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Someone cure my AV buying addiction! (and thoughts on integrated vs pre|power combo)

Discussion in 'AV Receivers & Amplifiers' started by Smurfin, Aug 4, 2003.

  1. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    Ok I'll warn you now this will be a bit of a meandering post, with likely poor descriptions. I'm no expert on AV, so forgive me if I make a incorrect comments along the way!

    It seems only a few weeks ago now that I was looking at my system and thinking "hmm I'm not happy." I put my thoughts on it into a separate thread, but in summary I felt "tired" of the sound of my front sound stage, and wanted smoother integration between my mains and centre speaker. I also wanted standmounts as opposed to floorstanders (huge speakers don't float my boat like they used to, I think that opinions changed as my hair's started turning grey)

    The kit in my set-up was as follows:

    Sanyo PLV-Z1 projector
    Yamaha DSP-A1 amp
    Skyworth 1050p DVD player
    Mission 775e mains
    Mission 77c1 centre
    Mission 77ds rears
    Paradigm Servo 15 subwoofer

    I've always had Yamaha amps, and bar one foray into Wharefdale territory I've always had Mission speakers.

    Taking my usual stance of evaluating the market carefully and demoing all suitable speaker types (yeah right :p) within days I placed an order with Eric for 3 x M&K MPS1510s. I didn't buy them totally blind (just almost) as I'd heard them some time ago at Ian Js. What I remembered (and indeed what various people on these forums have said), is that they offer excellent imaging, and produced a clear, uncoloured accurate sound.

    Of course, I'd been reading alot about M&K speakers and the 4ohm impedance, which then started me thinking about power and whether my A1 would be sufficient to drive them hard (I listen to most movies @ Dolby Reference Level). Now I'm sure the A1 would be fine, but undoubtedly a good power amp would give smoother results: after all, why spend over £1300 on a new front soundstage and then (possibly) starve it of the power to make it really sing?

    And thus began the justification to myself, my wallet, and my credit card that I really needed a new amp. On Friday I picked up my brand spanking new Rotel RMB1075 multi-channel power amp (bought from Leicester hi-fi who may I add, have given me superb service: before I got there they even went down the local toy shop and bought me a big bag of play sand to fill my new speaker stands. I also got the 1075 for £760).

    The original plan was to use the A1 as a processor only, but true to form, this weekend I ended up buying a Lexicon DC-2 processor from garyc on these forums (The ultimate "Haggle" thread for anyone who's read it;)). The way I figured it was I could get into high end processing for comparitively small cost (taking into account the sale of the A1, the Lexicon will have cost me a mere £350!).

    So that's where I've been, my setup looks like this now:

    Sanyo PLV-Z1 projector
    Lexicon DC-2 processor
    Rotel RMB 1075 THX 5-channel power amp
    Skyworth 1050p DVD player
    M&K MPS1510s LCR.
    Mission 77ds rears
    Paradigm Servo 15 subwoofer

    All this in the space of 2 weeks! I must be mad.

    Anyway, after collecting most of the kit from various different parts of the country this weekend (including a new AV rack), I settled in yesterday to set it all up. I'm still waiting the M&Ks to arrive, but actually I see that as a good thing as it's easier to spot which components are affecting performance when only so many variables are changing.

    So with anticipation I stripped my kit down, and hooked up everything all over again, with the DC-2 taking pride of place above the Rotel (and what a reassuringly big mother the power amp is).

    After reading the extensive Lexicon manual in the sun (hey I had to get a few rays in :p), I configured everything to the THX 5.1 settings: all speakers to small, sides and not rears, and the crossover @ 80hz.

    The channels were first calibrated with the Lexicons internal test tones, and then double checked with Avia (reassuringly, the difference between the 2 was only 1db).

    And then I was ready to go!

    So the big question is, how different is it? I'd always been pleased with the performance of my ageing A1. It's an oldie but a goodie, and has (to my ears) ALWAYS performed well. A little too coloured, but a solid flagship amp nonetheless. And I was curious to hear what the fuss is all about on the "higher end" processors. The DC-2 itself is also an old processor, and
    by all accounts not in the same league as the MC-1. But still, considering new retail was almost £4000 (with all added modules such as DTS THX-EX etc), it's more than double what the Yamaha was originally, and thats without adding a power amp!

    Once everything was set I pulled out my favourite demo DVDs (and the one's I know pretty well on my old system) - Toy Story 2, Titan AE, and LOTR dts (I only say dts specifically on LOTR because I hate the R1 DD mix, one of the few exceptions).

    So Toy Story 2 kicked in at -10db reference level....and I thought.... "hmm is that it?". I was disappointed:( I was expecting to be blown away all over again....and it didn't happen.

    To say I was surprised is an understatement, I suppose "underwhelmed" is the word which really sums up how I felt. It was different, but was it that much better?

    But no matter, after Buzz Lightyear had his nuts blown off by the Evil Zurge, I decided to harass the neighbours with the Ice Field sequence from Titan AE. Again, it kicked in, and....well, exactly the same really. Underwhelmed. Sure it sounded amazing, but I put that as much down to the Servo 15 doing its work as the Lexicon/Rotel.

    So far so bad:(

    Once I'd cracked open another beer (oh yes I'd had a couple during the "setup process";)) and got over my initial disappointment, I dropped in LOTR, and flicked through a few chapters. The first battle sounded impressive, and dare I say it, more detailed than I remember. In fact I thought this without looking for it, if that makes sense? Then I switched to the first scene where we see Frodo sitting beneath a tree in the Shire, at the moment of Gandalfs arrival.

    WOW:D This was the first "ambient" scene I'd put on since the discs started spinning, and the surrounds simply leapt out at me. Again, I wasn't consciously "listening" for the surrounds, but I have never felt so immersed in a film moment as then. It felt like I was literally surrounded by birds and swaying trees. Dare I say it, but I started grinning:D

    I switched back to Titan AE and Toy Story 2, and now that I could properly listen to it (minus the sense of expectation), all sorts of thing were jumping out at me. Probably more than anything else (especially on Toy Story 2), the steering struck me as more precise. Panning sounds around the soundstage were smooth but at the same time precise. And the clarity. Yes please, I want some more:D

    Tonight I put on Antz in Dolby Digital, and watched it @ THX Reference level. I'd not watched this for about 2 years, and tonight the soundtrack has bowled me over.

    Very subtle in many places, this soundtrack throws snippets of action around the surrounds at different times (insects buzzing over your head etc), and the detail, clarity and smoothness really struck me. "Immersive" is the only word I can use to describe it, and yes I've felt it before but not to this degree.

    Some general observations I would make so far are :

    1. The whole system feels like it's benefitting from more power. Its difficult to describe, but even @ reference level, nothing feels strained, and the rears which seemed to struggle before are positively singing.

    2. "Singing". In general I'd describe the whole system as much more neutral and vibrant. I've actually noticed this more in ambient scenes rather than "full-on" in your face action sequences. Surrounds are so vibrant that I thought I'd got my db levels wrong....I thought they were just louder (that old DTS trick). But nope, they were spot on! - magic!

    3. Steering. Not sure if it's the Lexicons channel delay setup, but the steering is spot on like I've never heard it before! Crisp, sharp, utterly convincing. Panning never sounded so good.

    4. Detail. Again it's the "small" details that are making me sit up and look round: like Princess Bala smashing open the window of her prison near the end of Antz....it felt like I could hear every single twig hitting the ground with breathtaking clarity.

    Suffice to say, I'm pleased with it's performance. If you're used to having a decent integrated amp in your setup then the differences aren't (necessarily) immediately apparent. But with a little time spent listening, amazing little things start to become apparent. And I'm noticing more things all the time.

    I'm sure the Lex/Rotel have got alot more things up their sleeves to show me in my DVD soundtracks, I'm going to spend the next few weeks finding out what else I haven't heard before :)

    Of course, I haven't even touched Logic7 yet, I need another power amp and 2 more speakers (I'll bide my time for now), and I'm not sure on THX mode yet. From the last couple of days viewing, I've found that if I'm playing @ reference level, I find engaging THX slightly more pleasant on the ears: it just takes that "edge" off it at that volume. Anything lower though, and I think I prefer vanilla Dolby Digital and DTS.

    Although the DC-2 is an obselete piece of kit (and isn't everything eventually?) and far from the pinnacle of AV processing, I'm happy in the knowledge that I've paid a (relatively) small price to get on the edge of what I consider to be the "high end" of the market.

    Now all I need is my M&K speakers to arrive, before I assault you with more drivel about how wonderful my set-up sounds :)

    Oh how I love this AV malarky.

    Cheers
    Matt

    *THIS THREAD IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF NATHAN_SILLY, MAY HE REST IN PEACE*:D
     
  2. Neiliboy

    Neiliboy
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    Hey guess what - im in Cambridge too! :)

    Neil
     
  3. rags

    rags
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    Smurfin - keep up the good work and welcome to the overdraft club.
     
  4. Steve.EX

    Steve.EX
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    Smurfin.

    It is good that you "understand" and appreciate your new toys.
    I have on several occasions tried to explain the difference between good and higher end kit to people who just just don't hear the differences, i liken this to what an artist once said to me when i asked the chap "why can i not draw well at all?" and he said "because you are not looking at the subject properly".
    Certainly the higher up the scale you go the less the IMMEDIATE differences are there, but they ARE there you simply have to know what you are listening to/for. I have often thought in the presence of others that alot of people CANNOT differentiate between what sounds different and what IS better, (and to some extend i do not think it is purely subjective).
    As we go up the scale the differences are not perhaps night and day in the way comparing a Videologic to Denon 3803 might be but improvements in detail, stability, etc etc become apparent when listening to known examples over perhaps a period of time.
    I have no doubt your Lexicon/Rotel set-up (which i am sure is very nice by anyones standards) will bring many benefits over time to your Yamaha.

    Regards

    Steven.

    This post is in NO way dedicated to NS or any such memories.

    Regards
     
  5. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    You're welcome to come over for a listen any time Neil

    Rags, that's what my bank manager's saying:D

    Steve, spot on:smashin: The thing I would say is that all of these things are subjective to a degree: unlike with speakers, it's very difficult to minimise the time delay in the home between listening to one amp vs another, so it is very difficult to get an accurate comparison.

    The trick for me was to play material I'm familiar with initially, and actually not to stress or worry about whether it sounded HUGELY better than previously. Lean back and enjoy, and the differences will come to you. That's the best way I can describe it, and the more I think about it the more true it is. I can't wait to get in from work tomorrow so I can stick something else on! (I have several R1 new releases to watch, but for now they are staying shrinkwrapped, I only want to watch movies I know at the moment! - and revisiting some of my older DVDs is fun in itself:D ).

    There is one coined word which is missing from my post, I was struggling to find that word when I was writing it, but it's revealing . I feel like the soundstage has opened up and shown me another level underneath.

    Ok, now that sounded pretentious. Time I **** and went to bed:D
     
  6. rags

    rags
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    Steven - Your post makes a lot of sense - differences / benefits tail of exponentially the higher up you go. Subtle but important.

    Your not a Jimi Hendrix fan by any chance ? If so do you listen to him or do you hear him ? :) :devil:
     
  7. dts_boy

    dts_boy
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    Smurfin, how right you are! if anyone sits down and expects their new toys to WOW them are always going to be a little dissapointed. when i changed my tag processor for a halo i must admit i was a litle dissapointed but now i watch old films and its as if i am watching a whole new one!!! (anyone remember starship troopers when it first cam out on dvd, i watched this tonight and was amazed at how much more detail i had compared to my system when i first bought this disc)
     
  8. buns

    buns
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    This isnt fair........ i started ordering stuff way before Smurf and he's having fun and im still waiting! HRMPH! :D

    With sound ive only even experienced huge bounds so the difference has always struck me, but you experience is very similar to mine with video...... when i added the pc between dvd and projector, i expected enormous leaps in performance...... but with all the excitement of new toys I suspect my senses were somewhat numbed and it too soom time for me to realise what was actually changing. Like Steve says, these things are very subjective, down to an art in his words! :D I can totally agree with this because amongst my friends i am the only one who could tell you that we were lisening to a digital track and not a prologic, let alone telling the difference between valve A and valve B in my preamp! (not that i have golden ears, but i have half an idea what im looking for)

    You know i have no idea what im rambling about, its 2.36 am and i have to go to work in about 5 hours..... so i'll quit and get snoozing!

    Glad you are enjoying it smurf! Now to sort out your video side! :D

    Ad
     
  9. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    Video is liveable at the moment, but I know what you mean;)
     
  10. Stereo Steve

    Stereo Steve
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    I reckon the M&K's will give you the jump you're after. Should be a clear step up from the Missions.
     
  11. garyc

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    Smurfin,

    Glad to hear u are pleased with your purchases and the the lex is all you hoped it would be, even if u arn't getting the full logic7 experience yet!

    One thing i noticed after getting a lex is when u turn it on u are not, as u say, blown away!!! but boy do you notice the difference if you hear an int amp again!!!

    Garyc
     
  12. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    Think I've sold my yamaha A1, and I have the unenviable task of hooking it up again :rolleyes: So I'll soon find out!:D
     
  13. General Skanky

    General Skanky
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    Interesting.

    You'll notice it in other ways too.

    When I upgraded my kit, I began to understand people's comments about soundtracks a bit better.

    Much more obvious on discs that are bad! Ie, good discs still sound good, just a bit better, more dynamic etc. But play a bad one, and in my case it was Predator R1 DD, and it sounded awful!:eek: I'd just never noticed that before.

    My old A2 played it quite happily and I thought it was great, but how wrong I was. I had KEF Q35s then too.

    Of course, the problem now is replacing crappy discs with newer versions.:rolleyes:

    You never win.:laugh:
     
  14. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Impossible. You're doomed. :eek:
     
  15. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    Never been so pleased to be doomed before:D
     
  16. Smurfin

    Smurfin
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    Well a couple of days ago my Yamaha DSP-A1 was sold, before the buyer arrived I hooked it up again (I hate dealing with bi-wired speaker cables when you can't use banana plugs at the amp end:mad:) and took the opportunity to put on some of the DVDs I've been running through the Lex/Rotel combo.

    And wow. Yes the Yamaha still sounded good (and compliments my Missions very well), however I could REALLY notice the difference. More than anything else, it lacked the detail that has been such a revelation. The most obvious scene was the Antz one (prison break, the twigs): although it sounded good (and I wouldn't have known any different otherwise) by comparison to the Lex it sounded muddy. IT was VERY different.

    This one is a little more difficult to quantify, but overall the steering didn't feel quite so precise as the Lex. Actually maybe precise isn't the right word.....smooth is probably more accurate.

    Overall then, I'm definately convinced I've made the right choice by going the pre/power route:D

    Hubba-bubba, where's meh M&Ks!
     

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