Make the leap from AVR to seperates? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 34 Old 08-15-2013, 07:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Hello everyone -

A couple of years ago, I built my first home theater system with the help of this forum. I will be moving up to a bigger and better house, which means a bigger and better space for my home theater/media room. Which means, upgrade time!

This has me re-evaluating every facet of my setup. On this thread, I want to discuss amplification, source, and processing.

I currently own a Denon 2112 powering an Infitiny Primus setup (P363 x2, P351, P163x2, Acoustech sub). When I upgrade the speakers, I will probably replace the AVR as well. my budget would probably be around $2k for amp and processing. It could be more or less, I am flexible in this regard.

I know many here have the opinion that "all modern DACs are the same". At this risk of a flame war, I will have to respectfully disgree with that statement. I have the benefit of having a friend who records music digitally for a living, and I have been in the studio and heard first hand what high level processing can do to add clarity and depth to audio playback. He considers D to A processing one of the most critical links in the playback chain, and I firmly believe this is true.

My source for music will be a HTPC with high resolution audio files of different formats. My source for movies will be a blue-ray player. Music fidelity is of utmost importance for the new system.

My question are as follows:
Should I consider seperates?

Can anyone speak to the benefits of improved processing power in a home theater/music capacity?

Are there any specific things I may be overlooking when considering seperates? Will I still get a lot of the same features of an AVR (Audessey, etc).

Any reccomendations on seperates? In particular, on pre-amps/processors?
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post #2 of 34 Old 08-15-2013, 09:54 AM
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The pre-amp below gets very good reviews. On sale for great price. Hope this helps.

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post #3 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 11:09 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reccomenation. Anyone else have thoughts on AVR vs separates?
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post #4 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 11:49 AM
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I can say for sure that if you go separates you will never want to go back to a receiver. Separate amplifiers bring so much to the table. So much more power and control. I love what going separates has done for my theater.
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post #5 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 11:55 AM - Thread Starter
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have no doubt that a separate amp will produce more power. Does this provide anything other than access to a broader range of speakers?

Also, can anyone speak to the improved performance of a separate processor? And what about room correction in separates?
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post #6 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 01:24 PM
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Spend your money on the best speakers you can afford.

Unless you have a particularly large space or chose some weird difficult to drive speakers, it is unlikely that a separate amp will be of any benefit.

While DACs are important, it is highly unlikely that you (or any other human) woud hear any difference between good quality modern DACs, which are commonly found in most decent current receivers.
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post #7 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 01:37 PM
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I agree with Ryan. The way to improve an audio system is with speakers and room acoustics. Everything else is - well - everything else.
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post #8 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 01:40 PM - Thread Starter
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The DAC piece is where I have to humbly disagree. I have a friend who is an audio engineer and records music digitally for a living. Like most modern recording producers, he spends a great deal of money on D to A conversion. I have heard first hand the dramatic difference between high end and low end conversion. I agree you need very revealing speakers to hear the difference, but it is very real and audible.

When I asked him, he put speakers at #1, processing at #2, amplification at distant #3 for sound quality. Now room is probably #2 or #3 in a HT application. Not as much of a concern with near field monitors in a control room. But processing D to A for playback is a big piece of the chain
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post #9 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 02:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

The DAC piece is where I have to humbly disagree. I have a friend who is an audio engineer and records music digitally for a living. ...

Again, nobody is disputing that DACs are not important. The point is that virtually all modern DACs (with the possible exception of some really cheap ones you are not likely to find in a current AVR from a major manufacturer) are sonically transparent. Meaning, you will not be able to tell a difference in an ABX test.

Now, you may have misunderstood your friend, or your friend doesn't really know what he/she is talking about (there are plenty of audio engineering grunts who don't).

But if you invest the bulk of your $$$$ in speakers and the rest in a receiver with a decent room EQ (Audyssey MultiEQ XT32, ARC or (my favorite) Trinnov (the discontinued R-972), the DACs that come with it will be fully transparent.
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post #10 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:01 PM
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I would put room acoustics as #1, speakers #2, followed VERY closely by subwoofers #3, sound processing a distant #4 and lastly amplification #5. You are comparing professional sound recording to consumer playback. Two completely different worlds. I'm guessing the DACs available to the professional studios are not found in most if not all of our consumer electronics. The DACs in modern AVRs, pre-pros and what not are all very close in quality to each other. You would have to have perfected #1 and #2 before you would be able to measure a difference let alone hear one. Professional studios are built with this in mind I'm guessing. Not so with living rooms, garages, dens, bedrooms, etc that double as our entertainment rooms. What I'm trying to get at (in my opinion) is that you can't take a professional sound engineer's criteria and apply it to your own scenario in this case.

Here's my anecdotal experience: I have a fairly decent setup which consists of Revel Performa2 F52 speakers, Denon AVR-4311 receiver, Oppo BDP-95 for the source, and an Emotiva XPR-5 for amplification. Unless I'm listening at over 90dBs (sub not included), I hear absolutely no difference when the speakers are driven by my receiver or the external amp. My room is very simple, sealed and well treated for first reflection points. I always get that warm fuzzy feeling of near nirvana when listening to music on my system. I took my entire system over to my parents' place. Even after spending the better part of a week trying to set it up it still sounded mediocre. His living room is an acoustic nightmare with high ceilings, hardwood floors, multiple glasstop tables, windows everywhere, large sections of effectively bare walls, leather seating and a huge entertainment center that forces the speakers to be stuck in corners. The speakers barely sounded better than his existing $200 a pair Infinity P363s. These same speakers sound amazing in my room BTW.

Fortunately, after getting tired of mediocre sound he has given me permission to put up temporary room treatments to prove to him that spending $$$$ on new speakers is not the way to go in his case. I advised that a few hundred in room treatments will make a huge difference as opposed to thousands on new speakers on marginal improvement. Well, that's my $0.02 and personal experience on the subject. Sorry for the long winded post.
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post #11 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:10 PM - Thread Starter
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The last thing I want to do is turn this thread into a flame war. But I feel I must address a couple of the points you made.

First, I found your insinuation that he does not "know what he is talking about" or is a "audio engineering grunt" (whatever that is) to be somewhat insulting. He is a professional engineer who runs his own studio, and has done so successfully for the last ten years. He has received recognition as one of the highest quality studios in our area.

Second, I have witnessed first hand the difference between DACs. I have sat in the studio, listening to off-the-shelf CDs, being played through studio monitors. There is absolutely ZERO mistaking that different processors create different levels of clarity and sound stages. It is a night and day difference. Now this is listening on high end studio monitors that are extremely revealing, I give you that.

So in my current system (with modest infinity primus speakers) I doubt a new DAC would make an audible difference, so I went the AVR route.

In my future system, where I will buy much better speakers, processing will start to matter more and will create an audible difference.
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post #12 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

The last thing I want to do is turn this thread into a flame war. But I feel I must address a couple of the points you made.

First, I found your insinuation that he does not "know what he is talking about" or is a "audio engineering grunt" (whatever that is) to be somewhat insulting. He is a professional engineer who runs his own studio, and has done so successfully for the last ten years. He has received recognition as one of the highest quality studios in our area.

Second, I have witnessed first hand the difference between DACs. I have sat in the studio, listening to off-the-shelf CDs, being played through studio monitors. There is absolutely ZERO mistaking that different processors create different levels of clarity and sound stages. It is a night and day difference. Now this is listening on high end studio monitors that are extremely revealing, I give you that.

So in my current system (with modest infinity primus speakers) I doubt a new DAC would make an audible difference, so I went the AVR route.

In my future system, where I will buy much better speakers, processing will start to matter more and will create an audible difference.

I know somebody who runs a nice studio as well, and though he can run circles around me in terms of playing and recording instruments, he has no idea how equipment works or how to do a fair comparison between things like DACs.

Did you level-match when you did your DAC comparison? Or are you also including "processing" in the comparison. It's not clear from your post (my italics added) what you mean by "processors."

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post #13 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:19 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

You are comparing professional sound recording to consumer playback. Two completely different worlds. I'm guessing the DACs available to the professional studios are not found in most if not all of our consumer electronics. The DACs in modern AVRs, pre-pros and what not are all very close in quality to each other. ...

that's my $0.02 and personal experience on the subject. Sorry for the long winded post.

I have no problem with the long winded post... I appreciate it!

I agree 100% with the room treatments. Obviously his control room is heavily treated and probably more "dead" than your average theater/hobby-ist room, because you are specifically listening for defects and need everything to be as revealing as possible. Room treatment will come before processing on the priority list, dont get me wrong. But my next system will have a pretty strong budget behind it, so I can afford to consider all factors.

I agree we are comparing two different worlds. The problem is, now that I have been exposed to a professional studio and the level of fidelity that exists in a professional control room, my goal is to re-create that level of fidelity at home as much as is feasibly possible. You make a very interesting point about all "home use" processors being very close to one another. That very well may be the case. However, I can speak with absolute certainty that all professional level DACs are not the same, I have witnessed it first hand. The differences are anything but subtle.

I have considered incorporating some studio level gear into my setup, so a studio level DAC may need to be where I turn to ensure I get the level of processing accuracy I am looking for. Thanks again for the detailed response.
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post #14 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by beaveav View Post

I know somebody who runs a nice studio as well, and though he can run circles around me in terms of playing and recording instruments, he has no idea how equipment works or how to do a fair comparison between things like DACs.

Did you level-match when you did your DAC comparison? Or are you also including "processing" in the comparison. It's not clear from your post (my italics added) what you mean by "processors."

He is an audio engineer, and was educated as such. He is not a pure "musician". So he does know how this stuff works at a deep technical level. Sorry for the confusion on the terms. In this case, when I say "processing", I am referring to digital to analog processing. So for the purpose of this post, DAC = processing.

As far as the level matching goes, to me that is the equivalent of comparing a $199 HTIB to a full fledged high dollar HT setup and asking if the comparison was level matched. Some differences are so blatantly obvious that absolutely anyone could notice them. I am not talking subtle differences here that would require level matching and blind A-B, I am talking about big changes in levels of clarity and soundstage.
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post #15 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

..I have a fairly decent setup which consists of Revel Performa2 F52 speakers, Denon AVR-4311 receiver, Oppo BDP-95 for the source, and an Emotiva XPR-5 for amplification. Unless I'm listening at over 90dBs (sub not included), I hear absolutely no difference when the speakers are driven by my receiver or the external amp.

In this case, isnt the D to A conversion happening in the same place in both cases (either in the Denon 4311 or the Oppo, depending on how you have it hooked up).

That comparison would do a good job of comparing the amplifiers, but not the DACs. Or am I missing something?
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post #16 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:31 PM
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ok... tell us which DAC (systems) he / she are referring to that they have compared as opposed to "there are differences in DAC's" generalization, then you can have discussion and valid comments about where to spend your money as opposed to your worrying about turning the thread into a battle. You have already setup the battle with the generalization and then trying to defend it.
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post #17 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 03:39 PM - Thread Starter
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ok... tell us which DAC (systems) he / she are referring to that they have compared as opposed to "there are differences in DAC's" generalization, then you can have discussion and valid comments about where to spend your money as opposed to your worrying about turning the thread into a battle. You have already setup the battle with the generalization and then trying to defend it.

Ok. Fair point. Again, I mean no one any disrespect and I am here to learn and discuss, not argue. So allow me to attempt to steer things back on track.

1) to your specific point, I do not know the exact DACs we used in the comparison. They were both professional/studio level stand alone DACs. I will try and find out and re=post.

2) I am not interested in arguing the merits of "are their differences in DACs." I know for a fact there are. What I am interested in, is what experiences the community has had in the application of different DACs to home theater. It is quite possible that the DACs in modern AVRs and pre/pros designed for home use are identical, or nearly identical. If that is the case, then I will look to the professional market for a pre/pro if needed.

So if possible, I would like to steer the direction away from "does a DAC make a difference", which has been discussed in many threads ad-nauseum, to "what differences has the community noticed between different pre/pros. It sounds like for many, the answer is none. But that does not mean that their are not differences.
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post #18 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

He is an audio engineer, and was educated as such. He is not a pure "musician". So he does know how this stuff works at a deep technical level. Sorry for the confusion on the terms. In this case, when I say "processing", I am referring to digital to analog processing. So for the purpose of this post, DAC = processing.

As far as the level matching goes, to me that is the equivalent of comparing a $199 HTIB to a full fledged high dollar HT setup and asking if the comparison was level matched. Some differences are so blatantly obvious that absolutely anyone could notice them. I am not talking subtle differences here that would require level matching and blind A-B, I am talking about big changes in levels of clarity and soundstage.

Audio engineers, even those with formal training, know far less about the gear they use than do the EEs who designed and tested that gear.

And since I fall into the latter category, I can tell you - and it might surprise you to know - that in many cases, consumer products and professional/commercial products use the exact same DACs (same chips).

Your comment about not needing to level-match is telling, in that it tells me you have a lot to learn about audio. For example, how is clarity defined? And how would a DAC, a chip that simply converts a digital signal to an analog signal, have any effect on soundstaging?

Your red herring about comparing a HTIB to a high dollar setup means nothing, because then you are talking about differences in speakers. Here we are talking about differences in electronics.
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post #19 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Sigh.... So the flame war begins.

I'm not going to argue about what I heard with my own ears. There was a dramatic difference that anyone could notice. Trained or untrained. I will leave it at that.
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post #20 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

...

As far as the level matching goes, to me that is the equivalent of comparing a $199 HTIB to a full fledged high dollar HT setup and asking if the comparison was level matched. Some differences are so blatantly obvious that absolutely anyone could notice them. I am not talking subtle differences here that would require level matching and blind A-B, I am talking about big changes in levels of clarity and soundstage.

Dude, you asked a question and got an answer.

The above makes no sense and sonically transparent means just that: sonically transparent.

beaveav's point about level matching is both valid and most likely failure to heed it is the reason for your impression of "big changes in levels of clarity and soundstage," unless some of the equipment was defective.
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post #21 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

Sigh.... So the flame war begins.

I'm not going to argue about what I heard with my own ears. There was a dramatic difference that anyone could notice. Trained or untrained. I will leave it at that.

I'm sure you did, because you didn't level match. Such is the nature of the beast, and a reason why level-matching is critical before doing a comparison like that and claiming one is superior to the other.
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post #22 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:28 PM - Thread Starter
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Would you say you need to level match to notice there is a difference between any two components?

Extreme example: supposed I level matched my HT fronts with my built in TV speakers. I'm sure I could tell which is which. I'm also sure I could tell if I didn't level match.
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post #23 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:41 PM
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I don't know what others are comparing, but on my Klipsch Ultra 2 THX speaker system moving from a Pioneer receiver to a Marantz AV7005 (B-stock) and Parasound Amp HCA-2205a (used) amp made an enormous difference to the sound that was obvious to everyone.

Going b-stock and used allowed me to get high quality separates sound for ~$1600.

In the past I've also compared different amplifiers using the same pre-amp and speakers and found noticeable differences in the soundstage and overall clarity. I'm not sure why a lot of people seem to think it's just "different levels" or the placebo effect because it seems extremely evident to me.
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post #24 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Let me boil down this thread to a simple question.

Assuming a pre/pro has the same connectivity and features as the avr, the only advantage to seperates is improved amplification. Is that the consensus here?
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post #25 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

Would you say you need to level match to notice there is a difference between any two components?

Extreme example: supposed I level matched my HT fronts with my built in TV speakers. I'm sure I could tell which is which. I'm also sure I could tell if I didn't level match.

Shaking my head. You really don't get it?

Let me try to explain. DACs have long been "good enough" that there are little or no audible differences from one to another. Speakers obviously are a different animal. Are you really trying to say that there are differences in DACs that are equal to the differences between TV speakers and HT fronts? An obvious malfunctioning DAC notwithstanding, no, there are not such differences between DACs. Period.

DAC THD, frequency response, SNR, dynamic range, etc are all easily measured and all orders of magnitude better than even the best speakers.

TV speakers, meanwhile, would have HUGE measured anomalies, ie, horrible frequency response, horrible THD, horrible dynamic range, etc.
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post #26 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Ryan1 View Post

Spend your money on the best speakers you can afford.

Unless you have a particularly large space or chose some weird difficult to drive speakers, it is unlikely that a separate amp will be of any benefit.

While DACs are important, it is highly unlikely that you (or any other human) woud hear any difference between good quality modern DACs, which are commonly found in most decent current receivers.

Ryan,

I agree with your thoughts 100% smile.gif.

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post #27 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by KenK View Post

I don't know what others are comparing, but on my Klipsch Ultra 2 THX speaker system moving from a Pioneer receiver to a Marantz AV7005 (B-stock) and Parasound Amp HCA-2205a (used) amp made an enormous difference to the sound that was obvious to everyone.

Going b-stock and used allowed me to get high quality separates sound for ~$1600.

In the past I've also compared different amplifiers using the same pre-amp and speakers and found noticeable differences in the soundstage and overall clarity. I'm not sure why a lot of people seem to think it's just "different levels" or the placebo effect because it seems extremely evident to me.

Because, quite simply, differences in soundstage and overall clarity can be accounted for with level changes. Even the exact same piece of gear will have greater clarity and soundstage when you do nothing but turn it up a little. So level-matching is a must. And I didn't even get into the pyschological issues that affect all human hearing - things such as expectation bias, where you hear greater "clarity and soundstage" simply because you listen more closely because you bought something new and expensive and expect to hear an improvement, even if those expectations are subconscious. Our brains have a tremendous influence on what we hear, and we're not always aware of everything our brains are doing.
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post #28 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

Let me boil down this thread to a simple question.

Assuming a pre/pro has the same connectivity and features as the avr, the only advantage to seperates is improved amplification. Is that the consensus here?

The only potential improvement is in the amplification, but in most cases, that potential improvement (higher power) is not needed.

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post #29 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by ptsawyer View Post

Thanks for the recommendation. Anyone else have thoughts on AVR vs separates?

I would suggest buying an AVR with preouts and if additional power is needed add an external amp. If the AVR has sufficient power then you're all set smile.gif.

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post #30 of 34 Old 08-16-2013, 05:39 PM
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Because, quite simply, differences in soundstage and overall clarity can be
accounted for with level changes. Even the exact same piece of gear will have greater clarity and soundstage when you do nothing but turn it up a little. So level-matching is a must. And I didn't even get into the pyschological issues that affect all human hearing - things such as expectation bias, where you hear greater "clarity and soundstage" simply because you listen more closely because you bought something new and expensive and expect to hear an improvement, even if those expectations are subconscious. Our brains have a tremendous influence on what we hear, and we're not always aware of everything our brains are doing.
. Have you been watching that " TLC " show called your bleeped up brain?... No..I'm serious..its very very interesting!

As far as separates go..a very very good avr nowadays will perform very close to separates.. I did notice a very slight cleaned up,more transparent soundstage when going separates years ago...I prefer separates.. Just because I do.
As far as the DACs go...the ones used in today's avrs are very good!
But I do have to agree that they do not ALL sound the same..when I put one between my Cambridge audio CD player and avr,it sounded very very nice,the difference was very obvious,CDs I listened to everyday..I noticed improvements
Over the yrs I have tried many good hi-end DACs..rega,benchmark..music fidelity. Etc.. They all had there own sound...slight as it was..a trained hear could tell the difference during a critical listening session...and a very slight improvement in sound is a major improvement to the critical listener.
But..anyway I would go for separates, there's a lot of flexibility, more clean power if needed..plus its a lot of fun to buy/hookup/listen/tweek new gear!
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