Towards 5.1 from Stereo - help!

noparadise

Novice Member
Hi,

Once upon a time, I had a brief, expensive and unsatisfying experiment in 5.1 sound with an Arcam AV amp and a Bose setup. I went back to putting together a stereo system, and haven't looked at the field for over 10 years and I need help.

I want to add a surround receiver to my existing stereo setup, as some TV sound seems to be missing a centre speaker (no matter how the audio is set up), and I am thinking it's time to see what the 21st century has to offer. The plan is to augment the existing system and I simply haven't got the space (or spousal approval) to go beyond 5.1. I have enough loudspeakers of reasonable quality to get running, so that part can wait for now.

So I am looking for a 5.1 AV receiver that will allow me to switch between HDMI inputs and drive center and rear speakers without compromising the existing setup. I want it to be relatively cheap, so I am looking at buying secondhand. Therefore I am asking for your help with the blindingly huge choice out there - I like the look of Denon gear, but even then there is just so much of it, and there may be good alternatives. I don't want to click "buy it now" and then have to sell it on because of some technical or functional gotcha, or because it just sounds like crap - "Good enough" is fine, I am not after kilowatts of audiophile home cinema, I just want the telly to sound better, but one has to draw the line somewhere.
So far, the list of requirements is:
  • has a line level (volume controlled) out that I can use to drive the front speakers on the existing system
  • present a control API to the local network
  • will decode whatever formats I am likely to come across (probably dts and dolby?)
  • does not look or feel like 1970s Amstrad
But I lay my ignorance open to the forum - have you any recommendations? What else should I be looking at?
 
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gibbsy

Moderator
and a Bose setup
That is the reason that the Arcam system failed. Style over substance. A lot of money for an inferior performance. Had you put the Arcam with some good passive speakers it would have sounded far far better.

If you still have the Arcam then depending on the model it may have HT by-pass which is really what you need to run alongside an AV amp to power your front stereo pair for film and TV. The minimum you would need with Denon, as you have mentioned them, would be the X3700 which has a full set of pre-outs. Very easy to set up and EQ the connected amp into it.

If you don't have HT by-pass then you could always try and balance the volume of both AV amp and stereo amp but this is a real faff about. To keep the two system virtually separate then the use of a speaker switcher like a Beresford 7220 may be the answer. You would use the AV amp as your HDMI hub.
 

noparadise

Novice Member
That's all good info gibbsy, thanks.

I know, the Bose system was bad, a mistake. I spent ages trying to get it to sound right and being frustrated that whatever I did it sounded smeary and muffled and generally horrible. It wasn't long before I wished I'd bought the pair of floorstanders for the same money. There are a lot of people out there who badmouth Bose gear, but it would be perfect if you needed something stylish, compact and didn't want to ever listen to it, although maybe still a bit pricey.
The Arcam was OK - I don't remember what it would decode but it would be hideously obsolete now. Dolby pro logic?
Anyway, the X3700 would be lovely, but I can't justify a grand to see if surround does it for me. I was hoping there's something less up to the minute with similar audio facilities that I could find under half that. I'll look for HT bypass though - what is HT? High Tension?
 

gibbsy

Moderator
HT, indeed Home Theatre. Amps that have HT by-pass allow for the pre-outs of an AV amp to go straight to the power amp of an integrated stereo amp. In this way the stereo amp can be EQ'd into the system and the volume be controlled by the AV amp. It's a system that many, including myself, use so that a music and HT system can be kept separate whilst using the same front speakers.

You should look at the secondary market for an AV amp although with Covid and other problems have pushed up the price of used AV amps. Worth looking in our classifieds though.
 

shug4476

Active Member
What stereo kit are you using? It can be difficult to integrate separate stereo and 5.1 amps without the right features.
 

noparadise

Novice Member
The stereo preamp I am using has a level memory for each input, so once set, that should suffice for HT bypass (at the cost of an extra button press) - if the AV amp has a pre-out for the front channels, that should work no?

So what I'm looking for is:
  • Pre-outs for the front L & R channels
    (i.e. in sync with the volume control - can I take this as a given?)
  • IP control. This is probably going to give me more entertainment than rear speakers :)
  • Is capable of decoding whatever formats it will reasonably come across.
But this is an experiment - before I bung upwards of £500 on something new, I want to evaluate whether having more boxes around the room justifies further cost and effort. So my question boils down to: which manufacturers and model ranges satisfy the above criteria?
 

shug4476

Active Member
What do you mean by IP control? Also how do you watch films? Do you use any 4K source material and/or run a 4K screen?
 

noparadise

Novice Member
Thanks for coming back shug4476. By "IP control" I mean the AVR presents an API through its connection to the local network, via wifi or ethernet cable. By consuming this API the system can be queried and controlled via the network (using the network IP of the AVR). Systems like Control4 achieve smart home AV integrations this way. I don't know if there's a generic name for this sort of function, but I know Denon has used the term in their settings menu (whereby the feature can be turned off in standby). I make and consume APIs in my day job, so this sort of thing is a must have for me. I'd be interested to know about how this aspect of the tech. has developed over the last 15 years also, and whether any manufacturers' offerings are particularly good or bad.

I watch all films mostly via the Chromecast and DIY streamer although I have a (currently unconnected) DVD player - I am not planning to go 4k anytime soon - the sound is much more important than the picture to me, but it's always good to understand the potential upgrade paths.
 

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