For the longest time, I believed that the best preamplifier is no preamplifier.  Eliminating a component from the audio chain would yield less distortion & greater purity.

Recently, I have had reason to re-think my logic on the matter - and I am (I think) changing my mind.  Better said, assuming that the preamplifier in the component you are using (in my case, a DAC) can produce 95% or greater quality sound compared to the preamplifier component, then no preamplifier is the best option.  The 5% represents the (estimated) loss of fidelity in adding another set of interconnects.

That said, most DACs do not have an outstanding preamplifier built in.  I think most have average passive attenuators, and the better DACs have active preamplifiers that are very good - but not as good as a quality preamplifier.

What are your thoughts?




I would throw out another option. DAC/preamp into control amplifier. I have Naim Unit Atom Headphone edition DAC/streamer/preamp paired with AVA SET 120 control amplifier (integrated without active pre). Volume control from the Naim remote. This is a truly great pairing. I’m not sure whether the preamp is activated, but sublime regardless. I have paired with Vandersteen VLR CT speakers in den system, along with Bryston CD-1 player. 

Great conversations and recommendations.  I am in all of your debt!!

I called and spoke with the manufacturers at Berkeley DAC and Aesthetix.  Berkeley's Technical director thought though direct in would be just fine and nothing would be lost in the signal.  Aesthetix manufacturer though that the loss of fidelity in adding additional cables would be less than a percentage or two.  All things being equal (As far as input output ratios Etc.) The key would be the quality of the preamplifier in the DAC versus the quality of the preamplifier...very close to my current hypothesis.

Now to test out the theory...I will let you all know the result.  My assumption is that the Aesthetix Calypso is a superior preamp - and therefore should yield superior sound.  We will see :)

After acquiring a preamp primarily for analog attenuation, I've become convinced that a separate high-quality active preamp can significantly enhance sound reproduction and elevate the overall listening experience in almost every aspect. The key lies in the preamp's ability to establish good 'synergy,' including impedance matching, not only with the DAC but also with the amplifier. The specific elements contributing to this 'synergy' might be challenging to define, but you'll know when you find the right one.

The Aesthetix Calypso receives rave reviews as a remarkable piece of equipment. However, it appears that no one has mentioned a potential issue related to its impedance matching with your amplifier. Although the average output impedance (OI) is rated at 300 and 600 ohms for SE and XLR line outputs, JA (Sterophile) pointed out that both SE and XLR OI can rise to 3150 and 3900 ohms at 20Hz. This necessitates an amplifier with at least a 40k input impedance to avoid bass sounding lean.

My experience goes back so many years it might not be useful in discussing modern equipment. Many years ago I ran an old Phillips CD with variable output directly into my amp. I thought it sounded pretty good. Then purchased a Conrad Johnson PV9a preamp and added it to the system. It was a noticeable improvement to me. 

Separately, I found this Bascomb King interview on the subject interesting.