Preamps waste of money?

I've been forced to reevaluate the role of preamps. The best sound I have achieved is result of adding a stepped resistor volume control at the input stage inside of my tube amp. All other options I have tried or auditioned including both active and passive volume control(autoformer and LDRs)have "colored" the sound in one way or the other to an unacceptable degree compared the stepped attenuator at the input. Has anyone had similar experience?
Your case is one of a line of particular cases where you have sufficient input sensitivity for the rated output power and sufficient high input impedance.
In many other cases preamp might be a necessary component.
Try out simple active preamp with low gain instead of your resistor such as McCormack or Wyred4Sound and you may realize the improvement since you will regulate output voltage rather than output impedance of your passive component.
I like preamps. I have three in my main system. i am proud i have three expensive preamps in my main system.
Primary: Bryston BP-26 ($5,000)
As glorified tube buffer" VAC Standard($4,000)
And used at times just for phono section: Audio Research Sp-15 ($6,000)
Preamps are great IMO.
It`s rare when a resistor based VC is found to be less colored than LDR or transformer VC.Usually it`s the other way around.Resistors are said to have more of a signature according to many who`ve compared different types.There`ll always be exceptions to any generalization and each system is unique in terms of outcome.
I am now using the Townshend Allagri transformer coupled passive and it is the most uncolored "preamp" I have had. But good transformer coupled ones are not cheap; it is $3000 and the top end over $12,000.
My experience is the polar opposite of yours. I find an active preamp to be the heart of a good system. Any and all attempts to use a passive or volume control on the amp or source have come up way short in my experience.

In my experience to not have a good active preamp is somewhat of a hindrance to great sound and music.

All of this is so subjective and it makes perfect sense you may think the polar opposite of myself.

Enjoy your music as you like!
Depends on the system. Sometimes a passive volume control works and sometimes you need a preamp. I am currently using a placette passive volume control in front of a musical fidelity A3cr amplifier and getting stunning results. However, I have tried the placette with other amps and gotten different results. I will say that when it does work it is the most transparent option. The placette uses stepped vishay resistors.
I too like preamps and find that they can provide an optimal source impedance and gain stage that enhances the sonic performance. Passive is not always "better."
My experience with preamps is that at a certain price point an active preamp can get you the level of detail that a passive provides. In my experience, a passive preamp while giving gobs of details also tends to limit dynamics and drive. The "oomph" as you will. This will be more or less important according to both your music preferences and what matters most to you for musical reproduction. At lower price points this trade-off between detail and drive is a decision that each of us must make for ourselves.

And it must also be noted that passives and attenuators will not work well in a number of situations, particularly when a source has a high output impedance and an amp has a low input impedance.

Others more knowledgeable than myself will likely chime in to add to this.
In my system a good active preamp has made a world of difference. Does the preamp color the sound. Yep. However, the older I get the less I'm concerned about such issues as long as my ears are happy. I've gone the passive route but never found them as beneficial. Whatever works for you.
If your source and amp are a good match, a passive attenuator will work great. If not, a preamp is the correct way to go.
I have a Lightspeed attenuator in my system and love it.
Preamp has many functions other than volume control
- input selector
- balance control (some have tone control)
- impedance matching
- allows use of balanced cables
- breaks ground loops on balanced connections (transformers)
- absolute phase inversion
- some allow to adjust level for each input (Rowland Chorus)
- have unity gain bypass for the theater system
- phono amp for TT
- rumble high pass filter
- remote control

If you don't need any of it then any stand alone volume control will do. I use Benchmark DAC1 as a preamp with volume control for 3 digital sources with balanced cables to power amp.
Thanks for your opinions on this matter. I hear decreased dynamics using a passive preamp no matter how careful you are about impedance matching and interconnect length (loss of oomph as one of you put it). This was until I placed the stepped attenuator in the input stage of the amp. Going direct from my DAC to amp got rid of the extra interconnect between source and preamp (including all the resistors, caps, wires, switcher, etc in an active preamp), and the dynamics appeared in spades. I literally was startled when I first played music. I really thought I had an active preamp in there, but none of the coloration. My tube DAC actually has 8 kOhm output impedance and my tube amp 100 kOhm input impedance. My SS DAC has output impedance of 50 Ohm. Either way, both macro and micro dynamics are startling. I guess I hit proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I can not imagine spending $5k or above for a good active preamp, when I'm getting this kind of result. I've heard a lot of expensive active preamps $15k+, and I don't remember getting this level of transparency, neutrality (more warmth and less thinness, like real life), detailed smoothness, dynamics and soundstaging/imaging. I guess all the stars lined up for me. YMMV.
If the stars lined up for you in this instance then congratulations are in order. I, like many of the respondents on this thread have never heard a good quality active linestage outperformed by a passive or direct source-amp connection configuration.
This set up worked out so I`m happy for you.
To gain absolute purity cred, you need to avoid music recorded by any method other than direct to disc, although ideally music should bypass everything and should only be listened to when performed by naked musicians using acoustic instruments played while they stand on boxes in the open air in a semi circle around your head.
My own experience with this has actually been something along the lines of Dracule1 - except, and I don't want to talk over him on this, that I never really accepted that the Goldpoint SMD (yes, SMD!, and honestly anyone is free to go ahead and laugh if they feel so inclined, but I have rather liked them) series attenuators that I installed inside the rear of a pair of SM-70 Pro balanced monoblocks...that they were somehow actually *Better* than a $3k linestage. Just that they were to me pretty much 'on par' with one, but for a tenth of the price. Would my ears tell me I'd prefer the pre?? Oh, in a sense at least, it's not easy for me to imagine otherwise, but I guess it's just that for me, my pockets usually aren't as deep as most in this hobby, for which I have never, and never will, complain about to anyone - but, 90% of they way there for (in this case) a tenth of the cost was about impossible for me to resist. At least until I finally buy that winning lottery ticket, that is! ;) Cheers.
Your likely just purchasing to cheap of a preamp. Try the Ayre KX-R, it completely removes itself from the signal path and allows the music to flow.
Friends often compare it to moving up many rows at a concert.
Have you tried those expensive pre amps in your system?
If you have and your results are as you are posting then who can argue with success.
Its really nice when all matches are lined up.
If you have the passive control in the amp then you can make it work and it will be difficult to find a preamp that will do better.

However having the volume control in the amplifier can be really inconvenient! This is especially true if you have more than one source.

If the passive control is not inside the amplifier then its the other way 'round- you won't find a passive that can do better (meaning: more transparent, more detailed, more impact, more musical) than a good active preamp.

The caveat is that not all preamps are created equal; IMO/IME a passive can be easily better than a preamp that does not have its ducks in a row. A good preamp however will control and limit the effects of the interconnect cable- IOW if you are hearing big differences between cables then you have a problem.
I have an active system and the other day I removed preamp out from the system. Pass Labs XVR1 electronic crossover has volume controls which are not really passive as they are buffered but newer the less the sound significantly improved. It is always good idea to check the sound of the system without preamp, never know.

Exactly, I have a Goldpoint passive stepped attenuator inside the amp. I haven't come across any preamp outside the amp that is better.
What preamps have you tried?
In my system: Tap X autoformer preamp (own, very pure clean sound with exceptional high freq), LDR preamp (borrowed), Audio Research Ref 5 (borrowed), Gary Dodd battery powered tube buffer preamp (borrowed, very very good sound), Audible Illusions (owned), Threshold FET 9 (owned), and Placette passive (borrowed).

In other systems I am familiar with: Rowland Criterion, VTL TL 7.5, Atmasphere MP1, Bolder 2010, and Music First passive transformer preamp.
I've also tried DACT attenuator in an amp I owned long ago, but I wasn't as successful. For some reason, the Goldpoint works exceptionally well in my current amp.
Oh yea, I also had the Hovland HP-100 in my system.

I also auditioned the Ayre KXR preamp at a dealer. I guess I'm really not into active SS preamps. There always seems to be some residual thinness to the sound from a SS preamp, no matter how expensive, that a good tube preamp avoids. But that's just me. Others might describe the thinness as neutral, but I don't hear that in real life. I haven't heard the dartZeel, which according to some, is the cat's meow.
I agree with you, thin and lean is`nt neutral, just another aberration. Real insruments and voices are full bodied and complete, not washed out and dry.For example a live tenor saxaphone sounds big and is full of tone and color.Some preamps seem to strip away the fullness and sound perhaps only 70-80% complete with less weight and presence.This is`nt a natural sound IMO.The really good tube preamps just seem to get it closer to the truth.
Precisely charlsdad. I used to own a modded Threshold SA-30 class A amp. It did not have the thinness (still miss it), but it didnt have the harmonic richness of a good tube amp. I always feel I'm missing something with SS. Of course tube amplification has its problems too, but I rarely feel like I'm missing out on musical aspects that are important to me.
Not really a preamp is much better a very good tube unit.
going back to the original have to buy very good preamplifier (usually for $$$) to not to waste the money on it.....means really good preamplifiers are expensive but true....
I like my Halo P3. I tried eliminating it, using Jplay's bitperfect volume control into a DL III, then into my amp. The sound became uber-detailed, but too bright for me. I have yet to try a Wyred For Sound DAC2, which would be my next move, so for now, the Halo stays. I think you can eliminate the pre with the right gear, but this is very system-dependent.

"you have to buy very good preamplifier (usually for $$$) to not to waste the money on it....."

If I can get this level of performance using $160 stepped volume control, a preamp is a waste of money no matter what the cost. Granted I have no need for switching or phono. I don't agree a really good preamplifier have to be expensive. Take for example, the Dodd battery powered buffer and preamplifier which can be had for under $2k. It can put some "$$$" preamps to shame.
It is a waste of money for you and some with sound preferences like you. That simple really. I must have my great active tube preamp to make music my ears and mind enjoy fully. I would be wasting my money on the rest of my stereo system without the preamp involved.

Yes, I have had all the stars aligned perfectly to hear what a passive is capable of as well as a well executed volume pot in the amp and source.
Just does not do it for me and others. No waste of money for us, but certainly for you it is.
No need to get defensive Grannyring. I didn't say it was a waste of money for your system. I've read your thread on the Dude preamp and almost bought one. BTW, I have a stepped resistor attenuator in my amp, not a volume pot...a big difference in sound quality, IME.
I would have to agree with Ralph of Atma-Sphere..."If you have the passive control in the amp then you can make it work and it will be difficult to find a preamp that will do better." This coming from a guy who designed the MP-1, one of the best tube preamps I've heard.
Dracule1 isn't that kind of like a good integrated?
I could be wrong, but most integrated have active preamp built into it, and they usually use cheap pots, not stepped attenuators. And integrated usually have switching capability for multiple inputs and even balance control...all of these degrades the signal. However, I've seen some tube integrated with a rudimentary pot at the input stage. My tube amps are mono blocks so I have stepped attenuator for each amp which can also serve as balance...probably the best way to set up balance control.
It did`nt seem(to me) as though Grannyring was defensive.Just pointing out this topic has many previous threads with the same results. There`ll always be two camps and I don`t believe that will ever change.As he says what ever works out best case by case.

Not defensive at all. Just responding to your post. I am just saying for some it is a waste of money and for some not. I acknowledge we all have different wants and needs in the sound and presentation of our music. I am sure some would prefer their systems even without the Dude! No surprise to me and no defense.

Enjoy your newfound synergy!
The residual thinness you think you hear from S.S. preamps is the lack of coloration you get with all tube components. The thinnest, most sterile systems I've heard had no preamp.
The thinness of some SS preamps is what it sounds like,thin.Good tube preamps come much closer to what I consistently hear live without question(there is color ,tone and developed fullness that`s unmistakable). But I certainly accept people will always hear differently and have other opinions,SS pre/amplifier for you,tubes for me.

No live instrument or voice I`ve ever heard sounds thin ,lean,dry and sterile(incomplete signal reproduction? who knows).If the fuller tonality and realistic body is a tube coloration I `ll take it as it`s more authentic natural and more convincing.Thin and sterile is`nt(sounds hifi and canned to me).That`s why there`re ample choices available to please very different ears.When someone hears a live instrument that sounds "thin" let me know.
I have an Autoformer Tap X and an Lightspeed Attenuator. I would consider both the antithesis of "colored".
I've been curious about many aspects of this thread for some time. I use a NAD M51 DAC as a source and preamp straight to my SS amp through balanced interconnects. I've tried using an active SS preamp before but I always loose something in the process and i end up removing the active preamp. I'm intrigued what a tubed preamp such as something from Balanced could contribute to the system since it accepts XLR inputs and outputs. The mix of SS and Tube gear is said to work well with my Thiels. However I can't get over the thought that when it comes to gear less is more and why would adding something else in the chain of information make it better and not worse. It would seem the more components added In the signals line the more the original signal is changed. For this reason passive preamps intrigue me too since it would seem they would render less change to the signal than an active preamps. But I'm not an electrical engineer, so take my ramblings as such.
Tmsorosk, I would gave to disagree. When I installed the goldpoint attenuators, the sound became more full with increased harmonic detail and dynamics. It wasn't warm in the classical tube sense, but there was less tilting of the sound toward brightness. This is antithesis of what I hear with SS. I play classical guitar, and some of my classical guitar recordings tend to bright and hard, closer to steel string guitar rather than the creamy full sound of nylon strings. Most probably wouldn't notice this coloration unless you play acoustic guitar. Now these recordings actually sound like the real thing, the most neutral sound I've gotten from my system.
Grannyring, my bad. It's hard to interpret the intent of some posts. I enjoyed reading your Dude thread.
Devilboy, we have similar experience with these passives. I have to admit though in my system the stepped attenuator in the input of the amp was hands down better than the external passives.
I've just been through this process myself. I'm a great fan of TVC passives as they really provide a detailed uncoloured sound for a relatively small amount of money. I've used a SAC TVC, briefly used a Music First Mk II and recently a StereoKnight Silverstone B&R. The choice seems to be between detail or energy until you reach a particular quality point. Unfortunately my experience is that this is quite expensive. I finally have found the detail that I have had from the StereoKnight or Music First but with the power and control of an active. It has cost me though.
Last lemming,
I share the same philosophy and mind set for simplicity. But only to the point where this route does`nt begin to compromise or subtract from the music.

Not every active preamp is good and some of the better passives I`d prefer.However once you find a'very good' active preamp it delivers more of the complete music signal(dynamics,weight,nuance,scale etc.)The overall effect is more emotion, soul and involvement(visceral) just my own experience.

It`d be good if you could compare these different appraoches and hear for youself(I know, easier said than done).For me music is about connecting emotionally rather the than cool detachment and observation aspect.I enjoy my current system`s music reproduction so much that I seldom watch the TV any more.I just love the beauty of music.
The residual thinness you think you hear from S.S. preamps is the lack of coloration you get with all tube components. The thinnest, most sterile systems I've heard had no preamp.

Tmsorosk, this statement is incorrect. Tube preamps can be quite uncolored- for example our own preamps are fully differential, and that topology means that it does not generate any 2nd ordered harmonic distortion (coloration) that tubes are often accused of. OTOH, much of the thinness I hear in transistors has to do not so much with their bass response, but the fact that they make odd ordered harmonic distortion (in trace amounts), which is the thing to which the human ear is the most sensitive. Tube preamps generally lack this type of coloration.

With regards to the topic of this thread, although an inboard attenuator works quite well in a power amp, for the most part its impractical unless you have a very austere setup. Changing volume for example means getting up and doing two controls, if you have to mess with channel balance its a further pain, let alone what you do if you have more than one source. Of course, the exercise is likely good for you...

I keep the sources for my system in a place in the room where there is the least vibration (which happens to be about 5 feet from the listening chair). Its not between the speakers. So the interconnects to do the job are 30 feet long. This allows the source components to be in the best location in the room to minimize microphonics (especially noticeable at higher volume levels on most systems, with my setup, the system is impervious, unperturbed and relaxed at any volume). In addition I use custom stands and platforms to assist with that.

None of my sources can drive 30 feet of cable, but the preamp does that with ease and without coloration. I concede that Dracule1 has probably got his setup to work great with only one input, but its not something I would want in my setup at all- in my case the preamp is worth every penny and is indispensable!
Ralph, I have two digital sources and don't mind switching interconnects between the two, which I only do once in couple of months. Getting up from the chair to change volume and balance can be PITA, but I've gotten use to it. However, I have a solution...I'm getting remote controlled stepper motor for my Goldpoint attenuator that can adjust volume and balance. Two stepper motors, two Goldpoint mono attenuators, and control logic board including the hand held remote cost me about $500. Obviously you have install them yourself or pay someone to do it for you. I can't conceive of getting equal performance, unless I'm prepared to dish out serious money for a remote controlled preamp (ie, $15k+). It's mind boggling to me when I consider the amount of money I would have to spend on an external preamp to equal this simple setup in my system.
Last_lemming, I think your assumption less is more going the passive route is essentially correct, as long as you have equipment that are compatible and willing to make some sacrifices. I think I got lucky going this route.
The lack of odd order distortion is probably why many listeners find tube preamps more natural and realistic without likely knowing exactly why.Even order harmonics are consonant with music(overtones and funtamental) and nature.The thin and dry sound of 'some' SS components could just be the product of odd order disortion(no matter how small its presence?).