Reader Questions: Which Balanced Stereo Preamp to Pair with Mark Levinson No. 332 Amplifier and Sonus Faber Speakers

Benchmark DAC2 HGC Stereo Preamplifier

I’m taking the time to address a series of questions that have come in over the past several weeks from our readers.  Today’s question comes in from Mike M. who wrote in:

Hi Poor Audiophile, [I have] been keeping up on your posts of whats new and affordable. I just purchased a used Mark Levinson 332 amp and was looking for a preamp with balanced XLR output….any suggestions? Speakers are Sonus Faber pianos (used from audiogon!) Thanks and keep posting!

Mike, first off, it sounds like you’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking through your equipment selection and you certainly have a wonderful foundation to build upon.  Mark Levinson has rightly earned an incredible reputation for their amplifiers.  The Levinson designs are normally monoblock designs so even in a stereo amplifier like the No.332, it consists of a dual mono design where each channel is completely independent of the other.
Mark Levinson 332 Dual Monoblock Amplifier
Given that the used Mark Levinson 332s  range in price from $1,600-$3,000 on the used market (depending on their condition) I’m going to make a few assumptions with my recommendations:  First, I’m going to assume that you want a stellar performing stereo preamp.  Second, you want both analog and digital sources. Third, you want to stay within the same price range ($2,000-$3,000) without compromise.
If those assumptions are correct, my first recommendation to you would be the Benchmark DAC2 preamplifier.  I currently have the Benchmark DAC2 HGC ($1,995) in for a forthcoming review with the Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier and the DAC2 is nothing short of amazing.  This is one of the best performing digital and analog preamps.  It will support 192/24 hi-res digital music and DSD.  What it does for both digital and analog sources is wonderful and it features a superb headphone amp too.  Bundled in a compact chassis for $1,995, this is the real deal.  Note that the DAC2 does not have a phono preamp stage.  If you have LPs as a source, then I’d get an external phono preamp to pair with the DAC2.

Just note that there are three DAC2 models to choose from: The DAC2 HGC ($1,995), the DAC2 DX ($1,895), and the DAC2L ($1,695).  Benchmark offers their products with a 30 day in home trial.  If I were you, I’d put the DAC2 at the top of my list and try it out first-hand.  Believe it or not, the Mark Levinson’s S/N ratio isn’t even capable of bringing out the full potential of the DAC2.    If you want to save a bit, then go straight for Benchmark’s B-Stock and Clearance page for the DAC1 units, which are also spectacular performers.
Krell Illusion II Preamplifier
If you can go substantially up in price, such as the $7,000-$8,000 range, then I would absolutely put  the Krell Illusion II and Ayre KX-5 preamps on your short-list.
If you’re really strained for budget and are looking right around the $1,000 range, then without hesitation I’d consider the Parasound P5 preamplifier.
There are certainly many other brands and preamps out there.  I hope other readers will share their thoughts and opinions for a short list.  If I were in your shoes, these would be my first choices to consider.  Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

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