I meant to say: 'What about compatability issues with going from DAC right to AMPS?'
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I ran my Benchmark into my BAT VK-60 for two years & loved the sound. It wasn't until I sold the BAT & put a pre-amp into my system that I started to realize my speakers full potential. I tried two different pre-amps & two different amps with my Benchmark used as a passive pre-amp. The pre-amps sounded better every time. I would try it either way, you don't know until you try & that is the fun part (for me) of this hobby.
But how can putting an extra piece of equipment between the DAC and the amp possibly improve the sound?? The signal coming from the DAC is as pure and unadulterated as it is going to get. Everything else after that - cables, amp, speakers - is in some way introducing various distortions/changes to the original signal - even if ever so slightly. So how can another piece in the chain help? Now I do't mean for any of this to sound argumentative, I have been surprised before in this hobby where something that I didn't think could make a difference really did, so I am not challenging the idea, just asking about it.
Preamps can compensate for impedance mismatches and other things. I ran a dCS stack into an ARC VT-100 Mk III and--even though the dCS purports to be preamp-like and the impedances were within tolerances, it seemed lifeless. I put a preamp in between and the slam and vitality of the system came back. May simply depend upon the electronics, but I can attest that a preamp is a good thing in my system.
A preamp has always sounded better in my system. This is playing with any top CD player with great analog volumes including a Opus 21, AA Capitole, Muse Thalia and Quad unit. Each and every time without fail a preamp was needed to get more dynamics, full and weightly sound and tighter bass. A ood pre is a must based on my experience and much if it :-)
Sure it will sound good without, but when you get around to putting in a good pre you will wonder why you waited so long.
the only plus going direct is the money savings that could go elsewhere in your system. A good pre that fits your taste is allways going to be more fun to listen to than a passive-allways(keeping the rest of the system the same). its the tradeoff of having something else in your system that is going to be better and the feelings of knowing that in your brain- ie. 7 thousand dollar better speakers for example that you will need to decide which you want more. to do a fair comparison you must keep the total dollar vallue of your system the same. Otherwise price becomes a deciding issue which is why so many people think they prefer passive in the first place. They drop a passive into their system and change nothing else- boy that sounds great! But any comparison that changes the total cost of your system is not a fair comparison at all.
Thanks for the responses. What I'm not sure I understand, is since a DAC outputs an analog signal, isn't there already a certain amount of 'pre-amplification' being done already at that point? If this is the case, why don't more manufacturers provide just a bit higher level of amplification with a volume control that is meant to drive amps directly? I now only have digital sources, where everything goes through the DAC, so having an extra preamp seems like a waste. It this digital age, that would seem like the way to go.
Probably above your price range, but George Mark Audio has a DAC/linestage which includes a true preamp linestage as well as the DAC processor. You could bypass the linestage if you like, although I don't know why you would do that if you're goint to drop $6k on the unit. It is a tube unit as well. This approach I believe is better than the DACs that just have a volume control. It is more expensive and you're not really eliminating the preamp from the equation, but it is also more compact and for those who have a one source system could work fine.
Mahandave - I'm in the middle of figuring out the passive and active dilemma. I have a Joule Electra LA-100 MkIII and love it. It is not mating well with my amp (too much gain overall). I'm using EVS Nude attenuators right now between the amp and preamp to drop the gain so I can get some flexibility on the preamp volume control. I have had a couple of passives in for audition and did not like them, but I do like these EVS attenuators which I tried with my DAC as well. I'll be getting a TVC this week custom built for me by K&K Audio using S&B transformers. This will be the final test.
If we view the audio signal, from its genesis as a 60Hz, 120 volt oscillating wave to its final transformation into mechanical energy in the speaker as something that is going from "closer to perfection" to "farther from perfection," then indeed it hard to see how inserting yet another component mid-chain like a pre-amp can better the sound. Similarly, why would a transport + cable + DAC better a CDP?
But if one views the audio chain like a series of lenses, where each component focuses or scatters; attenuates or amplifies; shapes and filters the differing frequencies of its input by differing amounts, and then passes it to the next lens, then indeed we may not be surprised that adding a component may improve the presentation. After all, we are trying to use information encoded in a physical medium—grooves on a record or pits on a disc—to transform a periodic, 60Hz wave into a highly aperiodic, idiosyncratic force capable of vibrating a paper cone in an incredibly exacting manner. Indeed, multiple, successive lower-gain stages of amplification may be “more gentle” to a faithful reproduction—or at least our appreciation of it.
By separating the pre-amp from both the source and the amplifier, one introduces a new power supply, decouples certain capacitive and inductive reactances (while inducing others), and in general brings a new dedicated stage of attenuation and at least two, if not more, successive stages of amplification. This component is the fruit of countless hours of dedicated labor; one that's been engineered to its own role, and marketed to its own price point.
In the extreme, active speakers show us that we can plug a source such as CDP straight into a speaker cabinet; but there is neither law of physics nor law of the market place that assures us that this, by necessary design, will be either better or worse than the decomposition of an audio chain into its well-known, separate stages.
Just one perspective. Counter-intuitive, I agree.
Smeyers, I agree with you in theroy but the reality is that a pre-amp creates dynamics. It has a sonic signiture (usually) of it's own that adds to the overall system sound. I don't know why more manufacturers don't add better sound to their digital equipment but it seems this market is more concerned with a single piece doing a single job. We seem to be driven to the fact that one piece can't do it all, it is what the market dictates. I feel there are great intergrated amps out there but people want a seperate sexy chassis per item it seems. I am no different, I don't have an intergrated, I run mono's, a pre-amp & a DAC, I also have only two digital sources. In my system for me it just sounds better.
the only plus going direct is the money savingsI disagree. Going direct, assuming the DAC's attenuation is done well, will give you clarity, purity, and image stability (among other things) that you will almost surely sacrifice some of when you add another component and set of interconnects. That's been my experience. Again, you may prefer the sound with the preamp. It's usually more dynamic, has more "body", and produces a larger soundstage. But it's not all upside IMO.
Smeyers, you are asking the question a thinking man asks, which is why should this be so. Other than impedence matching, which is usually not an issue, no one seems able to give a satisfactory answer. Which makes you wonder... It's a fertile topic for cognitive dissonance, that much is clear.
For the record, I've bounced back and forth for more than 10 years between going direct and using a pre.
Conrad-Johnson is introducing a $6500 "control amplifier", which is an integrated without a traditional preamp section. No doubt some people will use this thing with a separate preamp.