An Important Note for Playback Readers: As with many of my articles, this is an exploration of how sound systems work and how we perceive sound as much as it is a review of the components at hand.
I have for some time been interested in preamps, and specifically multichannel preamps. The reasons for this interest arise from some basic questions.
For about a decade I have assumed that the ideal music playback system would be multichannel. I figured that multichannel music would become a mainstream option. I also figured that a lot of us would want to use our music systems for movie playback (with a sizeable investment in multichannel audio for music I had no interest in spending more for a separate home theater rig). Because of the limited availability of multichannel music, this vision isn’t exactly happening, though of course some people still respond to the economic argument. And classical fans do have a good choice of MC SACDs. This review will tackle several key questions.
Question 1: If you take MC sources seriously, are there good MC preamps available as measured by traditional two channel audio standards?
The other element of my fascination with preamps comes from my sense that the preamp is a very simple device that shouldn’t make much difference. Or, said differently, it should be pretty easy to design a nearly perfect preamp and thus they should be readily available at affordable prices. Problem is, my experience is that preamps matter quite a bit and unfortunately the best examples are expensive. Hence, a second question.
Question 2: Do preamps really differ meaningfully from each other, and if so how?