Value of a preamp?

Other than impedance matching and volume control?


To my ears the preamp is the make-or-break component in my system.  A good match expands the soundstage and makes instruments appear more solidly defined in space, with tone colors and timbre faithfully reproduced….a bad one sounds flatter and more grainy. I discovered long ago that the preamp sections of well regarded Japanese brands were the weak link holding back the amp sections of Sansui, Pioneer, and Sony integrateds.  That’s why I’ve never owned one, always preferring separates, even economical ones like Dynaco, Crown, and DB Systems.  Then I discovered Conrad-Johnson.

I previously felt that the additional circuitry in a preamp could only degrade the integrity of the signal going to the amp, and so for years I used various totally passive preamps, and devices like the Schiit Saga and Freya S that provide passive stages.  Since then I have found that the addition of a preamp can make the sound more dynamic and enjoyable, and I use active preamps now.


+1 @soix also it gives you the ability of various inputs, sound level balance, and control of your system components.  Ideally, it should “get out of the way” in terms of sound and noise but it’s personality can add quite a bit to a system given the right match. A definite must in my opinion, but the minimalists out there would disagree. In the end, it your system and what please your ears that counts. 

@yoyoma26  " the reality is that any source component that can drive a power amp effectively has a preamp in it. So it depends on how good a preamp you want."


Excellent point.  If your source already has an excellent internal preamp, you might or might not benefit from a separate preamp.   When people say that they do or don't get benefits from a preamp, it would be really helpful to specify what source, amp and speakers they are using.

I'm currently using a PBD MPS-8 without a preamp, using the variable volume control and XLR cables direct to AGD Duet amps, and YG Hailey 2.2 speakers.   Sound quality is excellent, but I'm curious what effect a preamp might have.