Amp vs Preamp which is more important?

I am considering changing my amp/preamp combination and as I think about budget, I am wondering if one of these components should get more focus. My other question is if these components, even separates can never be considered in isolation but are always part of a pair working together.

I thought there must be a thread on this, but I couldn't find it. Feel free to respond with it here and I will shut this thread down.



Valid question- don’t know your current set up or what sound you’re looking to create. 

Preamps are evolving since there are many including phono stage, DAC and sometimes streaming. 

Fair point, I mostly listen to analog jazz, blues and classic folk rock and r&b.

Current setup:

  • pre  ARC sp-16L
  • power Art Audio PX-25
  • phono stage Icon Audio PS1 MkII
  • TT - Luxman PD-444
  • CD - Ayre Audio CX-5

You have an $18K amp paired with a $2K preamp.  While I've not owned either product, I would bet there's a good likelihood that the entry level preamp is holding back your high end amp.  I'd only be looking to change out the preamp, unless the amp is not a good fit for your speakers.

The amp is far more important. Why? Because there are many components that one can use with the amp that have preamp capability and functions. Many will keep the signal path simpler and negate the need for a preamp.

I think you phrased the question well, acknowledging the interdependence of the two. 

I have to say the preamp. It takes the really small signal and brings it up to the level the brute can handle it. The preamp is the heart of the system… it brings consistent sound to a system. 

Over the last fifty years of my pursuit of the high end, the preamp was generally my most expensive electronic component. I would keep it the longest, then make it the biggest jump in quality.

In general, all my electronic components are in the same price range now (my system is shown), with some variability. In general I would recommend all components would be roughly in the same cost category: preamp, phono stage, DAC, amp, streamer and turntable. But if there were a bias, I would lean towards more investment in the preamp.


If I upgrade soon, it would be my Audio Research Reference 6SE for an Audio Research Reference 10SE (yes, I know that does not exist yet. But the reference 10 does).

Preamp! Tubes! (get optional features, in menu of modern equipment, actual controls on vintage. 

Next, how much power do you need? If not too much, tubes! need plenty, SS.

I need a preamp since I have a few analog sources on my 2 systems. I use 2 preamps that are utterly silent and impart minimal sound to the signal. Both the Holo Serene and Benchmark LA4 are as silent as it gets, and I love them both with every amp I have hooked them up to.

For me, the amp is much more important than the premp. Now if I had a different preamp that added to the sound, such as a CODA 07x, Luxman c900u, or Schitt Freya+, then that would be a totally different answer. 


I firmly believe the preamp is the heart and soul of a system.   Everything goes through it and it drives your amp.    

I had the opportunity to own a Zesto Leto preamp.   It is a seriously good preamp.  It elevated my system's performance like no other component.   I sold it to fund a DHT preamp I am having built to match my amp.      It was a great pre, I took a huge step back using my old preamp til my new one is ready.  You really should try something of that calibre with your amp....

Both amp and preamp can be equally important - way to many scenarios to determine which one. I would think of it as "which component is holding the other one back" and go from there.

@ghdprentice   I havre  to also agree with you. I recently upgraded my Ref 6 to the 6 se. But tell me u said u would upgrade the 6SE to a 10se when it comes out ? Why not up grade the 6SE to the 10 now ? And what if for argument sake they don’t make a 10se. Or anything past the 10. Not likely but let’s say.  Would u then up the 6 se for the 10 ? 

I personally think both are just as important. I recently upgraded my ARC Ref 6 to the 6 SE. I also bought new ARC REF 750s mono blocks to replace my Krell FPB 600 amp. I think that they are both very important components not to try and skimp on. 

If you have a CD player or DAC with a volume control you can do a little test to determine the performance of your preamp. listen to the digital component through the preamp and then disconnect it and hook it up directly to your amp, being careful to start with the volume turned down low. Go back and forth a couple times. Hopefully there won't be much, if any difference in sound.

If it sounds the same without the preamp in the chain then it is doing its job. It should be neutral and transparent.

Which is more important, you right foot, or your left foot?  The preamp certainly has the more complex job.  I sidestepped this question by buying an integrated amp and probably gave up the ability to have the best of either.

Amps can sound pretty good without a preamp. Preamps don’t sound at all without a power amp. Headphones excepted. :)

IF the amp and speakers are decently matched AND if the amp is decent -- the preamp is more important.

@ghdprentice put his finger on why: "It takes the really small signal and brings it up to the level the brute can handle it. The preamp is the heart of the system… it brings consistent sound to a system."


Both are important and making sure they sound good together is equally important. Having said that, I would suggest you upgrade your preamp.  If you like the sound of you ARC 16l and your PX-25, you might move up the ARC line.

How much were you thinking of spending?

PRE_AMP, No question is more important...It takes years to Realize this but once you do !  AudioGD HE-1 XE SLR with it's own regenerative power supply @ $4000 is the best 10 tube pre I've heard under $15K and the Part Time Audiophile agrees.

@curiousjim maybe 5 or 6k. I am leaning toward an ARC 5se, not the latest/greatest, but I imagine a significant step up from the sp16.

Power amp but a neutral, transparent preamp with good volume control that will keep perfect left-right channels balance is important too.

For the BEST SOUND....Tube preamp with Solid State amp.( Class D like Aavik or Gato OR on the more mid fi level the Peachtree Gan 400 is excellent

If you have not already Tube Rolled the Input Stage on the Pre-Amp and Power Amp, there is a trick being missed.

A Investigation on Tube Options and trials may just deliver what is being sought.

I would make the best Tubes available for the Pre' as the better the signal is processed at this the device is for the benefit of the Power Amp.

Trying different Umbilical's at all interfaces can be tried out, these being selected for their allowing New Tube selection to really show of their magic, will be a very cost effective way forward.

I can't say enough good things about PC Triple C wire used to produce Umbilical's and Speaker Wire. 

Holy moly,

They are both important.  But consider this: If the preamplifier omits anything (no matter how subtle), it is lost and can never be recaptured.  This is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Now extend this singular example to all the miniscule details that must happen correctly before the amplifier ever gets the signal.

The amplifier has to be faithful to this small input signal and produce/amplify exactly what it has been given. All of it's attributes must be in keeping with the loudspeakers.  This is synergy and without it, the reproduction just won't work. 


A truly great preamplifier will not be system dependant. Amplifiers must be considered with the loudspeakers that you will be using. Very efficient speakers may match up well with SET amps, etc. Less efficient speakers will require a more powerful amplifier.  Purchasing decisions must be in context with loudspeaker consideration (s).


Seems the preamp is what needs to be updated in the OPs chain as it’s a weaker link than the amp.

Ah, the old 'chicken-or-the-egg' noted in several of the posts above, 'synergy' is the key-word here. The trick is finding what amp best mates with the preamp.....while many solid-state amps can have slightly different colorations, the preamp affects the overall end result more than the amp. Of course, the caveat is that the speaker is the biggest wild card in the deck, so that should be the first component chosen (IMO). I feel that most of the time,'bad' sound is a result of a poor recording, not the equipment's fault. Mass-market budget gear from places like Best Buy and that ilk is the obvious exception. Anyway, one of the most fun parts of our hobby/obsession is swapping components and cables in the never-ending search for the Holy Grail. YMMV.

Hi! I remember my hifi dealer in Paris (Presence Audio Conseil in Ile-St-Louis, splendid location and shop) happy to see me SO CRAZY HAPPY after I bought from them a second-hand Cello Encore Amplifier. It was a replacement for a Moscode 300 hybrid amp to drive - at that time - a pair of Audiostatic 300. I loved the Moscode and the lights and all. But when the small double mono 50W transistor amplifier came home, I rediscovered every LP and CD I put in.

Coming back to my dealer’s place a few weeks later, I asked (just to have an advice, I couldn’t afford it) if there would be the same difference if I changed my YBA3 pre to a Cell Encore pre.

Then, Gerard (it’s the name of that guy I knew for years since the shop started, back in the 70s), Gerard looked at me and said: "There will be much more differences, a huge improvement on the amp."

Since that day in the 90s, I always considered that a pre could be determining your system balance and transparency. Much have been said about this in the previous posts, and I agree with most of them. Even if my Wadia 16 needs no pre, thanks to its integrated digital volume management , I prefer the sound of it through my "small" Jeff Rowland Consonance pre (as you noticed, I’m still looking for an affordable Encore Pre).

So, I’ll probably buy the best pre I can get for the money, and put the same amount in the amp. And choose the pre first. If I could (I did the opposite, naturally). But If money was no question, that’s what I’d do.

Blind testing has led me to believe that the amp is a little more important.  Each component becomes increasingly easier to identify blind the closer you get to actually making audible sound. Source<Pre<Amp<Speakers.  I’m assuming a digital source, I’m not sure where I’d place things like turntables/arms/needles etc.  I don’t have much experience w/ vinyl.  The room is also very important but it’s not really a component unless you have a dedicated treated room.  I’ve got a mullet system and have tried many different dacs, streamers, preamps, and amps over the years to make improvements.   I kinda gave up on separates though and found I prefer the esthetic of an integrated amp and small streamer/dac like the Wiim Pro.  Personally I have found that as I go upscale in gear, it becomes more about form then function because everything you try sounds great after a certain point. 


The reason I am not upgrading to the Reference 10 right now is because it is not a financially reasonable thing for me to do. But if I correctly envision my financial status in a couple years, I may be able to do it. On the other hand I am very happy with my Reference 6SE. Improved financial condition… plus incentive of an even better two box solution might be the level of enticement I need.  

In my opinion, the pre-amp first.  I would get the best pre-amp I could afford and build from there.

The Amp also depends on speakers selected.  So there is a back and forth involved.

Hi efficient speakers don't need arc welder style amplification.  Or, not so efficient speakers need more powerful amplification or if the speaker's impedance is low, then you need specific amplification to drive them correctly.

But, the pre-amp is typically not system dependent.

Also, yes, there are digital sources that have volume controls incorporated.  However, they typically are not internal pre-amps and therefore are not control amps that have multiple inputs.  So if you decide to have more than one input source, that digital source with a volume control really doesn't cut it.

You have an SP16 pre-amp.  That pre-amp has a decent incorporated phono section.  So, you currently have multiple inputs, volume control and a decent phono section.

My recommendation is to "borrow" a REF 3, REF 5SE, REF 6.  Take them home, and listen in your system doing an A/B comparison with your SP16.

I did that with my SP9 MKII, SP11, REF 3, REF 5 and REF 6. If it wasn't for wanting remote control capability, the SP11 is outstanding.

However, the REF 3 is very nice indeed, even compared to new pre-amps.  You can't go wrong with a REF 3.  The REF 5 vs the REF 3 didn't show enough of a difference to warrant (justify?) upgrading to the REF 5.  Just not that much of a sonic improvement.

however, the REF 6 vs the REF 3 was a noticeable difference.  Then I got a deal for a REF 10 (the best) that I could not pass up.

looking at your current system, The only thing i would consider upgrading at this time would be the pre-amp.  Go for a REF 3 or a REF 6.


As a Tube guy, I like integrated.  Not sure that is the same in SS since there are less good integrated choices.  but a good integration ensures harmony.


The sound signal is your car and pre amplifier and amplifier are two part of highway. We will experience traffic problems when  lane numbers shrinked, that happens with the signal. It could be that the pre is more important, it could be that the amplifier is more important depending how good the other one. General speaking, the weak one decide.

Once my system was no longer entry level and I was at the point in which the speakers I owned I considered my final pair I started what I called the final upgrade circle. I then upgraded the piece of equipment that was lowest in both cost and where they sat in that brands line. Yes cost can be a determiner. The higher you move the more you must spend to hear significant jumps. Eventually you begin to hit your maximum dollar amount you will want to spend on individual components and this starts that last circle that will level them all so hopefully one component does not hold your system back. The most interesting were the amplifier and preamplifier upgrades, My last two components that needed to be upgraded. These upgrades was where I realized how incredibly important those two components were. They really brought the sound to a level I never thought I would have been able to obtain

With all the above said some one mention the preamplifier partially due to its difference in cost to the amplifier. I agree with that analysis and it was proved to me when I went out on a limb and purchase my first to me really expensive preamplifier that was significantly more expensive than my amplifiers and heard what a difference it made. I believe if you are near the end of your upgrading purchase go for the preamplifier before the amplifier.

The only thing at this point that will be upgraded will be my DAC and streamer and only due to some unknown changes in music delivery and technology changes in those areas. This is not to say I have the best system around but I hit my limit in what I can spend and am very satisfied with the system’s sound. Took years like most people.

I am no audiophile by any stretch with the gear you guys are used to, but I have a new friend that is... He sold me a pair of Zu Dirty Weekend speakers he bought new in 2018. When I went to audition these speakers at his house, I was amazed at the gear he had laying around and or in boxes. His one listening area he had a pair of $12000 speakers, Tyler Acoustic Woodmere II's that Tyler built special for my friend, and delivered personally back in the day. He had a $10,000+ tube amp just sitting on a furniture dolly, various other amplifiers on furniture dollies, and gear from manufactures I have never heard of. 

He has three systems, and get this, he is running PS Audio Stellar Gaincell preamps in all three, along with the Parasound A23+ amplifiers. No external DACs, he uses the one in the Gaincell. 

I bought the Zu speakers from him, brought them home and hooked them up to my system, Denafrips Venus II 12th DAC, their Athena Pre, Thallo amp and I had two Emotiva XPA-2 amps, one original and one DR2. It sounded like crap with the Zu's... Currently own the KLH Model 5's. 

I talked to my buddy, he has owned all of that same Denafrips gear, has Alvin's cell number. He sold them all. Go get yourself a Gaincell and A23+ kid... And that is what I did. 

I found a used Gaincell, and purchased a new Parasound A23+ and cannot believe how these two pieces work together, even the DAC in the Gaincell bested my Venus and Athena. Four sets of ears agreed when we did an amp/speaker shootout here at the house. The A23+ and Gaincell won hands down with the Zu's. I have the same amount of money invested in this system now as I do that one Venus DAC.

What is my point? I don't know, but my new buddy with tens of thousands of dollars in gear laying around his house decided that this is what sounded the best to his ears. He jokes about it when looking around at all of the gear he has just sitting there, that this is the system that does it for him. A discontinued entry level preamp and an inexpensive more or less consumer amplifier. Who would have thunk? 


Great experience for you. Our journeys to audio nirvana is individual. Our systems are composed of a bunch of components in our audio space. We have different values and different homes. It is a journey that we must make ourselves… but external input can be helpful… but not always.


There are gear oriented folks that really enjoy swapping out stuff. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this pursuit. Me, I do slow methodical advances based on lots of research. Each component has had a huge amount of reaseach put into it… and the expenditure was at the max I could make. After 50 years, I couldn’t be happier at the outcome. Each of the last dozen purchases have had exactly the right effect and result in my system. I guess 40 years of intent study have had their value.


Both are important, damn near equally.  I too favor the preamp as being a bit more important though by a small margin.  A great tube preamp, Motherlode top end, coupled with my PassLabs X250.5 or LSA Voyager GAN has been sonic heaven.