Would There be a Significant Difference

Over the past nine months I have acquired a new system, consisting of a NAD C568 CD player used as a transport, an iFi Zen Stream, a Schiit Bifrost 2/64 DAC, a Rogue Audio RP-1 preamp, a Benchmark AHB2 amplifier, all feeding into Fyne F702 floor standing speakers and a Definitive Tech Supercube 6000 subwoofer.  All inter-connected with modest but decent cables and using modestly upgraded power cables and power conditioning.  The improvement over my previous NAD 356BEE driving a McIntosh MC2120 driving a pair of Infinity Modulus EMIT satellites and the same sub is simply astounding.  Great sound stage, instrument placement—imaging, clarity, and lack of noise.  I know that most of the improvement in what my old ear hear is due simply to the higher grade products I have, but I also wonder if some of what I like is attributable to the fact that the RP-1 is a tube preamp.

However, my “advisor” says I should really have a better preamp, one at roughly the same level as the Fyne speakers (the 700 is series made in Scotland, with multiple layers of plywood vs MDF) and the Benchmark power amp.  Should I choose to upgrade my preamp, I would like be able to use the XLR connections from DAC to preamp to amp for even a bit lower noise—more prevention than an issue.  Our house is very quiet.

I have looked at and researched preamps up to about $5500, and I have narrowed the choices down to the following preamps:

Benchmark LA4/HPA4

Rogue Audio RP-7

Backert Labs Rhumba 1.3

Bryston BP-17 Cubed

Parasound JCP2 BP

PS Audio BHK Signature—normally out of price range but on sale (2B replaced?)

Are there other models in this price range that I should consider? I will purchase a separate phono preamp as necessary.

So, my question is, if I spend the money for one of these preamps, ranging from about $2500 to $5500, will I notice a significant improvement in the sound quality? Secondarily, would folks recommend I stay with a tube model or go with one of the two SS models, the Benchmark or the Parasound?  

Fortunately, AudioAdvisor and Benchmark have audition provisions, which will allow me to listen to all but the Backert and the PS Audio.


Any and all advice and recommendations will be most welcome.  I would not want to spend several thousand dollars on an upgrade that brought only marginal improvements, but I am willing to spend it—the kids are long out of college with no debt—for a significant improvement.  I’m one of the types who thinks you can get 85% (or so) of the best quality for a fair bit less than 85% of the cost. 

Thanks to all for any input.





So, my question is, if I spend the money for one of these preamps, ranging from about $2500 to $5500, will I notice a significant improvement in the sound quality? Secondarily, would folks recommend I stay with a tube model

Yes and yes. Preamps are a crucial component in terms of overall system performance, so upgrading it will yield significant improvements. Since you’re already used to having a tubed pre I don’t think you’d be happy switching to solid state — especially hitched to your Benchmark amp the sound may skew too far to the clinical so I’d stick with tubes. Of the ones on your list and if you want to run balanced the Rogue is the only tubed pre that I know is fully balanced from input to output (not sure about the PS Audio) and would obviously be a considerable step up from your RP-1. The other advantage is you already seem to like the sound of the Rogue so you can be pretty confident you’ll like the RP-7 as it just provides a lot more of the good stuff you like about the RP-1. 

Assuming you’d like to stick with a more neutral sounding tubed pre like the Rogue and not go with a warmer sounding unit, I’d also recommend looking at a used Audio Research Ref5SE, used Atmasphere MP3.3 or new MP3 that you could upgrade later. All this said, the most important thing is that whatever pre you choose has the sound characteristics that match best with your tastes and system, so I’d suggest going to listen to all you can or, if that’s not possible, read as many reviews as you can to try and get a feel for their sound characteristics. Hope this helps, and best of luck in your quest.

(ps You can pick up a used iPowerX power supply for your Zen Stream for only $75 at B&H if they still have some left an I’d recommend at least getting that or maybe even a linear power supply — it can make a big difference in sound)

Hi Mike -


What is it that you are looking to improve or is deficient?    

You have nice equipment as it is.  I would not zero in on the preamp as a potential limiting factor.



+1 for a great sounding tubed preamp. Makes a huge difference on the whole system. I recommend a used Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, or VAC. Spend the maximum you can and extend with it being used. The companies I refer to build true audiophile preamps worth keeping for a lifetime… or a decade or two depending on your age. 

I have owned Audio Research preamps and phono-stages for decades now. Once they went into my system… I was done looking… I would only upgrade when I could afford it. They are natural sounding, detailed, with great midrange bloom and outstanding sound staging. 

I’ve used Tannoys almost all my grown-up audiophile life. You should be set with the Fynes! They look like great speakers. I agree you should explore upstream upgrades, as your Fynes can certainly reap the benefits.

I’ve used Rogue gear for many years. Honestly not a big fan of their RP preamp series. Haven’t heard the RP-1, but a guy I trust has said repeatedly that’s a weak spot in the line; there’s a big performance jump with RP-5. So you could jump to that or RP-7 and do quite well. But I’m also pretty confident a used Rogue Athena or Hera would spank any RP preamp. Those were their flagship preamps before RP series. I really preferred that older preamp line.

The ARC Reference 6 is quite phenomenal and would blow your mind. It’s out of your price range, but the 5SE may brush against your upper limit, and is worth a look too.

Hell yes, an extremely admirable and quality system you put together. 

  If it’s only a preamp you need, any descent one will work great, 

check the,parasound  Z series, or the P3 or P5, all are great units 


he newly back together Adcom pre is nice looking, clean.

as far as xlr you may have to do a wee bit of investigating and,research.,… that is what I love to do, go to shops, talk to the car,sal,…I mean audio salesmen. 
check the AG see hear, if you,want tube pre,,Conrad Johnson makes some good stuff, and buying used you will get a great,deal, there is a used McCormack on AG,…think, good stuff. YEARS BACK I FOUND THE ONKYO P-308, for 150$, sent it to a good shop by me,new caps,and many other upgrades for 300$, the Onkyo p-308 is a stellar preamp, quiet,and will add some,warmth and depth to your music.


 Keep checking AG, eBay be,careful, a lot of sheisters on flea bay. Have never bought from reverb, but they have nice stuff at times.


enjoy researching and the hunt/reading,reviews, etc, that is always my favorite pre purchase stuff to do, I read a ton of reviews, …ended up with a great,system!


 Don’t rush, take your time and enjoy,  


 An old company had a great preamp,.. audio source, people or the arrogant “I’m too good for audio source” the pre-1 lasted me,16 years, trouble free, sold it and opened my wallet for the b and k pro-10mc in mid 90’s 


anyway, enjoy the hunt, enjoy the music, take care of your amplifier, she is a keeper!

I noted a significant impact when I made my NAD C375BEE become an amp using a McIntosh C2600 tube preamp. 

I view the preamp on par with a source for impact. 

Hi Mike -


What is it that you are looking to improve or is deficient?    

You have nice equipment as it is.  I would not zero in on the preamp as a potential limiting factor.


It seems like it could be easy to go backwards or stay the same.

And probably easier/safer if there is a unit that you could demo.

Another consideration might be a smaller company that handcrafts their products and one many here will testify to the quality. Belles. It truly is a one-man operation, but the build and sound are great! Belles Power Nodules is where you will find the site which, unfortunately isn't the greatest website; understandably if you are a one-man outfit time constraints dictate everything. I have a SS model, the 28a that is fabulous IME and I can't see their tubes being slouches as that's what the owner prefers. Check them out; might be up your alley and price range, more bang for the buck. He even answers the phone!

 I would also add a used Cary SLP05 to your list.  I moved from a Rogue RP7 to a SLP05 about 6 months ago.  Without out getting too long winded the change added life and body to my system.  The Cary SLP05 and Audio Research 5se are both great products.  IMO can’t go wrong with either.  

Sanders if neutral is your goal. Balanced in and out. 2 monitor loops and total remote control for a bonus.

+1 Rhiannon Giddens

also maybe explore 


Esme Patterson

Little Esther Phillips


It's Belles/Power Modules.  David B. has an Aria signature preamp and a Virtuoso preamp.  Both very much worth considering if you go SS.  Johnny Rutan lets you try before your buy.

IMO it's a no brainer go with the Benchmark preamp for eliminating any synergy issues. 

Many thanks for the great and useful comments. I have narrowed my preamp choice down to two tubed brands, either Rogue Audio or Backert.  Right now, I have an opportunity to audition the Rogue RP-7 AND the Backert Rhumba 1.3 at home for a week.  In the store—with components well above my own, I liked the tonal qualities of the Rogue and the imaging and soundstage of the Backert, leaving me in something of a fix.  I will have to make a choice in the next week, but I am wondering if I should look at the next higher models from these two companies, the Rogue RP-9 and the Backert Rhumba Extreme 1.3, which are the same price, at $7500, roughly 50% higher than the models I am auditioning.  There are few reviews of the Rhumba 1.3 but many highly laudatory reviews of the Rhumba Extreme.  Or, in that price range—and staying with new equipment, should I consider something like the McIntosh C2700 or some other model?  The $7500 point would have to be my absolute maximum—plus “the governor’s cut” via sales taxes.  My thinking is that stepping up a notch from the RP-7 and the Rhumba would give me “headroom” for future upgrades to my sources and my power amp, without having to upgrade the preamp once again.  Again, thank you in advance for any advice you can offer.

The difference between the presentations of the Rogue and Backert pres may be quite different in your system and room that at the dealers.

Take advantage of this opportunity. 

@mike4597 I auditioned at home the Rogue RH-5 (which like the RP-7 has balanced in and out) and the Backert Rhumba.  I found them more similar than different, but ended up preferring the Rhumba by a hair.  Will be interested to hear your experience with the RP-7.

In response, especially to “twoleftears:”. My wife and I spent several hours this afternoon listening to our system with the Rogue RP-7 replacing my RP-1.  The difference is simply stunning … and wonderful.  We listened to Beethoven’s Pastorale (we attended a performance of it in Berlin in 1976, with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Karl Bohm—the Berliners went wild in response … well, at least the German version of an upper crust audience “going wild”), some Moody Blues—esp. “Never Comes the Day,” Fleetwood Mac, the Local Hero album, Bing and Gary Crosby together, Strauss waltzes (my wife’s favorites), and others.  We experienced wider and deeper soundstage, more accuracy in instrument representation tonal characteristics and placement on the sound stage, and clarity.  It made the RP-1 sound as if the music had momentarily gone through a blender; even that is overstating it a bit, but not much.  Also, a bit more bass, but it was tight and well dampened, not muffled and overhanging. The tonal characteristics are similar, but the RP-7 is more precise without becoming too dry or stilted.  The RP-7 would be a MAJOR upgrade.

Tomorrow, I will put the Backert Rhumba in the system and listen to the same music, … perhaps even more.  At the vendors location, the Rhumba had a better sound stage representation, so I am anxious to hear it in our living room.  And, I am now wondering if the Rhumba Extreme would be a marked improvement over the Rhumba, given that it has most of the “innards” of Backert’s flagship Rhythm in the Rhumba chassis.  By the way, I called Backert  late this past week and had a very pleasant conversation with their President, Andy.  He actually said the Rhumba would be such an improvement over my RP-1 that I would be shocked, and that I might not even need the next step up, to the Rhumba Extreme.  Andy provided lots of information in a very engaging conversation with no sales pressure.

I am expecting—and hoping—to be shocked tomorrow by the Rhumba.  Report and decision to follow.  Thanks for the comments, folks!

appears you've narrowed this down to these 2, but would add that an Aesthetix Pallene (preamp section of their Mimas Integrated) would also be worth a look at.  Its a hybrid design with a tube output stage. $6500.

Decision made, in spite of battling both a serious upper respiratory infection--knocked out totally by doxycycline--and my first tangle with Covid, in spite of being faxed and boosted.  My wife and I spent just over a week listening to the Backert Rhumba 1.3 and the Rogue RP-7, auditioning various genres of music, the same songs on both preamps.  

Again, my system consists of the RP-1 preamp, the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier, Schiit Audio Bifrost 2/64 DAC, NAD C568 CD player used as transport, iFi Zen Stream with upgraded power supply, and my recently restored Thorens TD126 MK with Audio Technica VM540ML cartridge--which I just received back and have not yet used.  Speakers are the Fyne F702 model (92 db), made in Scotland.  Upgraded but modestly-priced power, speaker, and interconnect cables are used throughout.

I went into the audition process after extensive reading of product information and reviews, which led to a slight, probably unjustifiable prejudice towards the Backert.  However, after the first of two rounds, I felt slightly more comfortable with the RP-7.  While the Backert had slightly better defined imaging, I found I much preferred the tonal qualities of the Rogue; the instruments sounded more full-bodied, with better defined tonal qualities.  The second round, during which I replaced the single-ended cables with XLR balanced cables, from the DAC to the preamp and the preamp to the power amp, further confirmed my conclusions from the first round, even after I adjusted for an apparent change in volume level, especially with the Rogue RP-7.  So, the winner for me is the Rogue Audio RP-7, by a hair.  There is nothing to knock about the Backert, and either unit, the RP-7 or Rhumba, would be a significant upgrade over my RP-1.  Had my budget been more robust I might have chosen the Rhumba Extreme over the RP-9--or looked further afield, but at the "under $5K level, it is the Rogue RP-7 for me.  Thanks to all for your advice and suggestions of other units, some of which I actually looked at and found attractive but beyond the budget.  For now, it's back to the RP-1 until the arrival of the RP-7.  Good listening to all!



From your detailed descriptions it sounds like you made the right decision. The differences you heard are exactly those that will become more pronounced and important over time and in better and better gear. In its simplest form this is more treble sounds like more detail… but actually does not sound better and in comparison over time sounds much worse. It is a bit more complex in gear of this caliber.


Better gear sounds more fleshed out… it isn’t hearing the drummer slide his foot… it is full and rich fleshed out musical sounds in instruments and voices. It is too easy to be drawn to the reflections from the wall of the recording venue and miss the richness of the actual performance.