Eliminated my preamp with amazing results

I pulled my preamp out completely. The result's were not subtle. 

For those who stream music only... I was going from my laptop... to my DAC...to my preamp...to my amp. My preamps ONLY function was volume control. Source control not needed.

I started using Audirvana recently which comes with it's own high quality 64 bit volume control that was far better than the potentiometer in my preamp. It dawned on me that I could control volume using Audirvana and plug my DAC directly into the amp and bypass the preamp altogether. (Roon and Jriver also have excellent volume controllers) Note: Audirvana has an app download on a tablet/phone so it acts like a remote control. I'm loving it!

This not only eliminated the preamps volume control but it took out ALL the electronics associated in a preamp including some cables. A FAR more direct route. However, you must use caution and make sure the volume is controlled properly in the software since the amp will be fed wide open volume.

Having experimented with 'passive' preamps in the past (McCormack TLC-1) I thought the sound would possibly lose dynamics and bass response would suffer. WRONG!

The results were...Shocking!! Immediately the extended depth of the image was noticeably deeper. Background darker. The highs are the best I've ever heard. Pristine. The bass was dynamic, tight and most of all 'textured' in a way I never heard before. As I stated earlier the results are NOT subtle! 

This is an experiment that took a few minutes to set up and yielded the best performance improvement of ANY other tweak I've ever tried. Not anything like using a passive preamp.

Equipment used...  Peachtree DAC-itx. 

                               Preamps...McCormack TLC-1 and Melos tube preamp.

                               Amp is McCormack DNA 0.5

Understand that different components will have different interactions with each other. Your results may vary. However, IF you don't like it, it takes just a few minutes to put the preamp back in the system. Nothing to lose and lot's to gain. After hearing this, I will NEVER go back to using a preamp. 

Good luck!




I can attest to the use a really good preamp or don’t use one at all approach. I moved up to a Ayre Acoustics KX-5 Twenty preamp and it’s revealing everything I’d been missing before. And here’s the deal, as I’m just getting back into this hobby I haven’t even added a DAC yet, using a old Yamaha CDC-845 CD player feeding to the Ayre preamp then the preamp feeding to Phillips FA950 integrated amplifier with the volume left at the pegged position for it to temporarily act as an amplifer. One component at a time, rebuilt the Kappa 9’s and picked up a good preamp, next up some good amps, then a good DAC. I think the preamp is the most important component, it can easily be the most expensive component if you want a really good one. Controlling the volume is a huge challenge and only the best preamps can do it without losing anything in the signal. It’s why we always compensate by turning the volume up, it ’sounds’ better, but with a good preamp it’s very dynamic across the spectrum at the lower volume settings and that’s where it can be magical, you don’t need to blast it for it to sound good.


Controlling the volume is a huge challenge and only the best preamps can do it without losing anything in the signal. 

With all due respect... that's not true. Audirvana has an excellent volume control. (Roon also). No preamp needed. It doesn't lose resolution as you turn it down so it sounds good at lower volume.

So the question is... what exactly is a preamp doing that makes it sound so good?? Adding gain. Colors the sound and, in the process, adds dynamics. Perhaps a bit of the Fletcher/Munson curve for better low level performance. Perhaps add tubes for some 2nd harmonic distortion.

Tests have shown that people, in general, clearly prefer this sound.

However, it seems a bit counter intuitive. We want to get the highest resolution music stream source and components with the lowest possible distortion levels. We seem to want the music as it was mixed from the studio but then add gain/distortion/color back via the preamp. Two steps forward and one step back!

Using Audirvana without a preamp, If so desired, I could add the Fletcher/Munson curve via EQ without adding any gain or distortion and achieve a much cleaner end result that sounds GREAT at low levels. The added dynamic "Magic" is there with no added distortion. Clean with added headroom.

To be clear... no signal should get gain/boosted in EQ. It's opposite. From zero gain line the 'Curve' is created by pulling DOWN the midrange frequencies. Nothing gets 'boosted' above that line. The bass and treble are in a more extended curve WITHOUT adding gain. IMO a much better way to introduce the Fletcher/Munson curve than boosting gain distortion with a preamp. 

Boost it up with a preamp (which the signal DOESN'T need), adding distortion, then try to clean it up the best you can. No wonder a good preamp is so expensive. 


You did say you were using Audirvana, so disregard, yes, I can see how adding a preamp wouldn’t improve anything. For those of us using non streaming sources, like CD’s, vinyl, tape etc, we need a good preamp. A good preamp keeps the voltage constant on the volume control, which in turn the benefit for the improvement. A regular poteniometer in just about everything below the very high end out there varies the voltage. I don’t know about the ’gain’ being added, which you’re saying adds distortion. All I know is my Ayre KX-5 Twenty preamp is a huge step up in improvement, detail, dynamics, sound stage and distortion levels. The high end market wouldn’t exist if it didn’t deliver and believe me it does, but it’s a pay to play hobby. No regrets getting a high end preamp for me.

Beyond a volume control and component switching a preamp can help with matching the impedance between the source components and the power amplifier for optimal signal transfer. I think the reason some folks report improvement with a separate preamp is their DAC preamp or power amp are not compatible. Likely the power amp has too low input impedance relative to the DAC  preamp.


Now if you can figure out how to eliminate the power amp you will have it made. But honestly it depends on the associated equipment if you can successfully eliminate the preamp. My take on this that the preamp is generally the most important component in ones system and inevitably will have the biggest impact on the end result.