark pre Amp, balanced

System 1 Pass 250.8

System 2 ATI 6002

Very Happy! Benchmark gives you 30 day trial, a little over 3k with remote (each), made in NY, 5 year warranty. Rory at Benchmark, great to deal with. Always get to speak with a human. SERVICE, SERVICE Important to me. Good luck!!!

My gear on the Livingroom system is the following (excluding preamps):

  • Yamaha NS5000 speaker (amazing)
  • CODA #16
  • Benchmark DAC3B
  • Audience FrontRow speaker cable (amazing)
  • Benchmark XLR between the preamp and amp
  • Audience AU24SE XLR/ RCA interconnects for sources

The most impressive piece in the setup is the Yamaha by a massive margin. I can improve in the other gear relatively easily, Though the other gear is very good.

I would agree that the gear that the preamp is connected to is what is making this system sound good. I used to have the LA4 preamp in the mix instead of the Serene. The LA4 actually fits better in the space I have for the audio gear. However, the Serene lacks Left and Right balance which I need with the LRS+.

Switching the Serene with the LA4 did not make much of a difference in the sound. The LA4 is a bit cleaner and the Serene a bit warmer. However, those difference are minor compared to the similarities.

"palpable presence" = definitely.

I may be interested in selling my Serene to buy another LA4 or HPA4. The LA4 can be physically fit better in my audio space. Unfortunately, I tossed the Holo shipping box since I figured I would keep the preamp forever. The LA4 and Serene are inter-changeable to me.

@robshaw Thanks for that info! I will read up on the LA-4.  I am currently using a Pass X350.5 amp.

Is "refinement" a way of saying "neutrality"?

No, not really.  Some SS preamps can sound neutral but but sound sterile and not very musical.  More refined preamps still sound neutral but are more tonally balanced and sound more natural so nothing jumps out at you and you just feel like you’re listening to music rather than some version of it through a stereo system.  I guess that’s the best I can describe it.  The Ayre is a good example of the latter, which is why I mentioned it (plus there’s one available used), and my former Bryston BP6 is another although likely a little less warm sounding than the Ayre — but that’s just an educated guess.

As far as soundstage/imaging, I think in general you need to pony up more $$$ to get to a higher level there than you do with tubes.  @jc4659 is a good example in what he experienced in going from an Ayre 5xe to the considerably more expensive 1xe.  One of the things that attracted me to the BP6, and why I alluded to in your prior thread, is that it produced a large, open 3D soundstage and didn’t break the bank.  Hope this answers your questions.  

@jc4659 "2-dimensional versus 3-dimensional images" -- well said.
Good info about the the different Ayre models.

"My goal is to let the preamp produce the sound of the amp, source, and cables without adding to the mix" -- that came through very clearly in your first post, too. Got it, and the additional warmth in other equipment provides the rationale. Too much of a good thing is too much. My buddy has a lot of character in his Coincident Dragons with 300B tubes and so he wants a passive pre ahead of it. This approach makes sense.


I'm a tube preamp lover, for sure. But as was said above, sometimes it's nice to hear what the rest of the chain is doing, minus the preamp. I like swapping gear in and out and listening for differences. I'm not converging on one preamp, amp but want the chance to keep mixing things up.

Thanks for the Benchmark shout out.

@hilde45 your question is 

What attributes do you look for in a good solid state preamp?

for me it is the following - 

  • tone - must be natural 
  • dynamic range - must be able to sound laid back and gentle but scale up to explosive forces fast, as fast as demanded by the recording 
  • low noise floor
  • Texture in the bass
  • warm and palpable mids
  • extended and sweet highs
  • nice, non-clicking silent volume control (want to be able to adjust volume without hearing any clicking or other artifacts)
  • must image well and create a realistic and colorful soundstage

I don’t care for studio monitoring matter of fact in your face presentation 

There is a Neurochrome 686 for sale at present in the US.

I know this Amp's capabilities very well, through being demo'd it in the UK in various build guises.

The 686 I have heard in use on a £200K System compared to the best part of a £50K Soulution Power Amp, with a Solution Pre Amp used for both Amp's demo's.

The 686 being approx' 25 x cheaper was a real contender, and I mean real contender. This is what can be had when the design for the Power Amp has a Parts List that is between £2K - £3K.

Both these Amp's used in the system and environment that was set up for the system was the best SS Power Amp's I have heard in use to date. 

@soix   +1 

Not so secondary issues would be warrantee and serviceability. Bryston excels here, at the expense of the last iota of performance. IMO


Have you ever considered a hybrid preamp?  I just bought a PS Audio BHK Signature preamp and it has a couple of 12au7’s for the input and mosfet’s for the output. Only had it a couple of days, but I am really enjoying it so far.

One of the best SS preamps I heard was the old Pass Labs two chassis preamp.  It was not like tubes but fast, separation, dynamic contrasts, deep bass, etc.  I purchased mine used years ago for $2K.  It looks good also.  The Ayre would also be my consideration.  I would consider either one of them over the older preamps you mention and what others have mentioned since we have probably heard them all at one time or another and have upgraded too many to mention..

Happy Listening.

@curiousjim I'm not against hybrid preamps. The point of this thread is different. It's meant to ferret out criteria.


What attributes do you look for in a good solid state preamp?

for me it is the following -

  • tone - must be natural
  • dynamic range - must be able to sound laid back and gentle but scale up to explosive forces fast, as fast as demanded by the recording
  • low noise floor
  • Texture in the bass
  • warm and palpable mids
  • extended and sweet highs
  • nice, non-clicking silent volume control (want to be able to adjust volume without hearing any clicking or other artifacts)
  • must image well and create a realistic and colorful soundstage

This is an amazing list. Many said "neutral" or "quiet" but your list really adds a lot. And you have heard all of these differences between different solid state preamps, I’m assuming. Thank you!

From my experience, it comes down to

1. features or lack of,

NEW: understanding the remote and options buried in the menus (often need to download/read the manual).

Vintage: plan on having it refurbished by someone. Some old jacks are corroded, even slightly under-sized, Audio Classics changed all my rca jacks to new gold plated.

2. sound of it's Phono Stage: i.e. I did NOT like the sound of my McIntosh C28 SS Preamp's Phono, everything else was terrific. I love my McIntosh tube preamp's Phono.

3. trim controls, not critical but nice to have: to level out the volume of various inputs, some vintage like both my McIntosh SS and Tube preamps. Other vintage?Some new have trim controls?



Vintage: No remote control, how get remote volume at least? Remote Balance? 

I recommend the Chase RLC-1 to add remote features to a Vintage preamp. Use thru a tape or processor loop, or in between preamp and amp, OR, skip a preamp, use it's 4 line level inputs and get all of it's optional features

They come up on hifi shark often, none now. this price is ridiculous, but it shows it well. You MUST have the remote, no controls on the unit.


Sound Qualities: the majority of SS amps and preamps were/are designed to change nothing audibly.

People hear differences, individual opinions or a general consensus?

Take your time, research, read, consider warranty and later service, maker's longevity, ......


@hilde45 Have you ever considered a hybrid preamp? I just bought a PS Audio BHK Signature preamp and it has a couple of 12au7’s for the input and mosfet’s for the output. Only had it a couple of days, but I am really enjoying it so far.


It’s kind of interesting that Paul of PS Audio was dead set against tubes for a long time.We are talking about someone who led the charge for solid state for decades.

Now the story about how the late Bascom H. King (BHK) finally talked Paul into using "TUBES" on the input stage of his amplifiers, and then TUBES in his BHK preamplifier. Why Paul says, "because it sounds better". Now he agrees.

All tube or hybrid with tube in the preamp, how PS Audio -or how Linear Tube Audio does it is fun to explore and test out. Finding a suitable (new era) solid state preamp that sounds "natural", and does not break the bank, is fun and time consuming research project. Best of luck to all here in that hunt, enjoy! :)


@elliottbnewcombjr After reading your two posts I do not see any mention of sonic metrics. Your comment, "change nothing audibly" is all I see. After all your years in the hobby, you never compared one SS preamp to another and made any notes (even mental) about the differences between them? (Such as the ones listed by @audphile1 ) That surprises me based on your other posts. Then again, maybe you are just being transparent about the fact that, for you, there’s nothing to be noticed.

I’m not asking for buying advice in my OP, but thank you for your thoughts.

"But as was said above, sometimes it’s nice to hear what the rest of the chain is doing, minus the preamp."

Have you ever considered a passive preamp?


Having long wanting to do comparison of top notch solid state pre to my Coincident Statement (MkII upgrade, along with some of my own mods) I recently purchased Pass XP22. I had a chance to extensively compare the two, and experimented with various platforms, footers, power cords, IC's, in other words voiced Pass for best performance with my setup.


So, my final analysis after 3 months comparison. The only two area in which the Pass excelled over Coincident was slightly more extension on top and occasionally I had the sense of slightly more details at certain frequencies, such as words being more easily discernible on some recordings, this not consistent? In spite of this I never thought the Pass to be more resolving or having a lower noise floor. And the easily heard superior transparency of the Coincident trumped whatever advantage Pass may have had there. Its like information vs sense of real live performers in room. As others have mentioned tube vs ss sound staging and imaging also differ, Coincident had more air around performers, this along with precise image placement, Pass did this very well, just sharper outlines around performers. They were aprox. equal in sound stage  and image size, both first rate. I actually preferred the bass from Coincident, more tuneful while remaining articulate, bass was perhaps the most problematic issue I had with Pass, really had to experiment with platforms, footers and power cords to approach bass performance of Coincident. One note or sense of thudding, inarticulate bass was there with certain setups, have to say I brought this under control with correct setup, still never quite on par with Coincident. As for tonality, timbre, Pass really close to replicating Coincident in ability to humanize recordings, I can't imagine any SS doing this better than the Pass. I believe this has long been one of the aspects of Pass equipment that people rave about, I concur.


All in all, at the end I was quite taken by the Pass, in the context of a SS unit. I've not had much success with SS since getting into SET amps and pre's. For me the minimalist approach of small parts count, boutique parts voiced for my particular setup,  and point to point wiring provide a transparency or performers in room sensation I can't get with either push pull tube or SS amps and pre's.


In presentation, Pass took me to recording venue, Coincident brings performers into my room. Again, I'd say this more SET vs SS in my particular setup vs. tubes vs SS in general. Based on my recollection of past non SET tube pre's I've owned the Pass outperformed them in probably every parameter other than 3D imaging, sense of air around individual images that tubes in general do so well.


Pass also excelled in build quality, massive and solid, well organized circuit boards, soldering top notch, I'd expect great reliability. While this may sound like faint praise, I'd evaluate the Pass as really top notch SS pre, I could see it being preferable to tube pre's in some systems.



It is a course a very worthy question.. like finding words for wine…you may never taste or describing the imagined swing of a fine Bespoke English double…. before a first hunt….

I might add dynamic relief, attack, slam, immediacy, air around harmonics ( especially in the bass - think Starker Cello - the ability to pick out individual voices in mass chorale, to discern the long reverberant space of the venue , how high can the triangles float ? Do i hear those and more in both an ARC and Ayre pre, sure…and in Keiths best work. Charlie like Keith a no negative feedback and time and phase , low resonance..listen and measure guy….

have fun on the quest.


hilde45 OP

I haven’t been in an audio showroom for many, many years, know nothing about current equipment, which is why I talk about features, advantages of .... and specifically mention only equipment I have owned or close friends have owned. Thus I sound like a broken record, mocking bird repeating ....

I never fully trusted showroom or audio show imperfect comparisons back in the day except to get a general sense of things, what to risk some money on.

Audio shop in Brooklyn Heights, late 60’s, did the best, they rolled each speaker from big room down the hall into the listening room (no cones of other speakers in the room), comparisons by memory, but outstanding/involving was instantly obvious.


I have inherited/owned and like Vintage tube preamps and amps, and hear differences, but usually they are using different tubes somewhere, so not true/direct comparisons. I test my own tubes, test friends tubes, give friends tubes from my collection of new/mostly used pulls that test good, never a direct comparison. I buy quad matched, test them when received, then after a while truly matched? I check everything annually just before thanksgiving.

Fisher 80 az tube mono blocks (used a few different tube types) EL37’s originally.

Fisher Receivers, 500C (3) and 800c (500c with am tuner added)

Cayin A88T (current in main system) (had to sound as good as my Fisher 80az mono blocks). They do, and I changed 6550s to KT88s, prefer them. Had Steve at VAS re-bias them (A88T m1 needed for 16 ohm taps for Vintage 16 ohm speakers. m1 bias adjustment is internal)

I use a Little Luxman 10 wpc tube integrated in my office, never compared to anything, sounds great driving my restored Vintage AR-2ax speakers. Sources: Vintage TT; Vintage R2R; Modern PC/usb out/DAC.

My friends mostly have tube equipment, in their systems, several things especially speakers and the room make differences.



I was given a McIntosh SS mc2250. Picked up and took straight to Harvey's 45th street, NYC (McIntosh Lab Day, I had made an appointment). McIntosh tested, said ’unusual specimen, accurate to 305 wpc’, 1 led out, mailed it to me, I changed it. Drove JSE Infinite Slope Model 2’s with it for years.It was designed to ’do nothing’, and that’s exactly what it did to my ears. It was the speakers that were outstanding.

At that time I compared 3 amps with 3 sets of color coded speaker wires (all home made cat 5), with WBT locking Bananas for myself and friends.

Fisher 500c tube receiver; Fisher 80az mono blocks; McIntosh SS2250, all thru the very revealing JSE’s

I also had the same content: CD; LP; 4 track Reel to Reel, pre-recorded.

EVERYONE picked LP over CD, and R2R over LP.

EVERYONE picked Tubes over SS, mono blocks generally, not always preferred to 500c receiver.

I had/have zero hum, however it wasn’t always a perfect volume match, that influences things as you know.

Yamaha SS CR-1020 Receiver for Garage/Shop system. It sounds darn good, now driving my other pair of restored AR-2ax speakers in the garage, a variety of small speakers in the shop..

It replaced prior Tandberg SS TR-1080, which I think had the most unique SS sound of any SS I have owned, wonderful sound driving a variety of speakers, two sets for garage and shop.

Never directly compared (Tandberg was not functioning, Yamaha is a big heavy beast).

so, no, I have not directly compared SS amps directly.


Vintage, lacking remote control,

Is why I keep recommending the Chase RLC-1, especially remote volume and remote balance. I use 3 currently

Main: sources to tube preamp; preamp to Chase (volume and balance); Chase to Integrated.

Office: remote power only (Luxman physical power button stays on)

Garage Shop: thru tape loop for in/out comparison, never a difference as has been true for many many years.

  • tone - must be natural 
  • dynamic range - must be able to sound laid back and gentle but scale up to explosive forces fast, as fast as demanded by the recording 
  • low noise floor
  • Texture in the bass
  • warm and palpable mids
  • extended and sweet highs
  • nice, non-clicking silent volume control (want to be able to adjust volume without hearing any clicking or other artifacts)
  • must image well and create a realistic and colorful soundstage

These are the attributes are what I look for in an amp, except the clicking volume.

I have 2 great preamp volume controls and like the clicking one the best. Though a smooth heavy wheel volume control is luxurious.

BTW - The new SimAudio North Collection seems to have a very advanced remote volume.

Friends bring their tube phono; tube preamp; cartridges to hear on my system they are familiar with, We patch them in: compare to my tube preamp/amp, speakers the same, cables the same except their 1 set of interconnects. Occasionally we use a pair of my interconnects.

Cartridges: my TT81 can play with all 3 tonearms in play with no concern regarding ’drag’. I simply change the input on the SUT and perhaps the PASS for MM, or one of the 4 optional x factors. Also you need to have a sense of where to adjust the Cayin’s volume while on mute (I make temporary pencil marks). Tonearms remain in play so location in the program has not changed.

We hear differences, discuss them, good experience.

Jim brought 3 Beatle albums, both MONO and STEREO versions. We had a good time listening.

1st impression: MONO: you are more involved with the words/song’s lyrics. Stereo next: you are more involved with the sound, imaging, good or bad engineering.

Of course, once you know the words/lyrics, then you enjoy the STEREO version more than 1st listen.

DEFINITELY playing MONO with a true MONO Cartridge is much better than playing Mono with a Stereo cartridge, even if your preamp has a mono mode.

ANY vertical movement, dust, scuffs, dirt in bottom of grooves, slight warps is picked up as noise by the stereo cartridge, then, using preamp’s Mono Mode, that ’noise’ is DOUBLED!

I own an Ayre Acoustics K-5xemp pre-amp and use it in my primary system. I agree with other responses that speak to its virtually inaudible noise level and its exemplary clarity. Having listened to several others, it stands out in those two areas. But as an example of a very neutral preamp, its frequency response is very flat. No emphasis on bass, mid-range or highs. They all come through in a way that makes instruments sound like they’re being played in your room. I listen mostly to acoustic music - classical and jazz. On a well recorded album of acoustic guitar or piano with bass and drums, the sound is lifelike and the imaging is very good. You can spend more, quite a bit more, and get better imaging.

There are a few features that have kept this unit in my system. It has great synergy with my Ayre cd player and Ayre dac. It has two balanced inputs to accommodate those and balanced outputs to my amp. It is said that truly balanced systems are better at rejecting noise. It’s why recording studios and concert venues use balanced equipment and cabling. The K-5 units also have a home theater bypass for those who use their 2-channel systems as part of a home theater setup. The volume control on the K-5 is wonderful, with to me no audible steps as you raise or lower volume, just a smooth progression.

There are also the issues of value and durability. A pre-owned K-5 can be purchased from a reputable dealer or individual at a very attractive price and likely will be noticeably superior to almost anything new at that price. And it can be repaired, if needed, by Ayre - more on that below.

Finally there is the build quality and customer support. Ayre responds to calls and emails. They repair their products for a reasonable charge. And they offer upgrades from time to time that improve their products, again at reasonable cost. The only other manufacturers to which I’ve been exposed that offer comparable service are Bryston, PassLabs and Modwright. I suspect there are others.

I would encourage you to audition the units on your final list, preferably in your home, which is not always easy. The Music Room and several other dealers let you purchase with a return period should you decide you don’t like the unit. That’s the way I prefer to purchase pre-owned. For new gear, if a dealer won’t let me bring it home or return it I wouldn’t do business with them. And with new equipment that hasn’t been burned in, the return right is important.

Good luck!


@hilde45 yes I have.
@yyzsantabarbara I just adhered to the scope of the discussion.

On volume controls….one of my first preamps was Hafler IRIS. The remote control had physical knobs for volume and balance. It was the most amazing and coolest thing ever! Smooth opetation, no clicking. The preamp itself was crazy good as well. Especially for the price of about $250 that I paid for it used 😂.

Here’s a pic of it just for kicks…

@sns I own XP22 and it’s an awesome preamp. I have never heard Coincident. I really like the XP22 - for me, it checks all the boxes. There’s also an obvious synergy between it and the Pass X260.8 in my system. I love tubes though but currently am on break from tubed electronics. When I’m game again, I’ll have the Coincident on my list of preamps to check out. I appreciate how detailed and constructive your post was. 

@audphile1 Thanks for sharing that pic. That remote is Dope!  Never knew such a thing existed.

Post removed 

Really great thread thanks to you all!

@dekay  Those kits look very interesting! I've heard more than once that best bang for buck is DIY.
@yogiboy  I have tried a very high quality passive preamp built via intact audio -- https://intactaudio.com/atten.html 
Didn't add enough ooomph.

@sns  Thanks so much for your descriptive account of the comparison between your tube, preamp and the Pass labs preamp. I do not believe I will come up with a better preamp than the 6SN7 preamp, which is serving me so well right now. What I really want is a utility infielder that does a really good job when I'm taking a break from tubes or when I want something very neutral so that I can clearly hear the amplifiers and the other equipment in the system. I have heard very good things about threshold, which is also a pass designed product.

@tomic601  Great additions to the vocabularly list: "dynamic relief, attack, slam, immediacy, air around harmonics,...the ability to pick out individual voices in mass chorale, to discern the long reverberant space of the venue"
The analogy with wine is an apt one. These are cases where the vocabulary almost necessarily exists at a too-remote gap from the experience itself. And yet anybody who is an audio file, has had to try to compare different things and come up with words that they could use as benchmarks, as reference points, as they are trying to sum their evaluations into a judgment about whether X or Y is better, or which fits this or that system, room, or mood. You have definitely moved the ball down the field!

@elliottbnewcombjr  What a great audio history you've had! Thanks for relaying that -- a gold mine of interesting tidbits!

@sameyers1  Your input is probably pushing me, personally, to just wait for an Ayre to at least audition. It reminds me of some really famous other pieces people mention over and over with 100% superlative praise. I'm pretty sold, now, on Ayre as a preamp to try.

@hilde45 I'm glad you found my post about my experience with my Ayre K-5emp helpful. I have a few questions for you? Why are you interested in a solid state preamp? What sonic characteristics are most important to you in an audio system? What are the sources, amp and speakers that make up the rest of your system?

I ask these questions because the answers might suggest other preamps I've auditioned that you might find of interest. Also, there are many who prefer a tube pre-amp with a solid state amplifier, including Dan Wright, the founder and owner of Modwright, whom I respect and who produced the tube phono stage that I own.

@sns - I had mentioned Pass Labs also.  I was wondering since you said your other preamp was upgraded and had some modification by you.  What were they?  As an repair service, I would imagine that we could upgrade the Pass with a few choice parts and make that preamp even better for a SS unit.

Happy Listening.

RE: non-clicking volume control - the problem is that you waste a lot of what the preamp circuit can do. The only way to get the most from your preamp is to use the volume control to control gain. That means resistors. All the best resistors are discrete, so you need to select different resistors for each volume level. This means clicks.

There is a reason why Kondo does it that way.



Changed out generic Chinese rotary selectors (tvc) for Amtrans, changed out  generic metal film bias resistors for Takman carbon film, Nichicon FG bias caps for Audio Note Seiryu, Kaisei out of stock, probably would have used them if in stock.

The best sounding pre amp out there is no pre amp at all, many fine source components can be directly connected to a amplifier, at one time I was only into CD's so I had a CD player that had a volume control on it and balanced outputs! I had 2 pieces of gear and was buying the finest CD's I could get my hands on (XRCD). 

Matt M    


     P.S I prefer a hybrid setup using a Manley Labs Jumbo shrimp and Chinook Phono pre front end with a McIntosh MC352 double balanced solid state amp. 



If a listener desires influence from a preamp on the source material (the music as it was mastered), it should be proportionate to influence the kit downstream of it offers. I assume this is the “synergy” perpetually discussed - small to moderate influences of different artifacts in the playback chain syncing up to the preference of one or more listeners. Believable even if not particularly demonstrable. 😉
e.g.: If you want clear-of-artifacts like a Benchmark (preamp) but then run your ZZ Top tracks through a power amp with Shuguang tubes*, you probably keep people guessing in all other life matters, too! 😆

*that’s no dig at Shuguang tubes - in the right rig they’re great fun

In addition to whatever switching you need, and volume control, the preamp's job is to effectively control impedance between your source/DAC and your power amplifier including the cables.   High input impedance and low output impedance does that.  With today's digital sources, preamps in our systems hardly need gain anymore, with the exception of phono sources. 

Most preamps affect the sound one way or another.  Whatever you like about the sound of your system, choose a preamp that enhances the sound and moves it in the direction you enjoy, without screwing it up.  You will know the right one when you hear it.

In my system, I like Steve McCormack's SMc Audio low or no-gain preamps such as the VRE-1 in whatever iteration, which could include the VRE-0.5 or an old TLC-1 that has been upgraded/rebuilt by SMc Audio.   I have tried other SS preamps including Tom Evan's Vibe/Pulse II, Ayre preamps, GamuT D3i, Muse Signature, and the AVC preamps, Acoustic Imagery Jay-Sho and icOn 4Pro.  The Tom Evans did nothing wrong and the AVC preamps were nice sounding and interesting, but the SMc preamp I own is by far my favorite.

@sns - very nice.  I prefer Amtrnas and Audio Note non-magnetic resistors, power supply caps Nichicon superthroughs, Audio Note Caps and V-Caps where I can use them.

I am fine with clicking volume controls. Tells me that something measured -- which I can track -- has happened.

Thanks for the list of SS preamps you've tried and for the reason you think some are better than others -- viz., ability to effectively control impedance between source/DAC and power amplifier, including the cables.

When you say that the SMc preamp is your favorite, I can't tell why, sonically. How did it sound better?


Good point about the influence from a preamp on source material being proportionate to downstream kit.


Why am interested in a solid state preamp?

1. I have three different amps and have recently borrowed a fourth. I like to compare how they sound. Using a SS preamp gives me a tool to compare them without the additives of my tube preamp. Knowing the differences between SS preamps helps me understand which sonic variables might be at work between SS preamps I might put ahead of my amps.

2. I recently compared two SS preamps and heard differences between them. I'm am somewhat uncertain about the vocabulary to use to describe the differences I'm hearing. I'm interested in the lexicography of sonic description, because when I'm reading about A's impression of X preamp or B's impression of Y preamp -- and they're using certain words -- I want some sense of how those words might translate to what I would hear if I tried X or Y preamp.

3. I am trying to establish how big a difference there can be between preamps, overall. Some companies charge 10's or thousands of dollars for their preamps. Why? Could it really be just about noise floor? What makes these preamps so great -- if it's not just runaway marketing and consumer hype?

My present system is here: https://www.audiogon.com/systems/9064

Intel NUC streamer (DIY) Intel nuc
Holo Audio Spring KTE
DIY tube preamp 6SN7 (like deHavilland Ultraverve 3)
loaner SS based around Burson design
Quicksilver Mono 60s (prefer KT77)
Pass Labs XA-25
loaner Hypex based class D amp
Ascend Acoustics Sierra Tower
REL R 328
Rythmik Audio (2 subs) F12SE
Cables by Analysis plus.

@hilde45 does your Spring KTE have an optional preamp module installed?

If your goal is to compare amps, it would be interesting to compare the amps by using a DAC’s preamp section. Or you can get Schiit SYS. It’s passive, transparent and cheap. Just a thought.