Why not a pre-amp DAC combo? Like a HT sound processor?

I am curious to know WHY there’s so few pre-amp/DAC combo units are out there? Something with both input selection, AND, volume control? I am finding the need, space, requirement for a pre-amp as unnecessary when you consider, a box for DAC, plus a box for network streaming, plus amp, plus transport, etc…

Why can’t we have one box to do both? Maybe with two PSUs, one feeding the DAC part, the other for volume control and pre-amp analog part?

This is quite common in Home Theatre setups, and I think should be considered for next version of Direct Stream Jr. Get rid of the network bridge that’s problematic, most are using dedicated network streamers, or servers feeding the digital audio to DAC, then focus on high quality pre-amp, DAC! I’d buy one 100%, and I think it’s a unique and very suitable product for Audiophile, HiFi market of today. BHK level would still have separate boxes, but somewhere between Stellar/DS Jr, one could use a combo box.

Streamer --> DAC/Pre-amp --> Amp --> Speaker

Are you familiar with the Stellar gain cell DAC, it’s a preamp too

One can have one box do it all but once it’s large enough to contain two separate power supplies and everything else so they can be optimized and not interact, the box is BIG

There are always compromises. The more duties performed by the device, typically the more severe the compromises, or increased cost or both.

Brett’s exactly right. We do have the Stellar DAC and pre that covers both duties in one box and does a darn good job. He’s also right because when you combine these separate duties into one box, there are compromises in the power supply trying to optimize it for both functions.

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Interesting question. For me, my DirectStream DAC is my pre-amp, because I only have digital sources and this DAC’s analog output works great with my power amp and speaker combination.

It’d be fun to see a future DSD product evolution which could incorporate the old NuWave Phono Converter circuit internally with a number of selectable analog inputs and calibrated levels.

For HT duties I also would like to see AVRs provide digital equivalents to the main L/R pre-outs, with adjustable latency compensation.

Not good enough of a DAC.

Then you can use two. I’ve seen the latest Elac amp. Designer did that. Had one switching power supply for digital part, one toroidal for analog.

Here’s my solution to the “problem”.

Sony STR-1080N

I actually using a HT as pre-amp now, but it doesn’t have Balanced out. No receiver I’ve seen has balanced out, only sound processors needing external amp do, and since I already have a 2-ch amp for my stereo, it’s overkill to get another 5/7-ch amp for my HT duties.

Also, I want high quality pre-amp and not sure if these receivers are as good as they should be.

Don’t get me wrong, I know for ultimate performance, you shouldn’t combine them in one box, so no proposing it for DS, BUT for the next DS Jr, to me it’s a great feature to add. It already has volume control, so all is needed is a more robust pre-amp circuitry, AND some input selection, maybe skipping Phono stage as that might need a separate box.

You’re already including Bridge networking which has been problematic, and to be honest, not the best networking solution as ppl spending $3K on a DAC probably spend $1K on a network streamer, so I’d take networking which is noisier than pre-amp OUT, add input selection… something to think about I guess!

Don’t know what price range you are looking for but this piece does what you need and sounds great too. Plus since you can buy it from Audio Advisor and have 30 days to test it out. I have used one in my Family Room system for over three years. I use balanced outputs to the amp and SE to the subs. DAC is ESS 9018 and good for the money. You can buy it with and without the headphone amp.


I don’t like the sound of ESS, and I don’t want chip DACs as they get outdated easily, I am either gonna get Chord or PS Audio directstream.

Well good luck in your search then because all of the combo units like you are looking for that I am aware of are using DAC chipsets and not FPGA or R2R technology.

I understand the appeal, but my problem is that, for example with a $2K DAC people seem to want a $2K preamp and they only want to pay $2.2K. There’s not a lot in common between the preamp and the DAC, so it’s kind of hard to do.


Pls explain to me, why including network streaming is OK but not pre-amp with input selection which to me is a simpler task. To me, network streaming is now a specialized field, needs good software, app, solid Roon support, good Wifi circuitry, low noise digital section, isolated parts, etc… things that companies like Aurender, Innous, etc… are doing.

Like DS Jr and DS both have volume control, pre-amp analog section, so WHY just an input selection would make it unfathomable? Again, for the top of the line DS, I agree 100%, but the jr maybe a good candidate.

Actually, why can’t we call the current line-up DAC/pre-amp anyway? It has both input selection and volume control. What is needed to make it officially a pre-amp? Adding analog input selection? or more dedicated pre-amp circuitry, including phono stage?

You need to add inputs, switching capability, analog gain and attenuation, etc.

You cannot use the DirectStream volume control as it is digital - unless you convert all of the analog signals to digital, requiring the addition of an ADC.

So few? You can’t swing a dead cat over your head these days without hitting a pre-amp/DAC combo unit. In addition to the Stellar, NuPrime and Elac units mentioned above, there are the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ and Brooklyn Bridge, as well as the Benchmark DAC3 L and DAC3 HGC, the Exogal Comet, and the AURALiC VEGA G2. Those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head. I imagine there are many more.

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A lower quality network streamer will (mostly) only affect that input. Any defects in a preamp will affect anything the DAC does. A network streaming card isn’t terribly expensive. A good preamp costs quite a bit. If the DAC proper is a cheap little chip then the DAC function and the preamp function can share the analog output cost effectively. At least in the case of the DS design, there’s no analog output circuitry that can be shared with a preamp.

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Have a look at this diagram from the DAC’s product page;

A chip-based DAC ends up having a low-level analogue output that after filtering goes to a line driver stage. That’s where you could do the analog pre-amp circuit in a traditional DAC, because you just switch between the chip’s signal or other input signals, do some analog attenuation and then there’s the driver stage.

The diagram for the DS DAC looks totally different. It doesn’t have a line driver. It literally pushes a relatively high voltage digital signal (DSD encoded, where a 1 means positive voltage and a 0 means negative voltage) through a low-pass filter… and that’s it. That’s the analog output. In the DS Sr it’s done with an audio transformer, in the Jr there are op-amps, both of which are capable of driving power amps directly. In both cases the volume control is purely digital, done by changing the pattern of the DSD signal to produce higher or lower amplitude in the audio domain.

Point being… there’s nothing even remotely like an analog pre-amp there to work with in the Sr and almost nothing in the Jr. Adding analog pre-amp capability to this product would be literally adding an entire pre-amp to the product.


Thanks for the explanation, makes sense… so my decision should be whether or not rely on volume control on the DS or get a separate pre-amp… Grrrr…