Do preamps enhance sound quality?

October 4, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

3 comments on “Do preamps enhance sound quality?”

  1. I've seen a new trend is to implement all the gain in the amplifier and use a minimalist no gain buffer for volume control like a firstwatt b1 for impedance matching.. just something I've noticed lately on diyaudio

  2. Paul, if you still have that Aesthetix Calypso, treat it to the "Signature" upgrade (there's a more expensive upgrade, but I don't even want to think about it). I was kinda floored by the improvement. Also, is it even semi-practical to think about replacing my P10 AND P5 Power plants with a single P20, given that I seem to have accumulated way more components than a P10 can handle alone including SET monoblocks using 845 tubes. Thanks for Paul's Posts. I've learned a lot.

  3. Yet another strange philosophical issue in "high end" audio! When you say "enhance" you are talking about a change to the signal coming out of what ever system you are using. We have talked about the whole need for a "straight wire with gain" for years. Now we fine ourselves in a mixed up world of both analogue and digital technologies. The tube pre here has "added" something to the signal (file?) you now declare "sounds better." The pre has interpreted the signal quite differently than the straight DAC and to your ears at least, has make an esthetically pleasing difference. No measurements given. No real rational explanation. In recording technology, folks use tube powered microphones a good deal and other tube devices to "enhance" the sound. For the most part here, we are talking about a type of coloring of the sound that many folks find esthetically pleasing. In most cases, the difference in the signal would be measurable. Many times the recorded instruments and voices are radically altered from the original sound processed by the whole string of components used. EQ, reverb, compression, and other manipulations of the sound in both the digital and analogue domains are used to "enhance" the overall esthetics of the performance. In the end, the "enhancement" is all in the ears and minds of the guy doing the recording. Then you have the mastering process where usually another person is manipulating the sound even more. The goal here is to put the one who buys the recording in the same space with the performer and make that artificial experience believable. The sound should be "real" and "natural" and "sweet" or "dynamic" or what ever. The room the listener is in will affect the sound. There is not such thing as a "perfect room." The ears of the listener will "hear" differently than the final mixer. The equipment used for play back will yield somewhat different results. The esthetic perception of the listener . . . what they expect to hear and what they want to hear . . . will lead to radically different responses as to how "good" the final resulting sound is. The same listener may have a very different response to the same recording if he or she is in a different mode the next time they hear the tune played. You are trying to take an artificial experience and make it somehow believable. The pursuit of "high end" audio perfection is very much like tying to find the Holy Grail. It doesn't really exist and the dream of it changes over time as well. Given all of this, if the string of components produces a sound that has reasonable dynamics, and is in general, is low in distortion and the performers are gifted and play with passion. and the recording techs do a good job tracking, mixing, and mastering the sessions (lots of its here!) the esthetic impact will be great. Adding a $20,000 pre, $5000 cables, a $40,000 power amp and a $100,000 (or more!) speaker system beyond bragging rights of those who can say "I have it and you don't!" will not enhance the joy of listening to the art.

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