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.  


For me swapping in a quality Dac into my Audio Research pre and power amp rig was my first step to going pre-ampless. Next my friend talked me into selling him my ARC SP 15. Now I am DAC connected by XLRs to my ARC power amp and loving it. To me the sound is "cleaner" - specifically the bass which is more controlled and faster. The mids sound the same and the tweeters are sharper. I suppose that is all due to the voicing ARC built into the SP 15. 

Looking back my conclusions are thus: 1) A pre gives you more volume. 2) A pre colors the sound which may or may not be a bad thing depending on what you prefer. I have a few years more experimenting to go before I have a solid table pounding resolution to this question. For now I like DAC direct to tube amp.

Interesting conversation. I've been moving in the opposite direction. I have a very nice DAC from Ayre, QX-5, which has the option of using it as a preamp as well. For the last two years I didn't even bother trying this option, as following common knowledge I decided to use my old preamp (also from Ayre) instead. I recently tried using the DAC in PRE mode. Maybe I shouldn't have done it.

I immediately noticed more resolution, which is very obvious in loud orchestral passages. It just brings a degree of detail that I was not getting before. My Ayre dac, K-5xe, is famous for its warm, robust sound, and I do miss that sometimes. I think depending on the type of music, one characteristic can be more desirable than other. I would characterize the sound coming from the DAC in PRE as analitical. But what does that mean? Lack of coloration as others have pointed out?

So from my experience, it all depends what you are comparing.


The problems not enough gain to drive you amp to full output. The majority of DAC's don't have a volume control or input for others components. Preamp should be able to drive long cables not a DAC. All DAC have an analog output and it a matter of changing resistors in there feedback loop to increase the gain.  I have done this before, however the sound difference was still improve with an extra gain stage/ preamp. 

The vast majority of DACs are just not as good as a dedicated preamp. I know the skeptics out there will say digital is digital, but it's more complicated than that. The quality of the gain is what missing on DACs and the quality of that analog signal to your amp matters a lot.

I have not heard a DAC that was as good as my current 2 preamps. Though the Lumin X1 with the Leedh volume control (that I owned) was as good, except at very low volume. 

My 2 preamps are the Benchmark LA4 and Holo Serene. You will be hard pressed to find a more quieter, better measuring, and sonically neutral preamp.