Do I really need a pre-amp?

As a bit of a neophyte (but one who loves music), do I really need a pre-amp if I am only using a cd source? A friend told me that I could simply hook up a high quality amp to a cd player and that would be adequate. Any thoughts are most appreciated.

Do you need one? No. However, in most cases you are better off with one. Most CD players (there are a few exceptions, mostly premium players) use relatively inexpensive OP amps for the variable output stage. You'll get better sound running the fixed output into a preamp.
jpshinn: you are apparently unaware that the audiogon discussion forums may be searched via a fairly powerful search engine. your query is only slightly less rare than freckles on howdy doody knockoffs. remember the rules for crossing the tracks: stop, look and listen. -cfb
Which amp do you have? I have a Sony XA7ES CD player with a variable output, & fixed outputs. This player has a high quality variable analog output, accessable by the remote.
It was Sony's top CD player until the SACD1 came out. It sold for $3000.00 new, there's a used one on Audiogon today for $1050.00. This is the average used price. You can buy this player & use it for at least a couple of years, & probably sell it for what you paid-I did this with my last Sony ES player.
This player also has a "balanced" output. It is NOT truly balanced, and is not a variable output either. Unless you have a truly balanced amplifier, (Rowland, Levinson, Krell, etc.), this won't matter anyway.
Tell us which amp & speakers you have, & you'll get input from members familiar with your components.
I recently used a fairly high end CD player directly into a good amp for about a year or so. The cd player has a high quality, analogue domain volume control built in. The sound was concise and clear. I recently purchased a pre-amp to match my power amp. The sound retained its clarity, but now there was much more body and heft to the sound. The soundstage also got wider and deeper, due, I would guess, to the increased body of the sound including a richer lower end.

I suspect that just as with a power amp, there is no substitute for power, and the "preamp" of using a cd player's variable output just can't match a good preamp of similar quality. In other words, a good cd direct into an good amp is fine, but a good cd into a good preamp into a good amp might be as a rule better. That has been my experience recently, in any event.

I hope your cd player has a volume control. If not, you could be in for a very interesting surprise. :) Doug
If your CD source has no volume control of its own, you'll need one--but it could be just a volume control, along with connectors for cables in and out of it. This is called a passive preamp, and debates rage--well, simmer, at least--over whether passives provide better sound than active preamps. My opinion, based on experience with highly regarded actives, is that if your CD output is up to it, as it will be in a good (but probably not in a mass market) CD player, you'll be better off with a passive. And you'll be able to save a lot of money--which, as a good audiophile, neophyte or not, you'll promptly spend on some other part of your system. If you want details on a DIY passive better than almost any nonDIY one, please contact me through Member Lookup. Or look at the DIY section of for the hardware and a schematic for a more complex passive than you're likely to need. Or both. Good luck!
You do not if you use a CD Player or DAC with variable output (volume control). The best I have found is the Audio Aero Capitole 24 /192. It is just gorgeous and has enormous gain.

Good Luck!
Thanks for everyone's (except Cornfedboy who seems to be a rather unpleasant person); note I don't necessarily have the time to cross-reference every single post) response. I am taking my first baby steps in the world of high-end audio and I'm trying to decide where to start my acquisitions. The posted comments were quite helpful. All the best. JS
...i want to finish what Doug did not
...and the surprize can be a blown speaker(s)!
I do believe a system which preamp always sound better.But experience yourself to find out the sound that you like(your taste).Good luck.
If your cdp is good enough and matches your amp, look in to a passive volume control or a passive pre.
Jpshinn- don't mind cfb, sometimes he gets a little grouchy if he hasn't won a lawsuit or two in the last week. He's actually a pretty good guy and very knowledgeable. He does has a good point- lost in the archives to search, and there is a thread exactly on point running right now under "old threads with new posts in last 12 hours" titled Passive pre-amps-jumping ship or something like that. Give it a look see. No would ever call me a passive kind of guy, so I have no first hand knowledge to pass on, but it appears from what I've read that its HIGHLY system-dependent, and clearly NOT as simple as just hooking the variable output from any old CDP to whichever amp you have lying around.