A U D I O... P A P E R
AMPLIFIERS - do they help or hurt the sound?
inspired by our
2004 by Steve Deckert
you're familiar with our product line you already know our amplifiers
have volume controls and that using a preamp with these amps is
optional. In fact most of our customers who've purchased an
amplifier from us were advised not to use a preamp with it.
seem like odd advise coming from a manufacturer who would no doubt
enjoy getting another sale but we only give honest advise.
My top priority
when selling a customer one of our amplifiers is that it sound as
good as possible. Good enough to blow away not only the customer
but his or her friends. Since sound quality is a factor of
the weakest link my job often becomes eliminating as many of the
weak links as possible so you can actually hear how good our amps
Any time a
customer already has a preamp, I advise them to try listening to our
amp with and without the preamp. This is because I know in
most cases the amp sounds much better then the preamp and I want
to make sure they hear that. The easiest way to hear this
is to listen to the amps for a few days or weeks directly connected
to your CD player or DAC or phono stage using a good pair of interconnects.
Allow yourself to discover the inner detail of your recordings
and then re-install your preamp. Many times you will hear that much
of the inner detail is no longer there and the clarity has suffered.
This is not
true with all amplifiers, it's just that our Zen Triode amplifiers
are so fast and so transparent that relatively little high-end audio
gear is in the same league until you spend some very serious money.
And the truth is, if a customer can get an amplifier this
good for under $700.00 (See our SE84CS) and it will work and
sound great without a preamp, why buy one? Chances are pretty
good you're not going to spend $4500.00 on a preamp that sounds
GOOD enough to NOT handicap the amplifier.
a preamp helps or hurts the sound depends on the fidelity of the
preamp, the fidelity of power amp, and the abundance or lack of
synergy between the two. This synergy will result in part from having
the fidelity of both in the same league and in the correct order.
Since it is
unlikely every component in your system will have exactly the same
fidelity the question becomes what order should the fidelity of
your components fall into. For example: If you have
three components, ie. a source, preamp and power amp and each has
a different level of fidelity, you would want the best piece to
be your source. The next best piece would be the preamp followed
by the amplifier. It would make no sense to have the amplifier
be the best piece in your system and your source as the weakest
link. By doing so, your source would handicap the preamp
and the amplifier by limiting their fidelity to it's own level.
OF BACKGROUND on DECWARE PREAMPS
amplifier, the SE84C came out in 1996 and was shortly followed by
our second product, the ZTPRE. Our SE84C is a low power SET
amplifier that by the mere fact it is an SET with limited power
appeals to only a small percentage of the market. I wanted to put
some "Zen magic" in the homes of the remaining 95% of
audiophiles so I figured an equally great preamp was the answer.
I carefully designed the ZTPRE to be synergistic with
both tube and solid state amplifiers as well as be good enough to
put in front of our Zen Triode amp without altering or harming it's
wonderfully transparent sound.
products were the foundation that DECWARE was built on, both being
very successful but strange enough were rarely ever both sold to
the same customer. The ZTPRE being a pull out all the stops
execution cost over twice as much as our little amp so
the markets rarely overlapped. And even though using a ZTPRE
in front of our amplifiers noticeably kicks up the performance of
the amp less then 5% of our amplifier owners ever got to hear this,
and it still remains the case today.
In my world,
preamps fall into one of three basic types. Type A - preamps
that you can't hear. Type B- preamps that make everything
sound better. Type C-preamps that make everything sound worse.
The ZTPRE was a type A. We later came out with a type
B preamp called the ZSLA-1 that was designed for systems using big
power amps (solid state or tube) as an alternative to "passive"
preamps that are often popular in those types of systems. Since
it has no gain it is seldom used with our own amplifiers.
years after the release of the ZTPRE my goal was to have a type
B that would remain a type B even in front of our amplifiers
and be equally at home in front of any other brand amplifier as
well. And I had to make sure that our amplifier customers
can justify it's cost by making it affordable. The right preamp
in front of an SE84C or SE84CS or even SE34I and TORII takes these
amplifiers to a new level. I say it's at least a 30% improvement
across the board and the power and dynamics will seem to double.
It really is amazing to hear when you've listened to your
amp all these years without one. And considering that 80%
of our amp customers fall into this camp, I can safely say they've
yet to hear how good their amplifiers really are!
many tweaks and a lot of tube rolling going on in the homes of our
more serious customers who enjoy squeezing every last bit of potential
out of their Decware amplifier. Consider this new preamp the
ultimate tweak to you're amp. It will make more difference
then all the tweaks and expensive tubes you can find combined and
multiplied by at least ten. (Even if it's not a Decware amp!)
me to no end because I know I have product that will absolutely
deliver the goods and for even the most picky audiophiles it will
not disappoint. I have compared it side by side with some
of the best in the world and the least expensive of these that was
still competitive with it cost $4500.00.
A PREAMP MAKE THINGS BETTER?
A good preamp
becomes an extension of the source enhancing it's dynamics and overall
voltage swing as well as enhancing it's output impedance to more
effortlessly drive difficult power amps. A good preamp can
extract detail and timbre that is otherwise hidden by these conditions.
A good preamp can add body and weight and size to a stereo
image and improve the depth and palpability of the sound stage.
A good preamp can make tiny speakers and or tiny amplifiers sound
and perform as though they were bigger then they really are. A
good preamp can organize the presence in a recording to create several
more layers to the music. It can pull things apart and make
recordings sound less like recordings and more like real music.
In the case
of the SE84C and SE84CS amplifiers in particular, a good preamp
can mean the difference between getting more efficient speakers
or keeping the ones you have. This is because the preamp drives
these amps with enhancements in dynamics and detail that effectively
make it seem as though you just doubled your power. There
are probably many owners of these amps who ended up getting a second
amp to run as monoblocks for more power. Had the option been
available, some of them could have gotten better overall fidelity
along with the extra weight they were after by just adding
Decware is a trademark of High Fidelity Engineering
Copyright © 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
2007 2008 by Steve Deckert