SS Pre-amps that can beat an Audio Research sp16


What SS pre-amps are out there that can be considered a serious contender to replace or upgrade from an ARC sp-16.

I've had the sp16 for a few years now and like it very much. But I still have it in the back of my head that I would prefer to go all SS if possible to eliminate any tube noise issues/concerns which come up on occasion, and perhaps to enable greater frequency bandwidth, which I suspect is possible.

I am looking mainly for detail, wide bandwidth, tonal neutrality, soundstage and imaging.

Here are my leading contenders I have identified to date. I am open to feedback on these or others.

1) Benchmark (integrated preamp/DAC)
2) Bel Canto (pre-amp only or integrated with DAC)
3) McCormick
4) Others?

Thanks in advance for your input.
Convert?fit=crop&h=128&rotate=exif&w=128mapman
I really don't like to see people get rid of equipment they like. In your case, though, you seem to really know what you want.

"I am looking mainly for detail, wide bandwidth, tonal neutrality, soundstage and imaging."

For something not too expensive, I can't think of anything better than an Ayre K-5. Your above quote is exactly what it sounds like. With the Ayre, you won't miss your ARC at all. (Just to be clear, I'm comparing the Ayre to the SP-16, and nothing else. I'm not saying its better than all ARC preamps, just the one that the OP has. Also, my comments are just my opinion, and are not meant to be taken as fact.)
Zd,

Thanks for that suggestion. I always read good things about Ayre but don't think I have ever heard.

The ARC probably would not go anywhere too soon. Whenever I upgrade or change something in my main system, it usually frees up something good to now try in my other system.

I have been using a 30 year old NAD 7020 receiver that is usually my spare as pre-amp only in my other system now for several months with very good results, but I'm sure the Arc would be a nice upgrade to that. The ARC is a really great piece that will not be easy to replace I think and I hate to part with those ever.
Personally, I don't think I could ever go back to a SS preamp, I know, I've tried. Probably the best I ever heard was a Threshold T2, which I liked better than others I had owned from the usual suspects (Krell, ML, JRDG, Ayre, Classe, etc.). However, I still have owned several tube preamps that I preferred over the T2.

That said, if I were to try another SS preamp that I would hope to satisfy me, it would be a Klyne. I say that because a Klyne 7PX5.0 was the best phono preamp that I have ever owned, and yes, I did prefer it over several tubed phono preamps that I have owned.
Jm,

Not absolutely sure yet that I can either, but having sampled the tube pre-amp waters now for a few years, I will be in a much better position to decide.

I'm largely just testing the waters....not needing to change at all really, but interested to know what the other possibilities might be.
I have heard some Krell integrateds in recent years that did a lot of what I am looking for very well and that is another option I forgot to mention that I have considered. Krell pre-amp that is , not integrated.

Not certain but I think frequency bandwidth is the main thing that a good SS pre-amp might be able to best the ARC in. THat an dnoise levels, but noise levels have not been a big issue with the ARC either, though I have had to replace tubes a couple time over the years to keep things that way, espeically the #1 tube in the phono stage.

I do not use the phono stage that much these days yet the 3 pho stage tubes are in play whenever I use the ARC, shortening their life.

At this stage, I'm just thinking that I might be better served over the long term by a good SS pre-amp with no phono and adding a separate phono stage (maybe tube) that is only on when I use it.

Bel Canto seems like a logical choice to do what I want and also to match to the amps well being from same company.

Newer Benchmark interests me as well as a potential giant killer. I'd really like to try that.

IF I went with a pre/DAC combo, that would probably free up one of my two current mhdt DACS as well, either the SS Constantine that I prefer overall or the tube based Paradisea which is also a very good performer with the right tube in it. I might sell one of those to help finance the deal.

The NAD is one of those devices just too versatile to ever get rid off. I'd keep that as a spare again for sure if a new pre-amp were to find its way into my house. I picked it up in a pawn shop on the cheap 25 years ago and it has managed to stick around ever since as a bench player/substitute amp/tuner/pre-amp that I can always call on if needed.
I would think the most recent Pass models would do well.
Thanks Cz. Will take a look.

Anyone who has heard sp16 and can compare the sound to any specific SS pre-amp, I'm interested in what you might have heard..
10-29-13: Mapman
Not certain but I think frequency bandwidth is the main thing that a good SS pre-amp might be able to best the ARC in. THat an dnoise levels, but noise levels have not been a big issue with the ARC either, though I have had to replace tubes a couple time over the years to keep things that way, espeically the #1 tube in the phono stage.

I do not use the phono stage that much these days yet the 3 pho stage tubes are in play whenever I use the ARC, shortening their life.

At this stage, I'm just thinking that I might be better served over the long term by a good SS pre-amp with no phono and adding a separate phono stage (maybe tube) that is only on when I use it.
Hi Mapman,

I have no specific preamp suggestions to offer (some good ones appear to have been made by the others already), but I would offer the following thoughts:

1)Regarding high frequency bandwidth, by far a greater limiting factor than the preamp appears to be your amplifier. The 3db bandwidth of the SP16's line section is specified to exceed a range of 0.5 Hz to 100 kHz, while as shown in JA's measurements the upper 3db frequency of the amp is in the area of only 25 to 40 kHz, depending on the impedance of the speakers at high frequencies. And into 4 ohms, significant (~1db) rolloff occurs at about 20 kHz.

2)JA's measurements of the amplifier's intermodulation distortion performance are suggestive of the possibility that using it in conjunction with a preamp having very wide bandwidth might even be audibly counter-productive.

3)If you want to ultimately consider a tube-based phono stage, FWIW if I were considering a phono stage upgrade now, based on many comments I have read number 1 on my list of candidates would be the Herron VTPH-2, at $3,650.

Best regards,
-- Al
Never heard the sp16 but did own the Bel Canto Pre3 as well as a few other ss preamps. IMO the pre3 provides absolute neutrality. The volume goes up and down smoothly with not a hint of coloration no matter the setting.
If separates were in my future, for the money, the pre3 would be the preamp.
Mapman, I had an Audio Research SP15, which I really liked a lot, but I had a hankering, to go the Spectral route and I have never regretted it. I originally, had the SP-12, which I liked, but when the occasion arose to get an SP-20, with built-in phono board, I took it and have never looked back. Fast, clean, detailed and truly realistic ambiance on both instruments and voices. But, like all things audio, it is a personal preference.

Good luck!

AEW
I owned an SP-16 for a few years. It was a nice piece and I did not find it particularly noisy. I wonder whether your tubes may be up for replacement? I thought the linestage on that unit was quite good, though with a fairly healthy dose of tube flavor compared to LS26 I owned. The weakness of the SP16, IMHO, is the phonostage so your idea about a separate phono may be a good direction to go. In any case, you may want to throw your amps into the mix since this may open up greater possibilities for electronics that meet your goals. You may come up with a more synergistic combination this way than if you try to find a preamp that will integrate seamlessly with your amps. Just a thought...
I'm with JMC above

The Klyne--delivers what the others promise

Great Pre's

Des
Al, yes I know what you are saying about bandwidth of the Class D amps. Newer Class Ds appear to be pushing the barrier significantly and I have an eye on that perhaps for the future.

When I mention bandwidth, what I am really looking for is better low end extension. Sp 16 has very clean and articulate bass but not as extended as even my old Carver pre-amp, though the sp16 whoops it in most every other way. I think I have read that is one of sp16s limitations. When I listen to say a well recorded pipe organ, I think I can hear this. Otherwise, it leaves little for me to want.

Amps are staying for now. I figure the longer I hold off on newer Class D amps, the better and more affordable good products will become. Besides, my 50+ year old ears do not hear much above 12Khz or so anymore. Not that higher bandwidth for better high end extension might not still be better, but not something that bothers me in practice. The BC amps do most everything that I know I can hear quite well, especially with my big OHM 5 speakers, which are not going anywhere My other smaller speakers in smaller rooms are less challenging to drive to their max.
Tim,

That is consistent with what I read and would expect with BC pre-3 and others. Hard to go wrong there I think.

The latest BEnchmark DAC intrigues me also. From what I read, it might hang well with the BC as a pre-amp as well. THat's why I'm very interested in hearing from anyone familiar with both or either. Others in comparison as well.
Dodge,

sp16 is not noisy at all when tubes are good. SLight hiss in phono with ear to speaker maybe with very low noise tube in phono tube slot 1. More with noisier tubes. ARC sells special lower noise tube for that 1 slot only for a premium. I have replaced all my other tubes completely twice since acquiring a few years back. I am smarter about what to use for phono versus others now, and some off those replacements were probably not fully warranted. THe thing is very quiet for a tube amp when all is well, which is most of the time.

I am quite happy with the phono sound, just not that the phono circuit and tubes are live even when not playing phono. SO phono tubes get worn even when not being played. If I listened mainly to phono, this would be a lesser issue in that I would get more mileage out of the lower noise phono tubes than I do.
Al, I revisited the Sterophile measurements on the sp16. It shows pretty flat and extended frequency response into 100Kohm output impedance, which is what the BC amp input impedance is. Hard to find any fault with that, for sure. When I get some time, I'll see if I can find comparable measurements for some of the other pre-amps I am interested in.

Also reviewed published measurements on OHM Walsh speakers similar to mine in "The Audio Critic" and the BC amps in Stereophile.

BC amps are fairly flat and extended measuring less than 1db down at 20khz into 8 ohms.

The OHM Walsh measurements indicate impedance is well above 8 ohms down to about 300 hz, dipping down to about a 3.8 ohm low at ~40hz, then rises again.

Those paper specs would seem to integrate pretty well and be in synch with the good sound I actually hear with this 3 way combo of ARC, BC, and OHM.

It might not be easy for a SS pre-amp to beat, at least on paper but all I really need is something at minimum in the same league for sure.
10-29-13: Mapman
When I mention bandwidth, what I am really looking for is better low end extension. Sp 16 has very clean and articulate bass but not as extended as even my old Carver pre-amp, though the sp16 whoops it in most every other way.

I have owned 3 ARC preamps, though not the SP16, but I can say that your description of the bass sounds very similar to my experiences with all three of my ARC preamps. They are high definition for sure, lots of detail, but they do lack a bit of musical weight.
JMC,

Thanks for the Klyne suggestion. Was not familiar with those but very intriguing. A good built in SS phono pre-amp that could work with my low output Denon dl103R out of the box without a step up transformer like I use currently would be a big bonus!

The thing is with the ARC bass is it does sound pretty much as good as it gets with most material. I really don't listen much to pipe organ music, though I do enjoy such things. MAybe I should just let a good thing be. Or consider adding subs at some point if I really feel a need. There is a new model from OHM, the 5015s, same size as my 5s, but with powered subs built in for about another $4K. Maybe some day....
I don't know how available this is considering Jim just passed earlier this year, but I believe the SST Ambrosia would fit the bill.
I've heard most of your list and would say the Bel Canto pre 3 is the most neutral on your list.... If affordable, I'd head to the Spread Spectrum Ambrosia....
Good Luck,
Tim
I'm a pretty died in the wool ARC guy, but I have to agree that Ayre makes a great pre that has as close a flavor to ARC as i have heard in ss pres of affordable price.
Agree with the previous suggestion of Klyne. They make a great pre, and it is very quiet.
I have been a big fan of my Musical Fidelity kW preamp. A hybrid design with a massive power supply. Not sure how easy they are to find used, but in general I think a hearty power supply would help you get the sound you are looking for.
No doubt the sp16 is an absolutely fantastic piece especially at its price point.

I am really just about 100% pleased with what I have whenever I listen, I have to pull myself away eventually though. I suppose that's the best sign there is.

HEy but I still get the urge to experiment from time to time. It's part of the curse I suppose.....

Plus I am really learning a lot from teh responses in this thread. GEtting more armed and dangerous....
Tim,

Spread Spectrum is an impressive looking beast. A bit large and pricey for me at this point though.

Can you compare or contrast it to the BC or BEnchmark or others from what you have heard? In what way/ways is it better/different?

Thanks.
Klyne 7 Preamp good sound, adjustable Gain, can be matched to any amp
Hi Mapman,
How It compares. Well I've never heard any of these compared in the same system. So my comments might not be fair...
Benchmark.... What I heard was fairly fast, transparent, but leaned toward dry... not dry, just leaning that way.
The Bel Canto, As close as I've heard to dead neutral... I would say the weakness was sound stage, detailed placement, width etc....
SST Ambrosia, Even though to my ears, it doesn't sound like tubes. I would say, take what you would consider being dead neutral in Tubes. That's how I would consider the Ambrosia. It just has a texture to it that I enjoyed. Its phono section was great and the tone controls work without causing harm to the sound stage.
Tin, was it the newer BEnchmark pre/DAC device that you heard or the older version that has been out for a few years?

I have read a few things indicating the newer version is not "dry" or perhaps as "analytical" sounding as the older version, perhaps more "Bel Canto" like?
Bel canto pre 3. It beat the LS27 in a recent review! Great pre and can be had used for $1000 or so.
pass xp-10?