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?


Neutrality is an acoustics concept BEFORE being used in gear design...

The sound experience is an acoustics experience first and last....

There is too much variations in price levels and needs and synergetical variations to define a rule valuable for all systems,speaking about preamplifications...

People as usual gave their take on the branded named preamplification of choice... Why not ?

But it will be acoustics knowledge ( not only room acoustic) that will matter as much as gear synergy if you have a budget...



What qualities stand out in really good solid state preamps?

in my book for solid state pre’s is that they first and foremost do not damage the music signal going through them

then it would be the ability to adjust and maintain volume level by each input (to allow useful a/b comparisons)

Intially looking for preamp I was thinking features on board dac etc, but then I figured you can't beat a separate preamp and dac from a purist stand point.  I liked the Mcintosh C53 and the Classe' Delta preamp when it came to features.  Then I decided I need simple but high performance and quality, basically inputs and the best volume control of the signal is what I want.  I narrowed it down to a used Pass Labs X-12, Ayre KX-5emp and an Ayre KX-5 Twenty, with the latter being much more even if I could find a used one.  I found one and stretched to purchase the Ayre KX-5 Twenty.  It's solid, the resolution at lower volumes is phenomenal and it's very dynamic and yet flat across the spectrum.  Very detailed and airy, I definetly can tell it's a quality component.  

I didn't do any demo, rolled the dice when I bought it thinking mainly cost is relavent to performance.  With some preamps it's the features, I was just looking for the best I could afford that controls the volume between the source and the amp.  The Ayre KX-5 Twenty delivers that performance I was looking for but there's plenty others that compete.  As we all know, it's how deep you pockets can go in this hobby, the more you spend the more you'll hear in the sound.  I wish I could afford a Ayre KX-R Twenty preamp, but that's the price of putting a decent vehicle in the driveway..


@sameyers1 decooney I have only auditioned the XP-12 in my home and can’t speak to the characteristics of the higher end or older Pass models.

i agree with your observation that people sometimes upgrade only to wish they hadn’t sold or given away a piece of gear. Some folks on this forum post of having repurchased a piece they’d had before.


So true, being near Pass Labs 30m away, lots of it around here - I’ve also helped a few even try and buy a few different cables and sources and dacs instead of getting on the upgrade merry-go-round, to then see those same people jump again to nice tube preamps. I needed confirmation from the man myself that my own 6SN7 preamp would be a decent match for an upcoming Pass/Forte’ mod project I was planning. I chatted some with Nelson about this 4-5 years back, and the following year he came out with the NuTube Korg kit for those who wanted to try something else. It might be fun to find out if the XP12 could be modded some, trying that, or this, as another approach fwtw. Just batting around some other ideas.


I am a big fan of Schitt gear. My second headphone stack is Schitt based as is my main DAC for 2-channel. However, the Schitt SYS is not one of their better efforts. It is not a clean window into the music. Less is less in this case. I have my SYS gathering dust in a box somewhere.