To Jeff Fritz,
Jeff, I enjoy SoundStage! Ultra’s strong opinions and clear editorial voice; thank you for producing a fine publication.
That said, I was disappointed by your review of the Simaudio 850P preamplifier. The review started with an interesting, very timely premise: the fact that a modern, high-quality, relatively moderately priced DAC (Wadia di322, $3500) makes the traditional preamplifier almost obsolete. Pretty soon, the only people who will truly need a traditional preamplifier are those with LP-based systems, especially true as new-generation DACs now accept HDMI output from universal disc players and cablevision controllers (Bryston BDA-3, for example, although I believe it lacks volume control.)
You mention in the review introduction that you now use your DAC as a substitute for a preamplifier, and wanted to see if the Simaudio could sway you back to the traditional approach. I felt like you punted on this interesting question, as very few of your comments directly compared the sound of the Simaudio vs. the Wadia DAC. During your discussion of Enya’s Dark Sky Island album, you indicated, “My room sounded and felt larger, more cavernous with the 850P than without it.” Fair enough, the Simaudio is better, but it also costs about nine times as much as the Wadia. Did the Simaudio improve the sound commensurate with its $30,000 price tag? Was the improvement created by the Simaudio roughly 5 to 10%, or more like 30 to 40%? How would these percentages fluctuate in a more “modest” priced system, one whose total cost is maybe 25 to 50 thousand dollars (which probably represents the majority of your audience, and a reasonable home for a $3500 DAC)? What does this say about the value proposition of a traditional preamplifier that costs almost as much as a nice, new car?
To my way of thinking, these are exponentially more interesting questions than how does a world-class traditional preamplifier costing $30,000 (Simaudio) compare to another world-class traditional preamplifier “only” costing $27,500 (Ayre), which earned three paragraphs of discussion. Candidly, the Simaudio/Ayre comparison was probably truly useful to a mere handful of people seriously considering this extravagant purchase and these two items, in particular. In contrast, DAC evolution, and a DAC’s ability to supersede a traditional preamplifier in even the loftiest of music reproduction systems, is of interest to almost ALL of your readers.
You’ve never shied away from politically charged debate before. I hope this rather milquetoast review is not indicative of a shift in editorial direction for the remainder of 2016.
Carey, thanks for reading, and the kind words. I’m happy to address your questions.
First, did the Simaudio sway me back to wanting a traditional preamplifier in my system? No, it did not. Without creating a blow-by-blow comparison in this response, suffice it to say that the Wadia directly driving my power amplifier was at least as satisfying as having the Simaudio inserted into the chain, all things considered. If the DAC can properly drive the power amp, and has a relatively transparent volume control -- like the Wadia -- inserting more circuitry and cabling into the system is not likely to improve things. That was the case here. I’m sticking to the DAC-direct approach, 100%.
As for the Ayre section, this was the most apples-to-apples comparison I could make. To a reader who is actually considering a preamp purchase of this magnitude, he’s probably also looked at the Ayre as well -- they are two of the best, both from topflight companies, etc. If someone needs a preamp with analog inputs, and is willing to spend $30,000 on the proposition, are they really also considering forgoing that purchase and buying a $3500 DAC instead? Not likely, hence the comparison I chose. The question of whether the reader would be better off with a DAC-based system is more the subject of an “Opinion” article. Thanks for the idea to write one of those.
Hope that fully answers your questions, but if not, please let me know. . . . Jeff Fritz