Berkeley Alpha Reference run direct


Has anyone found a preamplifier that improves the sound from a Berkeley Alpha Reference DAC? If so, what preamp? Mine sounds amazing feeding my amplifiers direct, DAC to amps.
imgoodwithtools
Not sure if better, but i would be very curious what a tube preamp would do.  Im in the minority who find the BAD a bit cool, so if i had deep pockets and endless time it want to try a very good tube pre to warm and maybe sprinkle a little magic. ;)

Like I said though, few would agree with me.
I did.  I went with the Jeff Rowland Criterion.  I have learned after 40 tears in audio that the key to an emotional system is a kick butt preamp.  
I had the Berkeley and very definitely preferred it with a preamp in the chain, in my case a Tube Research Labs DUDE. Very nice combination.

Of course, if you love the sound you already have, it might be prudent to just leave it at that. As an audiophile, I've never been able to do that myself, but it seems like good advice in general.
You gotta love high end audio. A couple guys suggest vintage tube technology to breathe some life into a digital system. Another guy says he loves shut down technology and battery power to make the preamp as quiet and transparent as possible. And they might Both be right...
By the way, I'm also not saying you SHOULD do any of this.  You just asked about what else you might like to try, hence my suggestions. What you should do is up to your ears and wallet, not mine. :) 

Best,


Erik
I'm with you, Erik. I plan to bring in an Audio Research Reference 6, if for no other reason, to see what all of the buzz is about.
The question I specifically asked, was if anyone has actually heard a preamp improve the sound of a BAR, over being run directly DAC to amp.

Thus far, it seems like only cerrot has heard a Rowland that does. I've never heard that preamp, but the technical description suggests it strives to be a very transparent and neutral component.

As an aside, why are Jeff Rowland components rarely reviewed by the mainstream audio media?
Imgoodwithtools,
Excellent observation.  To different paths to get to the same place.  The Rowland gave me the depth of the level of emotion I was previously missing.  Battery power is utter bliss.  

As for the reviews, Jeff’s gear sees a fair amount of coverage. He doesn’t come out with new designs all the time for them to cover, like ARC does - every three years ARC wants you to upgrade - Jeff just wants you to listen to your music. His new integrated amp (Damon - kicks BUTT) has gotten a nice amount of coverage.
Blue circle hybrid preamp here..best of both worlds...I liked the berkeley ref. direct but it really does improve in soundstage depth and imaging with a Good preamp in front.
arc should be a good choice also,along with say an Aesthetix.
I contacted Galen Carol Audio yesterday. I had auditioned and purchased my BAR from them, via mail. I was curious how they set up their demo BAR. In their showroom, they are running direct into a pair of Rowland amps, with no preamp. They said some customers prefer a bit of "flavor", and in which case they would recommend a tube preamp. But for their demo, they consider no additional circuitry between DAC and amp to be the best platform to hear the merits of the Berkeley Alpha Reference. Interesting...
I would LOVE to hear that dac direct to Jeffs amps.  Galen is a great guy, by the way.  
I'm running a pair of Ayre MX-R Twenties. THEY are amazing amps.
imgoodwithtools

Other than price, have you considered using an Ayre KX-R Twenty with your MX-R Twenty amps instead of the ARC Ref 6?
The Ayre amps (MXR Twenty) are ABSOLUTELY incredible.
I have a Berkeley Alpha Reference DAC direct into Rowland mono- blocks.  I never thought there was any need for a preamp.  If I did I would want to use one from the same amplifier manufacturer to maximize synergy.  Otherwise, how do you decide on the right preamp since they all have a different sonic signature.  In an expensive purchase you only have one shot at this and after break-in what if you do not like that resultant sound either?

However, to me the term "cold" means accurate or neutral and the opposite of "warm."  If what you want is a sophisticated tone control then, of course, complicated preamp circuitry with an additional pair of interconnects will give you that.  

However, I would question what made you choose the Berkeley Reference in the first place because you obviously do not like the way it sounds.  If it was for features alone, you could have spent much less money on a unit that would give you more of those.

In lieu of the cost of a preamp, I personally would be inclined to take the cost of a preamp and apply it to a loudspeaker upgrade which would make a very significant and beneficial improvement.
Yes, I have considered trying a KX-R Twenty. Once again, Has anyone heard that combination with the BAR, and was it an improvement over direct?
Kodak805. I have been quite successful at negotiating in-home auditions, so, no, I don't buy unless I hear a component in my system, and love it.

Speaking of... I LOVE the sound of my BAR. I never said it was cold, or I desired warmth. I've been simply wondering if Anyone has improved their sound with a preamp, vs direct, using specifically a BAR.
Yes, I have considered trying a KX-R Twenty. Once again, Has anyone heard that combination with the BAR, and was it an improvement over direct?

I always prefer a preamp in my system. I had the Berkeley Ref DAC in my system and it was one of the, if not the, best dacs used direct to my amps. I still love what a preamp does. With a preamp, you might get a slight loss of detail but gain musicality, depth, width and overall added sweetness to less than stellar recordings. I have since moved on from the Berkely Ref DAC and don't miss it.

I have Ayre MX-R Twenty monos and agree that they are outstanding. I am in the process of trying to get the KX-R Twenty to go with them. I am also considering an ARC Ref 10. I have the Ref 6 and it's a little too much for my taste. It's an outstanding preamp and I know why people love it, but it's not for me. I love a slightly slightly softer/sweeter sound.
Please describe what you don't like about the AR Reference 6, as opposed to what you do like.
I think the Ref 6 is an outstanding preamp for the money. It is extremely transparent which can be both a blessing and a curse. On great recordings, there are no issues. On lesser recordings, the treble and midrange can sound a bit coarse to my ear. I also found the soundstage to be a little forward for my taste, like sitting in the third row at a concert hall. It also has a very punchy/ballsy sound, almost like it's on steroids. On some music it's an advantage, but on other music, it can be a bit too much of a good thing.

This is ONLY my opinion, you need to listen for yourself.
The key, to me, was the loss in resolution with a digital volume control.  You really need to compare it.  Volume reduction should not be a loss in resolution.  
Certainly a big difference of opinion here:

joeinid:  "With a preamp, you might get a slight loss of detail…"

cerrot:  "The key, to me, was the loss in resolution with a digital volume control."

I always thought the terms resolution and detail referred to the same thing.  

Yet both posters want to use a preamp.

So, which is it?  Please enlighten me!
We all hear differently. Let me say it this way, DACs direct to amp have more "detail" but I find it more fatiguing in the long run. Digital attenuation reduces the volume by throwing bits of data away. That's why some don't like it. For me, the better the preamp, more gets through but still retains the musicality that I love. 

A dac direct to amp seems impressive at first, but too much detail takes the enjoyment out of it.

Have you compared a preamp to no preamp in your system? If you love no preamp, great, you've saved some money. I've compared it many times with several dacs and many preamps and I always prefer the preamp. 
It's a known issue that digital volume controls reduce resolution.  The higher priced models claim to solve the problem.
One factor here might be the sensitivity of the amps used. With my BAR feeding the Ayre amps, the volume control is usually in the 45-52 range. Berkeley recommends a setting of 54 if connected to a preamp, so I suspect I'm losing little data at that level. If run thru a pair of LAMM amps, my BAR volume was down around 32-34. I definitely preferred preamp when listening to the LAMMs.

Joeinid - In your opinion with the AR Ref 6, is the preamp super highly resolving, and thus makes imperfect recordings sound just that way, imperfect? Or is it distorting the signal somehow, resulting in the forward soundstage and punchy on-steroids feel?
The sensitivity of the Berkeley Reference is adjustable.  It is then possible to run the volume control at a higher setting. Since that adjustment increases the resolution that argument for the necessity of a preamp is thereby eliminated.
kodak805 - How is the sensitivity adjustable on the BAR? It says nothing about that in my owner's manual. It it something Berkeley must set?
Joeinid - In your opinion with the AR Ref 6, is the preamp super highly resolving, and thus makes imperfect recordings sound just that way, imperfect? Or is it distorting the signal somehow, resulting in the forward soundstage and punchy on-steroids feel?

The Ref 6 is NOT distorting the signal. It just doesn't let a bad recording sound good. It lets it all through, good or bad.

I have not heard the ARC Ref 5SE recently, but it's more forgiving and probably not as resolving compared to the Ref 6 (check the thread in the amp and preamp section).

I am personally thinking about the Ref 10 or KX-R Twenty to go with my MX-R Twenty amps.

I have an Ayre K-1xe here now. I have to strain and strain and switch back and forth and back and forth to hear the very slight differences between the K-1xe in circuit and run directly from the BAR. The KX-R Twenty would likely be a step or two above even that.

The sensitivity adjustment is explained under the heading "Left & Right Gain" on page 3 in the Preliminary Quick User Guide Software Rev 1.00.
I guess I don't understand their explaination. It this not just setting the output levels, by left and right channels, in .05db steps? 
If I normally run a volume level of 47.3 on Diana Krall Live in Paris, for example, how would I change things to get the same volume level, but higher resolution?
Not sure if better, but i would be very curious what a tube preamp would do. Im in the minority who find the BAD a bit cool, so if i had deep pockets and endless time it want to try a very good tube pre to warm and maybe sprinkle a little magic. ;)

Like I said though, few would agree with me.




Erik, I agree with you.
imgoodwithtools:  Setting negative gain for each channel allows for increasing stereo volume to exercise more bits for greater resolution.  Balance merely adjusts volume for each channel relative to each other to compensate for differences in program material.
I didn't know that. You would think Berkeley would make that more apparent. I will try reducing the gain tonight.
I could not get this negative gain thing to happen. First I set the volume control on 0, then tried lowering the L/R gain. It would not go below 0. Then I set the volume at 7, then lowered both L/R gain to 1. When I checked the volume, it followed the change to 1. Upon setting the volume to 47.3, the gain was unchanged at 47.3 in both channels.

Mine sounds amazing feeding my amplifiers direct, DAC to amps.
imgoodwithtools
Stay with that, this way your hearing it at it's most transparent/dynamic best. As today's sources can drive amps just as good if not better than some preamps can.  
Sticking in more unneeded electronics in the signal path is just adding more colourations. If you like those colouration more, then you should look elsewhere to change your sound instead of adding more unneeded electronics, eg: amp, speakers or even the source itself.

Cheers George    
I contacted Berkeley Audio Design. They Can change the voltage gain of the DAC, internally, if requested. There is No way for the user to change the voltage gain of the DAC, in comparison to its volume level. The BAR was designed to optimally drive loads with about 20 db of gain, which allows for an ideal volume setting of 54.
Imgoodwithtools,  
How goes it sound? Do you feel Diana Krall breathing at the piano on the Paris CD.  Seat creaking?  If you do, you don't need a preamp.  

It sounds absolutely incredible. And it's not like I don't have options. I have my old Ayre K-1xe, which is quite transparent. It adds a touch of impact to voices, especially, and can give them a somewhat shouty character. It homogenizes the sound a bit. More cohesive, slightly less detail. I plan to use the Ayre for SACD playback, video, etc.
I spoke with a dealer in California today who caries Berkeley, Audio Research, and Ayre. They feel the Berkeley is outstanding run direct. But they have heard better soundstaging, especially depth of field and layering, by using a great preamp. They say the AR Ref 6 is an absolute steal at $14K, detailed, harmonically rich, great soundstaging. But they said the best they've ever heard the Berkeley for ultimate transparency was with the volume at 54, and run balanced thru an Ayre KX-R Twenty.
The Ayre was on my short list.  It's one of the best preamps made.  I went with the Jeff Rowland Criterion.  I wanted to like the Arc Ref 5 (at the time) but I heard tube rush.  The other -Preamp on my list was the Pass.  (Burmeister, mbl  out of my price range).  
The new Rowland stuff intrigues me. Sooner or later I gotta stop shopping. Lol
Jeff Rowland is an amazing man.  And approachable.  You can pick up the phone and call him.