Do you always believe what you are told? Many say just the opposite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. Do the research to educate yourself then try it both ways. You be the judge!
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Timo is right, the preamp is something else that will distort your sound. With every peice of equipment that the signal must pass through you create more distortion. If however you need a tape-loop, then your forced to a preamp perhaps.
There are many preamps out there to chose from. Very hard to make a recomendation without knowing your speakers, room size, etc. If you insit on a preamp try a well known brand that is a little outdated. That way you will gain some experience, get the feel for a companies basic signature. And if you don't like it, you can usaully sell it without losing money. Assuming you bought it at a good used price.
In my experience like all components, each changes the sound either better (to your liking) or worse (not to your liking). So premaps will add more dynamics and more fullness to the mids so don't. There are plenty of dealers who will send you a preamp to try out right here on Agon so call them and try one out it is that simple.
In my experience I seem to always prefer having a tube preamp in the chain, but that's just me. I enjoy the life, fullness and dimension a tube preamp adds. For me a tube preamp enhances the musical experience. Others may feel this just more distortion in the signal path.
It's definitely a personal thing, and therefore no correct answer or categorical statement can be made about which is better. It's almost like saying one color is better than another.
Get a better idea of what you like in musical reproduction and what you hope to gain by adding a tube preamp, then you'll know if it's the right move for you.
Raildog, is Timo your dad? :)
If I remember correctly, Guy Hammel of Placette Audio who makes a fabulous active linestage and supposedly a fabulous passive one as well, claims that many of those who buy the active are those who previously owned his passive. And the rumor is very strong that an active most always has greater dynamics than a passive.
In my case, even an active is too passive as I've owned a Placette Active Linestage (only single-ended connecitons) in the past but found that XLR connections (with the 2 additional volts) in my config. has much more dynamic swing and punch than any other single-ended or XLR connection that I've owned or heard. And therefore much more of that live bite found in live music. Even though the Placette was fabulous at what it did.
A recent "passive" experiment brought a completely different result to Stehno's above. I tried a 100kOhm pot on my 47kOhm /50kOhm power amps and.. the dynamics are stunning. The b/ground detail is good, too -- OTOH, the difference b/ween loud and quiet passage is so promounced that I have to get up & lower the volume....
LONG: Hoping I won't disillusion you, here goes. Last WE I was frustrated with my tube pre (and too lazy to check what was going on)& bored of my ss pre. Amazingly, I had never tried the present system passive -- so with a friend we found a small alu plate which conveniently had a hole in the middle; we also found 3pairs of rca's (wbt, no less!:), and a stereo 100kOhm Alps pot. We checked the pot balance (OK), drilled 3 pairs of holes on the plate (I need two outputs for bi-amping) and a couple on the base of the plate to provide some support. We connected the pot to the rca's with some silver wire that was lying around -- later changed to coated copper instead (it sounded better) -- added some long screws to the bottom so the plate could sort of stand, and, simply, connected the whole thing to the cdp output/amps input. Note that the pot I used is nothing to write home about (my tube pre is wearing a Black Beauty -- but I didn't want to pull that one out!).
The I/C are the same as w/ the active devices -- bearlabs, 1m. Now, apart from output voltage (2V) of the cdp I haven't (yet) bothered to check the impedances in play (cdp + pot+ connections+ cable). OTOH, please note that my main amp (the other being the low-bass amp) does not have a cap or res coupled input that could make things tricky with the passive topology.
We set the volume pot at 12:00 and sat down to listen.
We first listened to Mahler 5 (Barbirolli), an old recording but beautiful performance. The beginning was OK, a quiet passage, but soon the full orchestra enters the spectrum. The spl was too high here -- but we listened on. Later the spl becomes even higher (the orchestra plays louder) and we turned the volume to 10' to. There was absolutely no perceptible compression at all, all sounds were (very) loud and clear -- superior to what I had encountered before. It was just our ears complaining (and the rest of the family, hiding at the other end of the house).
Also, the audible spectrum was very complete, going from low frequencies to high without perceptible, relative imbalances. We tried a SR Vauhgn cd and listened to Little Wing & other such goodies. Here the sound was beguiling (few instruments, lots of mid-range and bass, easier to reproduce than a full-scale orchestra). Particularly noticeable was the bass and low-bass where we had a better perception of the notes being played; again pls note that the low-end of the spectrum is quite good in my system -- it's the 10kHz+ part that has always bugged me for improvement. However, all microdetails were easily perceptible w/out extra effort required from the ear/brain combo.
As self-respecting audiophools, we also tried A Parson's test disk. Some tracks here are mastered to 0db or close which allowed us a higher setting on the volume pot. Here of course, the sound was magnificent, world class, and exalted. Remember, we're still playing around with a cdp (but with very well engineered s/ware)!
We also switched to the TT, using the tape out from the ss pre as a source.
Suffice it to say that the sound was better, unfortunately in all respects. In a Bach organ recording (Chorzempa) we, again, had to lower the volume -- the bass/low bass was uncomfortable in the house (bass going through near everything made our baby edgy at the other end of the house).
Even at lower settings on the pot (-15) we didn't have a sound heavily lacking in lower/mid-bass & upper hi's (although these areas ARE less perceptible to the ear at lower spls). Of course the sound is perceived as fuller and more extended as the spls go up.
In all cases, the sound filled the room as appropriate re, the recording. Bad recordings/masters sounded average, good ones however excelled. As an indication of the superlative mood created, we downed 2 bottles of wine in about 2 1/2 hrs of listening, we missed hot lunch, we filled the room with s/ware (and I still haven't cleaned up). I would like to say "truer to the original" but don't know what the "original" really sounds like on each recording. Suffice it to note that tonal accuracy was exquisite on strings (violin & cello & 2bass), percussion (piano & tympani), and voices were very good.
I must also say that I've tried to give my system a sort of "BBC dip" i.e. a taming in the 3kHz region (trying for the -1/2db from 100-10kHz response).
Admittedly, I'm surprised. Maybe, unknowingly, we achieved an electrical match all around? The only thing to watch out for is the volume level on the pot when playing a recording I don't know: I'm afraid of a sudden surge in spl that could overheat a voice-coil (I have little faith in my speakers' tolerance levels).
Compared to the active pres, the sound is more open; OTOH, with the actives, lower volumes are more or less as low, but the details are more plentifully presented in passive mode.
Anyway, my system, my ears, etc. Cheers!