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Why some preamps are more expensive than others

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СообщениеДобавлено: Вс Май 30, 2010 2:04 pm    Заголовок сообщения: Why some preamps are more expensive than others Ответить с цитатой

The reasons why one preamp would be more expensive than another are pretty much the same reasons one automobile is more costly than another; better parts, hand made, and sometimes, its desirability born of myth and legend. The question is, is more expensive always better? Answer; usually but first, lets talk about what goes into making a high-end preamp.

To build a sonically superior product, it requires expensive parts and labor-intensive wiring techniques, which makes them very expensive to build. For example, some designers feel that transformers in the input stage add noise and signal degradation, yet many expensive tube preamps use a transformer in the input stage. Vacuum tube designs can be built without transformers, although it is more difficult than building a transformerless solid-state device, and there are significant tradeoffs. Some preamp makers concluded that the best performance could be obtained with a design utilizing transformers, although the cost of superior transformers is very high. (Mediocre quality transformers can ruin good sound; they ring, round off the waveforms, introduce phase shift, saturate at low levels, and color the sound with uneven frequency response.) Some manufacturers have transformers custom made for them. Transformers are also used in the power supply, which is the heart of any audio device. Correct power supply and signal grounding is a prerequisite to high fidelity audio performance. Relating to autos again, a cheap power supply is like putting regular fuel into a Formula One Ferrari. (Yes, It'll still go faster than a 1948 Wombat, but the performance will not be what it could or should be.)

As stated earlier, wiring is also a reason for expense. Certain materials are better conductors of electricity, the best conductor being gold. High-end preamps will use gold-plated connectors and sealed, gold-contact precision relays for switching in the audio path. Also, the wiring itself will be point-to-point, meaning that no printed circuit boards are used. Keep in mind, that in terms of design philosophy, the best preamp is a straight wire with gain. Point to point wiring means a shorter more direct signal path. This requires hand wiring which is naturally going to be more expensive in labor costs. It also takes more time than having a machine stamp out the parts, so each individual unit has to be priced higher if a company can only produce 1 unit every four hours as opposed to 10 cheaper units made in the same amount of time.

The quality of parts used also plays an important role in the price of a unit. Another thing to keep in mind, is that electronic parts are chosen based on the sound that they impart to a signal. For example, a an overdriven tube adds low frequency content, (distortion) which we've come to associate with a 'warm' sound. Over saturated transistors (solid state) produce third order harmonics, which can produce a more stringent or scratchy sound. Of course, this is based on the overall circuit design and how transistors are used. (Rupert Neve has designed some of the most desired preamps in recording, which are solid state.)

The quality of passive components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, connectors, and even solder, have significant effects on sonic quality. Capacitors have perhaps the most significant impact on signal purity. Electrolytic capacitors have poor temperature stability, high dielectric absorption, wide tolerance and a relatively short life span. By contrast, film capacitors have dramatically less dielectric absorption than even the best electrolytic capacitors, which result in improved transient performance, enhanced spatial accuracy and low frequency realism. (Guess which one is more expensive? No, really, see if you guess...)

People who design preamps seem to take all this stuff seriously. In the end, more you usually get what you pay for. That doesn't mean that we believe less expensive preamps to not have a great deal of worth. Not only will they add a different color to your arsenal, many of them sound truly great! You really need to rely on your ears, and the ears of other trained professionals. Learn what you can, listen to as many models as possible and consult with those who know. Then, enjoy your preamp(s)!
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