Help and opinions needed on pre-amp situation

For this one, I would like to hear from enthusiats instead of people who sell stuff. I’ve been using integrated amplifiers for all my years in this "hobby." I recently went to mono blocks- a pair of the class D Atma-Shpere’s to be specific. I’m using balanced XLR connections straight from a Lumin S1 streamer/dac/preamp into the mono blocks using Lumin’s LeedH volume processing deal. It’s a nice and simple setup with nothing else in the signal path.

The question is: am I missing out on better sound by leaving out an Atma-Sphere MP-3.3 tube preamp? Will adding a preamp improve, diminish, or retain the existing sound quality- as far as soundstage, imaging, depth, tonal balance etc is concerned? This preamp deal is not cheap (for me). Has anyone been in this situation? Did the preamp improve the sound, keep it the same, or make it worse? Am I better off just leaving it as-is with my minimalistic setup?

A couple of other things to consider:

My turntable is collecting dust since changing over to the mono blocks, I didn’t listen to vinyl often even with the integrated since my digital front sound better then my vinyl gear. If it made $ense, it would be nice to have the ability to listen to vinyl again.

At some point I may also have to connect a projector to my system to play audio. Then the issue becomes that projectors do not have balanced XLR output. Most are HDMI. I’m not sure if the MP-3 preamp will work or if a different preamp is better choice here etc. I’d like to keep with the same brand for obvious reasons if possible.

Has anyone been in this situation before and pulled the trigger? If you have- your input, suggestions, and opinions would be greatly appreciated.


I have only been doing this audio thing for a few years. But from my limited experience, I’ve come to believe the preamp is the heart of a system. I added a Linear Tube Audio preamp to my system and the results were remarkable. 

I can’t imagine parting with my LTA preamp now. 

Calling @atmasphere I’m a big proponent of having a good separate preamp but not sure how it’d work out in your system and for your tastes.  I’d bet big $$$ if you tried an MP3 in your system it wouldn’t leave, but that’s just a semi-educated guess and I’d definitely try it if at all possible.  Best of luck. 

@OP. Sorry to be of only limited help as I haven't heard the Lumin. However, I have yet to hear any digital device with an integrated volume control that sounded better than the same device being run through a preamp of sufficient quality. It's something you need to audition for yourself though because it is device specific. However, in general, I've found the preamp option to be more relaxing to listen to and yet with better dynamics. Caveat again that the LeedH volume control in the Lumin is something I haven't heard. Quality of the volume control aside, however,  it also depends on how good the analogue part of the output stage in the Lumin is versus the quality of the electronics in the pre. Bottom line - one needs to listen and decide.

A final PS. There is also the opportunity cost question - for example, how would the preamp compare to (if you don't have it) adding the X1 PSU to your S1.

I love separates and love my ARC SP15 but the reality is that a preamp is becoming a dinosaur and is unnecessary to a great HiFi experience due to the leaps in quality in the digital world.  

Well, IMO it's a mistake to call the Lumin a PreAmp, as it has no line inputs.

I suggest you keep it for anything digital, and add a tube preamp with both MM and MC phono built in (several loading options for MC). Then dust that old TT off, see if you get into vinyl, then upgrade, some or bit by bit.

A tape loop would be nice to run your Lumin thru. I like old world features: balance; mode (stereo/mono/all L/all R ... whatever

Of course remote volume, for me remote balance is a gift for the tracks I find 'off' a bit. A minor balance tweak can make a big imaging improvement.

Trial and error is the only way for you to know for sure what you like best. I know audiophiles that swear by the use of preamps and others that say a direct hook-up is best.

It only took me 50+ years and who knows how many dollars to arrive at a system that I am 100% happy with. The one truism about our hobby is that it is not static (pun intended). We are constantly questing for that next thing that will elevate our sound to the dream we have in our minds. Although I have owned some excellent integrated amps, I have always tended to like component setups because they give you more flexibility to experiment with how your system sounds. A preamp that checks all the right boxes for your preferences is a must have in that regard. Finding it gives you a good solid base to work with, and it can easily become the one component that remains the same in your system. With few exceptions, a neutral amplifier can only sound as good as the preamplifier feeding it.

I would highly recommend trying a preamp in your chain to see if it makes a difference.  Buy a used Benchmark LA4, because it is relatively inexpensive and you can resell it very easily.  More importantly it is a known commodity - super transparent and neutral. I believe you will hear a meaningful difference (not because it is neutral only but because it is a very good preamp and will tell you if preamps make a difference).  Then, if you want to roll in a different preamp you can, and will have a frame of reference.  I have had Lumin Streamers, with Leedh, and never understood it - just sounds boring to me.

A great preamp will add the musical richness to a system 99% of the time. The systems that sound better without are a real rarity. In the rare occasions that they are not required, I suspect they belong to folks that appreciate detail over musicality. Because without a good pream the sound tends to sound highly detailed and a little dead.

@veerossi To add the phono section to the MP-3 is inexpensive if its ordered that way.

Regarding sound quality there are a number of variables. The most common thing you run into is that most of the balanced line equipment made for high end audio does not support the balanced standard even though it might really be balanced.

As best I can make out, the Lumin is an example; I say this because the balanced output has twice the voltage of the single-ended; if it supported the standard the voltage would be the same. One of the goals of the balanced line system is to eliminate ground loops and this is done by ignoring ground in the balanced connection insofar as the signal is concerned. The RCA connection does not ignore ground; when you see the voltage double what it usually means is that the RCA connection is one of the two XLR outputs (probably the non-inverted output, pin 2 of the XLR) and there is a second circuit that creates a single-ended inverted signal for pin 3 of the XLR. What's happening here is both signals reference ground.

The MP-3 doesn't do it that way. Its output, although direct coupled, acts very much like a simple line transformer with only 2 wires at its output- one tied to pin 2 of the XLR and the other to pin 3 with no connection to ground. So the advantage might be that the MP-3 can control the interconnect better, reducing artifact that the cable might otherwise have (and of course one of the advantages of that is you can run really long interconnects, allowing your speaker cables to be as short as possible; at home my amps sit on top of my speakers...). Of course if you have any other sources like a turntable or tuner then the advantages of a preamp are magnified. I use my DAC to accept HDMI for the home theater.  



I am kind of in the same boat as you , do I need or want a preamp ?

I currently have a passive pre with input select and a stepped attenuator .

The question is what do I want from an active preamp ?  I already know that it has to have a stepped attenuator , I would like to have a mono/stereo switch and a balance control ( for older mono records ) but do I need gain ? If so how much ? I'm still on the fence about tube or SS since the phono pre is tube and the CD player has tubes in the output .

So you have to ask yourself what do you want or need ?  Tone controls ? left/right speaker switch , reverse polarity , a/b speakers or the same that I am looking for ?  

A preamp is for input switching. Goods ones are neutral.

Unless you are searching for a tone control.

Go to Ralph with your needs and desires.

Tnanks for the responses. Keep em' coming.

I have no idea how good or bad the Lumin Leed h voume control is in the grand scheme of things. The Lumin S1 was their top of the line/flagship offering prior to the X-1. In the menu it has a setting for "Analog Output Level" and has "Normal" or "Low" for choices. Not sure if that has anything to do with what @atmasphere Ralph mentioned about the balanced output.

Seems like results can vary quite a bit and nothing definite either for or against a preamp. This is going to turn into an experiment. Yes, @vair68robert: I don't care what people have to say: tone control would be great and same goes for balance and a/b speakers, channel gain (MP-3 has this), balanced, tube, and with a remote control for volume. 

I see PS audio has a no hassle trial period. Upscale Audio has a trial also, but not sure if theirs is hassle free or credit towards something else, restock, etc. Any input on the BHK preamp? I also have my previous integrated amp that I need to sell. PS audio take trades, so maybe that could workout. Moonshot here, but if anyone in Socal has an MP-3 sitting around that I can borrow, let me know. I'll pay. That would be fantastic and would put this whole thing to rest. If you know any other companies offer a no hassle/ no strings attached trials, please let me know. Whether new or used, I am not interested in purchasing something to find out waste of money and then be stuck with sitting on it and having to deal with selling it. Also what about these Vincent ones or Zesto? Will they be synergistic with Atma-Sphere or should i only stick to Atma-Sphere since that's probably what they are designed for? 

I used Googles Ai (Bard) to ask as well: 

The best preamplifier for Atma-Sphere Class D mono blocks is a matter of opinion and will depend on your personal preferences and budget. However, some popular and well-regarded options include:

  • Wyred4Sound STP Stage 2
  • First Sound Mark 3 SI Pre
  • Mojo Audio Mystique V3
  • Dartzeel NHB108
  • Lino Channel D3.3

I’d ask Ralph if he might have a demo MP-3 MkIII he might loan you if you agree to pay shipping. Well worth it I’d think.

I'd definitely lean towards a preamp...a very good one.  It'd be good to get input from either Atma-Sphere, and/or someone very familiar with optimizing those amps.  

Yes , the preamp is the heart and soul of your system.  I'm having g a DHT preamp built now that will most likely be my last. . I bought a Zesto Leto and it was an amazing preamp.  I sold it to fund my next pre , that should be done in a few months .

The DAC with volume is OK but I think you are missing a lot with digital volume.  

My DAC has volume capability (ESS Sabre implementation) and XLR. My Mullard’d tube pre does not support XLR. Using Audio Quest Red River XLR cables and Morrow MA4 interconnects I flipped back and forth between XLR DAC direct and My Tube pre with the Marrows. I preferred the sound with the Pre. Waited about 6 months and took the pre out of the chain and yet again I returned to the pre. I just like the sound with the pre in the chain. Streaming Qobuz via Roon , dedicated SGC ST i5 and a Bryston endpoint.

What @ghdprentice said.  My pre added a "richness" to the sound.  

I compared the LeedH volume control of the Lumin X1 (I owned it) with my Benchmark LA4. The LeedH volume control was almost as good as the LA4. The only place it failed, and this is likely unimportant, is at very low volume when you increase the volume. It does not increase in constant increments until it gets to a certain level, then it is as expected. Most won’t notice this because it is a low volume issue.

The Lumin X1 was the best DAC direct-to-amp I owned. I usually hate ALL DACs direct to amp, especially compared to the LA4. I used the X1 into the LA4 which was the best. The volume on the LA4 is as good as it gets for me. I recently owned close to 8 preamps from $700 to $7500 and the LA4 is my fav.

I also own a Holo Serene and it is a carbon copy of the LA4 (with less features) and a bit of warmth. I would use these 2 preamps with ANY amp.

I also have a preamp I use for headphones, but it is also great on 2-channel to my MagTech amp and Magnepan LRS+ speakers. It is the pure Class A Schitt Mjonir 3,

Schiit Audio: Audio Products Designed and Built in Texas and California

It is a warmer preamp than the LA4 or Serene. I compare it favorably to my now sold CODA 07x preamp. The Schitt maybe better for my tastes. I bet it would sound great with the Atma-sphere amps and at only $1200. Much better for me than the Schitt Freya+ (now sold)




I you are thinking of using your projector to listen to audio then consider the D.B0B. When my SACD/CD player died (Sony SCD-1) I bought the $799 D.BOB and I can now play CD and SACD disks using a $200 used Oppo SACD player. I take the HDMI output from the Oppo into the D.BOB. The D.DOB then outputs SPDIF into my Schitt Yggi+ Less is More DAC (like it more than the Lumin X1). The Yggi+ is connected to my Holo Serene preamp which connects to my MagTech amp.

The D.BOB is a superb sounding unit which can decode DSD. I had some consideration of spending $6k more to add a SACD transport option to a DAC I will soon buy for my Livingroom system. However, given how good the D.BOB is I have saved myself that money.


@veerossi  I’m a big fan of PS Audio as a company, and have really enjoyed my BHK preamp.  My preamp, DAC, phono pre, and power amp are all PS Audio.  I really like the sound of my system.

Having said that, the BHK is a hybrid preamp with a tube input stage and a solid state output stage.  Personally, I don’t like the sound of the stock tubes and use Tunsgram 7dj8 NOS tubes in the BHK preamp and BHK250 power amp instead.

I used the PS Audio trial period when buying the DSD DAC and Stellar phone pre, and I purchased the BHK preamp and BHK250 power amp used.  Both out of warranty.  About 6 month later, the left channel went out in the BHK pre amp.  I sent it in for repair.  PS Audio repaired it for free and shipped it back on their dime.  I’ve had no issues since.  

I tried using just the DSD DAC with the BHK250 since the DAC has a volume control.  The sound was kinda flat and lifeless.  In my case, there is a huge difference in SQ with and without the BHK preamp.       

Simplest answer is yes, you need a tube preamp, especially if you're going to keep those Class D Amps. Try, borrow, whatever, but see for yourself.

In my experience, there is no definitive answer, as I've had some amps that work as well or better using my the volume control from my Weiss DAC vs. using a preamp.  That was the case when I had a Music Reference RM9 MK2 amp.... but when I changed to Quicksilver KT Mono's, I found I preferred having a preamp vs. using the Weiss DAC as my volume control.

The only constructive suggestion I can offer, is Yes to a pre-amp. I like the versatility of having a pre in the system. I listen to mostly vinyl and CD:  jazz, classical, avant-garde, experimental, and 70's "hippie" country rock, along with swing/ big band.... did I forget polka? I use streaming to audition music. I have three systems, all vintage, in my home.  One system is a Pioneer integrated, my low watt system. If I step into the 21st century it will be here. I do like the "English" sound, warmer and maybe a little more full, not so brilliant on the high end. And since I am on a (working) retiree's budget it might be one of the newer British integrated amps going in here, with reservations..  But yes, a pre will be nice to have, I think. Good luck

Quick and easy answer: yes.  You absolutely need a separate preamp from your streamer / DAC / preamp unit.  You will hear a significant improvement.  The next step, if possible, separate the DAC from your streamer at some point.  Happy listening.

The Lumin S1 was their top of the line/flagship offering prior to the X-1. In the menu it has a setting for "Analog Output Level" and has "Normal" or "Low" for choices. Not sure if that has anything to do with what @atmasphere Ralph mentioned about the balanced output.

@veerossi  It doesn't.

Thanks again to all for the great information here. I called Atma-Sphere and spoke with Ralph. If you haven’t dealt with them yet, please do yourself a favor and check them out. These guys are the real-deal. Passionate people who love what they do and take the time to ensure their customers are well taken care of. It’s such a rare treat nowadays. To top it off, he helped me evaluate a used MP3 on a different site that someone else mentioned to me. When I mentioned 1/2 way through the discussion that I felt bad to take up this much of his time to talk about some used item from a private seller instead of buying a new one from them, he mentioned: "It’s still our product and means you are a customer." We talked for another hour. Wow! I mean who does that anymore?!? We had a great conversation and it was the first time in a long time that I felt like someone actually cared to explain things and not just try to set me up for their eventual pitch on whatever they have the biggest profit margin on this week. I bought it and looks like this one will be a slam-dunk!


True audiophile companies are like this. The people in them are passionate about what they do, and above all else want folks to achieve and enjoy high end audio. For those of us that have been pursing high end audio for a long time have connected, and are people like this.

This is one of the reasons I find it hard to tolerate folks that incorrectly think the real core of high end is some trick to take their money or companies like Atma-Sphere, Wilson, and others are get rich schemes. These companies are driven by folks passionate about audio and truly want to share the experience.


Just an update. MP-3 makes a large improvement in the sound quality. Money has been well-spent.


Just saw this thread today or I would have chimed in earlier. I've owned an MP-3.3 for about two years now, originally pairing it with M-60s. I switched to Ralph's Class Ds earlier this year and I couldn't be happier. I've tried all my power amps with input direct from my DAC and I've preferred having a preamp in the circuit regardless of the amps or preamps used. The MP-3.3 is definitely the keeper. Enjoy!

Just an update. MP-3 makes a large improvement in the sound quality. Money has been well-spent.

Thanks for the follow up, and congrats on a great decision and purchase.  Enjoy!

Thanks again. It was happy with the sound on the first day. It's settling in a bit and sounds even better on day 2.😁 

I hear you on moving from an integrated amp to separate mono blocks. That's a big change! Going without a preamp does keep things simple, but adding one could improve sound quality and flexibility. However, preamps aren't cheap, so it's smart to think it through.

If your main goal is getting your turntable spinning again, the phono stage in a preamp would definitely help. And if you need HDMI or other inputs later, having a preamp would make connecting everything easier. But you'd want one that matches the aesthetic and vibe of your system.

Ultimately, trust your ears - if your current setup sounds great as-is, you may not need to fix what isn't broken. On the other hand, sometimes upgrades take things to a new level. It's about finding that perfect balance for your space and ears.

Speaking of balance, setting the right ambiance in your listening room is crucial too. Have you considered scenting the air with some audiophile-approved candles? Candles are like preamps for your smelling experience! Blending notes of cedarwood, sandalwood and oakmoss can add good tone. Japanese hinoki wood scent is excellent for soundstage. Just don't put the candle too close to your gear - you want that sweet stereo imaging, not stereo flaming! But in all seriousness, a scented candle on acoustic dampening pads makes a fine combo.

Agree with MP3 comment - very, very nice sound!

Not a fan of the Rhumba Extreme...sounds artificial...lots of wow factors that do not strike me a musical or real.  Also tried a couple Ayon preamps, but I did not find myself enjoying the music.  I did like the CAT pre and the Aesthetix preamps.