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?
What's your budget? Is the Squeezebox your only source or do you need analogue inputs as well?

If your budget is ample enough, you can go with something like the Peachtree Grand Pre, which is a preamp with a high quality dac built in for around $4000 (I think).

Or, if your budget is smaller, you can get a dac with volume control that will work as a preamp for only a digital source. The Emotiva XDA-1 fits this bill, costs around $370.

The third option is a separate preamp and dac. In this scenario I would buy a dac without volume controls, a basic, well regarded example of which is the Musical Fidelity V-dac at around $350. You could combine this with an affordable preamp, like the Emotiva USP-1 at around $500, and be set for multiple sources including digital and vinyl. Emotiva is just the first such preamp that came to mind, but there are other brands in this price-range.

If your goals are modest, I recommend the last example.

Good luck, have fun.

First let me thank everyone for their advice and for educating me. Although I love the hobby its a bit confusing with the enormous amount of information out there. I like to buy things that will grow with my system instead of buying equipment on the fly then turning around and selling it in a couple months. I can't afford it although I wish I could :)

Thank everyone for clearing that up.
Agree with Buconero17, preamp makes a surprising contribution to the system sound.
preamps make a bigger difference by far than DAC's, But I would suspect a good DAC would make more difference than the DAC in the Touch. I've not listened to your Quad to comment, but I believe that is the real question.
I have come to the conclusion over the years that the preamp is the heart and soul of the system and a world class one in a world class system makes the biggest improvements I've personally heard. I would also add that I've never heard a preamp that knocks off my socks that is cheap. I'm recalling that you wanted to spend like 500 bucks. So in this case I would say definitely get a DAC with volume control. I personally own the Quad speakers you have and they sound really good with a Benchmark DAC that has volume control. I know you don't want to buy and then sell again but the Benchmark is readily available used and you can sell it back if you don't like it. If you are set on keeping the Quads and have one source then I would see no sense in getting a preamp. Otherwise if you were thinking of a bigger budget then you would be getting into a situation of possibly upgrading the speakers and getting a good integrated amp that would be a lot better than getting a great preamp for the Quads. I own the Quads and the Benchmark and I've never heard anything better for 1000 used price. Next step up is a better set of speakers and an integrated I think. I'm no arguing that the preamp is not the most important thing in a general sense but with your setup I'd say get a DAC with volume. There are plenty of choices around and under 1000 pick your flavor. I personally like the sound of the Benchmark with the Quads, that is what I'd get and it's an easy sell if you don't like it.