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Differences in sound: DAC vs. DAC + Pre-amplifier


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44 minutes ago, Miska said:

 

It depends on what kind of features you'd like. At the moment I'm using Cambridge Audio Azur 851E (feeding 851W power amp over balanced) these two talk to each other over CA's serial bus. It fills my requirements of good technical performance, enough inputs (3 balanced and 5 unbalanced) and possibility to name each input.

 

But now for another setup I've been eyeing Schiit Freya+ in solidstate buffer mode or if budget allows Benchmark LA4 which has very nice performance although even more short of inputs.

 

But also largely depends on your budget... McIntosh has nice C53 with nice amount of inputs and C49 is not bad either. And Accuphase has number of very nice preamps: http://accuphase.com/pre_amp.html

 

Hello!, let me take the opportunity to ask if CA's claims have proven right, concerning the amplification.

"sonic purity of Class A and the efficiency of Class AB for the best of both worlds"

https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/row/en/products/hi-fi/851/851w

Sorry for the side-topic...

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58 minutes ago, MikeJazz said:

Hello!, let me take the opportunity to ask if CA's claims have proven right, concerning the amplification.

"sonic purity of Class A and the efficiency of Class AB for the best of both worlds"

https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/row/en/products/hi-fi/851/851w

Sorry for the side-topic...

 

At least I consider it pretty much true. It is one of those moving bias amps. It is very powerful and can go very loud, very clean. Driving my Elac speakers (with their JET AMT-style ribbon tweeters). I've been very happy with this combo.

 

It does produce some amount of heat. Not quite as much as the Harman/Kardon HK990 amp I have in my Dynaudio speaker set though.

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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9 hours ago, Reg19 said:

@Miska: given that one needs a preamp while using HQ Player Desktop with the RME ADI-2 DAC to upsample music to DSD256 with DSD direct enabled (no volume control in DAC), which one do you recommend?

No preamp for me. Direct DSD and RME (+ 1db) directly connected to my Audia.
I manage the volume with HQP client.
No worries, the RME is not on +13.
In HQP control, I go from -9 to -12 in the evening.

 

My little one !! 😋

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Digital volume is certainly one option too. I just have 8 DACs connected to my preamp... 😅

 

My ADI-2 Pro AE is on my office headphone system, connected to Mac Mini M1 and T+A HA200 over balanced. Then the USB input of HA200 is connected to my Windows 10 for Workstations machine, and Denafrips Ares II to my Linux machine and to HA200 over unbalanced. So three different DACs, one headphone amp and two headphones.

 

The regular ADI-2 Pro is on the listeningroom loudspeaker system and sometimes serving as analog/digital input and sometimes as output. Connected over unbalanced to the preamp tape in/out.


Then in addition I have three other systems. Two loudspeaker and one headphone systems. But those were the two involving ADI-2.

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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6 hours ago, Miska said:

Digital volume is certainly one option too. I just have 8 DACs connected to my preamp... 😅

 

My ADI-2 Pro AE is on my office headphone system, connected to Mac Mini M1 and T+A HA200 over balanced. Then the USB input of HA200 is connected to my Windows 10 for Workstations machine, and Denafrips Ares II to my Linux machine and to HA200 over unbalanced. So three different DACs, one headphone amp and two headphones.

 

The regular ADI-2 Pro is on the listeningroom loudspeaker system and sometimes serving as analog/digital input and sometimes as output. Connected over unbalanced to the preamp tape in/out.


Then in addition I have three other systems. Two loudspeaker and one headphone systems. But those were the two involving ADI-2.

In a high end analogue system, the pre amp is the most important component IME, why would that not be the case with digital sources? 

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23 minutes ago, Rexp said:

In a high end analogue system, the pre amp is the most important component IME, why would that not be the case with digital sources? 

Because its functions can be accomplished in other ways in digital systems.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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@Kal Rubinson

 

As a Senior Contributing Editor of Stereophile can you explain quite how this works?

 

I'm curious because I have a pretty high end analog rig:

SME 30/2 + custom SME V with only static balance + Koetsu Onyx Platinum + OCC silver leads etc.

 

For a preamp I have an EAR 912 with the best old NOS tubes I could find, which include new Amperex pinched waist 6922s from 1959 in the line stage and Mullard pinched waist PCC88s from Harleen Holland (1957) in the phono.

 

My digital source isn't quite as exotic - a Lumin X1 with an Audio Sensibility Signature OCC silver DC cord.

Now, the Lumin X1 supports LeadH volume control. Supposedly better than regular digital volume.

I ran the system for 3 months without the preamp while it was being hand built in the UK over Covid.

 

I know what the digital only, no preamp sounds like.

Digital sounds close to analog in my system when played through the preamp.

Without the preamp, digital sounds dull, flat, uninspiring and just meh digital.

 

From a purist perspective, less things in the chain should sound better but they don't though do they though ;)

 

ET

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7 minutes ago, EvilTed said:

@Kal Rubinson

 

As a Senior Contributing Editor of Stereophile can you explain quite how this works?

 

I'm curious because I have a pretty high end analog rig:

SME 30/2 + custom SME V with only static balance + Koetsu Onyx Platinum + OCC silver leads etc.

 

For a preamp I have an EAR 912 with the best old NOS tubes I could find, which include new Amperex pinched waist 6922s from 1959 in the line stage and Mullard pinched waist PCC88s from Harleen Holland (1957) in the phono.

 

My digital source isn't quite as exotic - a Lumin X1 with an Audio Sensibility Signature OCC silver DC cord.

Now, the Lumin X1 supports LeadH volume control. Supposedly better than regular digital volume.

I ran the system for 3 months without the preamp while it was being hand built in the UK over Covid.

 

I know what the digital only, no preamp sounds like.

Digital sounds close to analog in my system when played through the preamp.

Without the preamp, digital sounds dull, flat, uninspiring and just meh digital.

 

From a purist perspective, less things in the chain should sound better but they don't though do they though ;)

 

ET

I have no idea why you are experiencing what you describe since I am not familiar with any of your equipment.  I suspect that the EAR preamp provides you with something that you like but I do not believe that proves anything about the principle of the need (or not) for a preamp.  

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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18 minutes ago, Jean Paul D said:

does this include adding gain ?

 

In most cases preamp has negative gain, IOW works as attenuator. I have not yet heard of anybody needing gain with digital sources between the source and power amp...

 

Quite typical gain of preamp between digital source and power amp is between -40 dB and -20 dB (from 1/100th to 1/10th of the source level). Which is the case with my preamp + power amp combo too. And -20 dB setting is really loud. At late evening volume can be as low as -60 dB (1/1000th) to -50 dB (3/1000th).

 

So it should be actually called pre-att and not pre-amp. Gain is only needed for vinyl sources...

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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7 minutes ago, Miska said:

 

In most cases preamp has negative gain, IOW works as attenuator. I have not yet heard of anybody needing gain with digital sources between the source and power amp...

 

Quite typical gain of preamp between digital source and power amp is between -40 dB and -20 dB (from 1/100th to 1/10th of the source level). Which is the case with my preamp + power amp combo too. And -20 dB setting is really loud. At late evening volume can be as low as -60 dB (1/1000th) to -50 dB (3/1000th).

 

So it should be actually called pre-att and not pre-amp. Gain is only needed for vinyl sources...

 

Wish I'm doing something wrong so I could get back a few dB but.... It's quite the other way round here. I use a Meyer CP10 parametric eQ and I could do without gain for vinyl. But when experimenting with digital eQ (convolution), especially using your Mch to Stereo mixdown, I found myself needing to add gain (12 dB and even more sometimes) by preamp settings and I have a 2 x 500 Watt amplifier... And I'm not sure I'm doing things wrong : -8dB seems a recommended minimum for convolution, then another almost -8 dB for Mch mixdown then -3 dB for HQP headroom then maybe another effective -3 for DSD if I buy a Holo : seems normal I have to add gain on the preamp to compensate

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34 minutes ago, Jean Paul D said:

Wish I'm doing something wrong so I could get back a few dB but.... It's quite the other way round here. I use a Meyer CP10 parametric eQ and I could do without gain for vinyl.

 

At least MC cartridge has so low output that you certainly need gain. So purely passive RIAA network without any gain wouldn't work.

 

34 minutes ago, Jean Paul D said:

But when experimenting with digital eQ (convolution), especially using your Mch to Stereo mixdown, I found myself needing to add gain (12 dB and even more sometimes) by preamp settings and I have a 2 x 500 Watt amplifier... And I'm not sure I'm doing things wrong : -8dB seems a recommended minimum for convolution, then another almost -8 dB for Mch mixdown then -3 dB for HQP headroom then maybe another effective -3 for DSD if I buy a Holo : seems normal I have to add gain on the preamp to compensate

 

Does your preamp have a dB display? Have you measured voltage output from your preamp with your normal setting, how much is the peak value? Typical sensitivity for a power amp is something like 500 mV, while typical output level from a digital source is 2 V. So at full output level the digital source would exceed power amp's maximum input level by 4x. These are unbalanced values, for balanced you can double those.

 

If you have EQ boost and you end up adding gain on 500W amp, then you are risking both clipping the amp and burning your speakers. It may sound quiet, but those certain frequencies can end up on the output at 500W or so then! You always need to be very careful with any boosts in EQ. Never try to fill up nulls with peak boosts. Because you can throw unlimited amount of power trying to fill up a null and it still just won't happen.

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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15 minutes ago, Miska said:

 

At least MC cartridge has so low output that you certainly need gain. So purely passive RIAA network without any gain wouldn't work.

 

 

Does your preamp have a dB display? Have you measured voltage output from your preamp with your normal setting, how much is the peak value? Typical sensitivity for a power amp is something like 500 mV, while typical output level from a digital source is 2 V. So at full output level the digital source would exceed power amp's maximum input level by 4x. These are unbalanced values, for balanced you can double those.

 

If you have EQ boost and you end up adding gain on 500W amp, then you are risking both clipping the amp and burning your speakers. It may sound quiet, but those certain frequencies can end up on the output at 500W or so then! You always need to be very careful with any boosts in EQ. Never try to fill up nulls with peak boosts. Because you can throw unlimited amount of power trying to fill up a null and it still just won't happen.

 

I have

a phono preamp

A dB display on the preamp

not performed measurements

eQ boosts with typically 1 octave BW anchored on bumps inside the globally depressed region in need of boost

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My line pre outputs 13 V max, amp can take 2 in, so I need a good 16 dB attenuation between the 2, you're very right about that. But with convolution, headroom and eventually matrix mixdown that attenuation might exist in digital domain before the line preamp is reached and if it's set at unity gain then I don't get enough boom boom

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1 hour ago, Jean Paul D said:

I have

a phono preamp

 

So you have preamp... That's the only place where you need gain...

 

25 minutes ago, Jean Paul D said:

My line pre outputs 13 V max, amp can take 2 in

 

DACs will output about 2 V unbalanced and about 4 V balanced. But likely power amp has sensitivity higher than 2 V, thus giving full output power before input reaches 2 V.

 

25 minutes ago, Jean Paul D said:

But with convolution, headroom and eventually matrix mixdown that attenuation might exist in digital domain before the line preamp is reached and if it's set at unity gain then I don't get enough boom boom

 

Then you are not reaching maximum output level from DAC and you can deal with this in digital domain...

 

 

In most cases, preamp output is some tens of dB negative gain vs DAC output. It is for me too, in all cases on all my systems. I need "preamp" only for input selection to switch between the DACs. I don't need it as such for volume control. If I'd have time and energy, I would build just relay input selection box. Unfortunately there are no such on the market, or I have not found a suitable one yet. (there are some dummy input selection switches though, but these are usually unbalanced and don't have enough inputs)

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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1 hour ago, Miska said:

 

So you have preamp... That's the only place where you need gain...

 

 

DACs will output about 2 V unbalanced and about 4 V balanced. But likely power amp has sensitivity higher than 2 V, thus giving full output power before input reaches 2 V.

 

 

Then you are not reaching maximum output level from DAC and you can deal with this in digital domain...

 

 

In most cases, preamp output is some tens of dB negative gain vs DAC output. It is for me too, in all cases on all my systems. I need "preamp" only for input selection to switch between the DACs. I don't need it as such for volume control. If I'd have time and energy, I would build just relay input selection box. Unfortunately there are no such on the market, or I have not found a suitable one yet. (there are some dummy input selection switches though, but these are usually unbalanced and don't have enough inputs)

 

Plugged XLR coming from the DAC in bypass entries of my line Preamp, controlled volume from HQP

 

I would get frustrated, I confirm I need gain.

 

-3 dB gets me more than enough SPL for latest Lana but I know I would be frustrated with albums I enjoy real loud and requiring bass heavy convolution and with extreme bass comes the need for extreme compensation. And I just could not listen to Mch mixdown of Riders from the Storm, too low

Tried a few tracks from Qobuz "Album de test " too. Guess I could live with no preamp no gain for classical

I understand how one can claim both savings of $ € and enhanced transparency and soundstage, snappier more delineated plucked cellos and how one can claim spending is worth the more palatable sound.

 

With my line preamp that cost 5K in the late 90's vs Direct differences are, in order of magnitude, less than going from ext2 to Sinc L in HQP or correcting the polarity (actually once I got convinced that I had to invert when in Bypass mode I lost interest in comparing).

 

My typical settings are (until my remote comes back from repair!) -9 to -3 in HQP, -9 below Max volume at the rotatable, +12 gain at DAC entry

HQ Player 4 Mac Mini M1

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9 hours ago, EvilTed said:

There point I'm trying to make is there is no principal for the need or not for a preamp.

If it make things sound better, then use one.

One cannot simply be reductionist in opinion and state unequivocally that digital is better without.

And I do not disagree with your point.   

9 hours ago, EvilTed said:

At least in my experience, this has never been the case.

You are entitled to your choices even if others do not share them.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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12 hours ago, EvilTed said:

I know what the digital only, no preamp sounds like.

You do know I agree for your system, but the sound quality with or without preamp depends of course on the DAC to be used, not all DACs analog outputs are the same just like not all amplifier inputs are the same, the "gain" will of course depend on source (DAC in this case), amp, and other parameters like output/input sensitivity (voltage), impedance and such, here you have quite a few combinations. But I understand in your system the sound could be best (to your ears and maybe mine too) with a preamp

 

12 hours ago, EvilTed said:

Now, the Lumin X1 supports LeadH volume control. Supposedly better than regular digital volume

Digital volume designed with the correct filters, depth resolution and such will provide excellent noise floor which typically most analog controls can't do

 

11 hours ago, EvilTed said:

If it make things sound better, then use one.

I can't disagree with you on this one

7 hours ago, Miska said:

DACs will output about 2 V unbalanced and about 4 V balanced

Typically unless some DACs designed with "non typical outputs" May which was 3V and 6V IIRC, the Okto with adjustable custom output and such.

7 hours ago, Miska said:

Then you are not reaching maximum output level from DAC and you can deal with this in digital domain..

And that's the beauty of all this with digital

 

2 hours ago, Kal Rubinson said:

That depends on the DAC and the necessity for additional gain depends on the gain structure of the power amp as well as the sensitivity of the loudspeakers.

You said it shorter than I would, perfect

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On 4/27/2021 at 10:28 AM, Miska said:

 

 

 

 

Then you are not reaching maximum output level from DAC and you can deal with this in digital domain...

 

 

 

 

@Miska Your Mch to mixdown recipe yielding an output minored by 5.8 dB, is it safe to consider that Volume in digital domain (HQP's) could be pushed up to PLUS 3 dB and there would still be #3dB left for headroom?

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9 hours ago, Jean Paul D said:

@Miska Your Mch to mixdown recipe yielding an output minored by 5.8 dB, is it safe to consider that Volume in digital domain (HQP's) could be pushed up to PLUS 3 dB and there would still be #3dB left for headroom?

 

The mixdown without LFE is about -1.5 dB and with LFE about +0.6 dB.

 

But with the limited counter you can try how much you can push the levels. But you need to play a lot of material to figure it out if you have any EQ boosts, because then it depends if your content happens to have 0 dB at the peak frequency.

 

You can ease this up by using a multichannel 0 dBFS frequency sweep as test signal.

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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2 hours ago, Miska said:

 

The mixdown without LFE is about -1.5 dB and with LFE about +0.6 dB.

 

But with the limited counter you can try how much you can push the levels. But you need to play a lot of material to figure it out if you have any EQ boosts, because then it depends if your content happens to have 0 dB at the peak frequency.

 

You can ease this up by using a multichannel 0 dBFS frequency sweep as test signal.

 

THANKS Seems I misused http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-spl.htm and that I can't do without gain at pre level, at least with Mch mixdown

HQ Player 4 Mac Mini M1

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