A combination of traditional folk art and science



The term preamplifier is a term misused to describe the function of the devices that provides input selection, level control, tape loops, and sometimes, a minimal amount of line-stage gain.

Many Audiophiles will proclaim that the preamplifier (preamp) is the most important component in the audio chain. They claim the character of the sound is determined by the preamplifier more than any other component in the audio chain. This was particularly true when most people used phonographs. At that time, preamplifiers provided the required RIAA equalization.

Today, many preamplifiers don't have phonostages. The assumption is that the primary listening source will be CD. Back in the early 1980s, a company called the ModSquad, introduced a passive preamp called the Line Drive. About this time, I purchased a preamp from PS Audio. The PS Audio had both an active and a passive mode.

At this time I began to wonder how could a preamp be better than no preamp. It seemed to me that a passive design might be superior. After all, it added nothing to the signal. I began to compare the difference in sound between the passive and active mode.

What I detected was that using the passive mode, some of the life seemed to vanish. The passive mode had very good detail and the noise level was quite impressive. However, something seemed to be missing. This might have been a factor caused by the output stage from my ancient CD player or it could have been too much capacitance from the length of cable I was using. After all, this was about 15 years ago and I am much smarter now.

The PS Audio preamp was a very good unit and I used it for nearly ten years. Stereophile gave this unit a C rating. In those days, C was about the best I could afford and I was quite happy. However, over time, the preamp started getting noisy. I tried cleaning the switches and contacts but nothing worked. However, after 10 years, I was completely satisfied that I got the full value from what I paid and decided to move on.

My next preamp purchase was the highly regarded Sony 2000 ESD Dolby Prologic AV system. There was much to like about this unit. It switched both audio and video. It had many different sound modes. It also had a remote control. To my ears, the Sony seemed to do a very good job. The unit also had its own DACs that sounded better than the DACs in my then Pioneer laser player.

After about four or five years, the Sony started to hum and it started getting noisy. Additionally, there was no way to easily add AC3 to the unit. The problem was that the volume control on the preamp would compete with the volume control on the AC3.

I replaced the Sony with a Chinese made tube preamplifier that I upgraded with a Danish Audio ConcepT (DACT) stepped attenuator and a set of relays to handle the switching. I wired one of the inputs so that it bypassed the volume control. The sound was astonishing. Perhaps the Sony's sound had degraded over the years or perhaps it simply wasn't as good a preamplifier as I thought it was.


Today, there are fewer and fewer two channel (stereo) receivers. For as little as $250, it is possible to buy a five channel stereo receiver with AC3 decoding built in. For a little more money, some receivers have AC3 and DTS built in. They also provide five or more channels of amplification, FM and AM tuning, and A/V switching.

A/V receivers are excellent values when you consider their functionality. Unfortunately, if one of the requirements is to achieve a high degree of sonics, most of these A/V receivers can not match integrated amplifiers or separates.

Integrated Amplifiers

An integrated amplifier is an amplifier that provides switching and attenuation in a single package. For people not interested in video and trying to economize, this is a more logical choice than buying a receiver that is weighted towards video.


Integrated amplifiers and receivers both have the functionality of a preamp built in. How they differ from a high quality preamp should be understood prior to selecting what sort of preamplifier you should purchase. If buying separate components was simply a matter of removing the various circuit boards from a receiver and then adding separate power supplies, there would be very little sonic advantage.

You would still have the same quality switches, operational amplifiers (op amps) and volume control as the receiver. The reason for going with separate components is to improve the quality of the individual components and wind up with a better sum.

Plinius M 16 Preamp - one of the better

preamps we came accross

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