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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: upstate NY
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Different pre/pros do have different amounts of distortion, noise levels, inter-channel crosstalk, linearity, etc. How much or even if the various types of distortion are audible depends on many factors and has generated thousands of heated discussions.
More expensive preamps tend to have more of the design features which are intended to minimize noise and distortion, like better RFI shielding, cleaner power supplies, minimal wire lengths, better cooling, etc. You'll have to decide how valuable those features are to you.
As an individual, if those details matter to you and if you don't have access to the appropriate audio test equipment, you have to go by the reviews that have been published which include the results of bench testing. Some have been published online and some are available only in hardcopy magazines like Stereophile.
Your options vary from using the least expensive receiver which has preamp outputs to an audiophile grade pre/pro with plugin circuit boards. Smaller companies tend to have a lot of trouble incorporating recent digital processing features into their products. Some larger companies tend to lag behind, too, justifying this by spending more effort on the analog aspects of their pre/pros.
There is no one right answer to what matters the most. You'll find strong proponents for every model that's available.
Marantz SR7009 avr + MM9000 amp --> Atmos 7.1.4
Fronts=NHT 2.9+AC2, FH+TM=DefTech PM1000, LCR+TM amped