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Audio performance from a AV amp ?


Active Member
Over the weekend i was trying out a Onkyo 818 and B&W cm8/9's and although the performance was good it didnt quite have the 'thing' i was looking for. The excitement wasnt there !
Dug out an 5 year old Kenwood 3020se amp that i had and there was a marked improvement with sound, it came alive.

Am i right/wrong in thinking that the 818 just wont do it when comes to audio ? I wont deny that the 818 is a great bit of kit but maybe for a £1200-1800 speakers they wont do them justis !

Does any other AV amp offer excellent audio performance and be worth checking or should i just go for stright amp ?



Distinguished Member
AV amps are not really designed with music in mind. They do "OK" , just about.

They really come into their own with Movie soundtracks.

To get the same sound quality from an AV amp as a Stereo amp for music , you would be looking at spending 5 to 10 times more on the AV amp. Some AV amps , Onkyo in particular from personal experience , Just will not cut it for music at all.

Here is what I did.

Bought a decent stereo amp , Used the pre-outs from the AV amp to feed front left and right into the Stereo amp. Now the Stereo amp is driving front left and right for movies , the AV amp is just driving the Center , Sub , and Surrounds.

For music , just the stereo amp is on , Stereo sources , such as record deck , Squeezbox touch etc. are directly connected to the Stereo amp.

That gives me the best of both worlds , and has improved sound quality for both movies and music.

I went for the Marantz 8004 , which has a Unity gain or "Power amp" Feature , that way I can control volume from the AV amp and not worry about accidentally overdriving.
There are plenty of Stereo amps that have this feature.

You dont necessarily need it though , as this can be done by carefully setting up the volume controls on the Stereo amp and leaving them be. For me though , I needed that feature , as there are certain people in the house that have a habit of whacking up volume control knobs on hearing something they like !

Don Dadda

Distinguished Member
Am i right/wrong in thinking that the 818 just wont do it when comes to audio ?

IMO and many others - correct. As said by Andy1249, AV amps are not really designed with music in mind but there are some better at it than others. Onkyo's, especially budget to mid end, are not one of them.

Does any other AV amp offer excellent audio performance and be worth checking or should i just go for stright amp ?

I don't know about being excellent, but there are some very good ones about which can cost a kings ransom or arm and a leg. To equal a stereo performance with a AV will cost around 3 or 4 x as much ( sorry andy but i think 5-10 x is way too much). So How much are you prepared to spend as these are far from cheap?

If you can afford it, Arcam AVR400 (1.8k) and AVR600(£3-4k) are reported to excel in this area. So are the high end denon av's. Marantz AV are also known to be musical.

Adding a power amp, can help achieve better music SQ, but to really improve music, many has chosen the option layed out as above thus cutting out the av in the music chain.


Active Member
I had an Onkyo in the mid 90s and I was almost pleased when it broke down and died. It was absolutely dreadful for audio but okay for surround stuff.

They have improved a lot since, the NAD AVR I had for a few years was pretty good for music. Though their present models are a bit short on features like Dolby IIz. So it is a bit of a compromise. Arcam and Anthem are supposed to be okay, with the Anthem having less features but better reliability - or so it seems from the thousand posts I've read in the last week or so. :)


Distinguished Member
I think the point has been made, but I will use the illustration I commonly use to further the point.

If we consider a £500 stereo amp, the cost is £250 per amp channel.

If we multiply that up to a 7 channel amp, (7 x £250) the equal in an AV amp is £1750. And that doesn't take into account the extra electronics contained in an AV amp. So, more accurately, you would need a £2000 AV amp to equal the sound quality of a £500 Stereo amp.

Or a +£1000 AV amp to equal a more common £250 stereo amp. That puts everything into perspective.

As to Onkyo, I can only repeat the rumors I've heard. Onkyo are stellar for Movie, but just OK for Music. As other have said, there are more musical AV amps out there. But, let's keep some perspective, the Onkyo 818 should do a pretty fair job of it considering it is priced at about £1000.

Also, we assume you have consider all the OTHER standard things. Are you absolutely sure BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT, that the speakers are wired properly. That in every case the Amp(+) goes to the Speaker(+). Nothing will suck the life out of speakers like being wired improperly.

Give some thought to speaker placement and room acoustics. Speaker need a bit of room. There is no need to shove them up against the walls. Most can get by with 10" to 12" behind them. Though I had one pair of floorstanding speaker that really needed a minimum of 18" and more preferably 24" from the wall behind. That is uncommon though.

A simple look around your room will tell you if it is highly reflective. If this is an ultra-modern minimalist room, then it is probably very reflective.

Do you have a specific budget for this upgrade? As has been pointed out Marantz amps are noted for having decent musical capability.

As to adding a stereo amp, this can be accomplished two ways.

One has already been discussed. The Stereo amp can be connected to the Pre-Amp of the AV Receiver, and substituted for the AV amp front channels.

The other method, is to simply use the AV amp for Surround Sound, and when you want music, simply switch the front speakers to the stereo amp.

In this last case, you have two completely independent systems that simply share the front speakers. Beresford makes a quality affordable Speaker Switch that does this very task nicely. It allows a choice of two input sources to feed, I believe, your choice of two speaker systems.

I don't want to discredit the Onkyo to much, there are more musical amps, but at £1000 the 818 should still do a pretty fair job of it.

I have a couple of low cost Onkyo Stereo amps (~50w/ch), and at the price I can't complain about them. I think I like my Pioneer Stereo and my Yamaha stereo better, but the Onkyo still get the job done.

Once more thing, the more AV decoding circuitry you allow in to the system, the more it is going to compromise the stereo music sound quality. If your amp has a Pure Direct or Surround By-Pass mode, try using it to get an idea of how much difference it makes.

Also, for stereo, try using Analog inputs. If you are using a BluRay player as a CD Player, connect the analog out from the BluRay to the amp, and compare the sound of Analog vs HDMI. With HDMI, the DACs in the AV amp are doing the decoding. With analog, the DACs in the BluRay are doing the decoding. One may sound better than the other. Still, we would expect the DACs in the Onkyo 818 to be pretty good.

Just a few thoughts.

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Don Dadda

Distinguished Member
the Onkyo 818 should do a pretty fair job of it considering it is priced at about £1000.

I agree and the key word there is 'should'. For a £1k av amp it should do a decent job, but history and reality suggest not. Not heard the 818 but have the 805/7 and 9 and I couldn't take what they were handing out musically. As we know and as you say, Onkyo's are Stellar with films and are feature laden boxes which are hard to beat pricewise, but other similar price but different brand av's can offer as much or near enough, but with a more palatable music side.


Active Member
Thanks again for advice.

I have got hold of a Naim XS amp to try and for sure its very good, the old Kenwood 3020se that i used was noticably better than the Onkyo 818 but i will check over everything again.
On reading your reply (Blue Wiz) I will check all connections again as was bi-amping and using the on board DAC, i'll try using the phone outputs form the cd source that i use on Kenwood.

Is the B&W cm8 hard to drive or something ? Find they 'burst' into life with Kenwood and specially the Naim.

Also thanks for mentioning the speaker switching, that might be a good idea and use the 818 and Kenwood till i can affort the Naim.

Is the Pioneer LX-85 a better sounding AV amp or not much better than the 818 ?


Well-known Member
I have the Pioneer LX-53 and wanted better sound for music, I now have an Arcam FMJ A28 which has an AV mode so I can still use it as normal for movies without any fiddling. The Arcam sounds much better for music.

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