wht does a preamp do?

I had been running my wadia cd player direcrlty into my amplifiers. I just added a preamp and am very surprized at the differnce. The bass tightness and frequenct extension are very different. I am also hearing a 3 dimensionality that i never heard before. clearly a preamp is not just a volume control. Wht else is it doing to change the soundstaging so dramatically?


The preamplifier (a well engineered one)is a dedicated unit that will capture the finest nuances of a performance and transfer the same to the amplifier. It is unfair to expect a cd player alone to be able to accomplish that mission. Open your Wadia, and open your preamplifier and compare. The player has atleast 1/3rd of the box dedicated to drawer and laser assembly, another 1/3rd for power supply and almost another 1/3rd for digital processing. Notice I said almost! Well, whatever is left is allowed for a tiny output section.

Now look at the preamp. 1/3rd dedicated for power supply, and the rest dedicated to preamplification.

What preamp did you buy?? I have a wadia 850 and I feel that the wadia is much better directly to the amp. imo
I have a wadia 861. Got a MBL preamp. The differnce is very dramatic. I got the preamp for vinyl, but the CD difference is more than I ever thought possible. Highly recommend getting a preamp

As with any variable output CDP, analog or digital, close attention has to be paid with other gear. Both resistive analog attenuators (or pots) and digital volume controls don't sound best till 80%. By adding a preamp in the chain you have normalized the attenuation and matched impedance better.

Others might find that the added complexity of a gain stage (or more) detracts from the sound.

Often, simple solutions are complex to apply and vice versa.
What amp are you using?
1. provides a volume control

2. provides switching to feed multiple sources to your amps

3. if so equiped, can provide balance and frequency controls

4. acts as a buffer so sources that need it can properly drive your amps

If you don't need any of the above, adding the active stages and cables associated with a preamp to a system can only degrade the sound.

If you do need the above, especially #4, then a preamp will make your system sound better.

Those who claim all systems need one have limited experience with systems that benefited from having one.

Some do, some don't.
I tried running my Wadia 302 directly into my amplifier and was not happy with the sound at all...upfront, analytical,too bright and hard. I am now using a tube preamp and the results are wonderful...warm, full, detailed and like real music. The sound I get from the Wadia with this configuration is almost vinyl-like.
The components which perform the function of the preamplifier can easily be put inside an amplifier (or a source component, especially if the source component has a really big box to house it). When you think about it, back in the late B.C. era ("Before CD" - as opposed to the current "A.D" era (After Digitial) - tongue in cheek), moving coil cartridges' output levels were in the single digit millivolts, which is about 1/1000th of the output of a CD player (current low-output MC carts are about 1/10th of that). Most amplifiers also do not have a built-in RIAA equalizer (required for records). It takes several gain stages to get from a millivolt cartidge output to a speaker level output. Most amplifiers simply don't have that much gain built-in.

In the age of single source systems, the role of the preamplifier could be taken over by a beefier output stage of the source component. However, beefy power supplies with high-quality high-gain output stages would increase the price of the source component. In a multi-source system, it may make practical sense to have to pay for a high-gain stage once rather than having one attached to every source component.

In your case, from what I understand, the implementation of the digital volume control on the Wadia 861 will reduce the bit rate of the output. The best sound will always come with zero digital signal attenuation (volume set at the top level). Unfortunately, that means the relatively high output voltage (double what most CD players have) means that one is obliged to turn down the volume most of the time, reducing the quality of the signal. In your case, the preamp allows you to control the signal in the analog domain, which will make music with lots of low-level detail (closely-miked cello or piano solos, acoustic jazz trios, etc) sound immensely better when played at less than wall-shaking volumes.
I have been playing around with passive attenuators for the last couple of weeks, it has been hellish trying to get it to function properly, I have tried several configurations and values, from the single pot, to a resistor loaded pot, to a series resistor and a pot, Then chnanging the values of the resistor and the pot.
All this because I made a simple test pot box and it sounded amazing. My amps have very low sensitivity, that is supposed to help. The passive is intalled inside the amps (monos) and 3 inches away from the input tube. One IC only.
I have noticed that changing the values changes the sound of the passive completely. If I go to the lowest resistor value for the pot I get more dynamics, If the series resistor is too high it cannot solve complicated passages of the music, if it is too low the extension of the high freq. will go down (no highs), so it has been a fine tuning effort but clearly rewarded.
The main diferences I noticed between the passive and the active are:
-Darker backround...incredible backround! no noise.
-More extension on both sides (when porperly intalled)
-The music is more relaxed but dinamic non the less.
-The tone of the instruments seem more natural.
-Dynamics man, the impact of the drums and cimbals and horns is so big it puts you there.
-The tone of the instruments seem very real. (dinamics help here)
-I would not have noticed but yes there is a certain distortion not heard on the passive.

To round it up I would say the active preamp is more "Be There" distortions and all, while the passive is hypnotical...

Beware; I used to have a top of the line DAC with volume control and in no way would it compare to the passive I have now, I cannot compare side by side since I sold it about a year ago, but it seems pretty obviuos to me now.

I cannot tell you I prefer one over the other...
When I first got my Audio Aero Capitole CD player I ran it through the pre on my receiver. I had a hard time getting past my own personal bass and treble adjustments that were on the receiver.

Then I tried feeding the Audio Aero to the amp (McIntosh 2102) and bypass the receiver. This sounded much better. Using the Audio Aero's tubed volumn control I was able to power two amps into two locations with that balanced and unbalanced outputs.

At the moment I am using two unlike amps in the same room to bi-amp and I am now running the signal through a McIntosh CR12 AV system which has 4 individual preamps that can feed from one source if I like and this allows me to somewhat correct for the mismatched amps. With the McIntosh it sounds really good.
I can run my B+K preamp in passive mode, and I've spent the last couple days messing around with passive vs. active mode. One might think that because it's a decent, but not terrific preamp that passive would sound better. But I've found exactly what jsadurni found--better imaging, brighter and the like with active mode. The voices seem to hang there in the air with the active mode, instruments come from outside the speakers. It does reveal imperfections--some disks are too bright on active mode. I really expected to prefer the preamp in passive mode, but I don't.