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Do I need a preamp? (Read 1377 times)
morp
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Do I need a preamp?
07/17/20 at 23:27:33
 
Hi,

Newbie question: What does a preamp do, and do I need one for my setup?

I listen only through headphones, usually during the day while on work video calls, and at night to listen to music/movies without disturbing anyone else. Right now, the setup is Laptop USB -> Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC -> Taboo Mk3 -> Headphones.

I still have the CSP2+ I used before acquiring the Taboo (and what first made me fall in love with the Decware sound). I am considering selling it, but would it add anything to the chain to put it in front of the Taboo? And if so, why would it make a difference?

Thanks for your help!,
Richard
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Lon
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #1 - 07/18/20 at 00:44:49
 
I say try it and see if it makes a difference that you want to hear!
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will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #2 - 07/18/20 at 01:30:46
 
For me, "gain riding" between pre and amp, can substantially refine your sound beyond the sound the CSP circuit might bring to the blend, which could also be nice...

Starting with the pre and amp gains balanced for the best average sound for your recordings and phones, a balance that brings out the best of the CSP2 and Taboo together....with "gain riding" you can then adjust that balance toward more bass, weight, and density.....or toward more leanness, more open, less dense. With the vast variety of recordings, this can be a really great tool. Keeping the volume audibly the same, and "riding" the gains, you can refine the sound of each varied recording "signature" to better suit your system and tastes.

For example, if a recording sounds lean, keeping the volume you hear the same, you can slowly turn up the CSP2, while turning down the Taboo. Increasing the CSP2 influence in the the blend, you are also increasing the voltage from the CSP2 into the Taboo, beefing up the signal the Taboo receives, adding weight, density, lucidity, impact. Or if the recording is too bassy and thick, you can ride the CSP2 down, reducing voltage into the Taboo, as you ride up the Taboo gain, opening up the recording.

This is the main reason I use a CSP3. I do not use it as a system gain, but instead for balancing tone, intensity, density, etc with my ZBIT and Torii. And like with the Taboo, with cables, vibration control, and tubes, you can really do a lot to tune the sound to tastes if you want, fine tuning the pre and amp together possibly opening new musical doors to enjoyment.

Worth a try since you have it around.
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morp
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #3 - 07/18/20 at 04:15:44
 
Wow incredible answers. Totally makes sense to try it since I have it around anyway Smiley

Will, I think I understand 25% of your technical answer. Is it fair to dumb it down and say that the preamp can add, or take away, body/texture/weight from the sound? That would be an incredible tool, since there has been more than once where I have wanted a more airy sound, or a denser thicker sound.

Two more questions from there:
1) When I adjust volume in the CSP, does it have the same impact on listening volume as volume adjustment on the Taboo? Or rather, when you want to adjust volume, do you typically adjust on your amp or preamp?

2) With tubes, is there more impact from tube changes on the preamp or on the amp? I could see needing to match them - if I have warmer tubes on one, I may want more revealing tubes on the other?

Thanks,
Richard
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will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #4 - 07/18/20 at 08:16:57
 
Hey Richard,

Good thoughts on tubes. And yes, you got the gist of what the pre and amp can do together with gain riding.

Not having a Taboo, I cannot be sure, but guess tube changes with either could have similar potential...though maybe a bit more with the CSP since there is perhaps a bit more range of usable output tubes? What one volume adjustment does compared to the other is something I never think about, so guessing they act similarly in perceived volume effect???  But more on this later.

For tubes, I typically go for neutral weighing a little on the warm side on the amp, and a little on the clarified side on the CSP. Adjusting the amp up and down, mostly the changes are in volume. Whereas, adjusting the CSP, with its wide voltage output range feeding the amp, its master pot adjusts perceived volume, but also the signal power feeding the amp, which causes useful shifts in all of the sound values...density, articulation, weight, lucidity, etc, as well as volume.

This is why I like relatively neutral and clear tuning when using the CSP3 for a preamp. As you push it more, as all signal qualities grow denser, fuller, and more intense, it can still sound clean and solid over a broad range....not getting too thick. Also lucidity is one of the wonders of a CSP, and a more revealing tube set, to me supports this lucid effect. But for the most part, I work for a revealing, relatively fast and slightly warm/musical sound with tubes on both...no masking anywhere. It works fine warmer too, but these are my preferences.

You can benefit from gain riding no matter how the pre and amp are set up tonally though, so it is fine to use the tubes you have if they are in good shape, not tending toward diminished dynamics, noise or distortions.


So lets see if I can explain it better how I like to set up a good balance between pre and amp.

CSP connected to the Taboo, the CSP's master volume pot turned down, as a pre, you will likely want different settings on the small CSP tube pots than you are accustomed to when using it as a headphone amp. I would start with the input pots set at 7 or 8, and the output pots 8 or 9. You can adjust this balance to-sound as you learn the new setup, but this would put you in a good starting place I think.

I would set the Taboo attenuator at the place you like for normal listening levels. Then, headphones on, playing a pretty good recording you think is pleasantly neutral, bring up the sound slowly using the CSP master volume until you reach your favored listening level and see how it sounds.

With a good volume established, to explore gain riding and its effects, while also possibly pointing to a balance between amp and pre you like better....  My basic gain riding method is this: keeping the volume you are hearing the same, adjust the pre and amp gain adjusters together, at the same time, one slowly and gently up, and the other slowly and gently down. Go by what you hear, not paying all that much attention to the knobs except turning them easily in opposite directions while keeping the same volume.

To get a feel for the differences in voltage output effects from the CSP, I would start with turning the CSP up as you turn down the Taboo.

Increasing the CSP in the balance as you decrease the Taboo, causes the CSP to send a more potent signal to your amp. So this version of "gain riding," CSP up/Taboo down, same volume in the phones, you will hear a more powered up sound, increased density, weight, lucidity, dynamics. Often ± one clock # change is plenty to dial in a recording, and sometimes ± two or a little more, but we are not talking big changes to get relatively natural sounding, but notable signal/sound shifts.

Then try riding the gains the other way....increasing the Taboo, and decreasing the CSP....leaning and opening the sound. This exercise will give a good sense of what you can do with gain riding, while likely pointing to a favored baseline area for the two gain settings to give your best average sound with relatively neutral recordings.

Then, a baseline established, if you put in a recording that sounds good right off, but you want a little more or less volume, generally, I would adjust it with the Taboo, keeping the volume adjustment pretty neutral.

If you put in a recording that is too dense/full, and want to adjust the sound leaner, then a good start is to ride the Taboo up as you ride the CSP down. Density, lucidity, openness, bass, etc in balance for the recording, again, if you want the volume a little different, the more neutral Taboo would adjust volume without changing your gain riding adjustments much.

For lots of recordings, I don't gain ride, many sounding quite good at the same settings, adjusting volume with the Torii, and the CSP3 level having been optimized for the best sound, I leave it alone. But for many more recordings, adjustments can really help.

For me, gain riding has become second nature. I don't really think about it, just dialing it in, and getting to really good places easily and fast. I think once you explore it a little, you might want to play around with baseline variations from time to time as you refine your familiarity and skills toward your ultimate sound....or if you make notable changes in gear, cables, or tubes, etc... But for the most part, you will probably find a baseline range you like for your recording collection, and then just have fun adjusting for recordings that benefit from gain riding. For me it is a fun journey and really supports my immersion potential in the music. And tuning with tubes along and along to better suit your tastes can be really fun too. Now having six positions rather than three, you can get some broader variations and nice complexity. My take anyway.
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piezoman
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #5 - 07/18/20 at 13:01:05
 
the above is the most descriptive explanation on the value of a csp2/3 preamp i've ever read.

thanks will, great job! i've printed it out for future reference. down the line, when the budget allows for a csp3 with steve's signal cap type II upgrade option + 25th mods upgrade option,  it will all be stratospheric.
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will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #6 - 07/18/20 at 15:53:41
 
Glad you liked the posts piezo.

I think the ZBIT max gain is the output voltage from your DAC, but that is usually a nice amount, enough to get similar effects as above, both for finding the best balance between Taboo and ZBIT gains for optimal sound, and for gain riding.

The CSP can be quite transparent depending on setup, but it's design, parts and tubes do adjust the sound. And I really like that, the OTL lucidity from the way Steve implemented using tubes as the outputs, the CSP3 sounds really good to me.

Whereas, the ZBIT is very simple, having less self-sound, which can be very good too.

So, for gain riding, the ZBIT has less voltage range than the CSP, and less signature character, but within that, can be used similarly to very good effect.

So might be worth checking these same ideas out using your ZBIT and Taboo, and see what you think. If you don't find you like gain riding for recordings, like if you prefer the ZBIT wide open, at least this is a good method for finding and/or verifying the optimal gain levels between the ZBIT and the Taboo to suit your tastes.
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #7 - 07/18/20 at 16:03:29
 
morp- Once again, Will has described perfectly what CSP2/CSP3 will add to the flexibility of your (our) set up. I would not want to be without my CSP3 when listening to my turntable, there seems to be an endless amount of adjustment for balance and weight of each recording. A much better preamp than my previous ARC SP-11, resulting in a much better stereo system. Hook up your CSP2 and report back your findings when you can tear yourself away from the music. Happy listening, Chris.
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Tommy Freefall
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #8 - 07/18/20 at 16:31:49
 
Also - Will correct me if I'm wrong - but for those who don't have the resources for a CSP3, the ZStage is a lower cost solution for riding the gain.
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will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #9 - 07/18/20 at 16:53:45
 
I agree Tommy. I used a ZStage in my main system for quite a while and really liked it, learning gain riding with it. But finally I got seduced by the more powerful flexibility and complexity with the CSP3. And now that I have finished a many year modification exploration on the CSP3, refining all the sound qualities I loved originally, I am especially attached.

I still gladly use a ZStage in my second system. Not having listened up there for a while it is not fresh in mind, but I guess the ZStage sits sort of in between a ZBIT and a CSP3 technically and sound-wise....not loads of voltage change potential like the CSP3, but still quite useful for gain tuning. And I am impressed with the relatively broad sonic variety you can get with 12AU7s, 12AT7s and variants in a single tube position.
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morp
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #10 - 07/18/20 at 21:54:16
 
Guys, I am humbled by the time and care spent on these responses. Will, your instructions are so meticulous and detailed, I can't possibly mess them up (too much Smiley). Looking forward to giving it a try tonight and I'll report back!
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #11 - 07/18/20 at 22:07:25
 
Yes, will is amazing and very intellectual. He's a godsend as far as I'm concerned.

As is this forum and its great members!

Good luck to you morp, really looking forward to what you have to share.
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piezoman
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #12 - 07/18/20 at 22:12:39
 
Will, I did play with a little gain riding during that 1st hour. REALLY liked what I heard. Couldnt believe it.

My DAC puts out 4.5v in balanced mode. So thats what I max with the ZBIT.

What will a CSP3 give me?

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will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #13 - 07/19/20 at 00:43:41
 
Exciting morp and piezo! Looking forward to more reports!

Piezo,

The CSP3 out is rated at 30 volts with everything wide open. My DAC balanced out is I think 6 Volts, so the ZBIT voltage range I have. I have not run comparisons with voltage in mind. And in serious listening the two pieces sound pretty different to start with. But starting from an optimal gain range for the best sound from each, gets you most of the way there to pulling their magic, and both get there with headroom for me. Each has enough there to be taken too far for my tastes, supporting my assumption that the numbers in my setup are not so important.

Each pre-stage set up optimally, there are differences for sure, but I don't think I need more gain riding benefits from either. With either, I can take punch, micro dynamics, lucidity, density, etc, too far. They have different sounds, so different effects, and I think that is more of what I can readily recall as different over usable gain.

Bound to have to do with source, individual setup, etc, but for me, starting with gain settings that sound best for each, and then having plenty of gain range left from each to get excellent gain riding effects (fairly small range) the numbers differences sound much more than the power of the effects differences. I could easily be happy with either in my setup.

With this now in mind, if I notice anything I will report back. And hopefully others might comment from their experience with both.
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #14 - 07/19/20 at 01:05:51
 
It's fascinating and can be fun (and sometimes frustrating) to ride the gain in these systems.

I'm using a PS Audio DAC in balanced out (nearly 4 volts) into a ZTPRE (36 volts) into a ZBIT then into a ZROCK2 and then into a CSP3 (with the mods) and thence to SE84UFO3 Monoblocks (with the Mods). I usually have the preamp section of the DSD at 100 percent, the ZTPRE at about 11 out of 20 on the output pots, and  85 percent to 100 percent master volume (using that remote to adjust volume), the ZBIT at position 17 out of 20, the CSP3 with output pots at 5 or six of 10--mine has no input pots, those are bypassed by a glass resistor--and the Monoblocks at 17 out of 20 steps on the attenuators. This generally works for most of my listening material, cd or vinyl (I've now started to use the ADC in my phono converter to run the vinyl preamp signal to my DSD). The limiting factor here is the ZROCK2, I have to be careful not to overload that.

So many possibilities! Between this and the modes and settings on my P15 there are so many "amplifiers" possible to listen to!
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #15 - 07/19/20 at 01:15:34
 
thanks will, and lon!

man, this is all so damned beyond exciting i can't contain myself  ;D

Steve, you're a killer mad scientist in the finest sense of the term!
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #16 - 07/19/20 at 01:40:09
 
With my ZBIT before the CSP3, then Torii, I can get bumps into distortion (with hard hits on hot recordings) near the edges of my favored serious listening levels. I can get higher volumes using either pre stage alone than the two together.

I recall Steve explaining why somewhere, but can't remember where or what he said.  

I have adjusted the CSP3 internally along and along hoping for higher average gain adjustment levels on the pots, a little wider gain adjustment range, and less early distortions from the combination. Different from stock now, I have become hesitant to comment on this much. Well over 3 years since it was stock, I know I had earlier distortion after first adding the ZBIT, but so far away in time, can't comment clearly on that. Since Lon mentioned his ZRock vulnerability in his wildly pre-amped setup though, thought I should come in on this too.

I really love the combination of the ZBIT and CSP3, including how complimentary their different signatures are for gain riding. I wish I had just a touch more headroom for intense recordings during hard core late night listening, but not enough to change my chilled down tubes or remove a pre stage to get there!

Wink
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #17 - 07/20/20 at 05:54:00
 
Still tinkering! Haven't had much time, but so far I have noticed that I can increase weight, as all of you have said. Too much weight seems to feel like it muddies the sound a bit, but much more tinkering to come.

The added complication is that everything sounds different on different headphones Smiley
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #18 - 07/20/20 at 07:44:38
 
Cool, so you are finding the limits for weight, likely contributed to by excess CSP signal power pushing up the density and bass in the balance so much it goes beyond weight, becoming thick and muddy.

Looks like n your complex of gear, tubes, wires, settings, etc, too much power from the CSP into the Taboo, will darken and thicken the sound too much.

More CSP, creating a more intense signal, it pushes everything in the Taboo harder. And more Taboo, with a less powerful signal from the CSP, will lean the signal...a more open, less bassy signal.

If the excess weight seems a given with gain levels as I suggested for a beginning baseline for neutral recordings, you could do a couple things...

I would try to find whatever gain balance it takes to get the most beautiful sound at normal listening levels. If it is tending toward weight and density too much with initial settings, riding the Taboo up, as you ride the CSP down should be clarifying and tighten the bass.

After finding a good baseline gain balance that is really good overall with neutral recordings, maybe cut some small strips of tape, and mark where the gains end up for the best overall sound. Then maybe just enjoy listening, getting a sense of the pre and amp together, perhaps making occasional little adjustments to refine your baseline to tastes as you adjust to your new sound.

After having fine tuned your gains, once accustomed to the new sound and pretty comfortable with adjusting the gains, that might be a good time to explore subtle gain riding for specific recording adjustments....

Taboo up/CSP down should make a fuller/denser/weightier recording leaner and more open.

CSP up/Taboo down, should make a leaner/thinner/less bassy recording denser/weightier/more dynamic. I think pretty subtle gain balancing changes can be pretty powerful in terms of fine tuning balance.

There are also the tube pot knobs on the CSP that could be fine tuned, and perhaps tubes, ICs, vibration..... But learning the pre and amp together, you might just find a really nice beauty the way things are, just by adjusting the gains to tastes.

Wink
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #19 - 07/20/20 at 18:45:05
 
will, what is your take on the ZBIT as a pre stage alone, without the CSP3?

I realize its proabably going to very different than my setup, as you have a Torii MK 4, vs. a Taboo MK 4 [4.3 watts] and DAC [balanced output 4.5 volts] as in my case......or possibly there are parallels [?]

Also my room is smaller, 12x10x8.

Thanks, Brad
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #20 - 07/20/20 at 20:41:18
 
what is your take on the ZBIT as a pre stage alone, without the CSP3

This is JMO of course, but lots of people pay good money for "transformer volume controls" as their preamp. And that is exactly what a ZBIT is. No reason it can't be fine in theory but of course what works for you depends on your taste and the rest of your system. I'm interested if people around here are actually doing it.
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #21 - 07/20/20 at 23:01:30
 
Hi Will,

Quick question since I may have misunderstood your initial post: By input and output pots on the CSP, do you mean the little voltage knobs near the RCA jacks? If so, those are the ones that I initially adjusted to your recommended settings to get started.

By "riding the gain", I've been adjusting the two sets of knobs on the CSP, and the set of knobs on the Taboo. Hope that's what you mean vs. adjusting the volume knob relationship between the two Smiley

After sneaking some listening in between video calls today, I realized that I found the new combo to be too recessed, and darker. It felt like the sound, and the voices/instruments were further away if that makes sense. No matter what I did with the pots/volume, I couldn't regain the clarity/immediacy of sound I had before with just Taboo alone or CSP alone.

Then I remembered that I traditionally use brighter, more clarifying/resolving 6922s in both CSP and Taboo, and as a result use more laid back EL84s/output tubes to balance the sound to where I like it. Somehow combining the CSP and Taboo made the sound too recessed, so I swapped the EL84s in the Taboo to a brighter, more forward pair and that seems to bring the sound closer to the fore again.

More observations to come as I get more time!

Thanks,
Richard
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #22 - 07/21/20 at 01:51:40
 
Richard,

Oops, I don't think I explained that just right!@#$%^&*

Probably most important, I am talking about "gain riding" between the stereo master volume adjusters on both the CSP and Taboo...not the left/right on the Taboo, or little input and output adjusters on the CSP2. Sorry for the confusion!@#$%

Also confusing, your little stepped input and output pots on the CSP2, being near the RCAs, are located differently than on my CSP3. On the CSP3, the inputs are in front and a little right and left of the input tube. And the small output adjusters are in front of each output tube.

For either, those little pots seem to be mostly designed for tuning for headphones with different impedances....so not too loud or quiet for different phones when using the master volume for the primary volume adjuster.

But how the little pots are adjusted and balance together also effect the sound as a preamp only, but less obviously. And being right and left, they are also an easy way to balance left-right if room or tubes offset the L/R balance.

As a pre only, my main use, I always preferred the sound of both sets of CSP input and output adjusters at less than full gain. But once set, I leave them alone for gain riding!

As a pre, for a long time, I liked the input pots at 9, and later ending up with them at 7.

Over time, the output pots I liked anywhere from 6 to 8. But for a few years I realized they always ended up at 8 for me...so I decided to bypass them, not using them as adjusters.

I was thinking I was suggesting putting the little CSP input pots at 7-8 and the output pair at 8-9 for a start point. That done, it is way easier to gain ride with the CSP stereo master pot!

For gain balancing, and gain riding between the amps, I was meaning only adjusting the master stereo gain attenuators of each!

When you you say "set of knobs on the Taboo" I wonder if you do not have a stereo master??? Or do you have attenuators for each channel and a master stereo gain in the middle???

If so I would use only the master stereo volume adjuster for gain riding. And if not, having only left and right individually, this whole gain riding thing might be a little too cumbersome. If this is the case, you can still use a lot of this information for finding the best gain balance between amps, but more tedious making gain balancing between the amps with left and right on the Taboo, and a single stereo attenuator on the CSP2.

In all my previous writing about gain riding I was referring to working with the master stereo attenuator on the CSP, and the master stereo attenuator on the Taboo. With a master on each, it is easy to finesse one up and the other down together while listening.

If you have a stereo master on the Taboo, I don't have a Taboo, so don't know what to suggest about left/right attenuator settings, except maybe to leave them however you have liked them.

Finally, in my recent post, I was referring to my earlier suggestion for initial matching between CSP and Taboo.....To start with the Taboo at usual listening level (on the stereo master knob), and for the CSP, starting (with the stereo master) at 0, and carefully raise it until you get to your normal listening levels. I thought this might give a good starting point for further gain matching adjustments between the CSP and Taboo, in order to establish the best sounding baseline with neutral recordings.

Does that make sense? My head spinning a little...hope your isn't too much!

Good you have more tubes to adjust with...Adding another amp to the equation has to reduce ultimate transparency, but I feel pretty sure you can get really good sound between the CSP2 and Taboo with the right setup, and perhaps some tube rolling. Your more transparent tubes may well be best. But since I was not clear on the gain setup, I am thinking your previous tests may not be all that telling. Sorry about that.

Lips Sealed

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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #23 - 07/21/20 at 02:30:53
 
CAJames,

I have not looked into transformer volume controls, but I hardly look at other audio forums or at reviews unless I am needing to do specific research. Also, I have a tendency to improve what I have to fit my system and tastes over buying new stuff...so I miss a lot of what is out there.

I have noticed the Super Zen 2 and ZMA pictured with small transformers in the input/output areas, presumably like the ZBIT for transformer balanced inputs. Off-hand, my guess is the volume pot on these amps as Steve does it might be the usual setup but I really don't know. Also my guess is that the transformers are there to allow for balanced in, but perhaps as much or more, for transparent signal filtering/enhancement.

Sorry I couldn't help with your question more, and hopefully someone else will come in on this!


Piezo,

I think you will hear the ZBIT quite a bit like I do. Mine is more tuned up than Steve's, so will be a little different. But the unit being so much about the high bandwidth transformers, I feel sure this would be the dominant signature effect.

Mine has no balanced connectors, direct soldering the transformers to the balanced IC wires, and the ICs I made with really good wires and geometry selected by sound, and covered with cotton...So they are  good. I like the silver plated RCAs Steve uses, but I prefer less full bodied ones, not better or worse, just a little different. Also likely a little less vibration....my transformers not being hard connected to the box, but suspended...Finally, I ended up liking a really good sounding TDK potentiometer best. These design variations would all add up to doing what it does with more refinement....more fine "particles" and space in the sound, but I am thinking mine is close enough to talk about it.

I really like the ZBIT. And I really like the CSP3. My CSP3 is also seriously tuned, but having a lot more parts and wires, and most methodically upgraded by-sound over several years, it is quite refined also...but still a CSP3 for sure.

I have not had them in separately for quite a while, but the overall effect of the ZBIT is that it refines the sound with really clean, high bandwidth transformers only. Very simple, it is quite transparent, complete, and solid. To me, the attenuator is an added benefit for sure, being able to gain match and gain ride with it, but being passive, its voltage out is limited to your DAC voltage.

Whereas the CSP3 has more parts....attenuators, connectors, tubes, resistors, serious transformer/ power supply support, coupling caps, more wires, etc...So less transparent from a purist perspective, but then the question becomes, how much do you like what the parts do!

It is also much more tunable and flexible than the ZBIT.....It is an active pre with more voltage potential, more gain adjustments for tuning, more tubes to tune with.... and when tuned nicely, I think in part because to the magic of the output going through tubes, it offers a special tube based lucidity. Added up, it offers a richer, more complex and "emotional" sound....more "tube magic" while remaining relatively transparent when carefully tubed, cabled and vibration mitigated. You can also use the tubes to go seriously warm, or anywhere in between, and with care, do that with finesse and beauty...

Additionally, the CSP3 has two input RCA pairs, a mono out RCA connector, and it is a really good headphone amp with two phone output jacks. Also headphone input and output controls are quite useful as preamp sound adjusters...

Whereas, the ZBIT is what it is...passive, one balanced pair leading to one pair RCA for through connection, one fundamental sound signature, and an attenuator....Rather than tube and cap signal refinement, it uses the high bandwidth transformers....very precise and clean, and good sounding as you know. And though passive, less voltage range, I still find it quite good at gain riding with my 6 volt DAC. As you are discovering, it can make your amp sound quite different depending on attenuator settings. More ZBIT gain creates more lucidity, dynamics, weight.... more intensity of all the signal has. And less, more relaxed but still clarifying. Quite clean but not unmusical, to me, it is a really good audio tool.



So they can both be used well for signal refinement, voltage out adjustment, and gain balancing and riding. But otherwise, they are in many ways different...the ZBIT more about transparent signal enhancement without tube influences, and the CSP3 more about complex but lucid OTL tube sound, more adjustment flexibility, and more use features.

EDIT: Put together you can mix and match their qualities with gain tuning, to me making both better. But on more subtle levels, how each sounds can be so different with different setups for each, and in different systems, so probably impossible to get exactly the same feel in different system/rooms. Getting the deeper potential depends on a lot of things. My system is very resolving, transparent and revealing, but also sweetly and subtly musical. Starting with a very clean and balanced signal makes adding components transparently and finding transparent tuning for additions safer, easier, and more rewarding.

My take anyway.


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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #24 - 07/21/20 at 03:51:52
 
No problem at all Will! Some things are hard to explain over email, and doubly hard when I'm so clearly technologically illiterate. The Taboo has left/right input knobs (which I think control voltage) near the RCAs and a master volume pot that sits next to the XLR jacks near the tubes.

I was originally adjusting the little knobs on both the CSP and the Taboo, but after your email, I will set them somewhere I like them, and then just play with the master volume of the CSP and the Taboo Smiley My head was definitely spinning thinking of 4 knobs on the CSP, 2 knobs on the Taboo, the master volumes on both, and then tubes!

More experimentation to come Smiley
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #25 - 07/21/20 at 06:35:56
 
Have fun!
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #26 - 07/31/20 at 22:16:39
 
Checking back in here!

After extensive experimentation, I'm back to listening just out of the Taboo, with the CSP removed from the chain. To my ears, the richer, meatier sound, that came from combining amp with preamp, did not outweigh the music sounding further away and less immediate.

I do wonder whether my observations are because I exclusively listen with headphones, and highly resolving headphones at that. If I were running speakers, which are naturally positioned further away from my ears and in space, would I just get the benefits without the drawbacks.

Other observations/questions:
1) The balanced output of the Taboo is really where it shines. Using all my favorite tubes in both amps, the Single Ended headphone output of the CSP is 95% of the Taboo's single ended output and the slight differences may be a matter of taste. This may be more of a credit to the CSP than anything else - what a fantastic headphone amp.

2) Watching the NBA restart last night, I did notice a strange double/extra sound effect out of the balanced outputs of the Taboo. When a ball was bounced, it sounded like Booommp-mp instead of just Booommp. Any idea why that would be?

Thanks,
Richard
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #27 - 08/01/20 at 00:57:31
 
Hey Richard,

Too many variables for me. The CSP3 alone has so many, then add cables, tubes, source, source cables, DAC....there are so many ways to reduce transparency, it is hard to track the real sources without going over all of them individually. And it may well be that these issues would be less with speakers and a room...hard to guess.

Toward more resolution, transparency and speed, I have modified and tuned my power, my Mac Mini, amps, DAC, speakers, made many iterations to arrive at my cables, explored hundreds of tubes, and done a lot of room work. So I know my impediments, and they are minimal. Yet there is no doubt my CSP3 with the rest adds things, including a low level reduction in pure transparency. But I have been working on it so long, I have a pretty good handle on how to get the CSP3 more transparent and musical at once, loving its sound in my chain, and loving gain riding more than not liking the minor transparency hit. None-the-less, I can understand the choice not to use it in a chain, especially if your amp and phones "get it" all on their own!

When I first got into it, I ended up solving a lot of what you are experiencing with extra transparent and open tubes and cables, and good vibration mitigation... on both the CSP3 and Torii. Not extreme, but tuning them both to a point they may be a little too clear on their own, they were really good together.

Like using fast and clear Euro GZ32 rectifiers. They are open and fast in general compared to many tubes. But also more open than similar family member GZ34, or 5U4G and other big sounding tube types....it is part that the 50s and 60s euro tubes of this type were really well designed and made tubes, but also because they are a little less powerful. Pushing the rest less strongly, they don't fill up the sound as much, making them less thick, more open, and faster, while still being quite musical.

Or using a nice fast and open 7DJ8/PCC88s in the place of 6922/E88CC, creating a similar effect, less thick/forceful, more open/fast...and real when it is right. Most ECC88s tend to have less forcefulness and less overall power and thickness than E88CCs too, making them more textural, open and sweet a lot of times. That is a tricky tube to me though, some sounding great and others too unresolved low down. For open clarity and musicality, ECC189s are probably the best overall of that type to me, pretty well balanced, more similar to PCC88s. Especially 60s Holland made and Siemens tend to be open and textured without being dark. Whereas Telefunkens I have heard tend to more rich and full...not a help in this concept.

And like tubes, same with ICs and power cords, you can shift the balance if you want.

Finally, set to sound great together, each amp might be a little too clear in some settings on their own, but I tend to tube so that they sound good on their own, but still on the clean side, making adding components pretty transparent seeming without any extreme settings...it is just that most all of these settings are leaning toward open and fast. I have found this can seriously mitigate the sacrifices of adding parts.


I don't get the basketball delay problem. At times I have had weird artifacts with streaming, but sorry, I can't say. The Taboo did get its name from Steve "breaking some rules," a main one arriving at "Lucid mode" if I recall correctly. I wonder if that was dialed up a lot and could contribute????? No experience here, and I doubt it, but just fishing.
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #28 - 08/01/20 at 01:31:35
 
Very good post from Will. I'll echo his general points and say that I've worked (in different ways) on fitting a CSP3 with 25th Anniversary mods into the system and even a ZTPRE in the very same system. So two preamps! And I find that my Taboo Mk IV with the 25th Anniversary mods sounds so much better when the CSP2+ with the 25th Anniversary mods is feeding it for both speakers AND headphones (Oppo PM-1, or Sennheiser HD800S, or ZMF Ori).

Do you need it? Your answer is no, and that's great. Gives you a headphone amp to use somewhere else or a preamp for another system one day. Or something to sell. My conclusion. . . I need my preamps. They make things better, and I have become so accustomed to better, an embarrassment of riches better, that I won't willingly go without!
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #29 - 08/01/20 at 02:00:03
 
Thanks for some good clarifications Lon. Mentioning the Anniversary mods all round in your systems is meaningful. I have done similar work and more on my amps, and there is no doubt they increase transparency and support adding components more easily.

Also, I loved these pieces together before my modifications, using the methods I mentioned to help them fit more transparently. But with really good modifications, though tubes matter a lot, my system has become more flexible with tubes. The modifications make them all sound better!

Smiley
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #30 - 08/01/20 at 23:22:10
 
Thanks Will and Lon!

It was a tough decision since there were so many auditory benefits of having the preamp in the chain. Will, hearing your journey is very helpful, and it completely makes sense that when you make each piece "too transparent", together they create a wonderful musical experience. It sure sounds like you and Lon have tinkered, and tinkered (and tinkered!) to a point where the sound is calibrated just right for you and that's amazing - much respect for the dedication to get to that point.

I think what I will miss the most is being able to adjust the sound, on the fly, from song to song as necessary. Sometimes a song runs too hot, or the treble isn't to my liking, or the recording doesn't have enough oomph and being able to adjust with a couple of knobs instead of needing to power down and change tubes, is awesome.

I'm sure I'll get to the point (maybe soon) when I will want to add a preamp back in and adjust until the sound is just right. For now, changing headphones makes a significant enough difference that I don't feel the need to just yet.

Now to figure out what to do with the CSP2+..

Thanks again for all your help,
Richard
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #31 - 08/02/20 at 01:01:53
 
You are welcome Richard. Yes, gain riding can be a real asset, as can the added complexity from two really good and well-matched components. But no doubt, simplicity can also offer the beauty spot and I am really glad you are on a good track!

Will
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #32 - 08/02/20 at 01:47:17
 
Lon and Will's posts here have drug me across the finish line as far as the purchase of a CSP3 in the future.....most likely within a year.

While I'm still in the earlier stages of the burn-in process of my Decware units (more so, about 150+ hrs.) and Omega ALNICO tower speakers (much less so right now, about 5 hrs.), the speakers giving me that "roller coaster" ride of sounding great one hour then much less for a bit the next minute, back and forth, but much improving steadily overall in this earlier phase, I'm flat out enjoying the hell ouit of the sound when its all in that "good moment" timeframe......with the ZRock2 (a true godsend) and the ZBIT (my primitive preamp, nice smooth piece), its all very enveloping even right now and getting better and better.......only about 1/2 of the way there, the speakers need much more in proportion, about 100+ more hours.

A CSP3 with Type II copper sig caps + 25th anniversary mod option, to match the ZRock2 and Taboo MK IV.

Lots to live for right now, and even more to look forward to! Its all endless nirvana  ;D

morp: You may just want to keep that CSP2+ ......you could end up regretting selling it. Just my 2 cents.
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Re: Do I need a preamp?
Reply #33 - 08/03/20 at 16:58:11
 
I am considering the same Piezo - there's just an incredible amount of good sound in the CSP2+ and they don't come around for sale very often anymore. At the same time, it seems a shame to have it sit unused when someone else could be listening to it.
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