I would listen direct for at least the first 6 months. That way, you'll know what you have after full break-in. Combining the Wadia with tubes may be a good move which may circumvent the preamp. Pay attention to the power cord and cabling.
Depending upon any perceived shortcomings, you might decide upon Joule or Dartzeel or others. Steve might have some suggestions when it is time. A CAT preamp may still be worth an audition - perhaps synergy may be enough to make you want to get out of your chair.
Putting a Supratek pre between my Wadia 861 & CAT JL1's was an across the board positve.
I now have JL3's & will be auditioning a Doshi Alaap line stage & Aria full function. The latter has an optional remote.
Given your equipment choices you need to try a good pre, before deciding to go without one. If price is an issue & you don't presently own the JL3's, you may want to consider the JL2 plus pre if you prefer one as I do.
A buddy of mine is running Wadia straight into JL-2's with one of the most musical systems I have heard....and I'm a vinyl only guy.
If you are not playing vinyl, you can fine-tune most Wadias to work directly with your amp. The issue is that most DACs and CD players make **way** too much output voltage, causing the user to run low volume control settings. On a lot of DACs, this is a problem because the built-in volume control will cause a loss of resolution at the lower settings.
With most Wadias there are jumper switches (refer to the owner's manual) that allow you to reduce the output of the unit so you can get around this issue to a certain extent. With Wadias there is a noticable reduction in resolution when you run the volume below '85'; so in most cases you want to set the jumper switches for the lowest output that the unit can make. This will allow you to run higher volume control settings, and the results can be quite good.
BTW this issue with DACs is an argument for a quality preamp as most preamps have better volume controls than any digital unit with a digital volume control. In such a case you would run the DAC at full volume and the preamp would then be controlling the gain.
I have no idea why DAC/CD manufacturers insist on higher than standard outputs (the standard for AUX level inputs is one Volt); even if you run a passive volume control such high DAC outputs is completely misguided and interferes with your ability to get the best performance out of the setup- that's more than you need to clip almost any amplifier made!
fwiw, I owned the CAT Ultimate preamp, a wadia 301 with reference GNSC mods and a Joule preamp. I preferred the 301 with a preamp. I did not care for the 301 with the Joule preamp. The wadia and CAT Ultimate, for me, were an excellent match. Matched with a remote controlled preamp, I liked it with a CJ 16LS2 and a Thor mk1000. Good luck, Jeff
You have shown a very deep understanding of the subject,I am most impressed
I have mentioned it in the past , and fully concur with your observations.Bravo.
You will need a preamp. I tried the Wadia's volume control a few times with the 581ise and it does benefit from a good preamp.
I think it's important to clarify the reason that Wadia allows for higher output level settings than the CD standard. They want their DAC's and CD players to be able to feed a very wide variety of amplifiers on the market directly. While it's true that MOST amplifiers require less than 1 volt to reach rated output, it's certainly not the case that all amplifiers are that way. We've run across amplifiers that require almost 3 volts input level to reach their rated output. So I can say that we have dozens of clients who use the full 4.5 volt setting on their Wadia players. The nice thing about the Wadia volume control design though is that you can set that maximum level to suit your particular systems efficiency. There are many people that would be forced to use a pre-amp if the Wadia players had just one or two volts output.
We feel you can get very musical results going direct...no doubt a really good pre-amp can be beneficial in some systems. There are trade-offs in my opinion and each person must weigh their own sonic priorities...and of course budget.
Gnsc, 4.5V is the absolute **maximum** that a DAC should produce for 0VU on the CD. We've seen players that make as much as 15 Volts; even 7 Volts is -no other way to put it- retarded.
Amps that need over 3 volts are unusual to say the least, consequently going over 3 volts means that there will be significant reduction in resolution if the internal digital volume control is used. If you are running direct, there is simply no need to be able to do anything more than barely clip the amp at full volume- if maximum resolution is your goal (which I hope is the case with any serious digital system) then this should be regarded as a cast-in-concrete rule.
If this rule is not followed, then it will be easy to get better performance by using a good quality preamp as others have observed, because the volume control in *almost* any preamp made is better than *any* digital volume control made.
For a digital manufacturer to put the time and development into a high quality control just to get it shot down by this rather simple issue makes absolutely no sense to me, but things play out this way more often than not!
What were the benefits of using a preamp?
On my checklist would be: VAC renaissance MkIII, ARC's new Ref5, or the VTL 6.5 or Nagra PL-L. All would be circa 10k new. The Ref5 should be an improved Ref3 I gather.
Based on the system above, what do you think would be the best all-rounder? Auditions are not available to me...
As a CAT JL-3 owner and an APL Denon player with built-in volume control, I much preferred using an Aesthetix Callisto Signature line stage in the chain. With the Callisto, there was significantly more body and texture to the instruments that show this well: piano, sax and vocals. But there was a reduction in clarity and detail on the top. As Gnsc points out, is it indeed about sonic priorities.
I have since moved onto the Aria WV preamp which has nearly the same midrange magic of the Callisto but a far greater wealth of clarity and resolution comes through now. I will have to repeat the test with the CDP into the amps vs. the Aria in the chain.
Daisiu, getting people to come to a consensus on which preamp you should choose is a losing battle. The CAT amps excel in dynamic contrasts, getting the leading edge of the notes with great clarity, and an incredible degree of resolution. With some very special small signal tubes, I have taken the 3D capabilities of the CAT amps far beyond what existed with the stock tubes. But these amps are tonally neutral so if you want a little more added midrange body or bloom, you will likely need to get this from your choice of preamp ... if this is indeed what you want to gain with a preamp in the chain. The CAT preamps and 6H30-based ARC Ref line stages are not likely to benefit you in this regard but they could bring on greater dynamic contrasts. The only way to know is to try them out.
Thanks for such an informative and insightful reply, its the kind which makes A'gon the best source for exchange of knowledge on these matters.
Unfortunately I come from a small country where home auditions do not exist, and even store auditions are nigh on impossible unless I fly 3 hours and still, the context of an audition is a store with different associated equipment, rendering comparisons out-of-context. Thats why I'm trying to get a general direction, at least, where I could at least have a higher chance of reaching sonic bliss.
Coming back to specifics, it would seem that your opinion is that preamps with lushness and warmth such as BAT, Lamm or maybe C-j would work best? What were the very special signal tubes that you changed? Could you provide some examples of preamps I should try to listen to, maybe?
Many many thanks again to you, Jafox.