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.





@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.