”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.