Preamp to Pair with NAD M23

Hi everyone,

I recently got a NAD M23 to replace an Adcom GFA-555 that I've been using the past 10 years.  I am using a Bryston 11B as a preamplifier currently along with an Arcam irDAC to drive a pair of Kef 104/2s.  Overall, I am pretty happy with the sound but am curious about newer preamplifiers.  The sound stage and imaging with the NAD is definitely an improvement to the Adcom especially at lower volume levels.  I have been looking at the Benchmark HPA4 as a potential replacement and using the Bryston as a phono preamp.  For anyone with experience with any of these components would a major upgrade or more of a lateral move as I understand that Bryston and Benchmark are both known to be fairly neutral.  Any other suggestions are welcome as well.  Thanks.




I have an M23 as well, very impressed with it.  So much so that I ordered the M66 to go with it, which would be a logical pairing of course.  That said, I’ve tried two other preamps with it.  A Primaluna (excellent combo) and an SPL Elektor (not so good combo).  The SPL is a great preamp, which sounds excellent with my Primaluna amps, but there’s a synergy mis-match I think with the NAD, it just sounds a little dull/muted.  If you can go tubes with the NAD, they go well together, at least the Primaluna in this case.  I did have a Benchmark LA4 a while back but not with the NAD, so I couldn’t say how they would do together, just have to try it out.  Given that they are both such neutral sounding components however, I would guess the end result would be a very neutral combo, perhaps good with some speakers but boring with others.  I also tried the NAD driven direct by my Weiss DAC, which like the benchmarks has a pro/studio heritage and is very neutral, and that sounds excellent.  I do prefer a preamp in the chain though.

Would really help to know what specific improvements and sound characteristics you’d like to achieve, otherwise you’re just gonna get random recommendations that are all over the place. 

Good point.  I am looking to keep the sound fairly neutral.  The Kefs are a little on the warm side which is what I prefer.  I am looking to potentially increase soundstage and transparency more at low to moderate volumes if possible.  Thanks.

The Benchmark may be a good candidate.  The other thing to consider is moving up the Bryston line.  Here’s a nice BP26 at a good price — it doesn’t have the phono section but you could either use the one in the 11b or get a better separate phono stage, which is what I’d do as it’s an important component.

 I had a BP6 for years and it was the proverbial “straight wire with gain” component that produced a silent backdrop from which images just popped within an expansive 3D stage — it was a poster child for utter transparency.  James Tanner told me the BP6’s topology is near identical to the BP26 with the major difference being the 26’s balanced connections and separate power supply. I’d have to assume over the past 25-30 years Bryston has made some significant improvements so this might be worth considering if you just want more of what you already have. 

For my money, you want color to go with those amps.  Maybe time for a tube pre. :)

@erik_squires makes an excellent point.  There are some neutral tube preamps that may be a big improvement in several ways over what you have now.  I’d recommend taking a look at the Linear Tube Audio MZ2.  I actually bought this to replace my beloved BP6 if that tells you anything although I unfortunately haven’t gotten to listen to it yet.  Here’s a nice used one at a 42% discount from its current price and comes with the all-important linear power supply upgrade, and if it doesn’t blow you away you can just turn around and sell it for little/no loss — well worth the risk IMHO.  The tubes in this thing last a looooong time and are cheap to replace, so don’t let that dissuade you, and as a bonus it’s a first-rate headphone amp if you ever swing that way.

I tend to be a tube fan, especially in a preamp.  In addition to the potential for stellar clarity, you can roll tubes to tailor the sound to your liking,

Thanks everyone for the suggestions.  I went with the Linear Tube MZ2 after checking out some reviews.  I'll report back on the sound when it gets here.  

Congrats!  You made a great choice and am sure you’re gonna be thrilled.  If you don’t already have headphones you might look forward to getting some in the future because it’s one helluva headphone amp as well.  You can get excellent sounding ‘phones in the $100-$300 range these days.  Let us know what you think once the MZ2 settles in if you could.  Did you get the LPS?

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Hey everyone, I got the microZOTL with LPS in last week.  Initially the right channel was muted and I reached it to LTA.  They were great even with me buying this used and recommended getting a new pair of matched input tubes.  This fixed the issue and it sounds great.  The soundstage is great and it sounds awesome at low and high volume.  Particularly vocals and piano sound much more lifelike.  Thanks everyone for the recommendations.  Definitely going to be looking for some headphones to try at some point.

It sounds great, definitely a great pairing to my ears.  I initially was using a Bryston 11B as well as a Linn Kairn and prefer it over both.  The MZ2 is has a much better soundstage/imaging and vocals sound right.  

I'm using a cary audio slp-05 into the Nad m23 and am enjoying it a lot. the cary looks great, sounds amazing and is also dead quiet. wasn't a big fan of the stock tubes, so plugged in a set of NOS sylvania 6sn7 tubes and they're much better indeed. ordered a set of atma-sphere class d monoblocks out of curiosity and waiting on them to arrive. 

@docroasty Love to hear your impressions of the Atmasphere amps once they’re settled in.