Are you looking for the music to get through
or manhandled by a mythic "sound?"
I had a BP-20 with MPS-2 power supply. My current Topping pre90 ($600) and Benchmark LA4 ($2600) are of similar sonic character. That is a very neutral sound. However, the Topping and Benchmark are much better and newer. They are essential noiseless and fatigue free. I cannot say that about the BP20.
I recently sold a BP-17 (non cubed).
I thought it was very sterile sounding. To my ears the midrange was "thin". There simply was not enough "body" to the music. Clear and transparent - yes. Not bright per se. The music simply was not at all engaging. I could never listen to it long.
My other preamps are a Prima Luna Dialogue Premium, an Eastern Electric MiniMax pre, an old aragon, an old acurus LS-11 and a Music Fidelity A3CR.
I like the Music Fidelity the best. Speakers are older B & W 803D’s
Overall the Bryston was "transparent" but I did not like the perceived freq response - it just did not sound "right". It was very obvious every time I inserted it into the system. I wanted to like it as well but would remove it after a few songs. Hard to describe what I am trying to relate. Perhaps overly "thin" sounding is best with a recessed midrange. It was "thinner" than the old aragon, the LS-11 Acurus or the Music Fidelity. The A3CR is great and was a highly rated Pre (Stereophile) in its day. Dual mono etc, very heavy.
I am getting away from tube Pre’s. The Prima Luna is not at all thick sounding but does not have the resolution of a good solid state preamp. I very much like resolution but the Bryston simply sounded "wrong" and to my ears it was always very obvious every time I inserted it (at least that model - I bought it used sight unseen and had never heard one prior). I am certain it has a ruler flat freq response when measured but nonetheless it sounded disjointed and not at all "musical" - altho this sounds "corny" there was no emotion to the music - I always wanted to remove it quickly and replace it with another Pre. My amps are an NAD C-298 (very nice), a very old Aragon 2004 and a Quad Artera. The bryston did not play with any of them well - always the same "nonmusical/flat" sound.
Hope that helps. I am not dogging Bryston - they make bullet proof stuff. I hear their latest stuff is somewhat warmer sounding.
To each their own I guess. The person that bought the BP-17 from me was glad to find one (he was going to use it in a hunting cabin in northern wisconsin - a true audiophile if there ever was one!)
Just had to comment on what someone said about the BP17 and the Topping pre90. These 2 are just not in the same ballpark, the Topping pre is for a nice computer setup in the office. Also maybe the system he listens to them sounds "thin" to begin with because that particular Bryston pre is transparent.
To be fair most Bryston equipment gets a bad rep for being clinical, because the equipment simply doesn’t add anything to the sound. If you want the truth in your recordings, Bryston is your company, however if you want to add warmth, buy a nice tube pre.
You can so easily hear why Bryston is a recording engineers pick.
I am talking about Bryston BP20 preamp + MPS2 power supply that I had for about 5 years. I also have owned Bryston 3B-ST, 4B-ST, 4B-SST, PowerPac 300, 7B-SST. So I know a little bit about Bryston. I have heard the new cubed line (with Vandersteen Treo CT) and it still has a bit of the old sound. I also recently bought the Bryston headphone amp and sold it after a month since it was not better (fatiguing) than the much cheaper Topping A90 (I gave this one away later).
The stereophile reviewer Kalman Robinson (sp?) copied me :) and sold his Benchmark LA4 preamp to use the Topping pre90 with his Benchmark AHB2 amps. I sold my Benchmark HPA4 (made a profit) and got the Topping pre90 to use with my Benchmark AHB2 monos. They sounded great, identical to the the HPA4. However, I ended up getting the Benchmark LA4 (same as HPA4 minus headphone) because the Benchmark preamps are more robust (work with all amps) and better features. I use the LA4 with CODA #8 amp.
If you want "wire with gain" preamp I do not know of any better choices than the pre90 and LA4 (or HPA4). At least from a measurements perpective. I just remembered the Mola Mola Makua peamp for about $14K is similar to the pre90 and LA4 but with even more features.
I think the Acurus LS11 is a very good value. Acurus was a great company back then. It has a balanced sound and is a great example of a good sounding solid state Pre and an even better value. Acurus stuff is well made and lasts. I think the Pre is better than their amps - the amps are a bit bright. I actually like the Acurus LS11 better than an older Aragon Pre (model 28 K) I recently bought used altho the Aragon was far more expensive back in the day (Acurus and Aragon were sister companies - Aragon was the more expensive stuff). They actually still are sister brands (Indy Audio Labs)
I have a BP25 with MPS2, it's actually a warmer sounding preamp. My newest preamp is a STP.SE.STG2 and by comparison the Bryston is colored, not in a bad way its very musical. I enjoy both preamps, I think some people mischaracterize some of the bryston preamp based on older Bryston amps being somewhat sterile. If I had to summarize the BP25 I would say slightly warm and musical. No deal breaker, it's a nice preamp.