2020 Editors' Choice: Preamplifiers $2,000 - $5,000

Equipment report
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers
2020 Editors' Choice: Preamplifiers $2,000 - $5,000

Audio by Van Alstine FET Valve CFR
To be clear, this is not a FET-Valve hybrid. Van Alstine’s latest preamp features an all-tube signal path, relegating MOSFETs to the role of power-supply voltage regulators. Apparently, there’s plenty of magic to be found in a plain-vanilla circuit topology when it is coupled to a sophisticated power supply as deployed by AVA. Both mm and mc phono options are available. The FET Valve represents modern tube sound at its best. Its twin virtues, really a happy blend of neutrality and accuracy, guarantee that it will not dominate the personality of your audio system. Without a doubt the best sounding AVA preamp DO has auditioned to date. 

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium
The Dialogue Premium preamplifier is a dual-mono, tube-rectified linestage, using a pair of 5AR4 rectifiers, and three 12AU7s per channel. It combines innovative design with high-quality parts and construction. The midrange was rendered with almost reach-out-and-touch texture, rich and vibrant tone color, realistic bloom, and a faithful sense of dimensionality and space. In this regard, this PrimaLuna is the embodiment of the characteristics that make valve amplification so intoxicating. The DiaLogue Premium line offers creative and thoughtful design, exceptional build-quality, first-rate parts and assembly, tremendous attention to detail, an elegant look and feel—and its sonic performance is clearly well above its reasonable asking prices.


Rogue Audio RP-5
Combining classic vacuum-tube heritage with microprocessor control is Rogue’s recipe for one satisfying and affordable preamp. The RP-5 brings its magic to bear in color saturation and tonal liquidity, providing an authentic sense of dimension and spaciousness to each image. The treble is nicely extended, quick, detailed, and replete with harmonics. Bass performance is also authoritative and controlled, with a hint of added warmth and bloom. The RP-5 is a prime example of what the culture of the high end is all about—music reproduced accurately and beautifully. The RP-5 is a component that should tempt a lot of people into going Rogue. 

NAD Masters Series M12
The latest generation of NAD’s Masters Series, the M12 preamp/DAC, is unreservedly gorgeous. Its aluminum casework is elegantly crafted and its high connectivity is supplemented by MDC Modular Design construction that allows the user to add NAD’s optional, excellent network-audio module. Sonically the M12 remain true to NAD values in the way it prizes midrange neutrality, yet also throws hints of richness into the mix. Its refined sound, classy execution, and cool cutting-edge modularity give it a sensible “have-it-your-way” appeal. 

Anthem STR
The fine-sounding STR preamplifier features Anthem’s new Genesis DSP room-correction software that gives a user the almost limitless ability to address the quirks of real-life listening spaces, employing two dozen IIR filters per channel and operating at 192kHz. The navigation of the STR’s layers upon layers of operational menus is intuitive and readily mastered. A premium AKM DAC chip handles both 32-bit/384kHz PCM as well as 2.8 and 5.6MHz DSD. There’s a phonostage with four selectable equalization curves other than the standard RIAA, and the preamp has an analog bypass option. 

PrimaLuna EVO 400
The EVO 400 is not only PrimaLuna’s best line preamp offering ever, but it also holds its own against ultra-high-end competition. It’s hard to escape the impression that it was designed from the ground up on a power amplifier chassis. It features massive and sophisticated power supplies, high-voltage regulation, exotic passive parts, and tube rectification via a pair of 5AR4s. Miraculously, it manages to combine the virtues of modern tube sound with the tonal heft and timbral realism afforded by vintage tube preamps. If purity of expression and tonal realism are sonic priorities, get ready to embrace the EVO 400. 

Rogue RP-7
The RP-7 is the balanced version of the estimable RP-5, and like a family member who has attended finishing school, it takes the musical voice of the RP-5 and burnishes it in areas that were already very, very good. What stands out is a “rose-blush complexion” that warms the mids. Still, the RP-7 achieves a purity of timbre that is more discernably neutral and fleshed out than that of the RP-5, with greater dynamic guts, a sweeter upper octave, a stiffer midbass spine, and inner fluidity and polish top to bottom.