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Why are preamps so expensive?

tomchris

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@DesertHawk
Generally, preamps are considered the heart of a system. It is partly driven by nostalgia, perceived statement and user interaction. There will be a lot of other variables effecting the cost of the finished product. Here's a few:

A) Different costs due to country of manufacture.
B) Production, scale, quantities, handbuilt or automated production lines.
C) Use of "Boutique" components.
D) Case work. A beautifully finished case cost a lot more to produce than component costs. A case milled from a solid billet of aluminium with nice switches and knobs is more expensive than a plain black case with basic plastic switches and knobs.
E) Market/Product segmentation, e.g. custom high-end product vs budget OEM.

Do you need a preamplifier? Not a classical one per se. However, a modern preamp with integrated features such as DAC, DSP, headphone amp, line input, volume knob, remote control will often come at a higher price.
 
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sq225917

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I just use mine to vol match and switch between phono and dac. No need to spend big.
 
OP
DesertHawk

DesertHawk

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@DesertHawk
Generally, preamps are considered the heart of a system. It is partly driven by nostalgia, perceived statement and user interaction. There will be a lot of other variables effecting the cost of the finished product. Here's few:

A) Different costs due to country of manufacture.
B) Production scale, quantities, handbuilt or automated production lines.
C) Use of "Boutique" components.
D) Case work. A beautifully finished case cost a lot more to produce, milled from a solid billet of aluminium with nice switches and knobs, than a plain black case with basic plastic swithches and knobs.
E) Market/Product segmentation, e.g. custom High-End product vs budget OEM.

Do you need a preamplifier? Not a classical one per se. However, a modern preamp integrated with features such as DAC, headphone amp, line input, Volume knob, remote control capability is a choice that comes with a higher price.
I think D) might be the area I was most overlooking. Thanks.
 

tomchris

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@DesertHawk Take for instance the JDS Labs Element III:
Reviewed here
2022-01-30.08-15-45.element3_hero_final.jpg


Here you have a DAC with USB + optical input, a rotary volume control, headphone amp and speaker output all-in-one.
It is an example of a minimalistic "preamp" that connects to a single source and can control a power amplifier.
 

restorer-john

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Good preamplifiers from the past were expensive because they had a hell of lot more precision components in them than a large power amplifier.

Comprehensive switching, tone and preamplification stages, excellent phono preamplifiers and sophisticated buffering, hand building and interboard wiring all cost lots of money.
 

tomchris

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Good preamplifiers from the past were expensive because they had a hell of lot more precision components in them than a large power amplifier.

Comprehensive switching, tone and preamplification stages, excellent phono preamplifiers and sophisticated buffering, hand building and interboard wiring all cost lots of money.

Yup. For example, here is the legendary Technics SU-A2 aka The Holy Grail from 1977, 38.5 kg exclusively built to order:
technics_su_a2_240-2.jpg

ce7c97ba4e2ab350ba67701d1eb15e6d.jpg
 
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Gringoaudio1

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How do you square that away with Amir saying, "Honestly, there is no way I could ever build you a preamp with this functionality and performance and sell it at this price."

There must be something in there that cost alot.
A few op amps and some switches and connectors such. Nothing to them. Even with a nice rotary digital control of an analog switch IC the design complexity pales compared to the cheapest DAC. Preamps are totally overpriced.
The antique Technics monster above is over the top.
And so-called ‘passive’ preamps just make me laugh.
 

restorer-john

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A few op amps and some switches and connectors such. Nothing to them. Even with a nice rotary digital control of an analog switch IC the design complexity pales compared to the cheapest DAC. Preamps are totally overpriced.
The antique Technics monster above is over the top...

:facepalm:
 

Gringoaudio1

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A basic preamp with a few sources to switch and a bit of gain is nothing to design and build. I’ve built my own. Like the Schitt. But add features and of course they get as complicated and as pricey as a reciever.
But try to manufacture anything and make a living from it and even the Schitt seems like a a reasonable price.
 

sprellemannen

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I owned this one for about 8 years


Then, quite by accident, I got a chance to play with a Benchmark LA4 and it actually sounded better. And yes, I did a blind test with 2 other people, our listening experiences matched 90%.
I know a Benchmark isn't really cheap either, but the Sovereign was 4 times as much.
I am sure LA4 is amazing.
 

JeffS7444

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Yup. For example, here is the legendary Technics SU-A2 aka The Holy Grail from 1977, 38.5 kg exclusively built to order:
Products like that may say more about the mindset of Japanese companies during the "bubble" years.
 

Roland68

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Products like that may say more about the mindset of Japanese companies during the "bubble" years.
Maybe you should take a closer look at this device with all its possibilities and functions before making such a statement. It was not a simple preamplifier for hi-fi freaks, but a professional work tool (stereo control amplifier) at the highest possible level.
Therefore, in 1977 the device also had a few standard functions such as a test signal generator with sine and square waves, signal tone, pink noise, a universal frequency response equalizer, peak value display instruments with a resolution of 0.00005 seconds, equalizer without coupling capacitor, switchable input sensitivities and impedances, pre-out with 1 -10V, complete class A structure, all inputs can be leveled individually, etc.
The complete operation of the device was only possible for professionals.
It is an unbelievable feat of engineering and development that has set standards.

Although the device was developed 45 years ago, its performance, e.g. distortion factor < 0.003%, noise figures etc. have only really been surpassed in the past few years.

The power amplifier SE-A1 also set standards, real 350W class A continuous power (20 - 20,000Hz) at 4 and 8 ohms/channel, damping factor 100 at 8 ohms, 275 watts input power in idle mode, nominal distortion factor 0.003% (at nominal power, 20 Hz - 20 kHz), signal-to-noise ratio 120dB, and a total harmonic distortion of 0.01% with a power bandwidth of 5Hz-100kHz (not only at 1kHz ;o).
That was 1977!
 

JeffS7444

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Maybe you should take a closer look at this device with all its possibilities and functions before making such a statement. It was not a simple preamplifier for hi-fi freaks, but a professional work tool (stereo control amplifier) at the highest possible level.
No, Panasonic's professional audio division was Ramsa, and if you needed a signal generator, there were many less expensive ways to get one.

As unlikely as it may seem, this extremely costly preamplifier was intended as a "statement" product, and I'm aware of no profession that needed it's particular set of features. Products like these were money-losers, but they brought prestige to the brand and helped to sell more ordinary products. Nakamichi, Sony and Kenwood/Trio also produced costly and exotic flagship products. In the automotive world, the 2000GT was Toyota's statement product in the 1960s, and around the same time, Mazda introduced their first Wankel-powered Cosmo sports car.

Japanese companies still produce "statement" products today, though they're generally much more modest in scope: Sony's Alpha 1 camera sells for a relatively modest 5999 USD. Some people purchase them to photograph the grandchildren.
 

Robin L

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My Topping L30 functions as both a headphone amp and a preamp. My Topping E30 DAC has three digital inputs, coax, USB and optical Toslink. I'm using the USB from the computer and coax for my BluRay player. The L30 has only set of stereo inputs, but I could increase the number of inputs with a switching box. I've got one of those, but don't use it. My L30 is hooked up to a Yamaha AVR, so I've got plenty of analog inputs. But a switchbox and the L30 should suffice as an analog preamp for very little money if one wants to connect it to a power amp. And many of the preamp's functions now come from the multi-input DAC and software on the computer..
 

DanielT

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Because preamp is something that most interests audiophiles and not the "regular" consumer of HiFi, audio equipment. And audiophiles, who can pay outrageously much for cables, can pay even more outrageously much money on a pre amp. Thus, there is a demand and with it comes a supply.

Note this is a hypothesis on my part. Maybe it could be so, but I do not know.:)
 

Steve Rogers

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If you look at a company like NAD which is good for value you can buy:

NAD C 165BEE pre amp for $1200 + NAD 268 power amp for $999
NAD 368 which is basically the 268 and a pre amp combined (and with a dac and bluetooth too) for $1200

The 368 even offers a stereo RCA preamp output for connecting a separate amplifier or powered subwoofer!!

Other companies are similar - you play a real premium for a pre amp as opposed to an intergrated or power amp with DAC (that can act as a pre as pointed out). It looks to me pre amps are a real rip off.
 
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billyjoebob

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If you look at a company like NAD which is good for value you can buy:

NAD C 165BEE pre amp for $1200 + NAD 268 power amp for $999
NAD 368 which is basically the 268 and a pre amp combined (and with a dac and bluetooth too) for $1200

The 368 even offers a stereo RCA preamp output for connecting a separate amplifier or powered subwoofer!!

Other companies are similar - you play a real premium for a pre amp as opposed to an intergrated or power amp with DAC (that can act as a pre as pointed out). It looks to me pre amps are a real rip off.
While many no longer use Pre amps, they certainly are NOT snake oil or rip offs!
As you stated, an integrated amp may be great for YOU!, but to generalize them as a rip off is short sighted.
There are reasons a pre amp makes sense and reasons an integrated amp makes sense.

I cannot make sense of the dislike of these peices of equipment.
If you don't like them, stick with whatever floats your boat!
 

RayDunzl

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Krell KCT

www.krellhifi.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Krell_KCT_Owners_Reference.pdf

1651853900007.png


Transformer and power supply regulators(?) with a row of caps and heat sinks on left

North/South rows of little black things are transistors

Blue things resistors, Orange thins are caps

Horizontal stuff with relays center right is Volume Control

White things toward the rear relays for switching inputs and directing the inputs to outputs (I guess)

Buttons on the left, input selection

Buttons less to the left Phase, 2 Output Zones, Mute

Knob on the right free spinning volume control, o/151 in the display

Buttons on right to get into the menu and make selections from rotating the volume knob

Nice blue LED front and center to upset some people and light the floor in front.

Styling matches amplifiers of that era

MSRP $8500 in early 2000's
 
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Steve Rogers

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While many no longer use Pre amps, they certainly are NOT snake oil or rip offs!
As you stated, an integrated amp may be great for YOU!, but to generalize them as a rip off is short sighted.
There are reasons a pre amp makes sense and reasons an integrated amp makes sense.

I cannot make sense of the dislike of these peices of equipment.
If you don't like them, stick with whatever floats your boat!i
I never said they are snake oil, and actually i would like one :) The price is the problem, considering Nad (as in my example) charges the same for an integrated, that can be used as a pre amp, as for a pre amp, i think i have a point.
 

billyjoebob

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I never said they are snake oil, and actually i would like one :) The price is the problem, considering Nad (as in my example) charges the same for an integrated, that can be used as a pre amp, as for a pre amp, i think i have a point.
Sorry I didn't mean to imply you did.
That was another users credit.
When you said they were a rip off, I just lumped them together.
 
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