Originally Posted by kirche5
This is what I know: There is a source of music. And there are speakers that deliver the sound to my ears.
This is what I hardly know: everything that happens in between.
I am trying to get the very best sound quality that I can from my MP3 recordings and, to a lesser extent, HD video that I will be playing. Both music and videos are stored on an HTPC with an ASUS P7H57D-V EVO H57 (with Realtek ALC889 audio--don't know much about this).
You'll want a sound card with a reasonably good DAC (digital to analog converter). I don't know much about these though. The built-in DAC in my Mac mini is not bad. That gives you an idea.
I am in the market for the things that will get the music from my computer to my ears--a new sound card if necessary, speakers, A/V receiver (an amp?)--and trying to spend around $2000-$2500 total. To keep it focused, I would like to concentrate on the receiver and amplifier right now.
I hoping to understand exactly what I should expect from a receiver, and whether it is worth buying a receiver and a separate amp to drive speakers that will be wasted on 'okay' recordings from my MP3s.
Yes, even receivers less than $200 will be wasted on MP3s. Meaning, higher bitrates really help. Money won't help.
I know some receivers supposedly make up for the lost detail--Marantz SR5005 and Pioneer VSX 1120 were two I was looking at.
No, those restoration features don't work. They make interesting pop and click noises though.
But I also understand that they are not really amplifiers, and a good amp (discrete circuitry, high-quality transformers, etc...) is necessary to get what you want to get out of good speakers.
I disagree that a great amp is necessary. For your stated goal--to get the best sound possible out of your MP3s and to a lesser extent HD video--you could do perfectly well with a $45 Dayton DTA-1. Not much power, but it produces nice sound--as nice as anything I've heard. For more power, there's a $100 version. The point is you can get really good sounding amps for not much money.
(The proposed system here is: sound card --> DTA-1 amp --> 2 speakers. No receiver. This is a 2-channel system.)
Speakers are much more important to sound quality. Some speakers have special requirements related to impedance or high power. My off the cuff advice would be to avoid those, but I have not heard them, so I could be missing something.
Another option, for amplification, is to get a 2.1 (or 5.1) satellite system. This is a subwoofer/amp plus 2 satellite speakers. Example: Energy RC Micro.
Another option is to connect computer to a preamp or integrated amp through USB. (Example: PeachTree Audio Nova.) No sound card needed.
Should I be looking at something more of the likes of the Cambridge Azur 540R v3 (which is supposedly better quality with discrete circuitry and lower distortion)
Discrete doesn't matter if it doesn't sound better. I'd bet that other factors matter 100x more than discrete, or a 5th foot, or separate power supplies, or cross bracing to "lessen vibration". What matters is the sound: send in a good source, and don't mess it up.
On distortion: consensus seems to be that less than 1% is inaudible. So what's the difference between 0.1% and 0.5%? Nothing. It's inaudible.
On power: suppose you're comparing a 100W per channel, two channels driven, and a 110W per channel, two channels driven. Those additional 10W will give you less than 1 dB additional loudness, which is inaudible. It doesn't matter. Go to 200W, however, and you get 3 dB more, which is perceived as slightly louder by the ear.
to take care of the receiver and the amp in one, and perhaps get a new sound card to take care of MP3 quality coming out of my HTPC? Or should I go with something like the SR5005 or VSX 1120 (which give mes up-converting signals to 1080i/p, improved MP3 conversion, etc...) since I will be using this with an HTPC, and then buy another amp on top to drive my speakers? Latter option seems like it might get quite pricey and not leave much room to spend on speakers considering how expensive good amps and receivers are, but first option seems like I might be giving up a lot of video quality and other features.
Any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated!
A receiver is used for decoding Dolby/DTS bitstreams, neither of which may be necessary in your case. Not sure. And, the other thing receivers are good for is mixing channels (if you have no center channel for example) and establishing a crossover to the sub when you use satellites. Don't have satellites? No sub? No bitstream? Don't need a receiver.
Do you want good sound quality or do you want to spend a lot of money? It's the speakers that matter. And the source: those MP3s are probably not going to sound better no matter how far you go over $100 per speaker.
If I could just save you from making a lot of expensive errors, how about take a look at Cambridge Soundworks. Look at the P300HD sub and MC630HD satellites. With 2 satellites and the sub I think you can manage to spend $1000. That plus a nice PeachTree Audio DAC is probably the best system you can get, never mind MP3s. You probably won't be able to spend your total $2500, so you can give the extra to me.
Or, a more realistic option is to get a $45 amp, plus a pair of Model 6 speakers. Total, $200. It will blow you away and you will be so thankful, until you try to figure out where to put those bulky speakers.