All I want is The Truth, just gimme some truth...

I've always wanted to find a use for that line which comes from a John Lennon song entitled, "Gimme Some Truth." Turns out a little discourse on a preamp would provide the reason to use it.

Okay, those of you that know me or have followed my comments here know I have eschewed the use of active preamps in my system in favor of passive designs. I still own a couple active preamps, namely a Berning Micro ZOTL and a Silicon Arts Design Si2, but primarily listen to the passive units in my system. I have also owned some fine active preamps from Cary, Joule Electra, Jeff Rowland Design, and Tube Research Labs. It’s not that the active preamps don’t work in my system. It’s just the passives work better.

There has been lots of talk here lately about the Lightspeed attenuator that I own designed by George Stantschleff in Australia. He’s known on Audiogon as Georgelofi. If you haven’t heard about this attenuator here are a couple links for you to check out:

To recap, the Lightspeed attenuator is basically a resistive passive design with a twist. The uniqueness of the Lightspeed's design is that there are no contact points in the form of a "wiper", as is the case with other passive designs (resistive and transformer) that use a potentiometer or discrete stepped attenuator. The key component in the Lightspeed attenuator is the Silonex NSL-32SR2. The device is a sealed unit that consists of a high performance LED that shines on a light dependent resistor (LDR) thereby achieving proper attenuation.

There has also been lots of talk about the challenges in getting passive preamps to work optimally in ones system. Impedance matching, cable length, source output, and other factors all come into play. In fact, I feel it’s safe to say that achieving system synergy with a passive preamp is possibly one of the most difficult things to do. It’s not difficult to find out if your system is passive friendly. Here is a link to a good test one can easily perform:

Just scroll down to the Bolero Test. However, just because a system is passive friendly doesn’t mean you might like what a passive preamp does in your system. Many use terms like lean, flat, and lifeless to describe the sound they heard when using passive preamps in their system. Whether this is because of a lack of synergy or personal preference is not relevant to this discussion, but nonetheless passive preamps do get unfairly characterized in my opinion. Of course I have my own opinions too on the subject;)

Okay, so why more blather on a topic that has been discussed at great length of late? A couple months ago I was having a discussion with Steve Eddy, known here on Audiogon as Simply_q. Steve is a designer and manufacturer of fine cables and other things audio. In our discussions I mentioned the LSA and he pointed me to a Stereophile article written by Corey Greenberg many years ago. You can click on the link and read it:

The article discusses passive preamps and describes a means of building one using the Analog Designs BUF-03 buffers. Interestingly enough it’s been “rumored” that the person referred to as Elvis in the article is none other than Steve Eddy himself. So just maybe he deserves the credit for the design. In any event Steve Eddy referred me to Ed Schilling at The Horn Shoppe. It turns out that Ed makes a preamp using these same buffers, but with some new design ideas added to the mix, including the use of photo cells. Ed calls the preamp The Truth. Here is what he has to say about it:

It has an input impedance too high to measure, output impedance is a couple ohms, bandwidth is to 60Mhz, slew rate is a couple hundred V/microsecond.

There are no capacitors or resistors in the signal path. There is no potentiometer in the signal path.

It uses photo cells to control the volume. It does not use optocouplers.

It is an "active" device and suffers none of the "problems" that "passive volume control/pre amps" have. It can drive long (30 feet) cables with ease.

I've had parts of this circuit run for 10 years without failure.

As far as I know there is nothing like it available for any price.....I could be wrong but I doubt it. I looked "pretty hard and long".

The price in a nice natural aluminum enclosure is $825 shipping included. Extra input adds 40 bucks...a third adds 20 more. Anodized black adds $40. It's taking 2-3 weeks right now, this may increase.

You can also go to The Horn Shoppe forum on their web site to read more about this preamp:

Now, getting back to The Truth. First off, you’ll note that Corey Greenberg refers to his DIY build as a buffered passive preamp. However, I believe Ed Schilling has more accurately described a circuit that uses buffers as an “active” device. Buffers aren’t new to preamp designs and have been used by the likes of John Chapman, Nelson Pass, and I believe Guy Hammel among others. In essence the use of buffers in the circuit, if designed correctly, eliminates all the potential system matching issues normally associated with using a passive preamp in your system. As Ed Schilling mentions, cable length is no longer an issue. In addition, the output impedance remains fixed at each point in the volume control.

However, The Truth goes a few steps farther in keeping the circuit very simple and like the LSA design, eliminating the potentiometer from the signal path. In my opinion, one of the keys why these two preamps sound the way they do.

So by now you’ve probably figured out that I bought The Truth. I’ve had it in my system for a few weeks and have swapped it back and forth with the LSA. I’ve recently lent the LSA to a friend for evaluation and The Truth is now being used exclusively. I have hooked it up to both my VAC Auricle Musicblocs and Atma-Sphere S-30 driving Audiokinesis Jazz Module speakers. Sources are a CEC TL-51X/Lessloss DAC 2004 MkII digital front end and Galibier Design Serac/Colin Engineering Groove Master Phonostage analog front end. All running single-ended as unfortunately The Truth is not available in a balanced version.

Before getting around to describing my thoughts on the sound I would like to mention a couple things about The Truth. First off, using the volume control might be a little tricky for some folks. You will notice that even though you are rotating it, no music may be heard until you’re pretty far around the dial. In my case this was true regardless of the amps input sensitivity, which are quite different between the VAC (1V) and Atma-Sphere (2.83V). It wasn’t until about 1 o’clock that I started to faintly hear the music. However, once you reach that point, the sound level will rise pretty rapidly even with the smallest increments on the non-stepped volume control. Normal listening volume for me is around 3 or 4 o’clock depending on the amp. According to Ed Schilling, one of the benefits of using this much of the volume control is that The Truth operates quieter the further around the dial you go. Not that it’s a noisy preamp at lower levels, at least not to my ears anyway. I find like my LSA that The Truth is overall extremely quiet.

Secondly, The Truth does not use an on/off switch. Once plugged in it stays on all the time. No worries here as it does not run hot. However, even though it remains on constantly, Ed Schilling advised that it still takes about 10 – 15 minutes to sound optimal after music has been playing. Unfortunately I can’t recall Ed’s explanation as to why this is the case.

Now that that’s out of the way you might be curious as to the sound. Upon first impression the sound with The Truth in my system reminded me of the Wadia digital house sound. It was very fast, detailed, unforgiving, with a little edginess on the top. In fact in a conversation with another audiophile friend who purchased a unit right after me, and who also owns an LSA, we were discussing the possibility that the buffers were adding some coloration/artifact to the mix. Well as it turns out, my unit had a glitch that I stumbled on by accident and was indeed negatively affecting the sound. Upon inspection of a photo of the circuit I sent to Ed Schilling he immediate identified the issue and walked me through the simple procedure to remedy it. One thing I learned about Ed through this process is his customer service is impeccable. With the situation resolved the edginess was gone and The Truth began revealing itself.

Again, The Truth provides a very fast and detailed sound with plenty of dynamics. It is very transparent. Background is black and The Truth presents a nice 3-D sound stage (assuming it’s there in the recording to begin with). It will not hide flaws in recordings, or your other components for that matter. It gets out of the way and is quite enjoyable. I’ve found I can listen for extended periods with no fatigue. At its price point you can make the argument that it is a true bargain. For those of you into audio jewelry The Truth isn’t going to win any beauty pageants but it is well built in a nice aluminum chassis. The captive power cord may turn off some, but works for me as it does what it is intended to do. I have no desire to switch it out for an IEC.

For those wondering how it compares to the LSA I hate to disappoint but I won’t be making any comparisons. Both units are affordably priced and easy to obtain so try them for yourselves. The Truth is offered on a trial basis so in my opinion it’s a no-brainer and worth a listen. I will say three things. First, I do have an opinion on which one I like better. Second, both are staying with me. Third, The Truth provides all the benefits of a well designed passive without the need to worry about system matching issues associated with passive designs. Those who are hesitant to go down the passive road because of potential system matching issues, or their systems may not be passive friendly in general, can find a great no compromise solution with The Truth.
Hi Clio09, I have always enjoyed your writing here on the GON and have respect for your vast experience and careful sharing of your opinions of different pieces of gear. However, please don't take this personal, your last paragraph on your post, in my opinion, is some of the worst BS jive I have read in a long time.

I know both passive preamps are very inexpensive and both can and should be auditioned by anyone so they can make up their own mind, but what's your backing off on the punch line of which you like better all about? Friends with both George and Ed, don't want to hurt feelings or sales? Some how by sharing your personal favorite you will influence a bias in someone reading your review? You gave excellent information, as usual, then do you do this silly copout, which does not live up to the title of your thread.

So, why don't you,"just gimme all of us some truth" regarding which is your favorite right now with details regarding why, so your very well written post will live up to its title.
Teajay, the thread was never about a comparison of the two preamps. Rather, the purpose was to provide some information on an alternative to a passive design that might give some people interested a taste of the sound without worrying about system matching issues.

In point of fact the main reason for my interest in this preamp was the ability to use it with excessively long interconnects. This would allow me to use it with the Atma-Sphere S-30 whose designer Ralph Karsten recommends using short speaker cables with his amps (with the LSA requiring short interconnects I was using 18 ft. speaker cables). Personally, I agree with both George Stantschleff and Roger Modjeski that if you can get away without using a buffered solution, then that would ultimately be the best and purest solution.

I know a lot of people who are going to be disappointed like you that it's not a comparison and that I didn't state my preference. If you want to refer to it as a cop out that's fine with me, but I do take mild offense at your comment that what I wrote in the end is BS jive. Nothing I'm going to lose any sleep over, but there was nothing BS about what I wrote. I just feel people should listen for themselves on this one.

I know how you feel though. You read the whole thing and then I pulled the rug out from under you;)

Disclaimer: I'm not friends with George or Ed and I am not a dealer for their products, which are only available direct. I think both gentlemen make great products and are great to do business with, but that's where it begins and ends. They also don't strike me as guys who would suffer hurt feelings easily just because of something I would say.
Wow Tea I don't see the BS flying @ the end of his thoughts.

Those who are hesitant to go down the passive road because of potential system matching issues, or their systems may not be passive friendly in general, can find a great no compromise solution with The Truth.

Did your team have a bad day and lose by to many points?
Sorry Clio09, I meant no direspect towards you personally. My choice of semantics,BS jive, was to imply that not to just share the difference in the sonic performance of the two passives and which is your personal choice in your system was a silly way to end your very helpful sharing on this topic. I know your thread was not a stupid "shot out" or formal review of these passives, however it still leaves out the punchline of your conclusion of which you like more in your system and do they sound different.

So,I offer an apology to you and did not and still do not mean to be direspectful towards you at all. As I stated you write very helpful and informative stuff here on the GON, just didn't get why you, and still don't, share the conclusion of your analysis of these two pieces regarding your personal favorite in the context of your system.
THE TRUTH, YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH! While we were doing quote I thought I'd throw that in. I have both active and passive preamps, my impression is that a good passive is better than MOST active ones, even some quite expensive ones, but that the BEST actives are considerably better than the passives. I am doing a special this week and if you dislike/disagree with this opinion I am offering double your money back.
The LSA costs $450 and The Truth $825. One is passive and the other active. Both are more similar than they are different. Stanwal brings up an interesting point. A $450 passive was better in my system than active preamps I've had costing upwards to $4000 new (pretty much the max I would spend on a preamp). One active preamp I really like and could easily live with is Teajay's Concert Fidelity CF-080. List on that is $10k if I recall correctly. Unfortunately out of my budget (Side Note: I'll be at RMAF this year as a guest of Concert Fidelity and helping out in their suite. I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time with this preamp).

So what are the best actives that are considerably better than passives? Is the difference in price point, assuming it is greater that 10:1 in the case of the LSA and 5:1 in the case of The Truth worth it? Percentage wise what would we be gaining? 1%, 2%, 5%, 10%...I think you get where I'm going with this.
Teajay, no problem and trust me I do understand where you are coming from. In hind sight maybe I should have disclosed (hint: I cryptically did in my first original response to you). It would save me from responding to the rash of emails I'm getting from people who are curious. Just for the record I'm not disclosing offline either.
I also can't afford the best actives, I am going partly by my own experiences and partly by the reviews in HIFICRITIC and elsewhere. The top preamps from CJ, AR, Krell etc. are very good but start new at around $9000 [CJ CT5]. I have 3 passives, a homemade one and two Audio Synthesis ones. I also have one of the latter companies active ones as well as a Magic tube unit and a Musical Fidelity Kw line stage. It is this last one that I find better than the passives; it cost $4500 new [I bought it used]. My best passive is an Audio Synthesis Passion Ultimate, which ran about $2100 new, I also bought it used. The Kw is just better all round, more bass, more presence, better definition etc. But the AS is also very good and if I didn't have the other one for comparison I would not notice any failings. When you consider the price of something like the Creek OBH 22, which is $495, VS $9000 it is probably not cost effective in a strict sense ; depends on how much you want to pay. The other passives I haven't heard but see no reason why they shouldn't sound as you describe. Also my amps are more sensitive than usual, which is helpful with passives.
Thanks Clio09, I'm glad you understand were I'm coming from and know I meant nothing disrespectful or insulting to you on a personal basis. You got great ear's, just wanted to know how you ranked these two pieces based on their sonic attibutes. Thought I was going to be able to go to the RMAF, however a work situation got in the way. Say hello to Masa for me, and hope you meet my dear friend Mike Kay in the CF suite. He's a dealer for CF and that's who I got my CF-080 preamp from.
Anytime you use a buffer section between the volume control means (in this case, the use of 'means' refers to 'method') and the output, its really not fair to call it a passive, FWIW. This is because there is now active circuitry between the volume control and the output.

Now, it may be that this active circuit has no gain, and in the case of a buffer, usually the idea is to have a very low output impedance while having a high input impedance so the volume control means can do its job without the cable and input of the amplifier affecting its response.

This can be done with transistors and tubes, and guess what? - you can hear that difference. FWIW, though, tubes will have a greater voltage loss than the SS designs, although with modern digital gear, that might not be such a bad thing. It **does** mean that you may need more gain in your phono section however. Now for those vinylphiles out there (like me), as soon as that issue appears, the idea of a line section with gain makes sense- you either have it in the line section, or you have some extra in the phono...
Ralph, thanks for the comments. I agree with you a buffer changes the design to an active one. I will say that using both the LSA and The Truth with your S-30 amp worked out fine for me on both digital and analog recordings. The phono stage provided more than enough gain at 42db using a B&O MMC-2 moving iron cartridge.
Ed Schilling has said himself:

"While it has no gain it also is not purely's an 'LDR active buffered no gain volume control'."
So Anthony, when are you going to buy a B1 so I can figure out if I should get one? Kidding - sort of. I'm pretty sure that in my set up, a buffer could only hurt, but if I had to run long interconnects it could only help. As you know, Modjeski did say to me (for use with his RM9s and 10s)that he would make me a tube buffer along with Noble attenuator, "but why would you want that?" Which is better? LSA or The Truth - impossible to answer absent the full system context, which is why suggesting that one try them for themselves and come to their own conclusion makes perfect sense. I'm pretty sure The Truth would be a better match, work better with Teajay's Pass XA100s
Agreed with the Pass amps as they tend to be low input impedance.

I almost did get a B1 before stumbling onto The Truth. In addition I'd been toying with getting the balanced Burson Audio AB-160 buffer but it has no volume control (RCA version does though so can't figure that one out).

I think Dgarrettson's suggestion on the LSA thread makes sense. A passive preamp where you can switch on an active buffer if you desire.

My LSA is on it's way home. Maybe I will sit down and do a more thorough comparison between the two, then post my thoughts. I tend to think I already know what I would say and in fact have said it here and elsewhere, just not as direct.
I thought this might help those looking at passive controls. As most know caps in a amp, pre-amp, cdp, ect. dramatically effect the sound. Cables in a dielctric are very much like a capaciter. The sound quality not the quantity(which is primarely the input-output matches on the equip)will be mostly effected by the cable. I hope clio09 you took the time to do that, and others also. My LSA hase more 3d than my other passive and my tube actives. I have not listened to the TRUTH. It sounds like another great passive. But I wanted to stress that cables are so critical to to the sound quality, not so much the length but its make-up how the cable handles the signal until it gets to the amp. When your signal leaves the source it lacks some control until it gets to the amp. Your are right in dealing with Grannyring that his pre-amp does more to the signal than your passive and what it does each to his own prefernce, but in a properly passive system the signal is much closer to the original recording signal and can thus can provide reproduced sound closer to the original event. I do understand what others say about 2d and flat but that is dealt with in the cable matching. So critical. Think of your cable as a major peice of equipment in a passive system. I am not a dealer or especially good freinds with any. This comes from one who like the great attributes of analog.
Please, The Truth is an active buffered preamp, not a passive. I think we need to keep this in context. As such, like other active preamps it is more immune to cable characteristics like dialectric, capacitance, and length.

I do agree that with passive preamps interconnect cables must be chosen carefully. I'm using very low capacitance cables, always have with passive preamps. I got my LSA back about a couple weeks ago and I can say after careful listening based on previous comments that it most certainly produces a sound stage that is recording dependent, but is very capable of producing a 3-D sound stage if its in the recording.

I know I mentioned this on the other thread but if you have not tried your LSA with a battery power supply you should. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks Clo09 I will look on the other thread and chk out the batt option. Thanks for all the great insight, I think our collective sincere experiences keep good stuff like this benefiting all.
Let the Truth be known I have one on order.

The Lightspeed had some error going on and speaks not the Truth at all times.
When i have a week ill read this.
I ran my Oppo 103 directly into a Woo Audio pure tube headphone amp with no active preamp or passive preamp. Was that wrong?

I've owned a Truth for a little over 3 and a half years. I actually couldn't tell you how it sounds. My entire system seems to mirror everything that I do to my turntable source. My previous preamp was the Transcendent Sound  Grounded Grid. What I will say is that The Truth was the component which removed the bottleneck from my system and has enabled me to fine tune my turntable set up and isolation.

You will find next to no information about The Truth on the internet. You will find a lot of speculation about The Truth from people who have never laid eyes on one, let alone used one or lived with one. Some of that speculation is sensible, some of it displays the biases of that poster.

I tried the Lightspeed before I had The Truth and had some good results but I too found that the practical in use restrictions imposed by the design of the Lightspeed to strike it out as my go to attenuator. It may be practical for some situations, but it won't be for all and it wasn't for me.

What I will say about The Truth is that your Source component really needs to have sufficient output to drive your poweramp's input requirements. Another peccadillo you may be dismayed about is the tiny range of rotation of the volume knob for the useful volume level. It is a tiny range of rotation. You get used to it, but be prepared. Turn the volume knob all the way down before the first time you use it and turn it up slowly. You will probably find next to no useful volume level until you reach the '10 o'clock' point for the volume control.

Enjoy your upcoming acquisition and come back and tell us what you think of it.
I want to revise my previous post, I now have a a Townsend Allegri and it is the best I have had. HiFi Critic called it one of the best bargains in audio. A passive but I have had no trouble with several amps. CJ 350, Gamut 200 for example

I usually use VDH the First but cant locate them after my move so I am using some from long ago. Still does not sound bad

Good to hear stanwal. Max Townsend's designs are for some inexplicable reason ignored in The States. His Rock turntable is genius, his Seismic isolation products State-Of-The-Art, and his speakers legendary, though perhaps too heavy to ship over. The Allegri is very well regarded by the UK press as well. His U.S. distributor (Dan Meinwald) does not seem to be very aggressive in promoting both Townshend and another excellent U.K. brand he represents, EAR-Yoshino, whose electronics are designed by tube and circuit design expert Tim de Paravicini. Hardly any dealers, low visibility, the usual.
You guys should also include some TVCs you know. Try to compare them with the LDR and Truth. I have been using mine since 2009. Would love to hear from others who have compared TVCs against other types of passives. No, TVCs are attenuaters and not passive preamps :-)

I read this thread and some of the referenced links with great enthusiasm. Extremely helpful since I had started a thread and basically asking the questions that are mostly addressed by the folks in this thread. I've been running my system without my (active) preamp for the past few days and like the outcome. Between my source components, my amp - with separate gain controls for each channel, and having the components right next to each other, I have plenty of volume and no obvious loss of sound quality. I say obvious with some reservation because it appears that the frequency range appears to be all there but I'm not sure about the soundstage. It is also difficult for me to do an A/B test to compare the sound with and without my preamp. So at the risk of sounding stupid, I'll go ahead my question: could a passive preamp, or active preamp for that matter, "add" soundstage to a piece of music? In other words, if an orchestral piece sounds little "flat" with no preamp, could adding a preamp enhance the presence of soundstage? Or, presence/absence of soundstage is completely dependent on the source content - its either there or its not. This is of course assuming that everything else in the music chain, including the music content is kept unchanged. Thanks.

P.S. Is the First WattT B1 considered a passive preamp? If so, would it be a good option given what I have described relative to my system configuration, e.g., adequate gain/volume, very short distance between components, etc.? Much appreciated.

"So at the risk of sounding stupid, I'll go ahead my question: could a passive preamp, or active preamp for that matter, "add" soundstage to a piece of music?"

I would opine that the addition of a preamp or any other component or stage of gain or even a stage without gain will not make the soundstage better any more than it will make the sound more transparent or make the sound less distorted.