Esoteric C03 preamp or Mark Levinson 326S preamp- ANY and ALL FEEDBACK / HELP PLEASE

Esoteric C03 preamp or Mark Levinson 326S preamp 

ANY FEEDBACK - THOUGHTS - IDEAS would be so appreciated.

I am in the middle of total system re-fit and have made many changes - I am sure too many but I am quite happy now and now have my preamp choice down to these 2-preamps.

Can you guys provide any feedback about either of these. I like to hear from you guys. I read all the reviews on both and those are all well and good but I always get the real ho-down low-down from you guys - good or bad.

                                                ** Back Ground info**

** Room is 
14 x 24 w/Cathedral Ceilings - 16 Foot a peak

** Music likes:
Assorted Music no metal or loud hard rock anymore really - not much Large Scale classical either but everything else.

** Likes / Priority: 
Transparency - Delicate - Linear - High resolution - microscope but not sterile not etched or lifeless - I know there is a fine Line here but I'm looking to walk the line as close as I can - real see through into the music - transparent to the source because I love my DAC - extended and to remove as many layers without being clinical - image and sound stage lover - tight bass - hate flab - like speed and transparency but needs to be musical. 

** Perspetive
Just had a BAT VK32SE brand new tubes / certified pre-owned, mint same as new preamp. Wrong match. Just looking to go total other way. Not what I am looking for.

** More Perspective - I have been running my Bricasti Direct M1SE to my Pass Labs X350.5 amps and really starting to love it. I want to expand on this sound a bit. Little more depth, width of stage, bass, dynamics but don't want to add veils or give up a lot in transparency - I know I will give up some vs direct in doing so. That is why I am looking for the very best SS preamp I can get in my range and have come up with these two choices and wanted to know your thoughts. 


Magico S5 Loud Speakers

Bricasti M1 Special Edition DSD DAC 

Pass Labs X350.5 Balanced Stereo Amplifier 

PS Audio P10 Power Plant Regenerator 

Kubala-Sosna Emotion 2.5M Speaker Cables 

Assorted IC's Balanced and Single ended.

Digital PC based front end that I have been tweaking and evolving:

Transport: microRendu 1.4 and Full Suite of UpTone Audio Premium Power Supplies (2)x LPS-1 and (1) JS2 LPS - (2) Regens - the new ISO and an Amber and all powered with premium/custom Canare / Oyide DC cables for all power supplies plus the great Tellurium Q Black Diamond Reference USB cable and a Curious Regen Link USB Cable.   

Really appreciate any help you can provide on these 2-preamps. If you would like more info please let me know - all comments and feedback are most welcome and deeply appreciated :)

Thanks guys/gals 


1528a8b5 9c9b 446d 85c5 0d31e7947394Ag insider logo xs@2xfsmithjack
I really don't understand why its down to these two preamps, but if

Transparency - Delicate - Linear - High resolution - microscope but not sterile not etched or lifeless - I know there is a fine Line here but I'm looking to walk the line as close as I can - real see through into the music - transparent to the source because I love my DAC - extended and to remove as many layers without being clinical - image and sound stage lover - tight bass - hate flab - like speed and transparency but needs to be musical.
and you have an amp with a balanced input, then for starters I would not look for a solid state preamp, and balanced operation will be helpful. There are a number of manufacturers that make such things. I would stay away from ARC because they are at their limits working with the Pass Labs amps. So


might be some good places to look. I am partial of course to the Atma-Sphere stuff (I think the direct coupled output allow it to play deep bass without the flab you mentioned).

If you really really have to go solid state, I would look at Ayre and Pass Labs.

As a further recommendation, if you're going balanced get a preamp which supports the balanced line standard (AES file 48 if you care to google) which will reduce the effect of interconnect cables on the sound in your system (read more detailed, more natural).
I think if you look back through all of your threads you will see that @ebm, who has a similar system recommended a CJ preamp. 

That preamp if it were me would be one of my considerations, another consideration if you want solid state would be a Pass preamp.

atmasphere has great comments, but I don't think Aesthetix would be a good sonic match with your Pass amp. You would obviously be the final judge of that in your system. I am an Aesthetix owner so no issues with Aesthetix. If you wanted to change amps I would recommend an Aesthetix Calypso with Aesthetix Atlas mono amps
Thanks - guys - really these two preamps because last week i got a BAT Preamp and just feel Tubes based on what I’m after won’t work. The BAT compared to my Bricasti direct gave up much too much. I much prefer direct. Now when i used to Use a tube amp i found a pre to be much better. I’m amazing at how much of a difference my new Speakers show and expose everything. The BAT is fine as far as being a nice tube amp but I’m after transparency and dynamics while still be musical but tubes just don’t seem to fit hence my choice for SS. Both dealers will give me what I paid for my BAT and I just need to pay the difference in asking price plus I thought these are two good SS preamps but wanted some more info before i pull the trigger.

I vote 326S.  The esoteric leans more towards the clinical side in my experience while the Levinson leans towards musical while maintaining outstanding detail and transparency.  The 326 will never fatigue while the Esoteric might...

Both are great units IMO... 326S owner.
I would stay away from ARC because they are at their limits working with the Pass Labs amps.

I'm curious as to what you mean by this Ralph. I know many who are very happy with the ARC preamp/Pass Lab amp combination, including myself.
 I would go with the atmosphere.   If you didn't like the bat in my opinion the tubes were not the problem. I would definitely go with Tubes for what you're looking for. 
previously owned a 326s and thought it superlative. loved everything about it. wish i’d kept it instead of continual trading!
Thanks guys - yes you guys maybe right where I probably should not blame tubes in general. Its just that I have for the first time have found both bloom and warmth now with my speaker, cables, dac, amp combo which I always needed tubes in chain to get there.

I just never got this close to the type of sound I want without tubes so want to see how far I can push it along.

I think the main reason for me now as it relates to my past experience is that with my new speakers - Magico S5 are just so transparent that they really provide a true transparent window to my source at a level I have never known before and I love the sound of my source. Bricasti M1SE, dynamic but warm and musical yet also super transparent itself. I think before these speakers I had needed a tube pre to spice things up so the speakers preferred the mix.  

Now it is like - my speakers - expose - and show naked everything in there where they like a little richer, full sounding cable as long as the cable has those things as small little ads but as in themselves quite transparent. My cables are now Kubula-Sosna Emotions. These are a bit fuller than I would have wanted but man this system is so sensitive. The slightest leaning either way is laid thread bare. It's great from the standpoint that I love transparency but so hard to dial in with such a finicky micro-scope of a system lens.  

A little shading here of there to just nudge the sound a bit here or there but anything more than nudge turns into a sort shunt or muting or adding a veil and the sound goes backwards. Much more than I would ever had thought. I have been playing with a hand full of different and IC's and am amazed how similar sounding IC's were before now completely change everything. So rather than a nudge here of there a certain IC is like through wet a towel over my speakers or they become bright and just the magic disappears here before they added a nice bit of this or that and now can't even be considered. Kind of painful but also appreciate it just not used to it,  

I've never experienced this level of transparency or I guess you could say pickiness also. I mean that is probably not accurate per say but yes if my rig doesn't like it then it basically hates and tells you. I mean if I was a reviewer this might be good because everything is under a micro-scope but on same hand this new item might sound like crap here and be nice in another system so I am really in the land of trial and error. I know everything is system and room dependent but this is at a level I am not used to at all.   

All this said I am looking to add those things that have a pretty dang transparent nature as for it to just fit in and then my hope is whatever character it has will be work ok when thread bare. So if the ML pre is sort of laid back I may really like it and if the C03 is up front i may really like it or I could dislike either for this same very reason. So picky.

So to blame tubes is probably wrong but to advance things I am also walking a bit more careful knowing what I know now about how picky this thing has become.

That is why I am thinking of staying away from tubes. Playing the odds. I think I can get there with tubes but the sound im looking for tubes wise would be out of my price range I think. ARC REF 5SE or maybe a newer higher end VAC.

I am thinking one of the SS would be a better but I also think the right tube amp that is super transparent but adds just a bit of that tube goodness would probably be incredible the question what tube amp is that. What is the most transparent tube preamp. The one that just adds a bit of tubes but is super transparent. That one would be awesome. Now the problem is I bet that tube preamp is double or triple the cost of an SS version.   
I enjoy reading about your Audio journey- fsmithjack
at your level of gear in performance and price, listen to as much gear as you can (even if you have to road trip it). This is the best part of our hobby.
Happy Listening!
 I would stay away from ARC because they are at their limits working with the Pass Labs amps. So 

ARC Pre and Pass Amps are legendary together, were did this come from. I ran the original ARC Ref 1 with the Pass 350 years ago and it was fantastic. Their are many many happy threads on this combo.

Try the ARC Ref 5SE.

I suspect that Ralph’s statement about ARC preamps being "at their limits working with the Pass Labs amps" refers to the fact that most ARC preamps and line stages have a recommended minimum load impedance of 20K, as can be seen in the specs for a great many of their models that are posted at Although ARC's specs don't make clear if that recommendation applies to balanced or unbalanced interconnections, or both. While many Pass amps have input impedances spec’d at 20K unbalanced/30K balanced (although the input impedances of most or all of the latest Pass models are much higher).

So I believe Ralph was referring to impedance compatibility between many ARC and Pass models as being marginal. Of course, "marginal" probably means that a reasonable case could be made both for and against.

-- Al

A good customer bought the Esoteric C03 and after listening to it in his system thought it actually broken b/c it lacked air, dynamics and just had no life. He brought it to my place and it collapsed the soundstage and he was right it took the life out of the music. Based on this he sent it back to Esoteric to verify everything was fine with the unit, got it back and no change in sound. So based on using this pre-amp in 2 different systems I would not recommend it although it does get excellent reviews.
I too use the Bricasti M1SE and also an Atmasphere MP1 but full disclosure I'm a dealer for each but have found no better YMMV. Have never heard the ML 326S.

(Dealer disclaimer)
sksos1 thanks for the information. 

I have heard from more than a few people the C03 can be a great preamp but many think it is sort or bright, etched and can be flat if there is nothing else in the chain to round out the lower mid-bass ie, tubes, warm cables,etc. 

Glad to hear from a fellow Bricasti owner. The only thing I have had left over from my old system that I have no desire to change at all.

There may be better out there but each change I have made in my system it has advanced with this being my source. It seems to have no ceiling or at least at the level I am operating at. I am sure there are many that have much better systems than me and for them maybe they expect more but I have been extremely happy with my Bricasti from day 1.

So I a deciding on a new preamp on Monday and basically everyone on here has told me they think the Mark Levinson 326S is the unanimous choice.

Anyone else. I have until tomorrow when I am going to decide so would love any/all feedback between now and then. No matter how little or whatever info is really appreciated.


Thanks for the kind words of encouragement :)
There are two newer versions of the C03, being C03x and later C03xs.
Sound stages & Sound stages Ultra reviewed these units as well as the C02, which is a higher up model.
from what I remember, one of the reviewers in replying to letters stated that these units have a "lovely romantic sound", but that they don't have that oomph for the bottom end.

since your Amp is a Pass, have you considered the Pass preamps like P20 or P10? They may have better synergies together...
if you're in Europe then there were a few of the Passes for sale on different boards just recently, and if in Asia then one or two units out of Hong kong on the bay...

I looked at the 326 for my Levinson amp and all the reviews were all good, however there wasn't that much enthusiasm about it which I suspect was due to it's relatively high cost at the time it first came out ($10k circa 2006) I guess this to be a very good unit especially if you can get it at a good price...
still I'd suggest, if at all possible, to listen to anyone of these before purchase to make sure they match the rest of your system, and think twice about the synergies of the Pass preamps...
Good luck
Thanks for the info and feedback. I’m in US - Boston. They’re is a couple XP10 out there and it’s quite a bit less money but Ive heard over and over it’s a decent Preamp but the Mark Levinson 326s, Esoteric C03 and Ayre K-1xe are all in another class.

I did think about the Pass but it’s about to be replaced and really would like to get the best pre i can and set it and forget it but yeah thought of the Pass for sure. The Esoteric is the oldest one. There is one in Canada but it’s over double the price of these. I’m in the second hard market $4k price range for the best SS pre i can get.

I did Just have a Dealer offer to take my Pass amp and BAT pre and the cash I was going to put toward the Levinson and he would give me Vitus Audio RI-100.

i wasn’t looking at or considering Vitus but everywhere I read everyone says Vitus is the very best match for my Magico S5 Speakers. Hmmmm

I would think my Pass Labs X350.5 and a Mark Levinson 326s would be better than the Vitus RI-100 but i guess should at least consider but doubt I’d do it. 

What do you guys think? 
My friend who is using the Magico S5 mk II speakers is driving them with a Vitus SIA-025 mk.II integrated amp and he is very happy.
He is also using a Vitus SCD-025 mk.II CD player.
That is a sick 😷 system - and another example of a happy Vitus Magico combo. I’ve heard that CD Player - it’s amazing. I’d love to here the S5 MKII’s but I’m afraid too. Just got happy about my original version i don’t want to ruin it. :) 
Well he did have the original S5’s with the same Vitus SIA-025 integrated amp before he upgraded to the S5 mk II’s.

FYI, he is using all Jorma cables and cords, which are quite pricey, but he loves the Magico/Vitus/Jorma combination.
I'm curious as to what you mean by this Ralph. I know many who are very happy with the ARC preamp/Pass Lab amp combination, including myself.

Al got it- The input impedance of the Pass puts the ARC at its limit. It might work well for you, but this does suggest it can get better
Thanks - guys - really these two preamps because last week i got a BAT Preamp and just feel Tubes based on what I’m after won’t work. The BAT compared to my Bricasti direct gave up much too much. I much prefer direct. Now when i used to Use a tube amp i found a pre to be much better. I’m amazing at how much of a difference my new Speakers show and expose everything. The BAT is fine as far as being a nice tube amp but I’m after transparency and dynamics while still be musical but tubes just don’t seem to fit hence my choice for SS. Both dealers will give me what I paid for my BAT and I just need to pay the difference in asking price plus I thought these are two good SS preamps but wanted some more info before i pull the trigger.
OK- if you're only exposure to tubes is BAT then I suggest try again.

Transparency, dynamics and musical- that does not sound like a transistor preamp to me. Maybe the BAT didn't work out, but it does not define all things tube by a long shot!
atmasphere - yes I agree and trust me I have always been a tube lover. Not really for any reason of any specific choice or idea other than tubes have just always sounded much better to my ears.

I love SET's and my love of tubes and SET's sent me on my last numerous systems built around tubes and then SET amps with my great and I mean great 103db Rethm Saadhana V3 Speakers.

There was a time not that long ago that I thought I liked my Rethm speakers better than my Magico's but my Magico's were not broken in yet and I had a terrible matching pair of speaker cables and I did not have my XLR ground pins in my Pass X350.5 amp and they were set up poorly, etc... After I worked those things out everything changed.

The best way for me to say it is like this: For years I just thought tubes were utterly needed for premium top quality sound that I preferred. That enveloping, real, 3D, air and space and feel to the music, that you are there and can feel the music could only be attained via tubes for me.

I had tube amps and preamps and some good ones from ARC, CAT, VTL, BAT, VAC, Cary, Manley, Canary, Triode Lab and others and all had their strengths and weakness but I always wanted and needed tubes up until very recently. 

Basically as of now, I have never heard music in my home so real and true to life. So startlingly transparent and so good and on a level I have never even known in my home. I didn't even know this sound existed outside of tubes.

I thought tubes clearly gave one type of sound and ss another but I could not have been more wrong. You live and learn as they say.

No tubes in any system I have owned and I have owned some decent ones. Not world class - best ever but some pretty competitive upper-middle range hi-fi stuff listed with brands listed above and none have ever reached this high a level in musicality and transparency. My system with all solid state and Magico is extremely musical.

Trust me I get it, I loved tubes but I have seen the light. Modern SS is a different animal and not your grand-dads Adcoms, Threshold or even and an old grainy Krell. Not to knock those older solid products either but for me it all started with the First Watt F2J SS amp with my Rethms 103db.

That amp changed and/or ruined tubes for me for life really.

They brought me to a place I didn't know even know existed. It had all those things that tubes had with all its warmth and 3D glory but now add in speed, PRAT, real PRAT and true - world class transparency while also being warm and lush with bloom but also with extension and real tight and tuneful bass. Oh that extension on both ends was just a god send and when you combined that tube warmth with this see through transparency I was done. Put a fork in me. I am a legit SS convert.

Part of me still thought ok yeah but there is still room for tubes in this whole idea. Well maybe you are right and a different preamp would work great. Its just that I am at the point where I am extremely happy with this all SS sound and just want to push this along and see where it goes. A bit more stage depth and width, and bump up in dynamics and slam while still saying as close to source as possible. I can give up a little here or there if I can get a little more in return overall but with tubes it seems to get what they offer for me at this point it seems I will need to give up too much on the other side. Too high a price to pay type of thing but maybe not and just because the BAT didn't work out I sure there are some great tubes preamps that I would love but I am thinking they will be a lot more money also than I am looking to spend. Something like the: 5SE, REX, Lo or that type of thing is way more money.

Thanks so much for the feedback.

Tonight I am going to pull the trigger in the Mark Levinson 326s preamp.

Tomorrow or actually when I get it and set it up I could be saying it is too polite or laid back or colored but the hope is that it will advance me along this line I have been traveling on which has a steep decent and I am fine taking one step back as long as it is for 2 steps forward :) and 3 steps well that would just be amazing.

Wish me luck :)        
If I had the guts I would try the Vitus Integrated but I'm just too happy with the sound I have now and am thinking its a much safer and the smarter bet to stay on point and work toward finding the right pre-match verse changing the entire amplification chain but there is this little voice nagging me saying - go for the Vitus - do it - do it... lol. Too risky plus getting the ML first still leaves that open after if not happy with it but man everything I read or hear says Magico / Vitus = Perfect Match :)  
Basically as of now, I have never heard music in my home so real and true to life. So startlingly transparent and so good and on a level I have never even known in my home. I didn't even know this sound existed outside of tubes.

Well if running direct from your Bricasti DAC is this great, why are you even considering buying any preamp? Do you have more than one source?

I hope the 326S works out for you.
I know that ML is not my cup of tea though.
However, you spend YOUR money, you make YOUR choices.
Good Luck!
Why the Esoteric  CO 3 and not the CO 3x or CO 3xs? The CO 3 is good but not as good as the other two. The CO  3 is not a true balanced pre amp from input to out put. Where the other two are. If your running balanced cables you should look at the other two models. The CO 3x is true balance from input to out put, so is the CO 3xs. The xs models adds better caps and a better out put stage than the CO 3x. I own the CO 3x and like it a lot. Great build quality and it does  not sound to analytical but very smooth sounding. Of course amp choice and cables. interconnects  will influence it also.  Before i bought my Esoteric i compared it to the Mark Levinson 326s was a little darker sounding and not as detailed with background  sound. To me the Esoteric sound cleaner across the board but not harsh. The Mark Levinson was a touch warmer in the mids or softer, but missing detail. I purchased the Esoteric CO 3x and have been very happy.
enjoy Pete
Hey Pete,
I am buying used and at a price point. Have found no Esoteric CO 3x out there accept one in Canada for triple times the price of both but if there was an Esoteric CO 3x out there in close price range I would jump on it. I like how you describe it as it sounds just like what I would want.

jmcgrogan2 -  couple reason really but mainly as good the Bricasti is I believe a first rate preamp brings a lot to a system other than source switching and volume control. The Bricasti is at its best when run wide open via its XLR's via many of the other owners using a first rate pre for volume control. Looking to advance my system forward and am a true believer in the value of preamp as it relates to sound quality image depth, width, dynamics, bass and overall presentation. I think a great pre can make a great source better when properly matched in a system. Many times like with my BAT that is not the case but hoping the ML works but not positive it will until I hear it but I hope it does. I certainly like how Pete describes the CO 3x but hoping the ML works well for me. Also, have a couple other sources to bring to the table SACD player and TT but those are secondary to the SQ but part of it,.

Maybe its just me but I find this conversation very confusing. Most of the posts from the OP seem to imply he's in audio heaven with his current system and not clear (to me) what are the specific characteristic(s) of the SQ that need improvement. He also seems to have owned almost every "name" brand out there, probably more than most here, but may not be as open to taking chances with some of the lesser popular (other) name brands. Anyway, not my money nor my time but trial and error can get very expensive and even frustrating depending on the attitude. Either way, all the best.

If you read it all I have been pretty darn consistent. I mean the name of my post is asking for feedback on these 2 preamps and with in a week I just purchased one of the two? What is confusing there? I asked for help and then got help and then bought one of the preamps. Not much out of line there?

I am not on here to waste time and i am here to get help and share to the best of my ability and enjoy my hobby. If I confuse you then just move on and bother someone else and if you are interested in what i have to say then stay. I am a pretty bad writer and most of it is done on my phone while multi-tasking so can't say I blame you. Some people say they enjoy what I write so I write but if other people are like you and don't then i won't. 

I mean I am asking for feedback and trying to share the best I can but in the end I am going to make the decision i think is best for me and my system. I try to write what I feel but not saying I am good at it but you don't have to be rude or mean either. 

I just switched speakers from Rethm Saadhana V3 Speakers that were run fully by tubes to Magico S5 Speakers that are run fully by solid state and I love my new system more than anything I have ever owned but I wanted people to know I loved tubes forever before this system. i also want to make my system better than it is now is why I want a preamp.

Maybe it works maybe it doesn't but it doesn't really cost anything to try and I am just starting to share so this is sort of new to me but the hobby isn't.

I have always loved tubes and really thought they were needed for me to enjoy the music the way i wanted but with my new system I have learned that SS is even better imo and much better than I have ever owned so I tried to explain the best I could. 

I have owned many of the top brand speakers, amps, preamp and some dacs but no where near as many as other people on here. My systems is actually pretty modest compared to so many others on here but I still want to share.

I am not rich or have all this extra money either but I am smart enough that this hobby is basically a free hobby for me because I understand how to buy used and sell used so i get to try a ton of gear without really costing me anything?

Yes I need the initial outlay of cash which was mostly spent in 2008 when I was making decent money and I have flipped all that money forward to today and have lost on some but not many.

I got pretty serious in the last 5 years I would say. i wanted the best darn system I could get while learning both what I liked and what the different products where. I have read a ton and bought a lot of stuff and had a decent handle on it until I switched from tubes to ss and now sort of starting from scratch again and thought to ask for help on here and share it back. Well not from scratch but its so different than tubes and I am learning.

Over the last 5 years I have probably gone through $400,000 to $700,000 worth of retail price gear. I would say my total out of pocket cost is around $10k but maybe less. $10k over 5 years is about $2k per year which is a pretty reasonable hobby. Before I hurt my back I spent wayyy more on golf so this hobby has actually been pretty reasonable overall when looked at properly.

What do I mean? If I sold everything i own today retail myself and got as much as I could in the retail market and then look at how much money i put out of pocket I bet I am out around $10k under. Maybe add another $5k to $7k when you add in shipping charges.

I mean just look at it. Buy $35k speakers for $14,000 and use for 6 months and sell for $14,300. Not a super expensive proposition and if we are being honest then I got to use an amazing pair of $35k speakers for 6 months for free. You say switching gear is expensive and I disagree. i would say if you keep them too long they depreciate too much. Also, buy the MKI right after the MKII comes out and there is a bunch out there and they are cheaper and almost as good. I've done this so many times and you do real well this way.

If I was rich I would just go to dealers and buy new but I am not. I do ok like most people in this insane hobby do but I have bills, kids and all the stuff we all must take care of.

That first drop at the model MKII change is good for a good year and you get all or most your money back. This is how I have owned Wilson, Revel, Focal, B&W, Ascendo, Merlin, Martin Logan, Magico, Sonus Faber, Magnapan, Harbeth, Avalon, KEF, Audio Physic, Verity, Kharma, Tannoy and plenty others and the scary part is a whole bunch of different models of many of these. I think I have owned like 6 or 7 different pairs of Martin Logans, 3 - 4 Wilsons, 2 - 3 B&W. 2 pairs of Watt Puppy's 5s / 6s and them Sophia 2's and I can go on and on and it looks kind of scary when i put it in print but have pics of them all and trust me I have owned them all. I have 2 virtual systems with many pics of them and tons of other pics from other sites and i can share if you like. These are just the speakers there were many amps and preamp by BAT, CJ, ARC, CAT, AYRE, VAC, VTL, PASS, Manley, Canary, Cary, Krell, Parasound and a bunch of each. 4 - Krells. 3 - CJ's, 3 - Manleys,  DACS, Wyred 4 Sound 1 and 2, PS Audio Perfe-twave 1 then 2, Ayre QB9 then 192 then DSD then DirectStream, then Bricasti and there were a bunch of others. Not bragging at all just saying this is stuff I have owned but honestly who cares it has always been about learning and trying to figure it all out. Cables Full looms and bunch of mixes of AudioQuest, Nordost, HiDiamond, Cardas, Kubula-Sosan and many different models of many here as well etc etc.Bottom line is I have tried a bunch of gear with ittle actual total cost as everything has been turned into something else. Buy a $1500 cable and try it sell it for $1,500 and it did not cost you a whole bunch. Again kind of scary in print but these are all products I have owned and had in my system, many at same time and many at other times and actually 98% of these have been free.

The 35k speakers that you buy for $14k used yes you need to be able to put up the $14k cash so as anything in life you need to pay to play but if you take $14k out of the bank and then 6 months later you put it back $14300 not real costly other than what that money would have done in the market during that time but we all could liquidate our systems and put the money in the market and then we could not enjoy this incredible hobby and all this amazing world class music. My children have grown up with hearing the greats and enjoying them. Nothing is free but not nearly as costly as your remarks would imply. Not even close!

I have done probably $50k just this month alone. I am not bragging but you statement is incorrect and just because you don't do it or understand it that doesn't mean its hard to do. Many on here totally agree with what i am saying. I am not the only raging audiophile on audiogon but maybe the only one that takes the time to share and not sure that is even a good idea yet. 

Look at this post in the last week there was $20k of equipment I went through just with this preamp swap.

Case and point. Paid $3,100 for a $10,500 BAT got it and hated it.

Traded it and $500 cash got $10,000 Mark Levinson preamp. When bought the BAT traded $1,750 worth of cables that did not cost me $1,750 but more like $1,200 and then paid $1,350 cash plus and add in the extra $500 cash for the Levinson 326s and i now own the 326s for around $3,200. I should get all my money back for it if i don't like it.

Might even make a ham sandwich but that's not the point. When buying used and smart you can go through gear and have it not cost much if anything and I only point this out to state that just because I have got to own and try so much gear its not because I am some rich guys. Anyone of the wanted could do this if they have the initial outlay of cash. I mean you have to buy the system and i was always trying to evolve mine while learning.

I have also built a few very strong relationships with numerous good size dealers where they have done good and have I. It has to work for both. I don't buy the item they just got in but work with them on stuff they have had for a while and many times it is very good stuff. Something they took on trade they want to turn into cash and I get a nice piece and they get to move an items. I am not walking in saying gee what do you have for full retail. Not my thing. I also treat everyone i work with like gold. I go over and above so they think - that was a good guys to work with an many have come back to me over and over to buy my gear from me. i built a little cottage industry around my system but it has helped me a great deal to try new stuff.  

Please don't give me a hard time I enjoy this hobby and people like you ruin it for me. I don't bother anyone ever and if my sharing bothers others then i will just stop sharing but some of people seem to appreciate it so as long as that is the case i will share and if not i won't. Just like buying and then selling used audio gear pretty simple.  

Wow thats quite a journey in HiFi equipment.  May I ask are you seeking a particular sound or are you seeking out all different sounds by different models of HiFi gear?
Oh man. Good question. Different systems at different times I just didn’t know what i was after other than what my ears thought was the right path and read and tried to make smart decisions but we all know how that can go.

I followed my ears and my brain followed which was too bad really to a certain degree because when looking back although no regrets much of it 2/3 I now know was not matched up or set up really well but just didn’t know then.

In all honesty i had a lot of gear where my speakers for a while there - that I liked them very much but now as I know better and learned much later that they were really under driven.

Loved tubes and used tubes and now know they were not powerful enough for the Speakers I had back then but thought they sounded great.

Sort of settled for a lot flabby bass and rolled off top and bottom because extension and my geniune understanding and appreciation for it came later in the game so I wasted a lot of great gear to be honest.

They would do what I loved them to do so well / 3D / Palpable / Realness that tubes do so well with goosebumps / and was happy with much of it then where if i plugged it in now I would cringe but just didn’t know and read about stuff but thought i was hearing what they described but i got better at this hobby and at matching up gear and learned along the way about impedance and frequency limitations and my systems got better even though some at times with lesser equipment due to better matching and there was some nice Audio intellectual growth there / and there were some epiphanies along the way with that then - there - Oh man - how did I not know that - oh I see now - type of thing.

Awe should have known that before type of thing. It wasn’t like i was looking for a specific sound because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and now that i know what i didn’t know its much easier to judge but of course heinsight is always 20/20.

If i told you oh yeah i was looking for this sound or that sound well that would be disengenious using to today’s knowledge to describe yesterday’s lack there of is the best way to state it. 

Yes a lot of that great stuff was matched quite poorly when looking at it now I’m heinsight but didn’t really know that then.

Heck for quite some there for a while I used a PC via USB cable direct to DAC. We just didn’t know better. The future would teach us different but i liked better than my CD and only dabbled with vinyl later on. See i needed to sell what I had to fund something new type of thing.

Pannells and tubes.

That was what first drive the Audiophile stake into the ground for me.

Man that transparency and speed and sound stage driven by tubes did wonders for me and that sound forever forward to a certain degree would need to be part of any and every system I would have. If any add did not do this to a certain level sound wise then off with its head didle - didle. 

So that was a sound I loved and chased. I know now that the bar was pretty low for what i wanted and liked but i did have the instincts to keep pushing forward to learn more.

Many of my Martin Logan were underdriven because I just didn’t like the chalky SS sound on those but then along came the Audio Physic Virgo II and everything changed and my Audio world and what i thought i knew was forever forward altered.

That was an epiphany - I would say now that those and the First Watt F2J or J2 were so enlightening and both sent me in a tail spin firing off in other directions like no other components.

Not they they were the best but what they taught me at their times fundamentally changed my ideas of what I thought was important and left and idelable mark on this green and nieve but learning Audiophile.

The Audio Physic Virgo II signaled the death of the panel Speakers in my life and opened me up to the big old world of dynamic drivers. 

I just never had the earge to change away from pannels and tubes. I loved Martin Logan’s Spire - Summit so much - they were great speakers and did what i wanted but my idea of ideal sound was rather narrow as experience and time has taught me.

Their self driven bass drivers let me play with my tubes - (i thought) and life was good in the Audio spear.

 There were turning points or growth points along the way. I was pretty serious with my tubes and Martin Logans and for quite a while there. I loved them and was on the path of the best tubes for Martin Logans or that was what i thought anyways.

Man if I knew then what I know now. I mean CJ Premier 12’s, Decware Tori MKII then III, Manley Snappers, Primaluna Prologue 6 them 7,s. CAT Sig MK II them MK III them Manley Shrimp and Cary SLP-98 then Decware CSP2+ then another CAT because i missed it then well you get the picture. Then tried the real good NOS EL34 Mullard tubes and so on.

I can really remember not knowing and changing cables and power cords when I know now I I had not the right marching amps but i digress.

i bought those Audio Physic Virgo II as speakers for my front room. Wife at the time thought i was spending too much time in my Audio room which was true and couldn’t listen to TV over the TV so picked up these Virgos and attached the Knock off - Rawson clone Pass Labs Alph 5 and Manley Shrimp and some type 4 AudioQuest Speaker Cables and some Darwin Silver Interconnects. My source was the DAC in my Pioneer Elite SC-57 AVR. Show how dum I but it was a head of its time with a Network over Ethernet so made other room possible via JRiver and bam - smack my whole Audio world was turned upside down. This sound - what is that. It was not as transparent or quick but man it did something that the pannels could never do. There was this realness and this image that was so ventriloquist like that I was amazed. Needless to say i sold my Martin Logans and i was on a mission. This new sound - this new idea - i must see where this leads me and this what started a dizzying few years of rifleing through Speakers and Amps and pres. I could go on and on but wanted to give you an idea of where I was and why is all. 

Thank you for your question because it lets me think about the process in a way i normally would not have :) 
I enjoy reading about your Audio journey. That is quite a bit of gear that you have had in your system(s) over the years. The largest margin of this hobby is auditioning the gear, even better to demo it in your home, to rule out the pieces/brands not suitable to your ears. Keep auditioning and writing.
Happy Listening!

Oh boy, sorry man. I was just reacting to the totality of the threads/posts around your journey and didn't mean to ruffle any feathers..... sounds like you're having fun and that's all that matters. Enjoy the ride.

I'm with jafant, I enjoy reading about your audio journey.  I love how you only use audio reviews and opinions as a guide as to what to try.  There is no substitute for first hand experience.  You may not know what you want until your hear it, but you won't hear it unless you try. 
Updates???  Thoughts/impressions?
Sort of settled for a lot flabby bass and rolled off top and bottom because extension and my geniune understanding and appreciation for it came later in the game so I wasted a lot of great gear to be honest.
I would not settle for that either- and that is not what tubes are about, although I certainly agree that if things are not right- that is what you will get.

You don't need to suffer a loss of bandwidth at either end. Tubes can go to DC, and the same tube can go to many MHz- so if the circuit is right, the speed and bandwidth should not be a problem.

I went down a similar path although a very long time ago- amps of the quality of the Pass were not available back then so I wound up building my own stuff. Because I played in an orchestra I had some idea of what real instruments were supposed to sound like. The amps and preamps I eventually developed have the bandwidth and speed one expects of good solid state gear (accomplished by having direct-coupled outputs on both the amps and preamps, just like solid state but without the harshness). But if you didn't know that sort of thing existed, you might not believe it could be so.

If something like the Pass had existed back then I might not have been challenged enough to make my own gear. Nelson knows what he is doing!

I still don't understand how it came down to the two preamps you asked about, but in the end it doesn't matter- what *does* matter is that it works for you!
Thanks Jayant - i appreciate it a lot! 

Thanks test pilot - appreciate it also. I never really took the time to share in the past but wish I did because i have learned more here from other members than any other source other then my own system and even then I still needed to learn how to connect all the dots.

kalali - thanks for the response. Appreciate it.

hk fan - what’s up man! 

Yeah so i made the deal on the Mark Levinson 326s and your feedback and comments  via email being a current owner were super helpful and really helped me decide which way to go.

Super appreciate that. Nothing better then when you can not hear the component yourself then to chat with a current owner of the product and ask specific questions and with this I put the most stock in for sure and really appreciate the help!

So made the payment last night and I’m off Wednesday so Shipping out my BAT trade tomorrow and hope to get by weekend but most likely won’t get until mid next week. I’m psyched - once i decide and make the deal can’t wait to get the new component. It’s like Christmas for adults being an Audiophile and having a great new peice on the way. 

Super excited. I mean regardless of any micro-specifics the Mark Levinson 326s is a very nice peice and I sure hope it fits in how envision it but what I love the most is when i do a deal like this and it works out even better then i had hoped. I must admit that is rare but it has happened and always hope it wil happen again !!!! Wish me luck !!! 

The Mark Levinson 326s is a good pre amp. You will enjoy it.  Report back lets us know.
enjoy Pete
I used to do a LOT of this back in the glory days of Audiogon (pre-2008).
I dubbed it the Audiogon "Buy 'N Try" methodology. Nothing like listening in your own system with your own gear to try stuff out.
I even recall one time, in around 2005-2006, when I had 4 quality preamps in my house for a three month demo (Krell, ML, CJ, BAT).
I bought them all on Audiogon, listened to them all, kept the one that I liked, and sold the other 3.

Those days are long gone for me now. This is such a buyers market the last 3 years or so, that selling is no fun anymore. 
What keeps me from rotating gear anymore is the dreadful thought of having to sell something. I HATE selling in this market.

So, due to the current state of the audio market, I don't experiment much anymore. 2000-2008 Audiogon was like the Wild, Wild, West!!! ;^)
I thought it was a local deal.  Sorry!  Let us know when you receive it.

jmcgrogan2, I agree.  It use to be easy to swap gear in and out and not take too much of a loss.  Those days are gone unfortunately.
@hk_fan, if you have not yet bought your preamp then I strongly recommend you check out the Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL 2.0 preamp with its linear PSU module. It is a David Berning design. I sold my $18k preamp after I tried it. There are many many stories where the likes of ARC reference preamps have been replaced with it. To my ears it is the most neutral preamp which doesn't give up anything but just adds the dynamic drive and wee bit of warmth. It is an OTL preamp so there is no coloration even though it has tubes inside. Read about it, you will get an idea.
It is an OTL preamp so there is no coloration even though it has tubes inside. Read about it, you will get an idea.
Actually most tube preamps are OTL. Ironically, this one is not. An output transformer is employed as well as a solid state circuit in tandem for conversion from the high output impedance of the final tube to the much lower output impedance of the amp.

This says nothing about its sound though- it is a brilliant design (and patented, it is from the patent that the above information comes).
All said, it sounds like a no preamp much more than any other preamp I have heard. It is the closest to straight wire with gain and drive that I have heard. All that for less than $2k!

I currently use this preamp with a $24k power amp and still feel that the power amp is the weaker link. Interesting!
Of all the gear I have owned, tried or even just heard not once have I ever heard a David Berning design product.

I must hear some of his gear sometime. I know some if it runs red hot which I am not a fan at all with tubes (fine with red hot class a solid state) but must admit to reading more than a few times that he is one of most inventive, creative and brilliant designers of all time. A true savant.

I think if I ever do try a tube preamp again it will be tranny coupled design or with some JFets in there.

People speak of the modern sound of tube preamps in some cases in a negative way. I use to always be a fan of the classic CJ sound myself for years but even they have moved much more to the middle.

After my last experience with a tube preamp with my current system it is easy to why ARC and now CJ and most others have gone the way they have hence the modern tube sound. At the same time the solid state sound is much more like tubes which is fantastic. There are some things tubes do that solid state can probably never do and probably not vise versa.The problem here being to better excellent solid state sound via tubes cost much more money. I think SS can get you 90% there / maybe a bit higher and to top that with tubes to get that last 7% - 10% puts you in the $20k to $30k preamps where SS can get you 90% for around $10k and used $5kish. The best bang for buck premium sound IMO is the SS pre but of course that is just IMO.

The more transparent and neutral our systems become the closer we get. The closer we get the more transparent and neutral every addition must be. The leeway or wiggle room window either way is so much smaller. 

Any deviation from transparency and neutrality as you get closer seems to push you further away so transparency and neutrality that were once more preference are now mandatory and no longer optional.

It is no longer about voicing or preference anymore. It is now purely about simple second grade mathematics. It is either addition or subtracting. I don't mean this in the most strictest sense but you get where I am going. This makes it both easier and harder. Easier because it is simple from the standpoint it either sounds better or worst. Harder because you must find the square peg for the square whole and I looked and don't list that on the package. We must purchase try and either keep or flip. Now thankfully there is a place such as this with like minded, intelligent people that understand clearly these things where ideas can be shared , debated and pushed forward. For that I am grateful. 

With tubes once you get in deep the Pay to play goes up a whole bunch :)   
It is no longer about voicing or preference anymore.
@fsmithjack  Was it ever? I don't know of any designer that 'voices' their electronics. We never have.

Had you ever considered a tube preamp with a direct-coupled output?
No I mean us voicing our systems - not the designer - when we are putting together our systems. We audiophiles putting a system together with warm tube preamp to off set a bright sold state amp type of thing. I’m just an Audiophile I’ll leave the designer talk to the smart people. I’m sure there are a bunch of great tube pres that sound amazing. I’ve owmed maybe 20 tube preamps so pretty Small sample overall. 
Hey Guys - HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone.

Your feedback and comments have helped me so much.

I just started a new thread about a couple amps I am considering and wanted to share the link with you guys if you feel like sharing.

Thanks again :)

Guys - I needed to shoot you update today.

jafant, testpilot and hk_fan have been waiting for updates. Sorry haven't updated sooner, Been so busy working but wanted to update you guys and 68pete, jmcgrogan2, kalai and all the other great members that have been so awesome and encouraging,

I'm psyched.

Some of the great changes we make end up being the ones we don't make sometimes. I had a deal to change amps from my Pass Labs X350.5 to Hegel H30 amp but that deal fell through but now I am happy it did. The Pass is a great amp and it is now shinning like never before but in fairness it has always been an incredible amp and that was probably more of a flavor change verse an upgrade but glad I still have my Pass.

This great sound I am getting now has been the case for the last couple weeks but I was just struct by a song I was just listening to and thought - oh man - wow - hands down - this is best sound I've even known - I am so lucky to have found that elusive and ever fleeting balance that we all strive for.

My system as of today has reached a height that I have never known before. I have had some nice sounding systems and been at this a while so this is sort of a big deal because been working through my recent rig re-fit and pushed through and reached this new great level.

I am sure many of you know what I am talking about. That rare, elusive moment where you are like - awe man - there we are - this is fantastic * dam - yeah -   music just bounces with emotion, clarity and impact that strikes you right in the gut.

It funny for a while there I was questioning if Magico's were for me and if solid state could get me there. Haha, what a mistake thinking that was... I always had tubes and thought I may need to return to them in some form. Um that's a big NO. I'm in my 40's but I remember my first piece of music was AC/DC Back in Black on 8-Track and I Played in my 2-XL Robot If you have never heard of a 2-XL google it. It was a little talking robot that played 8-tracks and sounded great. They put a good sounding little speaker in there and I was hooked and my audio journey got rolling. I got my first good record player in 1985 and listening to harder music back then. The Who, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Stones and all on vinyl and loved it.

Needless to say I am pretty psyched with my rig now and wanted to update you guys.

Also, for the record the Mark Levinson No.326s preamp is absolutely fantastic. I had some people tell me how great it was and other saying it was ok but sort of polite. I have no idea how anyone could call it that other than it is one terrifically transparent component so I guess if your system is polite than this pre would pass it along but man. This is one fantastic preamp in my system.

I was writing about how I was looking for the right pre and i just tried out a half dozen or so preamps and a few I bought and then flipped and others I took on loan.

I bought BAT VK-32SE and out it went quick. Nothing wrong with the pre but not what i was looking for. The Levinson pulverized that preamp in every way. I tried the very good Ayre K-1xe that I really liked and it is a very good preamp and if I had not heard the Levinson I would have been happy with it but the Levinson is in my opinion a much more serious preamp. It's just flat out a little better at everything and overall much better. I tried another great preamp the Allnic L-3000 MKII and Manley Steelhead as a linestage and these both were great but not up the Levinson in my opinion. Not even close in my opinion.

I love this Mark Levinson No.326s preamp so much that I just ordered a set of the dual-mono phono module boards to install to make it a full function preamplifier. Going pop these in and take another swing at vinyl.

Love the idea of finding such an incredible preamp and being able to upgrade into a phonostage as well. Super excited. What do you guys think:

VPI Classic Signature 3D arm demo  


Dr. Feickert Woodpecker Jelco arm demo

both same price

or something else for $4,000. I have a owned a couple decent vinyl rigs but really a digital guy so sort of novice in the analogue real so any ideas or feedback would be great. 


There are three threads with this same post.

Are you still up for improving the system performance?
Yeah i only update once a month or so - so i like to update the guys that were kind enough to give me feedback and help alone the way. 
Well your amps have a balanced input...

Would it interest you to know that there are other balanced line tube preamps than the BAT?

It might also interest you to know that the balanced line system was created to eliminate cable interactions. So in theory you shouldn't have to use an expensive cable to make the system work properly.

Quite often though in high end audio, the balanced line standards are ignored in part if not entirely. As a result, as a general rule of thumb if you can hear big differences between balanced interconnect cables then something in the system isn't supporting in the standard.

I'm pretty sure the Pass supports the standard but less certain about the Levinson. You can test this by simply inserting an inexpensive cable like Canary or Mogomi Neglex and see how it sounds. If not a lot of difference that's a good thing but if it is a big difference you might consider the next step :)

Have fun and Happy Holidays!
Hey Guys - wanted to share with you my most recent project and review for my network media player:

Bricasti M1 - M5 - M12: Network Player - My REVIEW w/OEM Response Brian Zolner @ Bricasti