Sunday, March 27, 2005

Matching preamp and power amp

Below a posting I made in Audioasylum concerning choosing a pre-amp for ML334 amp:

I used to drive my Mark Levinson 334 directly from ML 390S, speakers are Revel Studios. Some 6 months ago I tested at home Audio Research Reference 2 and frankly I was amazed how much better sound got. Consequently I placed an order for “little brother”, ARC 25LS mk2.

My opinion is that ML 390S analogue volume control equals in sound terms a good USD 2.500 – 3.000 transistors pre-amp. It also sounds very easy-going, quite detailed, and analogue. Volume control implementation (steps, channel separation) are superior to aforementioned USD USD 2.000 - 2.500 transistor pre-amps (which usually have ALPS Blue volume control). You also get a balanced control and cumulative gain of 390S and ML power amps is well matched.

In summary, look the following features in the pre-amp.

1) Decide if you prefer to go for hybrid solution, i.e. tube pre-amp & ML power amp. I can only say that in my case there is no looking back, tubes bring something special into music. If you prefer "transistor sound", pre-amps based on 6H30 tubes might be the right ticket, great clarity and detail over, lets say, 6922 tubes. i.e. seem to have less "tubey" quality (gross simplification, but shared by many industry experts). Or then look into new ML pre-amp 320S.

2) Pay attention to total gain, i.e. choose a pre-amp, which has gain selector. I drive my ML 334 with the lowest gain setting of ARC 25, highest setting gives way too much of total gain.

3) Pay attention to features and implementation of pre-amp; volume control (steps ...), remote control etc. Hard to find as comprehensive set of features as in ML products.

4) It seems to me that Levinson and Audio Research do have synergies, in other words ML & ARC combination provides super hybrid combination. Some other tube pre-amps might fit equally well.

5) Be ready to spend some USD 5.000 to get sonically worthwhile improvements. Generally my advice is to listen quality of bass, attack and decay - all areas where ARC brought significant improvements in to my system.

6) my experience is that ML gear sounds best driven with balanced connections, hence single-end only pre-amps might be no go ...

In summary, the key issues are system matching and functionalities your are looking for.

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