To Preamp or not to Preamp, that is my q

To Preamp or not to Preamp, that is my question. I have a Denon DCD-1650AR which is connected directly to a Parasound HCA-2200II via Maple Audio Ambiance interconnects. Yeah, I know, low-end gear compared to most of you guys, but it sounds pretty good to me...

My intent was (and is) to keep it as simple as possible and assumed that the more direct the path and the fewer components, the more "honest" the sound reproduction would be. As I say, it does sound very good to me. But could it sound better with the addition of a quality preamp? One other related question: Adding a Preamp obviously require another set of interconnects. Do the ones between the preamp and amp need to be of the same quality as used between the player and the preamp?

In your responses, keep in mind my minimalist philosophy. I would consider adding a decent quality preamp, but I am not interested in upgrading the player, separating it to transport/DAC etc. Simple is better for me. I have no other sources, so do not need any switching capability.

Kind regards...
Preamp! It acts like a buffer stage to drive your cables. The output impedence on a preamp is far lower than a CD player. That's why you need one.
I certainly wouldn't buy an active preamp before I'd tried one and compared. Your CD player may/may not be up to going it alone, you may/may not value transparency more than what you get (maybe euphonic) with an active preamp. I sold a CAT SL-1 III and went passive because of what I valued more, but don't assume that my preferences will be shared. See if some friendly dealer will let you give an active preamp a try. And on the cables, many if not most would say that the most important IC is the one joining preamp to power amp.
Hello There!
Thought I'd give you my thoughts since I am i n a similar situation. I have a Levinson 39 going directly in to my Conrad Johnson Premier 11A. Simple, Elegant, sounds great.
The real issue lies in where the volume attenuation occurs in your CD player. In the 39 it takes place in the analogue
domain , not in the digital domain. Based on my limited research, this was critical to not losing resolution/quality
etc etc and I believe the product literature on the 39 did a good job of explaining how and why. I think its available on levinsons' web site.

By adding a preamp with no other swithching needs all you are accomplishing is another means of adjusting the volume while adding two more links to the playback chain, preamp and interconnects.Though I am not a big believer in all the babble surrounding interconnects which seems completely unverifiable, unless YOU can actually hear the difference, I do believe a system is only as goood as the weakest link in the chain, which follows the same reasoning that simpler is better. With this in mind I would think that ifyou are planning on remaining a one source input kind of guy, your preamp dollars would be better spent on improving either your amplifier or speakers or both. This assumes your unit's volume control works within the analog domain and is not compromising quality with a digital volume control.

I've got almost 18 grand in my system and I auditioned a Linn Classic all in one cd amp with a pair of small revel monitors at 2000 a pair and I'd swear it got 95%
of the performance of my system for 20% of the price. Bottom Line is, if you like what you have who cares what the people with more money than brains have? I wanted a Premier 14 preamp because of all the great reviews etc etc but anytime I asked myself what I was getting for 3-4000$ the only answer I came up with was another box. What would improve my system would be more power for the signature 30's. Good Luck and Good Listening!

Thanks for your input guys. I now have a few more questions...

Why is it preferable to have a lower output impedence interfacing the amp?

Tom Nice:
I'm a little unclear on what it is you are saying - partly, no doubt, because I don't know what you mean by passive/active preamps...

How do I tell if my volume control is digital or analog? I assume it's analog since it's an actual knob on the front of the player which controls both headphone jack and the variable output jacks on the back. Also, it's not controlable via the remote.

Hin Levinson 39 has a preamp section built in it. That's OK to connect to a power amp. 99% of other CD players like the Denon used here does not have one built in.

To use a regular CDP as a drive for power amps are not appropriate. Sometimes getting a passive will do a great job but not always as some interconnects have higher capacitance values therefore cable matching is sometimes a problem without a preamp or with a passive.

Lower output impedence a preamp produces makes driving a cable easier therefore you will not suffer uneven frequency response. Sometimes w/ a passive, you will get rolled off highs and low frequency if the interconnect mismatch.

Well, as others have said, there is no right or wrong. If you think your system sounds great, then that be it. Save the money and buy yourself more music to enjoy.

i have to agree with everyones statements. i tried a cal 15 direct to several amps (ss and tube). it sounded better with a pre. cal has a digital gain. i have also tried direct with my birdland dac that is analog gain and the pre sounds better to me. robieck is correct....if you like the sound. that is all that counts. i personally like the quality that an active pre provides to the music. it works for me. have a dealer lend you a pre or by a used one from audiogon at your price point. lots of old great units for any budget.
One other consideration beside output Z (impedance) of the Dennon CDP is the drive level capability. If it's capable of driving the PA to full output power then I probably wouldn't use a preamp in your situation. Compare the Dennon's max. output voltage spec. to the Parasound's input sensitivity spec. to determine compatibility. Impedance-wise the Dennon's output Z should be <1/10th the Parasound's input Z to avoid possible interconnect frequency response abberations (this expanding upon Gen's post). Likewise if you do use a preamp then its' output Z should be <1/10th the Parasound's input Z, and the Dennon's output Z should also be <1/10th the preamp's input Z.
Cable-wise the philosophy of many 'philes is to maintain equal or better interconnect quality from CD to pre, & pre to P.A. I follow that approach myself, so I use the same type interconnects for both paths.
Also, regarding use of a preamp, some users have experienced better dynamic drive from an active pre than from a passive, but at the expense of some transparency. Bear that fact in mind if/when you decide to experiment with an additional stage, because an active pre may or may not enhance dynamics over your present direct-drive approach. An active pre with a detachable AC cord also permits the flexibility of experimenting with different upgrade AC cords, if you desire to try that approach regarding tonality issues. Of course if the CDP has a detachable cord, that's yet another option in that regard.
There's no no preamp.
A preamp can filter out alot of RF garbage that many lower mass market cd players produce (if I said that wrong go to Van Alstine's sight and they say it right) so a good preamp can make a system sound better. "Passive preamps" are technically passive control units. You probably would gain nothing with a passive control unit since your cd player would then have to drive two lengths of interconnect.
Ezmerelda is right; go passive and avoid "lower mass market CD players" like the plague. Better to have all of you moles changing color all at once!
Ezmeralda: "You probably would gain nothing with a passive preamp...."--thanks for the chucke! Yogi Berra.
In all instances where I have run a CD player directly into the power amp, the sound is NOT RIGHT. Imaging is screwed up, i.e., voice images were tall & unfocused, spread out over a diffuse area. Balance of instruments wrong--some instruments were more distant & smaller in image size & in volume than through a preamp. I wouldn't go without a preamp. Perhaps the preamps' volume controls create this, I don't know, but I do believe not all of these problems are due to the attentuator alone; I think passive creates its own impedance problems.
NO preamp is the best preamp in my opinion (deoendsing on how you like your source of course). I run the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player (it has volume control) direct to amps- by far the best. I even preferred the transparency over using it with my favorite preamp- the Hovland HP-100 (which is no slouch, and would gladly put it in the system if I needed a preamp). Good luck on the decision.
I used to run a Linn Genki straight to a Bel Canto EVo which has an instrumentation amplifier (OP-Anp) at the input. It sounded good but could be bright and irritating. I just added a Source Components Harmonic Recover System between the two and the sound took on added details and dynamics. The brightness went away. My next step is to try the "Fixed outputs" of the Genki to the HRS to a Placette Passive to the EVo. Some of the things about passives I have read on this thread may not be true with the Placette because it has a ladder pot which has a fixed input "Resistance" at all volumes. Also, the ladder has Vishay resisors on both legs providing minimal distorion and a very easy load to drive. I'll report back on the sound.

My speakers are modified Newform Research R645
and cables are HT Magic Link One ICs and Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables.
I don't think there is a yes/no answer until you a/b stuff in your own system. I have gone back and fourth with my Sony XA7ES's variable output. Currently I favor the use of a vk-5i tube preamp with my vt100m2 tube amplifier. I lose a little resolution, but there is just a smoothness/soundstage to the presentation that I prefer. That is using all balanced quattro-fil i/c's which are much higher resolution than other i/c's I have used.

Sometimes a system will increase in resolution when using a preamp. When I went from cd->pass labs amps to cd->pass labs pre->pass labs amps, I heard an obvious increase in resolution and quietness. With my older, entry level hi-end stuff, I preferred direct output. Once I started buying $4000+ preamps (for MUCH less on audiogon of course), I found I preferred using a preamp.
I agree with John_1. I prefer to run the signal from a CD source through a good TUBE pre-amp-- music becomes well, more musical, less harsh, less electronic, richer, more holographic etc, etc, etc. Cheers. Craig
Whoops, I didn't notice the way I worded it. I didn't mean for it to come out like that, but now I see what I said. I was careless with "gain." I just meant he probably wouldn't gain any improvements in sound, going with a passive unit since it does nothing more than provide another volume knob (he already has one) and double the run of cable.
In your situation, a pssive would only make the sound worse as there is a volume control there already on the CDP.

If you're into ultimate transparency in the sound, no preamp is the best way. Using a preamp would help make your music sound fuller and a lot more "EFFORTLESS". Yes, you might slightly lose some drgree of transaprency. Music is not always about transaprency as you don't hear is in live music. It's about everything else too....dynamics, immediacy, soundstaging, liquidity, etc. A good preamp might just help you get that.

Many of today's preamp do not add gain. They attenuate the CDP's output until the maximum level before gain is applied. They only act as a buffer to drive your cables. Likes the newer Audio Research's and the Levinsons, you'll get less sonic colorations. For sure there will be colorations but not too much.