In yesterday’s post about the preamp conundrum many of you correctly pointed out that what I was referring to is called an integrated amplifier but perhaps missed my point. The day of the preamp as a separate is long over and while there are multiple ways to address the issue: adding amps to all preamps or preamps to all amps (for two quick examples) – we need to look at the bigger issue at hand.

The bigger issue is separates themselves. I have long advocated for the demise of the separates category altogether. Why? Because separates only came about in response to the crap large scale hifi manufacturers were making in the early days (PS included). There were a number of technical reasons why it may have been difficult at the time to integrate all the functions of a preamp, amp and radio tuner but that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for years now.

Separates equal many things: independent choice and clutter among them. As Audiophiles we like the idea of mixing and matching separates to get the performance we want – as practical humans I think we prefer neat, tidy and elegant.

I am proposing to you that technically separates need not exist – that in fact without all the interconnecting paraphernalia they require between boxes – we’d be better off without them.

The preamp conundrum points out that existing integrated amps are still compromised accumulations of separates and therefore are irrelevant to our discussion. Integrateds should be better – yet they represent compromise not sueriority. That’s just plain lazy.

Technically separates shouldn’t be required. We should demand more.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The Preamp Conundrum

One of our customers was upset because he loved the sound of our phono preamplifier directly into his power amplifier but then not so much when he inserted his preamp between the phono stage and his amp.

His question, naturally, was this: if my preamp sounds great by itself and the phono stage sounds great by itself why do the two not work so well together?

It’s easy to ignore the cumulative degradation of equipment where each piece in the chain adds a bit of flavor not natural to the source – but preamps may be the worst of the lot.

A preamp consists of three elements: an input switch that selects the desired input, a volume control that provides its namesake and an output amplification stage that provides the gain to drive the power amplifier. Problem is, while the first two elements in the chain are needed the third is not and usually gets in the way.

The vast majority of sources you connect to a preamp have enough output to drive your power amplifier directly, in fact, many have more than enough. Preamps reduce that volume level of the source only to re-amplify it back up to match what the amp wants. This process can only cause harm to the purity of the signal.

It’s natural to want a preamplifier in the mix because we all have multiple inputs we need to select from and, at a minimum, we all need to turn down the volume. If every manufacturer built power amps with multiple inputs and a volume control there’s be no need for any of this but we don’t.

‘Tis a shame.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl

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