To Preamp Or Not To Preamp,That Is The Question

I'm curious this fine Sunday...

In theory, is it better to have a preamp between a CDP (or?) and the amp, or not ? Don't we try to eliminate as many circuits in the path as possible ? Why not eliminate the whole preamp right ?

I have an (2 really) Adcom GCD575, and, I can hook this directly to an amp, and use the Vol control (and Variable output) without a preamp at all...

It sounds really good to me. But, it may be the amp...
I haven't tested with multiple pre's between the same CDP and/or AMP.
Hey Mikey!

If it sounds good to you, don't mess with it!

I've used CD direct over the last 10 years with most of my system incarnations. For me, it is a good value decision. I don't spend funds on a pre-amp that is not necessary, I save the audio rack real estate required for the unnecessary component and I like the transparency of the CD direct sound.

However, I have also used a pre-amp and I can understand why many audio enthusiast would prefer to have one. It adds multi-input capabilities, adds gain (if needed) and typically gives the system more dynamic capabilities. For classical music or hard driving rock, I think a pre-amp may be more beneficial. For acoustic, jazz , singer/songwriter or other more intimate types of music, I feel it's very easy to live without a pre-amp (if one doesn't need multi input capabilities).

For me, it comes down to a value decision. I typically don't want to pay for a high quality pre-amp when I'm happy with the sound I get without one.


I can agree with all that...I was told though, that a preamp makes the signal 'better'...not sure how it can do that.

The next big question would be, why don't high end CDP mfgs make CDPs with vol controls like the 575 ? I have heard some of the $$$$ ones do, but I'm talking Cambridge Audio, Rotel class CDPs...
Long debated in these threads.

Ultimately, the decision lies with the listener.

Many fine CD players from Theta, Wadia, Resolution Audio, Cary, Quad, etc., have variable volume control. I've owned CD players from Quad, Theta and Musical fidelity which had variable volume control. I've also owned DACs from Monarchy and Birdland which had variable volume control.

Currently I have an EVS Level-2 modified Oppo 970 that has variable volume control. Unlike the other players I've owned, this one uses digital volume control, which does lose resolution as you lower the volume. It's not optimal, but it still sounds great and I still enjoy the benefits of CE direct, plus I get DVD, DVD-A, SACD, etc. with the Oppo.....


Seems as if only high end CDPs use vol control...and that adcom :)

Sorry if this has been hashed over and over...

I think we can finish with this thread...sorry for any time 'wasted'.
Hi Mikey,

I tend to agree with much of what Reubent advised: If it sounds good to you...; for classical music or hard driving...

The gain from a preamp can be a very desirable thing and help bring music too life, but it can't really make the signal better IMO.
There is no right.

In your case, a pre-amp is not needed since the volume can be adjusted at the source.

If you want to go for a different sound, there are many ways to go. You could run a music server and play via a network music player, like Squeezebox, Roku or similar. These have volume adjustments on board also so pre-amp is only needed if you have additional sources to switch between.
If you can get your hands on a McCormack Line Drive (should be cheap) it might be worthwhile. It gives you the option of going either passive or active.

The Quad 99 CDP or 99 CDP-2 is a very good sounding CD player when used direct to amp. It also has multiple digital inputs, so you can use it as the pre-amp (switcher) for multiple digital sources.

I had both a 99 CDP and a 99 CDP-2 a few years ago. I connected my DVD player and digital cable box through it with good results. If I still had it today, I would also be connecting my MAC Mini based music server through it.

I've seen them for as little as $600 and it is a very good unit. BTW, there is also a Quad 99 CD player (not CDP). Don't buy it. I think it is only for use connected directly via Quad-link to a Quad integrated amp.

Does the Cambridge Audio 840c have variable volume? If so, it might be a good choice. It gets nearly universal good reviews.

Another very good moderately priced player with variable volume is the Cary DC-308 that I once owned. Supposedly the CD-308T(tube) is even better, but I've never heard one.


I had one of these Adcoms, in the early 1990's when they were new. I used it with the variable output directly into an amplifier, and thought it sounded just fine too. If you're happy that's all that counts. End of story.

The real problem with the Adcom is that digital electronics have gotten *so much better* over the years. If you have a pre-amp, you may well find that a $59 Sony DVD player out-performs it in playing CDs.
It sounds really good to me.

You've answered your own question.

If you are purely curious, start another thread: which $xxxx preamp is best with my system? Pick one of the 16-20 various recommendations you get there...any one will do...maybe even one that's repeated more than once. Look for a used one here on A'gon sold by someone with a good track record. Buy it. Try it in your system. If you don't like it, sell it here on A'gon for about what you bought it for. Go back to your thread and pick a different one to try - repeat until you either find the one that sounds even better than "really good", or stop when your curiosity is satisfied, and or when you realize that "really good" is, well... is actually really good.

My experience has been that preamps can make a significant difference. There are also significant differences in using a passive vs active pre, as well as in using the gain available on some players, or gain in the digital domain (don't even go there). Tube preamps may sound different to you than SS preamps, and or may work better within your system. Whether or not you actually hear the differences in your own system, with your own music, as many here have pointed out, is entirely your call. Plenty of input in the archives to read through as well.
all good advice, and I read them all...
The 840c does not have volume or variable output, else I would have jumped 'more vigorously' on the one local b4 it went overseas...still, a good cdp nonetheless, and, I have a few preamps anyways, maybe none highend, but, they all sound good, some better than others...thx for all the advice again...
Here's a few general rules of thumb:

The further away the CDP is from the power amps, the more likely a preamp will help.

If you have a built-in volume control: if analog you will need the preamp less, if it is digital, you will need the preamp more (digital controls rob the signal of resolution as you turn them down, so you use the volume control in the preamp instead to avoid this problem).

Why CDP and DAC designers use digital volume controls is beyond me. None of them work and a digital designer would be the first to know that...
Why CDP and DAC designers use digital volume controls is beyond me. None of them work and a digital designer would be the first to know that...
Ralph, once again two of the most brilliant minds at Audiogon (you and Kirkus) have an intellectual disagreement, at least with respect to contemporary digital volume controls. :-)

See the following thread, especially the comment by Kirkus near the end:

Best regards,
-- Al
Al, on this one all I can say is that every time I see a digital volume control, my experience with them is that by the time you are down to 85% (as opposed to 100) there is an audible loss in resolution.

I get that there is an explanation for why I can't possibly be experiencing that; obviously I don't buy it.
Many tricks are possible with digital. Some are well executed and some not, like most things.
I've got the GCD575 about 18" away from the CJ MF2300 at the moment I think...Kimber Hero ICS...I have heard the same re digital vol controls...(no thx) but I'm pretty sure the 575 is analog anyways...

Another related question, what is the diff between this setup I have (vol ctrl on the CDP) and an AMP like a MC2105 with volume controls, with a CDP that has fixed outputs ?
Mikey44, the amp is usually less convenient, but from a performance point of view that setup usually works quite well.
I think so too...I've heard some of Jimmy Buffet (on now) I've never heard b4...maybe it's the speakers too ? Infinity Crescendo 3009s...