Tempering the preamp frenzy


#1

Before we all start tapping into the kids’ college funds or mortgage our homes to acquire an expensive preamp in the wake of Paul’s recent discovery of its sonic merits, I want to offer a different perspective. .



First, I wholeheartedly agree that achieving the best sound quality achievable given the current state of technology requires a preamp, and have concluded the same based on trying both routes. However, the issue of what offers the best price/performance is what really matters, and this is far less clear cut.



Paul just added at least $6,000 MSRP (allowing for some cabling) worth of equipment into the chain and reported an improvement in sound quality. The relevant price/performance question is does his $10,000 DAC + Preamp combo sound better than a $10K DAC with build in volume control?



While I have not rotated enough gear trough my system to make this call, it is obviously by no means a foregone conclusion that this is the case. I personally have a hunch that using a DAC with volume control will offer the best price/performance (as opposed to absolute performance) in almost all systems, not least because I have found that preamps that beat the DAC VC don’t come cheap (Paul’s $6,000 tubes is the “entry level” in this regard).



This is a very important issue, because if you do need any of the input switching capabilities of a preamp and use it strictly as an active analog volume control for your digital source, you may indeed be better off spending your money moving up the DAC foodchain, rather then getting an expensive preamp.



This analysis also has implications for PS audio - if indeed volume control on the DAC still offers the best price/performance, the rational R&D project is trying to engineer improvements into the DAC that elevate PWD mkIII performance to PWD mkII + preamp level at lower cost, or better still, exceed its performance.



It strikes me that the alternative - trying to develop competitive all analog preamp in the $4k-$6K is a far higher commercial and technical risk. This is because despite its benefits in the very high end, a plain vanilla analog preamp is probably a dwindling product category. All the innovation is happing in integrating music servers, streamers, digital cross-overs and room correction into digital preamps with build in D/A conversion.



Just some food for though…


#2

I completely agree about where the innovation is occurring. It might mean audio companies have to change their business models to develop or acquire new capabilities.


#3

i’M WITH YOU GUYS ON THIS.

eXCEPT… i WANT IT ALL INSIDE THE BASE OF MY ACTIVE SPEAKERS WITH ONLY A CAT-6 CABLE [AND POWER CORD] RUNNING TO THEM.

DAMN kEYBOADR STUK AGN. NO LOWR?


#4

Buy meridian


#5

Hey Gordon… Keyboard’s stuck - you need a tow? Maybe a winch, or better yet a wench? :smiley:



J.P.


#6

Very thoughtful, Edorr.



Determining the yuck per buck ratio is always tricky.


#7

@Gordon Why is this thread in “Tagging?”


#8

@edorr - as I mentioned in the preamp thread, it may be the case that the sonic gains from putting the preamp in the chain is less informative about the PWD going direct and more informative about the new amp under development. Another test would be to get an amp of the same type where going direct is the preferred route, and pairing it up with the new preamp - does that make the same improvement?



It could be that class D amps are not worth listening to without tubes in front of them >:)


#9
@edorr - as I mentioned in the preamp thread, it may be the case that the sonic gains from putting the preamp in the chain is less informative about the PWD going direct and more informative about the new amp under development. Another test would be to get an amp of the same type where going direct is the preferred route, and pairing it up with the new preamp - does that make the same improvement?

It could be that class D amps are not worth listening to without tubes in front of them >:)


I seriously doubt this. I spend a lot (too much) time on the forums, and folks that try a high grade preamp consistently report sonic improvements, irrespective of upstream or downstream components. I for one own class A monoblocks.

#10
Buy meridian


Have you ever listened to them?


#11

Not in a while. I found them to be a bit crunchy sounding. Not quite my preference. But I would welcome another listening session.


#12

@edorr - yes that is the pattern and it is consistent with my experience. So we agree about that. What I am less sure about is whether there are too many variables at play in Paul’s set up. It will be interesting to see how the listening progresses, especially If other sources and amps are rotated through one by one in a controlled way.


#13
David said: in a controlled way


=))