DAC as pre amp

This post is just a brief for posterity sake in regards to the the significance of a good pre.  As I have stated in other threads over the last few years , when the subject arise,  I occasionally remove my pre from the chain and run my Wadia 321 as the pre.  I always find my way back to my dedicated pre.  I got some Quad Z-4s awhile back and after a recent post regarding the DAC direct question I decided to try again.  This round the improvement was even more dramatic with the dedicated pre and the Quads. My modest system is good enough for my level of listening sophistication.  but If I ever decided to upgrade a component in the future , the pre would be the unit I would explore.   Another member stated that a good pre will ad a "richness" to the sound.  I think that is exactly what I hear.  


@knotscott  I am far from alone in this stance and indeed I wasn't even the first to post it  (in other threads).  Frankly, I don't come up with many of my own ideas (like Xerox, I get) but am good a building on the wisdom of others.

To me, it seems a poor design of an amp to not support various levels of input and indeed I have never had a amp that required more output than my DAC could provide.  That said, I haven't tried a lot of DACs.  I have a Chord DAVE and LOWERING the output voltage of the DAC is a recommended way to combat harshness in your system if you have that problem.  The Chord Qutest actually has switchable output voltage and I have used it on the lowest setting with no problem.

The one group who is consisitenly fully supportive of the preamp, and often emotional about it, as you appear to be, is the group of people who have invested a large sum in a preamp.

I'll close by saying that we are saying the same thing, you just want to dress it up by saying the coloration is "improved performance".  Ok.  That's your definition.  But any preamp, except possibly a passive preamp, especially a transformer based passive preamp, is going to add it's own color to the signal.  It processes it just like an amp.  Every amp sounds different, every preamp sounds different.  

I'm glad you like your preamp.  I prefer my sound as naked as possible, as close to what was recorded on the original tapes as possilbe.


Theoretically, every component in a system causes coloration. I suppose we all have a preference about how we'd like it to sound.

There are always good and poor examples of every design approach, so exceptions occur.  What I'm saying is that it seems that more preamps currently do a satisfactory job of overcoming whatever obstacles are posed by the signal and the amplifier load than DACs at this point in time.   That could certainly change in the future.

I have had the same experience as the OP. In my case I have a somewhat vintage (late 90's) Krell KRC-2 pre. My theory is that the volume control quality likely has something to do with the superior sound in a pre. We do most of our listening at lower volumes where the line level signal is severely attenuated. A good pre and its volume control are optimized to insure that there is no deterioration in the sound at lower levels. A DAC is really a line level component and the volume control is not critical to its function. In fact, many DACs have digital volume controls that reduce the resolution as the volume is lowered.

I recently purchased an Okto Research dac 8 stereo that is surprisingly good when used as a pre into my amp. This wasn’t as much the case with my previous dac. Even though it still presented well enough on its own, doesn’t hold a candle to the Okto overall (whether as dac or dac/pre). Really does boil down to design, quality of output stage and voltage.

I still overall prefer using my SPL Elector before the Okto, which brings more nuance, timbral delicacy/transients and depth of stage to the presentation. Still very curious what a different amp might bring in a direct configuration, however.

I have been very very impressed with the EAR Acute used as the Pre Amp with EAR Power Amplification and the Acute couples extremely well with Sansui Valve Power Amp'.

How this marriage would produce a sonic, especially in relation to the attractiveness, if adopted for other Power Amp's is an unknown to me.