Advice on audio setup and equipment for beginner - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 11-06-2010, 09:54 AM - Thread Starter
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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).

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. I know some receivers supposedly make up for the lost detail--Marantz SR5005 and Pioneer VSX 1120 were two I was looking at. 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.

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) 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!
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post #2 of 9 Old 11-06-2010, 09:59 AM
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I would get a sound card with digital output, if you don't have one.

Whether you want two channel, or multi-channel, a AVR is your best bet.

Speakers would very much depend on what you want for a setup, be it stereo, or multi-channel for watching movies. There's another forum here for speakers, and it's a complex topic, so I won't address it here.

Nothing can make up for lost detail. Lost detail is lost. If you can tell the difference, use a higher encoding rate, or switch to lossless encoding like FLAC. I am not saying those MP3 modes are total gimmicks, but it's incorrect to assume they can somehow magically restore lost information.

p.s. A receiver definitely has amplifiers! An external amplifier's advantage over a receiver is often power - they will have a bigger power supply. An external amplifier is perhaps beneficial, but that would depend on your speakers, your distance from the speakers, and your preference for volume level, to name some factors.

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post #3 of 9 Old 11-06-2010, 05:07 PM - Thread Starter
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So with regard to the Pioneer VSX 1120, is that all I really need? ...or will the Cambridge 540R get me there, with the additional benefit of having a better internal amp? ...the Cambridge only has a 100 watt power output (80 watts if all channels are used). I am thinking of getting 2 floor standing speakers (perhaps the Monitor RX6s) and am a little concerned I might need a little more juice to drive them (especially down the line if I add more speakers and the power drops to 80 watts).

...I am leaning towards Cambridge. But I want to confirm the following: 1) the 540R doesn't have any syncing problems passing through HDMI video while playing audio (it doesn't accept audio from HDMI, only SPDIF / Toslink... and read there was a delay for some audio modes... does it also delay the video output accordingly?), and 2) that the power output is sufficient to handle 2 floor-standing speakers and still have enough to upgrade to a 5.1 or 6.1 setup down the road.
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post #4 of 9 Old 11-06-2010, 06:33 PM
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I know nothing about the Cambridge, except it's not an up to date receiver from a feature set perspective. Don't know that the power supply is too amazing on it, it only weighs 20 pounds.

If it was me, I would get the Pioneer. But I have never owned a Pioneer. I like Yamaha receivers, because they have a good track record for me personally. I have owned quite a few.

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post #5 of 9 Old 11-07-2010, 06:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks... I've been reading more about this all day. I'm now starting to think the Marantz SR5005 is the way to go. Bit more than I wanted to spend, but it has the discrete amp as well as all the home theater aspects that I am looking for. Plus, it has the Audyssey setup that will probably be invaluable in my apartment...
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post #6 of 9 Old 11-07-2010, 08:49 PM
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One good rule of thumb: 1/3 budget on receiver, 2/3 on speakers and sub.

+1 vote for the Pioneer 1120 as a great starting point. (It's worth much more than it actually costs, and it has all the 2010 bells and whisles!)

But, if HDMI 1.4 (3D compatibility) isn't wanted or needed, then there are some really amazing deals going on right now for Denon 3310's, Pioneer SC-25's, and a few other 2009 models...
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post #7 of 9 Old 11-07-2010, 08:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kirche5 View Post

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.

Quote:


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.

Quote:


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.

Quote:


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.

Quote:


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.

Quote:


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.
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post #8 of 9 Old 11-07-2010, 09:03 PM
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You don't need a sound card with a DAC I think? Simpler to run digital audio to a receiver.

"But this one goes up to 11"
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post #9 of 9 Old 11-07-2010, 09:09 PM
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geeze. why not just get a PS3 and PS3 Media Server? You can stream FLAC lossless audio easily and free, plus get a great BluRay Player, awesome gaming system and online capability?

As for the recevier, the Pioneer is good and priced well with TONS of features, also look at Onkyo. The amp can always come later if you need to save some cash.

I would STRONGLY suggest you put more of your money into your speakers and sub than the electronics. The Pioneer is MORE than enough, has great sound and awesome features. your BEST money will be spent on quality speakers though...
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