a wise diyer once told me this, the hardest thing to build is a preamp.
likewise with gain stage, it could be a case of "pick your poison" or "pick your colouration".
i don't have a preference here, as long as it sounds "good" and this is so difficult!
if possible, i'll go without a gain stage.
in kevin's system, no gain stage is just nice and he gets the purest sound. of course his preamp/amp has enough gain to drive his speakers.
in kp's system, he needs a gain stage of 4x to bring out the music.
in my system, i don't need a gain stage as beyonce is more than capable of this gain.
i'll be experimenting with a few gain modules to see which i like. will share with you on this.