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Reviewer: Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: PS Audio PWT; PS Audio PWD; Dr. Feickert Blackbird/DFA 1o5/Zu DL-103; Phasure NOS1 DAC [in for review]
Streaming sources: XXHighEnd; iTunes; Devialet AIR
Preamp/integrated/power: Tri TRV EQ3SE phonostage; Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Yarland FV 34 CIIISA; Qables iQube V1; Devialet D-Premier; Hypex Ncore 1200 based monoblocks; Trafomatic Kaivalya; Trafomatic Reference One [in for review]; Trafomatic Reference Phono One [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Arcadian Audio Pnoe; Vaessen Aquarius
Cables: complete loom of ASI LiveLine cables; full loom of Crystal Cable cables; Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201; Nanotec Golden Strada #207 [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec Power Controllers; PS Audio Powerplant Premier; PS Audio Humbuster III; Commino Powerline Harmonizer H 3.1 [in for review]
Equipment racks: ASI amplifier and TT shelf
Sundry accessories: Furutech DeMag; ClearAudio Double Matrix; Nanotec Nespa #1; Exact Audio Copy software; iPod; wood, brass, ceramic and aluminum cones and pyramids; Shakti Stones; Manley Skipjack; Blue Horizon footers [in for review]
Room treatment: Acoustic System International resonators, sugar cubes, diffusers
Room size: ca. 14.50 x 7.50m with a ceiling height of 3.50m, brick walls, wooden flooring upstairs, ca 7 x 5m with a ceiling height of 3.50m, brick walls and concrete floor downstairs.
Price of review item: €3.600

When we received the Trafomatic Reference Phono One reviewed here, it was accompanied by the matching preamplifier housed in the same metal casing with glossy paint and aluminum dashboard. Together with our also all-white Kaivalya monos and Grecian Pnoe horns, this combo was stunning proof that black audio gear is so passé. In the 70s of the previous century, black hifi kit was a rebellious statement against the wooden casings from even earlier decades. And never mind wood, black looked professional and cool.

Like blackness chic, preamplifiers too are on their way out at least in a certain way. That's because in the digital world there's technically no need for them. It's possible to attenuate a DAC's output signal in perfectly lossless fashion. Granted, lesser DACs routinely rely solely on digital attenuation as a tricky but imperfect way to diminish signal voltage. Digital attenuation strips bits to lower sound quality and causes severe fidelity loss when attenuation is high.

In such cases a good preamplifier remains appropriate. But now the term 'amplifier' is misleading. The incoming signal only needs to be made smaller. No gain is required at all though in all cases except for passives or designs which switch from passive to active mode, modern preamplifiers first add gain, then throw that gain away again plus attenuate below it i.e. below the incoming source signal voltage. In short, a modern preamp basically just needs to be a very good volume control. As long as we don't have international hifi standards for fixed 2Vrms source outputs and appropriate amplifier input sensitivities, we need dynamic level adjustments to match the outputs of various source components with various power amplifiers.