Eliminated my preamp with amazing results

I pulled my preamp out completely. The result's were not subtle. 

For those who stream music only... I was going from my laptop... to my DAC...to my preamp...to my amp. My preamps ONLY function was volume control. Source control not needed.

I started using Audirvana recently which comes with it's own high quality 64 bit volume control that was far better than the potentiometer in my preamp. It dawned on me that I could control volume using Audirvana and plug my DAC directly into the amp and bypass the preamp altogether. (Roon and Jriver also have excellent volume controllers) Note: Audirvana has an app download on a tablet/phone so it acts like a remote control. I'm loving it!

This not only eliminated the preamps volume control but it took out ALL the electronics associated in a preamp including some cables. A FAR more direct route. However, you must use caution and make sure the volume is controlled properly in the software since the amp will be fed wide open volume.

Having experimented with 'passive' preamps in the past (McCormack TLC-1) I thought the sound would possibly lose dynamics and bass response would suffer. WRONG!

The results were...Shocking!! Immediately the extended depth of the image was noticeably deeper. Background darker. The highs are the best I've ever heard. Pristine. The bass was dynamic, tight and most of all 'textured' in a way I never heard before. As I stated earlier the results are NOT subtle! 

This is an experiment that took a few minutes to set up and yielded the best performance improvement of ANY other tweak I've ever tried. Not anything like using a passive preamp.

Equipment used...  Peachtree DAC-itx. 

                               Preamps...McCormack TLC-1 and Melos tube preamp.

                               Amp is McCormack DNA 0.5

Understand that different components will have different interactions with each other. Your results may vary. However, IF you don't like it, it takes just a few minutes to put the preamp back in the system. Nothing to lose and lot's to gain. After hearing this, I will NEVER go back to using a preamp. 

Good luck!






Yes, trying it if you own a preamp is a great idea.

Also, if your first impressions are positive, then keeping your preamp for a while is also a good idea. Sometimes longer termed listening reveals things that may not have been immediately obvious.



Great comment. You may find the initial change in sound is interesting and new, but it may not be your longer term preference. Give it a few weeks. I have found this to be true on several occasions over the years. You may end up preferring no preamp longer term, but try putting it back in the system in a couple of weeks to be sure.

And while this may have a positive impact on some systems, I’ve found that high quality preamps deliver much more realism though improved clarity and harmonics,  and a wider soundstage with less noise across the board. I have experimented with this countless times, and I have found only a few DACs under $15K with a built-in preamp stage or volume control that sound better without a quality preamp in the chain. 

I did the same thing and I liked the more direct dac to amp route better at first. Long term I preferred the preamp in the chain. YMMV. As others have mentioned, you might consider keeping your preamp for a bit. 

Be very careful with the volume control setting in the software.  It is easy to have it set to max for another application or have a separate software/operating system set it to high, and then if you don't catch it, and switch to music, it can risk damage to the speakers.  

The key determinant here is the quality of the analogue section of the DAC. Given its output, the only part needed is the attenuator of the pre if absent in the DAC. Often DAC attenuators operate in the digital domain thereby losing bits at lower volume. Should the DAC have a good attenuator with a high quality analogue section all a separate pre will do is add distortion.

Yep, hang on to that preamp for a while. As others noted, just because something is notably "different" at first, does not always make it better to our ears - long term.

I can go straight from my digital source to my amp too, with volume control. While it can be more detailed along with other agitating digital grain artifacts, and loss of other key elements, that magically reappear when I put the DAC and/or preamp back into the mix. Definitely worth swapping back and forth every few weeks to help decide.

As others have said, report back in a few weeks and let us know if you still like the direct set-up better.  Also, I am curious, are you running the direct (unbuffered, i.e.,  purely passive, volume control only) outputs from the TLC-1 or going through the buffered outputs.  I believe the buffered outputs provide unity gain, which should not result in any loss of dynamics and/or bass response.

I'm always amused when members ask if they should/should not pull out a preamp because the answer is always a personal one.

It's been a very long time since I've seen an impedance mismatch so large a DAC with a volume control could not directly drive an amplifier.  Everything else is preference.

I had a Lampizator Big 7 DAC with a volume control. I ran directly into the KR Audio Kronzilla amp and it sounded very clean and dynamic leading me to believe I could ditch my preamp, which I found advantageous since my preamp did not have a remote volume control . But it eventually became clear to me that the TRL Dude preamp (sorry I sold that later!) added much more life to the music and it was soon back in my system. 

I really REALLY like my Tortuga Audio LDR attenuator for much the same reasons.

It`s crystal clear, has nice sound staging etc etc... Runs off the grid with a battery

which brought a blacker background to the mix.

Overlooked way too often !



Oh yes the Dude preamp! I miss mine also. I had a fully tricked out one that Paul helped me to upgrade. 


I have experimented with this countless times, and I have found only a few DACs under $15K with a built-in preamp stage or volume control that sound better without a quality preamp in the chain.

If my memory is correct you’ve mentioned that the T+A DAC 200 preamp section is pretty good. What other DACs volume control or preamp section impressed you?

@toro3 Good memory. Yes, the DAC 200’s preamp stage is very good, even though I get better results setting it to line out and using the T+A HV series preamplification. On its own, the DAC 200’s preamp stage will compete with standalone preamps in the $3K range. 

I honestly haven’t come across a lot of DACs with great preamp and volume stages. I absolutely hated the one on the Tambaqui, even if the DAC itself is quite good. Lampizator makes very good ones, say for the Baltic 3 and 4 and above. Though it has a high quality streamer/server built in as well, the Aurender A20 ans A30 units are really strong performers and sound great hooked up directly to an amp. The performance of those units far surpass the preamp stage and volume control of the A15. For the Meitner MA3 and Cambridge EDGE NQ, I actually really like both units as a DAC with volume control. The MA3 is a DAC first, where the EDGE NQ is a preamp first, but with both units I don’t like their built in streaming performance. 

I want to be candid that I am an authorized dealer T+A, Aurender and Cambridge Audio. I have no affiliation with Mola Mola, Lampizator and Meitner/EMM.

Get rid of your noisy laptop and buy a true far cleaner server streamer 

like a innuos ,or something with a quality linear power supply night and day better then a laptop .that’s a for sure.

the preamp vs direct-to-amp debate is a well worn one here on this board, there has been ample discussion in numerous posts over the years, including some very good, recent ones

as can be expected, the specifics will dictate results yielded, so it is great that the op tried for himself... in this digital age with many wonderful dacs having robust output stages, i have had success myself not running a linestage anymore

I just add a tube pre-amp to my active speakers...

Here in my case it is for sure positive as i was expecting...

Correcting mismatch or compensation, or addition of something else like tubes in my case, it is always relative to many factors not only the gear synergy but the room  and your ears..

We cannot say buy a preamp always or i dont need one... It is each case  different ... And all pre are not from the same mold ...



I recently tried using my Bel Canto DAC 2.8 direct into an older modified Adcom GFA-555 (Musical Concepts).  Source was either Google Audio puck, or a Apple MacMini. So far, I really like it a ton, and can't detect any audio resolution issues with the (digital?) audio control on the Bel Canto.  Resolution, sound stage, detail, and drive are all very accurate, and I find the center image a LOT stronger.  Though, it doesn't have the "drive" like it had when using a Rega Elex-R integrated.

That system was a bit like having a loudness button on- great drive, power, presence, weight, but also condensed.  I am liking things more realistic and articulate so far. 

You never know what sounds best until you try different combos,  

Yes, be careful with the DSP software based volume control.  You might be able to set a safe limit depending on application software used.   I know you can do that several different ways with Roon.  


Keeping your preamp is a great advise, but don’t let anyone tell you what you like. Your system, room acoustic, and personal taste matters the most. 


Also, I am curious, are you running the direct (unbuffered, i.e.,  purely passive, volume control only) outputs from the TLC-1 or going through the buffered outputs.  I believe the buffered outputs provide unity gain, which should not result in any loss of dynamics and/or bass response.

Using neither. I have tried both outputs. Buffered sounds better imo but currently the preamp is completely disconnected. Perhaps the elimination of the volume control and cables is having a positive effect.


Resolution, sound stage, detail, and drive are all very accurate, and I find the center image a LOT stronger.

Agreed. Much more holographic. The bass is tight and textured and the highs are just wonderful. 'S' sounds are clean. Overall more engaging.

I'm not getting rid of my preamp just yet. However, the sound is getting better the more I listen. 

BTW... Audirvana has a 'master volume max limiter'. If by chance you accidentally hit the volume slide bar it won't go over a prescribed level. I think Roon has the same protective feature.


So PC-software-DAC-amp brings up the question: what software/volume control to use to play PC files. I only experiemented to simply find the volume control/software that allows the highest output (amp input not sensitive enough). Didn't consider quality (and haven't concluded yet on easy of use regarding software choice). 

I assume, there are already lots of threads/posts on that subject. 

Not too long ago I had an OMG experience like the OP when playing the physical CD I had just ripped from my office laptop (with super long 25 ft USB C cable to Shiit DAC using same receiver and analog cable and switched between  (basic run of the mill) CD player and laptop. "NOT subtle". Never thought that the DAC even in a low budget system can make such a difference (obviously, the DAC in the CD player was horrible, and has since been upgraded). 

OP, you didn't mention your speakers and their specs. That's important, I think.

I have tried the following alternatives to my tubed preamp, with both tube and class A amps:

  • eliminated the preamp -- result was harshness and lack of soundstage. The midrange lost all intimacy.
  • tried a very high quality passive preamp -- same as no preamp, though not as harsh. Lack of vitality and oomph with my 89db sensitivity speakers, which are not that hard to drive, overall.
  • tried a very quiet and neutral solid state preamp. Even tonality returned, most harshness disappeared, still not that much of a soundstage but there is one. There is vitality back in the presentation.

Of the three, the neutral solid state preamp was the best, but even it does not hold a candle to my deHavilland with a really great 6SN7 tube. It's just not close.


I am using a preamp, but it's a Hattor Audio passive device. I haven't heard any active preamp in my system (up to about 8K) that could beat a well designed passive. Not all systems will perform optimally without a preamp. But when it comes together, it's pretty darn good.

When I purchased my Lumin X1 a few years back, I started going direct to my mono blocks. And I totally agree, once I experienced music without the preamp in the chain I could never go back.


One should do what is best for achieving their audio goals. What’s works for some will not for others, however you will never know until you try. OCD Mikey has done a couple videos on this very subject. 

When I had my Krell KRC-2 preamp recapped I hooked my DAC directly to my amp for about 3 weeks until I got my preamp back. First thing I observed was that the difference was very subtle. I had never tried bypassing my preamp before but I found that it didn't have much effect on the sound. When I got the pre back I hooked it up again and after a few days decided that I liked the sound better with it in the chain.

It's great to try these things and see what happens. Every system is different.

I know folks will doubt or grind their teeth at this … I’ve directly connected a SONOS Port to my McIntosh amp(s) and been impressed with clarity and impact. 

I have removed my Pass XP-12 from the chain in my system. Aurender A30 direct to my X260.8’s gives a more detailed and open sound, more air and separation, while not being harsh or fatiguing. The preamp adds more rounded sound, more full or lush sounding but my ears prefer no preamp at this time. I have moved the preamp in and out many times, both with Lumin U1 mini and A15 in the past. The A30 does it better for me . Not sure what a different preamp would do, certainly different but better, I’m not sure. 

I recently had the exact opposite experience. I was using my PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1 as a preamp,  hooked directly to my PS Audio M700 monoblocks,  feeding a pair of Legacy Audio Signature SE speakers.  After reading several "experts" opinions on preamps or not, ( including Paul McGowan who used to be a no preamp advocate but changed his mind) I  decided to try one.  I  was a beta tester for the new PS Audio Stellar Gold Preamp. I found the improvement in SQ was significant.  Larger soundstage,  both width and depth,  much blacker background,  vocals more natural.  Overall,  just much more realism to the music.  So perhaps it depends on the quality of the preamp,  or perhaps one's sonic preference.  All I know is that after I heard what that preamp did for my system,  there was no way I was sending it back!!

Being there done that. I played my Cary Audio 303/200 CDP directly connected to the Mark Levinson 23.5 via RCA connectors. Used the built-in digital volume control to adjust the volume. At first, music sounded immediate, up front with "better" dynamics, or at least I thought so. However, after listening for 2-3 hours, listening fatigue set in. On a different day, I tried the same exercise, but using VTL TL 2.5 preamp in the chain. This is a tube preamp with 2x12AU7 and 2x12AT7s.

Difference was immediately noticeable. Sound was laid back with much more realistic voices and even better bass! I noticed the soundstage was wider and deeper with the preamp. Without the preamp, music sounded immediate. As a result, the front layer contributed more to the total experience whereas rest of the soundstage contributed less. With the preamp, almost every layer appeared to contribute to the total experience.

I can understand the appeal of immediate impact of the sound without a preamp that gives you a near-field experience or a "headphone" effect even though you are seated outside of the near-field listening area. If this is your cup of tea, then I am very happy for you. But hang on to that preamp for a little bit longer :)


So PC-software-DAC-amp brings up the question: what software/volume control to use to play PC files. I only experiemented to simply find the volume control/software that allows the highest output (amp input not sensitive enough). Didn't consider quality (and haven't concluded yet on easy of use regarding software choice). 

Paul McGowen (PS Audio) got me started on this whole idea. He pointed out how a volume control is a restrictive device. Restricts resolution. Like putting on the brakes in a car. He said you should get the volume knob as high as possible so it does as little damage as possible. He said he likes the volume knob UP around 2 to 3 o'clock position. He said the higher volume position has a "HUGE" impact on the resolution/sound. 

How the heck can you accomplish this volume position? This led me to use the Audirvana software using a 64 bit high quality controller(Roon also). This allowed a higher position on the preamp volume knob BUT now I was using two volume controllers. So now... lets eliminate one. Get rid of the worst and use the best and most simple. 

It's possible that the reason a straight DAC sounds better than a passive preamp is the complete elimination of the restrictive volume control.

I also think people are fooled when they hear a preamp that has a boosted gain. The more dynamic sound is immediately noticeable but at what cost? 

I experimented with a Melos tube preamp that adds 20db of line gain !!! Had a big sound with plenty of dynamics. "A fun sound". "Big and Blowsey" (as per stereophile) Couldn't get the volume knob up past 9 o'clock. Way too loud. Having high resolution music source then restricting the resolution with the volume knob seemed counterproductive. 

FYI... higher end preamps use better quality 'digital volume controllers' or 'stepped attenuators' to deal with this problem. 

I had the opposite results when adding a preamp between my DAC and amplifier. Adding the preamp greatly improved the dynamics and the imaging. I have an older Audio Alchemy DDE v3.0 DAC and a Acoustat TNT120 amplifier with Kef Uni-Q’s. I put in a Klyne Audio Arts preamp and was astonished at the improvements.

I'm shocked that  you guys with difficult to drive speakers and low gain/low input impedance amps find an active preamp to sound better. Shocked, I say!

No offense but I think we are repeating the story telling of the parable of blind men and an elephant.  According to Wikipedia, the moral of the parable is that "humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people's limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true." 

For me, understanding the intricate elements inside a preamp and how they synergize with other components remains a puzzle. Waiting for a knowledgeable person to shed light on what truly enhances the system's sound quality. Mr. Paul McGowan discussed the concept of 'separation' between the source and amplifier, speculating its impact. Additionally, he mentioned the potential benefits of negative feedback in enhancing linearity and distortion performance.

My original version Schiit Freya has a passive setting (two actually, one with FET enhancement for longer cables supposedly) that lacks the gain of the tube setting but still...it's passive. I use it to keep the tubes "honest" (are they dying?) but prefer the tubes as I like the gain, and they pull more detail from the source and fool me into thinking I'm having a good time. They're NOS GE 6SN7GTBs that really last a long time ( years...I have a backup set in case they start deteriorating).

There is no simplistic explanation for a preamplifier or against it ...

It is relative to electrical matching, volume control, tone control , the specs of the dac source and the spec of the amplifier and i forgot probably many other things...

There is no singular rule here as the simplistic eliminate the preamplifier all the time or put a preamplifier all the time ...

And which preamplifier tube or S. S. and for which amplifier Tubes or S.S. ? From which dac S.S. or a tube one ? etc...

You must read the electrical specs compatibility first then listen to it .,..


The preamplifier you eliminate can even be replaced by a better one... Or perhaps you dont need one really ... Do you need tone controls and tube sound and volume control ? etc

Do you need a headphone out absent from the power amplifier ?  etc


If one carefully assesses impedance and voltage specs and/or any measurements available and how well each piece in the signal chain directly integrates with the others accordingly you might get a clue as to which combo is most likely to sound best, pre-amp or no pre-amp, but even then lots of other factors come into play so again each case is different and you have to directly compare approach a with approach b each time to in fact know which sounds better. What sounds better is also a function of personal preferences so throw that in and all bets are off. What others report with different gear involved is interesting perhaps but really not very useful to predict how each new and different case will turn out.

How are volume controllers in the anaolog signal path (after the DAC) done today? Not anymore a variable resistance (either potentiometer or a multistep switch with descrete, high quality resistors for each step)? 

The RME ADI-FS DAC has a volume control. It is a top-notch digital implementation; I believe the claim that the sound quality is the same no matter how low the volume setting.

  1. I turned my preamp volume to near maximum, then raised the DAC volume control to my desired listening level.
  2. Noted the dB level with a simple sound meter app in an Android device.
  3. Removed the pre-amp and raised the DAC volume to match the dB level.

In my case, I preferred the sound with the Van Alstine Transcendence RB 10 pre-amp.


Not so surprised as the Melos is an old preamp that most likely muted the sound compared to a more up to date preamp.





I'd be most happy to only rely on digital volume/level setting.  So much more accurate, flexible and reliable to process a digital signal (DSP)  compared to analog equivalent.  

Suggestion to gain better SQ in your system.  Stop streaming from your computer.  Get a dedicated streamer or streamer / player.  I've never heard a desktop / laptop streamer that wasn't topped by even a modest dedicated made for music unit.

I have heard several variations of integrated, pre/amp amp, ...then add tubes. Makes you rethink it all. Could be my Paradigms.   

Music First BABY REFERENCE V-2 TVC PASSIVE….expensive yes….results…..read stereophile review ….SAM TELLIG….. got nothing else to add. RIDICULOUS