do you use a pre-amp with your DAC?

I have a server based music system comprising of

squeezebox > Bel Canto Dac3 > Bel Canto S300 > PMC TB2+s.

Bel Canto recommend using the the Dac3 as the preamp directly to the amp for best results. It sounds good but I am intrigued by what I could gain/lose by inserting a quality preamp into the chain.

Is a preamp just a glorified volume knob an input selector? If so there are some pretty expensive volume controls out their.

What benefits does a quality preamp do in a system, and what does it do to the sound at the end of the chain, ie on the speakers?

Can anyone recommend me some preamps to try for my system as well.


Why insert another distortion creating component when it's not necessary?

Besides providing volume control, a preamp isolates the source component(s) from the amp -- the amp sees only the preamp not the various sources. Since your DAC is designed to drive an amp directly, it is in effect a single source preamp.
Some DACs have a built-in preamp. The question is whether the built-in preamp is of better quality than a dedicated preamp. So it is not an issue of 'purity' by running direct. Volume attenuation is a very complicated subject, with many manufacturers, each having their own approach.

The digital preamp within my Wadia was no match for a no-holds barred preamp like the BAT Rex. How could it be? The Rex is among the most over-engineered preamps on the market.

All preamps have strengths and weaknesses. You need to understand what you are looking for, pick a price point, and gather opinions on sonic characteristics. If your set-up is dry, two-dimensional, and analytical, then adding a decent tube preamp may be a real improvement.

Good luck,
so a pre-amp does add some sonic difference to the sound?

I spoke to an audio buff friend of mine and told him while my system sounds great I feel their is some presence and 3 dimensionality missing from the sound. He reckons spending as much money on the preamp as you can is one of the most important parts of you system next to the speakers. Is this true?

With his system you can hear all the instruments come forward and backwards as if they were being mixed at the time of listening. Mind you he has a $30,000+ system.

I have been reading about the Calypso and the Capri being excellent pre-amps. Also some cheaper less marketed companies like wyred for sound is getting good reviews.
I spoke with Matt @ Bel Canto and he said even thought they sell a nice preamp ($2000) he stated it is best to use the built in preamp on the Dac3. I also have the S300 with Dac3 and Magnepan 1.6qr
I'd like to weigh in here because I've been doing some experimenting lately and I think what I've heard might be helpful. I have owned a Meitner BiDat that has it's own volume regulator and, for years, I have run it directly into various amps via balanced cables. The clarity and articulation are stunning. HOWEVER, I have read few articles about preamps that convinced me to try a tube based preamplifier now that I've upgraded my speakers (Thiel CS3.7's). I was a complete skeptic but buddy of mine in our local audio society brought over a VTL 5.5 tube preamp and we hooked it up. I was dumbfounded. The sound is more three dimensional, digital edge is reduced and the pacing is, for lack of a better term, more musical. I was dead set against this because now I have to buy a preamp and my budget is stretched. Now, I am sure that there a a whole host of preamps that might not improve your particular set up. I may have lucked out with the VTL. I plan on trying Musical Fidelity and Audio Research before I buy. Anyway, I thought you'd want to hear form a died-in-the-wool-who-needs-a-preamp skeptic like me.
hmmm seems like had better try some preamps. I like the idea of the Calyspo having a blend of tubes and solid state. I heard a tube pre-amp one time on my speakers, and it sounded fat, lush and nice. But after a while I felt a little non excited and tubbed out.