I switch between 3 and 4 and run balanced. I don't know about unbalanced since my cables are all XLR. I've tried direct into my ML 335, but prefer it best thru my ML380S. Cabling is Golden Reference.
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I use it generally on filter 1, using Crystal XLR interconnect directly into Halcro MC20. Tried a Nordost Valhalla but was underwhelmed.
I was also using Crystal speaker cables to my ESL 2905's, I have now changed the speaker cables to Anti Cables, the difference is incredible. Now waiting for the arrival of an Anti Cable XLR to test.
My feeling is that a pre-amp is really to control volume (turn it down in this case) so I feel adding a pre amp is unnecessary and would put much circuitry and cabling in your sound path.
What about a Phono line stage amp with passive volume control then direct into your second input.
I've only run mine balanced; my amps are fully differential. Cables are Pure Note Titanium, 3m to each monoblock.
I switch between all the filters and find them quite useful.
I also did a long search for a preamp, but found that the P8i sounded better, in varying degrees, without one. The extremely low output impedance of the P8i means that it can drive any (yes, any) amp that has been even somewhat competently designed. The keys to good performance without a preamp are (1) low Zout source; (2) high Zin amp; (3) low capacitance cabling.
The P8i controls volume by digitally shaving off bits. This is why dCS tells you to keep the volume control above -20 dB. When the winter sets in, I plan to further modify the amps, installing ~6 position volume controls which will allow me to keep the volume setting on the P8i as high as possible.
I've also found that the PS Audio P500 is absolutely critical. This may be because I live in an apartment with noisy AC lines. I tried a few conditioners, but nothing was as good as completely regenerated AC; no real surprise there.
The P8i is finicky about the surface you place it on. They aren't kidding when they say, in the manual, to put it on a firm surface. I tried it on various suspension systems, and it always sounded broken. I'm currently using carbon fiber cones from Composite Products (available at Music Direct).
Admittedly haven't spent much time listening to it with the upsampling turned off. I tried it initially but found that I preferred the sound with the upsampling on. Maybe I'll give it a shot again.
Probably also going to modify the P8i when the warranty period expires. There are simple things to be done in the power supply that may make a nice difference (better filter caps and rectifiers).
Thanks Andy and Cathode.
Things move on and I've returned to balanced and now much prefer that. Possibly this results from the CD player becoming progressively burnt in - before it was just too much direct to my set up, now it's better. Most likely it's just me changing preferences.
May I ask what pres you tried Cathode? Are you aware of anyone who has modified their P8i? I'm quite capable of doing this sort of thing myself but hadn't considered it - guess I thought DCS would have had this sorted already. Guess I'd better try a power conditioner (though the power here is pretty clean).
Andy, I tried some of the mid level Crystal cable but found it didn't have the weight I enjoy in my sound. I tried anti cable too but found it rather mid focused on the speakers. What I have found is that three runs make a good power cord for me though!
If find quite big differences between upsampled and non-up sampling. Upsampled I find great for natural instruments, but non upsampled being more dynamic and exciting for pop/rock/electronica.