The Best Preamp is no Preamp?

So recently I've discovered the possibility of completely removing my preamp from my rig. I've never heard or considered this before, so much audio tradition... But in going directly from DAC to amplifier the sound quality is absolutely incredible, instantly had me grinning. Using music server to Chord M Scaler to Chord Qutest (cut out Marantz SR5015) to go directly to dual Emotiva XPA-DR1 monoblocks, to GR Research's 24 strand speaker wire to Magnepan 1.7i's.  Only difference is running volume on server vs Marantz remote, sound quality is the biggest jump I've ever heard with any gear.

Have you guys had experience cutting out the preamp from your rig? What's your thoughts?


It is like not needing a power conditioner. It can work under the right conditions… but usually the best sound is achieved with one. If you are one of the special cases where you have really compatible and synergistic equipment and do not have analog inputs it is a great situation. Congratulate yourself on doing a good job. Most of the time you get a richer more engaging sound with a good preamp.

I've owned a couple of amps which had gain controls so I went direct from my DAC. I noticed a super black background and more clarity. It was an interesting experience. After awhile, music sounded too analytical so I added the preamp.

Most of the time you get a richer more engaging sound with a good preamp.

This is exactly what I've experienced. More engaging, yes.






If you were using the marantz AVR for a preamp I can understand why it would sound better direct. I used a marantz AVR for a preamp and it didn't sound very good, I replaced it with a dedicated preamp for a big improvement.

The preamp is the heart of a great system,     aside from choice of speakers it is the most vital component in the chain 

I'm using a TD124 a Decware ZP3 and MC240 cables to QSO 808 monitors. So simple. The gain is on the MC240. I was listening to a bunch of Al Greens old LPs yesterday. :-)

I added a C20, either or was heaven, the difference was not just tone control but, a variable loudness, bass contour with bass and treble control. Did it make a difference? BIGGER :-) What a difference a preamp can make.
I can set everything flat and it's as neutral as can be and a pitch black background. Samra C20, dead quiet. Little LP noise between songs.. 



Try listening to your digital preamp (dac) at low volume first before reaching the conclusion of not needing an analog preamp.

If you run short cables you can get away with this. But if you have monoblocks (which are useful for keeping your speaker cables as short as possible) then no so well. I've found that using balanced connections to the monoblocks and having short speaker cables got me better bass, more engaging midrange and easier to understand vocals.

You can't do that with a passive- it allows the cables to color the sound. Quite often sources like a DAC can't handle long cables either. But I've found over time that the quality of the preamp has an enormous affect- and the length of the cables has nothing to do with it. Some are terrible- and so using no preamp at all is better, and some are great and actually sound a lot better when used.


this, as you can imagine, has been discussed numerous times on this board

pls use search bar, find old discussions, which i believe you will find most informative 

@mikelavigne made a series of replies that i personally feel is the last word on the subject

Experimentation is good ;-) ..but limited to a specific combination of gear, especially the ability of the source to drive the amp…. That gear as Ralph astutely points out includes cables. Putting a super high quality attenuatior near the amp input is probably best. The comment about super short speaker cables is master class ;-)

You can get NOS Nobel potentiometers from Music Reference, search pot in a box,  


I'm not a big fan of the "no preamp" school of thought. But I have had all manner of active and passive preamps come through my room and I am convinced that a well thought out system will benefit from some type of very good passive device. I've had autoformer, transformer,  and  conventional resistor based preamps but my favorite is something like the Tortuga Audio using light dependent resistors. This is about as close as you can get to no preamp, but solves the issues with component impedance mismatches.

The take away is when you have sensitive, easy to drive speakers, enough source gain, and components that play well together, a good passive preamp is hard to beat.

Personal Experience, Trying many possible methods DAC to Amps with various Dacs and Various Amps.

Final Conclusion: Pre-Amps is Required.


Some Dacs have Pre-amps built into them like Playback Design and MSB and various others. However much these companies claim their pre-amps are superior to use directly with Amplifiers the final results is never as expected.


The Pre-amp is the heart of the system, all devices are connected to it except the speakers. It either makes or breaks a good sounding systems.

A Tube Pre-amp injects life and soul into the system, iv not had much luck with SS Pre-amps.

Some preamps degrade the SQ over direct, some improve.

No experience as I require the switching capabilities and my pre reviews as nuetral as it gets.

this is a case where specifics drive the outcome, generalities are fun coffee table chatter, but are inconsequential

what really matters is whether the source has enough capability to drive the downstream power amp well enough, and whether the built in volume control of the source degrades the sound

many wonderful linestages add their own coloration, but improve drive and impedance match, thus compensating for the source inadequacy in that regard... most top tier pre’s pay close attention to high quality attenuation... so in the end, we pick the lesser of all evils

in the op’s specific case, he has highly resolving speakers in the 1,7i maggies, an exceptionally pure and capable source in the chord stack - sonically this combo will be very very hard for any linestage to beat, unless the op seeks a specific sonic signature to be added, the marantz receiver in the chain is definitely a major major sound degrader

1 caveat and 1 question to op

-- caveat is i have never heard the op’s emotiva amps, they certainly have the iron fist aspect to drive maggies, dunno if they also have the needed velvet glove to fully please sonically

-- question is what is op using to control volume running qutest into power amps? qutest is a fixed output dac (sorry if i missed this if already covered...)

Some preamps degrade the SQ over direct, some improve.

Some direct drive systems MAY work if all the stars align. A preamp is designed to give your amp the signal it needs and in most cases they are a better electrical match than using a passive control or your source volume control. But like I said sometimes things work without a preamp...but don't count on it.  

Technically speaking output from Dacs doesn‘t need further amplification: unless you have a weird input impedance for your power amp all that‘s required is a good attenuator. If your dac possesses a stepped relay attenuator rather than a digital bit-lossy attenuator the addition of a pre will only add distortion and the pre‘s specific voicing.

+2 to what @ghdprentice ​​​​@lowrider57 and others already shared. 

And, long listening sessions with a triode based tube preamp can be extra-engaging too. It comes down to what type of sound and presentation you prefer.  

this is a case where specifics drive the outcome, generalities are fun coffee table chatter, but are inconsequential

Bingo!  This is totally system and listener dependent.  First, and most important question — what preamp were you using before?  My guess, if you actually demo a good preamp your song will change.  I’ve found the preamp to be, other then speakers and my room, to be the most consequential component in my system.  Also, your amps are meh so that’s something else to look at.  Ignore the preamp at your peril. 

I’ve used a preamp section of my marantz receiver (higher end one than op’s) when my actual preamp was sent for repairs. It sounded pretty terrible, to a point a stopped listening to music on that system until the preamp came back from repairs

Using a Lumin DAC is an exception, as Lumin uses Leedh volume control processing which more than some have found to be superior to their high-end preamps. My Lumin X1 direct into MasterSound PF100 monoblocks using Leedh sounds great! Your mileage, of course, may vary. 

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Preamp is the brain of the system, so many pieces of audio/video equipment to hook up to it. I guess if all you have is a DAC, you could bypass it but I would never be able to live with just a DAC.

I agree. My system sounds much better going straight from the dac into the amp, and I had a great sounding preamp. My dac is fpga based with an attenuation control so I can get the best sound by using this control.

I'm using just the amp and a dac and I think it sounds great. For others maybe not but I'm happy with it. 

A quality active preamplifier is much better then a passive dac to amplifier ,

especially if you have a Quality vaccum tube preamp the signal is amplified and transformer ,choke gain stage when under load is bigger soundstage ,deeper and better imaging ,adding the vacuum tubes adds an added dimension ,having owned a Audio store ,as well as Audiophile for over 40 years I have had every combination 

and their is plenty of ample proof putting a Quality preamplifier at least a  $5 k lie stage preamplifier is far better then use dac to amplifier you need to spend money 

to get mid Audiophile quality .

Then the answer is, what ever works for you. No final concreate answer, many variables that will determine many diffrent ways.

As to me, Pre-amp is very very important, but of course you need a very good pre-amp otherwise possible answer would be to avoid it and go direct to DAC.

I had my Benchmark LA4 out of commission for a couple of weeks and was using a Denon receiver to fill the gap.  Even in pure direct mode the sound quality was significantly worse.  As per an earlier poster, I’m not surprised you found an improvement removing the Marantz from the chain.   

My system sounds much better with a pre amp in the mix.  I have a PS Audio BHK pre amp, PS Audio DSD Sr. DAC (which has a volume control), and PS Audio BHK250 power amp pushing Tannoy DC8Ti speakers.  About a year ago, I sent the BHK pre in for repair and went straight from the DAC to the BHK250.  My system sounded terrible by comparison. 

I bought a used PS Audio Gain Cell DAC and used it as my preamp until the BHK pre came back.  The Gain Cell DAC sounded fair, but no where near as good as the BHK pre.  

this is a case where specifics drive the outcome, generalities are fun coffee table chatter, but are inconsequential

I think this is gospel.  It all depends. But, as so many above say, typically a great preamp is better than no preamp.  I'm glad this is working for you though. Don't forget about how lucky you are to have stumbled on your no-preamp-situation when you make your next move....I. mean, if you make your next move. :). 

My system sounds much better with a pre amp in the mix. I have a PS Audio BHK pre amp, PS Audio DSD Sr. DAC (which has a volume control), and PS Audio BHK250 power amp pushing Tannoy DC8Ti speakers. About a year ago, I sent the BHK pre in for repair and went straight from the DAC to the BHK250. My system sounded terrible by comparison.

I agree 100%. I have the exact DAC, pre & amp as you, driving Maggie 1.7is with 2 REL subs & the BHK pre transformed the sound. It sounded great with out the pre, but putting that BHK in the chain made it sound amazing.


Granted my sample size is small at only one, but I heard people waxing poetic about no preamp. So I ran my Audiolab 8300CDQ directly to my Aragon Palladium 2 monoblocks. It seemed good. Until I hooked a preamp back up. Holy moley, a ton of detail, separation and soundstage came back. The 8300 has a "class A" preamp section in it with a digital volume control. It could not compete with a preamp.

It was enough of a difference, that I don't plan on not using a preamp again.

exactly, a good pre-amp in the chain always seems to work better.

from my personal experience, DAC direct to Amp sound flat and sometimes the bass just sounds even worse.

Recently, i tested going from my Lampi Pacific direct to my 300B mono amps.  I was shocked at how good it sounded.  Maybe it is system-dependent but in my case with 98db horn speakers and having 16 Wesstern Electric 300 B tubes in my amps, I don't need a brain.  

I have to agree a great preamp will change and reveal what your system should sound like with the magic quality,  compared to just playing music nicely. I ran a parasound preamp( holo no real  sound was stale, dead sounding), then ran balanced xlr from balanced dac smsl to a old but nice anthem reciever amp( cheap way to get great volume control but no real magic to the sound but nice for cheap).

Then ran a conrad Johnson pv11 with tubes but no xlrs, opened stage, could hear separation better but not coherent, was happier but still missing something. Then bought audio research ls17, omg wow drop your jaw. This was use as reference for reviewers 10 years ago and I know why. 4k or 5k new. Run fully balanced smsl to audio research ls17 out to jeff rowland class a amp to 1.6r Maggie's.  Wow the sound went holographic, live sounds amazing, can hear all instruments  in sound stage but sounded musical, and bass tightened up so much and hit harder, so it's a journey but preamps can take, control, and pull everything  together to sound amazing.

Bought a Carver TFM amp in the mid 90s. Sounded great with CD player going into it directly. I used the gain knobs on the front panel for each channel as volume knobs. Sounded clean.

Sometime around 2008 I bought a new NAD preamp...entry level stuff @ $700. I was expecting to lose a little resolution going into the Carver. Sounded soooo much better. More body, more had this softness and smoothness. It did not make sense at the time.

I had to turn the gain knobs on the amp all the way up to max (as recommended by the Carver manual) to use a preamp. I thought it was going to blow up...but it sounded beautiful.

The class A gain stages in preamps are designed to handle very delicate signals much better than the gain stages in your average amp.

Working Audio Engineer here. There are three functional ranges of signal:

  • Mic Level - This is the miniscule signal that comes from a microphone. It’s tiny! That’s why microphones are run into preamps. The preamps job is the amplify the signal to:
  • Line Level - This is the regular, useable, routable signal bouncing around a mixer, compressor, EQ, ADC, etc etc etc, including your DAC. It’s strong enough to power headphones, but you aren’t really gonna move speakers with it. That’s why you feed your line level signal to a speaker amplifier so you get:
  • Speaker Level - This is when you’ve got serious juice and could do some damage if you aren’t careful. Whether it’s 20W, 200W, or 2000W, you’ve gotta make sure you are sending the right level to the right gear or you can blow things up.

So... No, you don’t need a preamp. Your DAC is already outputting a Line Level signal, which is exactly what your speaker amp expects. Why add more gear, more noise, more devices to the signal? Could it help - maybe. Could it hurt - definitely. Sound reinforcement systems don't have pre-speaker-amp "preamps" as a concept even.

(In case anyone is wondering, my at home rig at the moment is a Peachtree Audio Nova125, which has an integrated USB DAC. It's the only unit between the computer and the speakers.)



Sounds better, or different?

Time will tell you which is better for YOU, but usually, with every component in an audio system that has synergy, a pre-amp included provides the most enjoyable music reproduction.

Logic suggests that adding a complex preamp with many active components is likely to degrade sound by the distortion introduced in an otherwise pure signal passing from source to amp/speakers.


So what I'd like to hear on this issue from someone qualified is:

If a particular preamplifier can improve sound compared to eliminating it, what is it that the preamplifier adds or changes that makes the sound better?

And what is it that was wrong with the signal from source that required improvement?



Absent an (active) preamp one is effectively listening to the source device's output stage, which is most cases has been designed to drive a preamp and not a power amp. In addition, many digital volume controls lose resolution at lower signal levels. In your specific case, it's relevant that the Chord equipment has both a very well designed output stage and a very high quality digital volume control implementation. I'm not surprised that the setup sounds better than with the Marantz in circuit. Not only are you eliminating the electronics, but a set of interconnects. To echo previous posts, given well designed source electronics, no preamp will most likely be better than a poor one. Lastly, preamps  generaly do, of course, provide source switching which many people need - statement of the obvious perhaps, but relevant nonetheless.

Over the many decades I have owned various passive pres, autoformers, stepped attenuaters, dedicated preamps/dacs (tube/ss), and for a couple years now, what I think is the best opf them all: Audio Alchemy DDP-1 + PS 5 (PS -5 being essential to optimize the DDP-1). I am surprised dac/pres aren't more popular. Mine saves shelf space, PLUS an extra; digital cable, power cord and isolation devices

Brandonhifi the Qutest is not designed to drive an amp directly. There if this is your intent  I would look at the Hugo2 at a minimum as it has some form of volume control. The TT2 and Dave a designed with this use in mind. For my money the best implementation of a dac as a preamp is by MSB but you are talking about a lot more money to get into one of their dacs. 

The best preamp is no preamp only until you hear high quality active preamp. The added resolution, transparency one may hear sans pre vs lower quality pre is generally initial novelty Many will discern analytical flavor over longer term, seek out pre to add, others may assume this as good as it gets, until they hear the magic that great active pre can bring to the table. I can easily convince myself my active pre is most important component in my system, it was game changer for me.

Streaming directly to my power amp on my second system for years. In my First Second System, I had an amplifier with gain controls and a Denon CD player that also provided some limited volume control. Plugged the CD player in direct to the power amp. Great sonic result and it’s simpler to manage. Even simpler now with streaming. 

Since the OP mentioned a Marantz preamp, will also say that I’m very happy with the sound of my main rig setting my AV7001 in PureDirect mode. I need a preamp on my main rig because of all the input devices to control.  But it just seems to make sense that if I can cut out a layer of electronics, I’ll get closer to the actual source signal. This seems analogous to hearing a Direct-To-Disk vinyl record vs ones that were made mixed and mastered the usual way. 

Sound reinforcement systems don't have pre-speaker-amp "preamps" as a concept even.

Of course they do! The preamp is known as a 'mixer'.


There are four functions a preamp provides:

1) provide input switching

2) provide volume control

3) provide any needed gain (tuners usually do not make enough output to drive a power amp directly; many make only 1 volt)

4) (and the least understood) control interconnect cables; prevent or reduce them from adding colorations due to cable construction (if you've ever auditioned cables and heard differences you know what I'm talking about).

If you use the balanced line system, you can reduce cable artifacts and should eliminate ground loops entirely. The balanced line system is intended to be low impedance which rules out passive systems. I tried this decades ago and found dramatic differences between cables that were eliminated when I used an active line stage that drove balanced cables properly (e.i. supports AES48, the balanced line standard).


There are a lot of debats on this but I just share my experience.  Shorter signal path is better. I am running straight from Dac (as Dac mode) to PA and the system sounds really well.  I maximize the volume on the source and adjust the volume on PA to reach the listening level.  I also found playing CD/SACD player straight into PA is better than going through Dac, even though the internal Dac inside the player is lesser than the external Dac I had.