Which Line Level, Balanced Preamplifier?

I am running Monitor Audio Gold 100 5G speakers and am still deciding on what amplifier I am going to use. I came from a low wattage system when I bought these speakers, and they're quite demanding, so I am looking at something powerful. Almost everything is in the running, but I know I want it to do its job and not have too much character, so I'm considering Benchmark, Parasound, Ayre, Denafrips, etc... This is a different discussion though.

I want to shift my focus to preamps because it might help me dial in my amp choice along the way. I am looking for a fun sound. Not warmth, necessarily, but an engaging, deep and wide soundstage. Definitely not clinical or dry. I have been reading and have been sold on all of these:

-Ayre K-5Xe-mp

-Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE

-Denafrips Athena

-Parasound JC2

-Benchmark HPA4 or LA4

-PS Audio *preamp coming this year* (I'd have to wait for this one, but I'm excited about it)

I would love to hear a strong, educated opinion before I spend the money. Open to other models as well. Tried to find an older model PASS, but people don't really universally love them and I've read they can be a little less engaging in the wrong system. 

Thanks in advance!



Maybe also consider an older Audio Research preamp like the LS9 for a good value that might check a lot of your boxes.


- Woody

My choice would be the STP-SE but the Stage 2 version not the base model.  Second choice would be the Athena.  On the amp front I would look at the Kinki Studio EX-M7.

FWIW the first balanced line preamp made was the Atma-Sphere MP-1 way back in 1989.

Whatever preamp you get, its useful to know there is a standard for balanced line hookup, known as 'AES48'. I've found over the years that most balanced line product offered to the home audio market does not support the standard. 

In particular, in the balanced line system ground (the cable shield) is ignored- that is to say, neither the inverted or non-inverted signals have anything to do with it. In this way, the signal is more immune to the effects of the cable (meaning it does not have to be expensive to work really well) and ground loop noise is eliminated.

So its useful to know if the balanced line preamp you're considering supports the standard.


I currently have the STP SE stage 2. Great connectivity, convenient remote, using all balanced from dac and phono stage and also to amp. Plenty of punch, not clinical, probably to your liking.

I have Audio Research Ref 6 in my fully balance system and I am very happy.

Old enough to find some used examples.  Or previous AR Refs.

I've been using an Ayre K5xemp for years....never a problem....always great sound.   I'm using it with XLR interconnects to an Ayre amp....

One brand that is very much overlooked here in the states is Plinius. Very powerful and musical at the same time. I have two systems powered by Plinius and am very happy with each. Some claim it’s as close to tubes as you can get in SS.

I’m quite happy with my PS Audio BHK Reference preamp.  It allows tube rolling.  Tungsram NOS 7DJ8 tubes sound best to me, much better than the stock tubes.  Be aware Tungsram NOS 7DJ8’s are getting harder and harder to find.  I like that it’s a hybrid preamp with a tube input stage and SS output stage.

Having said that, I’ve always wanted to try BAT and AR preamps based on reviews and owner feedback alone, but since most of my gear is PS Audio, I’ve stuck with the BHK and love the sound of my system.

Backert! Great amps, 2 12AU7s. Absolutely beautifully made and they sound incredible!

This one is besides the point, but RIP Jeff Beck. One of the greatest guitarist of all time. He could bend the strings like no one else. Glad I got to see you at the house of blues in New Orleans over 20 years ago, great show, I will miss you.

Sugden LA 4.  Brilliant kit that will set things afire with speed and impact.  No syrup here.  Rich but not lush.  Great sound stage.  The Brits do this one right.

I am very happy with my Bel Canto Pre5. It is dead quiet, fully balanced, and does everything I need it to do. I think the sound is very neutral and resolving but not analytical. I run Bel Canto monoblocks (500m) but have also used it with an Audio Van Alstine Set 120 amp. I use a Cambridge 851N streamer and DAC and my hires and DSD files sound excellent. Dali Mentor5 speakers. The Pre5 is value for money and built to last. And a good company who answers questions promptly.

I haven’t owned but have heard the Benchmark HPA4 and I would consider that as well. Dead quiet, resolving, and neutral. Especially if you do headphones. 

I have not heard the Denafrips Athena, but am extremely happy with my Denafrips Hades pre-amp driving a Denafrips Thallo amp. I do love the “house” sound of their products; slightly warm, wide soundstage with depth, effortless power with great attack, terrific vocals, and no irritating treble. Driving bookshelf Buchardt S400MkII speakers. Only negative I have about Denafrips products is no trial period

Add the Musical Fidelity MS8 preamp to the short list , its clean ,layered , musical and dynamically an exciting piece to listen to, I have mine paired with an Parasound Halo JC5 and it's just a wow pairing.

I have a Benchmark LA-4 line amp, and love it. About a year now. Have it running   a Meitner MA-1 DAC balanced. Mono sub out connection is nice, Volume mechanism is to die for, very accurate. Rory,  at Benchmark is great to deal with and quite knowledgeable, not to mention a very nice guy.  They offer a 30 day trial period, free shipping and a 5 year warranty and are located in upstate NY.  I may be buying a second one soon for another system.  Top shelf stuff. Hope this helps!


As noted above, the BAT VK-33SE meets exactly what you are looking for in all aspects.  I have had mine for about 2 years, and it is truly fantastic.  It has recently been replaced with the next generation, model VK-80, and at the same retail price.  I will be moving upward to the new VK-90 preamp (new generation) by mid-year and that is the only reason I will let go of my VK-33SE.  I also have a BAT VK-90T (power amp) and VK-P90 (phono stage) which is why I am moving up to the VK-90.  Fabulous products, fabulous company, incredible build quality and sound quality.  You are welcome to PM me if you would like any further information on the BAT products I own.  Best to you on your quest.

I have a Rogue Audio RP-7 preamp feeding into Rogue’s Stereo 100 Dark (100 wpc) driving Fyne F-702 speakers (92 db efficiency).  Superb three-dimensional sound stage, great reproduction of the tonal qualities of the various instruments, and very, very quiet.

+1 Audio Research Line Preamp. I have an older LS 25 and am very happy with the sound quality.

There are a number of fine balanced linestages available.  I have had a number over the years including the ARC Ref 5SE, the Pass Labx XP20, the Wyred 4 Sound SE with Stage 2 mods, the Constellation Inspiration preamp among others.  I agree with Robshaw that the Benchmark LA4 is an excellent unit particularly if run in balanced mode for both inputs and outputs. It is tonally neutral which some may not like.I have had an LA4 for the past 3 years and have not felt that I needed to move on.  The unit is not perfect;  the inputs and outputs are closely spaced on the back of the LA4 making connections at times a chore.  However, Benchmark is a pleasure to deal with.  Overall excellent sound quality at a reasonable price.

I’m very happy with a Wyred 4 Sound STP SE 2 in a fully balanced system.

This pre has been a favourite for Srajan Ebaen at 6 Moons.com


When you say you want a deep, wide soundstage that immediately makes me think of tubes. I don’t have experience with tube preamp separates, so would defer to others that have written about them.

If you want a fully balanced solid-state preamp that has some characteristics of tubes, you could add the Coda 07x FET preamplifier to your list. It does not have a sterile, clinical sound like many solid state amplifiers. I’ve enjoyed mine for the couple years I’ve used it, but have not directly compared it to other preamps in my system.