Is Best Preamp No Preamp?

JLeeMD -- Tue, 03/29/2011 - 22:44

I just read the Esoteric K-03 review, a SACD/CD transport and DAC.  It states that it can be used to drive an amplfier directly, that a preamp was not necessary.  I recall reading RH making similar comments about the Berkeley DAC.  As I use only one source (SACD/CD player) am I right to conclude that, features and flexibility aside, bypassing the preamp will provide the best and most transparent sound?

Ded Frag -- Wed, 03/30/2011 - 00:59

 Bypassing the preamp will provide the best and most transparent sound? In most cases yes but if the preamp is something like Musical Fidelity's 'Primo', or the best from Leben or Manley, you'll be missing out on a lot of excitement. Me, I absolutely refuse to go without one until that blessed day when, by some magic I can't think of, all recordings, broadcasts etc are made perfect 

JLeeMD -- Wed, 03/30/2011 - 14:35

How could adding a preamp, even a great one, improve on no preamp?

Ded Frag -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 17:09

I don't know how but if you ever manage to hear a Musical Fidelity Primo preamp you'll be asking the question more urgently and probably, like me, wondering if you can justify the obscene expense. One aspect of your question I can answer. As we don't live in a world where all recordings are perfect, the added flexibility of by-passable controls ( such audiophile anathema as balance controls etc) can make things bearable, if not perfect.

rossop -- Wed, 03/30/2011 - 14:41

Try it and see what you think. It should be better. Let your ears be the judge.

JLeeMD -- Wed, 03/30/2011 - 14:59

Unfortunately that is not an option where I live.

Priaptor -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 09:24

I am not sure the science behind it, but when I bought my PS Audio DAC, I did so with the intention of not needing a preamp.  I found the experienc OK, but the music lacking what I knew my system was capable of.  Putting the ARC Ref 5 into my system, made it sound like night and day.  So I bought it and my stereo which I bought on "austerity" has now taken on a new meaning.
The death of the preamp is overstated.

JLeeMD -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 18:28

Alan Taffel in his review of the Esoteric K-03 discusses the limitations of digital volume control and Esoteric's claim that using 4 DACs per channel addresses this limitation. So, as always, the devil is in the execution. But judging from RH's experience using the Berkeley DAC and John Atkinson's using the DCS DAC to directly drive amplifiers, it seems that when it is done right, bypassing the preamp yields the best and most transparent sound.

Ded Frag -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 20:27

That makes sense IF you're the kind of audiophile who only ever plays perfect recordings. What's the percentage that are I wonder?

Robert Harley -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 20:41

The key is choosing a source component whose output stage is up to the task of driving a power amplifier through interconnects. Most source components are designed to drive a preamplifier input, even those with a variable output (volume control). In such a case, adding a preamplifier often results in wider dynamics and better bass performance. Even the best preamps have some colorations, and getting the preamp out of the signal path is a good thing.  This issue has nothing to do with the recording quality, but rather the source component's analog output stage.

JLeeMD -- Thu, 03/31/2011 - 22:58

Short of auditioning the equipment which, as I mentioned above, is rarely an option for me, how can I determine whether a source component's output stage is up to the task?

Sam -- Sat, 04/02/2011 - 01:02

The asking prices of preamps these days makes my jaw drop in aww. Yes its all relative and what one thinks of as value is individual choice. The only use of preamps in the nearfuture is I guess using an LP system that's all. Berkeley,dcs, meridian and others to come will likely not require preamps anymore. Good discussion on here:

I think it's Charles hansons one? Not sure. But they talk about preamps and transports.

glmoneo@audiovi... -- Fri, 01/17/2014 - 14:41

I know I'm a little late to this discussion but I have my own recent experience with this to recount. As of a month ago, my Oppo BDP-105 is directly connected to my Bryston 3B-ST amp via balanced interconnects (Nordost). I've tried unbalanced interconnects as well (also Nordost). Once I removed my Classe preamp -- that's a little long in the tooth -- from the reproduction chain, the improvement in soundstaging, dynamics, and musicality were like lifting a veil off the music. Impressive to say the least. I don't think I can ever go back to connecting a superb component, as is the 105, or any of the DACs mentioned, to a separate preamplifier ever again.

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