Are Preamplifier’s Relevant Today or just a Hinderance with Digital Playback ?


I’m just curious,.I know from past experiences using a well designed preamplifier can and will make a difference however the computer audio crowd say different with the use of HQplayer with volume control including multiple filters and adjustments in OS mode using a preamplifier is blasphemy to some of them .

What’s your take on this subject? 
Thanks in advance.
A946fb79 b2c3 447b 8ba2 1788a8c29061in_shore
A good active preamp sounds better emphasis on good. Whether it's impedance matching or gain related or something else it just sounds better.
The overwhelmingm audiophile consensus is still yes to a preamp. In occasional instances where components are perfectly matched it works. But that is rare. There are quite a few folks that have tried it and gone back (stating exactly what Jond said above), a few the were sucessful and stayed with, the vast majority have not tried it as their digital source does not have a volume control.
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I have repeatedly researched the topic out of interest as the preamp has been the centerpiece of my systems since the 1970’s. My current Audio Research Reference is a magical component conveying the magic to the amp.
Two posts is all it takes to get the right answer. 
Russ69 I’m not looking for an answer to make my mind up , im very happy with my entire system which includes a preamplifier, I’m just asking ,..
Would never go streaming as I love great sound I have Vinyl(TW AC3 TT with TW 10.5 arm and top mc cartridge) and CD player (Esoteric 03XD) streaming will never even come close.Today young people love easy so streaming will always be in. 
Don't listen to these guys in_shore, you know the truth, digital has re-written the laws of the universe. Digital has turned pre-amps into an irrelevant hindrance. Good catch. 
I think if I had a DAC with an integral passive volume control with a remote and low-impedance balanced outputs, I'd might be happy without a preamp.

But all the DACs I've owned have not had a volume control (other than digital scaling pre-DAC), have not had a remote to control volume, and have had an output impedance higher than I'd want to drive long interconnects with. 
The digital controls must be able to drive the amps you are using.  Some may sound very good but overall from my experience with the MSB and the Rockna DACs with digital volume controls, the preamp added much more dynamics, clarity, depth to the soundstage, better separation between vocals and instruments and faster more pronounced bass response.

Happy Listening.
@jond,
Yep, couldn't be expressed  any better.
Charles 
My experience matches "bigkidz" but with different equipment. That said, IME a good preamp will enhance the listening experience (clarity, soundstage, etc.)
@charles1dad Thank you Charles, I still don't know why things are but sometimes I know how they are. :)
Also, cables between preamp and amp should be at least as good as on the source.
Agree with jond and Charles...gotta have an active preamp!
Bought a Project Pre Box S2 as a digital headphone amp but now also use it as a pre from computer USB to amp and it's surprisingly good- even automatically alters volume when phones are connected/ disconnected
There are some very high quality integrated amplifiers, both old and new, and most would be quite happy with the results.  Often outclassing some separates.  However, the best performing systems still use a separate preamp and power amplifier.  
I suppose it could depend on how many sources. I have no use for a preamp. 
You just need to match what is called  consumer line level which is nominal 310mv RMS to your power amp sensitivity. Whilst CD players boast 2v figures this does not occur, as all the media you can find will be 310mv RMS, so your power amp needs to be close to this too.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_level

The long and the short you can then use passive attenuation which is represented by resistance, vs adding via active preamps which can't help themselves but add various flavors of reactance, in so doing distancing you from what is possible.

The benefit is you will hear what your source component can actually do,
Totally system dependent.  I don't recommend digital volume contrl. It will cut fidelity in most cases.  DAC output vs volts needed for full output from your amp help you decide.  Speaker sensitivity also comes into play.  Some systems need gain from preamps some don't.  Active preamps will change the sound.  Its up to you whether it is better or worse.  
One way or another, a system needs volume control and source-switching (assuming it has more than one source). If you have only one source, and it's digital, you could get away with software volume control only. In my limited experience with it, software volume control seems to compromise SQ compared to a good hardware implementation.  

At any rate, in between a computer that runs DSP (like HQ Player) and a power amp, there generally needs to be a box with USB/other input (at least) and loudspeaker outputs. How is it a hindrance if that box supports source switching, volume control, IR remote, etc.?  Unless you just want to connect powered speakers (or headphones) directly to the computer.  But then you need a keyboard, display, mouse/trackpad to control the computer (instead of connecting a "headless" computer to a component audio system).  Seems like more of a hindrance than a preamp.
does not matter if you use analogue or digital front end. You need a preamp with enough current output to handle the dynamic swings. But don't listen to me or anyone else. Try it yourself, go without a preamp and run DAC directly into power amp (assuming you can control output level at some  pt).
you will find dynamics are compressed, bass is not as good, and sound stage suffers.
Post removed 
The long and the short you can then use passive attenuation which is represented by resistance, vs adding via active preamps which can't help themselves but add various flavors of reactance, in so doing distancing you from what is possible.
The issue here is cables; with a passive system the cables are uncontrolled and can cause colorations. If the preamp is able to control the effects of the cable (and if it supports AES48 which is the balanced line standard it can) then its very possible to find that a preamp is more neutral than the best passive available. Most digital systems just don't have a good ability to control the interconnect cables (if you drive 30 feet of cable you'll see what I'm talking about) and if you put a passive between the digital source and the power amps you'll exacerbate this issue.


I've yet to encounter a passive system as transparent as a good preamp.

From the web site of Sound by Singer:

The Importance of Preamps Jan 24, 2019

Over the past few years I have become inured to the fashionable belief that Analog Preamps do not add anything to an audio system in a digital world-indeed that in fact they get in the way of the music.Getting used to an idea doesn't make it right and it is high time to call BS on this notion.

The source of this unfounded belief appears to be manufacturers of D/A converters who cleverly figured out that one could use a few bits of digital computing to raise and lower volume thereby arguably rendering the line stage superfluos. What a boon to the audiophile,they argued,not only have we removed a potential source of signal degradation and created a more dirct line of communicationbetween the source and the amplifier , we have alsoo saved the end user buckets full of cash which he/she would have spent on a top flight preamp.

This would be a compelling argument if any of it were true.But alas it is not.Yes one can raise and lower volume on a dac by wasting a significant number of bits to do so .BUT NO IT DOES NOT SOUND BETTER TO CONNECT A DAC DIRECTLY TO AN AMPLIFIER BYPASSING THE PREAMP !

In fact in every listening test I have conducted removing the preamp from the picture rendered the musical picture less dynamic, less fleshed out and altogeather less realistic than when a high quality preamp was introduced into the picture.

One of the leading reviewers in our field whose name we will not mention for obvious reasons dubbed the anti preamp crusade "The Wimpy Wars" in recognition of the deleterious effect which omitting a preamp from the chain created.

By the way high Quality does not Necessarily mean high priced . Consider the Backert Rhumba 1.3 tube line stage .$ 3500.00 buys you a lot of sound and improves the performance of any system regardless of how high end the DAC employed may be.


+1 jond "empasis on good" . +2 bigkidz "the preamp added much more dynamics, clarity, depth to the soundstage, better separation between vocals and instruments and faster more pronounced bass response".
Thanks everyone , keep the conversation going I find attitudes toward preamplifiers in general within some computer audio communities heavily one sided against preamplifiers where no civil debates could take place,. 
If you're basically using a computer as a source to headphone amp/dac I can see why it would be heavily against a preamp. Why add extra components?
@yoby,
Agree with you, but remember the anti-active preamplifier adherents view many (All?) of the positive attributes you listed (Per bigkidz) as colorations. Particularly if "flesh on the bone" or "fuller body/tone" are cited.
Charles
well Charlie ( Ayre ) RIP and Ralph are in agreement
I find attitudes toward preamplifiers in general within some computer audio communities heavily one sided against preamplifiers
This is because invariably the DAC is right next to the amp using a very short cable in most cases, and there being several means of controlling the volume. You might also want to keep in mind that such systems don't tend to be high performance. Lacking resolution, this reaction is to be expected. Don't sweat it :)
Ralph thanks for chiming , I had a mild interest following a topic on another audio site where a member commented he had purchased a new preamplifier or connected up a preamplifier and found he very much preferred the preamplifier over the build in volume of his dac . Last look other members were lining up taking shots at him some suggested what he was actually hearing was nothing more then colorations he just discovered... I just went back to the topic and see every comment and reaction to his post was erased , LOL 
I personally like to run direct, and prefer that sound, from the source, direct. One fellow that I personally admire as I believe him to be quite forward in thought is Bruno Putzey's, in this interview with Darko he talks about pre-amps ~ the 12-13min mark but I think the entire video is worth a watch.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcMsfSvgYEo
Great thread OP!

Certainly, I think this is somewhat system dependent. Overall though, I like preamps much.  

I have the ability to use my DAC's volume control or run it direct to the preamp.  I prefer using a preamp with it for the same reasons others (who do as well) stated above. 
One fellow that I personally admire as I believe him to be quite forward in thought is Bruno Putzey's
Bruno is quite brilliant.

The thing is that cables can cause colorations due to capacitance, interactions with the output impedance of a source, the input impedance of an amp, EMI issues and the like. Plus you can get noise from grounding issues (ground loop) even if a hum isn't evident. In a single-ended connection, the shield is often carrying the signal (in order to complete the circuit).


A lot of that is why the balanced line system was developed- when running balanced (if the balanced line standards are being observed) even though ground loops are present they can't get amplified, the shield of the cable isn't used as part of the audio signal path and so on. So colorations from the interconnect can be vastly reduced.

If your cables are kept short and you are careful with how your sources interact with the passive control and the amplifier, the results can be quite good. But if you are using speakers and are keeping the amps by them so as to minimize colorations from the speaker cables, you might have to run fairly long interconnect cables. If this is the case then the balanced line system is the way to go; you simply won't be easily able to do this with a single-ended connection without coloration.
@in_shore,
Last look other members were lining up taking shots at him some suggested what he was actually hearing was nothing more then colorations he just discovered... I just went back to the topic and see every comment and reaction to his post was erased.

Yep, the dreaded "colorations" again. Told ya 😆😆.
Charles
So you are saying that running through a bunch of resistors, transformers and caps, to say nothing of connectors and extra sets of wire/wire's doesn't colour the sound by comparison to running direct?? I mean really?? I get it if you need multiple outs, and only run analog, but if your all digital, i'd run direct 100% of the time. All pre-amps colour the sound to some extent however pleasant you may find them. That said, it's anyone's prerogative in this sport do buy whatever they want to satisfy their own ears, but I would be careful to claim(not that anyone has) that pre-amps are in anyway more accurate, because to my ears they simply are not and i've owned many. 
Atmasphere
I would only run balanced, for me on my journey, i've simply found them better, and my system always seemed less cable dependent than single ended, the problem of course is that a fully balanced design, for both amps & pre's costs more, at least that's been my experience. Currently though, fibre optic into my integrated, speaker cables to my speakers, simple as could be, sounds better than ever.

Sorry for the long wind, back to your scheduled program,

Don


Hi Don,
You trust your ears and I trust mine, as a result we've reached different conclusions. You find your  preferred approach presumably more sonically accurate.  I find my approach more sonically realistic. We're  both happy and neither of us has to settle for the others choice. It works out fine.
Charles 
So you are saying that running through a bunch of resistors, transformers and caps, to say nothing of connectors and extra sets of wire/wire's doesn't colour the sound by comparison to running direct?? I mean really??
Yes. There is such a thing as being too simple, and passives are that. As I pointed out, if you get all your ducks in a row they can work quite well. One must always be careful to not construe personal anecdote as absolute. If you plan to go for the extra resolution available by running shorter speaker cables (this is particularly true if you are running tube amplifiers due to their higher output impedance)the passive/active thing becomes even more important. IOW we're talking about the coloration of the interconnect cables themselves; if you've ever auditioned cables and heard a difference you know what I'm talking about.


@brewmasterdon
So you are saying that running through a bunch of resistors, transformers and caps, to say nothing of connectors and extra sets of wire/wire's doesn't colour the sound by comparison to running direct??

Hi Don, I know you are talking to Charles but just allow me to briefly comment, while what you are saying is "logical" and BTW I agree on that statement with you, I have personally run direct from several digital sources to several amplifiers and these digital sources as you wisely mentioned have transformers (in some cases), resistors and caps as well. IME if the electrical parameters impedance, output / input voltages and such are not compatible, the sound will suffer, even with the direct connection. Of course I'm not trying to convince you as I respect your position, I don't consider myself a golden ears subject, just providing my opinion on which I agree with Charles mostly.
Now I know certain devices (May DAC with output buffer) are supposedly a very good match "direct" with amplifiers, I would love to hear it as I don't own a May DAC but I'm sure the results could be potentially outstanding, but again we are talking about a DAC with kind of an active output stage (preamp).
I'm not disregarding what you are saying it is just I haven't found a scenario yet that I empirically have tested that works this way, my testings have been limited to a few dacs and amplifiers only, none of the DACs with active output stages.

@charles1dad
You trust your ears and I trust mine, as a result we've reached different conclusions. You find your preferred approach presumably more sonically accurate. I find my approach more sonically realistic. We're both happy and neither of us has to settle for the others choice. It works out fine.

I agree on that Charles, it is all about personal opinions.

@atmasphere
As I pointed out, if you get all your ducks in a row they can work quite well
Hey Ralph, by "ducks in a row" you mean electrical parameters and compatibility between digital source and amplifiers?

One must always be careful to not construe personal anecdote as absolute
Right, agreed
One must always be careful to not construe personal anecdote as absolute
That's fair, for me, increasing the SNR by simplifying my system has made the blacks, blacker, which has(in my opinion) increased spatial cues and placed musical instruments more precisely in space and hence has provided me with a greater sense of realism which has made my limited listening sessions more enjoyable. Full disclosure, i do have another system which uses tube mono-blocs and a dac/pre which i also enjoy, I simply feel that my current main rig sounds better without a pre-amp and that they generally hamper detail and resolution.
I do like the way in which the forum members on this thread have conducted themselves, good honest discussions are a health thing and frankly this sport could use more of it,

Enjoy your tunes,

Don
@brewmasterdon
I simply feel that my current main rig sounds better without a pre-amp and that they generally hamper detail and resolution
That is all that matters

I do like the way in which the forum members on this thread have conducted themselves, good honest discussions are a health thing and frankly this sport could use more of it,
Agreed, for a moment I thought you will follow the standard lashing out of others ... glad you didn't, as I said about Charles, you have my utter respect
Now on the colorations, the only reference I get is live events, when I used to attend more than 1 year ago live events, tonality and sound of instruments were my reference, so that is what I use on a daily basis to reference "neutral", but then you have the recordings, which are usually made in the studio, live events on churches and cathedrals have the "room" added into the equation. Studio aside from the mastering engineer don't.This is the part I still don't quite get, not directly related to this discussion but indirectly.
How would you know (and Ralph is the ideal person to answer this as he is kind of a hands on mastering / recording engineer PLUS musician too, real renaissance man) what colorations are when listening to your system.

The life event reference could be actually divergent from this.
You don't know what the "colorations" are. You're getting into what Floyd Toole called the circle of confusion. Take the mic, room, equipment,  speakers etc.. used to record and these Recordings are as different as night and day from each other and whatever you're using to playback with. There's no way to recreate the thousands of different combinations to get what the final mixers heard. It's a waste of time trying to tune your system to a live event or certain recordings the best you can do IMO is reproduce what's on the media as neutral as possible, use as transparent gear as you can possibly get. That's simply what I do. There is no right or wrong way,  take whatever approach gives you the sound you enjoy with what you can afford. 
Thanks for answering my inquiry, I agree but I just see a conflicting statement for me.
If it is a circle of confusion how do I know I am reproducing the media "as neutral as possible"? it looks like a chicken and egg riddle
Hi Luis,
It’s is perfectly logical to use live music listening experiences as a template . How can someone reasonably identify the sound of instruments as authentic if you have never heard it in a live setting? If for example you had never heard a baritone saxophone in person how could judge its sound when listening to a recording of one?

This doesn’t mean you expect your system to sound exactly like the live performance. But you could decide which audio components more closely mimics live instruments/vocals relative to competing components. Your ears would allow you to recognise or distinguish what you believe "sounds more real". Based on actual live exposure.

The listening and judging process will be subjective (By default).as people hearing the same live performance will interpret and describe the experience differently. @djones51 summed it up well, essentially choose which ever approach works best for you and leads to enjoyment listening to music. Agree 100%.
Charles
Some like black coffee.  Some prefer sugar and/or cream.
Hey Ralph, by "ducks in a row" you mean electrical parameters and compatibility between digital source and amplifiers?
Yes.
You don't know what the "colorations" are. You're getting into what Floyd Toole called the circle of confusion. Take the mic, room, equipment, speakers etc.. used to record and these Recordings are as different as night and day from each other and whatever you're using to playback with.
I have recordings on LP that I recorded. I know what the live performance sounded like. I know the microphones (U67s) really well. So when I play the LP I know immediately what is going on with the system I'm hearing. It helps to have the masters!

Lacking that your point is profoundly important. It is for this reason that I recommend anyone to get good mics and a decent recording system and see if they can sort things out. Do some on location recordings. Acoustic spaces that you know are good places to see if you can do this. This will really help you sort out what works and what doesn't.
My take is that using a tube preamplifier serves digital sources very well. The amount and distribution of gain in the system does become an issue.
I've found a tube preamp with digital source and solid state amp to be most helpful.  Takes away the digititus.