Audio Research SP20Price: $9000

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Vade said: Do the math: For $9000, you get a preamp roughly equivalent to $15,500 in separates. More important, it sounds wonderful. The frosting on the cake is that all of this quality and value are packed into a case whose beauty rivals almost anything on the market. What’s not to like? I’m buying the review sample.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: ARC’s best, short of their Reference preamps.

Ayre KX-R TwentyPrice: $27,500

Website: www.ayre.com

Jeff said: It stands to reason that if Ayre Acoustics’ original KX-R was the best preamp I’d ever had in my system, and the KX-R Twenty is even better, then the KX-R Twenty is the new “best preamp I’ve ever heard.” It is. I used the Twenty in a system that acts as a microscope on my recordings, and I heard no shortcomings in the Ayre. Smooth, revealing, neutral, utterly effortless, liquid -- it does it all.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: As good as a preamp gets.

Luxman C-900uPrice: $19,900

Website: www.luxman.com

Doug said: I absolutely loved the Luxman C-900u. In my estimation, it’s a preamp for the ages -- and perhaps in a decade or two, it will have proven to be another classic from Luxman that will still be outperforming whatever’s new in 2024 or 2034.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Doug’s favorite preamp to date.

Parasound Halo P 5Price: $1095

Website: www.parasound.com

Erich said: The performance was stress-free, presenting nothing that would be cause for buyer’s remorse, and of a quality notably above what might be expected for the price. Were I in the market for a preamplifier costing $1100, the Parasound Halo P 5 is the one I would buy.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The perfect centerpiece of a killer sub-$8k system.

Rotel RC-1570Price: $999

Website: www.rotel.com

Erich said: The warm sound and comprehensive feature set of Rotel’s RC-1570 should keep its buyers happy for many years.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Not crazy detailed, but comfortable and safe choice.

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