Forty-something years ago we believed with all our hearts that simple was better. That a single potentiometer in the signal path was the cleanest, purest, best sounding preamplifier anyone could build. Today, we've come to understand it was close, yet no cigar.
Rarely are things as simple as we would like them to be. We're happiest when an issue, problem, or thought can be tick-and-tied neatly with a bow and set on the shelf as fact so we can move on to the next problem. It's rarely that simple.
It's true a simple signal path is cleaner and has a better chance at purity than a many-stage device. Take our single potentiometer idea as an example. When Stan and I first started building products in 1974, we made a high-end phono stage. To test that product we tacked a single high-quality potentiometer onto the input of an amplifier. This was the cleanest way we knew to hear our phono stage without the encumbrance of another line stage of a preamp. It worked well because we were able to marry the pot and amp together without connecting cables.
When we tried to extend that logic to a product—a pots-in-a-box preamp with an input selector switch and output cables and connectors—things started turning sour. The sound remained pure but music's impact, bass, and authority was lost. To fix the problem we needed to add a transparent, active buffer, something we didn't know how to build back then.
Four decades later the buffer is an easy build and the increased number of parts in that short signal path make for better sound.
Simple isn't always better, but it's a great place to start.