I wrote yesterday that audio is in a state of flux and changes are afoot. This is nothing new, of course. Home audio reproduction has been changing since its debut in the late 1800s. But change comes in waves. Remember Quadraphonic? Home Theater? Console stereos? Walkmans? Each was a wave of change that began in a trough and ended on a crest. This seems the typical pattern where one presages the other, and it is difficult to know where in the cycle we are. My guess is we’re at the bottom of a trough riding to its crest.
Like anticipating a storm’s fury in the safety of the calm before, I am always fascinated by these cycles. What’s sure to come are things of great interest to us and it is fun to see where bright minds take us in our journey for better sound.
One trend I am surprised never went very far is the DAC/PRE. Let’s take a look at that piece first because of its untapped potential. Many DACs have digital volume controls. Case in point, our DirectStream and PerfectWave DACs have excellent volume controls that many use to feed power amplifiers directly, including me. In recent years I have added an external analog preamplifier for better sound, though it offends my sense of logic and understanding to do so.
DACs with digital volume controls are not DAC/PREs. A DAC/PRE accepts both digital and analog signals and manages their volumes. The first such device I am aware of was from our own company, and that product was called the Reference Link. And while this ancient piece accepted both analog and digital, I would not, today, refer to it as a DAC/PRE. The Reference Link used an A/D converter to digitize analog. Thus, it was merely a DAC with a digital volume control, technology we take for granted today.
A DAC/PRE combines an analog preamplifier with a DAC and tomorrow we’ll dive deeper.