Looking for a pre-amp (Pass, ARC, BAT, Sim, PS Audio)


I would like some recommendations regarding what preamp to try in my system where I currently have a PS Audio DSD, Pass x250.8 and a pair of Focal Diva Utopias with all synergistic research interconnects. Just sold a PS Audio BHK preamp which was pretty nice, but would like something a bit faster without compromising the stage of the BHK. By-the-way, it was noticeably better having the BHK in the system then not having the preamp at all.

I am considering the ARC 5, 5SE, LS28, or the BAT VK42SE, 52SE, 33SE, or the Simadio P7, P8 Or Pass XP20, 22 next. I don’t see my-self zeroing in on any other brand/models right now.  I listen all all kind of music on Vinyl, CDs and stream Tidal.

Would you mind sharing your personal experiences with any of the above preamps (especially to contrast and compare these models/brands together). Would really appreciate any advise on which of the above preamps to go for. Thank you!
Ag insider logo xs@2xjmarshak
@jmarshak-I’ll share ARC listening experiences.

Ref 5-fast, transparent and a tad on the bright side of neutral.
Ref 5SE-fast, transparent not as bright. I own this, moving up from a LS 27.
Ref 28 is similar to the Ref 5, just not as transparent.

FWIW-I’ve heard your speakers and the system had a Ref5SE downstream. Very impressive.
Thanks @wharfy for your experiences with ARC!

Hi @4425 Thanks you. I imagine this Luxman is a very nice preamp, but it's pushing out of my price range at this time.
may not matter to you but be aware that very very few tube preamps will drive a main amp and a subwoofer. ARC is very specific about this. 
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Yes, thanks @bpoletti. I run all balanced in my system. I find it to usually sound better (in my system) to SE, even at short wire runs.  At the least with XLR, I usually do not need to increase the volume as high :) But seriously, I realize that most tube equipment is SE.  I guess that's one of the reasons why BAT and ACR are on my short list.

@4425 I used to use a subwoofer but after adding a synergistic research PowerCell I found that I no longer needed more base/slam.  I was using a different line conditioner prior to that and it was apparently constraining lower frequencies.  I think that the larger point that you are making about these preamps is an important one however. Thank you.

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I use the Pass 250.8 with a SimAudio 740P and I think they sound awesome together. I don't know how the 740P compares to the P7/P8.

The 740P replaced a Pass X10 and a Hegel P20.

Yes, I missed the 740P on my list! I believe Sim describes it as very dynamic compared to the older models where as the P7 has a wormer sound to it.

Hi @gtsnyder was wondering if the BAT preamp one of models I listed or another worth considering?

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I run all balanced in my system. I find it to usually sound better (in my system) to SE, even at short wire runs. At the least with XLR, I usually do not need to increase the volume as high :) But seriously, I realize that most tube equipment is SE. I guess that’s one of the reasons why BAT and ACR are on my short list.
If you are running balanced, Atma-Sphere might be a possibility. The MP-3 comes with dual balanced outputs. Atma-Sphere made the first balanced line preamps tube or solid state (1989). Driving 10K or less is no problem so any solid state amp with a balanced input will work.

Disclaimer in case its not obvious- I am associated with Atma-Sphere.
@gtsnyder, wow thats an amazing piece:) No wonder your system sounds good. Excellent. Enjoy!

After much reading, i am starting to lean towards the pass labs xp22. Part of the rationale is hopeful synergy with the 250.8, and also because of all the positive feedback on other forum threads.

I have the X250.8 myself and just traded in my XP12 for the XP22 and while I was at it ordered the XP17 Phono.

 jmarshak, brilliant minds think alike. LOL
LOL!  Thanks for sharing and the reassurance @morningstaraudio .  I've been looking at the pairing specs of this Amp - Preamp and it looks like the right move.  Hope you are enjoying your set up!  Wow, with the XP17, you should be set for a while.

Honestly, I think that comparable level preamps  models from the other brands I listed (+ forgot to menton Ayre) would all workout well, but just feel that one can't go wrong with the xp22 based on what people are saying and the amp i am using.

I am hoping that my synergistic research cables will not pose a problem either.  
one last informed suggestion as i’ve listened to it a lot. the levinson 523 preamp is very special. forget about dark and boring as that’s not even close to what it’s about. there’s a good review of the 526(?) in stereophile that gives great insight. the model reviewed is essentially a 523 with a built in dac. i’ve seen a couple from 8-9k on agon. i think you’d do backflips. in terms of what i’ve heard lately it may not be quite as dimensional as the luxman c900u but maybe it is. two great SS preamps. just not sure about pass. not really known for their preamps but i haven’t heard one. i think boring when i think of pass but it’s in my head i’m sure. good luck to you
Thanks everyone for sharing you knowledge and experience helping me deride on the next preamp.  I appreciate it.  Also thank for feeding new ideas regarding future possibilities with Luxman, Levinson, Herron and Atma-Sphere, etc..

When i get the new preamp, i will advise.  

If you are looking for balanced line you might inquire with the manufacturers of the preamps on your list if the product supports the balanced line standard, otherwise known as AES48 (Audio Engineering Society file 48).
If the preamp does a side benefit will be that the interconnect cable between the preamp and amp won't play a role in the system sound and you will be able to run it some very long distances if needed.

Internally balanced has nothing to do with it. You can have the circuit be internally single-ended and still support the balanced standard. In such cases transformers are used.

An example of what I'm talking about- if the source puts any signal return currents through the shield (IOW if the shield is important to make the connection) then the equipment does not support the standard. In a proper balanced connection, the shield is for shielding only with no other relationship to the audio signal, quite unlike a single-ended connection!
My my recommendation would be the Makua preamplifier by Mola Mola. Not only is it an excellent sounding preamplifier but can also be specified with an extremely good and versatile phono input. A dac module can also be specified and in the future it has room for a streamer module to be added through a LAN connection which is already in place. It can be remotely controlled and set up using the Mola Mola app, it has a manual volume control or the volume can be controlled through the app, supplied Apple remote or Mola Mola’s own CNC machined remote at an extra cost. It has 5 pairs of balanced and unbalanced inputs and two pairs of analogue outputs for bi-amping. Separate MC and MM input stages in the phono stage with load resistance and load capacitance selectable using the app. Switchable EQ drop down listing all combinations of record labels is another feature of the phono stage. Also the phono stage has settings for Shelf (bass), the bass turnover point and treble roll-off.
the problem with mola, which i’m sure is great gear, is poor resale. not fair but the few units on audiogon have not fared well. it’s tough out there.
You're a dealer for Mola Mola? The Mola Mola preamp with DAC card list price is $22K? It's my understanding a used Mola Mola preamp recently sold on Audiogon for $6K, which makes Mola Mola a very bad value no matter how it sounds.
I'm a long time Pass Labs listener so probably totally biased.  I recently changed from the XP10 to the XP22 pre.  As I had hoped, this change pushed my entire system in the right direction.  Even after several months in the system I am still hearing amazing things in recordings. Improved clarity, expansive soundstage, naturally musical.  Lovely.

The XP-12 is supposed to be quite good as well.  Enjoy the hunt.

@ricred1 and others, I don’t know about US pricing but in the U.K. the Mola Mola Makua retails for £7k with the dac module an extra £4k and the standalone dac model, Tambaqui retails for £9k. Here, Mola Mola doesn’t drop in value anymore than any other brand does. So I’m baffled by those prices you quoted.
Ok update.  As alluded to above, I desided and just recieved the pass labs xp22 and connected it.  On first impression.. and its still cold and sounds somewhat lean but such a sweet sound...  lots of detail.  Looks like these are supposed to stay on for a while to warm up for the first time.  Will be back.
24 hour update:

Pass Labs recommends to have the XP22 warmed-up for 24 hours to get at close to full steady state sound.  It should be left on all the time.

So: After 24 hours of keeping XP22 on and acclimating, the sound of the system is definitely fuller and the soundstage really large. Very neutral sounding preamp with nicely extended, but controlled bass.  The mid range is well apparent and I keep hearing newly recognized nuances (threads) in every song I play.  But it's not so much that I have not heard these before, its more like they were not as prominent in the music before to warrant one to pay much attention to them.  

So, I think that the main benefit of the XP22 compared to the BHK (and It is what I was hoping for) is speed and the level of detail.  The BHK was an excellent preamp and I know that it's not fair to compare these two directly because of the price difference (also one is a hybrid while the other is a SS), but I am glad that I changed to the XP22! 

Thanks again to everyone for your inputs and recommendations!  If anyone has questions or would like more details about this pre, please message me. 


the Pass Labs X250.8 is a sweet power amp. Good to read that you matched a XP-22 pre-amp. Keep us posted as you massage the pre into your system.  Happy Listening!

The X250.8 is indeed excellent and its amazing how hard it is to upgrade from it, even by the more expensive Pass amps in the same .8 line up.  Feels like its Pass' sweet-spot in that line.

With regard to the XP22, I got an already broken-in unit, so I don't expect the sound to change much with time.  Again the level of detail that it puts out is remarkable.  Eventual, I'll get around to switching some cables but not for a while.  This is definitely the new centerpiece of my system.

Id also be interested to hear from others if anyone has experience pairing the X250.8 OR the XP22 with other components and what that was like.

Hi  jmarshak,

I just stumbled upon this post as I am looking for a pre-amp and was trying to find comparisons between the BHK and Pass. Funny enough, I also have the Focal Diva Utopia and just this past week got a Pass Labs X250.8 so I couldn't ask for better context for your comments. The only difference is I can't stretch for the XP22 but have a lead on a XP20.  I am not sure if you have heard the 20 - if so, any thoughts? BTW - the Diva's finally came alive with the 250.8. I am scrambling to sell off equipment now to fund the upgrades :)

Hi @llkmi  
Looks like you have an excellent dilemma!  These are all wonderful instruments.  I have not heard the XP20 in my system so I can not comment but I very much enjoyed the XP22 when I had it :).  Important to use XLR connections though.  Please feel free to pm me direct if you have any questions.   

i guess you're saying you got rid of the XP22? If so, what did you replace it with?
@llkmi Simaudio Moon P8. Slightly warmer but it edged out. It was very hard to compare..the XP22 was excellent, airy, detailed, full of magical fidelity. The Moon just started whispering to the ear however . It was an unbelievable effect in the room that I could not recreate with any other preamp. Then, once I settled on the P8, I actually got a 850P on loan for a few days to see where this is going to go. It was also incredible in my new set up (i changed some other stuff around). The 850P was ’possibly’ even a tad more detailed....but I did not regret giving the 850p back (yes, mostly because of price). Bottom line, if you can get your hands on a P8 for fair price in decent condition, then IMHO don’t hesitate.
@jmarshak, I did mention the SimAudio preamp (740P in my case) mated with the 250.8 was pretty special :)   I'm still enjoying the two very much.  I wonder how the two chassis P8 compares to the newer single box 740P?
Hi @ddafoe
I don’t doubt the 740P / X250.8 sounds special based on past experience but I actually never heard the 740P in my set up so I can’t definitively comment. .. Still, Sim knows what they are doing when it comes to preamps and I keep saying that the X250.8 is a pass sweet spot.

One thing I do want to mention about the XP22 - if anyone is considering a pass preamp. You cant go wrong with Pass! The XP22 is excellent and Pass Labs customer service, support, concern for their customers and professionalism can not be beat (period) and yes I am referring to the man, Kent English :)

Happy listening..
Happy to stumble on this thread as well.  I agree that Sim knows preamps.  Just completed a 2 week stint of comparing my 740p with an 850p and the ARC Ref 10 in my predominantly Sim system.  Definitely had been curious to test the Pass preamps as well.  
Sure. The Ref10 edged out the 740p primarily due to increase in soundstage, a touch of warmth and overall was more engaging and less fatiguing. Detail/resolution were same. I was surprised how well the 740p held up, in my system. I know this may sound like heresy to some folks. The Ref10 had just been given a clean bill of health from ARC and my trial lasted over a week. The 850p in comparison brought an overall smoothness, increased resolution, cleaned up the soundstage, and increased musicality.  I have never experienced such a lack of fatigue. Anyway, 850p is now my new preamp.  I attribute this in large part to system synergy as I have Sim DAC and amp.
Excellent, thanks for sharring!  I love the expression aboud "never experienced such lack of fatigue" .. 'fatigue' is such an important consideration. Congrats and Enjoy the preamp, it's awsome.
@zprr, what Sim DAC and amplifier do you have?

Since I have a Sim DAC (380DSD) and Pre (740P), I've always been curious how the 860 amplifier would compare to my Pass 250.8 and if the synergy from having all SimAudio components would make a difference.  As I've mentioned though, I'm very happy with my current Pre+Amp pairing, even if they are from different brands...

Hi @ddafoe,
I use the 780D v2 dac and the 870a amp.
Had the 740p the last 3 years. I imagine the 740p pairs really well with the Pass, that said, if you have the opportunity I strongly would recommend demo’ing the 860a v2....would really like to get your thoughts