Cheap pots in expensive preamps

December 7, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

9 comments on “Cheap pots in expensive preamps”

  1. Is it really the pot (or stepped attenuator which has a “sound”, Paul, or is it the circuit of the input or output stage being connected with the pot? See the preferences for vacuum tube based stages. Until now I was convinced that a (passive) transformer or autoformer based volume control lacking input and output stage would add no “sound” effects or unwanted distortions as active preamps do. And indeed, even the best rated active preamps I could check in my system lacked transparency and resolution of fine details compared to my TVC. But recently I “misused” my brand new headphone amp as a preamp bypassing my TVC. And boy, what a surprise: more bass, more punch without lacking transparency or resolution. Only the highest frequencies seemed to be a bit dampened. Could it be that designers of headphone amps have more insight into the audiophile aspects of an audio circuit using headphones and not loudspeakers as a reference?

    1. It’s a great question, Paul and here’s what we have done.

      Years ago we spent months inserting pots, transformers, LDRs, attenuators, into a passive volume control role and evaluating their sonic thumbprints. All sounded different.

      The setup was simple. We had a low impedance source and a high impedance input.

      To your point, we probably could/should have gone further and optimized each for their particulars, but we did not.

  2. It would be interesting to hear your comments on a switched volume control versus a regular volume control since a switch control is only going through one (hopefully) high quality resistor at every setting.

    I just have to comment on the classic straight wire with gain. That came from a period when wire supposedly didn’t have a sound, Now that wires vary in sound the statement doesn’t have the same meaning any more.

  3. The Video shows a $50,000 Solution Amp built worse than a much cheaper amp, even worse than a $3,000 China-made amp. Makes you feel bad to be in this hobby when we are looked at as a dollar and fools. Fancy outer case or speakers surrounds and they get whatever they can get and then out of business in several years and on to the next company they form and the audio magazines play into this con because they are friends with these people and not to mention gear on the cheap for them to review. PS Audio, Pass Labs, and Prima Luna give you good quality at an honest and fair price.

  4. Yes “some “ manufacturers provide a good product irrespective of price. Some manufacturers even have good technical support and even some may have a well written manual.
    Well I say some , but what I mean is very few have a worthy product.

    Manuals are ,in general, poorly written.
    Product reviewers, which we rely on, Due to the paucity of audio salons, is just another issue!

    This past month I have auditioned 5 integrated amps and the process is exhausting and not enjoyable. Malfunction of products, poor technical help from the manufacturers ,
    And manuals that are horrid ,does not
    Present itself as a fun experience.
    However, I did “ stumble “ across a brand that I would never have considered beforehand that has been great. Price per component is irrelevant!

  5. Two or three O’Clock? Isn’t that very loud? I rarely go higher than Ten or Eleven. Most of the time I’m between Seven and Nine O’clock on the volume.

  6. A 10.00 hammer works as well as 30.00 hammer. Sometimes things just don’t need improvement.

    I have to disagree with you on that, a 30.00 estwing hammer works way better than a cheap 10.00 hammer, but not as good as a 200.00 stiletto hammer.

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