FT Audio Passive Preamplifier

      Date posted: September 11, 2000

Sugg. Retail: $695 (CAN)
Manufacturer: FT Audio
Distributor: P.L.C. Lam Consulting Inc.
2 Asgar Walk, Regina
Saskatchewan, S4S 6W4
(306) 586-8596 FAX 585-3837

(Reprinted from the Summer/Fall
2000 Audio Ideas Guide)

     ”Passive preamplifier” is a kind of oxymoron, passive devices not being able to amplify, which is perhaps why this device is described by its makers as a “passive controller”. The FT Audio LW1 switches 5 inputs, marked CD, Tuner, Video, Aux, and Tape, providing 2 output paths, with an additional switched tape out. According to the manual, “The internal components have been carefully hand selected, with the shortest signal path, so as to maintain the highest integrity and transparency of the signal.”

     ”All wiring, which is Kimber Kable, is point to point without any circuit boards or IC chips. Only the finest volume pod [sic] is used to ensure of trouble free service…The specially designed circuits of the LW1 avoid the problems of other passive units especially at low levels.”

     This last sentence refers, I think, to the passive resistive buffering used in the LW1 to prevent interaction causing signal loss and high-frequency rolloff from direct coupling of inputs and outputs. As a result, there is a 2 dB insertion loss when the LW1 is put into the system.

     The unit is very nicely put together, with a grey brushed aluminum front panel and matching large knobs for selector and volume. It has a very high end feel about it. They don’t say just what kind of Kimber wire is used inside, so I had a look inside the black painted case. Well, it’s not KCAG, but looks like good copper cable, the output section concealed by a black metal cover with a paper strip seal that reads “warranty broken”. Alarmed by possible parts failure (hey, kids, there are none), I did not open this section…are you kidding? I did undo the 4 screws that held the cover on, but could not inspect the output section and determine the value of the resistors because of the way the overall chassis limits the lifting of the cover even with the 4 screws on the bottom removed, so I have to be content in saying that I had no problems with the buffered output, and found the sound of this passive controller essentially transparent. The wiring inside is very neat, with short signal paths and high quality RCA in and out connectors. What more could you ask?

     In fact, the FT Audio LW1 is a keeper in my system, providing the extra inputs I need in the high resolution part of the audio system. With my 96K DAT recorder, the upsampling Assemblage D/A chain, and various other line inputs, a really good switching/level control device comes in handy. The “pod” is a Japanese-made Alps, one of the better potentiometers around, which should not degrade the signal quality, while the input selector is a good quality rotary switch with self-cleaning contacts that should work well for many years.

     If you have relatively few high level inputs, the FT Audio LW1 is an excellent alternative to an active line stage, or an ideal way of increasing the number of inputs in any high end system.

Andrew Marshall


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4 Responses to “FT Audio Passive Preamplifier”

  1. Narris Hams c-ca Says:

    Ha ha… $700 fo a box with a switch and a knob in it. You have got to be kidding!

  2. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Well, you can certainly roll your own from Radio Shack, though probably not from The Source unless you’re reeaal quick!

    But here we have better parts that have over several years now, neither gotten noisy nor intermittent in switching. Also, the box is very nice with a high quality machined faceplate, with professional and durable white lettering. There’s also a lot of high quality point-to-point wiring inside. None of this comes cheap, but if you want go cheaper, you’ll likely get cheaper.

  3. Dave S c-ca Says:

    As a DIY and experimenter, I normally use a soldering iron to connect my lines. It is amazing to find out just how much noise a switch or RCA phono plug connection can have. Quite often I use $50 dollar a foot interconnects and a 75 cent plug is as good as most expensive plugs. Removing your preamp can at most times make all the difference. A real passive, even with passive tone attenuators, could be priceless.

  4. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    A few years back I bought a little passive box from ARTcessories called “The MacroMix 4 channel mixer”. It had 4 sets of stereo inputs and one output pair, but I soon discovered that the signal path through all of these was summed at the input and MONO. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed, and ripped out all the mono pots and replaced them with stereo double-throw toggle switches, and made what I’d wanted all along, a stereo record selector box.

    All of this took an afternoon or two of point-to-point wiring, which was quite satisfying, and the result was 2 stereo input paths for audio signals, and another mono one for pink noise for level adjustment and frequency response testing, and a pair of switchable outputs direct to my DVD recorder or my mixer. This box has worked very well since, because of the good-quality switches and female RCAs.

    I also have 3 passive preamps in my 8-channel audio system, which allow quick selection of discrete or matrix surround, as well as direct connection of my TASCAM 34b’S 4 channels directly to my amplifiers. One is the FT Audio, and the other two are the Toronto-made Audio Limits design, which connect to the pair of Bryston 2Bs that drive surround, centre, and overhead (ambisonic) channels. These all allow quick input selection and channel-level trimming beyond that of my OPPO universal SACD/DVD-A player. It works for me as low-distortion signal paths for both stereo and high resolution multichannel sources.

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