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2 channel purity or Home Theater thrills? Help me decide.

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  • 2 channel purity or Home Theater thrills? Help me decide.

    I am between projects, and I have come to come to an impasse regarding the music set up in my small living room. I recently built a 2 channel preamp with a phono stage and bought a nice DAC to go with it. My next plan was to build a very high performance amplifier from Neurochrome, and then make new mains speakers modeled after the Statements. In other words, a purist, 2 channel set up.

    However, I have recently been thinking it would be nice to have a 5.1 setup in this room, since it would give me the opportunity to make 3 more speakers (at least), and create the sort of envelopment I like in sound reproduction. Although I am leery of the intense processing that happens in an AVR, I thought this might be a better solution.

    To give you an idea of my usage of this system - I'd say 30% of the time, I'm watching some sort of streaming video content. The other 60 percent of the time, I am listening to music - locally streamed FLAC, spotify and vinyl as well. I don't own a Blu Ray player or a DVD player and I am not really into movies.

    Initially I was thinking I would have two separate systems, but that just seems insane now, which leads me to one of two compromises.

    A. I buy an AV receiver and run everything through it. My concern here is the sound quality - does the AVR, through amplification or processing, rob anything from the audio? Does it dynamically compress it? There are so many technologies in AVRs that it makes my head spin. On the other hand, I do like the idea of sending some extracted ambiance signals to surround speakers - I tend to like widely dispersing speakers, so this might be fun.

    B. Do I forgo the AVR and just go two channel? If I do this, I could create a simple mono summing circuit and run it to a center channel.

    I'm leaning towards #1, since modern receivers have good bass management and I have some good sub drivers sitting around now. It would also enable me to create a set of smaller speakers, which would be a really fun project, and probably make my video sound a lot better.

    Key Questions for the Class:

    1. What is the audio quality of a modern ~$400 AV receiver like? How much am I giving up compared to a very refined hifi amplifier? Keep in mind this is a small room, and I am not getting anywhere near reference levels - probably 90db or so.

    2. Do you like listening to the stereo upmix modes on your AV receiver? Which modes sound the most natural to you?

    3. Does anyone make affordable high quality 5.1 receivers, or do I need to accept 2 unused channels?

    4. Any specific AVR recommendations under $400 or so (the probably cost of the amplifier I would be building next.) given my needs?

  • #2
    Don’t route through an AVR for 2ch. I have an oldish (2004 or so) pioneer elite vsx49txi that I bought used but in beautiful condition. The thing was the flagship elite model at the time it was new, with copper plated chassis, 70lb weight, and an msrp of $4k or more at the time. Reason I’m talking it up like this is to tell you how much it sucks the life out of two channel. Even in direct mode with the internal amp bypassed to an external nice amp, the receiver’s preamp just sucks the life out of the audio. It isn’t unpleasant, just flat and lifeless.

    I would get an htr with front preouts, make an ht-bypass (no gain or volume control) input in your preamp, and use your new awesome two ch amp for both music and movies, leaving the receiver out of the loop for your hifi, and there for ht processing and surround amp duties.

    this is basically what I did in my living room but had to use a separate switcher to toggle between my hifi preamp and htr front preouts before the front amp as I don’t have an ht bypass. I could use the preamp in the loop on the fronts but don’t want an extra volume control to dial in every time I put a movie on (much less the unnecessary wear on the preamp’s tubes).
    Projects:

    Breezy Monitors: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...reezy-monitors
    transcenD: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...5035-transcend
    Summits: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...75-The-Summits
    References: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-My-References
    Vintage Style 2-way: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-vintage-2-way

    Comment


    • #3
      Well I have two separate systems in my small living room, 5.1 and stereo, I don't think I'm insane. I have a tube preamp and amp with very traditional tuner, CD player and turntable and big TL full range speakers. I have a Yamaha AVR with a bunch of DSP modes including plain stereo, also a "pure direct" button for stereo that shuts off video. That is fed by a cable box and PS3, again kind of old fashioned. I enjoy all of it. Oh, and hundreds of watts of outboard amplification.

      If you can't do all that, I think a good AVR can provide fine 2.0 or 2.1 stereo. Before I got the tube stuff I listened to music via the AVR, stereo or DSP modes as the mood hit me. Next step, add a good stereo power amp for L/R channels. Other forums, AVSforum in particular, obsessively discuss AVRs, you'll never run out of reading material there.

      Comment


      • #4
        Oh and as far as modern HTRs go, I can tell you the new standard pioneers sound like a transistor radio compared to my old elite. Can’t speak for the other brands but would say that a Marantz or Denon would be on my short list to listen to first if looking for decent sound at a semi-reasonable price. Otherwise for strictly ht or bypassed ht like mentioned above, I’d look for the cheapest thing that gives me atmos and front preouts.
        Projects:

        Breezy Monitors: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...reezy-monitors
        transcenD: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...5035-transcend
        Summits: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...75-The-Summits
        References: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-My-References
        Vintage Style 2-way: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-vintage-2-way

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by djg View Post
          Well I have two separate systems in my small living room, 5.1 and stereo, I don't think I'm insane. I have a tube preamp and amp with very traditional tuner, CD player and turntable and big TL full range speakers. I have a Yamaha AVR with a bunch of DSP modes including plain stereo, also a "pure direct" button for stereo that shuts off video. That is fed by a cable box and PS3, again kind of old fashioned. I enjoy all of it. Oh, and hundreds of watts of outboard amplification.

          If you can't do all that, I think a good AVR can provide fine 2.0 or 2.1 stereo. Before I got the tube stuff I listened to music via the AVR, stereo or DSP modes as the mood hit me. Next step, add a good stereo power amp for L/R channels. Other forums, AVSforum in particular, obsessively discuss AVRs, you'll never run out of reading material there.
          When you say you have two systems, do you mean you have stereo speakers beside your 5.1 system speakers, or are you using both at the same time? I don't think having two sets of front/stereo speakers is insane - that would be my preferred solution, I simply don't have space.

          Comment


          • #6
            I have separate speakers for the two systems, flanking a 50" TV. It is a bit crowded. My long term goal would be to put the TV up on the wall and downsize the five front speakers. I started out just wanting a little simple tube amp, but got carried away and built a Dynakitparts ST-35 and a Vacuum Tube Audio SP-8, then built some huge Curt Campbell Singularities.

            My gf doesn't mind all this, as long as she doesn't have to listen to it. (joke)

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by dynamo View Post
              Don’t route through an AVR for 2ch. I have an oldish (2004 or so) pioneer elite vsx49txi that I bought used but in beautiful condition. The thing was the flagship elite model at the time it was new, with copper plated chassis, 70lb weight, and an msrp of $4k or more at the time. Reason I’m talking it up like this is to tell you how much it sucks the life out of two channel. Even in direct mode with the internal amp bypassed to an external nice amp, the receiver’s preamp just sucks the life out of the audio. It isn’t unpleasant, just flat and lifeless.

              I would get an htr with front preouts, make an ht-bypass (no gain or volume control) input in your preamp, and use your new awesome two ch amp for both music and movies, leaving the receiver out of the loop for your hifi, and there for ht processing and surround amp duties.

              this is basically what I did in my living room but had to use a separate switcher to toggle between my hifi preamp and htr front preouts before the front amp as I don’t have an ht bypass. I could use the preamp in the loop on the fronts but don’t want an extra volume control to dial in every time I put a movie on (much less the unnecessary wear on the preamp’s tubes).
              OK this make sense. So I run my video sources through HDMI to the AVR, which uses its own amplifiers for the rear and center channels. It sends the front channel signals to my preamp, which passes it with 0 gain to stereo amp.

              The only problem is that my stereo preamp switches between inputs, and then amplifies the selected input. I'll have to figure out a way to create an input which has no gain. This might get tricky.

              Comment


              • #8


                Also - regarding the Pioneer elite. This is exactly the issue I'm talking about - I've run active set ups before with minidsp, and despite being technically excellent - deep smooth bass, smooth off axis, super low distortion - it never sounded engaging at all. I'm sure digital processing can be done well, but I'm not smart enough to make it work, and I doubt a consumer AVR is up to the task.

                Comment


                • #9
                  A quick google search turned up this pile of reviews. It very recent and seems fairly objective as those things go.
                  https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-receiver/
                  With 7.1, you could use the "extra" two channels to power dolby atmos channels if you ever wanted to.

                  -Bob

                  The PEDS 2.1 mini system
                  My A7 Project - another small desktop speaker
                  The B3 Hybrid Dipole - thread incomplete and outdated

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by civit View Post
                    However, I have recently been thinking it would be nice to have a 5.1 setup in this room, since it would give me the opportunity to make 3 more speakers (at least), and create the sort of envelopment I like in sound reproduction. Although I am leery of the intense processing that happens in an AVR, I thought this might be a better solution.
                    I find two-channel music very enveloping, unless the speakers have narrow dispersion.

                    Originally posted by civit View Post
                    1. What is the audio quality of a modern ~$400 AV receiver like? How much am I giving up compared to a very refined hifi amplifier? Keep in mind this is a small room, and I am not getting anywhere near reference levels - probably 90db or so.

                    2. Do you like listening to the stereo upmix modes on your AV receiver? Which modes sound the most natural to you?

                    3. Does anyone make affordable high quality 5.1 receivers, or do I need to accept 2 unused channels?

                    4. Any specific AVR recommendations under $400 or so (the probably cost of the amplifier I would be building next.) given my needs?
                    I only really have experience with my Yamaha RX-V673, a more or less midrange model I suppose.

                    1. Fine. A lot of consumer AVRs don't have particularly robust amp sections (or rather, they have inflated power ratings) but I don't think this is a terribly large issue if you have a powered subwoofer or two handling the low end anyway, as would presumably be the case in a .1 setup.

                    2. Never heard one that didn't sound like a bad joke, but it's not something I typically ever hear unless I hit the wrong button on the remote.

                    3. If you're paying under a grand or two, they won't be discrete amplifier channels anyway, so you're not exaccccctly paying for unused channels. I wouldn't sweat the 5.1/7.1 thing, at least not as an avenue to scoring a better deal. Unless you're thinking of getting a monster 5.1 receiver on the used market, which could be a great way to go.

                    4. I couldn't recommend one in particular, but I don't know that I've ever read that there are any real standouts in this market.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      You didn't mention the age of your TV, or if you plan to upgrade soon. Look at a new flagship AVR and see how many of its' features you desire, or that can even be used by your current TV. I would suggest a used AVR of same vintage as your TV, if you're not a cutting edge guy. I'm not, I'm quite happy with my older Yamaha. I bought a new Sony TV because my old Philips gave out, but didn't go for a smart TV.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hey civit,
                        I've been eyeballing the Outlaw Audio model 976/5000 combo for a 5.1 setup to build a high end dual purpose setup for the living room...... its seems like big bang for the buck, it lives in either the digital world or full pure analog if your dvd/sacd has analog outputs (most higher end ones do) 976 does up to 7.1, and if your building your own amps you could build as many mono sections as you want!
                        worth a look anyhow....just have a drool rag handy!
                        edit; sorry i didn't catch the $400 limit I think the 976 is around $900

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by civit View Post

                          OK this make sense. So I run my video sources through HDMI to the AVR, which uses its own amplifiers for the rear and center channels. It sends the front channel signals to my preamp, which passes it with 0 gain to stereo amp.

                          The only problem is that my stereo preamp switches between inputs, and then amplifies the selected input. I'll have to figure out a way to create an input which has no gain. This might get tricky.
                          Correct, wasn’t sure if I explained it right
                          Projects:

                          Breezy Monitors: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...reezy-monitors
                          transcenD: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...5035-transcend
                          Summits: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...75-The-Summits
                          References: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-My-References
                          Vintage Style 2-way: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-vintage-2-way

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by civit View Post

                            Also - regarding the Pioneer elite. This is exactly the issue I'm talking about - I've run active set ups before with minidsp, and despite being technically excellent - deep smooth bass, smooth off axis, super low distortion - it never sounded engaging at all. I'm sure digital processing can be done well, but I'm not smart enough to make it work, and I doubt a consumer AVR is up to the task.
                            You have no idea how long I chased other problems looking at crossover design changes, tweeter material choices, cables, etc, trying to find the reason it was so lifeless compared to other comparable setups I’ve heard. All along it was mostly the receiver (I say mostly because there was a beneficial crossover redesign in there), which I took for granted was acoustically transparent or at least minimally invasive based on how high end of a receiver it is. It’s still very nice but still is mid-fi for two channel listening imo.
                            Projects:

                            Breezy Monitors: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...reezy-monitors
                            transcenD: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...5035-transcend
                            Summits: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...75-The-Summits
                            References: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-My-References
                            Vintage Style 2-way: http://techtalk.parts-express.com/sh...-vintage-2-way

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I do not have the experience of others here and the price may make it prohibitive, but I am using my OPPO 203 as my receiver / 2 channel processor. It is $550, and if you are building your own amp then you can that to power the speakers. I really like it and I added a Fire TV for all my streaming content.

                              Comment

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