What makes a bigger change, dac or preamp?

Hello everyone,

I would first like to start by thanking everyone for the help and apologize for exhausting this question but I I was hoping everyone can educate a slightly confused hobbyist. Recently brought Quad 12l active which is being feed by Squeezebox Touch. I have being using the Touch as a preamp which is not the ideal setup.

Now what is honestly confusing me is the entire upgrade path. On one end, I have people telling me the next step should be a DAC to add to the Touch. On another end, I have people telling that the very first thing I have to do is get the volume control away from the touch and by a good preamp or just straight volume control unit like the Warpspeed optocoupler.

Most agree that separates is the best way to spend my money.

MY question to everyone, which will affect the sound the best period. What makes a better upgrade path?
IMO, pre-amp, no question. Three reasons.
1. I have found that they have a profound effect on overall system character.
2. Using the digital volume control on the squeeze products will adversely affect the sound once you attenuate more than about 3 dB or so.
3. By all accounts, the DAC in the Touch, while not SOTA is much higher up the food chain than the volume attenuation (see #2).

I don't know what the Warpspeed sells for, but it appears to be a variant/clone of the Lightspeed Attenuator which you can buy direct from the designer for a pretty modest sum, as high end products go. I've used one and its quite transparent. However, be aware that there are some compatibility issues w either product because they are passive rather than active pre-amps. If you go the the Audiogn Lightspeed thread, you can "read all about it", as along as you've got a day or two to spare ;-)
In your particular situation I second Buconero17 and Swampwalker. I would pay particular attention to Swampwalker's argument as it applies to your setup. Also, with the active Quads where you need longer Interconnects, consider preamps/pre-amp DAC combos that have balanced (XLR) outputs. If you are on a budget, you might want to check this out: http://www.pacificvalve.us/MatrixBalanced.html
Good luck
The best upgrade for any system is upgrading the weakest link.

As has been said, the DAC in the Touch is acceptable. It's digital volume control is not. To control volume, it more or less removes bits. It's digital output is bit perfect at full volume output, but not at any other volume level. Don't hold to me that exactly, as I'm not the white paper/tech type, but it's what I understand of it.

Also, get a preamp with XLRs if all other things are equal. XLR cables do far better with long distances and other things than RCAs.