First proper HT - experienced opinions needed!

Bromie

Standard Member
Since this is my first thread here, i thought i'd start off with a bit of an explanation. :lesson:

I've had a 5.1 HTIB (Samsung HT-DS110) for about 4 years now, and it has served me well with no problems at all during this time. The sound quality is ok, but as you'd guess it's more of an all-rounder rather than making, for example, music sound good. As i've said this has served me well for ages, but i'm now in the mood for an upgrade to my first 'proper' HT.
Oh, just in case you want to know, i've got a 26" Polaroid HDTV (i know, not top-of-the-range, but messing with the settings and using the XBox as a DVD upscaler means films look amazing), Samsung freeview, and an XBox 360. The freeview is connected with SCART to the TV, and the XBox is connected to the TV with VGA and to the HT with an optical connection.

So, now that i want to upgrade i've been looking everywhere for advice on what to get to suit my needs. I was originally going to get the Mordaunt Short Premiere package (after reading numerous reviews about their quality) for about £300 from Richer Sounds, but i've now decided that i'd be able to get better speakers if i was to buy them in stages (front, centre, rears, sub-woofer - advice from here).
Therefore i've settled on getting 906i's for the front, a 905i for the centre, 903i's for the surrounds, and a 309i sub-woofer. I reckon these'll sound a bit better than the average speaker, and i suppose any upgrade is better than a HTIB. It took me ages to decide on what to get, but there are so many options that if i don't just decide on something then i'll never reach a decision. And also this is the Amp forum, so i'll get shouted at if i talk about speakers... ;)

Anyway, i've set a budget of about £250 for an AV Receiver (i'm nearly 21, go to uni, and live at home, so i'm not really looking for studio-grade equipment :)) So far, i've narrowed down my choice to a Denon 1908. I've seen that the Yamaha 861 and the Onkyo 506/576 are near equivalent, but several opinions on this forum have made me prefer the Denon. My mum and dad have got a Denon CD-changer HIFI, and the sound out of it is really clean and crisp (which is what i'm guessing the 1908 would sound like), and have read that the Yamaha sort-of has to be a bit louder to sound good, and music isn't great, and that the Onkyo focuses more on features and power than sound quality (and looks... :smashin:). So, there's why i prefer the Denon.
However, since it is now outdated i can't find many opinions on it and can't sample it in a AV shop. Which is why i started this thread. Does anyone have any advice for me, or does everything sound OK so far? I'm not sure whether there are any equivalents that would suit my needs, but i'm sure there are loads of experts out there who would.
Oh, i usually listen to about 1/3 gaming, 1/3 movies and 1/3 music. Hence my speaker choice allowing a decent music quality (JUST through stereo - thanks again AVForum experts), but still giving a decent surround sound experience. I'm just not sure whether the receiver i've chosen is the best i can get for my needs and budget.

I plan on bi-amping the front speakers (i know it's a bit of a debate, but i'll try it and see what i think) and buying a Blu-Ray player at a later date (and maybe a new TV eventually). And i know that a dedicated stereo amp with the pre-outs will give a better stereo music quality, so would like to try that, as funds allow. I'm OK regarding how it'll all be connected up, but would still appreciate people's opinions on my choices (and maybe even on my speaker choice and any suitable Blu-Ray players which have multi-channel analogue outputs :thumbsup:).

Just to note, i haven't bought anything yet, but plan on doing so when my student loan comes through next week. Also, my bedroom isn't massive (maybe about 5m x 4m?) so i don't need excessive power, and prefer quality over volume (listen to old pop music, classical, prog rock, oldies). This is why i decided on 906i's (music) and the 903i's (to fill out the back of my soundstage). Although i like the sound of bullets whizzing past and planes flying over (in movies, obviously), my current speakers sound too localised, so would prefer more ambience from the back. Will have to try and test them and see what i think.

Any help would be massively appreciated.

Thanks, Dan.
 

rwniel

Novice Member
The Denon AVR1908 is becoming quite hard to find now it's been discontinued (- its replacement is the AVR1909 although unfortunately over your budget). However, if you can find one it sounds like it would be a good match for your requirements. The Onkyo SR506 isn't a good choice for use with the blu ray associated surround formats; the SR576 is better in that regard, because it accepts LPCM surround over hdmi. It does offer in-built bi-amping option (via the surround back L/R speaker terminals), but does otherwise lack pre-outs for adding a proper stereo amp. The Yamaha does have a bit more power than the Denon, but even so with the same sensitivity of speakers you shouldn't have to turn it up louder to give the same volume; it's more down to the individual channel levels you set though which is configurable on both av amps.

Your Mordaunt Short speaker idea sound like a solid choice. They'll certain sound better than more descrete compact speaker options, especially with music. As always it's worth seeking an audition.

Robert
 

eaglemmoomin

Novice Member
I think you are looking at Superfi for the 1908. The Black ones are getting as rare as hens teeth the Silver ones should still be locatable.

http://www.superfi.co.uk/index.cfm/page/moreinfo.cfm/Product_ID/3592

Using your student loan to buy audio equipment. I don't know students.........
I did an industrial year between my second and third years and blew a lot of my salary on hi fi:smashin:.

Your idea is a good one and should allow you to scale things up. Also hopefully it'll last you a couple of years at least.

Also are the 906is biwireable? I'd assume so as they are a 2.5 way design. As obviously if you are planning on biamping the speakers need two sets of terminals.
 
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Bromie

Standard Member
rwniel, i see what you're saying about the receiver, but i know that SuperFi still has them in stock (since they're being replaced by the 1909 i won't be able to audition it, so might as well order from the internet). Even so, i'd still like to get it sooner rather than later just in case. This is why i'm making sure i'm making the right decision before i just dive in and get one.

I'm leaning more towards the Yamaha and Denon than the Onkyo - don't know why exactly, but some of the reviews on this forum make it sound like Onkyo would power one of those stupid car systems that just make the speaker cones vibrate a lot, and Yamaha and Denon are more like something you'd find...erm...somwhere that uses nice sounding, good quality amplifiers.
I think i agree that the Denon will have a more 'clean' sound ('cos i know what they can sound like), but i'm only going on reviews from this forum for the Yamaha, so would appreciate any owners' views.

And eaglemmoomin, great minds think alike ;). I think my university would rather me spend my money on good quality AV equipment than books, anyway... :)nono:). And i think that the brushed metal Denon would look nicer than the black one anyway, and it is SuperFi i found it on. But, like i said i want to try and get it soon just in case i can't find it again anywhere else. Thanks for the input on the speakers, i'm steadily feeling more confident that i'm making the right choice, and if my current Samsung HTIB has lasted 4 years i hope that a new system would last just as long, like you said. Even if it doesn't, it'll be cheaper to upgrade in bits compared to what i'm able to do with a HTIB.

Thanks for the help, greatly appreciated (and needed).

Dan.
 

Bromie

Standard Member
Just to add to this thread, i've just been reading Home Cinema Choice's review archives, and they have a AV Receiver comparison test, with the 1908 coming 3rd. These are the results:

1st Pioneer VSX-1017 [5/5]
2nd Cambridge Azur 540R V3 [4/5]
3rd Denon AVR-1908 [4/5]
4th Yamaha DSP-AX761 [4/5]
5th Panasonic SA-XR700EG [3/5]

I know that most of these are now outdated, but these are all AV Receivers along the lines of what i wanted. I've seen the Cambridge on Richer Sounds for about £200, so just automatically assumed that it wasn't as good as the Denon (and i also thought it didn't look very substantial and wouldn't be as good as a more expensive receiver). The Pioneer is about £400, so is a bit more than i really wanted to spend on my first proper HT setup.
So, i was wondering whether anyone has any opinion on the Cambridge, as it doesn't look to me to be as good as the Denon (no upconverting, only 5.1 analogue inputs), and lacking in features. Because of the price of the Pioneer and the performance of the Cambridge, it looks like my original choice of the Denon still stands, BUT, am still open to ideas from anyone who knows more about this subject (everyone).
 

Bromie

Standard Member
Wait, strike that, reverse it (obscure Gene Wilder Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reference).

I've just realised that the black Pioneer receiver is £400, but the silver one is only £350, go figure. To be honest, i'd have either (but prefer brushed metal), so am now open to buying the Pioneer. Also, it has more power, features, and apparently better sound quality, and is THX certified which i know means it should sound as good as they make out. Again, if anyone has any views on this receiver then please let me know.
 

eaglemmoomin

Novice Member
Bear in mind that the Pioneer will not accept either undecoded HD audio via HDMI or HD audio that has been decoded and is being transmitted as LPCM to the amp. The Denon will accept LPCM over HDMI. So if you have any interest in HD audio codecs (ie Dolby Digital TrueHD, Dolby Digital+, DTS-Master) then the only way you will be able to get them into the Pioneer is via the analogue multi channel in.

I also have to say if you are going to forsake HD audio codecs via HDMI then that opens up a wider range of amplifier choices and I'd start looking at the second hand market for Cambridge Audio 640rs or Arcam AV amps (the second hand value on these will really take a hit come December) as they will blow Jap avr amps out of the water in the £250-£500 bracket for music and will more than hold their own for Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS.

Cambridge 640Rs can be picked up from Richer Sounds for £350. I'd be willing to bet you could get a discount in a Richer Sounds store.
 

rwniel

Novice Member
If you want an av receiver which focuses on the the core DTS/Dolby Digital decoding (though can accept separate multi-channel analogue input, providing it's been decoded by your pc or standalone blu ray player) but is otherwise a no-frills but above average sounding especially with music sources, then the cambridge audio azur amps are a great option. Especially the 640R - that's basically where the money is being spent rather than features like upconversion or extra in-built decoding. It doesn't make it 'not as good' as the Denon, just different. :) As always you should try to arrange an audition and also use the site search as they crop in discussion quite a bit.

I would try to get away from the notion of 'outdated' though; being previous generation models is why they're less expensive than the models they're replacing. Likewise, if you're able to consider second hand as an option. It's a case of deciding what features you have to have as opposed to what would be nice to have, or merely part of future-proofing.

Robert
 
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Bromie

Standard Member
Well to be honest, i don't really know whether i want HD audio. I've made do with DD and DTS for a while, but haven't heard many other formats, so don't really know how they compare. I understand that only expensive receivers decode HD audio, but like i said i don't really know whether i want it.

With the way you're describing it can the Pioneer receive HD audio over HDMI if it has been decoded by a Blu-Ray player (such as the PS3 - is it PCM it needs to send as)? Or, can i buy a Blu-Ray player with analogue multi-channel outputs and connect it that way? Obviously, this isn't a huge decisive factor in choosing a receiver 'cos i'm not really sure about HD audio.

If it helps, this i basically what i want in a receiver:
- Good movie/game sound quality (i accept that not every budget receiver gives great stereo audio but it would be nice)
- Possibility for some kind of HD audio connection at some point (analogue or digital connections) - i don't yet have a Blu-Ray player (but will eventually), but would like the possibility of HD audio
- At least a possibility of using 7.1 (bedroom is small but would like it when i move somewhere bigger, for example)
- Maybe the option of just one HDMI lead going into the TV, with everything going into the back of the receiver (actually, not needed, it's just convenient)

However, after looking at the 640, it seems that it focuses more on very high quality sound than thousands of features, and this may be what i'm looking for. I don't want to look at the Arcams, as i'm confused enough already so want to narrow my search to a select few.

So for now, my latest decisions are the Pioneer 1017 or the Cambridge Audio 640R. Does anyone know whether there are any features i would probably miss on the Cambridge which are present on the Pioneer, or does the superior sound quality more than make up for this?

Thanks again for the advice, it's really helping!

Dan.
 

eaglemmoomin

Novice Member
Well to be honest, i don't really know whether i want HD audio. I've made do with DD and DTS for a while, but haven't heard many other formats, so don't really know how they compare. I understand that only expensive receivers decode HD audio, but like i said i don't really know whether i want it.

With the way you're describing it can the Pioneer receive HD audio over HDMI if it has been decoded by a Blu-Ray player (such as the PS3 - is it PCM it needs to send as)? Or, can i buy a Blu-Ray player with analogue multi-channel outputs and connect it that way? Obviously, this isn't a huge decisive factor in choosing a receiver 'cos i'm not really sure about HD audio.

If it helps, this i basically what i want in a receiver:
- Good movie/game sound quality (i accept that not every budget receiver gives great stereo audio but it would be nice)
- Possibility for some kind of HD audio connection at some point (analogue or digital connections) - i don't yet have a Blu-Ray player (but will eventually), but would like the possibility of HD audio
- At least a possibility of using 7.1 (bedroom is small but would like it when i move somewhere bigger, for example)
- Maybe the option of just one HDMI lead going into the TV, with everything going into the back of the receiver (actually, not needed, it's just convenient)

However, after looking at the 640, it seems that it focuses more on very high quality sound than thousands of features, and this may be what i'm looking for. I don't want to look at the Arcams, as i'm confused enough already so want to narrow my search to a select few.

So for now, my latest decisions are the Pioneer 1017 or the Cambridge Audio 640R. Does anyone know whether there are any features i would probably miss on the Cambridge which are present on the Pioneer, or does the superior sound quality more than make up for this?

Thanks again for the advice, it's really helping!

Dan.
The Pioneer will not accept audio via HDMI fullstop same as the 640r. The only way is via the analogue multi channel inputs, so you would'nt be able to use a PS3 without putting yet another box into the equation, best options are either a blueray player with analogue multi channel out or a HTPC with a 7.1 channel analogue multichannel out (pretty much all of them now) .

As for extra features I'm always of the opinion that fancy processing modes are pointless. You'll spend five minutes going 'oooh, look I can pretend I'm watching the Matrix in a fish bowl' then turn it off and never use it again.

I would take the Cambridge Audio over the Pioneer as you buy an amp to listen to music/multi channel audio. I would say pretty much all AV amps below the higher price brackets will provide crap stereo sound. A notable exception being the Cambridge Audio 640r. Arcam avrs are reknowned for musical ability (in terms of features the integrated Arcam avrs and the Cambridge Audio 640r are very similar) then high end Yamaha,Marantz amps are generally felt to have good musical ability the point is though they would be way out of your budget.

What I'm trying to say is if you can have a listen to a) Cambridge Audio b) Pioneer c) Denon and d) an Arcam with your selected speaker purchase it'll give you the entire spectrum of possibilities and you'll have heard them so you'll know if you like the sound that the various combinations produce.

Having said that if you want an easy purchase and just want to go buy something at a good price new then buy the Cambridge Audio 640r. I believe Richer Sounds owns Mordaunt Short anyway so the likely hood of being able to arrange a demo of a 640r and your chosen speaker setup would be fairly high if you prearranged it.

Golden rule is if at all possible always listen to your intended purchases before splurging the cash. Everybodys different and no matter what What Hifi tell you one mans average is quite often another mans fantastic and vice versa.
 
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rwniel

Novice Member
My opinion of the extra blu ray associated surround formats is that if I'm going to be trying to get the best picture quality I should do the same with the surround. There isn't always a huge difference, but when there is it can sound significant.

If you feel the PS3 is even a possibility then go down the LPCM surround amp route e.g. Denon AVR1908 or Yamaha 861se. The PS3 as a blu ray player doesn't have multi-channel analogue outs as has already been stated. Additionally it can't send those associated formats to the av amp/receiver to decode, so you could view in-built hd amp decoding as something you're paying for and not using (unless it's merely for future-proofing requirements).

However, if you plan to go down the PC route just look for an av amp/receiver with separate multi-channel analogue outputs (up to 7.1 surround providing your soundcard can output them) and leave it to the playback software to decode. There are already standalone blu ray players that can decode all these formats and also have analogue outputs with more players to come. So the same could apply even if you decided to do that. Therefore hdmi surround isn't an absolute requirement, even though it's nice to have if you were to go down the standalone player route and want to try to simplify the cabling.

Both the Cambridge Audio 640R and Pioneer 1017 offer multi-channel pre-outs, so you could improve music performance further down the line by adding a separate stereo amp. However, the 640R also has an extra hdmi source input. As long as you're just talking about hdmi sources, then you don't require analogue video upconversion only hdmi switching. As eaglemmoomin said, It would be well worth you arranging an audition especially as the Cambridge Audio av receivers are only available in store (rather than online) right now.

Robert
 
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Bromie

Standard Member
Thanks, that's great advice and i think i'll wait and look for Blu-Ray players that can decode HD audio onboard and output it over analogue outputs. I'm in no rush so it gives me plenty of time to look for a suitable player.

Also, i'm going to Richer Sounds on saturday (either Liverpool or Chester), so i'm going to phone up in advance to make sure the 640R and 906i's are in stock so i can listen to them. Even if they're not, i'm the kind of person who usually buys without trying (although i've nearly always done enough research on the subject so that i like whatever i buy), but i would prefer to hear them first.

Looks like i'm set to buy - just need to try them out! :thumbsup:
 

eaglemmoomin

Novice Member
Thanks, that's great advice and i think i'll wait and look for Blu-Ray players that can decode HD audio onboard and output it over analogue outputs. I'm in no rush so it gives me plenty of time to look for a suitable player.

Also, i'm going to Richer Sounds on saturday (either Liverpool or Chester), so i'm going to phone up in advance to make sure the 640R and 906i's are in stock so i can listen to them. Even if they're not, i'm the kind of person who usually buys without trying (although i've nearly always done enough research on the subject so that i like whatever i buy), but i would prefer to hear them first.

Looks like i'm set to buy - just need to try them out! :thumbsup:
I find with Hi-fi its generally worth listening to it if at all possible as it tends to be quite a personal choice. Especially when you are stumping up a lot of cash.

Also remember after a certain level of competence in your amplifier your source and speakers are what you'll be listening to so its always best to listen to your speaker choice with your amp. I'm sure you will love the Mordaunt Shorts but you may discover a deep love for a different brand of speakers that just synergises with your amp better.
 

Bromie

Standard Member
Just in case you're wondering, i've been to Richer Sounds today and decided on what i'm going to get:

Cambridge Audio 540R
Mordaunt Short 902i F/L
" " 905i C
" " 302i LS/RS
" " 309i SW

I always knew that the 902's wouldn't have really fit in my room as surrounds, but after seeing them in the shop i didn't realise how small the 302's were! I never really looked at the dimensions on the internet but i just assumed they were the same size as the 902's. Anyway, after some advice i realised that the 906's and the 640R would be massive overkill for the size of my room, so have decided on the above equipment, which i hope should still provide good sound quality. Also, i thought that i should get the 905i instead of the 304i, 'cos i've read it's better to match the fronts if you can. Even though it's a lot lot bigger than the 304, i prefer sound quality over better centre speaker placement (i could put the 304 in front of my TV like a satellite, but the 905 would have to go under the LCD).

Just in case anyone is in the same position as me, the floorstanding speakers would probably be too big for a small room, and so the sound quality will suffer as a result. Also, the 640R is about twice the height of the 540R, and is more suited to a medium to large living room, etc. And according to the man in Richer Sounds, the difference between the 340R and the 540R is just a difference in power and i think the 540R has 6.1 (as opposed to the 340R's 5.1) - i was worried that sound quality would suffer with lower models, but apparently it still sounds as amazing as with higher models.

Finally, because of the size of the centre speaker i've decided that i'll put my TV on top of it. Do you think this is OK, as my TV is only 26" and doesn't weigh much, and from this forum i've realised that speakers are more sturdy than i'd thought. I've also measured the TV base and it's smaller than the centre speaker, so will fit on top OK.

Dan.
 

Ambient Fish

Active Member
Sound like a good system Bromie lets have a good review of your thoughts on the HTIB vs Separates issue once it's set up:thumbsup:
 

eaglemmoomin

Novice Member
Just in case you're wondering, i've been to Richer Sounds today and decided on what i'm going to get:

Cambridge Audio 540R
Mordaunt Short 902i F/L
" " 905i C
" " 302i LS/RS
" " 309i SW

I always knew that the 902's wouldn't have really fit in my room as surrounds, but after seeing them in the shop i didn't realise how small the 302's were! I never really looked at the dimensions on the internet but i just assumed they were the same size as the 902's. Anyway, after some advice i realised that the 906's and the 640R would be massive overkill for the size of my room, so have decided on the above equipment, which i hope should still provide good sound quality. Also, i thought that i should get the 905i instead of the 304i, 'cos i've read it's better to match the fronts if you can. Even though it's a lot lot bigger than the 304, i prefer sound quality over better centre speaker placement (i could put the 304 in front of my TV like a satellite, but the 905 would have to go under the LCD).

Just in case anyone is in the same position as me, the floorstanding speakers would probably be too big for a small room, and so the sound quality will suffer as a result. Also, the 640R is about twice the height of the 540R, and is more suited to a medium to large living room, etc. And according to the man in Richer Sounds, the difference between the 340R and the 540R is just a difference in power and i think the 540R has 6.1 (as opposed to the 340R's 5.1) - i was worried that sound quality would suffer with lower models, but apparently it still sounds as amazing as with higher models.

Finally, because of the size of the centre speaker i've decided that i'll put my TV on top of it. Do you think this is OK, as my TV is only 26" and doesn't weigh much, and from this forum i've realised that speakers are more sturdy than i'd thought. I've also measured the TV base and it's smaller than the centre speaker, so will fit on top OK.

Dan.
Sounds fine, yes the main differences between the 340 and 540 are power. I will say though as far as the amp goes I thought the original intention was to have some room for future growth ie for when you move out and so on. If you have the rack space and extra £100 available I'd still go for the 640R model as it was the premium version and has better components in it (also its a £600 quid amp going for a song) will last you longer due to system upgrade possibilities ie 7 channel or bi amplification which will make a big difference for music. Not that there is anything wrong with the 540R and if you stay in the same place for a couple of years then by that point you might want to upgrade anyway.

It still sounds like you have'nt actually heard the system stuck together? Ask the bloke in Richer Sounds if you can listen to the speakers with both amps connected up. Listen to both at your desired listening levels and then decide if you are happy with the quality of sound from the 540 or the 640 and then pick based on what you have heard not what the bloke in the shop has told you. Take along your films and your music this is very very important and I should have stressed that earlier.

Remember that just because the amp has extra power you don't have to run it at that level. Mostly listening at normal volumes you would'nt be taxing either the 540 or 640 to be honest. What is more important is the tonal quality that amp gives to what you are listening to.
 

Bromie

Standard Member
Well i was originally going to get the 640R for the sake of future-proofedleyness (i think i just made that up), but like the speakers didn't know how big it actually was. It's size is only a trivial matter really, as it's not hard to buy a bigger TV stand, but i don't think i will be moving house for a couple of years, and, if i feel the need, may upgrade when the time comes.

BUT, like you said i could really do with listening to them (the shop closed before i could really get a chance - cracking advice from the staff, though). And the way i see it is that it's volume is basically how much power is being used by the amplifier. Therefore if the 640 has more power versus the 540 then it follows that the 640 is able to produce higher volumes, alas with less sound distortion and at the same quality as the 540 (i'm guessing the only differences lie in the 7.1 and bi-amping features). Oh, and sorry for the way that's written - i've just been watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

Like most proper audiophiles, i prefer quality over quantity, and understand that amplifiers rarely operate at maximum power. I wanted my first non-separate system produce a good-quality sound, which led me onto matching a Cambridge Audio system with the Mordaunt Short speakers. I think (without as yet listening to said system) that i've picked a decent (either above-budget or mid-range) system, but hope that i still think this after listening to it.
I don't always listen to the HT at the same volume, but at the level at which it sounds 'right', i.e. movies have just enough 'bang' to be heard, but not enough to overpower the bass, and likewise for music and games. Maybe, then, i should go for the 540R if it isn't power/volume i'm after. That is if the 540 still has the same sound quality as the 640. My room is a bit small for 7.1 (and remember i can wait 'till i upgrade in a couple of years or so if i need it), and although i would have liked to give bi-amping a try i don't think it was a deal-breaker. Well, i'm saying that but i haven't heard the difference in person to know... Oh, and the 540 has 6.1, so at least i have the option of trying that if i feel the need, but i know the 5/6/7.1 debate is a bit controversial, so it's not essential.

So, when my student loan finally comes through i'm going to Richer Sounds to try the proposed combination out, and if i approve (which i hope/i'm guessing i will), i'll buy it.

Thanks again for all the advice, it really has helped a lot. :thumbsup:

Dan.
 

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