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?




@dcevans you running signal thru the preamplifier AND the ( purposefully vague on the specifics ) unique NAIM analog / digital volume control. i use it in a similar way w outboard power amp and agree for the $, footprint and streamer/DAC function hard to beat.

in my reference system, i come down on the side of preamp in chain wins…but i have heard a few where that was not the case… sadly, extended listening is imo the only way to know….

I would never run my system without a GOOD preamp.

To me it's like the secret ingredient that ties everything together, like corn starch in a sauce. 

But, you need a very good preamp and to me it makes sense if you have to budgetise to have a preamplifier that costs more than the power amp(s). It has even more impact on the sound (provided the amps have enough current and power to drive the speakers).


Thank you for including me in this discussion. I know you are a Vandersteen fan as well.  Yes, for the reduced footprint in my smallish den (12 x 14’), the AVA SET 120 control amplifier paired with the Naim Uniti Atom headphone edition pre/DAC/streamer and my Vandersteen VLR CT standmounts (which can be placed within 6 inches of the rear wall) is quite good. I think I stretched a little bit before when I said it was sublime. This space does not have room treatments, and so I need to work on that before passing judgment… but I have to say that without treatments I was happier with the Belles Aria Signature integrated with Vandersteen Sub3 and high pass filters in my system.  The straight gain of the control amp was initially exciting, but after time I have found it to be fatiguing. I had an Audio Research Ref3 preamp that I regret selling, and will be investing in a tube preamp for my main system. I am in the camp now where a good (tube) preamp is beneficial. And I am going back to the Belles integrated and Sub3 in my den 

I will add that if funds were available to experiment, I would be tempted to try out the Conrad Johnson tube control amplifier in my den. It has gotten rave reviews. I realize I am vacillating here, but this control amplifier intrigues me, and it might tame the at times stringent highs I get with the AVA solid state SET 120. 

I have been a DAC to amp guy for a decade. There does not seem to be any logical explanation as to why a preamp would improve a signal. To the contrary, it seems that adding more circuitry to make the signal pass through would cause it to deteriorate.

So I decided to buy a tube preamp. It caused an amazing improvement. I cannot explain it. My wife noticed it immediately one floor above the system and referred to it as ethereal. It was an immediate improvement. All of my friends agree.