Stereophile

Rotel Michi P5

Before starting this review of Rotel’s Michi P5, the 60-year-old, Japan-based audio company’s recent preamplifier design, I thought it appropriate to consider “What is an audio preamplifier? What should it do?” There are plenty of opinions to be found at stereophile.com:

“What a preamp ought to do, apart from changing volume and switching sources, is as little as possible,” wrote Stereophile Editor Jim Austin in his 2017 review of the PS Audio BHK Signature preamplifier.

And yet “the preamplifier is the heart of a system,” noted Technical Editor John Atkinson in his 2013 review of Pass Labs’ XP-30 line preamplifier, “[in] that it colors and adds its own character to every signal that passes through it.”

Every preamplifier has features, from the most minimal (source selection and volume control) through, well, much more. Phono preamp? Balanced inputs, outputs, and circuits? Remote control? Balance control? A nice, big volume knob? A tape loop? A mono button? EQ? Digital room correction? Bluetooth?

And what are you looking for sonically? Straight wires with gain don’t exist, but some preamps aspire to that, while others imprint their sound on the music unabashedly. Buyers get to decide how much editorialization they want, and what flavor.

“More so than other hi-fi components,” the late Art Dudley wrote in a 2005 review of Lamm Industries’ LL2 Deluxe preamplifier, “a preamp is a personal choice: It will probably be your primary way of interacting with the system as a whole, and its selection depends a great deal on finding the balance you want between ergonomics and performance.”

“We may not know what we want from life,” Art noted the following year, in his Cary Audio Design SLP 05 preamplifier review, “but we damn well know what we want from an

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