My pre-pro needed to be repaired and the dealer I bought my Haydns from lent me a few obsolete pre-pros to see if I was interested in any of them as a replacement. (Very nice of him).
They are the Bryston SP1, Lexicon MC-12 and a Primare 31.7. Note that these pre-pros are defective in various ways so it may be that my experience isn't representative. In all cases, I use a Parasound A-52 to drive the Haydns as part of my 5.1 system. For the comparisons I did not use the subwoofer I have, an Outlaw Audio M8.
In any case it was illuminating to hear these in conjunction with my Haydns. I know people ask about pairing various electronics with Vienna Acoustics and I got to hear several back to back in my home. For those not interested in the details of the comparison, I've wrapped them in a spoiler tag below.
But to bring this back to the Haydns. For the really detailed listening, I would sit nearfield, maybe 5 ft away in an isoceles triangle. And the Haydns could show me the differences between these pre-pros in a really palpable way. I was amazed at the ability of the Haydns to play what the pre pros were exposing.
Personally, I didn't think the electronics would sound as different as they did. I expected them all to be far above the level of the Haydns and so differences would be masked. After all, the Haydns are about the entry level VA speakers. But they really showed what the electronics were capable of. Makes me wish I had the space for a Mozart or Beethoven so I could hear even more detail.
So, if someone were to ask me what electronics to pair with VA, I would say don't skimp. Some speakers cannot use all the details provided by your electronics but at least my Haydns can.Warning: Self Indulent! (Click to show)
To do my comparisons my source was always a Schit Bifrost fed from a Sonos controller via coax. Sometimes, since it's a 5.1 system, I also used TV and BluRays. I don't play surround music, classical mostly, some jazz and pop.
My broken pre-pro is an Aragon Stage One. Sounds nice, is detailed and rich. The Bifrost is definitely a better DAC than the old ones in the Aragon. It's my baseline and gave a more detailed and fuller sound than the Yamaha RX-v373 the Aragon/Parasound combo replaced.
I started with the Primare. The ergonomics of it are very nice, just 2 knobs and 4 buttons. The first thing I noticed was that its noise floor was subterranean compared to the Aragon. That really made the details of music much clearer. The highs sounded higher and the lows a bit more textured. It could also play louder without any sense of graininess. Overall, it was a really good pairing with the Haydns.
Then I tried the Lexicon. I didn't really notice any sonic differences between it and the Primare, maybe a hint more noise in it. But it has so many options I'm certain I didn't use it to its potential. I mean, it has Dolby with Logic7 in Cinema or Music or.... The options detailed in the manual are dizzying. It was definitely the most flexible of the pre pros. It's old but it still has 2 sub outs plus an LFE and 2 Aux speaker outputs for up to a 11.3 system. Were I more of a tweaker the Lexicon would keep me busy for months. But, as I said, no noticeable audible differences between it and the Primare.
Then I tried the Bryston. I heard a noticeable difference right away. Voices were clearer than any of the other systems. There was more sense of space when playing music. The soundstage may have been more etched. Frankly, I couldn't believe the difference it was making. Then I tried its DAC and they were at least the equal of the Bifrost. Mind you, this is an 11 year-old pre pro vs a 1 month old DAC. Now, I really want an SP3.
As I said, these systems were all flawed/defective. The Primare is running some version of its firmware that doesn't match any of the manuals I've been able to find. The Lexicon's fluorescent display doesn't work very well anymore so it's hard to tell what it's doing. The SP1 may or may not have enough connections but it has problems with newer disks. When I played V for Vendetta through the BluRay the dialog was inaudible (I have had this problem before with this disk with other pre-pros as well).