What makes a bigger change, dac or preamp?

Hello everyone,

I would first like to start by thanking everyone for the help and apologize for exhausting this question but I I was hoping everyone can educate a slightly confused hobbyist. Recently brought Quad 12l active which is being feed by Squeezebox Touch. I have being using the Touch as a preamp which is not the ideal setup.

Now what is honestly confusing me is the entire upgrade path. On one end, I have people telling me the next step should be a DAC to add to the Touch. On another end, I have people telling that the very first thing I have to do is get the volume control away from the touch and by a good preamp or just straight volume control unit like the Warpspeed optocoupler.

Most agree that separates is the best way to spend my money.

MY question to everyone, which will affect the sound the best period. What makes a better upgrade path?

Showing 2 responses by gbmcleod

While I, in theory, agree that the preamp is the "brains" of the system, your DAC is at the front of the system. If you have a fantastic preamp and a mediocre digital converter, you will not hear what the preamp can do, only what the dac's abilities pass on to the preamp. And then how would you know the preamp's total capabilities (i.e., its highest level of revelations).

It's like driving a Maserati on Sears and Roebuck tires. You will NOT get the total effect of the Maserati, even though it is more "important" than the tires.
A front end is the "money piece" of a system, and THEN the preamp.
I'm surprised to read otherwise, although, to be fair, Dave Wilson did an experiement with a pair of 1,000 speakers with a very expensive front end, and then reversed it: a pair of Sashas with an iPod. Naturally (and I say this as someone who knows Dave), the second setup won. I would imagine what Dave recorded to use on the iPod was atypical (as in, not typical) of the recordings others would have, so that is my caveat.
If you have, for instance, A Bryston BDA-1 and a Modulus 3A, it'll sound fantastic. If you have a JVC XL Z-1010TN CD player and a Modulus 3A, not so much. (I've had both, so I know of what I speak). EVERYTHING COUNTS, so you're eventually going to want components of equal rank in order to achieve the best sound.
Common wisdom is, though, that the preamp is the "heart" of the system.
You'll have to audition this out for yourself. There are places with 30-day return policies, such as Music Direct. I've bought and returned items, because they just didn't perform as expected in my system.
I'd certainly think that, if the DACs are similar in quality and the rest of the system is "colored" enough, it would hide the differences. That's the problem, isn't it? If a system is built to sound "beautiful," the preamp will most likely reveal more differences. If it is put together to sound "uncolored," then I would say the DACs WILL sound different enough that it is the DAC and then, equally, the preamp, that will reveal differences in the system.
It truly does boil down to that, and your suggestion is every bit as valid as mine.