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 will second the PS Audio Gaincell... I paired it with a Parasound A23+ amplifier and this combo blew me away with a pair of Zu speakers. Also played well with my KLH Model 5's. I have a Denafrips Venus II 12th DAC and find the DAC in the Gaincell to be much better, so much so I am selling the Venus and my Athena preamp. The sound is very dynamic, with a huge soundstage. I normally detest chip DACs, that digital sheen really fatigues the ears. I have had no issues with listening for hours to the Gaincell. And the folks that have heard it are saying the same. 

Give the Audionics BT a try.  A great sounding preamp (voiced like an Audio Research SP-6 ) with a buttery smooth volume control.


I use NOS 6sn7GT Ken-Rad (Pre-Ge) staggered plates with black carbonized glass.

Is this tube the VT231 version? Where to buy? The link you left is not working. Thanks

@tyray Wrote:

Is this tube the VT231 version? Where to buy? The link you left is not working. Thanks

Yes! Call Andy at Vintage Tube services, knowledgeable man. See below: