Are Pre-Amps necessary?

With all the advances in digital sources, do we still need a $5,000 pre-amp?

All we need is a switching device and maybe a Phono preamp/RIAA curve device.

Tone controls are another thing of the past. Room correction has taken over if that is something you want to use.

Many believe having no active  preamp or linestage in the signal path is the “purest” appproach to home audio.  However, the electrical parameters of the cables themselves can result in colorations.  The balanced line standard Ralph often discusses provides  benefits in reduction of common-mode noise and in cable drive abilities (due to noise cancellation) but must meet certain requirements, which would be difficult to meet when using components from different manufacturers, because of differences in impedance and because not all equipment that has balanced connectors is actually a differential balanced design.  Some additional information for anyone who is curious.
A balanced transmission line consists of two conductors of the same type, each of which have equal impedances along their lengths and equal impedances to ground and to other circuits.

Circuits driving balanced lines must themselves be balanced to maintain the benefits of balance. This may be achieved by transformer coupling or by merely balancing the impedance in each conductor.

Compared to unbalanced lines, balanced lines reduce the amount of noise per distance, allowing a longer cable run to be practical. This is because electromagnetic interference will affect both signals the same way. Similarities between the two signals are automatically removed at the end of the transmission path when one signal is subtracted from the other.

Lines carrying symmetric signals (those with equal amplitudes but opposite polarities on each leg) are often incorrectly referred to as "balanced", but this is actually differential signaling. Balanced lines and differential signaling are often used together, but they are not the same thing. Differential signaling does not make a line balanced, nor does noise rejection in balanced cables require differential signaling.

I have a pal with a Mytek brooklyn bridge ( he's waiting on the Mytek Empire to arrive). His amp, speakers and connects are high end to die for gear. He played a track I know with and with out his pre-amp and directly out of the streamer. We could here no difference. YMMV

Are Pre-Amps necessary?

vanson1 With all the advances in digital sources, do we still need a $5,000 pre-amp?
jasonbourne521,167 posts10-15-2021 10:31amPreamps can look real cool - like my Audio Research SP6! However a passive pot works just as well since most all DACs output 2 volts - enough to drive most all amps into clipping (1 volt needed).

Jason is correct here, a little more elaboration below.

Many amps are 1.5v or less input sensitivity for full output, and most dacs today are well over 2v output these days, so there’s no problem with being able to voltage drive.
And most dacs today have very low output impedance output stages, that are equal to or better than many solid state preamps to drive any capacitive interconnects with, especially bettering most tube preamps.
So it’s a furphy to say a preamps drive better than dacs can direct.
And like I said if a passive pre has no voltage or impedance issues then it is the next best way.

Sure balanced has it’s place in over 3mt interconnect runs, for noise cancelation only, below that there is no need for it. As single ended is just as good, and better in many cases better, as the balanced inputs of many poweramps are just a "balanced opamp" then leading the into the real single ended input of the amp which will sound better.

Cheers George