Matching Pre-amps and Amps: Same Brand or Not?

Alrainbow

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Dec 12, 2013
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A few thoughts I hope make sense. For one speakers first then an amp to drive them. The preamp can be Brands not matching or match. opposing brands cAn be used to tune your system as well. Take care in needed length of needed interconnects and type per length. For what’s it’s worth a SE longer then 6 feet can start to degrade sound. I know there are ways to help this but all we do to fix one thing effects the rest. to me and I’m just saying the preamp is the hub the rest connects to. This may seem to contradict speakers first but it’s not. The preamp must serve the amps , interconnects needs and input from sources.
I’m not completely sure same brands will meet all but I do feel it’s a faster start.
 
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Frazeur1

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Apr 14, 2018
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Interesting question, one that as we read through, a question that is difficult at best to determine what is the right except hopefully, by using our own ears and judgement.

I play at a way lower level than most here, have found varied success using both methods. About two years ago, I ended up using a LinnenberG Telemann DAC/preamp into LinnenberG Allegro mono amplifiers with my Duevel Venus. Seems to be a wonderful match to my ears as a system.

Balance to me is just as important overall, and can be easily thrown out of whack when building up a system.
 

abrich

Well-Known Member
Mar 6, 2012
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313
A friend of mine asked me to recommend him a preamp (to work in concert with his PASS Labs XA series power), and I was more than happy to name the XP20 from PASS Labs. I was confident it was a pretty safe bet until I read this note:
There are other developers, which have a clear preference, like Dan de Agostino (former Krell) , like Nelson Pass, like Fleming Rasmussen for Amplifers.
Now I am not so sure the XP20 would represent the best option satisfying the following requirements:

Solid state
Fully balanced circuitry
Pure Class A mode of operation
Max price (new or used) up to 6K
 

AdamZ

Well-Known Member
Mar 23, 2017
44
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Germanny
Hello Ron.
As you see in the comments you are free to choose.
And as far i´ve learnd to find the Set that satisfiy´s me
it is all Part of(my) the HiFi Journey. For30 Years now.
My Advise for you:
Be open minded.
Trust YOUR Ears!
Stay Curious.
Enjoy it.
Adam ;)
 
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Phillyb

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May 31, 2012
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The best chance of getting a good match is always to buy the same amp and preamp brand, they will be a sonic match. Now if you have the time, and know the sonic signature of the gear, you can try to mix and match and perhaps find a pair that better fits your idea of the sound you like to enjoy. It like being a good cook, what spices do you like to add to make your dish taste better to you. Just make sure you get a preamp that can drive your amp right, a 20K impedance input solid-state amp, won't give you the best sound if the preamp output impedance is more than 10 times higher than the input impedance. Some tube preamp would never be a good match for such a power amp, find 50K or 100K input impedance amps and you open up a lot of preamps that works well with those amps. I use a McIntosh MC 402 amp with a Luxman C800-F, which has a higher impedance but it works with the Mac well, but it just made it. No bass roll-off at all, or rolled off highs. If I am shopping for a tube preamp I have to watch, but buying a McIntosh tube preamp I will be good to go, they designed them to work with their own gear.
 

abrich

Well-Known Member
Mar 6, 2012
43
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313
Thank you very kindly!
The best chance of getting a good match is always to buy the same amp and preamp brand, they will be a sonic match.
I checked the XP-22 from PASS, and found its Output Impedance is only 50 Ohms (XLR). I guess it will provide a good match with his 20K impedance input solid-state power amp.
 

JimmyS

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Sep 1, 2013
161
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Chicago, IL
I think it’s a great starting point to match them, but as you learn about your system and develop your listening preferences you may end up with a mixed pair.

My Pass XP20 remained my preamp as I went through the Pass amplifier line. Once I arrived on the XA160.8’s and the rest of the system components had been in place I circled back to the preamp. I was able to audition several manufacturers and ended up with a solution that was not from Pass.

I’m now looking at other amplifier options to see if further improvements can be gained. Ive tried Soulution, CH precision, and Boulder is next on the list.
 

Phillyb

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2012
92
66
258
JimmyS, What you doing is what many experienced hobbyists do, they learn how to work with a system and get the best out of it by understanding the sonic signature of brands of gear with your room and speakers making a huge impact on the final sound you will hear. Many times we just want a different "sound" from what we are used to (boredom). The only danger is you can go, on and on changing our gear and sometimes you end up at square one again. We chase our tail always thinking boy the next piece of gear will get me there. The best advice I heard once was to turn off the system for a few weeks then go back to it, it will never have sounded better. I've done it and he was right, your ears get a break from hearing the same sound so to speak. I went away for a month once and when I came home warmed up the system and I said it never sounded this good.

I had a good friend who's the system was killer, he called me depressed because he said where do I go with it, in a month he sold almost everything off, and then for several years brought more and more gear to get back to the sound he liked, very expensive, but then he had the money to do it, and even today it does not have that magic that one system had and it was not the newest gear, I learned a lesson from him.

I can see myself adding a tube preamp at some point or a tube amp and sell my 400-watt amp, and I want it to sound like a tube preamp or amp, not a tube trying to sound like a solid-state preamp or visa versa.

The one I'm thinking about my same friend said it won't hold value so when you go to sell it won't be worth much, I said why do you think I want to sell it if it sounds good? I am not a gear junky, just for the sake of buying.

Listen it can only get so good then you just making change for change's sake unless you have deep pockets but thinking back I heard systems 30 years ago that sounded more like the real thing that many high-dollar systems sound today. NO FANCY POWER CORDS, WALL OUTLETS, CABLES, POWER CONDITIONERS, ETC. Nothing against them I own them, but I also know the sound I heard of gear back then that was sellar.

A different sound is refreshing, but it does not make it better. As I age I hope I get smarter, and chasing the holy grail died a long time ago, that is a road to ruin and dissatisfaction, which is why many get fed up-sell their system and never look back, it lost its enjoyment due to frustration. Keep it fun, it's about the enjoyment of the music in the end, and like cooking, we spice it up to our own personal taste. And that's the way it is, its a hobby no absolutes, we all seek what we like.

I grew up on vinyl of course, but I will never go back to it, I own my CD's that will never be on LP's and why would I want to spend more money to buy back the same vinyl I owned before and now own it well-mastered CD, yes some CD's do not sound as good as my vinyl 1st pressings, but that not night and day, more due to tapes now being 30-50 years old, not new 1st generation pressings like I owned and owned only no reissues (RE) on the back of the LP cover. They never sounded as good and once I had a Manhattan Transfer RE LP I purchased and played it I said where the hell happened to the warmth and where did the bass go, back it went, the guy at the record store said yeah reissues can be really bad at times, sounded worse than any CD I"ve owned did. I never bought used Vinyl much due to the damage done to the inner grooves due to cheap turntables and poor arms and setups.

I have CD's that smokes my LP's. So this myth that vinyl is superior is just that, I owned many dog sounding vinyl recordings. It gets back to the mastering, plus vinyl can only handle so much dynamic range, the needle is hard-pressed to track it, think Telarc 1812 Overture, back then arms jump when the cannons went off, that was a true test of arm setup and tracing and VTA, etc, we all laughed watching this happen and bass notes as well.

So much we learned over the many years. But my biggest lesson was to enjoy the music, not only gear.
 

JimmyS

Well-Known Member
Sep 1, 2013
161
31
270
Chicago, IL
I think you got the wrong impression from my post. The journey is about the Music, not the gear.

I’m lucky to have local dealers who allow home audition, and allow me to evaluate how a piece impacts my system. Decisions to make a change usually are measured in years rather than months for me.
 
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Phillyb

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2012
92
66
258
JimmyS, Hope you understand from reading you found a great match with the Pass amps, then you said you're now looking at other gear even though you said you found a great match. If you have a local dealer where you can try things out you are lucky, where I live zip, I do all the research myself speak with other hobbyists, out of state dealers who I trust, and then make the best decision I can. Happy you can try mix and match, you are correct the music is what we buy the gear for. Enjoy!
 

RdW

Well-Known Member
Apr 8, 2018
61
18
75
Netherlands
JimmyS, What you doing is what many experienced hobbyists do, they learn how to work with a system and get the best out of it by understanding the sonic signature of brands of gear with your room and speakers making a huge impact on the final sound you will hear. Many times we just want a different "sound" from what we are used to (boredom). The only danger is you can go, on and on changing our gear and sometimes you end up at square one again. We chase our tail always thinking boy the next piece of gear will get me there. The best advice I heard once was to turn off the system for a few weeks then go back to it, it will never have sounded better. I've done it and he was right, your ears get a break from hearing the same sound so to speak. I went away for a month once and when I came home warmed up the system and I said it never sounded this good.

I had a good friend who's the system was killer, he called me depressed because he said where do I go with it, in a month he sold almost everything off, and then for several years brought more and more gear to get back to the sound he liked, very expensive, but then he had the money to do it, and even today it does not have that magic that one system had and it was not the newest gear, I learned a lesson from him.

I can see myself adding a tube preamp at some point or a tube amp and sell my 400-watt amp, and I want it to sound like a tube preamp or amp, not a tube trying to sound like a solid-state preamp or visa versa.

The one I'm thinking about my same friend said it won't hold value so when you go to sell it won't be worth much, I said why do you think I want to sell it if it sounds good? I am not a gear junky, just for the sake of buying.

Listen it can only get so good then you just making change for change's sake unless you have deep pockets but thinking back I heard systems 30 years ago that sounded more like the real thing that many high-dollar systems sound today. NO FANCY POWER CORDS, WALL OUTLETS, CABLES, POWER CONDITIONERS, ETC. Nothing against them I own them, but I also know the sound I heard of gear back then that was sellar.

A different sound is refreshing, but it does not make it better. As I age I hope I get smarter, and chasing the holy grail died a long time ago, that is a road to ruin and dissatisfaction, which is why many get fed up-sell their system and never look back, it lost its enjoyment due to frustration. Keep it fun, it's about the enjoyment of the music in the end, and like cooking, we spice it up to our own personal taste. And that's the way it is, its a hobby no absolutes, we all seek what we like.

I grew up on vinyl of course, but I will never go back to it, I own my CD's that will never be on LP's and why would I want to spend more money to buy back the same vinyl I owned before and now own it well-mastered CD, yes some CD's do not sound as good as my vinyl 1st pressings, but that not night and day, more due to tapes now being 30-50 years old, not new 1st generation pressings like I owned and owned only no reissues (RE) on the back of the LP cover. They never sounded as good and once I had a Manhattan Transfer RE LP I purchased and played it I said where the hell happened to the warmth and where did the bass go, back it went, the guy at the record store said yeah reissues can be really bad at times, sounded worse than any CD I"ve owned did. I never bought used Vinyl much due to the damage done to the inner grooves due to cheap turntables and poor arms and setups.

I have CD's that smokes my LP's. So this myth that vinyl is superior is just that, I owned many dog sounding vinyl recordings. It gets back to the mastering, plus vinyl can only handle so much dynamic range, the needle is hard-pressed to track it, think Telarc 1812 Overture, back then arms jump when the cannons went off, that was a true test of arm setup and tracing and VTA, etc, we all laughed watching this happen and bass notes as well.

So much we learned over the many years. But my biggest lesson was to enjoy the music, not only gear.
I recognize a lot of what you say, but still, sometimes I can’t ignore that smaller investments make a positive impact. The funny thing is that for me these were power-conditioners and power cables... :)
 

Robert Young

Member
Oct 22, 2020
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59
New York CIty
No real point here, but an anecdote, covering both the original question from Ron, and the notion of enjoyment from a small investment:

Back when I was a bit younger and a lot wealthier, I had a pair of Nagra VPAs and a Nagra PL-P. It was the nicest combination of power amps and preamp I'd heard at that point, and they really sang with a pair of Sonus faber Amati Homages I bought from Carl Bernstein (yes, THE Carl Bernstein - big music-lover/audiophile). I think the system was all part of an extended and highly enjoyable mid-life crisis, allowed to happen because I was unmarried at the time. No one to complain about how a Schroeder Reference and an Allaerts MC-1 Boron plus a Teres 340 cost a bit more than a used BMW...

The one downside which i always found odd was that the VPAs had balanced inputsonly, and the PL-P was all RCA. So I had a pair of interconnects made for me by Synergistic Research, at significant expense at the time. I have no idea why Nagra would make using their preamp and power amp together such an odd challenge. But my god do I miss that system!! You could cook breakfast on those 845s, and listening to jazz vocals was stunning: hearing Billie Holiday through that system it seemed like she was pouring her heart into my soul using a velvet funnel. It sounded real, but felt warm and fuzzy, which is how most systems sound to me now (warm and fuzz, that is).

Now I've got a little Don Garber-modified Dynaco ST-70 using a circuit designed by Noriasu Komuro (my first adventure with Don all the back from the days of the Fi shop on 30 Watts Street in Soho) and the pre-amp is an Air Tight ATC-1 which I bought not because I knew it work great with the Komuro 70, but because it looked awesome, I knew it was built well, and the price was right. And it does sound awesome (at about 1/30th the cash outlay of the Nagras!). Well, I can't hear like I used to, and I don't have as much disposable income anymore, so I've got that going for me.
 
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montesquieu

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Jan 27, 2019
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I think it's a pretty big (and not necessarily logical) assumption that a power amp and preamp from the same brand or even from the same series will always necessarily be the ideal partner for each other.

Most audio companies these days are modestly sized concerns and for most part components are designed individually one at at time for some intended outcome - to achieve a specific goal design goal that will likely follow from the function of the piece of equipment - this might be more power, use of a different tube or solid state amplification device, improved bass, smaller footprint, to allow substitution of components that have become expensive or out of date, or simply to enable a refresh/relaunch in the marketplace.

Given that very few designs are a clean sheet of paper these days, there will almost always be some evolution going on from a previous design. This may happen in parallel, or sequentially, but it's by no means a given that work will be done as part of the design effort to ensure convergence/optimal pairing with another bit of kit either pre-existing or to follow on. I'm not even sure that would be an entirely sensible thing - it might limit sales if a piece of kit was designed as anything other than broadly compatible with the general run of potential partnering components in its market segment.

Consequently, it's not in any way a given that a pre-power would necessarily be designed ground up to be optimised together. This is clear when you look internally at design decisions, yes there may be commonality in how wiring is laid out, and of course cosmetic design will be driven by marketing/branding considerations, but what makes a good power amp does not necessarily have parallels in what makes a good preamp: devices are different, gain levels, noise considerations, even power supply approaches can be quite different for the different functionality.

I can think of brands where equipment pairings were most certainly not optimum. Audio Note tend to make high-gain preamps, but also very sensitive power amps, leading to a surfeit of gain. No doubt this reflects an overall design philosphy but it doesn't make matching from within the Audio Note line very easy. EAR provide attenuators on their power amps, to cope not just with their own high gain preamps but with other preamps (including passives) of different gain philosophy. Two cases from my own experience where it's not an obvious match. I'm sure I could think of others.

Not being critical, I sometimes wonder if some people's need to run multiple bits equipment (or even something like a whole loom of cables) from the same manufacturer is more reflective of a particular kind of tidy mindset than anything driven by sonic considerations.

Perhaps having things visually match can also reduce cognitive dissonance/audiophilia nervosa - the nagging doubt that any given pairing is optimal? Is this the real driver for having matching boxes?
 
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mulveling

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Jul 7, 2017
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Preamp matching can be weird. Unless there's an electrical mismatch, they generally don't cause any single sonic changes that "slap you in the face" like speakers/cartridges (and to a lesser extent amps/phono/table), but they have many many subtle effects that add up to either make or break a rig. I've run VAC Renaissance SE phono stage 3 years, and their Signature 200iQ monos since 1 year, in my vinyl-only main rig. The preamp for over 3 years has been ARC Reference 6 ($14K). So of course I started thinking a VAC preamp could replace the Ref 6 for a "perfect" all-VAC system match.

Started with the Renaissance V ($10K), and it has a beautiful midrange, but all of a sudden my system can't do hard rock/metal AT ALL, because the V lacks the dynamics and bass grip of the Ref 6. Also, the V has some fatiguing/vexing elements in the treble, which I would guess might come from its use of Lundahl amorphous core transformers (and I hear these same things in the Lundahl amorphous MC SUTs). Turns out the ARC 6 is way way better in my system.

I later ever auditioned a VAC Master ($28K), and it was really a lot better than the V, much closer to the Ref 6, but even then it wasn't an immediate clear winner -- I stopped the audition relatively quickly to avoid convincing myself I needed a $28K preamp ;)

Lately I became nostalgic for the old Rogue Hera II preamp (list $9K, now discontinued) I enjoyed the hell out of for several years, but had to let go of in favor of the Ref 6 because the Hera II has way TOO MUCH gain for my system, and was causing problems from this. So I picked up a Rogue Athena (list $5K, also discontinued) which is a slightly scaled-down and lower gain version of the Hera. It's wonderful! All the nostalgia was right. In some ways I like it better than the Ref 6, though the 6 is really hard to beat overall. Still evaluating -- keeping the Athena in for at least a while longer, just enjoying music for now. But the oddball looking Rogue sandwiched between VAC components is certainly a bit weird lol.

I also have Rogue's current flagship RP-9 preamp ($7.5K) and Apollo Dark monoblocks. I don't like their RP-9 compared to the discontinued Hera/Athena preamps. It has good detail, but doesn't quite sound like music to me. Too much energy up top, lacks warmth in the midrange. Has a digital volume chip, and SS output stage, and sounds like it. Don't like their new direction in preamps. The Apollo amps are very good, but I've tried them in every which combination with all the above preamps, and the VAC 200iQs always beat them out no question (though at twice the price) -- so here again, amp & preamp brand matching doesn't seem to impart any inherent advantage.
 

Mikem53

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Oct 1, 2020
662
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A friend of mine asked me to recommend him a preamp (to work in concert with his PASS Labs XA series power), and I was more than happy to name the XP20 from PASS Labs. I was confident it was a pretty safe bet until I read this note:

Now I am not so sure the XP20 would represent the best option satisfying the following requirements:

Solid state
Fully balanced circuitry
Pure Class A mode of operation
Max price (new or used) up to 6K
I would say that your recommendation was a good one! I already had a couple of preamps when I bought my Pass XA amp. The specs lined up and I’m still using a non Pass labs pre And all is well.. Yet I have an itch to try the Pass XP-12 pre in my system. I can’t help but Wonder what an all Pass synergy would yield in my system. I don’t want to give up my 6SN7 tube influence on sonics.. but I’m dying to find out what I might be missing... Damn this cursed addiction. ;)
 

gadawg58

Well-Known Member
Apr 7, 2018
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As many others have stated its generally much safer and easier to match preamp and power amp from the same vendor and sometimes that will give you the very best sound. As a few of you will recall I had a Mark Levinson No52 Ref with their newer No536 mono blocks a couple of years back. Nice setup and well matched but I always felt like something was missing. I had the opportunity to listen to a BAT Rex2 tube preamp with my amps and was amazed at how much better my system sounded. So, sold the No52 and have been enjoying the setup ever since.

That said I too have been considering the VTL Siegfrieds and will want to audition their preamp with their amps and then compare the BAT and see what combination I like better. I am also considering upgrading my digital front end which I probably need to do first so that I don't make the wrong decision with preamps.(System synergy matters) I think in the end as long as you have compatible electronics and have the ability to demo the components in your system at home its difficult to go wrong because in the end its all about what each of us like in our own system! I know it feels good when other agree but in the end we should all end up with what sounds best to us no matter the brand or technology!

Cheers!

George
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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There was a time one chose the best preamp and matched it to the best amplifier you could afford, It did not matter who made it, It was also a matter of synergy. That is to try to cure the faults of one component with the strengths of the other, UMO every component has a sonic signature, That is it either adds or subtracts something from or to the music.
Consequently it would appear counterintuitive to natch your favor preamp to an amplifier with a different sonic signature. That would seem most easily avoided by choosing amp and preamp from the same manufacturer, Of course that assumes that the maker of a competent preamp is also able to design a competent amplifier. Since most of the problems have solutions that are in the public domain that should not be too difficult.
 

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