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Separate Pre Amp Vs Built in Pre Amp


Jamesroy
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I jave a Parasound P5 HALO Pre amp and just bought the PSAudio Stellar Gain Cell DAC that has it's own built in Pre amp. IYO which would be best to use. I'll test them both but was thinking adding another component in the chain would not be wise.

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Seperates are better. That's because integrating a real preamp circuit into the same box as power amplifier is expensive and difficult to do without compromising the preamp component. In the case of a volume control in a DAC, it's usually digital attenuation (junk) or maybe some kind of simplistic analog or hybrid type attenuation. In the case of the Stellar, it uses some form of analog volume control, but I'm not sure if its just an attenuator or some kind of active gain circuit. Regardless, a real preamp like the P5 will probably out-perform the Stellar.

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Use the Gain cell without additional preamps.  It is made for this duty. If you added an absolutely perfect preamp, it would simply sound like the signal it's being fed. At best the pre does nothing.  It may diminish the quality of the source. Just skip the pre.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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5 minutes ago, Jamesroy said:

Thank you so if I do use the Parasound Pre amp there's the issue of how to use both volume controls. Do I max out the Stellar and control volume with Parasound Pre amp?

 

If the Stellar does attenuation then yes you would max it out. If it uses an active gain type circuit you'll have to find out where the -0 dB point is -- but in that case you can also adjust to taste.

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If you search "Paul's Posts" on PS Audio, you will find an explanation of the attenuation system PS Audio has developed.

 

According to PS Audio it is the best in the world!   YMMV.

 

 

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake ~ Sayre's Law

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Listen to both. Decide which you prefer.

 

Don’t listen to people who haven’t listened to your equipment. FWIW, I have owned several DACs that could work as preamps. The transparency was incredible, but there were usually soft patches in the sound that a preamp firmed up — at the expense of transparency...

Mac Mini (+Tidal +Roon) -> WiFi -> Lyngdorf TDAI1120 ->JM Reynaud Lucia (Tellurium Q Black v2)

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There is a lot of misinformation on here about preamps. In the end of the day you're going to try both setups and you'll like the P5 acting as the preamp over the DAC. 

 

The reason? Look at the inside of the P5 and then look at the little blue box in the Stellar. Active preamp circuits are highly sophisticated and very carefully designed pieces of gear. They have a large impact on the sound. 

 

Underinformed posters will look at an Allnic or an Audio Note and say with a straight face that they sound worse than the digital attenuation in some Sabre DAC. The reason is that they've never listened to high end audio.

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  Balanced cables usually are less variable than single ended. Benchmark, who makes some sold products recommends and sells Canare cables for balanced connections. I have been told that this brand is more linear. I use Sommer Carbokab or Gotham cables. Maybe I like the non-linearity. Sound is very close between the three cable brands. 

  I have many preamps. All in the attic. Tube, solid state, passive. A well designed and built output stage in the dac is better without a preamp and an additional cable adding coloration. 

  The internal digital volume control in a dac can be very good. The controller in ESS dacs is excellent. Have not tried the AKM 32 bit Chip attenuator. Expect it to be top notch also. 24 bit chips are limited by bit depth. Too much attenuation reduces resolution. 32 bit chips have more flexiblibility.

 

2012 Mac Mini, i5 - 2.5 GHz, 16 GB RAM. SSD,  PM/PV software, Focusrite Clarett 4Pre 4 channel interface. Daysequerra M4.0X Broadcast monitor., My_Ref Evolution rev a , Klipsch La Scala II, Blue Sky Sub 12

Clarett used as ADC for vinyl rips.

Corning Optical Thunderbolt cable used to connect computer to 4Pre. Dac fed by iFi iPower and Noise Trapper isolation transformer. 

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1 hour ago, Jamesroy said:

 davide256 Can you explain "as fixed output DAC" I have some XLR's I haven't tried yet that I was going to use between Parasound or Stellar. They are not expensive XLR's.

fixed output means that you're using the line level signal out of the dac.  this is usually synonymous with the volume maxed out, but dacs often have a setting to set the output to "fixed" or "variable." 

sources:  intel nuc8i7 (audiolinux, roon core) (server) | simaudio moon mind 2 (renderer)
headphone rig:  chord qutest > bryston bha-1 > audeze lcd-3
main rig:  chord dave > parasound jc5 > kef reference 1
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https://www.audiostream.com/content/barn-ps-audio-stellar-gain-cell-dacpreamp

 

Looking here the Stellar Gain Cell has 20 v max output.  100 ohm output impedance.  Will be plenty able to interface directly to an amp even over long cables.  

 

It is very low noise, very low distortion, good flat wide bandwidth.  

 

http://www.psaudio.com/products/stellar-gain-cell-dac/


Their description is they built a really good analog fully balanced preamp after the DAC so you don't need a preamp.  

 

If you think adding a preamp after this will help, you might as well string three or four of them together in series.  It doesn't make much sense at all.  Sell your Parasound if you don't have a use for it and put the money toward upgrading something else.  Speakers maybe.  

 

If you insist on trying the PS audio with the Parasound, then put the PS Audio into fixed DAC mode.  You'll get a fixed output suitable to pass onto the Parasound.  I doubt you'll see a benefit doing this versus straight out of the PS Audio.  Costs nothing to give it a try.  

 

My opinion is whenever possible use balanced cabling.  It isn't usually needed in the short runs for domestic use, but it does provide a little lower noise floor and immunity from interference.  No need to get expensive cables using balanced XLR.  If you wish the Canare someone suggested is good.  Or get some made up by Blue Jeans cables to suit your needs on length.  Even very inexpensive balanced cables will work fine however.  Livewire are made a wee bit more robustly than the very least expensive cables.  You could order those off Amazon or pick up some at a local Guitar Center. 

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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http://www.psaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Stellar-Gain-Cell-DAC-Owners-Manual-Rev-A-V8-.pdf

 

Look at the manual here. Page 8 explains how to put it in fixed DAC mode.  The output of the DAC bypasses the built in pre-amp.  

 

You can read in the manual how gain is handled.  It isn't digital and it isn't resistors or pots in the signal path.  They adjust gain of the pre-amp gain cell so controlling the volume doesn't alter the circuit or put extra devices in the signal path.  Probably better than most ways of controlling volume. 

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Here is the P5:

parasound-halo-p-5-preamplifier-fig6-lg.

 

Here is a Freya:

freya-PCB-1920.jpg

 

Here is a BAT:

1105bat.3.jpg

 

Here is an Audio Note:

22509444580_5d0fedf7ca_c.jpg

 

Here is a VAC:

STATEphonetopWhBG.jpg

 

And here is a Gain Cell:

PSAudio_GainCellDAC_Photo_GainCell.jpg

 

What I'm illustrating here is that preamps are highly sophisticated pieces of gear. I'm sure the little blue box is great, but it won't and can't compete with a real preamp. The preamps primary benifit to a system is NOT volume control, but rather sound quality.

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Well bypassing it and going into my Parasound sounds better to me. I use A+ as my sound app. 

Sounds better:

To my ears

with my system 

in my house

with my minor education in AudioPhile stages of music

in my price range.....just saying;)

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5 minutes ago, Jamesroy said:

Well bypassing it and going into my Parasound sounds better to me. I use A+ as my sound app. 

Sounds better:

To my ears

with my system 

in my house

with my minor education in AudioPhile stages of music

in my price range.....just saying;)

 

Bypassing the Parasound P5 sounds best?  I'm assuming you're using a Parasound amp?

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Despite all the claims, in the owner's manual linked to by Dennis, the Preamp's specifications for S/N and Distortion are pretty mediocre, and the Channel Separation is only specified at 1kHZ, which suggests that HF channel separation is likely to be much less.

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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No I have an old B&K power amp 225watts I could trade it in on the S300 PSAudio power amp but that Solid State. May be too might brightness for me, Right now I need to just listen to what I have. Much more body to my ears now. Whats strange about this entire Audiophile attitude is to me it's all relative. I'm just a newB with a modest system.

 

WD usb2 2 TB external HD Only Music aiff’s on it
connected thru KANEX usb to Thunderbolt
MacBook Pro 2013 8GB RAM 256 internal Flash drive usb3
AudirvanaPlus_always latest upgrade
Regen
Stellar Gain Cell DAC
MusicLink Transparent Interface cables
Parasound P5 HALO Preamp 
MusicLink Transparent Interface cables
Reference B&K 200.2 S2 Power amp 225W RMS
Paradigm speakers Studio 100 V.3 Biwared
Thanks

 

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21 hours ago, Jamesroy said:

 davide256 Can you explain "as fixed output DAC" I have some XLR's I haven't tried yet that I was going to use between Parasound or Stellar. They are not expensive XLR's.

When used as DAC to pre, the output should be at a fixed reference level within the input spec of the preamp. Hopefully you have a fixed output connection

on the back of the PSAudio,

 

if not next check to see if there is a preamp defeat option on the PSAudio to force fixed output. If neither of these two options exist, you may need to take another source plugged into a second Parasound pre input and use it as a crude reference point to adjust the output of the PSAudio to a level that won't be a problem

when changing source inputs.

 

Note that this is one of the major functions of a true pre, to allow switched use of multiple connected input devices.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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16 hours ago, Jamesroy said:

Well bypassing it and going into my Parasound sounds better to me. I use A+ as my sound app. 

Sounds better:

To my ears

with my system 

in my house

with my minor education in AudioPhile stages of music

in my price range.....just saying;)

Were you using @esldude 's suggestion of balanced cables? It's always possible that with RCA cables the PSAudio gain cells don't perform as well, more susceptible to interaction issues with attached gear. I don't have that option with my gear but seems like its the preferred interconnect solution. If done testing, just tuck in the back of your mind that you will need to redo this test if you change amplifier as it could swing the other way with a differently designed amp.

 

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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46 minutes ago, davide256 said:

When used as DAC to pre, the output should be at a fixed reference level within the input spec of the preamp. Hopefully you have a fixed output connection

on the back of the PSAudio,

 

if not next check to see if there is a preamp defeat option on the PSAudio to force fixed output. If neither of these two options exist, you may need to take another source plugged into a second Parasound pre input and use it as a crude reference point to adjust the output of the PSAudio to a level that won't be a problem

when changing source inputs.

 

Note that this is one of the major functions of a true pre, to allow switched use of multiple connected input devices.

Yes there is a setting on the Stellar to bypass the internal preamp. But one test I failed to do is connect the XLR's to the Stellar and to the power amp. Now I have to disconnect the Parasound and do that test. The only issues is my RCA's are Transparent directional cables medium priced, years ago and the XLR's are really not expensive ones that were given to me free from a friend.

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2 hours ago, Jamesroy said:

Yes there is a setting on the Stellar to bypass the internal preamp. But one test I failed to do is connect the XLR's to the Stellar and to the power amp. Now I have to disconnect the Parasound and do that test. The only issues is my RCA's are Transparent directional cables medium priced, years ago and the XLR's are really not expensive ones that were given to me free from a friend.

 

I recommend Audio Sensibility Statement SE interconnects if you're looking for a reasonable priced good upgrade. Japan-sourced OCC 7N copper conductors, Teflon, well-shielded, dampened and Furutech connectors. I haven't once got a dud performer from them. The only problem is that they're heavy and stiff.

 

If your budget is very limited, also check out Amplifier Surgery on eBay -- he makes twisted silver-plated copper cables which have served my phono connections very well, much better than the stock cables that came with my turntable. In fact I ordered a 20 foot XLR set from him a little while ago and am waiting on delivery to see if it can beat the Belden no-names I currently have.

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