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 an MSB Discrete DAC with Premier Power base, an ARC Ref 6, Pass Labs 250.8 and Wilson Sabrina X's.  Although MSB's National Sales manager thought that I should definitely run the DAC direct to amp, I experimented first with a loaner ARC LS 28SE, then a Renaissance Mark V, and finally, the ARC REF 6. Don't get me wrong, DAC direct to amp sounded good.  I found that the LS28SE was a very small improvement and definitely not worth it.  I found the Mark V somewhat better, but still not worth it.  However, the REF 6 was a noticeable and positive improvement in my system.  I just liked the way it sounded, and I thought it improved all aspects of the music, including the soundstage.  So I am very happy that I was able to add the right preamp to it.  As I said in another thread, I have flirted with the idea of putting in a Pass Labs XP-32 preamp instead of the ARC only to get away from the need to replace tubes and the potential unreliability years down the road of the availability of replacement tubes, but I already have a backup full replacement set, so I am definitely good for a few years.  I haven't yet made that leap to the XP-32 yet and not sure that I will, since I think that it is probably safe to assume that with all of the tube equipment out there, there will be a continuing supply of tubes, but who knows?


Thanks for your excellent contribution. Just a caution, which it sounds like you would do anyway. If you choose to move to the Pass XP-32… audition before you buy. From what you have said, I would bet you loose the magic you get with the REF6 in your system. The Pass are a bit less warm and more analytical. That small difference could be an important one.

@ghdprentice, absolutely.  I have heard great things about the XP-32, but as usual, there are those that like the REF 6 over the XP-32 and those who love the XP-32 over the REF 6.  One thing that I have learned is that there are no reliable ways to predict how something sounds in your system other than putting it in there.  So unless I spring for an XP-32 just to see which I prefer and sell the other, or my local Wilson dealer gets one in on trade or something, I am probably sticking with the REF 6, although I may experiment with some room treatments or something to see what that does in my tiny (11x11) dedicated listening room!

I'm a fan of less is better, for less distortion, plug a DAC directly to the amp.  No need for anything else.  Get and integrated and your set.  Many people feel.a pre amp is needed, but I feel for its purity, I'll let the amp do the talking. Some people use a amp with a 1st gen ipod.