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Seeking Preamp Recommendation under $600

Richard10250

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Sep 18, 2021
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Greetings -

I am building a desktop two channel audio system. I have an existing power amp, speakers and two sources (one single ended and one balanced) that I wish to utilize. The sources do not have volume control. Looking for recommendations for a preamp that will be connected between the sources and the power amp. I am searching for a preamp solution with the following features:
  • Volume control
  • Small footprint (approx. 9 inch by 6 inch)
  • Two or more analog inputs - at least one must be balanced
  • One or more outputs - at least one must be balanced
  • Headphone output is optional
The preamp solutions I have found are:
  • Various passive pre-amp such as Nobsound NS-05P - $60
  • Topping Pre90 - $600
Another solution might be to use a headphone amps (examples below) that has balanced outputs, but I am not sure if the volume control adjusts both the headphone outputs and the line outputs.
  • Schiit Jotunheim 2 - $400
  • Schiit Magnius - $199
  • Gustard H16 - $400
  • SMSL HO200 Headphone Amp - $400
  • iFi Zen Can - $199
  • Topping A90 - $500
It seems a little silly to use a headphone amp to solve my challenge, but maybe I am missing something.

Does anyone have direct knowledge if the typical headphone amp volume control adjusts the line output volume? If yes, does the attenuation by headphone amp differ audibly from the attenuation of a passive preamp? Which solution would you pick? The cheapest solution ($60 passive preamp)? Another? Does anyone have a suggestion to a different solution that would meet my feature list?

Thanks for any feedback.
 

MrOtto

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Gustard H16 does volume control on preout so they say, also with remote. It also has switchwable XLR/RCA input so you can connect a DAC and a RIAA or anything else analog.

JDS labs Atom amp also does volume control on preout, switchable RCA/3.5mm input. No remote.
 

cinemakinoeye

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I am building a desktop two channel audio system. [...] Schiit Jotunheim 2 - $400 [...] Does anyone have direct knowledge if the typical headphone amp volume control adjusts the line output volume? If yes, does the attenuation by headphone amp differ audibly from the attenuation of a passive preamp? Which solution would you pick? [...]
As a Jotunheim 2 owner, I can confirm that the volume control also adjusts the preamp outputs. The output selector switch turns on and off the preamp output, the headphone outputs are always on. I use the Jotunheim to drive both monitor speakers and headphones.
 
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tmtomh

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Aug 14, 2018
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Greetings -

I am building a desktop two channel audio system. I have an existing power amp, speakers and two sources (one single ended and one balanced) that I wish to utilize. The sources do not have volume control. Looking for recommendations for a preamp that will be connected between the sources and the power amp. I am searching for a preamp solution with the following features:
  • Volume control
  • Small footprint (approx. 9 inch by 6 inch)
  • Two or more analog inputs - at least one must be balanced
  • One or more outputs - at least one must be balanced
  • Headphone output is optional
The preamp solutions I have found are:
  • Various passive pre-amp such as Nobsound NS-05P - $60
  • Topping Pre90 - $600
Another solution might be to use a headphone amps (examples below) that has balanced outputs, but I am not sure if the volume control adjusts both the headphone outputs and the line outputs.
  • Schiit Jotunheim 2 - $400
  • Schiit Magnius - $199
  • Gustard H16 - $400
  • SMSL HO200 Headphone Amp - $400
  • iFi Zen Can - $199
  • Topping A90 - $500
It seems a little silly to use a headphone amp to solve my challenge, but maybe I am missing something.

Does anyone have direct knowledge if the typical headphone amp volume control adjusts the line output volume? If yes, does the attenuation by headphone amp differ audibly from the attenuation of a passive preamp? Which solution would you pick? The cheapest solution ($60 passive preamp)? Another? Does anyone have a suggestion to a different solution that would meet my feature list?

Thanks for any feedback.

Just curious - is there anything other than the physical size that would rule out the Schiit Freya S?
 

MrOtto

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Nov 4, 2020
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Topping A90 has a pre-mode, it's probably cutting line out to headphones and only to rear port output. No remote though. Gustard is the most affordable option with switchable inputs, XLR and RCA, and a remote. But they say it outputs the signal to both rear ports and front headphone ports, so headphone should be disconnected when using it as a preamp.
 
OP
R

Richard10250

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Sep 18, 2021
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Thanks all for the input.

I tried using the Nobsound NS-05P, but discovered that it worked fine Balanced in to Balanced out, and Unbalanced in to Unbalanced out, but it cannot convert Unbalanced in to Balanced out. Thinking about it now, that result is not surprising for a passive unit, but that was not apparent to me when I purchased the unit.

I ended up going with the iFi Zen Can, mostly because it is small and matched my existing iFi Blue Zen. It works fine, and it will convert Unbalanced in to Balanced out. The down side is that both headphone output and the RCA outputs are active at all times. When listening to my speakers I cannot hear the headphones, or I can disconnect the headphones. When listening to the headphones I switch off the power amp. Not perfect but works for me.

I now have three input paths switcheable via the iFi Zen Can front panel selector:

Ipad - Bluetooth - iFi Zen Blue - balanced out - iFi Zen Can - balanced out - power amp - speakers
Ipad - Audioquest dongle DAC - unbalanced - iFi Zen Can - balanced out - power amp - speakers
Laptop - unbalanced out - iFi Zen Can - balanced out - power amp - speakers

Of course I can select headphones for output in place of the speakers for all three paths as discussed above.

I am sure this fails the audiophile test, but it makes me happy while sitting at my desk.

Thanks again.
 
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