To preamp or not to preamp

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My adamant stance against inserting a preamp between a high quality DAC like DirectStream and the power amplifier should be no surprise to readers of this blog. As well, my subsequent turn around embracing the exact opposite should lift no eyebrows either. But why would inserting an extra piece of gear in the signal path sound better than a more direct approach? How could this make sense?

My erstwhile partner, and present day collaborator, Arnie Nudell, suggested an answer to me that I've been mulling on ever since. Arnie suggests the reason I cannot make the logic to this question work–how increasing signal path length purifies music within the chain–is because I am not asking the right question. He suggests I am asking the question backwards and that's what's been driving me crazy all along.

I cannot verify he is correct. But he makes a point that is worthy of consideration. We start the discussion with the original logic.

A straight wire with gain. The first time I ever heard this expression was reading J.Peter Moncrieff in his publication, IAR. Peter performed the straight wire bypass test–where electronics and passive components were compared to the sound of a straight wire. Peter gain matched wires to equipment and components, comparing their sonic signatures, and he made numerous discoveries. The second usage of the term came from Stan and I in early preamplifiers. We lifted Peter's verbiage and labeled our passive gain switch as Straightwire–sources ran through only the internal potentiometer–avoiding the internal gain stage.

It is with this thought in mind that opinions were formed. One capacitor in the signal path places a sonic signature to the music; two capacitors add more, and so forth.

Tomorrow we continue.

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Paul McGowan

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