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?


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.