It kind of strange that so many manufactures produce preamps, so many users use preamps but no one talks about them seriously. The dealers sell them, the reviewers write their doodle but the manufactures do each year a new version but what we, the consumers, the preamp users truly need? The inspiration for this article was Lamm release a new LL1 Reference preamp that I mentioned in here:
The inspiration was not the preamp itself but the $43K price tag. The price is high, in a way ridiculously higher for what is quantivly delivered. The identically double-boxer BAT REX, that has much more functionality, equally offensively targeted and much-much more complex in design is priced twice lower. However, what I very much like in the Lamm new preamp is that it opened for me motivation to think what I actually would like to have in pram if it was made with price and objectives being subject of no limitation. So, I am taking about an hypothetical absolute ultimate preamp and about how far we are from there.
About my personal evolution with preamplifiers. When I reformated my playback in 1995, in the format that a label-worshiping western audio-person would recognize as high-end, I use a first BAT preamp, it think it was VK3i, then it was VK5i. In 1999 Lamm L1 introduced me a totally another level of what preamps might do. Then in 2000 it was Lamm L2. I wrote about Lamm’s preamps and I consider them as a very enigmatic figure in audio.
There were many people out there use Lamm L1/L2 but absolutely dominating majority still clueless what they use and what benefits those preamps do in playback. Lamm preamps had own issues and I was not aggressively in 2000-2002 was bringing many other preamps trying how they would do. Let me see… It was a top of line Audio Research, Mark Levinson, Atmosphere, CAT, Spectral, VAC, VTL, Theta and perhaps something else that I do not already remember. They all come and go and then it was 3 different Placettes that pretty much ended my frustration. That is what I went through and here is what I think. This is my requirement for ultimate preamp and if the manufacturers are willing to do another $30K or $70K preamp then they better to learn what we – the users- would like to have. So, here is my “The 15 Commandments of Ultimate Preamplifier”.
1) A preamp shall have right Sound. I would not even comment on it. A preamp shall sound better then any other source a system has.
2) A preamp shall have a remote control. I have expressed a well found view that a Remote Control is an ultimate enemy… but if you sell a preamp for $50K and with no remote control then you did not try very hard. The Remote Control shell be for volume, lines switching and phase inversion.
3) A preamp shall have multiple configurable Inputs that all sound the same. Come on! A person who runs just a CD player would not buy the “Ultimate Preamplifier” for $30K or $70K. It is obviously that the Ultimate Preamp will be incorporated into more or less evolved installation that most likely will have multiple objectives. So, I feel 5-6 Inputs is absolutely mandatory for an Ultimate Preamp. I would like to have option to configure how many inputs I would have. My current Preamp has 11, I think it is too much for general use but 5-6 Inputs with extendibility to 7-9 I think does make since. An ability to set a drop for a few DB for a few inputs is also would be useful.
4) A preamp shall not have digital volume control – digital can’t filter or attenuate
5) A preamp shall not have a lot of gain. I presume that a person who would go for $30K or $70K Ultimate Preamplifier would not be a fool and all moments of matching gain with sensitivity of speakers will be resolved on amplifiers level. So, most of the time the Ultimate Preamplifier will be attenuating of working near a unity gain.
6) A preamplifier shall be active. Restive of inactive preamps are fine for $500 preamplifier and for $2000 worth loudspeakers.
7) A preamplifier shall have a headphone output. I do not ask about a great one but it shall be one and it costs nothing to implement.
8) A preamplifier shall have output impedance of sub 100R and shall be able to put out a lot of current.
9) A preamplifier shall have at 2 least RIAA inputs. There is no reason do not integrate a 50-80dB gain phonostage into a preamp as it allow to optimize sages and make the whole phono operation very comfortable
10) A preamplifier shall have 0.1K, 1K and 10K generator aboard.
11) A preamplifier shall have a hard-wired bypass switch.
12) A preamplifier shall have multiple configurable options for grounding layout and shall have a shared across all inputs and outputs, very massive cooper bass terminal.
13) A preamplifier shall have multiple outputs, 2-3 is OK.
14) A preamplifier shall not use vacuum tubes as output devises. Come on, get real! No one yet built an absolutely transparent tubes buffer. The output stages of an Ultimate preamplifier shall be DC-coupled SS devise.
15) A preamplifier shall have an absolute phase inversion option.That is all for now.
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche