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Preamps - Analysis and Reviews


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A dedicated Pre, IME, has always been better by a country mile then any DAC direct setup as much as I wish this were not true. Dont believe the DAC direct Hype. Been there, done that, bought the Tee shirt..multiple times!

 

In your price range you cant go wrong with the Ayre KX-5 Twenty or a Pass Labs XP-10 or 20. The AR unit you listed is also very nice.

 

I myself am moving on to a Pass XP30 next but in the meantime I cant complain with my humble Classe CP800.

 

 

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28 minutes ago, pkane2001 said:

 

I've not had a separate preamp in my systems for about 25 years. Can highly recommend trying this with the right DAC and amp combo.

 

 

 

I didn't like receivers or integrated amplifiers 30 years ago and I don't like DACs with preamps or integrated amplifiers now. You want to compromise your listening experience, go right ahead. I am not doing it.....

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I tested a LS28 a month or so ago.  I agree the sound stage is crazy big and it was definately rich sounding.  Ultimately it wasn’t for me as it didn’t have the bass control and precision of my C47.  Lack of phono preamp was going to cost me more as well.

 

Of course the rest of my system is voiced quite different.

Roon Rock->Auralic Aria G2->Schiit Yggdrasil A2->McIntosh C47->McIntosh MC301 Monos->Wilson Audio Sabrinas

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Im surprised the RP-5 did not give you better results considering all the professional and user reviews in various outlets. Good to hear a different opinion. Im considering the RP -1 ( within my budget). I may need to expand my choices a bit. The $2000 and under preamp selection, with great reviews, are hard to find. I have to buy thru online retailers. No local dealers with any non h/t stock to listen to. I wonder in the under $2000 pre amp choices, is one getting basically a H/T receiver preamp section without all the “video” bells and whistles. 

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10 hours ago, Speed Racer said:

 

 

I didn't like receivers or integrated amplifiers 30 years ago and I don't like DACs with preamps or integrated amplifiers now. You want to compromise your listening experience, go right ahead. I am not doing it.....

 

I've not found a preamp that sounds as transparent or as dynamic as a DAC with a quality class A discrete output stage without a preamp. But totally your choice, of course.

 

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33 minutes ago, pkane2001 said:

 

I've not found a preamp that sounds as transparent or as dynamic as a DAC with a quality class A discrete output stage without a preamp. But totally your choice, of course.

 

 

You obviously have never tried a quality preamp before......you are simply out of touch with reality.

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15 hours ago, pkane2001 said:

 

Never? How can you be so sure that adding one more complex, active component with additional interconnects in the path of analog signal will improve signal quality?

 

I don't know about sound-wise (the simpler the circuit, the better a preamp should sound - in fact, a passive preamp or one using a stepped transformer for gain, always sounds better than a powered one), but certainly the "preamp" section of a DAC is not going to be as flexible  as a stand-alone preamp. Of course, it depends on one's needs. Perhaps the OP doesn't need any flexibility as his only sources are digital and all he needs is USB, optical and coax SPDIF, a way to switch between them, and a volume control.

George

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5 hours ago, gmgraves said:

I don't know about sound-wise (the simpler the circuit, the better a preamp should sound - in fact, a passive preamp or one using a stepped transformer for gain, always sounds better than a powered one), but certainly the "preamp" section of a DAC is not going to be as flexible  as a stand-alone preamp. Of course, it depends on one's needs. Perhaps the OP doesn't need any flexibility as his only sources are digital and all he needs is USB, optical and coax SPDIF, a way to switch between them, and a volume control.

 

If that were true a Schiit Sys would sound better than any quality preamp. Freya sounds better in tube gain mode than passive mode. 

 

I’ll take a tube preamp any day over a passive preamp. 

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9 hours ago, Speed Racer said:

 

You obviously have never tried a quality preamp before......you are simply out of touch with reality.

So, if you have a correct impedance, and the front end gain of your amp matches the output of your DAC's output stage, you honestly think that adding additional interconnects, passive and active components,along withb

 their associated power supplies, is going to do anything but add noise and /or alter the signal — be careful about who you say is out of touch with reality...

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46 minutes ago, Speed Racer said:

 

If that were true a Schiit Sys would sound better than any quality preamp. Freya sounds better in tube gain mode than passive mode. 

 

I’ll take a tube preamp any day over a passive preamp. 

An awful lot of people disagree with you. I know a number of people who own Freyas, and all of them found that the passive mode sounds better than either of the active modes. The best I've heard was a British- made transformer based "preamp". It had a stepped volume control that switched different taps on the transformers in and out to change the gain. Sorry, I don't recall the make.

George

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10 minutes ago, pooger said:

So, if you have a correct impedance, and the front end gain of your amp matches the output of your DAC's output stage, you honestly think that adding additional interconnects, passive and active components,along withb

 their associated power supplies, is going to do anything but add noise and /or alter the signal — be careful about who you say is out of touch with reality...

Sometimes less is, well, less.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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1 minute ago, gmgraves said:

An awful lot of people disagree with you. I know a number of people who own Freyas, and all of them found that the passive mode sounds better than either of the active modes. The best I've heard was a British- made transformer based "preamp". It had a stepped volume control that switched different taps on the transformers in and out to change the gain. Sorry, I don't recall the make.

Music First using Stevens and Billinton xformers?

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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6 minutes ago, 4est said:

Sometimes less is, well, less.

 

In audio, less is frequently more. Simpler circuits, fewer components, fewer interconnects, fewer power supplies, all lead to a system that is easier to make work well, with less noise and fewer bad interactions.

 

It frightens me to see the sheer number of components  and widgets some audiophiles put in the signal path. This is usually an indication that they don't understand their systems and are randomly trying out various patches and hacks because someone said that they might help.

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1 minute ago, pkane2001 said:

 

In audio, less is frequently more. Simpler circuits, fewer components, fewer interconnects, fewer power supplies, all lead to a system that is easier to make work well, with less noise and fewer bad interactions.

 

It frightens me to see the sheer number of components  and widgets some audiophiles put in the signal path. This is usually an indication that they don't understand their systems and are randomly trying out various patches and hacks because someone said that they might help.

You make that sound as if there is no reason for a preamp to exist or that it is some new fangled device. Traditionally the preamp was used not only as a selector, but as a buffer fore and aft the attenuator. Those were and still are good reasons. I've yet to hear a DAC direct that wasn't helped by a great preamp. I am sure there are some, but I've yet to hear one.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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14 minutes ago, 4est said:

You make that sound as if there is no reason for a preamp to exist or that it is some new fangled device. Traditionally the preamp was used not only as a selector, but as a buffer fore and aft the attenuator. Those were and still are good reasons. I've yet to hear a DAC direct that wasn't helped by a great preamp. I am sure there are some, but I've yet to hear one.

 

If that were strictly correct and all the preamp did was provide switching and a buffer stage before and after the volume control, the line-in inputs would all be unity gain. But all active preamps generally provide about +10dB of gain for the high-level inputs (of course that doesn't include the phono stage, if any).

George

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1 minute ago, gmgraves said:

 

If that were strictly correct and all the preamp did was provide switching and a buffer stage before and after the volume control, the line-in inputs would all be unity gain. But all active preamps generally provide about +10dB of gain for the high-level inputs (of course that doesn't include the phono stage, if any).

The buffering is often still there.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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25 minutes ago, 4est said:

You make that sound as if there is no reason for a preamp to exist or that it is some new fangled device. Traditionally the preamp was used not only as a selector, but as a buffer fore and aft the attenuator. Those were and still are good reasons. I've yet to hear a DAC direct that wasn't helped by a great preamp. I am sure there are some, but I've yet to hear one.

A DAC can surely have a volume control and output buffer built in. If it does, an additional pre-amp in front of the power amp serves no purpose beyond the role of input selector.

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Just now, mansr said:

A DAC can surely have a volume control and output buffer built in. If it does, an additional pre-amp in front of the power amp serves no purpose beyond the role of input selector.

Of course, but they do not seem to perform as well from my experiences.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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23 hours ago, Speed Racer said:

The preamp in a DAC is never going to be as good as separate quality preamp component. 

 

22 hours ago, pkane2001 said:

 

Never? How can you be so sure that adding one more complex, active component with additional interconnects in the path of analog signal will improve signal quality?

 

 

I think never is an extreme view because one never knows.  There's a lot of sound color or signature manipulation going on with all audio equipment.  Even attempts at pure neutrality end up creating a sterile and clinical sound.  Trust me, I've done it in an effort to have as pure of a sound as possible.  When I started doing that someone told me I'd get there and turn the other way.  I didn't believe him, but I now realize why.  I still aim to eliminate noise, distortion and jitter at all cost, which is to say I keep it as low as possible and factor that when buying a component.  However I also want to listen to what I like to hear.  However my personal preferences toward sound signatures were formed in my brain, I do have a preference.  Sometimes that aligns with others and sometimes it doesn't.  Some people like more bass, some like high treble, just as some like heavy metal, some like classical and some like both.

 

I've played around with many devices including multiple endpoints, USB reclockers, fiber media converters.  It's all the talk in these forums.  I've also seen preferences go toward fiber converters then away from them like a fad.  There were so many people supporting the theory behind them, claiming superior sonic qualities through noise elimination.  Then why did people switch back to straight USB?  Sound color. I think everyone's trying to get the purist sound from the recording as possible through elimination of noise while coloring the sound with different devices so that it still sounds good to them.

 

The preamp colors the sound too.  All those I tried sounded different.  It just happens to do it in a more impactful way than most other devices out there.  Only the speakers have a bigger impact and we know they all sound different as well.  Whatever gets you to the place where your sound system sounds beautiful to you regardless of what music you pump through it is the way to go.  It doesn't matter if the pre is in the DAC or not.  Even the Benchmark sounded different.  My DAC's preamp was never going to sound like it does pushing sound through a bunch of tubes and I like what I hear with those tubes, otherwise I wouldn't have paid a lot of money to change my system's sound.

Digital chain: Synology DS1815+ -> Modified Buffalo switch-> SOtM sNH-10G-> Custom Audiolinux server (sCLK-EX modified motherboard, Mutec REF 10)-> EtherRegen-> AL NUC NA (sCLK-EX modified)->  Holo Spring L3 -> Audio Research LS28-> Benchmark AHB2 -> Paradigm Persona 9H, JL Fathom sub

Power: Paul Hynes SR7, Uptone LPS-1.2, sPS-500, Topaz 91001-31 Isolation Transformer

Analog chain: VPI Prime with Ortofon Quintet Black cart -> Simaudio Neo 310LP-> Audio Research LS28-> Benchmark AHB2 -> Paradigm Persona 9H

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1 hour ago, 4est said:

You make that sound as if there is no reason for a preamp to exist or that it is some new fangled device. Traditionally the preamp was used not only as a selector, but as a buffer fore and aft the attenuator. Those were and still are good reasons. I've yet to hear a DAC direct that wasn't helped by a great preamp. I am sure there are some, but I've yet to hear one.

 

Oh, no, I make no such claims. Only our race car driving friend deals in such absolutes. All I'm pointing out is that with the right DAC and amp combo, a preamp is not needed, and will only make things worse.

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1 hour ago, pooger said:

So, if you have a correct impedance, and the front end gain of your amp matches the output of your DAC's output stage, you honestly think that adding additional interconnects, passive and active components,along withb

 their associated power supplies, is going to do anything but add noise and /or alter the signal — be careful about who you say is out of touch with reality...

 

you are forgetting to add some warm filaments

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13 hours ago, Johnseye said:

Sound color. I think everyone's trying to get the purist sound from the recording as possible through elimination of noise while coloring the sound with different devices so that it still sounds good to them.

 

The preamp colors the sound too.  All those I tried sounded different.  It just happens to do it in a more impactful way than most other devices out there.  Only the speakers have a bigger impact and we know they all sound different as well.  Whatever gets you to the place where your sound system sounds beautiful to you regardless of what music you pump through it is the way to go.  It doesn't matter if the pre is in the DAC or not. 


Absolutely, I agree with most of your points. I have my own biases about what 'good' sounds like. But, I'm of the thought that the best, most faithful reproduction of recorded music is the best, and that's what guides my component selection, system tuning, and yes, even clean-up gadget selection.

 

I've played around with digital EQ for a long while. Flat EQ didn't sound right initially, so a bit of a boost in the bass and a roll-off above 3KHz seemed to be the solution, although I've long struggled with why that should be the case. It just didn't seem right that distorting frequency response from what's recorded should make it sound better. 

 

Recently, after further tuning my system with a new DAC and implementing minimum phase FIR filters, I've switched back to flat EQ. Interestingly, this sounds best to me now (over both, speakers and headphones) compared to all the house curves I've tried. I suspect that previously my system was just not tuned enough to allow for a faithful reproduction and now it's nudged just a bit closer to that ideal.  I myself try, and also advocate to others, to try to look for a deeper reason as to why a system may need these audiophile-beloved clean-up gadgets, various hacks, and yes, even preamps. There may just be a much simpler and better-sounding solution through simplification and proper component selection.

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20 hours ago, 4est said:

The buffering is often still there.

By definition, the buffering is always there with active stages. The difference is that with unity gain, the amplitude coming out of the preamp is the same level as the input. With gain, the buffering stage will still be the same (tube or solid-state) but the ratio of the resistors used in the stage will be a different ratio, thus giving one gain. Of course the same thing applies with a transformer-based "preamp". gain is obtained by the turns ratio of the primary to the secondary coils in the transformer. Often the secondary is tapped and the taps fed through a rotary switch to attenuate the gain in steps. In this case, the transformer provides the buffer from the source, but with the output, occurring after the stepped volume control, the impedance of the different taps on the transformer varies the output impedance where, with an active stage after the volume control the output impedance remains constant. Ideally, you want audio components to have a very high (>10KΩ) input impedance and a very low (as low as possible) output impedance. In solid-state power amps the output impedance is often much less than 1Ω. Preamps CD players, DACs, tuners tape recorders et al, the impedance is most often less than 100Ω.

George

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