Preamp Matching

Hi Folks,

OK, so no preamp is no longer the best preamp. OK. I am just a little slow to adopt change.

I love the way my PS DS dac sounds driving my Oasis S200 mono blocks(200 W Class A) directly balanced using Siltech Classic i770.

Rest of system is Aurender N100 H usb to PS DS with a decrapper thingy in between and speakers are Magico S-5s

with Audioquest Redwood cables.

So you’re telling me that adding a preamp will make it better? - Definite maybe! but no one knows why. Not Paul and not

even Kevin Hayes at VAC.

So what is more important? Matching the pre to the source like PS DS or to the amps. If the amps, what stats are the ones to look for


BTW, I do not listen very loud .

Thanks, Jeff

If you’re happy as is. . . no need to get a preamp just because some of us like to listen to it that way! Two listeners could listen to the same system with and without a preamp. . . and one might prefer it with and one without and no one is wrong. . . .

I was a “no preamp” person for the longest time. What finally moved me to a preamp was the balanced output of the DSD. I used something called a ZBIT Decware makes (I’m a Decware fan for twenty years) that allowed me to feed all the voltage (controlled by a stepped attenuator) of the balanced output of my DSD into my single-ended input of my Decware amp. The amp likes it a LOT! A weightier and fuller sound than the DSD directly into the amp via single-ended output. Decware also makes an innovative (imo) fully balanced preamp, one came up for sale used, and I put it between the DSD and the ZBIT. . . and even more of a good thing. The preamp, the ZTPRE, has an adjustable output that can even put out 30 volts. . . wow. Playing around with the output of the ZTPRE into the ZBIT I have gotten tonal balance I really love, dynamics that I’ve never had before, and a full bodied image and soundstage that surprises me still.

I was very happy before. I’m very happy now. Had I not experienced this. . . was I happier? I don’t know, I think I’m happier now, but poorer as well. I’m one of those people who like to experiment with the sound and I’m no longer the audio purist I used to be. That purist was happy without a preamp. This experimenter is happy with this preamp.

Happy is happy. Be happy!

Hi Jeff and it’s a great question. Lonson is right in that what you have is working great so it’s ok. If, however, you’d like to make a step up in sound quality, then adding a preamp like the BHK is the right thing to do. That is not true for every preamp which is what had me stumped at first, but once I heard a certain level of instrument I was hooked. It turns out that while (obviously) going direct with the DAC is a just fine, the added buffering and isolation of a preamp brings you that much closer to musical truth - and that’s again why you have to be careful that the device is of a certain quality. Place something not up to par inline with the DAC and it’ll actually degrade the sound.

I can certainly speak with some experience on the BHK because my system—like yours—sounds terrific with and without it as fed directly from the DS. With the DS feeding the amps directly there’s a certain flatness to the images that is not apparent until they are rounded by the addition of the preamp. Kind of like moving from slightly two-dimensional cutouts to fully rounded three-dimensional renderings with and without the preamp.

I believe this happens for two reasons: the first is the complete isolation of the DAC when the preamp is inserted, and keeping the DAC’s volume control at 100. The first is somewhat obvious and easy to understand. The latter, not so much. In speaking with Ted Smith about the volume control he/and I are convinced it is bit perfect regardless of where you set it. Yet, I suspect there’s more to the story that hasn’t been sussed out. We know, for example, that small changes in the code make big differences in the sound and I have speculated for some time that keeping the volume at 100 might make a difference, though it’s just an unproven theory.

Hope that helps.

Paul, this is the best explanation/discussion of preamp v. no preamp I have seen. I wish we had a sticky function so that we could easily refer readers to this post when the question arises - which it does quite often.


Thanks to all for getting back to me. Is it possible to answer my question about matching pre to amp specs or DAC specs? I know, get BHK monos and then you will have no match problems at all! LOLpulling-hair_gif

One of the most important things is the the input impedance of the amp is high enough, compared to wanting a preamp with a low output impedance. I think it is a 10 or 20 to 1 ratio. If you run long ICs the highs will roll of if the impedances aren’t matched properly. Other than that, if your amp accepts balanced connections, you would most likely want a preamp with balanced inputs and outputs. Unfortunately that leaves out Conrad Johnson preamps, as they are all single ended only. I love my CT5, and I was running 15’ single ended ICs when I bought it. I was also considering an Aesthetics Calypso, but thought I wouldn’t need the balanced ins and outs. Now it would have been nice to have them.

In general, most every preamp has a low output impedance and every amp a high input impedance. Thus, they should all match each other nicely. The real matching questions are more of quality and synergy than electrical. Which is a good reason to talk with owners or, if you’re interested in our gear, call us - and if possible, match similar products from the same company.

Recently had to retube my beloved Jadis DA60 and decided instead this was the right time for an upgrade. Auditioned the Audio Research 75 SE direct (balanced) on the Directstream. It did sound very good but didn’t bring me the emotional connection and magic I was searching for. The Audio Research Ref 6 inbetween immediately changed that, sound opened up and gave me more than I was hoping for. I ended up with a lot more to invest than intended but I’m very very happy with the magical outcome happy-132_gif