Preamp suggestions


Just purchased a Nakamichi PA-5 amp in excellent shape. The previous owner was using an Acurus preamp and driving Klipsch Cornwalls.  In my set up I will be driving Snell E IIs. I'm looking for preamp advice to pair with the Naka and the Snell's.  Much obliged in advance 

icarus12
Budget? Any idea tubes or solid state? Remote control?

A closeout Schiit Saga at $299 would work great and leave money for cables and room treatment.  
 If you need a built-in phono stage, look for a Nakamichi Ca-5 Preamplifer
Older preamps can be difficult as even the best switches and pots wear out, sooner or later depending on the environment they were in. Parasound makes great preamps in several different price categories and it is a large stable company likely to be around for a while. Their equipment is generally very high value punching in much higher price ranges.
icarus12


You definitely don’t need any more preamp gain with your amp an speakers.
Your Naka PA-5 needs only 1.4v in for full 100w output and it’s 75kohm input impedance. With today’s sources all you’ll need is a passive preamp, especially with your 98db efficient Klipsch Cornwalls.

You’ll really only need the $49 Schiit Sys passive preamp a great match for your PA-5, it’ll work great with what you have. https://www.schiit.com/products/sys


Nelson Pass,

We’ve got lots of gain in our electronics. More gain than some of us need or want. At least 10 db more.

Think of it this way: If you are running your volume control down around 9 o’clock, you are actually throwing away signal level so that a subsequent gain stage can make it back up.

Routinely DIYers opt to make themselves a “passive preamp” - just an input selector and a volume control.

What could be better? Hardly any noise or distortion added by these simple passive parts. No feedback, no worrying about what type of capacitors – just musical perfection.

And yet there are guys out there who don’t care for the result. “It sucks the life out of the music”, is a commonly heard refrain (really - I’m being serious here!). Maybe they are reacting psychologically to the need to turn the volume control up compared to an active preamp.


Or if you want to add some tube warmth "colouration", the Schiit Saga+ at $399 has a tube running at unity gain which is also an option. And has remote control. https://www.schiit.com/products/saga-2

Cheers George
Thank you all for your suggestions and ideas. It makes sense to go with a passive preamp and I do like the concept of the Schiit with a tube to add a bit of "Colour".  I would however like to have a built-in phono section and the ability to manually adjust with tone controls.  I would prefer to buy an American or Canadian product and would pay up to $500.  Im not opposed to a lightly used unit either.  Thank you again!  
You can get all that you want, but it is going to push your budget a bit:

1)  Schiit Saga (original on closeout) $299 (you get the option of passive or tubed with the Saga).
2)  Schiit Mani Phono Preamp- $129
3)  Schiit Loki EQ/Tone Control-$149

This gets you all American designed and manufactured products with a warranty.  You can also go in steps as your budget allows and/or wait for the Mani/Loki to come up on B stock for slightly cheaper.  The downside is that the Loki will have to go in between the preamp and amp to work with all sources (which theoretically can degrade sound quality), but it has a full bypass switch so can be switched out of the circuit. 

The alternative is going to be to start searching on the used market for something that has all of the foregoing in a single box, but it is going to be very hard to find.  Perhaps an older Parasound.  An older McIntosh preamp would tick all of your boxes, except the budget, and I expect it would significantly exceed it.  

Do leave some money for decent interconnects and speaker cables.  By that, I don't mean $500 cables, but something like Blue Jeans, which are made in the US, good quality, and will hold up over time.  (Worlds Best Cables on Amazon sells RCA cables made with Canare L-4E6S wire for $21.95 a pair and you could purchase raw Belden or Canare speaker cable from Blue Jeans for 70 cents to $1.50 per foot (I believe all Carnare and Belden cable is US made).  I only harp on this, as I had a speaker I thought was failing that I traced down to a bad solder connection in a speaker cable that degraded over time.  
Yes mcreyn got the money shot icarus12 , didn't see that closeout sale on the original Saga which is tube /or passive and remote for $100 less.  https://www.schiit.com/products/saga

Cheers George
Schiit also sells short interconnects for their products, $20/pair. I have used Blue Jean LC-1, with my passive SYS which are very low capacitance cable than can be made to any length. 
mecryn, Canare is Japanese. They make great commercial cable. I use DA 206 for all my AES/EBU cables and for all my long low level signal cable. They also make the best RCAs you can buy. Indestructible!
I really appreciate your guidance and the time you took to make these suggestions. I believe I will go with the Schiit which I just looked up thanks to your link.  Is there a preference on tubes? They offer a Russian or Tung Sol.  I was also looking at a Parasound P/FET- 900 II that is for sale on eBay for $170.  Phono section and tone controls. Any thoughts??
Just a clear up here. Your speakers are the Snell E series 2, not Klipsch Cornwalls, as mistaken by George ( which is surprising, as George is rarely wrong on these pages ). Easily, a 9 db difference in efficiency, so passive is a bit more questionable, depending on the voltage output of the source ( s ).
Why is the Schiit Freya + being left off the list?
That is correct mrdecibel, I am running the Snell E series 2 speakers. 
Mrdon- Freya is above his pricepoint.  

Re the Parasound-  Decent unit, but no remote and the volume steps are as large as 6db at the low end.  For $170 it is hard to go wrong with it.  Here is a review of it from new.   https://www.stereophile.com/content/parasound-pfet-900-preamplifier

Personally, I would get the Saga combo.  Warranty, US made, more flexibility in the phono setup and a better phono preamp with the Mani, and a Remote is nice to have.   The Tung Sol tube is supposed to be a bit better than the Russian.  If your budget is holding you back, I can give you an inexpensive Audio Technic phono stage to use until you can purchase a better one.  


Why is the Schiit Freya + being left off the list?
Cost and the tube gain stage is 4 x on the Freya, and unity on the Saga, and if he did have the Klipsch the unity would be better, but now with the Snell's the Freya would be better.

Cheers George 
Just making sure that I am following all of you correctly. With the Snell's in the mix a preamp with some at least minimal amount of gain is now the suggestion. The Schiit Freya is a good suggestion. Also found a Classe Audio DR-4 for about the same price as the Freya.  Still no phono section however. Mcreyn thank you very much for your offer on the phono stage.  That's very generous of you.  Depending on what I wind up with that would be terrific. Also, I hadn't mentioned this before but I do have a McIntosh MA6100 which I have used in the past as a preamp only.  Sadly my home was hit by lightning two weeks ago when my Mac was playing. I am trying to get repaired if possible 😦. It will power on but when I switch to select a source it trips and dies out.  Should I assume that if it can be repaired you would recommend using that as my preamp? Thank you again.  You've been incredibly helpful 
Just making sure that I am following all of you correctly.
The Saga with unity gain could be fine with your Snell's also, it just comes down to how much your source is giving, most do 2v and some I've seen can do 6v.
Give the Saga a go you may fine it fine. If you can't get the volume you know you can send it back for the higher gain Freya.

Cheers George 
One could try out the passive SYS for $50. Would serve as a great indicator of how much power is needed from a phonostage into the PA-5 amp. Buying and selling one would result in little loss.
George’s concerns are real.  A CD output should be 2v which is enough, but often phono preamps run with less output.  Combine that with a CD that is recorded at a low level or album at a low level and you could run out of volume.  The Freya addresses this with its 12 db of gain in high output (you need 1.4v to get full output from your amp, the Freya can take a source with as little as .35v and  get you full output).  

The problem is the Freya busts your budget and I am one that tries to respect peoples stated budget.  A potential alternative is an Emotiva PT-100 for $299.  Preamp tuner with a built in phono stage and bass and treble controls and a remote from a reputable company.  It is made in China, so doesn’t meet your request of US or Canada made.  While I can’t find a max gain spec for it, it is surely at least 10db.  

As far as your Mac, I believe you will be better off with the above choices.  I think it will cost you more to fix the Mac than replacing it, and while a decent unit in the 70s, is not considered one of their great units.  

I have mentioned this before and I will say it again, buy a Counterpoint SA-3000 preamp and send it to me for an upgrade.  The phono is pretty good for an average preamp and the upgrades will take it to another level for cheap.


Happy Listening.

Bigkidz1- The Counterpoint SA-3000 is an incredible recommendation. Lets look at what original poster said he wanted:

"I would however like to have a built-in phono section and the ability to manually adjust with tone controls. I would prefer to buy an American or Canadian product and would pay up to $500. Im not opposed to a lightly used unit either."

So, breaking it down:

Phono Section- Yep, the SA-3000 has one. So far, so good.

Tone Controls- Oops, nope, the SA-3000 doesn’t haven’t them, but not big deal. I know the OP asked about them, but what does he know?

American or Canadian- Why yes they were, before they filed for bankruptcy in 1996 and went out business.

Less than $500- Well there is one for sale on US Audiomart for $1000 right now. You don’t mention how much you will charge for your upgrade, but I am guessing it is not free, nor the shipping to and from you. Lets say you are the cheapest upgrader in the world and only charge $250 and he can get shipping for both ways for $50. We are now at $1,300. $1,300 is sort of like $500, but hey again, the OP doesn’t know what he wants or needs and its not your budget, so who cares if what you like and suggest costs 2.5x the OPs budget.

Lightly Used- The 3000’s were made in the 80s, so the newest ones are 30 years old. Capacitors and other devices are old, parts may be limited or NLA. I’m not sure that qualifies as lightly used.

On second thought, why, except the fact that you happen to like and modify SA-3000s, would it be an appropriate recommendation for the OP?  I still think it is an incredible recommendation, incredibly bad, the same as someone walking into a Ford dealership saying they have the budget and need for a Taurus and being told by the salesperson they should by a Raptor.  

@mcreyn 

You are correct.  My bad.  I read the original post and did not look further to see the budget requirement.  The $1000 asking price for a SA-3000 is reasonable but they can be purchased for a lot less depending on seller motivation.  I would not recommend buying one at the $1000 price unless it is all original, mint condition, original box and manual, etc.  So if he could get one for $500 that would be what I would recommend.  The stock unit sounds pretty good as is.  My upgrades can run $200 to $1000 depending on what level of performance a person would want and the parts selection.  V-Caps are not that cheap so that can raise up the price.  I also do not see many preamps with tone controls any more (if any) and with the Counterpoint the sound is so beautiful without that.  Plus sometimes those get in the way of the sound.

So, in summary, if the OP wants the best sound and can up their budget, then by all means, look into my Counterpoint suggestion.  If they only want something that plays music, then get one of the other suggestions.

Happy Listening.

Thank you mcreyn for fielding the suggestion from bigkidz that intuitiveky and pragmatically made absolutely zero sense.  I like idea of the Schiit Freya but I really would like a built in phono and I do need a front facing power switch due to the demands of my physical component setup.  If I took the American and Canadian factors out of the equation and bumped up my budget by $200 what other thoughts do you have?  Thank you to George as well.. 😁
Bigkidz -  Thanks for the response.  Looking at it, I need to apologize for the snide way I presented my comments.   It is clear you were trying to help and just missed some of the information in the thread.  

Icarus12-

To help everyone hone in on suggestions, a few additional questions:

1)  What are your other sources (cd, tape, streaming, home theater)?
2)  Do you use an outboard dac?
3)  What sources do you primarily listen to?
4)  When you had your Mac with the Snells, what if anything did you like or not like about the sound?
5)  How important is a remote control?  (I can’t live without one, others could care less).

Cary 


Hello again. Thank you bigkidz for clarifying your previous suggestion.  In terms of source inputs, I primarily use an iPod directly plugged in with RCA to an an available AUX port.  I will sometimes stream music via a WiFi connection. I will also occasionally use a conventional CD player and of course I will use the turntable.  So.... Basically everything except DAC and tape.  I had no real complaints about the use of my Mac other than the lack of power and I felt I was lacking sine midrange.  I have the biwire connections on my speakers jumped.  I do not have a preference with the remote as I have never felt the need to have one. I'm quite grateful for your feedback.  
Icarus12-

I think for your use, the Emotiva PT-100 is a perfect choice, and at $329, leaves money in your pocket. It checks all of your boxes (phono stage, tone controls, price) plus a few others that I think will benefit you down the road (tuner, onboard dac, remote). I don’t think you are going to hear any worthwhile sound quality increases by spending more on a pre-amp.

My thinking follows from the fact that your Snell’s are a very musical and bit warm speakers that are not as sensitive to the front end as other speakers may be. This is not a bad thing and I tend to lean towards speakers that have that voicing (and have a soft spot for older Snells). They make most music sound great, including less than optimal recordings, which frankly is most.

Instead of spending more on a pre-amp that won’t give you any real benefit, I suggest you consider the following, both short term and long term:

1) A surge suppressor and power conditioner- It sounds like you live in an area where lightning or other power surges can damage your equipment. For less than $100 you can get a high quality surge protector with some power conditioning from Furman.

2) The Nakamichi you purchased is a really great amp. That said, it will at some point need to the power supply caps. I will quote Nelson Pass (the designer/engineer of your amplifier) directly here as he responded in a thread about PA-5 upgrades on DIY Audio:

"If it’s older than 15 years replace the power supply caps with ones
comparable to the originals. Panasonic or Nichicon is plenty good enough.

Arrange to get the amplifier some serious ventilation and then raise the
bias until the heat sinks run at 50 deg C after an hour of operation.

Serious ventilation is what you think it is - a fan is not out of the question."

I would expect it would cost from $150 up to have a qualified technician do just the power supply caps. There are also people who do entire upgrades.

https://www.diyaudio.com/forums/pass-labs/218270-nakamichi-pa-5-upgrades.html

3) Please spend $10 or so and get a toslink or digital RCA cable to hook up your CD to the Emotiva, which undoubtedly has a nicer DAC (assuming your CD player has a digital out).

4) Consider getting a music streamer and streaming service with the money you saved. Never in a million years would I have thought I would recommend something from this company, but the Bose Soundtouch Wireless Link Adaptor a great entry point at $150. It has a digital out, is fully controllable from a smart phone, easy to configure and use, and compatible with spotify, deezer, amazon music, and itunes among others. I would suggest the Yamaha MusicCast WXAD-10 for $160, but it seems impossible to get. Others may be able to suggest alternative streamers.

I delayed using streaming services for a long time, until I finally dove in last year with Deezer. I have to tell you, it has been the best audio decision I have made. I have found more new music I like in the past year than the prior 20. For $20 a month (Deezer is CD quality at that price, Amazon has a good amount of music in its free service for prime members, abet at a slightly lower quality, and slightly lower quality 256-320kbps mp3 streams, are $10 a month from most services) you get access to over 45 million different tracks.

So in sum, here is how I would spend your budget:

$329- Emotiva PT-100
$91- Furman M-8x2
$150 Bose Soundtouch Streamer
$10 Toslink of coax digital cable for CD to preamp (amazon or monoprice).  

$580 and you get not only a great preamp, but an entirely new world of music, which is why are here in the first place. I hope this helps.


Thank you mcreyn.  Your feedback has been incredibly useful in my decision making process.  I am ready to pull the trigger on the Emotiva unit you suggested.  Just before I do I got contacted by a friend yesterday who is selling his Parasound 2100 preamp. It looks interesting. It has a front facing MP3 jack with gain and also a frequency adjustable out for a sub in the back. I have the option of using a powered Pinnacle sub in my system at home.  Also has a remote, phono section and meets the rest of my needs. Not sure of your thoughts on that... I would have mentioned it prior but I didn't hear this until last night.  He's asking $450 and it has had minimal use.  Also, does Furman make an equivalent power strip to the one you recommend?  I don't have my setup in a rack. Any ideas about a specific fan to cool the Naka?  Gratefully - Greg 
Also, your advice on bringing the Naka in for tech service is a great thought.  Just before I purchased it the seller had brought it in to a tech in Watertown MA who has 40+ years of experience at Audio Proz.  He went through it thoroughly and bench tested it and said it is very close to new in condition and functioning like a new amp.  
The Parasound 2100 is a great unit and will work well for your application. Here are my reservations:

1) I think the asking price is a bit high. A quick search of Ebay shows the last two units sold for $329 and $400. The $329 one was missing the remote, the $400 one was listed as one week old, used once. I would say a fair price would be $350-375.

2) The Parasound doesn’t have a DAC built in. I suspect the DAC in the Emotiva is better than the one in your CD Player, as well as any entry level streamer you may buy in the future. That said, you could easily add an outboard DAC in the future, a Schiit Modi 3 is $100 and an upgrade from most entry level CD and streamer DACs.

I do like the Parasound has the built in crossover, so you can high pass your Snell’s if you run a subwoofer.

At the end of the day, I think you will be happy with either the Emotiva or the Parasound. Buy the one that speaks to you and makes you warm and fuzzy.

In regard to the Furman power conditioner, you could use the SS-6B for $40, or SS-6B Pro for $60. You give up the power conditioning, but keep the good surge protection, which is what I am mostly concerned with. I would hope using one would avoid any future potential equipment damage.

For cooling the Nakamichi, the biggest thing is make sure it has plenty of room around it.  Elevating it an inch or two can help considerably with passive cooling.  A fan is probably not necessary if the bias has not been increased from factory (which it appears Nelson Pass was discussing).  But for a fan, any little fan you can find, preferably plugged into a different circuit to help eliminate a potential source of electrical noise.  Something like this would work well:

https://www.newegg.com/p/13K-0092-00064?Description=120vac%20fan&cm_re=120vac_fan-_-9SIAG799H31410-_-Product
I prefer not having a built in dac in a preamp / integrated amp, as dacs are ever so changing, and as much of an excellent design it could be, digital circuits, ime, can effect, badly, analog circuits. Down to the shared power supplies and power cords, keep them separate.
Mrdecibel makes an excellent point, especially for someone that owens equipment long term, rather than trading around every few years.  
Stumbled across a component fan. I never knew such a thing existed.

https://www.audioadvisor.com/prodinfo.asp?number=AYAC
Wow!  I didn't know such a thing existed either.  I just ordered the Parasound 2100 off of eBay last night.  Debating about new speaker cable and doing some research. The audiophile community is quite divided about whether high priced cable is legit. Strong arguments for each side. Seems to come down mostly to resistance more than anything else (i.e. materials, connectors etc).   Trying to decide about purchasing an external DAC but some folks are saying it's not necessary... Also debating about throwing my powered sub into the mix and pairing them with my Magnapan SMGa speakers or just sticking with my Snell's.  mcreyn you've been abundantly helpful with all of this.  
Congrats on the 2100, I think you will be happy.  

Cables-  You are correct, it is a big debate.  I believe that even among strong cable believers, it is agreed, that the difference between cables is minor in comparison to things like speakers, amps, dacs.  I have heard minor differences between cables, but never anything significant (unless you count a connection so corroded it barely worked).  At where you are, I would keep your cable budget low an focused on quality.  

Blue Jeans cable makes excellent cables for reasonable prices.  I also recently became aware that Zu audio sells overstock and NOS cables on ebay and you can often get a nice pair of speaker cables for less than $100.

External DAC-  It depends.  If you want to try, order a Schiit Modi for $100 (or Modi Multibit for $250), and see what you think  If you don't like it, return it within 15 days and pay the $15 restocking fee. 

Subwoofer-  It can be a mixed bag, mostly as I recall the Pinnicle subs not being the cleanest.  Worst case, try and take it out of the system.  Consider a good, inexpensive newer sub like the RSL Speedwoofer $400, or Rythmik L12 for $540.  Use the crossover in the Parasound, starting at a high pass of 80hz for your mains and low pass of 80hz for the subs. 

SMGa-  Owned a set for years powered by a Hafler DH-220 before moving on to larger Maggies.  A bit closed in the treble, but an amazing midrange, perhaps better than even current Maggies in that regard.  I think you will find they sound far better powered by the Nakamichi than the McIntosh, as the Maggies do like a good amount of power. 

Finally, setup, setup, setup.  Time spend dialing in the placement of the speakers and subwoofer, is the biggest difference in sound quality.   A $200,000 system with speakers just thrown in the corners will sound worse than a $1000 system with placements dialed in.  Read about the sub crawl for placing your subwoofer. 

ENJOY.