At a crossroads with Home Theater and 2-channel in one system.

Discussion in 'AV Receivers & Amplifiers' started by BMR2, Jul 10, 2018.

  1. BMR2

    BMR2
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    Greetings everyone,

    I am planning some upgrades to my now 14 year old system. I use it for music 75% of the time in a 2.1 configuration and movies/TV in 5.1 25% of the time. Currently everything is controlled and powered by my Denon AVR-2105. The plan was to upgrade the speakers, update to a newer AVR with up to date surround format support and trigger out, and add a dedicated 2-channel class A/B amp for the main speakers to take some load from the AVR.

    However, I recently learned that the analog inputs in most AVRs re-digitize the signal and process it again, even in Direct mode. It never dawned on me before but it makes sense now that I think about how the AVR is integrating the subwoofer with digital crossovers. So during this past week I compared the inputs I had been using (which re-digitize the signal and run through the internal DAC) with the multi-channel inputs (which do not). This of course meant no subwoofer in the analog circuit as there's no crossover control on mine (simply an LFE input, phase and gain controls). So with speakers set to Large and subwoofer off, using my CD transport and a Modi Multibit DAC, I listened to several songs over the span of a few days from different albums and eras. I sensed a subtle but palpable difference in favor of the straight analog signal path, and this is with my current modest speakers.

    This leads me to want to pursue a purer analog 2-channel experience without losing out on the lower bass frequencies for some of the modern music I listen to. I don't think any of the main speakers in my budget ($1k/pair or less) are quite full range enough to forgo a sub altogether, so herein lies my dilemma. Unless there is a solution out there I'm not aware of.

    I've recently learned about stereo integrateds with a HT bypass mode. This seems like a great idea. But what of the subwoofer? Are there high quality integrateds with analog circuitry for adjustable crossovers to properly integrate a subwoofer, which won't break the bank? (I'm thinking three figures, not four here.) I haven't found any yet. One of my goals is to keep my system simple and easily switchable between HT use and music use. To that end, a solution to sending signal to the subwoofer in both scenarios is ideal.

    What say the experts? Am I looking at a worthwhile pursuit for music or is it a red herring and I should stick to my original, simpler plan? Is my Denon AVR-2105 giving me a false sense of analog superiority with a particularly poor A-D-A conversion process on the standard inputs? It didn't sound bad before, but now that I know that there's an improvement to be had it's hard to ignore. :) I'm less concerned about HT performance here, as it has been satisfactory and it's less of my focus.

    Side note, I had a Marantz SR-7009 for 3 days recently and although it seemed to present better low end bass extension than my old Denon, the Marantz sounded thin and clinical to my ears. The Denon had a warmer more pleasant presentation without losing any appreciable clarity. I know that this goes against internet wisdom. Perhaps some things from D&M have changed in the past dozen years. Age-wise, this wasn't an apples to apples comparison. Thinking of trying a Yamaha AVR next. I've been happy with my Denon but it's out of date and I'm not sure the newer ones are at the same quality level based on what I read.
     
  2. Rambles

    Rambles
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    Hi, I have a set-up similar to what I think you are looking at doing. I am in the UK though, so I am not sure if the components I use are available to you in the US, or at least at such a reasonable price as I paid.

    The full list of what I use is in my signature, but the main components are the Denon 4400 AVR for a 5.2.4 movie / tv set-up together with a Musical Fidelity m3i which is a stereo amplifier with HT bypass. My main speakers are Kef R300's and although they sound pretty good on their own for music, I decided that after some comparative listening, I preferred their sound with a subwoofer.

    I added a BK xls200 subwoofer to the system, as it allows high level and low level inputs simultaneously. So, when listening to music the MF M3i powers the Kef R300's and feeds the BK sub via the high level inputs, and I configured the bass management on the subwoofer. For movies, the BK sub is connected as a second subwoofer via the low level input, and bass management is done via the AVR.

    If you are happy with how your set-up sounds for movies, you could possibly keep your Denon 2105, and just add a stereo integrated amp with HT bypass and a subwoofer with a high level input?
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2018
  3. gibbsy

    gibbsy
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    Welcome to the forum, although I think I should point out that this is a United Kingdom based forum and as such it is difficult for members to give advice on some kit that is mainly available on your side of the pond, as well as costs.

    Like Rambles I too run a stereo amp with HT bypass for music. Again, like Rambles, I use KEF R300s as my main speakers in a stereo configuration, perhaps the main difference between us is that I'm perfectly happy with the bass I get from the R300s, especially with a Rega Elicit R amp driving them.

    There is no doubt that bringing a stereo amp into the system gives a different and somewhat improved performance over just using stereo from a receiver. With a 75% music use it is the obvious way to go but there is no real urgent need to change to a different receiver. I would certainly spend any budget on getting a good amp. You already have a CDT and stand alone DAC therefore you could budget for a pure stereo amp and forego any built in DAC. I won't comment on amps available as I don't know what is available although the Rega range have been well received in the US.

    I have a Marantz SACD player linked to the Rega by analogue. My Denon X6200 receiver uses the pre-out analogue to the power amp section of the Rega. It works seamlessly with just the press of a direct button on the Rega's remote and has helped give some extra headroom to the remaining speakers connected o the Denon.
     
  4. Khazul

    Khazul
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    I have a hybrid setup with a basic Yamaha AVR (RX-V781) which has pre-outs. My HiFi integrated amp is a Yamaha A-S2100 which has an HT-Bypass mode (so AVR front pre-out to amp's direct input which bypasses the pre-amp to so t serves as a fixed gain power-amp for the AVR).

    I have all of my music sources connected to the inputs on the A-S2100 including zone 2 stereo out from the AVR which I sometimes use as a streamer. With the rest of the AVR switched off and only Zone 2 on, then as a streamer is it perfect good for convenient background music, but obviously doesn't compare to my proper streaming source (Raspberry as with Roon into a decent DAC then into the integrated amp.)

    There is a world of difference between the AVR (even I pure-direct mode) and the integrated amp, though of course that is comparing a mid range AVR with really good premium integrated amp so a bit unfair on the AVR, but even having recently briefly compared the amp with an RX-A3070 AVR there is still a world of difference.

    As for sub connections, then I have both AVR and amp connected to my sub because-I-can. TBH the amp exerts such tight control of my speaker that the sub is really superfluous as the bass from the amp is vastly better than the AVR was ever able to manage even in pure direct mode.

    Sub connection are sub out from AVR to LFE in on sub and also pre-out L-R from integrated amp to line-in L+R on the sub. My sub has both LFE (which bypasses the sub's crossover) and line-ins which pass through the sub's crossover so I can set the sub for concurrent use with my AVR and my amp and tune it for both (match for the amp first, then let the AVR do its setup and set fronts to large).

    I plan on getting better speakers at some point - probably KEF R500 or R700 or monitor audio silver 300 or 500 (in either case with matching AV center and surround speakers) and I very much doubt I will continue to have a sub connected in this manner nor feel any need to and that is despite listening to a lot of bass heavy dance music.

    The one issue with a hybrid setup - there are not many choices of integrated amp with HT bypass capably among cheaper hifi amps as it seems to be a premium feature, that said while I ended about 1k over my original planned 500quid or so on an amp, I am very happy the result and would expect similar from most reputable hifi amps in 1k-2k price range. On the other hand, I am also happy to live with a lower-end AVR as it is perfectly adequate for Netflix/amazon video and the occasional Blu-ray, so that is arguable 1K or more saved back on not buying a high end AVR.
    Even my wife who is a sound-system luddite seems to enjoy the much higher quality music sound we now have and actively listens now instead of just sticking the telly on (which for me is worth ANY price! :D).
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2018
  5. BMR2

    BMR2
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    Oops! As we say in my country, "my bad." Still, I think you lot know a thing or two about Hi-Fi ;) and I appreciate your input and experience. Side note, I lived in Northampton for one summer and loved it there.

    It sounds like changing to a sub with multiple inputs and its own crossover is an option that opens up considerably more choices for 2-channel integrateds. This would be a different way of managing the transition of frequencies between sub and mains. The AVR rolls off the lower end of the mains at the crossover point I select and I wonder if not having that, and only having the LPF of the subwoofer, would change the integration/transition to be any more or less seamless. Thinking aloud, I wonder if the ease of integration would depend more on the main speakers in this case. I imagine many speakers have a less controlled roll off of lower frequencies on their own vs using a crossover slope.

    I've been poking around and I've found a couple of options for what I want to do that are more than I would like to pay, but are under consideration as I haven't found more affordable quality solutions. One option is the Parasound Halo integrated. It has HT bypass plus knobs for adjusting HPF and LPF in the analog domain.

    The other option is an Emotiva XSP-1 preamp with an added power amp in the chain.

    Both products seem well regarded from what I've read, with people generally saying the Parasound is very warm, even bloomy in the low end, while the Emotiva is flatter but more thin. Neither description sounds quite like the Goldilocks solution to me, although I'm sure people are picking nits when they describe these things.

    An additional option out of left field is an external crossover, which I know little about. I think things like these all do A-D-A conversion of their own (perhaps it's particularly transparent in a device like this?). And it would certainly add to the complexity of a system. Something like a Behringer CX2310 perhaps.

    The compelling reasons to change my AVR at the moment are to get trigger out for ease of use with an integrated, and to have more/newer surround formats at my disposal. I'll be honest I'm not that familiar with most of these standards and what has changed since 2004, but I imagine some audible progress has been made in this regard even with 'mere' 5.1 formats? Perhaps updating my AVR will become a lower priority now that my focus seems to be shifting towards a more robust 2-channel experience.
     
  6. gibbsy

    gibbsy
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    The Atmos speaker layout will bring a very immersive and very enjoyable sound to watching films. Even older discs will have new life breathed into them by the upmixing capabilities of modern receivers. Crossovers and roll off are certainly helped by the excellent room correction software fitted to receivers such as Dirac and Audyssey. For a full film experience I certainly would not want to be without my current 5.1.2.

    For music, certainly for me, then stereo is the best way to go and there are so many good integrated stereo amps out there that depending of speaker choice and the listening room many don't need an additional pre or power amp. If you eventually decide to get an AVR then you cannot connect a pre amp to it.
     
  7. fyonn

    fyonn
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    I went in a different direction. I swapped my denon receiver for a high quality, but all digital stereo amp with full room correction, the lyngdorf 2170. All my inputs are digital and the lyngdorf functions as a very good dac. it also supports 2 subwoofers for stereo sub-bass.

    I have a fairly small lounge, so I didn't want to go in the direction of Atmos etc.
     
  8. Delija

    Delija
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    Have you compared stereo source used directly on integrated amp (with its own preamp) with the same source used through AVR (as preamp) + integrated amp in HT bypass mode?
     
  9. Khazul

    Khazul
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    Yes - the conclusion I have come to are:

    The AVR pre-amp equivalent stage is where most detail and in particular a sense of space and depth is most lost (comparing pre-amps, same external power amp).
    The AVR's power amp is nowhere near as good as controlling the low end of large floor standing speakers when given a full range audio signal (as opposed to bass managed fronts).

    With AV sound with bass management active, there is not a significant difference between the AVRs own amp and even a very good external amp - probably most because the detail that needs to be fed to the amps to hear a difference has already been lost in the AVRs pre-amp equivalent stage and with bass management, the AVR is not having to do what its amps seem weakest at.
     
  10. Delija

    Delija
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    Thanks.

    I was expecting your results with Yamaha RX-V781.

    It would be interesting to see the results of the same comparison with a little higher grade AVRs, like Yamaha RX-A3070, NAD T758 v3, Arcam AVR390/AVR550, Marantz SR7012....

    With integrated amps in HT bypass mode we lose bass management and proper room correction for subwoofer :(



    p.s. Yamaha A-S2100 is really great amp!
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  11. Rambles

    Rambles
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    Hi, in approximately the last 18 months I have had a fair few amplifiers in my room, and compared them for both multi channel listening for movies and tv and for stereo 2 channel listening for music. I'll quickly rank them in order that I thought they sounded best for 2 channel music purposes.

    I measure 'best' as clean clear audio with good separation of instruments and voices, an immersive stereo image and a hard to describe emotional pull, where there is a sensation of the singers and instruments being in the room with you. I know that sounds a bit poncy, but it is difficult to describe music with words!

    1st place is the Musical Fidelity M3i which is the amp I am currently using for all music listening and as a power amp for the front left and right speakers via HT bypass mode, connected to the pre-outs of my AVR. Then the rest in order of how I liked their sound for 2 channel music..

    Marantz PM8005

    Cambridge Audio CXR200

    Marantz SR7011

    Audiolab 8300CD pre into Behringer A500 power amp

    Denon 4400

    Denon 6300

    Yamaha AS-501 (sounded truly awful!).

    With regard to your point about the subwoofer, I added a BK XLS200 to the system as it accepts high level and low level inputs simultaneously. So, it is used as a second subwoofer with the AVR via low level. And is used as an extension to the main speakers when listening to music via the high level inputs, where it is tuned via the controls on the subwoofer itself.

    Adding that second sub really finished the system off for me. It sounds really lovely for music now, the added bass extension has removed any perceived harshness in the higher frequencies. And having two subs connected to the AVR, situated diagonally in the room, and EQ'd by Audyssey does sound a fair bit better than it did with just the one sub connected.
     
  12. Khazul

    Khazul
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    Hunt around on here - someone posted about comparing a 2070 or 3070 with one of the lowest in the range of Yamaha hifi amps for music :)

    I cant remember which sub-forum either hear on the AV receiver section - sometime in latter part of last year.

    When you use the AVR as a source, then the AVRs bass management is still active of course. The front pre-outs on the AVR reflect exactly what would have fed the AVRs own front amps, so bass management, auto room setup etc is done identically. You can expect to see some small differences in level and possibly eq curve between AVR only setup and AVR with external amp setup.

    As for lack of room eq and bass management for music with an integrated on its own, actually I don't generally like room correction on music - it keeps triggering subconscious alarm bells about something being wrong with the mix (due to years of listening for such things as a mix engineer).

    Even with AV sound I find the need to go tweak the auto-setup quite a lot as while accurate for a mic, it doesn't seem to apply a mix-engineers common sense pass ;)
     
  13. Delija

    Delija
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    @Rambles
    How far is Marantz SR7011 from M3i and PM8005 by your opinion?

    Just extending the natural response of front speakers is one way to go. It's also the "cleanest" way.

    Using high-pass filter on main speakers will give relief both to speakers and stereo ampilifier from low frequency spectrum and improve mid and high frequencies. Also, you could apply room correction only to subwoofer and on wider frequency range and resolve room modes.

    The benefits with second approach could be very noticeable. Of course, very good subwoofer (or two) is needed for that. The drawback is dependency from AVR preamp quality.

    I was thinking about music/stereo with isolated integrated amp, of course.

    I would like only high-pass filter on front speakers and low-pass + room correction on subwoofer.

    I still need either AVR or some processor for that, so all-in-one solution with high quality AVR with good preamp and DAC would be nice - if feasible.

    At the moment I'm using 3-band PEQ on SVS SB16-Ultra and I'm quite satisfied with results even if I can't get the perfect "flat line". Bass is better (tighter and more controlled) than in pure direct mode with full range front speakers. Especially with hi-fi audiophile music with heavy bass section like Ray Brown: SuperBass.

    Brown Funk - Ray Brown


    I would still like to see the result with Dirac.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  14. Rambles

    Rambles
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    I was pretty happy with the Marantz SR7011 for music for quite a while, and with the Cambridge Audio CXR200 that I had before that. Until I realised that I wasn't really listening to music much, and when I thought about why that was, it was because the experience wasn't really grabbing me.

    Both the Marantz PM8005 and the MF M3i were better enough, that they did grab me, and when putting on some favourite tracks the emotions and memories came flooding in. That's when I knew I was on the right track.

    The Marantz PM8005 and MF M3i were close to each other. I would have been happy with either. i demo'd them both at the same time (at home) and decided that the MF was just a tad better, so kept that one.
    Yes, absolutely. I do have a power amp with a high pass filter, so could do that. But, having experimented, it isn't worth it. The relatively simple set up of source - DAC - analogue amp - speakers + subwoofer, sounds really nice to me. I don't think adding EQ or applying a high pass filter to the mains speakers really improves it, for music. It does for movies, but the AVR handles all of that.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  15. gibbsy

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    @Delija At the beginning of this year it was obvious to me that something was missing from music when using the Denon X6200. I always played CDs with a Marantz SA8005 connected by analogue to the Denon and in pure direct. Sub was never used as my KEF R300s go low enough for my personal taste.

    My initial thought was to get a new receiver in the shape of an Arcam 550 or 850 and leave a one box solution. After following a few threads, including one by @Rambles I decided to go down the stereo amp route initially with a Marantx PM8005 but unfortunately I missed the boat on that one. I finally decided on a really rather excellent Rega Elicit R.

    The difference between the Denon and the Rega in a pure stereo mode is quite wide and showed just how good the KEFs can sound with a more powerful and musical amp. Now I just can't stop throwing album after album at the Rega. The Rega has also been seamless when working with the Denon in a 5.1.2 configuration.
     
  16. stranger

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    Another plus for the M3i (thanks Rambles) a future classic imo.
     
  17. Delija

    Delija
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    Interesting experience with M3i, considering the current price.
     
  18. Rambles

    Rambles
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    Indeed, there are not many that are that affordable that have a HT bypass feature.
     
  19. gibbsy

    gibbsy
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    The M3i is getting harder to find, especially at the give away price it was a few months ago. £699 is the cheapest I've seen on Amazon. AudioT has a couple of ex demo units available. AudioT only had a 5si available for audition when I bought the Rega, but, just like the M3i, it was too deep to fit into my cabinet (at the time*).

    *At the time my cabinet had a nice back to it. I have since made such a mess of drilling holes in it that it no longer has a functioning back. The wife is not best pleased but it bodes well for the future.:smashin: No wonder she didn't want holes in the ceiling for Atmos. I am to DIY what Donald Trump is to diplomacy.:)
     
  20. Delija

    Delija
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    600€ in Germany :)
    M3i
     
  21. BMR2

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    Great to read the interesting discussion that has evolved over the past week while I was away. :)

    I ended up blowing the budget (typical isn't it? ;)) on the Parasound HINT 6 stereo integrated. It seems to have a unique combination of features that I'm specifically looking for and as a bonus its predecessor seems very highly regarded. I'm eagerly anticipating its arrival! Though it was a bit expensive for me, I'm hopeful it will provide many years of involving audio.

    AVR update is on the back burner then. I'll live without the trigger I think.
     
  22. meep

    meep
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    I was about to chip in recommending the Parasound Halo P5 stereo processor as the best I'd found for dual sub integration. It has configurable low pass and high pass cut-offs that make integration less of a chore.

    Looks like you got there by yourself, in any case.

    I used a P5 for a while with my Matantz SR7010 and Parasound A23 Poweer Amp. It gave identical reprodution to my Marantz in direct mode but for me, the receiver blew it out of the water when I engaged room correction so I ended up selling on the P5.
     
  23. Khazul

    Khazul
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    I think these are functionally the best hifi amps for AV integration period, but very expensive over here in the UK. I was vaguely thinking of the parasound halo 2.1 integrated, but wasn't going to pay the UK asking price for it.
     
  24. Delija

    Delija
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    HINT 6 and maybe even "old" HINT with good discount really do sound very interesting.

    It would be interesting to compare its stereo performance with Arcam AVR850 with and without Dirac.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  25. meep

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    Well, as noted above, I had a Parasound P5 pre with an A23 power amp for a while and I compared it to my Marantz SR7010. Not exactly what you're looking for but nevertheless...

    With the AV receiver set to direct, there was no discernable difference between the Marantz and Parasound P5 used as processors from the same source and using the same A23 power amp.

    However, when I switched over to stereo mode on the Marantz (or any other mode that utilised the in-built room correction), material snapped into life and was significantly better to my ears. Better everything.

    Probably explained by the Marantz doing a decent job of room correction in my space, a feature missing from the P5 (and HINTs). I would expect the Arcam Dirac to be a step up again.
     
  26. Delija

    Delija
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    If only subwoofer optimization is an issue, then you could use Antimode or miniDSP 2x4 to equalize (optimize) subwoofer.

    That's the basic idea with systems like this - to have the purest path on main speakers and to apply room correction only to subwoofer.
     
  27. Delija

    Delija
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    What was the price? You can PM me if it's not for public :)
    When it's coming? (since it's a new model)
     
  28. BMR2

    BMR2
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    Now that I have a tracking number I can say that it's arriving tomorrow. :) I'm excited to give it a listen, which I won't be able to do for a few days. MSRP is just under three thousand US. I don't know if I should comment on pricing given the older style dealer network model Parasound uses, however I have been very happy with my experience dealing with Echo Audio in Portland OR so far.

    Quite an interesting idea! Given the longer waveform of lower frequencies I would think this is where room correction is most needed.
     

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