Article: The state of play(back) – two channel audio in 2018

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Ed Selley, Feb 10, 2018.


    1. Ed Selley

      Ed Selley
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    2. dannnielll

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      A nicely constructed analysis. In your discussion you might have made reference to the ubiquitous nature of the Chromecast audio device. In my opinion a piece of genius. This 30 quid device immediately brings old and vintage amplifiers and recievers out of the attic and skip and gives them a new lease of life.
      There were plenty of well regarded simple stereo amplifiers from the good names marantz, denon Sony etc which have fallen by the wayside for want of a streaming option and this is what the Chromecast does in a very elegant fashion... Enough said
       
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    3. Pecker

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      That was a good read, thanks Ed.

      I can't help but feel that the big 'hole' in the 2-channel market at the moment is better quality and hi-res digital downloads/streaming at major sites.

      By now I'd have expected to see better-than-mp3 quality options at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify & co.

      Charge a bit extra - maybe £12 a month instead of £10 or whatever for CD quality. £15 for hi-res.

      I would imagine (but am happy to be corrected) that the labels convert analogue tapes to digital in a high res format then scale it down. If they have all these digital files lying around, why not make money from them.

      Even if the files were just CD standard resolution, they could at least be mixed for best quality, as opposed to loudness wars. If people are happy with the latter they're probably happy with the mp3.

      Marketing could have a field day.
       
    4. JH4

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      Very interesting article - just wondering that there is not much mention of recording audio though. I am a big fan of Minidisc recorders - desktop ones which are brilliant, but since they are now defunct, I am thinking of something like the Tascam DA3000 recorder. Be very interested in your thoughts on this.
       
    5. Khazul

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      The Tacam that you mention is a special case of digital audio interface / recorder which these days looks almost useless with its lack of computer connectivity. In all the uses cases that I come across that would demand equipment of this level - professionals are using computer workstations or laptops and an audio interfaces. The exception is for live band recording in which case the RME-UFX audio interface / recorder that I have is commonly used - it is a combined 12-36 channel audio interface and multi-track recorder.

      What is your use case for such a device?
      I'm a musician and ex DJ and producer (sound engineer) so I use it in my studio for recording and mixing, but the days of the cassette deck type device for duplicating a record are long gone. Who records the top 40 on a sunday afternoon anymore (is it even still on?) on these days of on-demand streaming?

      For most people these have no place in a modern hifi setup any more.
       
      Last edited: Feb 10, 2018
    6. camelot1971

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      I've moved away from streaming for my 2 channel music and back to either CD's or albums from sites like HDtracks.

      Tidal was ok but some of the streams were ropy at best. Spotify sounds rubbish on my system too, when compared to CD or other HD audio.

      I can't see me changing my set up for a long while to be honest - it does everything I need it to do superbly.
       
    7. JH4

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      I have music programmes such as Late Junction (R3, great quality) on series record into a Panny BD recorder. I then take the tracks I like into a MD recorder. The Tascam looks like a good alternative to MD, with great audio quality. Late Junction points me to some brilliant music that no other channel plays, and if it's good, I buy it. Files from the Tascam could be loaded onto a PC for CD burning too, although it's possible to do that with MD tracks, as well, of course.
       
    8. mainaman

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      Good points,but i would argue that the better digital preamps or integrated amps with analogue inputs can preserve the integrity and the allure of vinyl,a truly transparent digitising(some do RIAA in the digital domain too).

      The top end of the hi-fi market is not vinyl,it is another "ancient" format-R2R.The analogue resurgence,in the audiophile community at least,is down to the realisation that digitally recorded and digitally playbacked music is inferior sounding to many.
       
    9. Mr Moo

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      I'd had 5.1 surround for several years, went back to two-channels a decade ago for practicality reasons. It's fine for CDs, which are v cheap indeed and there are usually a selection of remasters to choose from, and films too, tbh. I might go back one day, but I'm not feeling the draw tbh, maybe for a future cinema room but not the lounge.
       
    10. KoThreads

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      Can't agree with this at all. I am the only person among my friends to keep 2 channel going. I've a main HiFi stereo system and a 9.1 but I'm single and have the room for it all. Everyone else has gone down the big soundbar or multi room Sono's type system. Even my two HiFi mad friends, one with Proac speakers the other with PMC speakers, both have all the kit to do justice to them, no longer use them. Its criminal as my friend Del has his HiFi dumped in a corner upstairs and says he'll never use it again. Yes his music blasting out all around his home does sound good, but not as good as his stereo did to my ears. It's all about convenience.

      We've seen a lot of HiFi companies go under or bought out before they go bust, Arcam for one. I doubt many will have a dedicated 2 channel system in five years time. To add to this I went to get a Naim Unity Atom last month to be told it went up by £250 in October, I didn't buy it, I felt that big an increase was unjustified.

      And as a side note I have 3 CCA on various bits of kit to give me multi room music and it sounds fine for casual listening. CCA is a fantastic cheap way to do it.
       
      Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
    11. Khazul

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      ^ There are always hybrid setups to get best of both worlds - AVR/AVP+amps system for surround and a good HiFi amp that also has a fixed gain input for AV use to drive the fronts and connect all your music sources directly to the hifi pre amp / amp.

      Convenience of an AVR and its controller app when you want it and the quality of a dedicated stereo system when you want it. Convenience tends to be lost when dealing with physical media due to need to change the media (CD/Vinyl or whatever).

      The thing is a decent AVR with a 1k spend on a 5.1 speaker setup when properly setup will have a sound quality that to the vast majority of peoples perceptions and tastes will seem excellent and the differences that a more complex to use hifi system can bring can seem subtle at best to many people especially with mp3 net streams as a source.

      You also have to remember that while a lot of people may claim to enjoy music, the only aspect of music they generally connect to is the vocal (especially many women), so they just dont care what that vocal sound comes from - a phone speaker is often considered good enough. (except perhaps when drunk and they want to have a dance in which case loud club-like sound matters more than anything).
      I think it is people who connect most with the actual music that appreciate a good full range sound system with excellent clarity. For a lot of people modern pop with a vocal slapped on top of some cheesy simple tune is great to them while to us who love music - we generally hate it :)
       
      Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
    12. Chester

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      I've been thinking for a long time that my office come music room deserves a dedicated 2-channel setup, rather than just Bose Companion III! I know shoot me! As we know, the room used as a listening environment plays the biggest part in the sound we hear. I cannot properly prepare this room to sound properly (too small, too much stuff), and even if I got a reasonable layout and near-field system, I'm not sure that I'd use it all that much over-and-above what I have now, and that works perfectly adequately. Oh no, don't shoot me again!

      I blame culture and commercialism. Who remembers the good ol' days when Sunday was a rest day? Shopping on a Sunday, well you couldn't, everywhere was closed. Consequently our working lives are now always connected, always contactable, in a stressful disruptive blur. A work/life balance that practically excludes dedicated listening periods because of this 'always on' state. It may well be that my transformation into much more multi-channel/film watching is because I need more of my senses overwhelmed for the escapism of that impending phone call.

      I used to absolutely love peering into the artwork of a gate-fold 12", then closing my eyes and picturing the music, listening to the notes and trying to figure out what the musicians were doing, or just get transported off into the world they were painting in music. But just like the local pub scene where the bands aren't around anywhere near as much and there's nowhere for them to play any more, I can only look fondly back at this era. I haven't played in a band myself in over a decade. I'm screaming to get back into it again, but...

      I guess the other problem is all of the other things that are vying for hard-earned, and I'm sure others would prioritise 2-channel the same as me: it doesn't keep the wolf from the door. My 'attributable incoming' (hate the word disposable) goes where I spend most of my time. When it comes to music, it's reluctantly about convenience and accessibility. So that's listening to music through multi-room audio (Sonos currently) whilst charging around the house, and in the car, the latter of which has also seen a huge decline in after-market systems, much of which is in the way of options for affordable motoring. Gene DellaSala from Audioholics was going to document the problem and try to solve them properly within this space until he was involved in a car accident. My local installer is closing down and moving on; I've been a client and friend for over two and a half decades. The high-end is very well catered for, especially within OEMs. Are there symmetries here to 2-channel?

      In the end our open-plan space now sort of works for music listening with the inclusion of a Sonos Zone Player; but being perfectly honest I just don't get chance to use it as often as I'd like. For me I think there's much more that needs to change in order to engage in serious music listening again. In fact work related topics are taking a step-up this year, so I just can't see this happening, and I believe that a lot of people share many of the same disruptive commitments or responsibilities. Bring back Sunday! Maybe that's the change we need.
       
    13. larkone

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      This is routinely ignored by the reviewers on this forum for whatever strange reason - probably too cheap so must be rubbish attitude.

      The market thinks differently though

      Google has sold over 55 million Chromecasts and cast devices
       
    14. dannnielll

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      Thank you. I looked over the specs of the DAC included in the CCA. , And it id certainly not shabby. The chip of Japanese design is capable of 24 bit 192k decoding, although it is constrained to 96k in its implementation in the CCA.
      What seems to be misunderstood or neglected by those in the audiophile community is the power of mass production. Once a chip has been designed, and the masks fabricated and this is true whether it is the largestl microprocessor or lowest op amp ,then it's design and performance has been frozen, they can then be pumped out at very low incremental cost. If the design is competent, then all the output will be equally competent.... I attended a lecture given by one of the VPs of Siemens when they were in the business of making memory chips. As part of the presentation, he produced a chip embedded in Perspex and said" this chip cost us 1billion euro to produce... Mind you all the ones after it were free.... "
       
    15. BlueWizard

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      For me it is a matter of Priorities. I can certainly see the appeal of a Surround Sound system. For Movies, if that is your priority, I can see the appeal of the completely immersive experience it provides. But to get equal quality you are going to have to spend more money. You are weighing buying 7, 9, 11 amps vs 2 amp channels. You are weighing buying 2 good speakers vs buying 6 or 8 (or 7 or 9) speakers. The only way to maintain the quality with a Surround Sound system is to increase the budget substantially.

      So, with a fixed Budget, you will get more quality with a Stereo system, that, while perhaps not as immersive, will still make for some fantastic movies. But, I have no quarrel with those who want the immersive experience of Surround Sound. Neither Stereo or Surround Sound are cheap today, but very reasonable system can be had for a very reasonably price (more or less) in either format.

      I was watching the movie "6 Days" (Jamie Bell, UK Iranian Embassy take over), and there was a deep bass rumble (mostly just to build tension) that I could feel shaking myself and my room, and this is with a Stereo and NO Subwoofers. I'm good.

      As the article we are commenting on mentioned, Stereo is moving toward the basics of Home Theater. The Yamaha RN803 has Room EQ. There are several other Stereo Amps/Receivers geared more toward Streaming and Movies. There is at least one Onkyo TX-8270 Stereo Receiver that has HDMI inputs. Clearly there is a market for these products.

      For me it is a choice between spreading my budget very thin, or concentrating it on quality Stereo, others are free to choose as it suits them, I choose Stereo.

      Steve/bluewizard
       
      Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
    16. Khazul

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      ^ In my world all but the most basic AVRs would have front pre-outs and all but the most basic amps would have HT Bypass - problem solved - you can have both then instead of having to choose.

      As it is you have to go fairly high end for HT Bypass on amps and in some case some on AVRs to get pre-outs.
       
    17. Hixs

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      Things like this happen as people grow though. Wives, GFs and kids mean the days of chilling with just some music come to an end (normally). My GF is in utter disbelief that I'd spend 1400 on a stereo amp, she asked me what's wrong with the one I have (an AVR), so I explained the difference to her, she just laugh and says "it'll all sound the same to me"...

      She'd be more then happy with me spending that on a week away somewhere though... with nothing to show for it besides a few memories and a few snaps.

      Women.
       
    18. Soundizer

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      How many channels Audio is enough or not enough, I don’t know.

      However, is it not logical to assume that the ideal number of speaker channels should match the original recording channels, otherwise it is just pseudo false enhancements.
       
    19. Hixs

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      2 channels is perfect for music.

      I tried listening to music through 5.1..oh dear
       
    20. BlueWizard

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      Ask you GF how much she has spent on SHOES, and to what end.

      Steve/bluewizard
       
    21. Hixs

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      Wouldn't work! she's not at all materialistic...

      I buy her expensive(ish) shoes else she walks around in tat from cheap shops...
       
    22. Cornish Dave

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      My wife spends very little on anything certainly not shoes! Hixs girlfriend will no doubt be much younger than my wife but their views on amplifiers and other hi fi kit are exactly the same. Up to about 18 months ago it was easy for me as she smoked - then she stopped!! Other things are also a waste of money such as TVs, PCs, cars, in fact a car should last 20 years at least, getting a new one because you enjoy it is just stupid. If she spends any money it is on our little Grandson who was born 16 months ago, he has clothes to fit him up to school age!
       
    23. Goodmane

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      To be fair, I think those sorts of devices were alluded to in the comment about getting things to work by filling the gaps. I haven't used the Chromecast audio device yet. I was thinking of getting one, but then we got some Echo dots which we use as intercoms. They also double as bluetooth receivers (rarely use this feature but its nice to have) and obviously work as voice controlled streamers to boot. :)

      Having lived with my used and very cheap v1067 for several years, I have to say it's shocking that more people don't desire a decent spec av receiver which can do so much more than a typical 2 channel amp in most rooms. It's incredible how much people spend on standalone dacs where a typical high end av amp has handfuls of the same plus amplification, preamp input selection and room eq. I think there is perhaps a market for a high spec av receiver with 2 solid amp channels, and a smaller chassis. But I wonder if there's also room for education and marketing of existing av receivers.
       
      Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
    24. Hixs

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      Yeah my GF is 15 years my junior... (34/19) :D
       
    25. dannnielll

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      If you already have a DAC in your avr, there would be little logic in getting the Chromecast audio to replace it.. My point is was that it provides a very adaquate, maybe even better than that ,method of reusing older kit, which does not have Dacs and bringing it up to modern standards. In my case it allows me to stream from a 20 year old marantz which is driving 2 decent speakers , and to have the same functionality as last year's amplifier. In fact the functionality might even be better as the streaming software by induviual manufacturers may be less developed than the generic android one. Often of the older amplifiers have good power outputs and low distortion, and this gives them a whole new lease of life. That would be the case with my marantz, which is also an AVR with the dolby prologic chip, though never used in that mode.

      In respect of your position that an avr will give you more.. it will have more channels and expect more loudspeakers, and will play the sound effects of a movie appropriately. But these sound effects were recorded in the expectation that multiple speakers would be used. Stereo music expects two channels only.
       
      Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
    26. Chester

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      Yes the Arcam SR250 as Ed mentioned gives you all this as well as Dirac, although it's still a really big box which will be hard to integrate for some.

      Does anyone spend any money on room preparation for 2-channel? Dirac can fix impulse and EQ, and with target curves being fully customisable a speaker's character can be maintained, but it's always advisable to tune the room first. Just wondered if anyone does this for their listening rooms.
       
    27. Hixs

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      I don't. I've covered the basics in terms of a thick rug in front of the speakers, speakers away from walls, toed in, I've got a large wall carpet on the opposite wall to minimize reflections etc but I'm not going to put bass traps etc in my room as it's also my lounge.
       
    28. Goodmane

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      Apologies, I had two separate points. Firstly I had been considering the Chromecast audio for my old ax-392 stereo which is used for music only, I was adding to your comment about useful devices that update old stereos; I mentioned the echo dot, and the Google home mini is another notable option.

      My second point was about 2 channel generally, not the comment I quoted. I was agreeing with the article basically. I have no doubt that 2 channel can compete at a high or higher level than multi channel, but it is somewhat frustrating how little people are aware of the added advantages built into modern avrs (that could be added to stereos but generally aren't) and end up paying more or going without. e.g. room eq, auto shutdown, network control, digital inputs,top class dacs, subwoofer outs, dsp etc. It's the separate dac market that I find most incredible since people seem to be paying hundreds for the same chip used multiple times in amps by e.g. yamaha, marantz etc. A stereo with the same features would be great but I have my doubts about a stereo with e.g. aventage bettering stats regarding distortion etc plus all the avr extras being cheaper at all. Perhaps they could merely be smaller (less deep) and that would be enough to entice some people away from soundbars or old style stereos who are put off avrs for some reason. My ax392 for example is way less deep than the big avrs.

      If space isn't an issue then it would probably be cheaper and as good for many people to use a premium used avr as preamp and a stereo power amp for the fronts if better amplification is required. That said, some may agree that many top tier avrs provide good amplification especially when running just two channels and/or outsourcing the low end to subwoofer amps.
       
      Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
    29. dannnielll

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      Sorry i got the wrong end of the stick... Yes . My main amplifier is in fact a venerable marantz sr 66 which is a reciever from the predigital days, having only a totally unused Dolby Pro logic multi channel . As I have indicated previously, it's hard to beat the power of mass production, and this product was available at a comparable price to lesser power amplifiers at the time.. a very good buy. It is an 80w RMS amplifier with better distortion figures at a price that the 20w units from other brands were selling at and with FM radio included, what was there not to like?
      You won't regret the purchase of a chromecast audio. For your venerable ax392..
       
    30. MikeTheBike2010

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      An interesting well written article, thank you.

      Reminds me of reading Barry Fox in the old days.
       

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