ZP-80 as a pre-amp?


Userlevel 2
Hi there,

I used to play with 1 ZP-80 connected digital with coax to my Classé SSP-30 processor and thrue my Classé CAV-75 to my Martin Logan Vignettes....
But now I have a pair of Avalon Avatars! 😃
I want to do more on the stereo side and let the Classé/Martin Logan strictly for dvd.
But I thought maybe this will work:
Is it possible to just buy a poweramp (Densen Beat B-320) and connect the ZP-80 directly to it? So the ZP-80 will work like a pre-amp...Does anyone overhere uses the ZP-80 as a pre-amp? Off course the fixed volume must be variable!!!
Please give your comments and/or advices...

Gr. Paul.

23 replies

Userlevel 2
You are using a digital out so your concept of the 80 being a pre-amp doesn't make sense to me. The digital out is a stream of 1's and 0's and has no inherent amplification as a pre, an integrated or a post. So no that doesn't work. A digital out is not an 'amplification' pre or otherwise.
Userlevel 2
You are using a digital out so your concept of the 80 being a pre-amp doesn't make sense to me. The digital out is a stream of 1's and 0's and has no inherent amplification as a pre, an integrated or a post. So no that doesn't work. A digital out is not an 'amplification' pre or otherwise.

I'm sorry: maybe I didn't explain it well enough.
I have new 2nd hand Avalon Avatars, in another room, now I want to buy a 2nd ZP-80 and connect that ZP-80 directly to the Densen B-320 power amp, so with NO pre-amp inbetween, but using the ZP-80 with variable output...
Will the ZP-80 work as a pre-amp this way? That was my question!
I already know the Densen B-320 has a switch at the back for high and low gain, that is helpful I guess?

Gr. Paul.
Pch,

The ZP80 was designed for situations like yours.

The gain setting on the amplifier is not critical. If the setting is wrong for your situation, the range of the ZP80's volume control will be awkward. By this I mean that the amplifier might get too loud at a relatively low setting of the SONOS volume control -- or not loud enough. Use the gain setting that seems to work best. If both settings work OK, flip a coin.
Userlevel 2
Buzz - I've got no problem about learning a new lesson whatsoever but you are telling me a zp*80* not a 100 thru a *digital* out is going to be capable of driving a power amp with no pre?


Am
Amnesia,

The ZP80 has both optical and coax digital outputs and an analog output. All outputs will respond to the ZP80's volume control if the ZP80's Line-Out is set to "variable". Any or all of these outputs can simultaneously be connected to an appropriate power amplifier input. Relatively few power amplifiers have digital inputs, virtually all power amplifiers have analog inputs.

You can not directly connect loudspeakers to a ZP80.
Userlevel 2
Hi Buzz,

Great to hear it will work fine with the ZP-80 connected directly to a power-amp! 🙂

Another question: I know with variable digital out when you change volume the bits must be recalculated again and again each time you change volume, only when you have the volume at maximum, the bits are perfect (the same as the "fixed" setting), correct? But what happens with the analog outputs? Is there something else happening when you change volume, I mean: I can't set the volume the highest to get the best bits connected to a power-amp: it would blow you away I guess....

Gr. Paul.
Userlevel 2
If you are in a digital out environment you want to have that at max before it gets to the amplification stage or as you reference, the scaling may not be so good.

I'm a bit lost on the 80 straight into a power amp scenario. Densen do pre, powers and integrated amplifiers. If pre's were not required there would be no pre's and no integrateds and I don't think that just applies to phono stages. Could be wrong, never afraid to make a mistake so whatever but I can't believe a man running Classe's, Avalons, Densens and all the rest is going to be happy with the analogue out of the Sonos 80 straight out. You're running serious kit - surely you want a digital out into a dac, into a pre into a power?
I'm a bit lost on the 80 straight into a power amp scenario. Densen do pre, powers and integrated amplifiers. If pre's were not required there would be no pre's and no integrateds and I don't think that just applies to phono stages. Generally speaking, you are correct here. That is becuase nearly all source components have no volume control. So plug your CD player, tape deck, phono etc directly into a power amp and you have 100% volume. So you need some kind of attenuation - hence the need for either integrated or pre amps. Traditionally, you also need source switching as well. Hence the whole pre/integrated need.

Sonos however has integrated volume control, so this fills (at least some of) the role of a pre. So technically, you can plug a ZP directly into a power amp and control the volume.

I personally prefer using preamps, and if you're a purist, you would need volume control after the ZP80, digital out, DAC, rather than modifying the bitstream. When using analog, the Sonos volume attenuation will perform well (although I'd still favour the pre/power approach).

db
Userlevel 2
Plus, I'm presuming someone running many thousands of dollars worth of amp and speakers should be somewhat choosy about using the analogue output of a Sonos incorporating the Sonos DAC and audio out which costs, being generous, only a few 10's of dollars each? Sonos is a beautifully neat piece of digital delivery. My ZP100 into a little pair of Monitor Audio Radius's is as sweet as a nut and I'm loving mine but its DAC conversion and analogue stages into *serious* hifi? Most people would query that quite heavily I would have thought?

By the way IANALA (I am not a loony audiophile) - I spent years working with bands in expensive studios and pro-audio environments. I still wince when I read some of the absolute *#&! about multi-hundred / thousand dollar unbalanced cables and interconnects and all the rest of that audiophile crap. Just wanted to make sure no-one misunderstood me motivations 🙂
Userlevel 2
Hi there!
Off course I will be upgrading in the future, but what I wanted to know if for the time being this will work, because I 1st have to pay those Avalons and power-amp (and 2nd ZP-80 off course), after that I'm bankrupt some time... 😉
Next will be the Densen B-200 pre-amp and some external DAC....

Gr. Paul.
I don't want to write a book, but let's talk about a few Audio 101 points.

In the analog domain there are three general classes of signals: Phono, Line Level, and speaker level.

Phono signals from a traditional turntable using a magnetic or moving coil cartridge are very weak and have been preemphasized. "Preemphasis" is a technique for managing noise and intrinsic physical issues. For records, the highs are boosted and the bass is reduced during the record cutting process and a complimentary cut and boost is applied during playback. Over the years various amounts of preemphasis have been used. This is mostly an issue for 78 collectors because moden records use the RIAA preemphasis. More detail is available in a Wikipedia article.

The bottom line for phono is that special amplifcation and equalization must be applied to the signal from the turntable. Either as a separate box or built into the unit we use a "preamplifier" to apply the extra gain and equalization. The output of a preamplifier section is at line level.

"Line level" signals are descriptive of every input signal except phono. There are various devices such as CD Players, Tuners, Cassette Decks. VCR's, Video Games, Satellite Receivers, the SONOS Line-Out, etc. Other than the label on the button, inputs servicing these devices are identical. Line level inputs are not equalized and are usually described as having a "flat" frequency response.

Just to confuse everyone, we typically call the control center a "preamp". The control center has all of the traditional knobs such as the input selector, tone controls, volume control, balance, etc. When someone mentions "preamp" one cannot be sure if the box is a full control center or simply a little box between a turntable and something else.

"Power Amplifiers" simply add the muscle to drive loudspeakers. Typically the only control is the power switch. Power amplfier inputs opereate at line level.

An integrated amplifier straps the control function and the power amplifier together in one box.

---

With the above in mind, modern systems are ignoring records and the Phono function is fading and everything operates at line level. This means that our control center (call it a "preamp" if you like) is providing only the input selection and volume control functions. If there is some means for adjusting the volume on a line level device such as a CD player or SONOS Line-Out, the devcice can be connected directly to a power amplifier and the control center (preamp) can be eliminated.

---

Over the years I have shocked and amused many listeners by connecting CD players directly to a power amplifier. (Either the power amplifier or the CD player must incorporate a volume control or the result is ... awkward) The sound improvement is amazing. Even world class control centers (preamps) tarnish the sound a bit.

Lately, the high end community has been offering "passive" preamplifiers that contain a selector switch and a volume control without any electronics. The theory being that without any electronics, the box cannot damage the sound. Unfortunately, this is not strictly true, but this is a subject for Audio 401.
Good points Buzz. However at least one component needs to manage the attenuation - either the source component, or a preamp. Either will degrade the sound quality - it then becomes a question of which 'interferes' less. As a general rule I agree - the less links in the chain the better. Although more 'good' links are better than fewer 'bad' links. The old addage 'you get what you pay for' usually holds true. A $100 everything integrated amp, will not compete with top quality separates (DAC, pre, power amp etc).

Amnesia's point about where to place the DAC is valid too (ie which DAC do you use). Sonos is a wonderful piece of kit, and punches above it's weight - the DAC (and amp in ZP100) performs better than the price would suggest. But it can't outmuscle high end gear.

However, coming back to the original question - yes, the planned approach is good and provides an upgrade path. Hooking the analog outputs directly to a power amp will work just fine. Later, if Pch wants to add components (DAC, preamp, biamping, other sources etc), there are no throw away components - you still need the ZP80 and power amp.

Yep, the word 'preamp' is not somewhat redundant nowadays, as there is usually no preamplification at all (unless it has a phono stage - increasingly rare). These days they tend to be purely source control, volume control, balance and sometimes include the DAC stage, multichannel management, equalizers and lots of pretty flashing lights etc etc

db
Userlevel 2
I can see there's some significant expertise in these comments so I proceed carefully as a result. My only residual comment is that as DB says, the conversion and attenuation / control has to happen somewhere and while the Sonos is great, powering a multi-thousand dollar amp and multi-thousand dollar speaker arrangement as in Pch's enviable set-up from the DAC in the zp80 and its analague outs is a chronic down-spike in the quality chain *relative* to everything else in the quality chain. If you are spending all that money on kit, presumably you care about the quality of the sound.... If it's digi out then it needs a high quality DAC somewhere and as Buzz's earlier post says, that's not likely to exist in the power amp. Nor indeed is it that likely that we have power amps where, in practice, we don't need multi input and switching although it's possible. We'll leave aside for now the possibility for valve pre-amps and tone coloration.

All I'm really saying is that doing a ZP80 into this setup appears to me to be having the best quality ingredients in the world (the digital delivery), being produced to table by a very up market amp and speakers but significantly compromised if the D/A conversion and analogue out is done on a Sonos 80. Seriously, how much do those two sections cost - literally and no joke, a few tens of dollars for the D/A and the analogue outs. You can't have such a downwardly biased sound-production mid phase and not get questioned for putting it into such an expensive amp and speakers. Fortunately Pch is flagging a future DAC purchase which shows the intention to address this. I just didn't want anyone to walk away and think that this was a good ultimate setup cos it's not. ZP80 analogue out to multi-thousand dollar power amp into multi-thousand dollar speakers is not a good end setup as far as I can see.
I think Pch is simply saying he/she can't justify $$$$$ in one hit. Buy the power amp now, and look at adding a nice DAC etc later. Seems reasonable to me. Rather than buying everything at once, but lower quality overall.

If that's the plan, I agree that the ZP80 analog into a nice power amp will yield top quality results.

BTW - I rate the onboard DAC in the zps fairly highly. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss them.

db
Userlevel 2
Well I think we're all agreeing then. By the way I don't not rate the Sonos kit at all. It's rocking the socks in my place. If you'd somehow told me what the sound quality of the 100 into the Monitor Audio little Radius 90's I've got would be, I simply wouldn't have believed it.
Userlevel 2
An interesting read. I'm no audiofile, but I like my audio to be proper. To get a good-sounding setup I think you need to follow some simple rules and spend a moderately big amount of money (but spending anything near ten thousand dollars, in my mind, is completely pointless).

I'd just like to comment on the DAC in the zp80. Before getting my Sonos system, I used the highly regareded NAD C525BEE CD-player (retailing in Norway at about 420$). Switching the CD-player with the zp80, the sound quality -- at least in my ears -- improved!

On the other hand, when I bbriefly tried connecting the zp80 directly to the power stage of my NAD integrated amp (skipping the pre amp), I noticed a subjective loss of sound-quality... Which logically makes absolutely no sense... No, I think I should change the setup again and give it a serious comparative listen. I can't be right.
Userlevel 2
hi
I have been using a set of zp80's as pre amps on everything including:
- bose multimedia speakers
- bose lifestyle poweramp only (sub and speakers attached of course, but no pre amp or music centre in bose' case)
- peavey pa amp - direct to power amp input, bypassing all preamp and equalisers etc
All these work great and eliminate the hiss and equalisation issues you get with pre-amps.
gratson

On the other hand, when I bbriefly tried connecting the zp80 directly to the power stage of my NAD integrated amp (skipping the pre amp), I noticed a subjective loss of sound-quality... Which logically makes absolutely no sense... No, I think I should change the setup again and give it a serious comparative listen. I can't be right.


Don't assume that mother nature plays fair. Only you know what sounds best -- for you. Things that sound great to 99.9% of the audience might not sound great to you. This is fine. If this is the case, the only significance is that our little "rules" that we find useful in predicting what might sound better or best don't apply in your case.

As a possible explaination of what happened in your brief trial at eliminating the control section of your NAD, two possible issues come to mind.

First, you had to unplug or switch something to use the alternate path through your NAD. It is possible that there is (or was) a dirty contact along that path that caused trouble. The simple act of switching or plugging and unplugging a few times might clean the contacts and add to your confusion because the next time that you try this arrangement, things might sound better.

In my opinion at least half of the magic associated with new cables is due to the accidental cleaning of the connections as the new cable is swapped for the old.

Second, and lets be a little perverse, assume that the control section of your integrated amplifier adds a little noise and distortion. Obviously, this noise and distortion is eliminated when you patch the ZP80 directly to the power amplifier stage. If this noise and distortion adds a characteristic that you like, then eliminating it is a step in the wrong direction -- for your tastes.

Technicians who service old guitar amplifiers must be careful to maintain the original sound of the unit. From an audiophile perspective those old tube units are noisy, distorted, and may have a very strange frequency response. If the technician "fixes" these problems, he will be faced with an irate customer who may express the ire in a physical way because the original sound of the instrument will be lost.

---

If I think "A" sounds better and you think that "B" sounds better, we are both correct. Assuming that I have a little more experience in these matters, I may be able to suggest techniques that will improve "B" a little, but you'll need to tell me if these suggestions actually result in better sound -- for you.

Second, and lets be a little perverse, assume that the control section of your integrated amplifier adds a little noise and distortion. Obviously, this noise and distortion is eliminated when you patch the ZP80 directly to the power amplifier stage. If this noise and distortion adds a characteristic that you like, then eliminating it is a step in the wrong direction -- for your tastes.


I exemplify the above comment (does this make me perverse?). Everything in audio changed for me when I started using high-gain tube preamps with transformers. They can add beautiful harmonic richness in the bass region. I concede it is "distortion" perhaps by definition, but it is a kind of distortion that I like.

There are other benefits to this kind of preamplifier, perhaps subjective, but worthy of an audition if you are inclined.
mrask,

I'm not throwing your gear and the vintage guitar amps in the same bin.

On numerous occasions I've had owners of low end department store branded equipment demonstrate to me how great the sound is and how much better it becomes when they set the Bass and Treble to max. They dislike our high end equipment because the Bass and Treble controls are not as aggressive.

I really do believe that everyone should do their own thing and everyone is right about what sounds best to them, but I'll admit that I sometimes I do need to bite my tongue.

I'm not so docile when I run into claims that defy proven laws of physics.

---

As an aside, no one ever wins the tube sounds better than transistor shootout. My dog will always be better than your dog.
Userlevel 2
"Technicians who service old guitar amplifiers must be careful to maintain the original sound of the unit. From an audiophile perspective those old tube units are noisy, distorted, and may have a very strange frequency response. If the technician "fixes" these problems, he will be faced with an irate customer who may express the ire in a physical way because the original sound of the instrument will be lost."

As someone who has played guitar through a range of valve amps for 20 odd years (Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Soldano) I can tell you that that problem is a right p.i.t.t. All valves have a finite lifetime and over long periods of time there have been valve shortages / mis-matches and people will go to extraordinary lengths at the top end of the market to source vintage unused valves.

Which sounds better, transistor or valve and who 'wins'. Well since I'm feeling glass half-full (hey! my glass is quarter-full of a rather nice Shiraz!) I'd say everyone wins. Other people's opinions and experience are about giving you listening options and things to investigate but there's only one person who hears music like you do and that's you. If it sounds better to you, despite what everyone else writes, then it *is* better (although it is sometimes worth perservering with something if your ear gets educated to follow a new profile).

What is particularly true is that all hi-fi is coloured to a certain extent particularly speakers. If you ever go to a music studio and watch them mixing the track, you'll find all the detail work being done on bookshelf sized monitors which sound like absolute *&!@ to you such as the infamous NS10's. This is because they need to be as flat and transparent as possible. You would never listen to music at home on these because it wouldn't be a very pleasant experience. Speaker manufacturers for our hi-fi colour stuff up through the cones, the cabinet, the voicings the whole lot. Pre's and powers for a lot of manufacturers the same.

But a pre in the chain introducing audible hiss doesn't sound right to me. At any mid level up (I'm a Cyrus-based guy so I class myself here) you shouldn't be able to hear a dickybird.
mrask,

I'm not throwing your gear and the vintage guitar amps in the same bin.

On numerous occasions I've had owners of low end department store branded equipment demonstrate to me how great the sound is and how much better it becomes when they set the Bass and Treble to max. They dislike our high end equipment because the Bass and Treble controls are not as aggressive.

I really do believe that everyone should do their own thing and everyone is right about what sounds best to them, but I'll admit that I sometimes I do need to bite my tongue.

I'm not so docile when I run into claims that defy proven laws of physics.

---

As an aside, no one ever wins the tube sounds better than transistor shootout. My dog will always be better than your dog.


Howdy Buzz, I was in agreement with your comments and pointing out that the reader may want to try a particular type (and particularly delicious and seductive form) of "distortion". It's not only fun to try different gear, but it helps one discern what they can live with, and what they most enjoy.

The original poster was asking whether he should use the ZP80 line outputs to drive his amp. My perspective is that using a good preamplifier adds a dimension to the sound not found in the ZP80. The original poster can choose to explore that or not 😃
Userlevel 2

The original poster was asking whether he should use the ZP80 line outputs to drive his amp. My perspective is that using a good preamplifier adds a dimension to the sound not found in the ZP80. The original poster can choose to explore that or not :D


Hi there, if you have read I just asked if it would work for the time being! Off course I know that a pre-amp and good DAC will make it just better...Don't have the money to buy it all at once, that's all!

Gr. PAul.

Reply