Is it worth it?
It has been a while since I last took out my soldering iron.
In the last couple of years I have been listening to a Marantz PM8003 integrated Amp. But recently I was attracted to the idea of a passive preamp. (Just a volume control)
From a purist’s perspective, a passive preamp is better because less is more. Removing the active pre stage allows the signal to go directly to the power amp, which means less distortion and colouration.
Before investing more money on a DACT stepped attenuator, TVC and other passive solutions, I decided to test the above hypothesis on my system. So, $50 and 3 hours of my weekend later, I created a simple ALPS pot housing in an aluminium case. (See photos) Nothing much to write home about, simply an RCA socket with decent cable, and one set of input with one set of output. The size of the enclosure is slightly larger, which leaves some room to upgrade to aTVC or DACT attenuator ?
The most striking improvement from this passive pre is the improved sound stage and transparency. The sound stage was no longer confined to my two speakers and the back wall, it was much wider and deeper; well exceeding my expectations.
The separation also improved noticeably. What used to be a group of musicians, can now easily be defined as an individual player, or rows of players from back to front. It made the whole experience more life like, with the same effect being attained from a well recorded musical. I could tell that each of the performers were moving on the stage as if they were right there.
Compared to the active pre amp it was very transparent There was better coherency which was probably due to less phase shift distortion. This quality made the playback of large scale music so much more enjoyable.
Not all good news
This passive pre is not without short comings. Lower frequency extension is not as good as the active, which is expected.
Not having a remote can be a pain for some people. My DIY pre certainly has no remote control, but it doesn’t concern me.
My passive pre only has one set of inputs. The additional input could be included by adding an input selection knob switch and a larger enclosure.
Due to the lack of active pre stage, I needed to turn up the volume by 20% to obtain the same SPL.
Is it worth it?
You bet! 3 hours and $50 is all it took for a result that would surely have cost me much more if I was to have bought a branded passive.
I may also look into a TVC passive which is suppose to perform better than my cheap ALPS pot.
Please feel free to share your passive pre experience and any suggestions you may have to improve my project ?