The great preamp revival - ARC Ref5 SE
I have been a a long time firm believer in taking out the preamp (in an all digital system), whenever possible, and using the volume control on the DAC (either analog or digital - different thread).
This was based on the idea that a preamp is always "subtractive", i.e. it can only degrade the downstream signal through insertion of circuitry, and anything it adds to the signal is an distorting artefact.
The philosophy was confirmed with a number of very decents preamps (Modwright 36.5 LS/PS, EMM Labs Switchman, Pass Lab xp-10), none of which improved on the (digital) VC in the DAC.
Enter the Audio Research Ref 5SE. This preamp breaths a level of dynamics into the sound of my MSB DAC (relative to using its internal analog volume control), improves soundstage and timbre that must be heard to believe. Artifacts? May be. Pleasant distortion (tubes!)? Possible. Do I care? Not one bit! It sounds just to damn good.
So my filosophy and theory are out the door based on a new empircally based data point. I Still believe you need to get into the preamp stratosphere to get this result, but if you do, the outboard analog volume control still lives.
Conclusion: The preamp is dead, long live the preamp!