In terms of going direct George. I have a Cary CDP 1 CD player that can drive an amp directly. I tried that awhile back and although dynamic, I felt it lost some body. Perhaps it was cables/power cord.
Yes, going direct will be the most dynamic you can get with the Cary having 3.0 V RMS (at 220 output impedance) a perfect match.
It’s possible that your source needed the bit of colouration that a active preamp will give, or you could use warmer sounding cables to do the same, then you’ll also get the better dynamics as well that going direct gives.
As no active preamp can increase dynamics (compared to going direct as you have done), unless the active pre has a DBX dynamic range expander inside it, but they sound rubbish.