Not sure what to think

This weekend I spent A/B testing a new preamp. My system: OPPO 105 (I only  have CDs), Bryston 9B-SST amplifier, B&W 801 loudspeakers (circa 1980) no special cables, non-sound treated room. My current preamp is a Krell-KAV 250p recently serviced. I have always wanted to test a McIntosh preamp. My dad had McI equipment when I was growing up and recently visiting local stores with McI in their listening rooms blew me away (as would be expected in a vendor-setup room). I borrowed a McI C-49 to try out.

I spent 3 days putting different CDs in and out. Rock, jazz, classical, house. In rock, 80s rock, prog rock, anything I knew super well. I tried a few SACDs, too. I had to keep switching the cables so there was always about a minute or so going between the equipment. 

I wanted BADLY to hear a difference. I really did. Between the childhood nostalgia, the looks of the McI (yes, I know music is for listening, not watching what it comes out of), and the vendor visits, I was ready. I had to believe my "vintage" Krell would not stand up to a modern, much more expensive McI. I spent hours going back and forth and back and forth. I kept telling myself I would hear something different on the McI and I just did not. So many discs, keying in on different types of passages, focusing on the bass or the vocals or the mids. You name it, I was ready for that one tiny moment to say "drop the money on a McI and don't look back."

Alas, as much as I still have a passion for the McI for the non-auditory reasons above, for the moment I will be sticking with my Krell. I am not here to knock McI - I still love the thought of it, or any type of equipment that might upgrade my listening experience. I guess I should feel good that the Krell is still working and maybe something else will come along in my future. My sound producer friend suggested I spend the dollars on room treatments. :-)


The OP has proven to himself what I realized years ago that solid state gear has been a settled issue for quite some time! The truth that most here don't want to face is that proper circuit design/implementation levels the playing field between high and low cost gear! Or old and new gear! There is just no ever-upward climb to Infinity for sound quality with ever-increasing costs! Something manufacturers of costly gear don't want buyers to realize. 

Despite the obscure thread title, it sounds like you’re putting too much thought into it. Not every piece of gear is going to be for every listener’s system. You had a chance to demo, it wasn’t revelatory in your case, and you’re not out the cost of a preamp. Sounds like a win to me. Kudos to your dealer.

I’d agree with your friend’s recommendation of room treatments. You’ll likely see greater gains there than any single component swap will provide.

If I was you with your system I’d definitely try a tube preamp if you’re open to that. You’re most likely to hear bigger differences (and benefits) versus your Krell, and the tubes tend to last a long time in preamps and typically not very expensive so are relatively low cost/maintenance components. The Backert Rhumba 1.4 would be well worth trying, and they offer a 14-day trial period.

If you don’t need a fully balanced pre (but available with optional balanced inputs) the Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL would be another great option and also offers a trial period.

I’ll also mention the Aric Audio Motherload II that is not balanced but not sure if they offer a trial period.

All of these would likely provide a very ear-opening experience — I’d be shocked if you didn’t hear very meaningful differences — if you’re up for it. Just my $0.02 FWIW.

I also agree room treatments are worth exploring, and your Oppo 105 could also certainly be improved upon just by adding a better DAC.  It never ends. 

Beyond a certain level of competent design all you are paying for is appearance/jewelry. 

As the song goes...Don't worry, Be happy! Sounds like you're perfectly content with what you have.


@jasonbourne71 I appreciate that perspective. I don't nearly enough about the very technical side of these pieces. Another level of being an audiophile for sure.

@soix Yeah, one of the dealers was excited for me to try tubes or a hybrid. I have never heard tubes on my system that could be very interesting to try. I really appreciate the recommendations.

That can happen sometimes. I love the look of MacIntosh and have gone into a dealer more than once with the intent of listening, loving, and buying a piece of Mac equipment and gave up the idea very quickly. It simply lacks detail. Each time within a minute, often quicker it’s off the list. Many people love it. If all you listen to is rock, the weight of the sound can be attractive, but it is not for everyone.


If you want to get into the high end see about a used Audio Research preamp. You get detail and natural musical sound. 

I’m not sure if your experiment proves much more than what you've stated -- e.g., about solid state, low or high cost. or other extrapolations -- because it’s possible that the acoustics of your room are masking differences you might hear with a better treated room. It’s also possible that your speakers are not revealing the difference, but my money is on the room.

Only once I really dialed in my room could I start to hear differences between gear. I can tell differences between my class D hypex amp vs. my tube amp. vs. my class A amp vs. my class AB amp. I can hear the difference between tube changes in the amp or preamp. But all this only became possible when I measured and adjusted the room.

Mediocre acoustics is like putting a lot of ketchup on different meats; they all tend to taste the same.

I agree with room treatment and trying a tube preamp. Trying better cables might be good too.

I worked for the county's largest Krell dealer the combination of a tube preamp with a solid state amplifier was always amazing 


the Mac preamplifiers and amplifiers are not very transparent so I am not surprised you didn't hear a huge improvement

agree with the other posters I would definitely look at a tube preamplifier


the backert labs gear is the way I would go with 


Dave and troy

Audio Intellect NJ

I too have some Bryston gear, including a 9B SST in the HT. That’s a very nice amp for digital. I agree about improving your digital front end - that’s where I would start.

Cables last - like after your first 100K. IMO.

The OP's speakers are ~40 years old so that may be why you are not hearing any difference.  Perhaps you could take your preamp to the dealer and A/B in the awesome sounding system there.

@terry9 When you say “digital front end” do you mean the preamp which is where this discussion started or something different? The OPPO/DAC? Give this ignorant audiophile a clue…

I have own  McIntosh C52/601 mono blocks and Parasound A21+/P6 and I will take Parasound combo every minute it wasn’t even close but my Wife love ❤️ McIntosh combo because they looks gorgeous 😻

I owned the Mc C49 for a time. Your experience is not at all surprising. 

I suggest trying the Benchmark LA4. It is a true state of the art preamp and quite audibly superior to most solid state preamps. 

I just love a ss backend with a tube front end. Having said that, I’ve had a krell ss class an amp with a matching krell pre and it was very good. Krell makes outstanding ss gear, especially their older stuff. I recently purchased a sim audio moon amp and paired it with a Manley jumbo shrimp tube preamp and it’s special. Hopefully you find the same synergy. Ask around, lots of these guys are very knowledgeable. Good luck! 


Just a thought, the DAC in the Oppo is just okay.  You might want to research a separate DAC. There are several good ones that have come out in the last few years.

All the best.


and OP

Aric Audio makes the MotherLoad XL. This is the Motherload II mentioned by Soix that is built with fully balanced input/output

A lovely unit (I own one that I pair with the AtmaSphere Class D amps!!!)

@OP, if you could not hear a difference then there are other factors at work - system/room/you own auditory discrimination faculties.

That's premised on what your post says i.e. that the two were indistinguishable from each other.

As other posts have said, MacIntosh preamps are not very transparent so I wouldn't expect to hear an improvement, per se, but a difference, certainly.

If your looking for an upgrade, i think your source is the week spot in your system. The oppo was great but its not the end all and DAC's have come a long way in the last decade. If it was me I'd invest in a CD/SACD player or DAC, transport + DAC would be my suggestion. You could add An outboard DAC first. maybe consider adding a Streamer in the future as well. 

You and your friend are very smart. You for using your ears and your friend for recommending room treatment.


I'm looking at this from an entirely different perspective:

Mac has been on your "bucket list" for quite some time.  You have a great deal of emotional inventory attached to the brand, and I'm sure you've mocked up images in your head of that beautiful faceplate setting in your rack on more than one occasion.  

So ... you put a piece your cherished for decades in your system ... AND IT DIDN'T MAKE IT SOUND WORSE!!  Okay then.  So, what was the price of admission?  And, was the value proposition there for YOU?

That being said, as a C47 owner, Mac gear benefits in spades from improvements in power delivery. This begins at the wall plug and ends with that meaty (high quality) power cable that plugs into the back of the preamp.  Yes, those items would also benefit the Krell (or other models suggested here), but the Mac preamp CAN be more analytical, transparent, detailed, and focused with these upgrades.  So, you can have a system with a C49 at the center that sounds better than it does now. Is the C49 the Holy Grail of price/performance in its class?  Maybe not.  But, you can have your cake, and eat it too, by feeding it better power.

And, that's a +1 on room acoustics.

I did not expect the outpouring of responses to this thread which have all been very positive. So many great perspectives, from tubes to room treatment to DACs to transport, and then even perspectives like the one above on how I could just enjoy the McI for lots of reasons. And yes, the C49 definitely did not make anything sound worse for sure. So many avenues!

+1 to all you correctly mentioned the 105.

When it first came out I bought one primarily to play and add to my SACD collection. I played redbook through my then Pioneer PD 65 with upgraded chips. The 105 simply did not compare. Years later I upgraded the 105 power supply, and while it was a huge step forward, I likened it to putting lipstick on a pig.

I have been enjoying the heck out of a Audiolab CDT 6000 (responds really well to upgraded PC and coax cable) for several years, but have the itch to get the Shanling ET3 at a reasonable $750, a top loader with I2S, which means eventually replacing my Audio Alchemy DDP- 1 +PS 5 which was pre I2S as that interface is said to significantly improve redbook sound


There was a lot of good advice here from many different perspectives and I would like to offer one more. You heard a "Mac stack" at your dealer and were blown away. Different speakers, different room, etc, etc. Then you tried a Mac pre in your system and did not hear a real difference. Maybe your system is not resolving enough to hear the differences in components? I'm not a Mac fan, but I have heard that Macintosh, like some other brands, sound best within a system comprised of their own components. I would also like to congratulate you for not convincing yourself that you heard non-existing improvements and to add that every difference heard is NOT necessarily an improvement. Good hunting, and I also think you should try a tubed preamp.

I having a difficult time understanding the fact that you heard no differences. 

Two things I would do prior to making any equipment purchases are: 1) treat the room (Your producer friend may help with this) and have your 40+ year old speakers tested.  They may not be allowing the resolution they once were capable of.  They may need refurbishing, possibly replacing. 

For improvements I would start at the source, looking into a new DAC and transport.  I would not look into changing preamp or amplifier prior to doing the above.

Good luck in your quest.







My perspective is determine what the weakest component is and replace it. Since you only have CD playback replace the outdated Oppo 105. 44 year old speakers would be next on my list, they still have resale value(depending on condition) due to the fanatical vintage and B&W crowd. Is your Bryston used as a home theater amp? If so consider separating 2/channel and home theater into 2 systems. Allocate funds to what system is most important. Amp/preamp synergy is 2nd on my list it’s not boring or mundane to have amp/pre of the same brand. Since I don’t know what your system(s) destination is I can't elaborate any further. I hope my comments are helpful.

When you stop thinking about brand names, which brand name gave you more audiofoofoo street cred, etc, you may find gold eventually.

Marketing and the audiofoofoo blabber can cost you a lot and deliver nothing, i.e., many naked rotund emperors could end up resting on your audio rack.

Alas, as much as I still have a passion for the McI for the non-auditory reasons above, for the moment I will be sticking with my Krell.

@olfac87 The distortion signature of any amp is its sonic signature as well. Obviously not a lot of difference between these two but that isn't the same as saying there's been no progress in the last 30 years!

There are solid state amps (some are class D) that are smoother and more detailed than the Krell. There are amps that sound the same. You got good advice about preamp and sources too. Don't write things off on your first try- do some research and see.

If you want to stop torturing yourself, get a copy of Jim Smith's GET BETTER SOUND and read it.  He points out the way you have your rig set up in the room is most of the reason for sound quality issues (like the reason you're not hearing differences you should be able to hear.)

Do all the things you can do for free first, e.g., adjusting the distance from your ears to the tweeters and the distance between tweeters, distance of the speakers from the front wall, etc.

After you fix those things, then start changing equipment.

I have VAC tube amp and ARC tube preamp that i bought them back in 1996 and they are still going strongI sometimes switch out the VAC for my Bryston 5B-St 3 channel power amplifier  I'm very impressed with the Bryston ARC combination I also own the Oppo BD105 and love it! I do bypass its internal DAC with my external DAC  I also use the Oppo to connect my two Subs in stereo mode via pre out for my 2 channel stereo rig  

@hilde45 because it’s possible that the acoustics of your room are masking differences you might hear with a better treated room. It’s also possible that your speakers are not revealing the difference,

Could you explain the physics behind that contention? If all other parameters are the same, simply swapping any one component will absolutely make an audible change if there was one to be made.



@olfac87 I think you can apply the following motorcycle racing analogy to audio.

You can throw more and more money at the motor and gain a few tenths of a second a lap but if you throw the same money at suspension work, you'll gain full seconds a lap.

Same with audio for the most part IMHO. You can spend tons on gear which powers your system, but unless you spend money on your sonics of your room, you're not going to get the best out of it. 

I respectfully suggest you work on some sound treatments to get real change.

Happy listening.

Post removed 

I will not take away from any of the above responses but simply add a few things. 

You are at the mercy of the Microphone that picked up the sound from the instrument and or Vocal, along with the Recording Consoles Electronics also included in the chain is the 24 Track Tape Machine (If not done digitally) then the playback monitors and finally the Half track mastering tape which is used to create the Mother Stamper that presses the Vinal Record.

Also take into account the Engineer and or Artist that did the final mixdown. What were his or her ears (The Brain Does The Hearing) hearing when they mixed it.

What were the Studio Acoustics and Control Room Acoustics Like?

What kind of Monitors were they listening thru?

It goes on from there. There are so many variable's involved in the making the final product. This would also to some degree apply to a "CD". So I would say.. Enjoy what you have and crank it up. No two records or CD's will sound the same. Just tweetle the knobs until it sounds the best it can.

Having good equipment and the room set up and speaker placement goes a long way to enjoying your equipment. ENJOY!!


Could you explain the physics behind that contention? If all other parameters are the same, simply swapping any one component will absolutely make an audible change if there was one to be made.

The...physics. Well, we're talking about perception here, not physics. 

One can only hear a difference if other background factors are not obscuring or interfering. I can’t make it clearer than that. (Look at the ketchup analogy, again?)

@musicfan2349     A vast majority of Audiophiles understand the importance of acoustic treatment. Getting 95% + out of any level system is very difficult and time consuming where a professional might be needed to obtain that level. Many Audiophiles with modest or even upper level systems are not going pay for a professional room treatment set up. Take a look at the virtual system page with all the goofy large screens and poorly placed speakers and subwoofers(due to space or knowledge limitations). Ultimately acoustic room treatment can only be maximized when an entire system is completed thus being the last stage of system set up where the OP might not be at. Finally the room acoustic treatment issue is not a substitute for high level resolving electronics or loudspeakers BOTH are need for a true HEA system.

@hilde45 ...It still escapes me that room acoustics v. speaker type and its’ accoutrema gets bypassed by the ’well, maybe something else "upstream" will cure whatever seems....wrong....’
I know this after many spaces occupied got overtaken by ’audio-woke-ness’... Finally.
Ever since beginning to ’tweak’ that ’Room +/- Spkr(s)’ frustration formula with DRC have I been able to ’tune into’ whatever forsaken place and not let it sound like hammered s**t.

(Multiple speakers? Averages with a ’mini-tweak’... ;)....)

...and that's my 'excuse me'....*G*

@asvjerry I think I followed your train of thought.

My explanation is that many who love this hobby just can't do much to the space their gear is in -- but they still want to tinker, opine, etc. It's a natural and laudable enthusiasm even if, from a scientific standpoint, they're really just wandering around in the dark, muttering magic words to others in the same situation. And, of course, in a problematic room, one can change things by changing gear, but maybe not as much as wishful thinking would like. I would never spend a lot of money on gear in a bad room. Waste of resources. Again, not to take any joy away from those folks, everyone is the conductor of their own orchestra.

Some acoustic spaces can be dealt with using digital correction, but there are limits. 

@hilde45 ...and your POV is basically parallel to mine, scary as that may seem..... ;)  One can only adapt or augment your 'average' living space with the various forms of treatments available to the point of:

1) SAF fading and replace with clenched teeth and long 'dry spells'
2) Friends and 'quaintance thinking your taste in wall art and geometric infill furnishings has been totally supplanted by an 'audio frenzy' difficult to comprehend.

Worst case scenario, personal history =  a 10' x 10' room with 10' ceiling, 3 doors, 2 windows,,,,in a rental home where that was the living room....😣

Even the bathroom was bigger.....but even more 'audio unfriendly'....*L*

Yes, DRC and even an 'gear downplay' wouldn't solve that...headphones, yes....but a set of small Chi-Fi (that wasn't all that available at the time) may have worked better or at all....🤷‍♂️🙄

'Imho'.... formed by experience, tempered by the commentary here and elsewhere about room acoustics, eq in general and DRC in specific.....
It takes me about an hour just to 'adapt' my sensibilities to another persons' audio tastes and array of equipment...given what may be played upon such, and notwithstanding the room itself.

Like most (I'll assume, but knowing full well the 'alt' definition of 'ass of 'u' & 'me'), I've selected that which fulfills personal present desires and needs at the price point I'm willing to hit.  It may not match mfrs., but it does what is expected...more if possible, but that's a 'cheap thrills +' at the end of the day.

In short, like many, I know there's always room to improve but for the time being, I'm satisfied...  Things come and go, but the current focus here is 'flexibility' over ultimate perfection.

Which, before and still, is in ones' own ears and mind.

In was when the THD %s' for 'mid-fi' and 'Ultra-Fi' started to get close enough to each other that it began to be a 'bragging point' v. 'practical, 'in use ' that I hit pause....

An easier train to board?  Or just boring.....? *L* J


@roadcykler @hilde45 

Could you explain the physics behind that contention?

Sure. All surfaces reflect to some extent. This causes wave interference, constructive and destructive, which is perceived as amplitude peaks and dips at different places and at different frequencies. This can be mitigated.

Also, all surfaces deflect to some extent. This causes the walls to bulge outwards on the compression cycle and cave in on the rarefaction cycle. Each flection is frequency and amplitude dependent, and of course adds and subtracts energy to or from the sound wave. This is perceived as a muddy and poorly defined bass response, and can also be mitigated. Note that this is why very few loudspeakers are made of drywall.

As if that weren’t enough, even a solid concrete bunker has a characteristic sound determined by the ratios of length to width to height. According to simulations done by the famous Cox, MOST ratios are just plain bad. A quarter are OK, and a few percent are good. It is instructive to compare Cox’s science with the recommendations of some who should know better.

The results are more complex if the room is irregular.

That’s why a good room will allow most good systems to sound better than most poor systems. So look to your room.