PS Audio: DACs driving power amps

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Paul McGowan writes: I have gotten a lot of mail, as of late, regarding our stance on the DAC feeding the power amplifier directly.  There are clearly two camps on this issue: those that believe less is more and those that believe more is better.  I have always found myself in the camp of less is more, advocating the direct connection of the DAC to the power amplifier.

However, as of late there have been many a respected opinion arguing that despite the logic of the situation, adding a preamplifier between the DAC and the power amplifier is significantly better than without.  Jeff, one of my readers puts it quite succinctly:

“I have a Perfect Wave DAC II and Perfect Wave Transport and really enjoy both products a lot. I recently tried hooking the DAC straight into my amplifier and bypass my Audio Research Reference 5SE. The sound was much worse than with the preamp. The sound lost dynamics, body and became more lean sounding and the biggest change was the soundstage height went from 5.5 feet to 2 feet. I’m not sure why but in my system which is fairly high end “nothing is clearly not better than nothing”.

Add to this comment those of John Atkinson, editor of Stereophile.  After John wrote that his experience mirrored that of Jeff’s I wrote John and asked how, technically, it made any sense to add an entire circuit in the signal path and get better results that nothing.  His reply was “I don’t know, but it does”.  I have a lot of respect for John so I think it’s time I do a bit of investigating my assumptions.

As many of you know I am up to my eyeballs in trying to get our power amplifier sorted out (great progress on that front BTW), WaveStream working etc. but when time allows, I promise to start making a new series of listening tests with preamps in and out of the system to see what the results are.  Perhaps now with the amazing resolution of Music Room One I will have a different opinion.

Stay tuned.

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Hi. I’m Michael Vronsky - the Commercial Manager here. If you’d like details of where to buy PS AUDIO equipment AT SPECIAL PRICES (but only for our members) then please contact me at commercial@hifianswers.com Thanks. Michael.

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  • Harold Pelham

    Strange. If you are genuinely wondering if “sound stage” is improved by duplicating trivial line level buffers between pieces of equipment (the DAC already has one at its output) then I don’t see how you can go about designing a power amp with any understanding of how it works. Why not incude ten buffers in series at the input for a 55 foot sound stage?

    Of course the truth is that duplicated buffers make no difference to “sound stage”. Doesn’t your correspondent’s comically-precise “5.5 feet” ring any alarm bells? It’s this sort of nonsense that makes the audio business a laughing stock.