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Any suggestions? Tag vs. Arcam

Discussion in 'AV Pre-Amp/Processors & Power Amps' started by paiger, Nov 17, 2002.

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  1. paiger

    paiger
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    I have just had a listen to the Arcam AV8 and was blown away, even though it was running through an old Sony power amp. I am in the market for such a device but have a problem. Both Arcam and Tag have top notch DVD players that are great for CD and will soon be upgraded for DVD-A. Now, I have a large and growing collection of SACD disks and would want to retain this. While the Tag AVR32 has a digital link that will carry DVD-A, leaving the 5.1's free for my SACD player, the Arcam does not. So, if I buy the Arcam and an FMJ DV27, I will have to choose between DVD-A and SACD. I really don't think any of the current DVD_A/SACD combined players are good enough to match the AV8.

    So, what is the solution. At the moment I'm looking at the Tag because of this but I much prefer the Arcams styling and of course the DV27 is much cheaper than the DVD32. I also prefer my components to match.

    Any thoughts?

    S
     
  2. John Dawson

    John Dawson
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    Hi paiger - glad you liked the AV8 :)

    Please allow me to make a couple of comments here and then hopefully offer some useful information and a way forward.

    The TAG product range does not AFAIK currently have a digital link to support hi-resolution audio, nor AFAIK has it announced a release date for DVD-A. I am professionally curious as to where you heard this information and exactly what has been announced. I assume it is in the public domain!

    For the future there is an industry-wide proposal to use something called HDMI to transmit both digital video and audio between say a DVD player or US set top box and a display. It will be possible to use this to transmit both high definition video and high resolution audio (i.e. what you get from DVD-A) to a processor but not until the second generation of chipsets turns up and is debugged. Realistically I believe this is 2 years away. Before that the first generation link will support SPDIF - but you already have that.

    One can also use a version of IEEE 1394 but that's not where the US set top box market is going (which is what will drive this interface) and it is quite complex to implement. There is also no guarantee at this point that the sound quality will be any better or even as good as a properly implemented multichannel analogue audio interface, as fitted in our DVD-A players. BTW we expect these in the first quarter of next year and existing models can be upgraded at what I believe will be seen as very reasonable prices.

    Because others also have the problem you are talking about, it is likely that the market will get switchers for two 6 channel inputs and there is already one device, from Outlaw Audio in the USA, available to do this (and more) on the market. It is available only directly from them and is not expensive. In any case it is only 6 channel SACDs that will need this - the AV8 has clean analogue inputs which can do justice to all 2 channels SACDs from even the best SACD player.

    I hope this helps you make up your mind.

    Sincerely,

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  3. paiger

    paiger
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    Hi John,

    Thanks again for more informative info. I think I was reading on the Tag forum about the DVD192 being DVD-A able and I also read that this could be transmitted through the Taglink. I have also heard that a similar system on the Denon A1SR cannot carry encrypted DVD-A so my info may be seriously flawed.

    I had thought about a switch box but have searched in vain for one without success. Your information maybe the answer, I shall investigate tomorrow.

    I don't believe firewire to be a usefull solution and HDMI looks like the best way. I believe I asked you a similar question before, but do you see the AV8 being upgradeable in a few years to anything like this if it takes off? I know that many industry figures like yourself and also people at Tag do not believe that SACD or DVD-A will survive so I am trying to keep my options open and having built up a load of SACD disks (many multichannel) I would at least like to keep a player, even if the format dies.

    The switch box, if viable will probably swing me towards your Av8.

    Steve
     
  4. John Dawson

    John Dawson
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    Hi Steve,

    Whilst it is too early to make rock solid committments we do see the AV8's modular design evolving in due course to support new and commercially viable interfaces and/or formats. That being so we expect to make upgrades available wherever practicable, though obviously at a cost.

    As to DVD-A, I have spent some of the past 6 weeks demonstrating prototype players and I am delighted with the sound quality and content of the better discs. There is a big push behind DVD-A starting up (and about time too!) and I expect you will see all 5 major record labels backing this format within 6 - 9 months (Warners and EMI are of course currently on board - and I am told Sony will not want to be the last to commit!). There are now over 400 releases available and Warners and EMI are moving to simultaneous releases with CD on some new titles. With the advent of a CD/DVD hybrid disc next year, this will further increase compatibility (currently any DVD-A will play its DD track on any DVD player) - the promise is that many future releases will play on any silver disc player.

    Sincerely,

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  5. paiger

    paiger
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    So, if Sony do DVD-A, are they giving up on SACD? I really do hope that one of the formats survives and I don't mind which. I have been really impressed with some of my SACD disks and I assume DVD-A is just as good when correctly implemented. I just hope that the battle is decided soon so that I don't end up with 100 titles in an obsolete format. This is the reason I want the flexibility to be able to keep my SACD player even if DVD-A becomes the standard. I know I could easilly plug my SACD player in the 'CD' input on the AV8 but James Taylor's 'Hourglass' in multi channel is something I could not really live without. Pretty sad, but there you go.

    Steve
     
  6. paiger

    paiger
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    By the way, had a look on Outlaw's site and while their stuff looks good, I can't see the switchbox you mention.

    Steve
     
  7. Edgeyboy

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    Hi John.

    Would it be possible for Arcam to reconfigure and use 3 stereo inputs from the AV8 to provide an additional 5.1 input ?

    Regards

    Tom.
     
  8. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    I had emailed outlaw on this already, I will report back.
     
  9. paiger

    paiger
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    Nice one, thanks Mr. Bee. Could you report on this thread so I can find it?

    Thanks

    Steve
     
  10. John Dawson

    John Dawson
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    Hi guys - IIRC the Outlaw Audio device is called the ICBM or something like that - it does analogue bass management too I think. Looks like a really useful product.

    Tom - your suggestion is noted - coincidentally I thought of it too last night and decided it would not be easy to implement as it's a hardware thing and would also lose you zone 2 support for those inputs; but still it is a neat idea. I'll suggest it to the team for further thought.

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  11. paiger

    paiger
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    I think the ICBM is just a bass management box. It doesn't seem to have any channel switching facility, just 6 phonos in, 6 out. Looks good for cheaper players though.

    By the way John, this bass management seems a bit of a grey area with no real way of knowing which players have it and which don't. Will the DV27 have adequete bass management or do you not think this is possible on the player side of things. I guess with hi res it's the only chance you get without a box like the ICBM.

    Also, the assignable phonos to add another 5.1 is a fantastic idea. If you have your DVD/CD/SAT/Xbox etc hooked up digitally like I do, you have an awfull lot of spare phono inputs going to waste.

    Steve
     
  12. John Dawson

    John Dawson
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    Blast - (stronger expletives deleted). I had it fixed in my head that the Outlaw box had 2 sets of inputs - sorry for misleading people.

    So clearly there is some market for a specialised switcher. Who will volunteer for this (John Sim perhaps)? It's worth checking over at avsforum.com in the USA to see if anyone has come up with one - I do recall it being discussed there in the past.

    As to bass management in the upcoming Arcam DVD-A players - there will definitely be some (there has to be for DD and DTS 6 channel, which will be supported). The plan is to extend that to DVD-A, and we are working on this as I write. A lot depends on exactly how much horsepower is left over in the system's audio DSP, as it has to run MLP and watermark detection as well, and these are both mandatory and very power hungry. We'll know exactly what is possible and what is not in the next few weeks. In any case we can do basic speaker delay and level management in the players, so if all else fails the ICBM can be used here for bass redirection.

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  13. bjd

    bjd
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  14. Edgeyboy

    Edgeyboy
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    Hi John

    If one had a DVD Audio DV27 (when it comes out) connected to the 5.1 input on the AV8 and the speaker sizes / delays / levels had already been set on the AV8 then where does the bass management on the player come in ? I know in the AV8 menu there is a bass control for DVD Audio.
    When there is a 5.1 signal "coming in" does the AV8 apply speaker sizes / delays to it or leave it alone, so to speak?

    Regards

    Tom.
     
  15. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    I’ve been keen on getting a 5.1 or preferably a 7.1 switch box myself for some time. Sony did one in the ES ‘gold’ range but it was about £800. Too much in my book. Another option would be the old Yamaha 420? Pro logic (3 channels) add on box. From memory it had 2 5.1 inputs and goes for £75 - £100 second hand.

    What I would really like was a simple box, like Outlaw audio do for their bass management box, with three inputs and one output. Perhaps Dr S could be persuaded?

    Re bass management, I think people are only just realising how much work this bass thing is.

    DVD MLP takes about 40 MIPS from memory, more than many AV Processors and about what the top SHARC processor could (AV32R). You then need to add the copy stuff AND bass management. Bass management can add a similar amount of processing power. i.e. It needs it’s OWN SHARC processor. This isn’t a trivial thing to do in an affordable DVD A player. A $250 analogue bass switch box may be the far better solution.
     
  16. John Dawson

    John Dawson
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    Tom - There is no bass management for the 5.1/7.1 analogue input on the AV8, nor delay management, as both of these need the DSP engine. There is level management however, as that is always done in the analogue domain in the AV8.

    That's why you ideally need the player to do these things, inside its own DSP, before the signals get converted to analogue and ported out to the preamp / processer. Having said that, if you have reasonable sized speakers (say B & W 601s and up, that are conventionally and successfully used full range in stereo systems), then BM on a DVD-A source is not at all essential; the music sources are not usually designed or mastered with the kind of bass used for effects in certain movies. The bulk of the DVD-A material I have heard to date has not used any BM when replayed and it sounds great.

    HTH.

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  17. Edgeyboy

    Edgeyboy
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    John

    I prefer to let the sub handle the bass and run all my speakers as small.

    I thought that in one of the AV8's menus there was a DVD-A bass level adjust ?

    Tom.
     
  18. paiger

    paiger
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    Surely for the AV8 to do anything to the DVD-A signal would mean adding EQ to the 5.1's which means they are no longer direct and have to run through all the switches etc, right? As far as I am aware, and I'm sure John can confirm, the AV8 does very little to any signal put through the 5.1's, in common with most processors.

    It's interesting though that John says he has not seen much need for BM and I suppose if you have full range speakers you would not. I think that for DVD-A you would have to specify large or small speakers on the player rather than the reciever.

    Also interesting is that there may be a demand for an audiophile quality 5.1 switch. I have searched and searched and as yet have found nothing. I still think I will go for the AV8 over the Tag and go for 2 channel SACD until there is a solution.

    Steve
     
  19. michaelab

    michaelab
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    I too am thinking of upgrading to a proper high-end AV pre/power solution sometime next year, partly so I can unify my hifi and AV systems without sacrificing 2ch. stereo music quality (which is more important to me than cinema surround sound quality).

    The Tag AV30R or AV32R, Arcam AV8, Cyrus AV8 and Naim AV2 plus their respective power amplifiers are all products on my shortlist.

    One thing I'd like to know is how do the DACs in these products stack up to a good standalone DAC (like the Tag DAC20 which I have)? I'm talking about stereo CD music quality here, not multichannel. Tag's Udo Zucker says that the AV3xR DACs are far superior to their own DAC20 (and I'd tend to believe him) so with either Tag I could sell my DAC20 and just feed the digital out of my CD player into the AV3xR.

    I wonder how the DACs on the other AV processors compare for stereo CD music? Particularly the Arcam AV8 which is at the moment 2nd on my shortlist after the Tags.

    Does anyone know if, in the recent HiFi News test of the Arcam AV8, Tag AV30R and Naim AV2, they fed the digital output of the CD player to the processors or if they used the CDP's analog output?

    Obviously I could keep my DAC20 if I didn't like the DAC on the processor I bought but if I can get rid of a box without losing quality then I'd like to.

    Michael.
     
  20. paiger

    paiger
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    I have read 3 reviews and none stated which connection they were using. My own experience involved an AV8, a Sony power amp (old gold thing, maybe 9000?) and a CD player (may have been NAD but not sure) hooked up with a coax cable and the sound was awesome. I woulg guess the DACs are very good, certainly in the same ballpark as the AVR32.

    I guess it depends on your source. Many say the analogue outs on the FMJ DV27 sound better than digital through any DAC but then if your players DACs are not so hot then you want good Dacs in your pro.

    Personally I doubt you would be dissapointed. Why not arrange a demo and take your player and Dac20 along to compare directly?

    S
     
  21. michaelab

    michaelab
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    I might do that. My CDP is an ancient Marantz CD50SE. It's fine as a transport for my DAC20 but no longer that great on its own.

    I'm always reluctant to arrange demos when I'm still some months away from making a purchase as I don't want to take the dealer for a ride.

    Oops, I just re-read the HiFi News test and it says "Each decoder was auditioned with a variety of source material, including linear PCM (44.1kHz/16bit CD and 96kHz/24bit DVD) with Dolby Digital and DTS-encoded multi-channel music software, all delivered via the digital output of a Pioneer DVD player."

    So that answers my question really. Still, there are some interesting developments in 44.1kHz/16bit CD reproduction which might yet lead me to keep my hifi and AV systems separate. Things like digital amplification (see www.tactaudio.com) and interesting (but very expensive!) stuff being done by Wadia...

    Michael.
     
  22. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    I wouldn't bother with the Tag power amp, if I were you. The Arcam P7 is much nicer.



    Clarification on the Arcam analogue bypass issue in case anyone is still muddled. The AV8 processor can be regarded (conceptually - this is not an accurate description of its actual innards) as having four separate stages.

    Stage One: Decoding. You feed in a Dolby Digital or DTS stream and it decodes it into 6 (or sometimes 7) digital streams.

    Stage Two: Processing. At this point we apply things like bass management - components of the 5 surround signals are redirected into the LFE (subwoofer) stream.

    Stage Three: Coversion. The various digital streams are converted into analogue signals.

    Stage Four: Pre-amplification. For the purposes of this argument we can regard this as simply being a multi-channel volume control - the various analogue signals are attenuated (or perhaps occasionally boosted) so as to reach the desired levels. The eventual signals are then piped out into the power amp stage.

    When decoding a film soundtrack in DD all four stages are used. When playing a CD with the input coming in digitally we skip the decoding phase and go straight to stage two. (Er... I think. It's possible that we may jump straight to stage three.)

    When playing a CD with the player's DACs doing the conversion, or when playing back DVD-Audio or SACD, the analogue signals from the player are fed straight into stage four.

    So the upshot of all this is that, even when you're using multi-channel analogue bypass you can still do level adjustment - the processor functions like a multi-channel pre-amp and controls the volume of each channel independently. But you can't do bass management (redirection of low frequencies to a subwoofer) because that's part of what is being bypassed. Of course the logical thing would be to read in a digital stream, and have the processor do the decoding for you. But as yet there is no agreed mechanism for transporting DVD-Audio in digital form.
     
  23. michaelab

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    You're using "we" - is that a figure of speech or do you work for Arcam? :)

    Thanks for the info. I would hope that CD digital input goes straight to stage 3 - don't want any bass management rubbish to get in the way of my music :D

    I don't have a subwoofer, and never will. All my speakers (even the rears) are full range.

    Oh yeah, what don't you like about the Tag 100x5 power amp?

    Michael.
     
  24. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Good grief, no! :) Just trying (and probably failing) to clarify matters.


    Well, there's full range and there's full range. Very few floorstanders will go usefully down to 20Hz, but a good quality subwoofer will do so with ease. Even main speakers that do go pretty low sometimes sound significantly better when they don't have to. And of course if you're watching anything film-based then there will be a dedicated subwoofer channel in the source material, although presumably that isn't an issue in your case.


    Um... the fact that it isn't very good? :) I'm sufficiently new at this game that I haven't quite got my head round the slang/jargon, so I'm not sure how to describe the problem. I think the bass response may be a bit iffy. But in general you just seem to hear more with a better power amp - you hear details that just weren't there before, and everything's that little bit clearer.

    I suppose I shouldn't be too rude - the Tag power amp is probably superior to any of the (much) cheaper ones made by Rotel, but the Arcam P7 is a lot better, to my ears. I rate the Bryston 9B higher still, but the gap between it and the Arcam is narrower than the gap between Arcam and Tag, and it's substantially more expensive if you work it out per channel: Arcam is £2500 for 7 channels, Bryston is £3300 for 5. You might only use 5 channels in the Arcam, but if so then you could use the other two to bi-amp the front left and right speakers for better stereo.

    I've heard good things about the Parasound HC2205 as well, but haven't had the chance to audition it yet.
     
  25. michaelab

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    You're right and for movies perhaps it would make a difference but even with my Marantz SR4200 I'm already very happy with my movie sounds and if I had £300+ to spend on a sub I'd rather spend it on something else :)

    My main thing is 2ch. music where I wouldn't want bass management (and hence a subwoofer) to 'get in the way'.

    The only thing that's got me thinking about maybe getting a sub (or two!) is this: http://www.tactaudio.com/RCS22X/index.html

    Check the "Sub Control" section aswell. Looks like a very interesting product and people who've heard it say it just blows away anything else they've ever heard. Check out the TCS system aswell which is their multi-channel version.

    No idea what that stuff costs but it must be a lot...

    Michael.
     
  26. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    I don't think TacT has a UK distributor. One of those things costs upwards of $5000 in the US, I believe.
     
  27. michaelab

    michaelab
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    No, but they do have a Portuguese distributor :D

    Still, extremely pricey. Same goes for the Arcam AV8 and Tag AV32R. I really don't need video switching so I can't help thinking that a large dollop of my cash would be going to waste on the Arcam or Tag. When I could get a Cyrus AV8 + 3 SmartPowers for less than the price of the Arcam AV8 alone it starts to but things into perspective...obviously that's assuming the Cyrus is in the same league as the Arcam and Tag.

    Michael.
     
  28. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    It isn't. (Strictly IMO, of course).
     
  29. lmccauley

    lmccauley
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    Have you looked at (or rather, listened to) the Rotel RSP-1066 ?

    Cheers,
    Liam
     
  30. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Assuming that was directed at me, no, I'm afraid I haven't. I get the impression from other posts that Rotel products are usually quite good value for money. I think the Cyrus AV8 is probably good value, too, it just doesn't compete in absolute terms with products costing three times the price (as you might expect). As well as Cyrus you might also consider Roksan Caspian in that sort of price bracket.
     

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