The matter of pre amp or no preamp is very subjective. I have been a dCS user since the late 1990s and have never felt fully satisfied with any combination used without a preamp. I can understand why people find the absence of a preamp preferable ( a degree of greater clarity etc.) but I wonder how much this opinion is coloured by the logical conclusion that less circuitry must always be better?
I use a preamp simply because the result provides, for me, greater emotional fulfilment. I will paraphrase Jonathan Scull’s review 21 years or so ago of the dCS Elgar stack without a preamp in Stereophile , " We admired the clarity of the sound but eventually when listening to music with a “big moment” , the " big moment" never arrived". And so it has seemed to me ever since although I do still try my system without a preamp from time to time. I also agree that no preamp ought to sound better and I cannot think of any obvious reason why it should not.
In regard to your second question I do use a tube preamp. In my case an EAR/Yoshino 868 PL ( with NOS Telefunken or Tungsram tubes but the ones EAR supply are very good in the first place so I wouldn’t sweat about tube rolling ). Very musical but not sounding like old fashioned mellow or euphonic valve equipment. It has the advantage of properly balanced in and out connections which means the ATC actives are properly served ( they having no single ended input) and one can use the dCS balanced outputs which I personally think sound marginally ( marginally) preferable to the RCAs. YMMV.
I would go for a preamp before a clock as offering the most immediately noticeable bang for the buck. As a Bartok + Rossini Clock costs around the same as a Rossini DAC ( which even without a clock sounds better) I wonder if a Bartok + Rossini clock is the wisest way to spend the same sum except for users where the optional Bartok headphone amp is of primary importance ?
I also find the my rossini and clock sounds less dynamic without a pre amp, i use a naim 552 and 500 amp.
I also find the volume on the rossini, is best left at 0.0 and any adjusting just takes away the dynamics and kills the sound, its not a massive problem, but i wouldn’t want to not run my pre amp, after trying it both ways.
I use the Benchmark HPA4 line / headphones amp, inbetween my Bartók and power amp.
Kalman Rubinson in Stereophile about the Benchmark LA4 line preamplifier, basically a HPA4 without the headphones amp:
“By physically connecting the input XLR cables directly to the output XLR cables, I could compare the sound of the LA4 at unity gain to that of a bypass with the DACs connected directly to the power amps—ie, it was the LA4 vs nada. I failed to hear any change in balance, tonality, dynamics, details, or soundstage. The LA4 seemed to neither add nor subtract anything. On the other hand, compared to the other preamps on hand, the LA4 was consistently quieter, more open, and more revealing of detail. What the LA4 offers over the bypass is the convenience of control and switching of the LA4 and a bit less noise. Yes, insertion of the LA4 actually resulted in less noise […].”
So, I use the Bartók at 6V out on XLR at unity gain, 0.0 dB, and enjoy the unaltered signal from Bartók, and enjoy better dynamics, better bass, and overall better sound, certainly at low volumes, compared to straight out from Bartók to the power amp (at 2V out, in that case).
“Benchmark’s LA4 is the widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I have encountered.—John Atkinson”
I withdrew a post from this thread because, mistakenly, I thought I had put it in
the wrong topic. I was going to direct attention to Ernos’ post in the “How do you partner
you Bartok?” thread, but he has now posted here. (He and I have the same pre-amp.)
What can I add? I used to run my older generation product (Puccini) direct into a power amp but then switched to using the Benchmark. More dynamic, I think, as do many others regarding the insertion of a pre-amp. I was in the process of changing power amp at the time, which made judging more difficult, though. A practical argument against a preamp, if one’s system is simple, is that it has to be very good to deliver an improvement. And one might not want to spend X thousand pounds on just a volume control… when dCS has already supplied you with one. That was my
attitude for a very long time, until I found the Benchmark which does double duty as a superior
For those of us who like to follow technical developments, Benchmark’s chief engineer writes a
very interesting series of what he calls “Application Notes” on their website. The aims they
set themselves for the pre-amp are explained, and also the why and how of their relay-based based
volume control (which most of the best dressed pre-amps seem to wear these days). And all backed up with measurements.
I am using Bartok direct into ATC active SCM50 towers.
My own experience has indicated the following in my personal circumstances:
I have a longer cable run with two different lengths (due to room layout) of 6m and 10m. I started off with Canare L4E6AT star quad balanced cables. The shorter channel was a little louder.
I changed to equal length Mogami W2549 cable, the sound was “clearer”. I understand these are lower capacitance cables and may be more susceptible to interference, of which I have noted none.
The ATC 50’s seemed to me a little lighter on bass than I would personally wish for, perhaps not as full-range as some of my music content. I took the plunge to have professionally installed 1 x JLAudio Fathom F113 V2. The difference was enormous and felt as if part of the listening spectrum was suddenly introduced into everything my system played.
My cables were altered to provide a Y split of left and right feed into the JL subwoofer.
I originally came from a PSAudio setup, here I learned that the DAC was best run at full output gain and then later attenuated down to feed the ATCs. I believe the same thinking and result may apply to the Bartok and hence a pre-amp being of sonic benefit. I intend to shortly explore this with perhaps a Benchmark LA4…SeanS