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Streamer to Power Amplifier - Can it be that simple!?


robbie010
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My new setup is sounding fantastic, no complaints about any components, however, I’m now wondering whether I have missed a trick here.....?

The new setup is (currently) very simple, Auralic Altair feeding a Krell S300i integrated, powering Harbeth Super HL5 Plus. Done. Great. 

However, given that the Altair has preamp/volume control capabilities, what do I need an integrated amp for!? I am not going to need any analogue inputs in the foreseeable future, if I decide to reintroduce a CD playing I can connect it to the Altair.

Has anyone else got a very basic setup like this? 

Are there any potential pitfalls that I’m not seeing if I decide to do away with the Krell?

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The major pitfall might be that it doesn't sound as good. I have reintroduced a pre amp stage into my system and improved the sound to my ears

I tried 3 different preamps, 2 did not improve the sound, the third did.

I think you need to borrow a power amp and try it. ( i'm presuming you can't access the power amp section of the S300i on it's own )

good luck

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18 minutes ago, mtbmarkymark said:

The major pitfall might be that it doesn't sound as good. I have reintroduced a pre amp stage into my system and improved the sound to my ears

I tried 3 different preamps, 2 did not improve the sound, the third did.

I think you need to borrow a power amp and try it. ( i'm presuming you can't access the power amp section of the S300i on it's own )

good luck

At the minute, I’m essentially running two preamp stages, first the Altair’s then the Krells, both have volume controls. It just occurs to me that simplifying the signal path can’t be a bad thing!?

I spotted a few decent power amps on eBay that may fit the bill, a Bel Canto Ref500S, a Lyngdorf SDA-2400 and a Primare A34.2. All would allow balanced inputs from the Auralic and give clean Class-D power up 150/200 watts, which should be more than enough to drive the harbeths. 

🤔

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You are right and to add a second Preamp stage seems conterintuitive but i found that it improved the sound. But as i said 2 preamps i tried didn't. 

 I know from reading many similar threads that there are as many people who prefer it without a preamp as prefer it with.

E.G I know @Fourlegs  runs his Chrord Dave DAC direct into his poweramps using the volume control on the Dave.

I think it must be very system dependent. perhaps a search on "Dac Direct" would bring up threads on the topic 

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2 hours ago, robbie010 said:

My new setup is sounding fantastic, no complaints about any components, however, I’m now wondering whether I have missed a trick here.....?

The new setup is (currently) very simple, Auralic Altair feeding a Krell S300i integrated, powering Harbeth Super HL5 Plus. Done. Great. 

However, given that the Altair has preamp/volume control capabilities, what do I need an integrated amp for!? I am not going to need any analogue inputs in the foreseeable future, if I decide to reintroduce a CD playing I can connect it to the Altair.

Has anyone else got a very basic setup like this? 

Are there any potential pitfalls that I’m not seeing if I decide to do away with the Krell?

I believe that if there is a mismatch between the output impedance of the streamer and the input impedance of an amplifier, you could get worse results than using a preamp in between that buffers the signal. It's probably worth reading up on it. 

I've just read that the Krell has a home theatre preamp input feature. This should allow you to bypass the Krell's volume control. 

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I do this at work...using tablets volume straight into amp..via my dac!  Sounds pretty good..I have a good passive pre amp at home and that should be similar to straight to amp ( idea being no colouring of sound just straight thru ) I prefer my musical fidelity pre amp as I like the way it sounds ( full bodied sound, not getting that with the passive ) might be worth hanging on to your krell for the time being..just in case this new set up your considering starts to grate?

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This would work, of course, but it might not be optimum.

The Auralic Altair uses the DAC's onboard digital attenuation, I think. This may, or may not, be as good as your existing arrangement.

If this fails, or you forget what setting you have made on the Auralic, you'll get full signal and thus power to your powerful amplifier; really not great for your Harbs.(if you think this kind of thing doesn't happen, then ask a few owners of Cambridge Audio amps whose volume would suddenly set itself to max!)

Impedance matching may be an issue.

Pre amps often make a significant contribution to overall sound quality.

Changing from a good class A/B to a Class D may not be to your taste at all. Power is just one aspect of amplifier specs; not the be all and end all.

I think your amp has an HT bypass? Why don't you try that to see what you think about using the Auralic pre versus the Krell?

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I have used a direct feed from a streamer to an active set of power amps and found it to be much more direct and natural sounding than putting a pre amp in between . THis is of course my ears , my music , my system . The fewer boxes the better. in my view other will and do feel different . I also use in my main system a Denafrips DAC directly by XLR outputs to a Class A Power Amp and this is also in my view the best arrangement as I do not need analogue inputs and I have extra digital inputs for my CD transport as well .

I would say in your case as the Auralic has a built in pre then adding another is not a good idea . You then of course have the issue if you like what the Krell does then another power amp from a different maker may well change the sound . This could be a good thing or a bad thing but it is likely to be different. If you want to retain the Krell sound then a look out for the equivalent power amp around the same time as your integrated would be sensible and then you could try them side by side and keep the one you prefer and then move the other one on. I only say this because in you OP you say you like the sound you are getting and it seems a shame to me to throw that away and start trying different amplifiers to try and get the same but more streamlined set up .

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I think you’re going to have to suck this and see, I found the pre-amp part of my DAC flattened the dynamics and blurred the sound when played direct to power amp compared to turning off the pre-amp in the DAC and using DAC into separate pre then power.

I understand that systems are different, so what worked for me......

If you can’t turn off the pre in the DAC set it to 0dB, then into separate pre.

Gary

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Thanks all, a few points to mull over there. I always struggle with impedance etc...... 

Looking at the specs on the Altair, it states that the XLR's have an output voltage of 4Vrms at 0dBFS with an output impedance of 10ohms.

The Bel Canto has an input impedance of 200Kohms (balanced)

The Primare 34.2 is 15Kohms (balanced)

The Lyngdorf SDA-2400 IS 10kohms (balanced)

Quite a difference between the bel canto and the other two. With Altairs 10ohms output impedance, which of these 3 input figures are the best match??

Just spotted this question, answered by the Designer / Owner of Auralic: 

Can I connect ALTAIR directly to Power Amplifier?

Yes, the ALTAIR has pre-amplifier function built-in, it has been designed to connect to power amplifier or active loudspeaker directly without problem. 

Edited by robbie010
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13 hours ago, robbie010 said:

My new setup is sounding fantastic, no complaints about any components, however, I’m now wondering whether I have missed a trick here.....?

The new setup is (currently) very simple, Auralic Altair feeding a Krell S300i integrated, powering Harbeth Super HL5 Plus. Done. Great. 

However, given that the Altair has preamp/volume control capabilities, what do I need an integrated amp for!? I am not going to need any analogue inputs in the foreseeable future, if I decide to reintroduce a CD playing I can connect it to the Altair.

Has anyone else got a very basic setup like this? 

Are there any potential pitfalls that I’m not seeing if I decide to do away with the Krell?

Hi Robbie

We have a similar set up I have an Altair G1 and Marantz PM11 S2 although my SHL5s are in storage at the moment.  I also have an Aries Mini with Benchmark DAC (with built in preamp) and Quad 909 and P3ESRs.  I had the same question as you and created a thread.  I got lots of answers some stating a contrary view as expected.  I decided to buy a passive pres (Creek OBH-22) but have only done the active vs passive tests with the Aries/Quad/P3s so far.  I didn't do extensive tests but the addition of a preamp has reduced detail but also added a 'pleasantness'.  Both approaches sound great and I would not say form casual listening that one was better than the other.

 @rabski I am sure mentioned in my thread that he needed the extra drive that a preamp brought in his system.  I listened out for this in my system but did really notice any change in this respect.  One negative thing that I did notice was a reduction in bass but this I believe is the signature of a passive preamp and not preamps in general.  My P3s are on a shelf and so the slight reduction in bass output was welcome.

My Rothwell attenuators have now arrived after 6 weeks from UK so now I can start to do comparisons with these and the Creek but no promise to come back any time soon as am very busy on the synth front doing sound design.

Edited by DomT
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I apologise in advsnce for the length of this reply 😚

I've read that one should aim to have an input impedance on the amplifier of at least 20x the output impedance on the preamp. The output impedance of your Altair seems very low , which should give it wide compatibilty.

If the volume control on the Altair is digital, my understanding is that as long as you keep it in the upper numbers, you won't really lose resolution. I would imagine that the Krell volume control is of good quality too and if it analogue, you may get the best results with Altair volume maxed out, using the Krell to control volume.

The review of the Krell that I've just read by Stereophile was absolutely gushing, citing it as one of the best integrated amps that he'd heard. Personally, even if you decide to try some power amps, I wouldn't let the Krell go until you were certain you had bettered it.

I seem to remember you've only just changed some of your equipment, I would allow yourself to get used to its character to decide if there's any element of it you don't like and only then start experimenting.

I must admit, I'm curious about trying Class D amplification myself, especially the newer Eigentakt from Bruno Putzeys but I shan't rush to do so. My EAR monoblocs are on the way back to me following a service, I've yet to hear them with my new Allegri+ preamp. While they've been away, I've been using 2 channels of an old B&K 150w mosfet receiver I've upgraded with a Denon. I've been gobsmacked as to how good this sounds, even though has to pass through another volume control on that B&K (making a total of 3 volume controls in the path from source to end!).

There have been times in my 40+ year hifi journey where I've been impressed with levels of detail reproduced or great bass/highs or whatever but haven't been able to truly sit back and enjoy the performance on the recording. 

I'm at a place at the moment where I'm really enjoying the performance I'm listening to/watching. I think my system is actually giving a pretty realistic reproduction of the source material. Imaging could probably be improved but the room is undoubtedly a limiting factor there. The important bits to me are to be able hear the instruments, voices and sounds on the recordings and to hear them sounding like they would if they were really in my room ( or I was in the recording venue) so things like tonality and neutrality being important.

Good luck with your quest and here's to finding a system we're happy to stick with!

Edited by Gizza
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I use a streamer/DAC/pre connected direct to a power amp, and long term will probably en up with it connected directly to active speakers.

Factors affecting how well this will work will include how good the digital volume adjustment is, and if the output level is high enough to give the peak output volume you want. The noise floor on the output of the DAC/pre can also be an issue in some cases.

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It depends on the quality of pre-amp(s) and how volume attenuation is done, I would simply say give different configurations a go and let your ears judge.

I've got a similar setup i.e. squeeze box touch being used as the streamer/transport only, digital out into my Wadia that performs DAC and pre-amp duties, then directly into the mono blocks. Hence no analogue pre-amp.  The Wadia upscales to 24 bits then knocks off digits to attenuate the volume, its suggested to have the volume at least 65/100 when listening otherwise you're losing sound quality, but I can't hear any degradation in SQ.

I've never tried adding a quality pre-amp inbetween, it may improve things slightly, but I'd need such an expensive pre-amp that I'd see better results spending that on upgrading the speakers.

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I find my Linn DS feeding straight into Bryston power perfectly acceptable but maybe a pre would add something, other than a box that is.

Previously I had a 8200CDQ (still have it somewhere) and found I preferred the digital to analogue pre sound, for me quite unusual and a reassurance the DS would be a goer as replacement.

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