The potentiometer preamp

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A preamplifier is, as its name implies, an amplifier before an amplifier. Preamps are typically placed between the source and the power amplifier. They select inputs, control volume, and amplify the signal to a level acceptable to a power amplifier. Simple, right?

Then comes along the idea of a passive preamplifier which is an absolutely incorrect usage of the name—a faux pas we at PS Audio did our best to correct. You see, to qualify as a preamplifier, you need to actually have an amplification circuit to…wait for it…amplify.

So, many years ago, in the 1970s, Stan and I used only an attenuator between our phono preamplifier and power amplifier. In our judgment, nothing was cleaner than a simple potentiometer or stepped attenuator to vary the volume. And we were correct, though cleaner doesn’t always mean better.

When it came time in the evolution of PS Audio to launch our own preamplifier, the debate between us was fierce. Passive or active? In the end, we settled on both and offered a switch for the user to choose between passive or active. But Stan, ever our beacon of straightforward naming, could not bring himself to call it a preamplifier since it was and it wasn’t, depending on the position of the switch. This drove me endlessly crazy as my vote was for simplicity—our customers wanted a preamplifier, dammit! call it a preamp. Eventually, we reached a compromise and called it a Control Center and, thus, the Linear Control Center was born: a preamplifier with the switch in one position, a passive control center in the other.

I believe after all these years that Stan was right and I was wrong to have argued in favor of simply calling it a preamplifier.

If it don’t amplify…