Budget preamp with quality volume control

Dear Audiogoners,

I used to be a firm believer that the signal path should be as short as possible and, as such, I have been using the two-channel system without a dedicated preamp. For a long period of time, I have relied on the digital attenuator in DAC for volume control, knowing the digital attenuator would compress the dynamic range of the sound. Therefore, I switch the volume control on DAC to the fixed mode, bypass the digital attenuation and use the unity gain knob in the back of the power amp for volume control. Depending on the music recording level, however, sometimes I need to turn the unity gain control way down to get proper sound level. This is particularly painful when I use the full-balance connection because of the double voltage gain.

In short, I am looking for a budgetary preamp with quality volume control that either has relay switch stepped control or precise potentiometer for left-right channel match to curb the issue. I try to summarize important (to me) performance catgories as best I can for various good sounding preamp I know (with or without headphone amp/dac) as shown below. It is found the Schiit Magnius happens to have the highest performance ratio. However, I am pretty sure that I likely miss other good performers due to my limited knowledge and would like to solicit for your inputs. Your kind assistance is appreciated.



I think you’d be remiss to not look at Placette preamps.  They use Vishay resistors in their volume controls and are about as pure straight wire with gain as you can get.  They’re all about purity and accuracy in the volume control.  That’s their Holy Grail.  Hope this helps. 

I agree that many have appreciated Placette products over the years so when I was comparing high end volume controls, I inquired to them back in January.

FYI - unfortunately, below is the message I received back:

Please make a note.
Placette Audio has closed.

I strongly suggest looking at the Hattor and/or Khozmo line.

Since the Topping preamps are all analog, they will support neither PCM nor DSD at any resolution. 

@kr4 Silly me. Schiit gears are the same. I was confused at the time when I include the Benchmark and Cambridge all-in-one units in the group comparison.  I have taken out which category. Thanks.

@jtcf Rogue entry level tube preamp RP1 is more affordable, feature packed and has received favorable reviews. Look promising but, with the similar money, I stumble across also well-received Integrated amp Pharaoh mk 1 (hybrid tube preamp used) for sale.  Do you have experience with it? 

Rogue RP1. Excellent preamp. Good parts, nice volume control, good built in phono stage

For the record modt cheaper preamps have a round silver volume pot made by alps ,or Bourne ,they ruin the output resolution for they are only 2 pieces of plastic with a conductive coating ,

Audio GD  has a master 19 you can get just over $1k 

from underwood Wally that is built very well all good grand components 

and a 100 step Relay controlled preamp with is far more accurate and 2 Big Rcore transformers for big dynamics and bass ,with a slightly warm balance 

@audioman58 Thank you for the coveat on the Alps / Bourne pot. Regarding AGD Master 19, I just listen to MidFi Guy channel where he stated, on the positive side, wide SS, smooth, polite and affordable price but, on the flip side, not as precise, of clarity as its competitor almost like "tube amp in the solid state form." So, it seems there are coloration / distortion applied on notes through the amp, and that is sort of contradicting to transparency, neutral attributes I prefer from a preamp. But your recommendation is appreciated. I do have an eye on its big brother Master 9 though which AGD claims to be neutral and least color sound (but same claim is on Master 19 as well), but it is sort of difficult to come across reliable review on these Chinese made product.

I am going to put Rogue RP-1 (used slightly over a grand), and Freya + too, in my list for now and expand the list to cover pricier units.

I have the Freya+ preamp if you want to know more ,email me 

p.s I also use nos vintage tubes ,not the crap from China, or Russia.

Great. One of the reason I did not include Freya + in my list is because I do not want to bother with tube replacement in the long run. But Schiit says they have longer lasting alternative called solid state tube, LISST, that triggers my interest. What do you feel about them, @audioman58, @ditusa and @riie if you don’t mind? Do they really sound good as claimed? If not, what are the good choices? 

Good analysis, but I think there should be some weight added for overall performance based on professional and owner reviews. Very subjective, I understand, but pretty important when choosing a preamp. I think the Freya S would rank higher in this case. 

I owned the original Freya (with tubes) and also own the Topping. Both sound very good. The Topping is a little quieter and a little more neutral than the Freya. After comparing the two, I sold the Freya. I've had the Topping  for a year or so and have no desire to look for a replacement. It's very quiet, very clear, and very neutral. It's also very basic, but that is just fine with me. Just my 2c. YMMV.

Enjoy the music!

Yes, @zlone, interestingly I thought about that too. For example, I was really in self debate as to how much weights I should place on "remote." Nowadays not having remote for a stereo system is a crime but then the quality of remote is also an issue too like Topping’s. Aside from that, quality of volume control and power supply are certainly two other criteria should receive heavier weight. I sort of address the power supply issue by adding a proper cost to the units not having linear / xformer power supply.

@tomcarr Toppings are raved by many reviewers / users including the class A rating by Stereophile (for Pre90). At the same time, one of the popular reviewer (do not wish to mention his name) critizes the A90D actually sounds only mediocre. In particular, he emphasizes the initial attack from A90D is impressive, weighty but that is pretty much it. There is no significant micro dynamics and reverberation coming after that, making the amp sound too analytical / surgical. My question to you is do you feel that is a general sound traits of Topping based on your listening experience?

OP- I do not own the A90D. I can only speak about the Pre90. I'm sorry I can't help in that regard.

I have experience with LISST it sounds good a little flatter than tubes but still good. If you don’t want to fiddle with tubes there is Freya S it has the same volume control as Freya+.

Hello I have been in this for 40+ years seen and done everything 

I have a moderate system for the Mrs ,and building a real smart $$ doing many mods for stock gear never top parts especially Loudspeaker Xovers,

And electronics 4-1 ratio or more Vs $ cost of parts - R&D overhead and markup 

keep this in mind , I have a Great Vacuum tube guru friend designer Radu Tarta 

who  will be building me a bucket list 6Sn7 preamp for $6k would cost you without any Bas $20k retail . Being an ex dealer I pop the hood to see the quality or what’s 

lacking ,for example the inexpensive ST Freya+   There are 4 wima caps. Upgrade to the VH audio Odam great improvement ,but only if you plan on keeping it 

and synergistic purple fuse Yes does makes a noticeable improvement 3 x better conductance then junk steel zinc buzz fuse 

vacuum tubes especiallly new old stock matched. You can literally tune your preamp to your taste, who gives a 💩 if they have to be replaced you are talking 3-3-5 years . There being 4 tubes R side voltage gain ,L side cathode- output  ,Right side has more influence I put specific ones R side ,L side another to complement the attributes you are looking for ,, tube amp and preamp can be too much of a good thing ,depending on tube types li grew on tubes in the 70s , these tubes 1950 

Sylvania-RCA venture  don’t buy the fake tungsols and mullard they are all made in Russia ,they are ok. But fir an extra $100 day $300 a quad night and day better 

100 hr runin. Don’t forget back then there was no Solid state inspection of filaments 10 x better, and critical extracting the gas to create the vacuum not even close 

10%+ distortion vs 3-4  % max and their secret sauce every mfg hsd 

go look up Andy at viintage tube services a true expert kcheck out his website in depth you will learn tons about how they build them ,Andy has the original testing equipment from the  real NJ Tungsol ,and RCA .  If you want to be a true Audiophile don’t get caught up on $small change , if I don’t have it I save a month 

go see Vintage tube services , online Ebay onky if the person has a great feedback rating .

the Solid state tubes ok at best ,as I stated real nos tubes you Taylor the sound to your taste and last far longer then new fake name tubes. And the Freya+ has 3 modes you can click passive ,no thanks , a active solid state mode decent , then vacuum tube , the new tubes they use are decent but not close to good ,

enjoy your 🎶 music 🎼 !!

I forgot to mention if anyone wants to see a modded Freya+ preamp drop me a E mail 

in code -the Enigma code 

since everything is censored here lately what's up with that  why ?

no audio super classified documents here !!


I'm interested in your modded Schitt Freya+. Try personal response to condosound.

@lanx0003 Nowadays not having remote for a stereo system is a crime

Agreed, no preamp would be up for my consideration without one. To me the choice is between Schiit's or Topping based on your list. FWIW, I have a Freya  + and I bought a cheap learning remote because I don't care for the controls on the supplied remote. It sure looks nice though.

@zlone  Good to know the universal remote work on the Freya+. I will probably get one if I do clinch the Freya+ but I am still torn between several candidates mainly Pre90, Freya s/+ and Rogue RP1.

Maybe a bit over your budget, but used will get you closer.  Try the P.S. Audio Stellar Gain Cell which has a built in DAC.  The gain cell does away with physical volume control.  Awarded and highly recommended.

Thanks, @rtrlover.  By reading its description on PS Audio website,

"At this instrument's heart is the analog GainCell. Rather than using additional sonically-degrading elements inserted in the signal path to control volume, the GainCell eliminates this problem without additional circuitry in the signal path by varying its gain in response to front panel controls."

I assume that the volume control is applied in the analog stage but not 100% sure.  Especially, if I was not mistaken, Paul has mentioned that he think the digital attenuation is a better way for volume control.  Do you know?

@lanx0003 Wrote:

Great. One of the reason I did not include Freya + in my list is because I do not want to bother with tube replacement in the long run. But Schiit says they have longer lasting alternative called solid state tube, LISST, that triggers my interest. What do you feel about them, @audioman58, @ditusa and @riie if you don’t mind? Do they really sound good as claimed? If not, what are the good choices?

I have no experience with LISST tubes. See my previous post below the Schiit Freya+ stereo preamplifier:


ditusa’s avatar


1,344 posts


@jayctoy @ditusa @wolfe_garcia @georgehifi and others who have commented so positively on the Schitt gear. Good to hear such high praise of the Freya. Quick question - is it your "forever" preamp? Or are you of a mind to eventually replace it with something else?

The Schiit Freya+ stereo preamplifier is without doubt an excellent performer, Its three preamps in one. I use it with my solid state amps and tube amp and it sounds great with stock tubes. My speaker’s efficiency is 2.7 % In my system the Freya+ is noise free. I use NOS 6sn7GT Ken-Rad (Pre-Ge) staggered plates with black carbonized glass. For me it’s a keeper. You will not find a better tube preamp that is balanced and remote controlled with a 5-Year Warranty and Easy Return Policy, and you can purchase brand new for $950.00! BTW, The Ken-Rad tubes are dated 1944 cost $300.00 factor that in the total price. You must try it in your rig to know if you like the way it sounds. Hope that helps. Mike 😎

Please see the article below for details for mods Freya+ preamp:



Used Peachtree preamps with built in Sabre DAC as well for around ~$500.  

I use the PS Audio Gain Cell preamp, have for about 3 years.  My system is quite resolving and I can attest that even at low, and sometimes very low volumes I don't seem to lose a thing.  No bass loss, no high end loss, all is still there.  The DAC is quite good also.  You can find them used from time to time at "The Music Room" website and you have a trial period if you don't like it.  They are very good to work with.

If you are satisfied with the output from your DAC, just need to be able to reduce it, then a passive preamp might be the ticker.

I'm using a Khozmo Acoustic preamp, 3 inputs, an outstanding volume control (i'm using the shut+z-foil), extremely transparent. The remote controls power on/off and volume only, the input must be changed manually (which is not a big deal to me...).

The passive preamp Schiit SYS is first thing I tried. Although many people have attested it is a good sounding preamp, I found the low end notes thru it are softened. High end notes are restrained and less airy. On the paper, the SYS’s output impedance is as high as 5k ohms so the ratio of load impedance to its output does not reach the desired 10. It has impedance mismatch issue. I am not thrilled by it and that is the reason I am only looking at the active preamp with gain.

Neverthless, I will keep looking into Khozmo preamp while its spec. seems not available even on its own site. Thank you for the recommendation.

Given the impedance mismatch with the passive preamp, it might be good to know what power amp you are using and the input impedance. The Freya requires at least 10 Kohm to work well. 

@audphile1  I have looked that option earlier.  Since I have hard time to pay $1000 for 1st Watt B1 buffer preamp, the only option I have looked is the Zerozone Pass X1-B Buffer Preamp from Aliexpress for around $230 incl. shipping.  But unfortunately, ZZ pass x1-B only works with Pass amp. If you know other source pls let me know.

@zlone My amps should be fine with Freya.  Two are 33k and one 20k. Thx

As mentioned earlier, after trying out Schiit SYS, I no longer consider passive preamp. I suspect the degraded SQ, i.e., soften lows and restrainted less airy highs, is resulted from the mismatched impedance. In addition, the headroom becomes fairly limited because of signal loss. Most of passive preamps have pretty high output impedance and unavoidably create mismatch issues with my amp (20k ohms - 33k ohms). I could not locate the specs for Pacette passive linestage even on their website but suspect its output imp. is no exception. But thank you for the thoughts.

@lanx0003 One thing to consider is the gain stage of your power amp. My pass labs power amp has a gain of 28db and therefore only really requires a buffer preamp. It would be worth looking at the gain of your power amp and use the appropriate preamp. It seems your dac  has a gain stage on the output and  between that the gain of your amp, you have too much gain. One solution is to replace the potentiometer (s) on your power amp with one with higher resistance. To me, it doesn't make any sense to add yet another gain stage and volume control in front of your amp that has a potentiometer in the signal path. Another solution would remove the potentiometer from the amp and get a SPL Volume 2 which is basically buffered analog Alps RK-27 potentiometer. 




1,397 posts

Like any of you could hear the difference in volume controls


Showing how much you know…….again.


The volume control used in a preamp is more important than the topology.



@pwayland I could not find that gain stage info in the manual for my Parasound amp. The control on the back are the unity gain control whose function, as you know, is to throw away some of the preamp output to get the main volume control in the region one likes best (gain staging process). I am not sure if I could simply get rid of it but I could max it out so there won’t be any variable resistor in the signal path. Then I could use Active preamp without gain in lieu of with gain (like you said) to adjust the volume. At the mean time, I could also bypass the digital attenuator in DAC by switch the volume to the "fixed" mode to avoid sound degradation. By reading the specs, the SPL Volume 2 as you have suggested or several Schiit products such as Freya, Asgard 3, Jot 2, or Magnius on my list will serve that purpose in addition to impedance matching. These Schiit products also come with active w/ gain so is handy when needed. Thank you that really helps me to eliminate a few other choices.

Btw, while reading the tech info. (as shown below) in SPL Volume 2 manual, it really explains what I have experienced with the SYS... It is actually a much better passive preamp compared to the cheap in-line attenutor I purchased for the sub. I therefore decide to retain SYS for my sub. instead.  

Active or Passive?

It is claimed that passive circuits are less signal influencing and more puristic and therefore better. Well, that is not so.

A passive control element such as a potentiometer in the signal path, which is not electronically buffered, influences the frequency response and phase position. Both change continuously as you change the volume.

This is exactly what does not happen with an active control.

Zlone, interested in your comment above.  
I have a Bryston 4B3 (7.5kohm input impedance). The Schiit Freya + has been mentioned several times on this forum as a decent low cost match.  
Freya + has a 75 ohm output impedance.  Not sure why this wouldn’t work?

As many of you know, the basic relationship between the signal transfer (in terms of voltage) ratio to impedance between output (source) and input (load) is

Vi / Vo = Ri / (Ri+Ro+cable impedance), where V = voltage and R = impdenace

For a standard 75 ohms interconnect cable, without loss of generality, if your preamp output imp. is roughly comparable to the cable impedance, Vi / Vo = Ri / (Ri+2Ro). As a rule of thumb, it is desirable to have Ri is at least 10 times higher than Ro. The corresponding Vi / Vo = 83%. There will be 17% signal loss, acceptable (see below for the coveat) but not ideal. If Ri is 100 times Ro, the Vi / Vo ratio will be 98%, only 2% signal loss and will be deemed ideal.

In @jpasko01 case, i.e., Freya -> Bryston 4B3, Ri = 100 Ro and therefore the signal loss is only 2%. The pariing should work like charm. In the case of a passive preamp SYS (Ro = 5000 ohms) into my Parasound A23 (Ri = 33k ohms) where the ratio is merely 6.6, the Vi / Vo = 33000 / (33000+5000+75) = 87%. This 13% signal loss is significant enough to cause noticeable sound degradation that I heard. This demonstrates that the ratio of 10 is just a rule of thumb, the ratio should be as high as possible like 100 to be ideal. Since I have not seen a passive preamp impedance is lower than 5k ohms, practically only the active preamp is possible to achieve an ideal impedance match.

@jpasko01 Two things regarding the impedance matching with the Freya, if you are using unbalanced, you are fine, however output impedance is 600 ohms for balanced. More importantly, read John Atkinson’s analysis in the Stereophile review. Again, regarding balanced connections, but he suggests anything under 10Kohm input impedance may not do well with the Freya. My amp is right at 10K, and seems fine. 

In short, I am looking for a budgetary preamp with quality volume control that either has relay switch stepped control or precise potentiometer for left-right channel match to curb the issue.


@lanx0003, The Wyred 4 Sound mPRE preamp priced at $1100 has both active and passive topology. The volume control is a switched resistor array (based on the $2000 Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE preamp) and it paired with my Clayton Audio M200 stereo amplifier, a full loom of 聖 Hijiri Nagomi interconnects the synergy is there in spades and my modest rig sings. At it’s $1100 price point it also comes with a remote.

Check it out: https://wyred4sound.com/products/mpre Here's a review from sixmoons.com:https://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/wyred8/1.html that will more completely explain the specs of the Wyred 4 Sound mPRE preamp.




@zlone is correct. The reasons, as shown in the "measurement" section, are (for Freya)

The active balanced output impedance was the same with or without the tube stage operating. It was close to 810 ohms at 1kHz and 20kHz but increased to 6900 ohms at 20Hz. The buffered unbalanced output impedance at 1kHz and 20kHz was inconsequentially higher than the specified 75 ohms, at 90 ohms. However, it rose to 3100 ohms at the bottom of the audioband. With the tube stage operating, the unbalanced output impedance was 3267 ohms at 20Hz and 1200 ohms at 1kHz and 20kHz.

Especially on the low ends from either output, the output impedances are much higher than the specified 75 ohm.  Frequency dependent impedance, interesting, needs to be watched for.  Lean something each day.  Thank you.

@tyray Thank you.  I also like what I see from this review. How do you like its DAC?  In particular, how are the soundstage width and depth?


One night while glancing through the Wyred4Sound website, the proverbial "Duh" hit me like a hammer. Why not the mPre?

This is exactly what happened to me. I first wanted the Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE Stage 2 preamp. I didn’t even know the mPRE existed until about 2 years after trying to save up money for a used or new Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE Stage 2!

Funny you should ask about the dac even though my main way of playing music is old school needle dropping! Not streaming nor playing cd’s, I still wanted an inexpensive transport of the best quality sound and (low) price ratio I could find, I narrowed it down to the Audiolab 6000CDT transport. Do you see a recurring theme here? Keep in mind I have not run/burned in the dac as of yet but I do know it responds to what you have going into it. So the better quality of interconnects and transport it responds well to.

Sound stage, width, depth and holographics are there as well. It’s as if this little mighty mite is responding to the gear you connect it up to just like a higher priced preamp would.

The toslink connection to some may sound overly warm but I have separate Power Sound Audio (PSA) subwoofers and I can turn down the gain on them. But my cd transport connector of choice is the 聖HIJIRI Million HDG - RCA Digital cable. Again, what I’ve found is the mPRE does respond to what you put into it.

I think I’ve been lucky with selecting components with outstanding symmetry but I’ve also ’paid the upgrade price’ over the years for it too.

There’s one little thing I need to share with you here. I did splurge a bit on my most recent acquisition and that was a Puritan 156 power conditioner and after hooking everything up to it - Wow! I’m hearing things I didn’t even know were on the cd/record/vinyl! As we say here on audiogon, ’I hope this helps.’

That’s supposed to be outstanding synergy not ’outstanding symmetry’. ’Duh’.