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post #1 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 05:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Optimising gain structure when the signal chain is pro-consumer-pro

My signal chain runs as follows

HTPC -> firewire -> audio interface -> line out -> Marantz AV7005 7.1 RCA input -> RCA to main power amp (cinepro 2k6 mk3) & XLR to sub power amp (speakerpower SP1-6000)

The noise floor is higher than I'd like and I suspect that is to do with the gain structure so I took some measurements.

Given a 60Hz 0dBFS sine wave & all available gain dials set to 0 all the way down the line, I have the following;

line out from audio interface = 1.9V
RCA out from processor = 1.4V (rated spec = 1.2V)
XLR out from processor = 5.5V (rated spec = 2.4V)

To the best of my knowledge, input sensitivity specs for each device are

AV7005 7.1 Input = 200mV
Cinepro 2k6 RCA = 0.775V (but reportedly selectable to 1V and 1.5V via internal switches)
Speakerpower SP1-6000 = +4dBV (~1.6V)

The power amps have clip lights, the AV7005 inputs do not.
Auto setup is pushing the channel levels down by -5.5dB on the mains & -9.5dB on the sub which reduces the actual output to 0.6V and 1.6V respectively.

It seems I have at least a few options but am unsure what the optimal setup is. For example

- shift the attenuation upstream from the AV7005 channel trims to the audio interface, leave amps as is
- switch the speakerpower from the XLR preout to the RCA preout & raise channel trim accordingly (would expect this to be near 0)
- change the sensitivity of the cinepro to 1V, spread the attenuation across the audio interface & cinepro gain pots
- change the sensitivity of the cinepro to 1.5V, run the audio interface with no attentuation and add a little gain in the AV7005 to meet the sensitivity

Any advice on how to proceed would be appreciated.
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post #2 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 05:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post
My signal chain runs as follows

HTPC -> firewire -> audio interface -> line out -> Marantz AV7005 7.1 RCA input -> RCA to main power amp (cinepro 2k6 mk3) & XLR to sub power amp (speakerpower SP1-6000)

The noise floor is higher than I'd like and I suspect that is to do with the gain structure so I took some measurements.

Given a 60Hz 0dBFS sine wave & all available gain dials set to 0 all the way down the line, I have the following;

line out from audio interface = 1.9V
RCA out from processor = 1.4V (rated spec = 1.2V)
XLR out from processor = 5.5V (rated spec = 2.4V)

To the best of my knowledge, input sensitivity specs for each device are

AV7005 7.1 Input = 200mV
Cinepro 2k6 RCA = 0.775V (but reportedly selectable to 1V and 1.5V via internal switches)
Speakerpower SP1-6000 = +4dBV (~1.6V)

The power amps have clip lights, the AV7005 inputs do not.
Auto setup is pushing the channel levels down by -5.5dB on the mains & -9.5dB on the sub which reduces the actual output to 0.6V and 1.6V respectively.

It seems I have at least a few options but am unsure what the optimal setup is. For example

- shift the attenuation upstream from the AV7005 channel trims to the audio interface, leave amps as is
- switch the speakerpower from the XLR preout to the RCA preout & raise channel trim accordingly (would expect this to be near 0)
- change the sensitivity of the cinepro to 1V, spread the attenuation across the audio interface & cinepro gain pots
- change the sensitivity of the cinepro to 1.5V, run the audio interface with no attentuation and add a little gain in the AV7005 to meet the sensitivity

Any advice on how to proceed would be appreciated.
Re strategize!


(1) Use a HDMI digital connection between the HTPC and the AVR. Your video interface in the HTPC might already have a HDMI output.

(2) Use a SP/DIF or TOSLINK input on the AVR. The HTPC might already have a SPDIF or TOSLINK output, or pins on the system board for connecting one.

No makes or models of the most important equipment involved has been provided so this is shot in the dark.
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post #3 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 06:06 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arnyk View Post
Re strategize!


(1) Use a HDMI digital connection between the HTPC and the AVR. Your video interface in the HTPC might already have a HDMI output.

(2) Use a SP/DIF or TOSLINK input on the AVR. The HTPC might already have a SPDIF or TOSLINK output, or pins on the system board for connecting one.

No makes or models of the most important equipment involved has been provided so this is shot in the dark.
the only component I didn't name is the audio interface which is a focusrite saffire pro 24 (soon to be replaced by an rme fireface 800). What difference does that make?

I am not changing to HDMI or another other output from the PC, my Q is the best way to optimise the stated signal chain.
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post #4 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 06:23 AM
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What measurement tools do you have?

I'll be back later...



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post #5 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 06:29 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayDunzl View Post
What measurement tools do you have?
For voltage? A multimeter.
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post #6 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 06:43 AM
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I'd start with a full scale test tone, maybe 60hz - or whatever frequency your meter says it is accurate at measuring, and set each stage to 0db gain/loss.

With only a voltmeter I don't know how you would see where the noise is creeping in, but none of the stages should be "amplifying" the noise.

Just a starting point.

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post #7 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 07:22 AM
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Is the noise broadband (hissing) or hum/buzzing?

Any component in a signal chain will add its own noise and can amplify the noise of the preceding stage. It may attenuate the input noise, along with the signal, but that leaves the input SNR the same'ish. Whatever you do will reduce the SNR at the output since anything added (even a passive attenuator or transformer) will add a little of its own noise to the signal.

The conventional method is to start by setting the input stage gain at the highest possible level and reducing the gain of the following components accordingly. This assumes a low-noise preamp (relative to the other components) which may not be your case. You must trade noise versus distortion since the input stage must have the input and output dynamic range to optimize noise and distortion. Turn down the signal level and distortion decreases but noise rises (relative to the signal level). In audio chains it can be very tricky to determine the best SNR/THD trade. You need to know the SNR and THD numbers and the input/output signal levels used to measure them for each component. It is a straight-forward, if tedious, calculation when the parameters are all known.

If you have volume control at each stage you can turn the volume down, or disconnect (and preferably short) the relevant input (not output), and see if the noise decreases. If you short the power amp inputs and the noise is still there adjust the power amps' gains to see if it can be reduced. If you adjust the AV7005's level and the noise decreases you can try playing with the trade between AV7005 and power amp gains (assuming you have level controls on the power amps). Same deal between audio interface and AV7005. Actually, I would start by playing with the trade between audio interface and AV7005 gain, then move down the chain. There may be multiple minima but starting at the front end (audio interface) and working to the back end (speakers) to reduce the relative noise at each point is a reasonable approach IME.

Watch your levels; the settings that yield the best noise may yield worse distortion (over driving some stages).

HTH - Don
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post #8 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 08:43 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayDunzl View Post
With only a voltmeter I don't know how you would see where the noise is creeping in, but none of the stages should be "amplifying" the noise.
what equipment would be required to do this?

Quote:
Originally Posted by DonH50 View Post
Is the noise broadband (hissing) or hum/buzzing?
hissing, it is not terrible but would like to damp it down if possible. FWIW I know the cinepro amp was quiet in another setup (not in my room) so it is specific to how I'm using it.
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post #9 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 09:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post

what equipment would be required to do this?
An Oscilloscope can be a cheap starting point.

Full blown Spectral Analyzers are the ending point.

I defer to DonH.

---

Maybe something like this

Or, check eBay
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Last edited by RayDunzl; 08-18-2014 at 09:14 AM.
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post #10 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 10:51 AM
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I'd just use my ears for this one. There is a variety of equipment that would do the job, as RayDunzl said (quite correctly), but I wouldn't bother. Noise floor measurements can be tricky and most inexpensive (and in fact many expensive) DSOs have limited dynamic range (and are fairly noisy themselves). A sound card with a decent mic, preamp, and shareware FFT program would work OK but I think it's overkill for this. Ditto an audio analyzer. A hissing noise usually means just the noise of components being gained up through the signal chain, not a ground loop of interference signal. Note high-sensitivity speakers can also result in more noise at the listening position. In any event, frustrating as it sounds (no pun intended!), I'd just systematically play with the gain settings to work out the best compromise you can. This is the sort of thing difficult to troubleshoot over the Internet (at least for me). As mentioned above, if you can isolate the offending component, great, but there usually isn't a clear-cut answer.

If you have another source, like a CD player, you could see if it sounds as noisy as the firewire interface. A lot of pro gear is designed for much higher signal levels so when you attenuate them to drive a consumer product you end up with a higher noise floor.
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post #11 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 11:53 AM
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FWIW, I'd start by unplugging everything from the amp, and seeing if the noise is still there. If so, it's amp self-noise and you'd want to reduce the amp's gain, if you can, to get it into unobtrusive levels. If it's not the amp, I' d keep working backwards. Unplug everything from the receiver and see if the noise occurs. If it does, it's from the receiver, and you'd have to fiddle with output levels (channel levels) to see if you can get it lower while still getting adequate gain to achieve your desired listening levels. There's almost no chance the digital connection to from the computer adds noise, so if it's not the amp and it's not the receiver, it's the interface.

Of course it might be the multiplicative effect of a little noise everywhere, in which case, for home use, experimenting with relative gains is likely the best way to find the quietest quiescent noise level . . .
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post #12 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 03:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the replies. It seems I should be able to take one component out of the chain at a time to see if I can isolate a problem device, if not then it's just a question of trial and error to see which setup provides the best balance. I can certainly do that for the audio interface as I'm swapping to a different, higher spec, one anyway & I could also connect that directly to the power amp to see if it's the AV7005.

One, possibly quite dim, question though

Quote:
Originally Posted by DonH50 View Post
disconnect (and preferably short) the relevant input (not output), and see if the noise decreases. If you short the power amp inputs and the noise is still there adjust the power amps' gains to see if it can be reduced.
why does shorting the inputs help? & how do I physically do that?
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post #13 of 32 Old 08-18-2014, 06:15 PM
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It just keeps anything, whether leakage from the other components or EMI/RFI into an open input, from adding to the noise. I usually just make one by soldering pin to shield or you can buy them. However, chances are they are not needed. First do the easy stuff, just pulling cables or powering off and checking one link at a time.

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post #14 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 06:42 AM - Thread Starter
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I checked the cinepro power amp, loudest buzzing first

RCA inputs disconnected + ground lift switch set to lift
RCA inputs connected + ground lift switch not set to lift
RCA inputs connected + ground lift switch set to lift
RCA inputs disconnected + ground lift switch not set to lift

the buzz is attenuated somewhat by reducing gain but not dramatically so. I'm not sure whether this tells me but I think it means the cinepro is not the source of the noise in itself.
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post #15 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 02:22 PM
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What about power - are they all plugged into the same wall socket or same power strip or same something?

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post #16 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 02:23 PM - Thread Starter
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They all feed off the same wall socket. There is a single feed into my rack and then that is split inside the rack.
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post #17 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 02:53 PM
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So...

Lowest buzz is

Nothing -> RCA -> Cinepro -> speakers

--

How old is the amp?

Do all output channels have the same buzz?

Tried power on a different electrical branch?

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post #18 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 04:28 PM - Thread Starter
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further info...

Audio Interfaces
I have swapped out the old audio interface (saffire pro 24) for the new one (rme fireface 800).

Given the same 0dBFS sinewave as before I measure;

- (in -10dBV mode which is meant to be +2dBV for 0dBFS) 0.8V coming out of the interface & 0.6V from the AV7005 when the relevant channel trim is at 0
- (in +4dBu mode which is meant to be +13dBu for 0dBFS) 2.9V & 2.0V respectively

The saffire produced 1.9V & 1.4V respectively in the same situation.

This suggests the Marantz is attentuating the analogue path by about -3dB.

Cinepro Clipping
cinepro clip lights come on when the input voltage is >1.5V so I guess this means the input sensitivity is actually at the default 1.5V

Next Steps/Questions
It looks like I will need either -10dBV but +7 on the main channel trim or +4dBu mode and -2.5 on the main channel trim in the AV7005. The latter looks more sensible to me as the fireface should be a higher spec device.

auto setup was producing ~0.6V into the cinepro which seems to be leaving an awful lot of power on the table, not sure what is going on there (albeit this whole exercise is more questions than answers so far!)
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post #19 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 04:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayDunzl View Post
How old is the amp?

Do all output channels have the same buzz?

Tried power on a different electrical branch?
yes all channels are the same, amp is fairly old (10yrs?) but known to be quiet in a previous home.

The rack is currently powered off the same mains feed as the rest of the downstairs sockets, I am having a dedicated feed (for the rack) installed in the near future. It's not practically possible to try a different mains feed til then.
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post #20 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 04:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post
It's not practically possible to try a different mains feed til then.
You don't have a long long extension cord?

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post #21 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 05:10 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayDunzl View Post
You don't have a long long extension cord?
do you want me to try a socket on a different ring main or just a different socket on the same ring main?

I'm getting more certain there is a constant broadband noise from the amp now though. Fiddling with gain structure is not affecting that at all and I can hear (with my ear pressed to the tweeter) a separate hiss if I have the MV at 0, this is inaudible from more than a few inches so doesn't concern me but is a distinct noise. This noise was not present with my old amp btw.

Would another approach be to turn *everything* else in the house off to see that if that affects it? i.e. might it be something else in the house?
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post #22 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 05:16 PM
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Take it back to the old house where it was quiet and start over.

Kidding...

I don't know...

Maybe send an email to Cinepro.

---

Ear pressed to tweeter noise - random electrons jumping the junctions in the output transistors - thermal noise, maybe.

---

My stuff is dead silent (to my feeble ears), and haven't had to chase such a problem, so, I'm just guessing.

Do you hear it while something playing?

---
Turning everything off is a good idea. Dimmers, routers, cell phones, etc.

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Last edited by RayDunzl; 08-19-2014 at 05:26 PM.
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post #23 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post
the only component I didn't name is the audio interface which is a focusrite saffire pro 24 (soon to be replaced by an rme fireface 800). What difference does that make?

I am not changing to HDMI or another other output from the PC,
A closed mind often leads to a horrific waste of time.
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post #24 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 08:34 PM
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What has changed since it was last used (and was quieter)?

Are you closer to the speakers than you were before?

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post #25 of 32 Old 08-19-2014, 11:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by arnyk View Post
A closed mind often leads to a horrific waste of time.
A strange comment given that you have no idea why I use an analogue path from the htpc. Perhaps you should seek understanding [about the setup] before offering comments like that.
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post #26 of 32 Old 08-20-2014, 12:16 AM - Thread Starter
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What has changed since it was last used (and was quieter)?

Are you closer to the speakers than you were before?
I might be confusing matters here. The amp itself was quieter in another setup (different kit completely) in another house. A different amp (a rotel rb-985 mk2) was quieter in this setup.

The noise is not offensively loud either, just prefer to remove it if possible to do so reasonably easily.
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post #27 of 32 Old 08-20-2014, 01:17 AM
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Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post
A strange comment given that you have no idea why I use an analogue path from the htpc. Perhaps you should seek understanding [about the setup] before offering comments like that.
Here's what may be a novel idea for the writer of the above useless piece of information. Provide a simple technical, non-insulting response explaining why the best simplest solution can't work, and we can all move on. I imagine that the pursuit of magic DACs has something to do with it.
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post #28 of 32 Old 08-20-2014, 01:28 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by arnyk View Post
Here's what may be a novel idea for the writer of the above useless piece of information. Provide a simple technical, non-insulting response explaining why the best simplest solution can't work, and we can all move on. I imagine that the pursuit of magic DACs has something to do with it.
you can feel free to pick a fight and/or go trolling in another thread.
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post #29 of 32 Old 08-20-2014, 01:45 AM
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Originally Posted by 3ll3d00d View Post
you can feel free to pick a fight and/or go trolling in another thread.
It looks like I did in fact have an exact idea of why someone is trying themselves into knots while trying to do the obvious... Pursuit of Magic DACs! Nerve was struck along the way. My apology for trying to help.

Curiosity satisfied.

Moving on. ;-)
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post #30 of 32 Old 08-20-2014, 01:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by arnyk View Post
It looks like I did in fact have an exact idea of why someone is trying themselves into knots while trying to do the obvious... Pursuit of Magic DACs! Nerve was struck along the way. My apology for trying to help.

Curiosity satisfied.

Moving on. ;-)
actually no, you're completely wrong on both counts as I don't pursue magic DACs & no nerves were struck during this thread. I just try to avoid keyboard warrior mode when posting on forums, you may have different preferences of course which is your prerogative.
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