Can Adding a Preamp (where there currently is none) Improve SQ?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by BIGGER Dave, Apr 10, 2019.

  1. BIGGER Dave

    BIGGER Dave Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I'm currently running a CD transport into a Schiit Gungnir MB DAC, directly into the new Dynaco SX-70 Series 3. I’m using the L and R level controls on the Dynaco to set the volume. The Dynaco is powering Harbeth M30.1.

    There is an Audio Research LS25 Mark 1 available locally for what I consider a fair price (~$2K). For anyone that added a Preamp where there was none prior, did it improve sound quality, worsen sound quality, or make no apparent difference?

    (The LS25 will add remote control functionality for volume which will be a welcome addition, however I would want at least some noticeable increase in SQ if I’m going to spend ~$2K.)
  2. Rubberpigg

    Rubberpigg Forum Resident

  3. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    Tube Pre-Amp. SS probably not.
  4. jfine

    jfine Forum Resident

    Might depend on the amp, speakers, wire, etc., downstream.
  5. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    If you have doubts about your current sq, I'd first look into the amp-speaker match. In my experience the M30 sounds best with high power ss amplification. And yes, I do love tube amps.
    art likes this.
  6. BIGGER Dave

    BIGGER Dave Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks to everyone so far for their comments.

    GBK, no doubts about the SQ of my current digital setup. Just wanted more than a $2K remote volume control. If the addition of remote volume control is all I’m getting for $2K, I’m sure I could find better things to do with the $2K (and I’ll just continue to walk over to the Dynaco to adjust the volume). Since the LS25 is used, and this would be a private sale, I don’t have the option of “returning it”.

    Regarding Harbeths working best with high powered amps, generally, I agree. I also own a 270 WPC McIntosh MC7270 which does sound great with the Harbeths however I’m currently using that amp in a larger room with other speakers. The Gungnir MB / Dynaco / Harbeth setup is for my small bedroom with (relatively) low volume level requirements. Considering the levels I’m listening at, the 35 WPC Dynaco is working out fine.

    Just looking for some comments from those that experienced a similar scenario (going from no preamp to a decent quality preamp), so I can decide if the $2K price tag is warranted. One more thing, I understand a feature of most preamps is the ability to select from different sources, however I don’t have any need for selecting different sources, so I’ll be using only one input on the Ls25.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
    G B Kuipers likes this.
  7. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    If you only have 1 source, and it is 'only' a bedroom system (low volume), why spend all that money on an expensive preamp? Since you allready have a schiit dac, why not just get a Saga or a Freya (if you want the tube thing)?! I am not a strong believer of expensive preamps and prefer a passive if it fits in with the system.
    33na3rd and Fishoutofwater like this.
  8. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Washington, D.C.
    This is somewhat of a tough question. Active linestages can sound quite good, but, the good sounding ones tend to be somewhat expensive compared to passive linestages. Also, a lot depends on what you think of the particular linestage in question and how well it works with the rest of your system. You could take the gamble and buy the Audio Research linestage, if you cannot audition it, and then re-sell it if it does not work out. If you get a linestage, you should consider bypassing the potentiometers in the Dynaco amp so that the signal doesn't go through an unnecessary potentiometer (unless the Dynaco pot can be used as a balance control if the linestage lacks that capability). Really good potentiometers are very expensive, so it is doubtful that a really top-notch set is in the Dynaco.

    With only one input, I would consider a passive remote volume control. Unless the amp controls are right by your side, remote volume control is extremely handy and it allows one to make very precise changes that are really not practical if one has to get up and down to make changes. The better remote volume controls use really nice components, such as light dependent resistors and autoformers.
  9. sturgus

    sturgus Forum Resident

    St. Louis Mo
    In my humble opinion a good pre-amp makes more of a difference than the amp. The ARC you are looking at is a very,very,nice pre-amp.
  10. R. Totale

    R. Totale The Voice of Reason

    I don't think it will improve or degrade your current sound quality. If it does, there must be something wrong with it. It will vastly improve the usability of your system, though.
  11. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    IME a really good tube preamp has the potential to turn a very good sounding system into a great sounding system.
  12. Thorensman

    Thorensman Forum Resident

    I would say not.
    I use a Leak TL12,+ x2

    It's very sensitive needing only 125 mg
    For full power

    This is the deciding factor.
    I used a Croft Vitale which is a superb
    Yet CD was always a disappointment.
    One day I built a passive with 3 pots

    20k 50 k and 100k
    The 50k was better although the 20k was
    Also very good.
    Main point was that this simple device blew the Croft out of the water so to speak

    Face facts. At 2v most CD players need only
    A simple pot to regulate volume.
    Clarity clean bass and a vibrant sound
    Is the result of the simple design.
  13. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Ontario Canada
    Right!..this is a hobby that generally benefits from a minimalist outlook.Why add another box to the signal path if you are lucky/smart enough not to need it:)
    jtw likes this.
  14. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I prefer a preamp over none.
  15. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Ontario Canada
    I can understand that with a pre amp that might add a little a nice tube amp doing what it does...I've been there;)lol...just occurred to me i use my Classe pre amp in circuit even when i don't need to:/
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  16. Donivey

    Donivey Well-Known Member

    A preamp adds more there there. Sometimes, too much.
  17. eis01

    eis01 Active Member

    Fezewig's Inn
    I have always used a preamp until I received my PS Audio PWD MKii. The recent acquisition of a set of Klipsch Forte's sealed it for me .
  18. billnunan

    billnunan Forum Resident

    Cleveland, Ohio
    About 9 months ago, I added a Freya (always in tube mode) after my Gundnir MB DAC and before my Crown PS-400. I noticed a significant improvement immediately.

    Yesterday, I added a pair of Schiit Aejirs after the Freya and it all jumped up another level.
  19. CoolJazz

    CoolJazz Forum Resident

    Eastern Tennessee
    I had a friend running a computer into a Schiit Yggy DAC via USB and then into a pair of monoblock tube amps. He was very, very happy with how it sounded. I ran across a Welborne tube preamp I was familiar with, listed on eBay. Talked him into trying it. He is now over and over, saying how much better it is and how much more detail he is getting. After about a month now, I'm guessing he won't go back.

  20. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Washington, D.C.
    Whether or not an additional active linestage is just adding coloration and is therefore detracting from "accuracy," when the right unit is chosen, the sound is simply better to me--more presence, a denser, more saturated sound instead of being harmonically threadbare and thin. A friend has a very good passive linestage that utilizes light-dependent resistors, in what I believe to be a shunt to ground arrangement. His set up was ideal for use of a passive linestage (less than .5 meter length of interconnects). The system sounded very good. Just for kicks, we substituted a decent tube linestage (custom built unit using 310 tube). The sound was much more dynamic and engaging with the tube linestage. But, that same system with a different tube linestage sounded soggy and overly warm, so it is really a matter of trial and error.

    If this were my system, I would bypass the volume pot in the Dynaco, and use an inductive-type (transform-based) volume control. Unlike most passive units, transformer volume controls do not kill dynamics, probably because at lower volume, instead of dissipating the energy of the signal, transformers convert voltage to current. Transformer-based volume controls are hard to find, most are not operated by remote control, and most do not have enough steps to allow for setting the volume at precisely the level one wants. This is pretty much NOT the case with the autoformer-based units from Emia. I have not heard one in my system, but, I've heard terrific systems that Emia set up at shows, and that company is known for its transformer products:

    Mad shadows likes this.
  21. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    As for your friend's setup, you can have .5m interconnects with a capacitance of 150pf or more! Length is not that important but capacitance is, with a passive. Get some really low cap cables and your passive will (might) sound way different, no matter what some manufacturers say...
  22. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident

    Brooklyn, NY
    hi_watt and bever70 like this.
  23. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Washington, D.C.
    These were supposedly low capacitance cables; he is technically minded and knows how to optimize the setup. I have heard other setups with passives, and I tend to like those that use transformers rather than resistors for attenuation. But, those that use a different secondary for each step of attenuation cannot provide enough steps (at least to me) and I always feel that the right volume is somewhere in between. The 1 db steps of the Emia autoformer is much more to my liking.

    I personally use a tube-based active linestage. It allows for remote control of volume (motorized pot) and balance control through twin Daven potentiometers (the custom builder loves really old school components). In keeping with my preference for iron, it has input transformers and output transformers. The use of output transformers makes it ideally compatible with an amp with complementary input transformers (which I have). All of the transformers are Western Electric. Some day, I plan to talk to Emia about incorporating their remotely controlled stepped attenuator into my linestage.
  24. 62caddy

    62caddy Forum Resident

    Arguably, the ideal preamplifier is none at all. If it's assumed the aim of a preamplifier is to pass a signal with the least amount of coloration a/k/a distortion and noise, elimination of this device from the signal path removes any possibility from this occurring.

    That said, there are many practical reasons for having a preamplifier and it's up to the listener to decide whether the benefit outweighs the "penalties", not least of which is the expense. Personally, I would find volume regulation by way of L/R amplifier gain controls extremely cumbersome but if the individual doesn't mind the inconvenience, it's difficult to see see how adding a preamplifier is going to improve things.
    bever70 likes this.
  25. Linger63

    Linger63 Forum Resident

    Ran an OPPO 105 with a $2K pre amp into active ATC's and thought it sounded great.
    Then went direct with the OPPO 105 and thought it sounded even better.

    Recently scored a $3.5K ATC pre amp for a listen and............HUGE JUMP IN EVERYTHING!!!!!!

    My system just absolutely came to life.......amazing transformation.

    Now listen with an OPPO 205 into ATC pre and WILL NOT be looking back.

    A very system dependent experiment though........I needed the RIGHT pre for the magic to happen.
    hi_watt and Hymie the Robot like this.

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