There are lots of posts on this subject in the archives, but it is worth repeating my experience. I like the use of a preamp, it renders the capacitance and inductance of cables to the amp less critical. I also feel the use of a preamp really helps the dynamics. I used a passive preamp for several years but always felt the music was a bit lean and lifeless. As far as balanced versus single ended, when I switched from RCA to XLR, I found the presentation more open and musical with only a slight loss of resolution.
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