In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

General HiFi discussion, using the Tune Method to evaluate performance

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In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Ceilidh » 2008-11-18 01:01

Hello Everyone!

1) Adding a Kinos to a Unidisk SC

Those of you who've been here for a while might remember that I (or more accurately, my parents) went Aktiv a year ago with Ninkas + C5100 + Unidisk SC.....with completely and utterly underwhelming results: we were expecting the heavens to open upon inserting Aktiv cards into the Chakra amps (after having read everyone else's accounts of how wondrous an Aktiv system sounds), but instead we heard very little difference at all -- a big surprise, and a big disappointment! :D

Well, to fast forward a year: thanks to the ongoing collapse of used audio prices (amidst the general financial crisis going on around us), we now have an ex-Dem Kinos (for less than the retail price of a new Classik Music, which is just amazing....). And when we inserted the Kinos into the system (bypassing the Unidisk SC's internal preamp, running the SC's "TV Out" fixed analog outputs to the Kinos, and using the Kinos as a simple 2-channel preamplifier), we suddenly experienced all the improvements that we thought we were going to get by going Aktiv:

1) TuneDem: even simple melodies sound sweeter and happier / sadder / more poignant / more invigorating / etc., etc. -- basically whatever the composer and performers had in mind, there's much more of it!

2) Dense "difficult" music that hitherto sounded like unpleasant noise (e.g., Linn Record's recording of Spem in Alium**) now sound like music: we can now (easily) hear the individual voices and sub-melodies criss-crossing within what used to be massive strident chords.

(** - This motet has 40 parts(!) -- i.e., there are 40 independent vocal lines, all of which sound simultaneously in the forte sections.)

3) More instruments are suddenly noticeable, as are grace notes, fast ornaments, subtle bowings, inflections and attacks -- all the little things that help make a great performer better than his/her peers.

4) The bass is much, much stronger and louder (which was a big surprise -- why should this happen?).

5) It's become more enjoyable to listen at very low volumes (i.e., if we have to turn things way down because people have gone to bed, it's still possible to really hear the music).

In short, adding a Kinos to a Unidisk SC system causes a big step up in overall system performance -- not in terms of power or slam or sound or anything like that, but in musical enjoyment and nuance. It's really a pleasant change! :D


2) A Reflection on Aktiv / Passive

We're not going to be doing the experiment anytime soon (the Ninkas are long gone, having been replaced by Espeks), but I suspect that if I were to try comparing Aktiv vs. Passive Ninkas on the system as it now stands, I'd probably hear a notable difference. Or to put it another way:

Our experience over this past year suggests that the limiting factor in a Unidisk + Biamp Chakra + Ninka system is not the amplification, but the preamp. A passive Chakra, when biamping the relatively simple 2-way Ninkas, appears to drive things well enough to reveal what the Unidisk SC (on its own) is able to put out. Going Aktiv thus (we're guessing) doesn't necessarily add very much in Tune Dem terms -- though it might help with low bass and/or with highly dynamic music played at higher volumes (which we don't listen to very much of). For Aktiv to have more of an effect, there has to be more musical information coming into the amplifier -- which a good preamp (like the Kinos) can provide. So in a way our experience last year might have been a backhanded confirmation of Source First (or maybe Control First!).


3) A Quizzical General Question (or three):

Why do analog preamps have this effect on system performance? Dozens of folks on the various Linn-related forums all rave about the Klimax Kontrol preamp, and after hearing what a Kinos does to my parents' system, I can well believe the effect. But what exactly is a good preamp doing? Is it simply causing less degradation to the source signal (i.e., is it a matter of "the best preamp is a straight wire with gain")? Or does a good preamp do more than would a "straight wire with gain" -- does it somehow buffer the source component from the amplifier, so that whatever the loudspeaker is trying to throw into the electrical system winds up having no deleterious effect on the source? Or is there something more subtle going on?

In a related vein, what is the Kinos doing? All it's doing is routing a simple 2-channel input signal to a pair of outputs -- and yet after an hour of operation, the Kinos is by far the warmest thing in the equipment rack (warmer by far than the Unidisk or Chakra). Presumably there's a lot of circuitry at work there - but what is it?

And finally, why did Linn pair a nice source (the Unidisk SC's disc section) with a preamp that (apparently) limits the overall system performance? Is it a matter of cost? Or is it because our SC is a very early model (2005), and later SC preamp sections became better?


Anyway, I'm now a convert to the better-preamps-are-worth-investigating camp! Many congrats to those of you with the Klimax Kontrol! (And best wishes to Mr. Lejonklou with the Kikkin!)

All best,
-C

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by lejonklou » 2008-11-18 23:04

Ceilidh wrote:what exactly is a good preamp doing?
is it a matter of "the best preamp is a straight wire with gain"
Thanks for the report. I agree that it's fascinating preamps can make such big differences. My view on what a preamp does is this:

1. It receives the signal at the input stage.
2. It switches between different inputs. This can be done before or after number 1. In the Kikkin this step is excluded.
3. It adjusts the signal strength.
4. It has an output stage that drives the cable and the power amp(s).

Theoretically (not necessarily in real life), if you have a good output stage in the source and a good input stage in the power amp, the best quality will be achieved by simply connecting them to eachother directly. This is equivalent to listening to volume 80 on your SC or Kinos. If you have a record which you can listen to at this volume, please try the direct connection and tell us what you think (but first try it with the preamp at 80!).

The most difficult task for the preamp is, in my opionon, to control the signal strength without loss of quality. Most of the time you will likely be listening at a lower level than 80, which means the preamp is not amplifying the signal strength, it's reducing it.

At volume 1 in your Kinos, the signal will be attenuated (reduced) by 79 dB. That's almost 9000 times weaker than the signal your feeding into the power amp.

Above volume 80, the signal will be amplified. At volume 100 it's amplified by 20 dB, which is 10 times stronger than the input signal.

Making a volume control that sounds good on all levels in between these extremes is a challenge, because you can't optimise the circuitry for a given signal strength.

The input and output circuits are difficult too, but those are challenges that appear in other parts of the HiFi system, not just in the preamp. The switching is also bound to decrease quality. Can't say much about that, other than that each transition from one conductor to the next (whether they be solid state as in a chip or mechanical as in a switch or a connector) causes a reduction of quality. I don't really understand how most of that works in detail, but with trial and error one can try to make the degradation as small as possible.


An odd thing in HiFi systems is that the power amps amplify the signal by a fixed amount (in Linns models it's always been 27 times). This means that on volume settings less than 80, you are actually reducing the signal strength in the preamp and then increasing it in the power amp. This is probably not the best way to optimise quality in the system, but it's a standard in the industry. My last power amp proto had an amplification of 10 times, but it could be designed differently - and perhaps better - with zero gain.

But the effect for the HiFi enthusiast at home would be that the preamp had to be turned up more. Your Kinos at max volume (100) would then sound as loud as you are now experiencing at volume 71. Even if that would be ok for some people, it's likely that the Kinos (and most other preamps too) sounds worse at 100 than it does at 71, so the end result could still be worse. The only way would then be to make a new kind of preamp to match the new kind of poweramp. And you'd have to use them together.

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-19 17:31

Ceilidh wrote: And finally, why did Linn pair a nice source (the Unidisk SC's disc section) with a preamp that (apparently) limits the overall system performance? Is it a matter of cost? Or is it because our SC is a very early model (2005), and later SC preamp sections became better?
First, the result adding a Kinos only indicate source first is valid!

To answer your question, why are you assuming the pre limit the SC performance?
I suggest you test using a DS (any model will do) into the Kinos :D
Pretty sure you going to post a LONG reply with WOW WOW WOOOW :wink:
Remember source first.
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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Ceilidh » 2008-11-19 18:26

Mr. Lejonklou, thank you for the comments & reply -- I owe you a response, but for now let me quickly address Music Lover's post:
Music Lover wrote:
Ceilidh wrote: And finally, why did Linn pair a nice source (the Unidisk SC's disc section) with a preamp that (apparently) limits the overall system performance? Is it a matter of cost? Or is it because our SC is a very early model (2005), and later SC preamp sections became better?
First, the result adding a Kinos only indicate source first is valid!

To answer your question, why are you assuming the pre limit the SC performance?
I suggest you test using a DS (any model will do) into the Kinos :D
Pretty sure you going to post a LONG reply with WOW WOW WOOOW :wink:
Remember source first.
Hi Music Lover,

I'm not sure if my experience has much bearing on Source First, one way or another, as I didn't alter the source. But regarding why I think the Preamp limits the SC's performance:

Everything in the system was the same before and after, save the Preamp and associated Linn Silver interconnect. (i.e., same source (Unidisk SC), same amplifier, same speakers, cables, terminations, etc.) The only change was that we replaced the analog Preamp portion of the Unidisk SC with the analog Preamp portion of the Kinos. As system performance significantly improved with this change, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Preamp portion of the SC was a constraint on the overall performance of our system.

As for whether a Source change might cause a bigger step up: that's something I look forward to trying someday (when DS units begin to appear on the used equipment market).

Apologies if my post was misleading, and no attack intended against Source First. :D

Cheers,

-C

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-19 18:43

Ceilidh wrote: Apologies if my post was misleading, and no attack intended against Source First. :D

Cheers,

-C
No worries Ceilidh, that was not how I read your post.
Definitely not misleading at all. :)
But as the playback system is VERY good, any upgrade in the source/pre going to make big increase in performance.
Been there done that :mrgreen:
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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Ceilidh » 2008-11-19 18:54

Music Lover wrote: But as the playback system is VERY good, any upgrade in the source/pre going to make big increase in performance.
Been there done that :mrgreen:
Yes, I look forward to being "been there done that" with a better source someday! :D Before the DS units began coming out, Source improvements beyond the Ikemi/Majik/UniSC level seemed pretty financially daunting -- but if a Majik DS really outperforms an Akurate CD / Uni1.1, then the used equipment market will be very exciting (to yours truly) in a couple of years. (I can hardly wait!)

-C

P.S. -- I never thanked you for the Los Impossibles recommendation: much appreciated!

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Post by Charlie1 » 2008-11-19 20:01

Fredrik wrote:The most difficult task for the preamp is, in my opionon, to control the signal strength without loss of quality. Most of the time you will likely be listening at a lower level than 80, which means the preamp is not amplifying the signal strength, it's reducing it.

At volume 1 in your Kinos, the signal will be attenuated (reduced) by 79 dB. That's almost 9000 times weaker than the signal your feeding into the power amp.

Above volume 80, the signal will be amplified. At volume 100 it's amplified by 20 dB, which is 10 times stronger than the input signal.

Making a volume control that sounds good on all levels in between these extremes is a challenge, because you can't optimise the circuitry for a given signal strength.
I didn't know any of this and was surprised to read that the pre-amp has to reduce the signal by so much. Do you think this is why music often sounds better at a mid to high volume setting than a low setting or is it just one of many factors contributing to this?

Also, if like myself you have to listen to music mostly at very low volume (approx '30' on a KK1) then it sounds to me that a very good pre-amp can make a LOT of difference to your enjoyment - from what you're saying.

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Post by lejonklou » 2008-11-19 22:35

I'd say it's just one of many factors contributing to why it's less fun listening at low levels.

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-20 07:16

Ceilidh wrote: P.S. -- I never thanked you for the Los Impossibles recommendation: much appreciated!
You're welcomed. I’m glad you liked it. Did you get the album with the DVD included?
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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by ThomasOK » 2008-11-20 19:07

lejonklou wrote:The most difficult task for the preamp is, in my opionon, to control the signal strength without loss of quality. Most of the time you will likely be listening at a lower level than 80, which means the preamp is not amplifying the signal strength, it's reducing it.
This makes me wonder about the change in volume setting on the new Klimax Kontrol vs. the older one. Linn have set the unity gain on the updated Klimax Kontrol at 80 instead of the 90 the original KK was set at. They have said this is to better integrate with other Linn products where the 80 unity gain setting has been the norm (as you mentioned). This makes me wonder if the choice was really made to better match other units or because the volume control is more linear in the range around 60 than it is around 70? Any thoughts on that?

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Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-20 21:04

If I have to guess...I think the old KK was sounding better with the old unity gain. Now Linn can do better AND do that without offsetting the gain.

Regardless, I like the idea being able playing louder! :mrgreen:
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Post by lejonklou » 2008-11-20 22:17

I guess the same as ML does.

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Post by ThomasOK » 2008-11-20 23:07

That would have been my guess as well which is why I brought it up.
Music Lover wrote:Regardless, I like the idea being able playing louder! :mrgreen:
You want to play it louder?! 84 on my original KK is almost enough to make your ears bleed with my ATCs. I don't want to think of what it will do at 84 on the upgraded one! :shock:

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Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-21 06:44

The better it is, the more you like to crank it up.
And if it's a live concert (CD or DVD) I sometimes play it above 90 today.
That is not THAT loud actually so little more headroom should be great.
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Post by cremona » 2008-11-21 10:04

Its interresting that 50 on my new control is louder then majik ds owen digital volume reduction at 50.

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Post by ThomasOK » 2008-11-21 18:19

I can recall having cranked it up into the 90s once in a while when I had Aktiv Isobariks so I can understand your point. I think the ATCs have a more sensitive input than a Linn amp so I don't run it quite as high.

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Post by Music Lover » 2008-11-21 19:58

ThomasOK wrote:I can recall having cranked it up into the 90s once in a while when I had Aktiv Isobariks so I can understand your point. I think the ATCs have a more sensitive input than a Linn amp so I don't run it quite as high.
yeah, that make sense...
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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by dasher » 2016-03-16 23:33

Hi all

Firstly my apologies for resurrecting this thread but I need some advice. I've used my USC just as described in the thread - disabling the USC preamp by using 'TV out' for some time now and going into a 2-channel input on the Kinos. However,since the acquisition of a Klimax DS/1 Renew my only real need for the USC is to replay multichannel SACD. SACD can of course only be output in analogue. Does anyone know if (a) it is possible to run 'analogue 5.1 out' from the USC in some form of Unity Gain Mode - i.e. SACD 5.1 analogue out but bypassing the USC preamp? and (b) if so then how do you do it!!

Thanks!

David

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by stefan » 2016-03-18 15:32

dasher wrote:Hi all

Firstly my apologies for resurrecting this thread but I need some advice. I've used my USC just as described in the thread - disabling the USC preamp by using 'TV out' for some time now and going into a 2-channel input on the Kinos. However,since the acquisition of a Klimax DS/1 Renew my only real need for the USC is to replay multichannel SACD. SACD can of course only be output in analogue. Does anyone know if (a) it is possible to run 'analogue 5.1 out' from the USC in some form of Unity Gain Mode - i.e. SACD 5.1 analogue out but bypassing the USC preamp? and (b) if so then how do you do it!!

Thanks!

David
KNEKT MODE set to SOURCE in user options disables the preamp in SC so it will act as a disc player only. I assume you then get fixed levels on the 5.1 outputs.

TV out will give a fixed level regardless of this setting but if you use it as a disc player only I recommend disabling as it will sound better. I had this myself, SC to Kinos together with DS and used this setting. I did use TV out since I have 2-channel so I never tried the 5.1 outputs in this mode, hence the assumption.

Regards/Stefan

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by rowlandhills » 2016-03-18 15:37

I'd also recommend keeping an eye out for a Unidisc 2.1 or 1.1 and selling the SC. 2.1s and 1.1s have been pretty cheap recently on eBay etc.
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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by dasher » 2016-03-22 20:23

Thanks Stefan
For some reason I was thinking that the Knekt and Source option had to be used with TV out and was therefore only a two channel output. I've been pleased to discover that this is not the case and the USC is now acting as a SACD transport feeding analogue 5.1 to the Kinos and Bypassing the USC pre-amp. I'm sat here listening to my 'go-to' 5.1 SACD E.S.T's Tuesday Wonderland (actually in 5.0 as I have removed the sub) - USC>Kinos>3xAV 5125>Aktiv Espeks Aktiv Eklaw and passive Katans as the surround - simply stunning! The Klimax DS cannot replicate this!!

David

Hi Rowland

I have a spare set of lasers and mechanisms for the USC and have done the change once recently so I know that they work and therefore the USC is a keeper for now. It really is used for SACD only but I do agree that the playback from a 1.1 is superior. However, the USC as a transport is pretty good itself!

David

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Re: In Praise of the Pre-amp (Kinos with Unidisk SC)

Post by stefan » 2016-03-24 13:26

Glad to be of help, David. Yes, 2.1s and 1.1s can be found at tempting prices but they are cheap for a reason. Unidisks are about the most complex products ever from Linn, unreliable according to reputation and repair is expensive.

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