Are higher end preamps worth the investment when you are only streaming Tidal & Spotify ?

Amp: Modwright 150SE

Speakers: Aerial Acoustics 7T

Streamer/DAC/ : NAD C658

With the goal of achieving higher fidelity, would a 10k -12k MSRP preamplifier be overkill when you only stream from Tidal or Spotify? Do higher end preamplifier applications mostly apply to vinyl and /or high end transports vs subscription streaming?





I always have spent more my preamps than any other component.    It's the heart of any great system.  Get it wrong and you don't exploit the potential of ANY source component.  

In 2019 I got a Bluesound Vault 2i.    It literally changed my life as it pertains to music.   In 5 years I have discovered  more music than in 50 

For a short period I had the Vault and my DAC connected to the amazing sounding Zesto Leto preamp.   That preamp is world class and sounded fantastic streaming from Qobuz and Tidal

I upgraded to an Aurender N200 to pair with my DAC and feel it was a worth while choice despite it's price tag.  I don't even play CDs anymore .  Maybe a handful every year  

Demo something like a Aurender A200 or better and you will see that streaming can sound pretty good 


First, try Qobuz vs Tidal, if available to you.

To most, Qobuz sounds better than Tidal and way better than Spotify.  I only stream, and would love to make a new system without a preamp.  But, so far, my systems sound better with a quality preamp.

I tried DAC direct and it lacked drive and dynamics ,  after owning that Zesto it was clear where all my systems in the past were lacking.   

Installing that elevated my entire system to another level.  Also, it demonstrated how good my Quicksilver monos really were.  

When I connected it to my 300b it really let that amp shine.   A good pre is crucial to good sound.  All sources pass through and it drives your amp.   Most overlooked component in many systems.  

I sold that Zesto to fund a DHT preamp and am using an old Sonic Frontiers preamp.  A temporary major step backwards in sound quality.  Sounds good but no where as good as with a great preamp.

Why not consult with Dan Wright? He can send you one of his preamp or the newest Analog Bridge to try it out. Whatever he suggests, it will be a great match for your KWA-150. 

I agree with others, a high quality preamp is indispensable. 

A preamp is little more than switch with additional tonal insertions. Assuming that the highest 'fidelity" is "straight wire with gain" why add an unneeded switch?  It might sound "better" but cannot possibly be more "fidelitous."

I've had Tidal and Spotify. Dropped them for Qobuz. It DOES sound better to me.


@lalitk yep, Dan’s equipment is awesome and a great value but am in the used market unfortunately. I am keeping an eye out for his stuff. @ vonhelmholtz yeah that NAD C658 DAC Streamer is really a weak link but the DIRAC feature really helps with my room. I might have to get a stand-alone room correction device in order to update the streamer and Dac as the NAD does not allow you to disengage the DAC from what I understand.

Qobuz (best) and Tidal can sound as good as CDs, stored files or vinyl given the right system. The sound you get is really dependent on all your components. 

Your system is a sum of its parts. I have found that with careful choices topically an optimal system will have all components with roughly similar investments… so streamer = DAC = Preamp = amp.

That said, if I were going to invest more in something it would typically be the preamp. It really is pivotal in setting up the sound. 

With the goal of achieving higher fidelity, would a 10k -12k MSRP preamplifier be overkill when you only stream from Tidal or Spotify?

Yes, the C658 is fine for your current setup. If you want an upgrade measure your room's FR and post it in your profile and we can discuss. Acoustics are #1.

A preamp will bring life to your system.

Don't believe me, ask Paul McGowan.


Tidal and Qobuz on a great streamer and DAC sound better than most CDs because most CDs are played on a CD player with internal DAC.

Now if you’re doing CD right, with a good CD transport to your same DAC, they are likely hard to tell apart.



NAD C658 DAC Streamer is really a weak link but the DIRAC feature really helps with my room. I might have to get a stand-alone room correction device in order to update the streamer and Dac as the NAD does not allow you to disengage the DAC from what I understand.

I looked for some photos/measurements of your room to see if I could figure out why you needed room equalization, but no photos. I don’t know if I should ask you why you think that you need room equalization, or question myself as to why I think that I don’t need room equalization.

A new (to me) preamp made me realize my system was much better than I thought it was. Best decision I've ever made in audio.



I'm not sure you need to spend $10K. In my opinion the AT7 QS Line Stage gives me definite improvement for my PSAudio DSD. I would never be without it streaming of otherwise.

And let me add some of my findings concerning, at least  PSAudio's built in streamer. Everything sounds better with the Bridge ripped out.

I use Audirvana on a mac mini and USB that into the DSD with a nice cable. I stream from Qobuz. Once I find an album I would hate missing as in when Qobuz removes it, I search for the highest rez I can find and purchase it.

My only point is that the pre is just part of the chain and anything is only as strong as its weakest link.

BTW they are selling factory checked DSD on PSAudio's site for $3K.



"I upgraded to an Aurender N200 to pair with my DAC and feel it was a worth while choice despite it's price tag.  I don't even play CDs anymore "


Whats this....C..D... thing you speak of?

@puffbojie I used to own the Modwright KWA 150SE. I actually had two of them in mono at one point and went back down to one. 

Yes, a preamp will do wonders for you, especially if streaming Tidal or Spotify. IMO the Modwright LS-36.5 DM is one of the best preamps, especially maxxed out with good tubes. When I had mine, I started without the DM, so it was just the single chassis. That already was leaps and bounds better than Dan’s SWL 9.0 SE. the DM upgrade was yet another league higher.

I no longer own Modwright gear but have always been a fan.

The NAD C658 is not that bad of a DAC, especially due to its DIRAC features. Otherwise it by itself is still a clean DAC. While I like BluOS, you also will get much better quality from digital files by having a dedicated streamer. I am partial to Aurender and became an Aurender dealer because of my positive experiences with them over other brands, but there are a lot to choose from. 

I’m fairly certain with your system, you will get greater sonic gain by investing in a good preamp first and streamer second. 

Nobody has brought it up, but quality power will also be a huge contributor in advancing your system’s sonic performance. The KWA 150 SE is a high current amplifier and will benefit from a quality conditioner and aftermarket power cable. 

I am also a preamp first audio fan. brings everything to life.   yes.  

don't underestimate the quality of your streams.  

@vonhelmholtz and OP

I don’t know if I should ask you why you think that you need room equalization, or question myself as to why I think that I don’t need room equalization.

Post some measurements.

OK, to the crowd that is voting preamp I am scratching my head. I have a Marantz surround processor and a dedicated Sony Signature TAZH1 ES that functions as a DAC/preamp/headphone amp. It is a cost no object dac/pre from the best engineers at Sony and was 5 years in the making. It sounds transparent as anything, but not "better" than my Marantz unit on 2 channel, just different. What is this preamp that will unleash this magic?? How much do I need to drop?

My current 2 channel Sony preamp/dac/headphone amp:


Post removed 

Since I run 6 different sources on my system, I would be sh*t out of luck without my preamp.

I would upgrade to a much higher en dac stream the nad is a good unit we are

an  nad dealer


look at the new nain nac 222 extremely good analog preamp dac and streamer worlds better then the nad


Dave and Troy

audio intellect

nad naim dealers

Counter to most views I agree with fuzztone. Recently my US $ 5000 pre developed a hum problem so I hooked my power amp up to my Pure Audio 5 Lotus DAC using it as a preamp. The SQ was excellent - detailed. good imaging and soundstage with no SS harshness. The SQ was if anything better than with the expensive pre and dead silent. So why do I need a preamp?

PS I won't reveal the name of my preamp but it is very highly reviewed and as always said to punch above it's weight.

Your system is pretty good, all it is missing is a Qobuz or Tidal subscription.   Sooo worth the money.   $15 to $20 a month for all the music you can listen to.  

I went to the movies tonight , $32.50 for tix and ready for this...  $16 for two regular drinks.   We had dinner before so we snuck some candy in.

We had a great night , but it made me realize that things like Qobuz and Netflix really are pretty cheap entertainment.  

You really owe it to yourself to put that NAD on a music service that has great sound quality.   The Blu OS runs really good with either and you'll enjoy much better quality.  



The Dirac gives you the option to take a picture of FR graph which I always do but have no idea where it goes. Once I complete the project I delete it so not sure if I have those graphs saved somewhere on my Mac ? Anyway I will retest and just get a screenshot to provide.  Would love anyone’s insight on what that graph represents once I get it posted.  I’ll get a pic of my room too.  


Thanks that’s cool that you had the KWA150 in monos.  The Modwright pre 36.5 pre is definitely a pre I am looking at. I am also looking at Audio Research preamplifiers such as the LS 28 and ref 5 & ref 5 SE in the used market. Does anyone have any opinions on those. Also you mentioned having a good conditioner with the high current 159 SE . What is the least expensive one I could get used before the law of diminishing returns starts kicking in? I am using a $125 furman conditioner for whatever that’s worth.  

It’s odd that you think subscribing to tidal and or Qobuz isn’t worth putting together a quality system. Not true at all.

Also, about asking Paul from PS Audio if a pre is needed, go ahead and up until Paul made a preamp, his recommendation was to use no preamp, just go from the dac to the amp(s). I used to use a $5k preamp when I had both vinyl and digital. When I got rid of all my vinyl, I compared the sq of using a preamp vs hooking up my dac to my amps. If you have a quality dac that is quiet and has the volume you are looking for, and you are only using a digital source, you don’t need a preamp. I sold my preamp and all after market cables associated with using the preamp.

1 more thing, don’t ask a dealer if you need a preamp, try it yourself and let your ears dictate if you need 1


The Dirac gives you the option to take a picture of FR graph which I always do but have no idea where it goes.

Maybe a pictures folder? I use windows so that's my best guess. You will need to upload the pic to your virtual system (see mine as an example) and from their you can copy and paste it into a post like this.

Would love anyone’s insight on what that graph represents once I get it posted.  

I don't use Dirac but here is an example from my streamers ARC room correction. The software offers you a choice of target response curves and you choose one. Then you get a before and after comparison. On the left axis is the decibel level, the bottom axis are the frequencies. The software attempts to match your in room response as closely as possible to the response curve. DSP can cut frequencies that are too high above the curve, but can't lift the frequencies that are below it, the bass. For that you need to try room treatments, moving your speakers away from or toward the wall, etc.



Uh- yeah. The better the pre amp and the rest of the system the better it all sounds generally speaking (not withstanding that Spotify is pretty limited). I stream exclusively and use Quboz via Roon (gave up on Tidal due to being unable to opt of of so many "E" rated tunes via the Roon / Tidal interface). Quboz sounds great and the better the gear, the better it sounds. 

@puffbojie the ARC preamps you mention are very different from each other. The LS28 is very close tonally and performance-wise to the LS36.5, but the LS36.5 DM version beats it in just about every way. With the right tubes, both preamps can be very harmonically rich while still being quite transparent and resolving. The REF series from ARC are less harmonically rich and more clean sounding, focusing on resolution first. Given where your system is, I believe the LS36.5 or LS28 will be a better fit than the Ref 5.

The Modwright LS-100 is good too, but more colored with more slightly rounded edges than the LS36.5. 

I basically asked the same question about my Eversolo going direct to my Mac amp versus going thru C2300. I got different answers from obviously it would sound better to changing tubes etc. For me, even if going direct sounds better, I would still keep the preamp because it ties in my other components. Digital streaming sounds so good now if one is on a budget, it’s worthwhile considering saving money from buying a preamp and using the savings on better speakers. 

 Very good question…!

I ran my DCS Rossini straight into my ARC 160s and then added my ARC REF 6SE.


Wow….! A massive improvement…! Not subtle. Big noticeable difference in detail, sound stage, openness…. Bass…!





Change to qoboz as someone else said.... A good dac is vital but I spent about 40-50% of total budget on speakers as I always believe end sound most important (river analogy with no point having throttle  at end gotta flow into the sea/ears)

But it's all incremental in the end but big benefits to sound in my books would be speakers/service stream provider/dac/amp/streamer (once past super cheap levels.


Qobuz definitely best SQ streaming service v Amazon HD, Spotify, Pandora, Haven’t tried Tidal.  

Looked up the Modwright 150, it’s a beast!  If you can, audition a few high end tube preamps, e.g., Audio Research, McIntosh, then you’ll know and head down the rabbit hole of finding “the best”, mabe an exotic like Manley or a Dennis Had pre, if you can find one or Audio Note out of the UK.

It is my experience, regardless of the source, a decent output stage and analog volume suits me the best. This prevents any issues with the loading on the amp input stage or with the sometimes poor streamer or DAC output stage drive capability.

I have two that are so transparent as to be non-existent.  They do NOT alter the sound by providing warmth, additional "musical harmonics" etc.  JDS Atom+ and a Schiit Asgard.  Alas, neither has a remote control so I will be buying a Schiit Sega for my main system as none of my DACs have remote volume.   I have owned many preamps, from Hafler, to Nakamichi ,to DIY active, passive, and tube.  None can beat the ones I mentioned. (The Nak Pa7 was sweet but probably placebo)

Now, IF your streamer has sufficient output drive, IF it implements decent volume control, IF the DAC is decent (internal, no it is probably not)  IF it has remote or headphones amp and you want it, then adding another box does nothing for you. Spend the money where it counts: Speakers, DAC, Amp in that order.  Yea, I have been amazed how different DACs sound. But some of that may have to do with JRiver or other streamer settings.  It would be great if I can change a setting and not put out 2 grand on a Qutest :)  For home audio where cables are less than a meter, I consider balanced connections to be worthless and if you understand electronics, you will understand most have WORSE CMCR than  just an se connection.  Read the papers from Jensen transformers.  Many "balanced" connections just add additional input and output devices that are not well matched enough for the "magic" advantages.   Studios with 100 foot runs are another story.

A few amps, like the March/Purify are actually true balanced and maybe a slight advantage in a balanced preamp if it is good enough.  Having built balanced buffers, FET, OP-Amp and even THAT chips, it is very hard and expensive.  An inch of trace matters.  Proximity to the bypass caps matters.  Hard. 

Now, some try to use a preamp distortion to mask source or other induced distortions.  Tube buffers specifically. It is adding distortions and masking, but if it sounds better to you, by all means!   No one here can tell you what you hear or you what you like.  Listen for yourself.  The only wrong answer is to rely on you-tube salesmanship. In truth, an NE5558 OP-Amp, well implemented which is sadly too rare, is better than anything else in your chain, so don't be fooled by the slick pages. If you looked under the covers in a studio, you may find your perfect streaming file went through hundreds of them already.  If the music is as old as I listen to, probably far worse. 

I’m using a streamer/dac into a Amp designed just for the streamer. Perhaps I drank the Koolaid but it sounds better this way. A buddy uses his steamer the same way too. 

The rule of thumb that separates are the best way to go in 97.87% (made up number) of systems is so but if you only stream maybe if equipment has synergy ($pelled with dollars signs) a pre maybe not critical. 

Another vote for Qibuz. 

A preamplifier is the heart of a system.  It is definitely a must-have for an audiophile.

@puffbojie Take a look at the review of the ARC REF6SE on TAS.  His thought was, maybe you don't need one.  But then you have the data of @jomonhifi , which could be due to impedance matching ... so it depends on your system

Never buy equipment based on playing vinyl. Buy components that can actually handle hi-res digital audio and make it sound proper, and that is why you need a good pre-amp and other components. Your DAC and pre-amp are critical. They may be the same unit. 



I know the info of my room is limited etc, but at first glance why do think harmonics would be a better fit vs resolution as it relates to the ARC LS28 and the ref 5 /s per my current set up?

Hello puffbojie!  If you are just streaming you don't even need a preamp. Most sttreamers with a volume control put out enough juice to drive a power amp. Save $$ and potential problems down the line. Streamer to power amp to speakers. My third best system is just DAC to power amp to speakers. Happy Listening!

I don’t see anywhere where you list the room dimensions and/or characteristics that requires Dirac to make it sound good — am I missing something?  There are lots more options than your NAD, and between its mediocre preamp and streaming capabilities you’re probably paying a very high price in performance just for Dirac.  With a budget of $10-$12k and considering the quality of your other equipment you could certainly do much better.  What’s up with the room???

Assuming based on your equipment you are looking for an analog line-level preamp.  In my experience, having a good high -fidelity preamp is very important in any listening environment.  Digital reproduction in general has certainly come of age as has streaming digital.  If you have really good resolving digital source devices, be they a good CD transport or music server or streamer, and a good resolving DAC, you can absolutely tell the difference between those sources as well as the equipment that processes them to your preamp.  Having every piece of equipment in the audio chain from the source to the speakers at the highest fidelity level you can afford will allow you to have a satisfying listening experience. In the digital world, I have found that minimizing noise and especially jitter has profound effects on the quality of the musical reproduction.  A high-fidelity preamp will allow you to hear the subtle differences between changes in your digital sources.  

Sounds like a decent Dac/Streamer combo to replace the NAD may be a good idea.  Anything in the used market for under 4 k that might be a good upgrade to look for? 

Sounds like a decent Dac/Streamer combo to replace the NAD may be a good idea. 

Yeah, I’d wholeheartedly agree with that.  Here’s a great streamer you can also load your CDs into…

And you can add this excellent Denafrips R2R DAC…

And with your budget you could even add this Denafrips Iris DDC that’ll let you take advantage of the DAC’s superior i2S input…

Using this simple HDMI cable, which is what I use from my Iris into my DAC (and yes, get the 0.5 foot length as the shorter the better for i2S)…

This would be one kick-butt streaming system on the relative cheap.  Hope this at least gives you some food for thought, and best of luck  


It's funny that the individual selling the innuos zen in the link above is selling the innuos to move to a combo dac/streamer. 

The ONLY reason for the sale is that I am moving to a DAC w/ streaming capabilities and so the Innuos would be redundant.

  He must not have got the separate streamer/DAC memo.

I've always felt a preamp is over kill.  An amp with a volume knob is what I like. Or controlling it from a pc or a source is best.  I feel the more connections with a rca or balance inputs has another transfer signal losing its purity imo.

I agree with your thinking.  I have an  Allnic L-8000 DHT pre it is amazing.  I also have a Lampizator Golden Gate DAC with DHT analog output and volume control.  I stream Qobuz via an Innuos Statement using the InnuOS Sense App.  Its much better than Roon.