Any comments on DAC going direct to power amplifier or to pre-ampliifer?


My local retailer HIGHLY RECOMMENDS the use of a pre-amplifier.  Bricasti believes that going direct to a power amplifier sounds better.  And, I also know that everyone had a "different opinion" about going direct or using a pre-amplifier.  

I am running my Bricast1 M1 SE DAC direct to my Hypex NCore NC400 Bridged Mono Block class D power amplifiers (no pre-amplifier) and like the sound quality very much.   

For me, the sound is more natural and clearer by going direct to a power amplifier. Of course, I think the M1 SE DAC has special “custom" circuits in the analog section to make it sound so good. I returned home and listened to my system.  It sounds terrific and I continue to enjoy and recommend the Bricasti M1 SE DAC.

Please note that we removed the R141 (circuit) from my Hypex NCore NC400 bridged mono blocks, thus lowering amplifier gain by 14 dB, requiring 14 dB higher M1 volume setting for same playback level.  Bricasti says the goal is to have the M1 CLOSE to 0db front panel attenuation.  If you reduce the volume on the M1 SE DAC, you cause more bit reduction meaning you lose sound quality.   We discussed this modification with Hypex and they approved the removal of the R141 circuit.  They suggested we be very careful removing the 4 R141 chips (for my 4 NC400 amplifiers) to avoid board damage.  

I noticed that many of the newer DAC’s (even the new Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC and many others) have volume controls meaning their DAC/Pre-amplifiers are designed to go direct to a power amplifier (as an option, of course).  

What are your experiences of going direct to a power amplifier or using a pre-amplifier?  Have you compared going direct vs. going to a pre-amplfier and noticed any sound quality differences?  Have you gotten different results from using different DAC's and amplifiers?   Your comments are appreciated.  Thanks.





hgeifman
I have tried several different dacs going direct to my power amps and then to my pre. The pre is always better to my ears. The dac should have an analog volume control because digital volume controls do lose bits as you turn them down and could effect resolution. Had a Mytek dac that had analog, digital and bypass for volume control and bypass into my Shindo pre was always better
Alan
hgeifman
+1 for going direct, my mate has the Bricasti and using it direct also, beats all the very expensive preamps he has.
For it to sound it’s best you have to adjust it’s "full output" I believe either inside or via the programing, so that when your using the Bricasti’s volume control, it’s at near full up for your loudest listening on your system.

Cheers George

There is no answer to the original question. Answer will depend on specific components being used and what sound the listener prefers.

George:  Thanks for your suggestions. As I stated above, we removed the R141 circuit from my Hypex NCore NC400 bridged mono blocks, thus lowering gain by 14 dB, requiring 14 dB higher M1 volume setting for same playback level.  This allows me to increase the volume control on my Bricasti M1 DAC to a higher level as you recommended.  Changing the gain levels on the Bricasti M1 DAC requires a volt meter (?) to manually balance the gain between the left and right channels. If any one is interested in doing this, please contact Bricasti for the details.  

tls49:   You answered my question.  After thinking about it, I agree that the components used, the environment of the room and the listener’s preferences will impact the decision of the DAC going direct to a power amplifer or going to a pre-amplifier.  As you said, there is no correct answer because of these many variables. In my case, I prefer going direct to my power amplifiers. Thanks for your simple and great explanation.  


"There is no answer to the original question. Answer will depend on specific components being used and what sound the listener prefers."

Agreed ^. 

"The dac should have an analog volume control because digital volume controls do lose bits as you turn them down and could effect resolution."

Im in agreement with the first comment, direct or bypassing PRE section. Both ways have worked favorably in different setups weather Im using a preamp, integrated amps or receiver. I dont know how or why a digital volume can effect resolution but I have not realized this to be the case.      
tls49 has the most accurate answer but my personal experience with a completely different (and much lesser expensive) set of components supports the use of a preamp. Initially, the direct connection seemed more dynamic with more detail but the preamp added more warmth, less fatiguing and more realistic soundstage. Ears are the best judges. 
Initially, the direct connection seemed more dynamic with more detail but the preamp added more warmth, less fatiguing and more realistic soundstage. Ears are the best judges.
True, if the transparency/dynamics of a direct connection became fatiguing, then it's a component in the system that's causing this, not the direct connection itself.
 
And yes you can band-aid fix this by adding warmth with a preamp to give the warmth colouration in the right area. But they all sound different. So the "right area fix", it maybe hard to find the right preamp to do that with. Better off finding/changing the "fatiguing" component

Cheers George    

"Better off finding/changing the "fatiguing" component."

Absolutely agree. I know full well in my set-up, my mediocre DAC is causing the fatigue/digititus. Folks with high(er) quality DACs probably have better experience using the direct connection method. That is of course if the components match and they provide the proper gain to meet the needs of the listener.

DACs can absolutely add brightness/ listener fatigue, just like other components can. If they all did what the name implies that would make it too easy ;)  
DACs can absolutely add brightness/ listener fatigue
I put this to those that have this problem.
If your dac does this, then isn’t it worth looking for a new one that doesn’t?
Not by slipping in an expensive piece of equipment to hide/colour that sound with even more gain that you don't need, and at the same time rob the transparency/dynamics. As isn’t that’s a step sideways if not backwards?.

Cheers George
I had my dac direct to amps for over a year and thought it sounded awesome - clear, dynamic.  I added an inexpensive preamp (ayre k5xemp) and really liked what I heard (more emotion...).  I went for a used Jeff Rowland Criterion preamp (battery powered, $18 grand new, picked it up for half that) and COULD NOT believe the improvement.  A preamp is the heart of your system.  

Hello Cerrot!


My own experience points to DAC+pre vs DAC alone is a question which can have multiple valid answers.... I also used the Rowland Criterion, fed by the Rowland Aeris DAC. Amps were, and still are, the Rowland M925 monoblocks.


I must say that I like both presentations:


Criterion+Aeris yielded a subtly warmer and intimate presentation, versus Aeris by itself being slightly more revealing and linear.


Ultimately, what made me decide to withdraw Criterion from the chain was a simple matter of economics: As I have a single source -- my Esoteric X-01 used as a transport -- I could no longer justify the presence of Criterion.


This does not mean however that I will be pre-less forever....


I have heard that the new Rowland Power Storage Unit which can replace the power supplies of Aeris and of Corus adds so much to the system that one of these days I might very well add the Rowland Corus pre, and feed both Aeris and Corus with the PSU ultra-caps based power supply.....


Oops... I forgot that I am married.... The wifie will likely shoot down any of my pindaric dreams of audiophilic grandeur *Sighs!*

  




The wifie will likely shoot down any of my pindaric dreams of audiophilic grandeur *Sighs!* 


Hello Guido,
Good to hear from you again although I am a bit saddened by your predicament at home even as I think you may have said it tongue-in-cheek.
Be that as it may, you may achieve some success with wifie by treating her to a large screen high-end TV and as she gets hooked to her cable while remaining forever thankful to you for your good taste, it would then be very unlikely for her to notice any change to your audio.
This worked very well for me!

Good luck and best wishes for the New Year!
J. :)
I am in the same boat. I bought an obscure pre and power hoping to go back to vinyl. Unfortunately all the music I listen to is digital. The Mirror Image Audio pre and power are beautifully built and tons of power for my needs. I have a RAKK DAC with a pre out using 6h30's. When I max out the volume on the Rakk I barely turn up the volume. It would make sense to go to a lower power amp and run balanced from the dac to the amp.. But I am noticing the bass has more impact running through the pre.
I have the same Bricasti M1SE as you do and have tried direct and through a preamp. My preamp is the Audio Research Reference 10 which is a no contest in my system the Preamp in the chain makes it much better. Better dynamics more realistic sound stage better spacial qualities to the music. I have tried other DAC's as well as other preamps and in my room a preamp is always better. 
I also prefer a PreAmp in the chain verses DAC direct BUT with that said and speaking about Briscasti specifically, I have a hunch the new M12 would change my mind about DAC direct. Though, at that point it would only be a kinda DAC direct setup : )

I'm saving my pennies for the M12 as the component to take to my grave. I mean, you gotta make a choice and get off this audiophile train at some point otherwise before you know it you will be retired and have nothing but a bad a$$ system to show for it. Who needs food!
I am running MSB Analog DAC direct to my Pass Labs Xa100.8.   Adding a preamp always added coloration .  The MSB volume control provides near total resolution at very very low almost inaudible volume. Thereafter full resolution. I also preferred direct to power amp with my Wadia 521. Full resolution attained at volume over 66%. Setting output level on the Wadia had me using volume from 70% upwards comfortably. Running direct sounds more natural 
The only way to decide which path is "better" is to simply go with and without a preamp in one's own system and then choose which path floats one's individualised personal boat more..... :)

Tried that today and with my system the staging is much better with the preamp. ALSO SEEMS THE BASS IS MRE CONTROLLED.
Using a Schitt Saga, going straight to the amp, and then comparing the effect of switching to my tube preamp, provides me with the answer: the tube over a longer period of time is easier to live with as far as the sound; the digital is more convenient, and still sounds good, which is the story of the entire debate!
Happy New Year.

Using a Schitt Saga, going straight to the amp, and then comparing the effect of switching to my tube preamp, provides me with the answer
The Schiit Saga is a tube preamp with unity gain?

Cheers George 
Buon Natale Guido!  Nice to hear from you!  Have a great New Year Guido.  Forza!  
I have recently carried out this experiment having recently acquired a PS Audio Directstream DAC which functions as a pre with bitperfect digital volume control and can be connected directly to the amp. My normal setup utilized an Anthem AVM 60 pre/pro which is a fantastic multimedia preamp and is also very strong at 2 channel. Because of the small and slightly irregular shape of my listening room, I utilize the Anthem DSP ARC in order to integrate my dual JL Fathom subs, which it does phenomenally well. Anyway, going directly into my Mcintosh MC205 obviously bypasses the subs and the result was predictable: very clear and transparent but bass thin. Plus I missed impact I get from the lack of subs, which I have time and phase aligned. I don't feel the Anthem significantly colors the music either. I could live with direct the setup but would always be wanting the subs back! 
You gotta try it to find out. Some times it works, some time not so much.
Haven't owned a preamp in years. Almost every DAC or CDP I've owned has had volume control going way back.
Anyway, going directly into my Mcintosh MC205 obviously bypasses the subs and the result was predictable: very clear and transparent but bass thin. Plus I missed impact I get from the lack of subs, which I have time and phase aligned.
You do what I do, put a Y connector on the back of the PS Dac and drive the subs as well. Then you can have it all.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/2x-RCA-Audio-Y-Splitter-Plug-Adapter-1-Male-to-2-Female-Gold-Plated-R-connector-/271932034026?hash=item3f50698bea:g:DWsAAOSwstxVNHkf

Cheers George


I wouldnt recommend using a Y-Splitter to my worst enemy. Especially in a DAC direct scenario.

Run in the other direction as fast as possible from that advice :)
I have a Bel Canto Dac 2.5 running (most of the time) into a Primaluna Dialogue Premium Preamp.

Running into the Primaluna, my rig sounds more natural, "analogue," and spacious. On occasion when I run direct (like if a tube is shot and I'm waiting for a new one), my system has less layering and things are a bit flatter. However, the sound is extremely clear (maybe a little less midbass is producing this effect?).

Overall, because my system is 100% digital, I prefer it with the tubes in the signal path.

My answer is that It Depends. I recently got a Berkeley Alpha Reference 2 DAC. I prefer the sound direct DAC to amps when running my Ayre MX-R Twenties. Clearer images with more realistic air and harmonics around them, but its close. With Atma Sphere MA-1 amps, I greatly prefer the sound with an Ayre KX-R Twenty in the chain. More dynamic transients. More drive and pace.
eniac2690 posts03-16-2017 1:12pmI wouldnt recommend using a Y-Splitter to my worst enemy. Especially in a DAC direct scenario.
Fine, please give a technical reason for not doing so with good quality splitters? as in this case the impedance loading on the source is fine.

Cheers George
I ran the Arye QX 5 Twenty direct to my Accuphase A 65 for several months and thought it sounded outstanding but I knew it needed a preamp, a couple of weeks ago I got the matching Accuphase C 3800 preamp and its a completely different level of audio nirvana. Like a few others have said the preamp is the heart of the system. Don't skip and buy the best preamp you can afford.

I have a NAD M51, it's a great DAC and don't get me wrong, the volume control is best digital volume I've ever encountered.  As great of a source component as it is,  my system is much better all around with a preamp.   Maybe it's an impedance mismatch, but there is no comparison.    
Maybe it’s an impedance mismatch, but there is no comparison.
"Bit stripping" (loss of resolution) is the problem, if your not using it’s volume at or above 75% of full.

With the Bricasti you can adjust it’s final gain, so it’s volume control is used at or above 75% for your/any system, as this owner found using B&W 800 Diamond mkII, and preferred it direct to many expensive tube and S/S preamps that he tried.

Cheers George

To all those in this thread who hear a significant improvement in the overall sound of their systems with an active analog preamp in the chain(myself included), it's good to know that we have let our own ears decide, theory notwithstanding.

Happy listening!

J. :)
My 5 cents:
In my setup I have a PS Audio DS going direct to a low power SET tube amp.
No bit stripping with this DAC, although I often listen at >90% anyway.
Tried several high end preamps, active / passive and everything in between, 3, 4 and 5 $ figure units, at best they were close to the direct. Never better or even equal.
If your system sounds better with a preamp, start looking for the weak link.
For the price of your preamp, upgrade the weak link. Impedance matching is critical.
PS Audio DACs have extremely low output impedance, perfect for direct :-)
Look for amps that have high input impedance.
you won’t look back ... ever...

+1  ami

Cheers George
Interesting.

Most who have heard the PS Audio DirectStream via the BHK preamp to power amp(preamp is about 6k), agree that this combo sounds better than direct to power amp.

http://www.audiophilia.com/reviews/2016/6/18/ps-audio-bhk-preamplifier

So, should the DS as a source then be upgraded or should the amps?

I don't know about "most", and neither do you BTW :-) maybe "most of what you read"...
i did not try the BHK in my system.
if it will prove my previous experience wrong, I'll be delighted to admit it.
have a wonderful week 
Heard it for myself at my local dealer’s.
You can listen to the bhk preamp with the DS at your local PS Audio showroom and let us know your experience.  :)


I would have to hear it with my system, in my listening room.
Perhaps I'll just order one from PS Audio.
IIRC they offer a 30 day try-at-home, no cost program.
:-)
It depends on the DAC and whether it has a really robust output stage, also depends on what you like about a particular preamp. Maybe it is adding euphonics or changing the dynamic range in a way you like?

Personal Experience:

Mytek Brooklyn vs. Parasound P7

Winner: Brooklyn

BUT! I still use the P7. The difference is minute, and I need the multi-channel switching, and prefer to stick to 1 remote.

The overall sound direct was clearly, but minutely, more transparent. I'm choosing to sacrifice it for convenience. If I had a strictly 2 channel, digital only setup, or maybe with turn table I would heartily recommend the Brooklyn directly.

Best,


E
Most sources today have output stages that are just as "robust" as any preamp's output stage, save for some tube output stage sources, then it needs to be <1kokm ouput impedance, some are not and around 3-5kohm which to me is not  great designs.

Cheers George     
The well-reviewed Holo Spring dac requires a preamp.
Not recommended for purchase then?


Holo Spring dac only has a fixed level output, no volume control, so either a passive preamp or active preamp needed.

Cheers George  
We know that already. So requiring a preamp would not make it a poor design.
Someone who wishes to get the Holo dac in a system that currently has an active preamp would be ok or should he change his active preamp to a passive one as an active preamp adds.......?
And if the new passive preamp doesn't match his current power amp, should he change that too?

Were only talking about the OP's Bricasti and a PS Audio both of which have volume controls, as the thread is about direct in to the poweramps with a dacs that have volume controls.
I don't know how the Holo dac came into this, but it to me looks like a very good R2R  Mutibit dac and the way I like my dacs, and with "solid" output stage which should only need a passive preamp, if the poweramp is >33kohm input impedance. 

Cheers George
I have have a buddy who has a system similar to mine. We put a preamp in his system and wow, more natural, musical, fuller sound.  Put it in my system, no discernible difference.  His: Cambridge magic streamer into a Nuforce mcp 18a analog pre to Bel Canto 300m mono blocks to def tech 8080 st towers. Mine: Cambridge 851N streamer to bel canto 500m mono blocks to Dali Mentor 6. Cabling and rooms are different, but still a puzzling difference. 

tomaswv

Probably had very much to do with his 300m’s only having an extremely low 10k input impedance. Where your 500m’s have very nice high 200k input impedance 20 x higher!!.
There is no spec on the output impedance of magic streamer and how the volume is done, (could be high if they don't spec it)
Where your 851N has very low 0.15 Ohm output impedance better than most preamps.

Cheers George
I have have a buddy who has a system similar to mine. We put a preamp in his system and wow, more natural, musical, fuller sound. Put it in my system, no discernible difference. His: Cambridge magic streamer into a Nuforce mcp 18a analog pre to Bel Canto 300m mono blocks to def tech 8080 st towers. Mine: Cambridge 851N streamer to bel canto 500m mono blocks to Dali Mentor 6. Cabling and rooms are different, but still a puzzling difference.

From your and your friend’s experience, it can be concluded that for different dac/systems, the Cambridge, Holo, Bricasti, PS Audio, Ayre, etc included, the general principle is to go with what you hear best with your own ears from your individual systems.
Impedance mismatch aside, a preamp seems useful for the person who is after the most most pleasing or engaging sound, whereas the straight to amp is usually the best path if the goal is to objectively reduce distortion as low as possible as the greater good (and where they get their pleasure from pursuing that goal)

Heck, a stack of Marshall tube amps is testament that the ear can welcome some types of distotion to the point of euphoria, whereas others might want the cleanest, least distorted sound of the original instrument. 

Seems to me it depends on what your goals and values are, what your ear likes, and whether you need your choices in life to be rational or subjective.

I say get the best/transparent sound from the sources recordings, be they good, bad or indifferent. As that’s the way they were made to hear, if one wants to make them sound different that’s up to them, you can always EQ them to your liking if you don't like them.

Cheers George