Considering active fronts, what for surrounds? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 31 Old 07-31-2014, 07:50 PM - Thread Starter
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Considering active fronts, what for surrounds?

It’s been a long time since I’ve upgraded my home theater speakers, and I want to try something different: three identical front speakers to match the mixing studio where soundtracks are created. I’d consider M&K’s or Klipsch THX reference, but they’re simply out of my price range. That leaves me with conventional speakers or bargain studio monitors that can fill my room (approx. 12’ x 18’ with 7’ ceilings) and fit under my retractable projection screen (they can be up to 33” including stands). I’m married, but there is no WAF at play here – these are my toys and they can be boxy and ugly as sin. My home theater is used almost entirely for movies and TV; very little dedicated music listening happens there.

There are so many good options on paper, but the M-Audio M3-8’s are really appealing. You can buy three identical ones. They have flat response and are actually used in studio production. They’re only $300 each.
Question: is this a good idea? If not, any other suggestions in the $300 - $500 range for speakers that I can buy three of?
Follow up: if I do go with active speakers, what should I use for surrounds? I can keep my old Carver HT5.2’s tripole surrounds but I'm open to buying new. What I can't do is use active surrounds - there are no electrical outlets nearby.

Background: My A/V receiver is an Onkyo TX-NR3007 that I’ll replace once there are better Atmos choices. Then I’ll add ceiling speakers.
My reference speakers for years were Carver HT5.2’s (speakers modeled after DefTech – conventional drivers, internal subs, and an extra rear facing tweeter) but they died over the years, and all I have left of that system are three surrounds (left, center, and right).
I have a pair of Outlaw Audio LFM-1 subs that I just had fixed (the amps had died). Are they the best subs in the world? No. Are they good enough for now? Yes.

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Last edited by AskAvi; 07-31-2014 at 07:59 PM. Reason: Price changed. M3-8's are $300, not $350.
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post #2 of 31 Old 08-01-2014, 01:20 AM
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I really like M-Audio speakers - so I'm not going to try to talk you out of doing this. I have a pair on one of my computers at home and I've listened to the BX-8 at work - one of the sound engineers at work uses them - clear sound with amazing bass - they both sound great. I've been told that they are designed for near field monitors, but they fill the room with sound and don't sound different when I back up and listen from further away so I like them for standard music.

What will you drive them with? An AVR with a full set of preamp outputs? In that case I would just use the powered rear outputs to drive some standard speakers in the rear. If you are going to get a Preamp / Processor with no amplifiers built-in, you could get a used 5 channel amp to power the rear 4 speakers and again use some standard speakers in the rear.

If you like the "monitor" type of speakers for the front three try to listen to some of these - also don't be afraid of some of the "matched center" designs, especially the three way designs with the stacked tweeter-mid - very good horizontal dispersion and clear dialog:

Paradigm Mini Monitor - $299

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Loudspeaker - $330 ea

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Loudspeaker - $450 ea

SVS Ultra Bookshelf - reference-grade monitor, 1" aluminum dome tweeter and 6.5" woofer - $499

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post #3 of 31 Old 08-01-2014, 05:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by mtn-tech View Post
I really like M-Audio speakers - so I'm not going to try to talk you out of doing this. I have a pair on one of my computers at home and I've listened to the BX-8 at work - one of the sound engineers at work uses them - clear sound with amazing bass - they both sound great. I've been told that they are designed for near field monitors, but they fill the room with sound and don't sound different when I back up and listen from further away so I like them for standard music.

What will you drive them with? An AVR with a full set of preamp outputs? In that case I would just use the powered rear outputs to drive some standard speakers in the rear. If you are going to get a Preamp / Processor with no amplifiers built-in, you could get a used 5 channel amp to power the rear 4 speakers and again use some standard speakers in the rear.

If you like the "monitor" type of speakers for the front three try to listen to some of these - also don't be afraid of some of the "matched center" designs, especially the three way designs with the stacked tweeter-mid - very good horizontal dispersion and clear dialog:

Paradigm Mini Monitor - $299

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Loudspeaker - $330 ea

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Loudspeaker - $450 ea

SVS Ultra Bookshelf - reference-grade monitor, 1" aluminum dome tweeter and 6.5" woofer - $499
Thanks. I'm planning to drive them with an upper-tier A/V receiver: pre-outs for the active fronts, and use the receiver's amps for the surrounds. Right now I have an Onkyo TX-NR3007; I'm planning to upgrade that in the next year to get updated format support (TrueHD/Atmos) and, ideally, even more HDMI inputs because I test a lot of streaming media boxes for my day job.

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post #4 of 31 Old 08-01-2014, 05:53 PM
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KRK Rokit RP10.3 is supposed to be really impressive in terms of maximum SPL. Might be worth checking them out.

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post #5 of 31 Old 08-02-2014, 08:18 PM - Thread Starter
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KRK Rokit RP10.3 is supposed to be really impressive in terms of maximum SPL. Might be worth checking them out.
I looked into the KRK's; the fact that they list a listening distance - shorter than what I need - is what's keeping me from buying those, not SPL output. But for that reason, I'm also considering the JBL LSR308, which are designed for larger mixing rooms - dimensions that match my home theater pretty well, actually. Bonus - they're even less expensive, and it should be easier to match them with JBL surrounds.

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post #6 of 31 Old 08-02-2014, 11:21 PM
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LSR308s do look like a good deal.

Doubtful that will make them more likely to match with JBL passive speakers. Timbre matching doesn't work that easily. But you could certainly go with the JBLs for the rear. Not so critical to timbre match the surrounds with the front soundstage.

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post #7 of 31 Old 08-05-2014, 07:45 PM - Thread Starter
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I was about to pull the trigger on the M-Audio's, then Amazon's price for them jumped by $50/each. $350/each is still a bargain, but at $200/each, I just can't help but try the JBL's first. They arrive later this week, and now I can't wait to see how they sound, if they're loud enough, if I need new surrounds to go with them...

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post #8 of 31 Old 08-05-2014, 08:37 PM
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Congrats on the new speakers coming. Let us know how they sound

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post #9 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 01:24 PM - Thread Starter
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Well that was a disaster. The JBLs arrived, but no matter what settings I tried, I could not get my receiver to drive them with audible results. Do mixing boards have dramatically higher output than A/V receivers (Onkyo TX-NR3007 pre-outs)? When I connected an iPhone to one of them in mono, it worked, but I still couldn't drive them to reference levels in my room (my wife thought that they were plenty loud, but with everything set to maximum, it was still only 85 - 90 db. I probably wouldn't listen to them louder than that, but I want them to have additional headroom). When they were connected to the receiver, even with the individual output channels above reference level trim, the speakers were barely audible at all from a seated position 8' away. I'm not sure if these speakers are duds, if my receiver is a dud, if the cables/adapters were defective, if there's a hidden magic spell that unlocks new settings on the receiver that work, or some combination thereof. (Yes, I tried that. That, too. Nope, that didn't work, either.) I'm giving up and returning them since I can't get them to work the way I want them to.

Sigh.

I think I'm giving up on the active studio monitor idea and will just go with three identical passive speakers with fairly flat response curves instead. Maybe Aperion or SVS. Or those nice Pinnacles that woot keeps selling.

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post #10 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 02:01 PM
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Yes. The JBL's are active speakers with balanced inputs that are designed such that they can take more gain. However, I would imagine you should be able to overcome that by increasing the output trim levels.

However, JBL has them speced at 112 dB SPL C-Weighted for max output. Doesn't make sense that you are only getting 85 to 90db out of them. And seems unlikely that both amps would be having problems. I suspect that there is something going on with your receiver and/or speaker configuration.

Did you adjust the input sensitivity on the back of the speakers? Do you have the individual speaker volume turned to max? Have you tried another set of pre-outs with Audyssey disengaged (direct sound)?

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post #11 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 02:45 PM - Thread Starter
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<<I suspect that there is something going on with your receiver and/or speaker configuration.>>

Me too.

<<Did you adjust the input sensitivity on the back of the speakers?>>

Yes.

<<Do you have the individual speaker volume turned to max?>>

Yes.

<<Have you tried another set of pre-outs with Audyssey disengaged (direct sound)?>>

Yes.


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post #12 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 03:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskAvi View Post
<<I suspect that there is something going on with your receiver and/or speaker configuration.>>

Me too.

<<Did you adjust the input sensitivity on the back of the speakers?>>

Yes.

<<Do you have the individual speaker volume turned to max?>>

Yes.

<<Have you tried another set of pre-outs with Audyssey disengaged (direct sound)?>>

Yes.

Interesting... Sorry to hear you are having issues with this. I just pulled the trigger on a pair of 308's myself (B&H has a great price on a pair right now) and plan to use them for rears. I have an Integra DHC 80.2 and will be running XLR to them so hopefully I will not encounter this issue as I was going by the 112db rating. Please let us know if you figure this out and I can report back how mine turn out.
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post #13 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 03:39 PM - Thread Starter
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McLuvin,

Good luck! They're handsome speakers, though really large for surrounds. I was using unbalanced RCA cables with 1/4" adapters; going XLR is definitely the way they're intended to be used, and... yeah, it's probably my receiver or the receiver/speaker combo.

-avi

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post #14 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 05:06 PM
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McLuvin,

Good luck! They're handsome speakers, though really large for surrounds. I was using unbalanced RCA cables with 1/4" adapters; going XLR is definitely the way they're intended to be used, and... yeah, it's probably my receiver or the receiver/speaker combo.

-avi

Thanks AskAvi! I am hoping that is the case but will definitely report back if I experience anything similar. 85db to 90db just sounds to low for these things even at 8ft. Mine will be located 5.5ft for one and around 7ft for the other from the MLP.
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post #15 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 05:36 PM
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Originally Posted by AskAvi View Post
McLuvin,

Good luck! They're handsome speakers, though really large for surrounds. I was using unbalanced RCA cables with 1/4" adapters; going XLR is definitely the way they're intended to be used, and... yeah, it's probably my receiver or the receiver/speaker combo.

-avi
Which sensitivity setting are you using? For some reason I lose volume on the +4 setting. Try the -10dbv setting if you have not done so,
Hope it resolves the problem.
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post #16 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 06:36 PM
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Thanks AskAvi! I am hoping that is the case but will definitely report back if I experience anything similar. 85db to 90db just sounds to low for these things even at 8ft. Mine will be located 5.5ft for one and around 7ft for the other from the MLP.
That sounds too low for the 305s, much less the 308s.

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post #17 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 06:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskAvi View Post
<<I suspect that there is something going on with your receiver and/or speaker configuration.>>

Me too.

<<Did you adjust the input sensitivity on the back of the speakers?>>

Yes.

<<Do you have the individual speaker volume turned to max?>>

Yes.

<<Have you tried another set of pre-outs with Audyssey disengaged (direct sound)?>>

Yes.

Hmmm....One thing that puzzles me. You said that you set the "individual output channels above reference level trim." My receiver there is no reference trim level, there is only the trim level that lets them achieve reference at the calibrated volume.

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post #18 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 06:46 PM
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One more thought. Do you have a CD or blu-ray player with a left/right RCA out? You could try hooking up to them and then use the volume control on the back of the speakers to turn them up and see what they do. That would give you a direct line out input to them (as opposed to iPhone headphone output). Sure. It's not going to solve your problem, but might help you to figure out if it is the speakers or the receiver that are issue.

Now I've run out of ideas.

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post #19 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 06:59 PM
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Hmmm....One thing that puzzles me. You said that you set the "individual output channels above reference level trim." My receiver there is no reference trim level, there is only the trim level that lets them achieve reference at the calibrated volume.
Which AVR do you have? I can't remember seeing one that did not have individual channel trim levels.

Never mind the above. I just need to read.
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post #20 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 07:06 PM
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Does that make sense what I said? I worry when someone says that they aren't reaching reference, but their trim level is set to reference. It makes me wonder if he has some idea that the trim level is supposed to be set at a certain amount, instead of the trim level is set for whatever makes the speakers reach reference at the listening position.

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post #21 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 07:49 PM
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Which sensitivity setting are you using? For some reason I lose volume on the +4 setting. Try the -10dbv setting if you have not done so,
Hope it resolves the problem.
Hmm... this is what the manual says:

12. INPUT SENSITIVITY SWITCH – Set this switch to +4 dBu to protect from overload when connecting to professional equipment and sources with very high output.

So I would say yes to your setting of -10dbv if your using NON-professional equipment.

AskAvi - can you tell us what setting you have it on?
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Does that make sense what I said? I worry when someone says that they aren't reaching reference, but their trim level is set to reference. It makes me wonder if he has some idea that the trim level is supposed to be set at a certain amount, instead of the trim level is set for whatever makes the speakers reach reference at the listening position.
yes, I think I am with you but only AskAvi can answer that.

Also, your idea of the blu-ray or CD output is a good one but I think MUDCAT45 might have nailed it with the sensitivity switch. I should have mine next week and will see.
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post #23 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 08:11 PM
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Does that make sense what I said? I worry when someone says that they aren't reaching reference, but their trim level is set to reference. It makes me wonder if he has some idea that the trim level is supposed to be set at a certain amount, instead of the trim level is set for whatever makes the speakers reach reference at the listening position.
If the OP did not recalibrate the JBL speakers the reference levels could vary greatly from his previous speakers. If reference for the old speakers (L/R) was -1 he could still adjust from 0 up to the max for the L/R.

Does that make sense?
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post #24 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 08:15 PM
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That's what I'm wondering if he's not basing it on what the reference trim level was previously. It could be wildly different.

Also, I already asked if he adjusted the sensitivity switch on the back of the JBLs, and he said he did.

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post #25 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 08:22 PM
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That's what I'm wondering if he's not basing it on what the reference trim level was previously. It could be wildly different.

Also, I already asked if he adjusted the sensitivity switch on the back of the JBLs, and he said he did.
Agreed. I am just wondering if he set it to +4 initially and never tried -10.
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post #26 of 31 Old 08-08-2014, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by MUDCAT45 View Post
Agreed. I am just wondering if he set it to +4 initially and never tried -10.
That makes sense. Because the inclination would be that +4 would be better because it's a higher number.

I can't just help but think there's got to be some kind of configuration problem here

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post #27 of 31 Old 08-10-2014, 10:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by MUDCAT45 View Post
Which sensitivity setting are you using? For some reason I lose volume on the +4 setting. Try the -10dbv setting if you have not done so,
Hope it resolves the problem.
I tried both sensitivity settings on the JBL (-10 and +4); the default was better than the alternative (can't remember which was which at this point).

My Onkyo allows you to set individual trim levels; I tried pushing them as high as they would go.

I've set up dozens of speakers over the years and have spent a few years with this particular receiver. At one point I thought that perhaps the main pre-outs don't work if there are surrounds hooked up to the internal amp; I tried turning the surrounds off in the settings but it made no difference. Maybe it's just a bad receiver and the pre-out levels are too low. No idea. I agree that there's almost certainly some configuration problem. I just couldn't figure out what it was.

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post #28 of 31 Old 08-18-2014, 03:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskAvi View Post
I tried both sensitivity settings on the JBL (-10 and +4); the default was better than the alternative (can't remember which was which at this point).

My Onkyo allows you to set individual trim levels; I tried pushing them as high as they would go.

I've set up dozens of speakers over the years and have spent a few years with this particular receiver. At one point I thought that perhaps the main pre-outs don't work if there are surrounds hooked up to the internal amp; I tried turning the surrounds off in the settings but it made no difference. Maybe it's just a bad receiver and the pre-out levels are too low. No idea. I agree that there's almost certainly some configuration problem. I just couldn't figure out what it was.

Hey guys, sorry for the delay but I received my 308's last Thursday night and put them in place Friday with little time to play with them but I think I can offer some feedback at this point. I previously had some older Paradigm Studio 100 v2's in place and Audyssey is still setup for those as I haven't had time to re-run it yet. I also just got some QSC K8's last week as well so I have all kinds of things to play with but for this test I removed the K8's and mounted the 308's on my subs and readjusted their position to toe-in to the MLP. Got my RatShack meter out and ran some test tones to see what my center channel and surrounds were at with Audyssey. The meter read 73db for center and surrounds so I set the trim levels for the 308's to match. The trim levels ended up being at 0 for the left and -1 for the right out of a range of -12 to +12 (I assume your 3007 has the same range since we both have similar products). I have the input sensitivity on the 308's at the default of -10 and I have the speaker gain on the back of the 308's cranked up to 10. The gain on my CAT 8 is cranked up to 10 as well per Mr. Seaton so I thought I would mimic it on the 308's. I am sure the 73db reading is the difference between the Radio Shack meter and Audyssey's mic so I left it for now. The speakers measured out to 10.4 feet so I set that in the processor as well. Did some quick listening test and was actually quite impressed with how the 308's sounded even with the wrong Audyssey curve. I cranked up some material to reference and my RatShack meter was jumping around 80db to 90db plus but nothing over 100db. I am sure this had to to with the material I was using as I know the CAT 8 can go well beyond reference. I never sensed the 308's struggling and the amp never got warm on the back. They actually blended in much better than I anticipated and I thought they sounded much better then my old Paradigm's. I left everything as it was and we ended up watching Lone Survivor Friday night. I was blown away with how it sounded. I couldn't crank it up as my almost 2 year old was asleep in the adjacent room. I had the volume around -30 from reference and it just sounded really nice. I had to turn it down a few times during on some scenes as my wife was paranoid we would wake our son up. I will leave the 308's up front for now before I put my K8's in and will run Audyssey so things are more even and then run some more tests but for now I don't seem to have an issue. I used the SPL calc and it guesstimated that I should be able to achieve around 102db with the 308's at the MLP of 10.4' so I will see if I can hit that.

AskAvi - what were you using to measure your 308's and how were you able to determine that 90db was as loud as they would go? Was your trim level on your 3007 really cranked to +12? I can try to mimic what you had going but since your setup has you at 8' compared to my 10.4' and I was hitting similar levels without really maxing out the system, then I gotta say it sounds like your receiver. Have you tried an RCA to XLR cable? I see in your notes you were using RCA to 1/4" and wondered if that would make a difference. I have read on these forums before that Onkyo receivers actually have good pre-amp outputs so it just seems odd with what you are experiencing.
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post #29 of 31 Old 08-21-2014, 01:47 PM
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I am sure you have given up on them by now but another member in the 308 appreciation thread offered a good solution for RCA to XLR connections and low pre-amp outputs. Sounds like something to keep in mind in case you try powered/active speakers again and run into the same issue.

Here is his quote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by RLBURNSIDE View Post
I just ordered a pair of 308s from SweetWater and they should be here tomorrow! Can't wait to try them out. I listened to a pair of B&W 685s2 speakers while on vacation and they indeed sounded muffled and muddy in the midrange. I was very disappointed since they were on special too.

I wanted a setup with proper balanced outputs for use in a multichannel setup, so a cheap stereo DAC with XLR outs wasn't going to cut it. What I ended up getting is a pair of CleanBox Pro RCA to XLR converters which are very highly rated bal/unbal devices to get consumer line levels into pro inputs. I'll post my impressions here. Now I have an upgrade path to allow a full 7.1 setup without spending two grand on a prepro or receiver with a full set of XLR outs. Any Oppo BD player or receiver with pre-outs should do now. Much more affordable.

And to follow-up from before, I re-ran Audyssey yesterday with the 308's up front and the trim levels ended up pretty much the same as I stated in my previous post. I played some demos (Oblivion, Master & Commander, Red, Elysium, and a couple of others) at reference on the volume and they sounded really good. I did not have my SPL meter going this time but they sounded about they same loudness as I reported before (80 to 90+ db). I am starting to wonder how some of these guys are hitting 100+ db at reference volume. I am sure my room is playing a role to some degree and I know it's up to the program material as well but I haven't found anything that dynamic to put me over 100db. I can tell you though the speakers are not breaking a sweat.
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post #30 of 31 Old 08-21-2014, 02:07 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by McLuvin View Post
I am sure you have given up on them by now but another member in the 308 appreciation thread offered a good solution for RCA to XLR connections and low pre-amp outputs. Sounds like something to keep in mind in case you try powered/active speakers again and run into the same issue.

Here is his quote:




And to follow-up from before, I re-ran Audyssey yesterday with the 308's up front and the trim levels ended up pretty much the same as I stated in my previous post. I played some demos (Oblivion, Master & Commander, Red, Elysium, and a couple of others) at reference on the volume and they sounded really good. I did not have my SPL meter going this time but they sounded about they same loudness as I reported before (80 to 90+ db). I am starting to wonder how some of these guys are hitting 100+ db at reference volume. I am sure my room is playing a role to some degree and I know it's up to the program material as well but I haven't found anything that dynamic to put me over 100db. I can tell you though the speakers are not breaking a sweat.
Thank you. Those breakout boxes add cost and complexity I'd rather not deal with, but good to know.

My current path: wait. Clearly there's something amiss with the line level outs on my receiver, and I want to get an Atmos receiver in anyway. So I'll upgrade to that first, then buy a whole mess of passive speakers. I'm thinking of aiming for a 7.2.4 configuration, though I'd do 9.2.4 if receivers supported it - I attended a Dolby press briefing and the additional side surrounds really made a huge difference in the demos (it allowed the music to swell from the fronts into the first row of surrounds, which really amps up the emotional impact of the score, while the additional rows of surround speakers handled noise/effects that were placed into the room itself. Hard to describe? Sorry. But VERY cool.). The Trinnov will do some insane number of channels, but it also costs some insane number of moneys. I might be able to get a review unit in for a bit, but I want something I can afford.

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