DS vs DS + BHK Pre

I’d like to sound out the forum regarding your experiences using the DS directly into the BHK / BHK mono’s; or using an excellent pre-amp (like the BHK) instead.

To my knowledge the DS does not have a “fixed line out” setting, so I assume one’d have to set the DS to full volume (100)? I’m finding it a bit difficult to wrap my head around how even an excellent pre-amp can improve on the sound, seeing as the signal now has to go thru’ two volume controls [if my understanding is correct here].

Also, a second pair of XLR’s is required, so now my thinking is: What would sound best:- DS straigth into BHK’s with a really top-flight (say, USD 6K – like the Atlas Asimi), vs:

DS with BHK pre; and two sets of very modest (say, USD 200 each) XLR’s?

By the way I’m really enjoying my BHK 300’s! What a huge improvement over my previous Musical Fidelity 750 monoblocks!

This has been discussed several times before, you can start here. In addition to threads specifically about using a preamp, there have been many posts from very satisfied users of the BHK Pre indicating it was a worthwhile improvement in sound. Personally I’m still not using a preamp, I like the simplicity (and don’t need to spend any more money!).

Thank you Pmotz! Actually, I have read thru’ these links at the time, but was frustrated when I couldn’t find them quickly enough now and so I took the easy way out and started a new thread. [I need to build up more experience wrt searching within forums].

I found quite a few very interesting remarks:

Paul mentioned that: “…isolating the DAC from cables and power amplifiers can often benefit sound more than the slight degradation presented by a preamp … Whatever the cause, it’s clear to me that placing a BHK between DirectStream and the amplifier is waaaay better than straight in”.

This makes a lot of sense, but at the same time one wonders:- What if one’s power and balanced cables are doing an extraordinary good job of isolation and all the other “good characteristics” required from cables in the 1st place?

Then there was the remark from Ted: “Given a particular amp the DS could be designed so that you probably wouldn’t want a preamp – and similarly given the DS an amp could be designed so you probably don’t want a preamp, but in real life, as all things in audiophile land, you’ll need to listen for yourself to different setups and make up your own mind.”

Actually, I am in a position where I can “listen and make up my own mind”, as I currently have the DS; BHK Pre and a pair of BHK 300’s [all connected to a P10] driving a pair of Vivid Giya 1 Spirits. The only reasons why I haven’t done so already, is because of:-
(a) Time: The equipment / stand with shelves is heavy … I need help and a full afternoon/evening.
(b) Cables: Ideally one should have two identical sets of balanced interconnects. At the moment I have a pair of 1M PSA Transcend Silver between DAC and PRE; and then the Vivid manufacturer kindly lend me a pair of 2M Atlas Asimi XLR’s to try out between PRE and 300’s.

But, the Atlas cables cost the same as the BHK Pre, and I know I’ll only be happy with two identical sets …pulling-hair_gif

Anyhow, I’ll follow Ted’s advice and listen for myself. For now I only have the one pair of Atlas’s; so I’ll hook up the DS straight; but I’ll get a second pair in the next few weeks [Philip from Vivid has indicated he can lend me a second pair …4_gif].

In the meantime I’m already enjoying excellent sound, thanks to all at PSA. happy-132_gif

I was totally happy with the sound of my DS DAC connected directly to my monoblock amps … until I heard the BHK preamp. The BHK preamp gives added dimension and musicality to what was already excellent sonics. The sound with the BHK preamp in my system is fuller and richer without any loss of resolution. And the sound seems more dynamic and articulate, delivered with a greater sense of ease. Over the years I’ve tried other preamps in my system, both tube and solid state, only to eliminate them because they introduced audible noise and distortion. The BHK is the first preamp I have ever liked. I don’t just like it, I love it!

I’ll second that, though the first revelation I had for preamps was with the Aethetix Calypso. That’s the preamp that opened my eyes to the possibilities. That’s when we commissioned Bascom to see if he couldn’t do one better. And he did. A lot better.

The BHK preamp just makes your system sing like it’s never before. To date, every person that’s made the leap has been blown away. That’s really saying something.


I’m not listening! 107_gif Actually I’ve been working towards convincing myself I NEED a P10, don’t need the distraction of a BHK Pre …

When it comes to preamps, I was a Doubting Thomas through my long adult life. I attended audio show after audio show and never heard a system that sounded better (to my ears) than my preamp-less system. I came home happy that I didn’t feel compelled to fork out for a preamp, despite audio company sales representatives telling me I didn’t know what I was missing. They were partly right: I didn’t know what I was missing by not having the right preamp in my system. I did know what I was missing by not having just any preamp in my system, because I tried many (including a very expensive one starting with “A”) and they all degraded the sound of my system. Then a couple of months ago I saw Bascom King’s interview online. He described how he once was a no-preamp / passive preamp adherent until he heard a particular preamp that changed his mind forever. Paul McGowan has described (see above) his own similar experience with the Calypso, which sparked development of the BHK preamp. These two individuals through their online testimonies persuaded me that I should at least try the BHK preamp in my system. It was a leap of faith made somewhat easier by PS Audio’s 30-day home audition and generous trade-in program. I also had to sell some old gear on Ebay to help with the finances.

After receiving the BHK preamp and inserting it into my system, what I heard immediately right out of the box was a positive change in SQ that was real and not imagined. The music was more palpable and alive. I have listened to Chesky’s Ultimate Demonstration Disk hundreds of times to test new components in my system to determine whether the new components improve the sound, so I am intimately familiar with each and every track of that disk. Using that disk, the change with interconnects and power cords is so subtle that I can’t totally trust my perception even though I think I hear nuances with each change. Listening to that same disk with the BHK preamp inserted reveals an unmistakable level of improvement in nearly every sound quality aspect that each track demonstrates. Did the change in the sound blow me away? Did my jaw drop? It takes a lot to blow me away or make my jaw drop. Let’s just say, I was very pleasantly surprised and happy with what I heard. A fuller, richer, more dynamic and engaging sound, but still clean and detailed with well-defined layers. Do tears count? Some of my CDs brought tears to my eyes in a way they had not before. The emotional content of the music – that aspect which causes goosebumps – is enhanced by the BHK preamp. In no uncertain terms the BHK preamp has transformed my system to a higher level. I don’t want to be without it. I’m a believer!

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Thank you for this well written evaluation. I’ll pass it on to the good Dr. King! We are so delighted you’ve discovered what a growing number have - that the BHK is nothing short of amazing and for some reason, of which I cannot yet explain, adding this in the signal chain is like getting a whole new stereo.

Go figure.

Thanks Joseph! I’ve ordered a second pair of Atlas XLR’s; so should by this weekend be able to test DS > 300’s vs DS > BHK Pre > 300’s properly.

Look, of course I know that the BHK is a helluva good pre-amp! But a BHK Pre + another pair of Atlas’s comes to a tidy sum, so forgive me if I’m kinda hoping it sounds better without sorry_gif

For those who may be interested, I offer another personal experience with the BHK preamp that demonstrates its amazing ability to improve the sound of a system. I must first describe the situation. The PS Audio DirectStream DAC has two I2S inputs, one of which I use to receive I2S from the DirectStream Memory Player. I use the other I2S input to receive I2S signal from a Pink Faun I2S interface card in my computer. I specifically use the I2S interface card as my default audio-out for a virtual pipe organ program called Hauptwerk, which allows very high resolution, long stereo sound samples of thousands of pipes in a given organ to be selectively played individually and collectively real time using a MIDI organ console. The quality of these Hauptwerk sound samples is astounding, and captures not only the attack and decay of each pipe, but also the actual reverberation of each pipe in its acoustical space (such as the church, hall or cathedral). Using I2S as the signal path from the computer to the DAC eliminates the need for SPDIF or AES/EBU conversion and therefore offers the purest transmission of the sound data (just as I2S between the DS Memory Player and the DS DAC is the purest sound data transmission for CDs and SACDs). Needless to say, as good as I2S transmission is, it doesn’t eliminate the need for quality audio components downstream.

Now, to get back to the BHK preamp. Before inserting the BHK preamp into my system, the sound of going direct from DAC to amplifiers was very good, but did not meet my full expectations for realism. The Hauptwerk samples sounded a little sterile and lacking in harmonic development. Also, the reverb tails sounded somewhat thin and etched. After inserting the BHK the sound was fuller, richer and more vibrant like the actual organ sounds, with better spatial rendition and a sense of added power and authority. I have been fortunate to have actually played some of the same cathedral organs that Hauptwerk has recorded, so I know and appreciate how those organs really sound. For those who are familiar with pipe organs, pipes have associated complex harmonics that define their character along with their interaction with the acoustic space. Also, the pipe organ has the greatest frequency range of any musical instrument, dipping as low as 16Hz and with upper harmonics far above the human range of hearing. These extreme frequencies are more felt than heard and blend with the all-important mid-range so fundamental to good organ tone. The challenge for any recording or playback system is to capture and reproduce as many of those harmonics, frequencies and spatial cues as possible in a convincing, cohesive and realistic manner. The BHK preamp allows my audio system to do just that, bringing me closer to the “I’m there” experience.

Thanks for a unique and fascinating perspective Joseph!

Yes, this is truly fascinating.

I have played with samplers and playing scores back with samples when composing, but Hauptwerk must be amazing. I like the name also.

JosephLG, that program sounds fascinating! Must be a real system tester, especially in the bass. Presume you have a system up to the task. Paul needs to try that on the IRS!

For anyone interested in Hauptwerk, check out www.hauptwerk.com.

My amps and loudspeakers are up to the task but those with systems less capable can listen through headphones. I haven’t tried the BHK preamp headphone out but I imagine it is pure bliss.

Finally had the opportunity to try the DMP / DS directly on the BHK 300’s.

About 10 seconds was all it took. Soundstage fell flat; decay on instruments esp piano / guitar almost disappeared. Put the BHK Pre back in the loop and the magic is back!

And I haven’t as yet received the 2nd pair of Atlas Asimi cables … still using the Transcend silver which - though very good, is not an Atlas. Can’t wait for the 2nd pair; but also can’t believe things can get better than this!

You were right, Paul. The sound with a pre-amp like the BHK is indeed better than going without.

happy-132_gif Nice, Paul!

I understand the logic to this thread but I am trying to figure out how to prioritize my purchases (since, sadly, money does not grow on trees).

I feel like my decision priority should look something like this (assuming the constants in this equation are a Directstream DAC, good speaker cables and a good pair of speakers):

  1. BHK 300 monos instead of a 250

  2. Add a P5 or P10

  3. Add a BHK pre

Do you guys agree with this prioritization?

Swap #3 to #2. You will get more from the pre than you will from the power unit.

A great deal of course depends on what equipment you already have. But, for me, I would buy the preamp before a PowerPlant. I find money best spent in components. Cables, power treatment, etc. are tweaks. I like the PowerPlants a great deal, but would rather have an excellent component.

[I was writing my entry when Frank posted. I agree with Frank. :slight_smile: ]

I agree. BHK Pre before P5 or P10.