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Preamps vs amps: Which component leaves a greater signature?

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Considering all other components in the chain being of equal mid-fi quality, would there be a greater benefit to upgrading the preamp or the amp?
post #2 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelkingdom View Post

Considering all other components in the chain being of equal mid-fi quality, would there be a greater benefit to upgrading the preamp or the amp?

There are benefits to both, but almost no sonic advantage to either.

What's "mid-fi'? Are we talking an 5 year old Onkyo AVR, or a mid 1970s Sansuage receiver?
post #3 of 27
I think in the recent years the cost versus performance advantage has narrowed todays mid level up receivers are close enough in performance that a lot of long time advocates of separates are switching sometimes do to the fact the AVR line will get the latest improvements long before separates.
post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 
For midfi, I'm thinking something along the lines of Cambridge, Emotiva, HK, Outlaw, Denon. If you has seperates from any of these brands and subbed in a Bryston, Krell, Rowland etc. Pre or Amp, what would bring the most benefit?
post #5 of 27
Probably any repeatable identifiable audible differences (assuming you're not clipping existing amps or using speakers that require vanishing low output impedances to draive [or with which you like the FR anomalies of moderate output impedance puls hard to drive input impedance for the speakers]) would come from differences in intentional sound shaping in the pre sections (like Audyssey versus no Audyssey or an alternative room EQ system). In general, as implied above, systems are designed with sufficient competence that they're not distinguishable when you don't know which you are hearing. As much as I love the idea that Bryston's IM distortion may be 20 dB below (1/100) of that in my receiver, if the IM in my receiver is inaudible to me, the difference is more in pride of ownership or some other non-audible sense of satisfaction . . . .

One of the positive things about being able to handle digital medial digitally ntil the last d-to-a step is that it's much cheaper and more repeatable to implement crossovers and other manipulations, whether it's EQ or extraction/creation of center and surrounds from a stereo signal, than in the analog realm. SO instead of a $100,000 stack of Manley Massive Passives, a well-designed digital correction system can be transparent, effective and, in the scheme of things, inexpensive.
post #6 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by JHAz View Post



As much as I love the idea that Bryston's IM distortion may be 20 dB below (1/100) of that in my receiver, if the IM in my receiver is inaudible to me, the difference is more in pride of ownership or some other non-audible sense of satisfaction . . . .

Considering a Denon AVR as an example, a Bryston power amp's IM won't be 20dB (1/100), it's more like 1/5 or 1/8, but both are below audibility.
post #7 of 27
Some people here think a $500 AVR is high-end. The Cambridge Audio AVR is over a grand, not what most people mean by mid-fi. Trouble is, people who buy Onkyo and Denons don't end up buying Krell and Bryston and vice versa. Different target audience. People who buy Cambridge Audio don't pair it with a Bryston.

Meridian claims its apodising filter (which is really a minimal phase filter) makes a difference as it eliminates pre-ringing, etc.
post #8 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilian.ca View Post

Some people here think a $500 AVR is high-end. The Cambridge Audio AVR is over a grand, not what most people mean by mid-fi. Trouble is, people who buy Onkyo and Denons don't end up buying Krell and Bryston and vice versa. Different target audience. People who buy Cambridge Audio don't pair it with a Bryston.
Meridian claims its apodising filter (which is really a minimal phase filter) makes a difference as it eliminates pre-ringing, etc.

Well, I am in that spot though. With an amazing used market for Byrston, Naim, Plinius etc. I'm looking at adding something nice to the chain. Bryston 4B pro amps can be had for about $800 now. There's Bryston preamps that are even less. I guess I'm barking up a dangerous tree. If there really is not much difference in sound, I might be best served to stay at the level I'm at.
post #9 of 27
on an avr - pre-amp/processor - no question

amplifier/power amp is more dependant on your speakers and size of room etc

if we were talking 2 channel stuff - I'd be half and half to whether pre-amp makes much difference. But with AVRs, with complex processing,and digital to analogue conversion its a different matter

if you argue that all avr pre-amp stages sound the same, you'd have to argue that all CD players, DACs etc all sound the same, I've definately heard differences between cd players of various cost and or quality
post #10 of 27
Not that I have tried many, but under the condition the power-amp has enough... power, I feel the pre-amp has a greater influence. Any incremental difference in the pre-amp is enlarged by the power-amp. Kal Rubinson reports good things about the recent Bryston SP3 surround processor (both with analogue an digital sources). He owned a predecessor too, so who am I to doubt his writings. BTW, the SP3 is $10K!

This said, I would prefer to invest in a brand new Emotiva XSP-1 stereo pre-amp more than the same amount towards a ten year old Bryston. But comparing them would be something I'd like to read about...
post #11 of 27
A quick read-through of the Bryston SP3's specs found no mention of room/speaker equalization. Of course, if you can afford this preamp, the additional expense of an external Audyssey or Trinov equalizer is well within your means smile.gif
post #12 of 27
External Audyssey processors are no longer made, but they are on the used market. The lack some of the newer technologies like Dynamic Volume, and Dynamic EQ because as an external device they have no "knowledge" of system gain settings.
post #13 of 27
I just picked the two EQ systems which seem to be best known. There are plenty of others, most with multi-$K prices, and some no longer available.. E.g. Audio Control's Diva, KRK's Ergo, DEQ's HDP, etc.
post #14 of 27
I guess what I'm getting at is that there are features that are only available when using an AVR as a complete solution that, at least for some, outweigh the advantages of separate devices.

The original question was regarding what advantages there might be to upgrading to a pre/pro or separate power amp. I would advance a third option: upgrade to a new higher-quality AVR. The feature set alone would be enough to make that worth while. The majority of those new features and functions result in something either clearly audible or visible, or adds an additional capability. For example, add room EQ, that's clearly audible. Add AirPlay, and you can play to the system wirelessly from iTunes or any IOS device. Add Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, that's audible too.

By contrast, adding external power amps makes an change that is not clearly audible to anyone once the perceptual biases are eliminated. But, adding a stack of big heavy looking Bryston power amps out in the room where you can see them adds something powerfully influential to perception. It's a psychological bias, but for some people that's real enough. I'm not saying its invalid, it is completely valid for many people. I'm just not one of them. I want my money in things that make an unmistakable difference to everyone without perceptual bias involved, mostly because in my personal room the gear isn't visible, and in rooms I design for clients, it isn't visible either.
post #15 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelkingdom View Post

Well, I am in that spot though. With an amazing used market for Byrston, Naim, Plinius etc. I'm looking at adding something nice to the chain. Bryston 4B pro amps can be had for about $800 now. There's Bryston preamps that are even less. I guess I'm barking up a dangerous tree. If there really is not much difference in sound, I might be best served to stay at the level I'm at.

You're not going to get a definitive answer here, esp. not knowing what equipment and room you have. If some old power amps are cheap enough you can try them for yourself. You can sell them on if you don't want to keep them. I really don't advise getting non-HDMI processors or the early generation HDMI ones as you really miss out a lot of features which more than make up for any real or perceived "audiophile" SQ. We had a thread on this recently here.
post #16 of 27
I've used separates for over 45 years and the difference between modern amps (other than power output and handling of low impedance speakers) are not audible to me. Currently I actively cross over my DIY speakers and therefore cannot get by with just a receiver. My speakers dip below four ohms and would not be handled well by the vast majority of receiver's amplifiers. I have three Emo amps in use and a modified pro amp for the subs. Because the sub amp can only reach full output using a balanced input, balanced outputs are also important to me. I'm just saying that there are reasons to get separates, they just aren't common.
post #17 of 27
I will add if you run your speakers large (full range) and they are not efficient (below 89 db1w1m) in a large room playing loud volume levels it is almost certain you will need external amps and most of the time something around 300wpc to notice the difference.
If you have efficient speakers crossed over at 80Hz ( letting the sub handle LF) in a medium sized room even playing loud most of the time a descent 100wpc AVR will fill the need without audible distortion.
post #18 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by oztech View Post

I will add if you run your speakers large (full range) and they are not efficient (below 89 db1w1m) in a large room playing loud volume levels it is almost certain you will need external amps and most of the time something around 300wpc to notice the difference.
If you have efficient speakers crossed over at 80Hz ( letting the sub handle LF) in a medium sized room even playing loud most of the time a descent 100wpc AVR will fill the need without audible distortion.

3 fronts at 89dB/1W/1m and a 100wpc amp peaks at 104 dB spl max 10 feet away. Changing to a 300wpc amp with the same system gets you to 109dB spl max. Remember, to perceive a doubling in volume you have to bump power 10X.

By the way, 104dB SPL max is quite sufficient, just a tad shy of reference max. Typical dialog in an HT will land at 75-80dB spl. If it does, the system won't hit amp clipping.
post #19 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by has7738 View Post

3 fronts at 89dB/1W/1m and a 100wpc amp peaks at 104 dB spl max 10 feet away. Changing to a 300wpc amp with the same system gets you to 109dB spl max. Remember, to perceive a doubling in volume you have to bump power 10X.
By the way, 104dB SPL max is quite sufficient, just a tad shy of reference max. Typical dialog in an HT will land at 75-80dB spl. If it does, the system won't hit amp clipping.
I only said a difference perceived and 3db will do the trick and i would be careful of hours at 100db not good on the hearing.
post #20 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by oztech View Post

I only said a difference perceived and 3db will do the trick and i would be careful of hours at 100db not good on the hearing.

I'm so lost. You want to take it UP 3dB, but you don't want to listen over 100dB SLP for hours? Who listens at 100dB anyway? That's a PEAK and the average is down at 85, which is loud for the home.

My brain hurts.
post #21 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Selden Ball View Post

A quick read-through of the Bryston SP3's specs found no mention of room/speaker equalization. Of course, if you can afford this preamp, the additional expense of an external Audyssey or Trinov equalizer is well within your means smile.gif
I thinck it's more like if you can shell out 10K for a pre-pro, your speakers will be exceptional and the room will be properly treated. Maybe there will be a bass equaliser. Believe it or not, some people prefer not to have room correction. They claim it takes away some of the sparkle.

Lars Mette from German Area DVD has a upgraded Denon AVP, but to my surprise he doesn't use the XT32.
He does have seven Isophon Arraba D towers: http://www.isophon.de/isophon.pages.php?id=de_805
(there's a link to his review, in German)

His room is treated, but I assume it's not perfect. You will find some perfection here:
http://www.soundscapes.nu/design.html
It's in Dutch, but the pics speak for themselves.
post #22 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by has7738 View Post

I'm so lost. You want to take it UP 3dB, but you don't want to listen over 100dB SLP for hours? Who listens at 100dB anyway? That's a PEAK and the average is down at 85, which is loud for the home.
My brain hurts.
Ok let me put it another way depending on how many times the source you are listening to hits peaks of 100db or better as some movies or music has quite a few could be bad on hearing.
I did not state I wanted anything I was referring to the OP most will run out and buy an external amp of lets say 125wpc and then be disappointed my opinion if you are going to this amount of trouble you probably listen to it louder than most so get the difference your looking for at 300wpc no guessing.
As for dynamics most AVR's of good quality will list dynamic power or look up reviews where they test bench some are very capable of high watt peaks just not extended one of the many benifits of being THX Ultra approved while there may be some that do and did not pay for the certification how would you know.
post #23 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by oztech View Post

Ok let me put it another way depending on how many times the source you are listening to hits peaks of 100db or better as some movies or music has quite a few could be bad on hearing.
I did not state I wanted anything I was referring to the OP most will run out and buy an external amp of lets say 125wpc and then be disappointed my opinion if you are going to this amount of trouble you probably listen to it louder than most so get the difference your looking for at 300wpc no guessing.
As for dynamics most AVR's of good quality will list dynamic power or look up reviews where they test bench some are very capable of high watt peaks just not extended one of the many benifits of being THX Ultra approved while there may be some that do and did not pay for the certification how would you know.

Ah. My mistake.

+1 to all of that.
post #24 of 27
I hope someone can help me with a basic question: What do I get in an AV preamp that makes it cost as much or more than a comparable AV amp?

I use an Onkyo TX-NR3009 AV amp in my home theater. Before that, I had a 3007 ... before that, an 805. I had lots of trouble with the 3007 and eventually Onkyo sent me the 3009 as a replacement. I've never been happy with the two-channel sound from any of my Onkyo amps. So I've also bought an Outlaw 7500 5-channel power amp and a Parasound 2100 2-channel preamp with a home theater bypass. I use this combination for 2-channel sound from my turntable and my Oppo BDP-93. I also use the Outlaw five-channel amp for the front, center and surround speakers in my home theater. So, the only amplification that's coming from my Onkyo 3009 is the two rear surround channels in my 7.1 system.

When I replace my Onkyo 3009, I want to get an AV preamp, like the Marantz 8100 that's coming out, but the cost is over $3,000. The cost of Integras that seem comparable to my Onkyo 3009 specs is also pretty high. So why should the 3009 cost essentially the same as an Integra preamp? It seems to me that the Integra is the same thing without the amplifier section. And what makes the new Marantz worth even more?

I know this is probably a stupid question for many of you out there, but obviously I'm not as knowledgable as you are. So again, why do the AV preamps cost so much in relation to the AV amps?
post #25 of 27
You're asking about the difference between separates (preamp+amp) and receivers.

A preamp(+ amp) usually costs more than the equivalent receiver simply because of manufacturing economies of scale. Receivers are sold in large quantities. Preamp/processors are not.

The reasons people buy preamp/processors usually have little or nothing to do with the resulting audio quality. Modern high-quality receivers have distortion levels far below what can be heard. So far as I'm concerned, most of the reasons for choosing a pre/pro are emotional, and some of them are rationalizations.

I prefer a preamp+separate multichannel amp because of the potential improvement in reliability, and perhaps in the quality of the design. In my case, the pre/pro is the same size as the equivalent receiver would have been, but it contains far fewer circuit boards, so there's better convection, so the circuits can run cooler. Since it does not contain the amplifier channels, it produces that much less heat to begin with. The quality of build doesn't directly contribute to the quality of the sound, but, again, should contribute to the reliability of the electronics. Similarly, the multichannel amp that I use is itself the same size as the receiver would have been. It has a much larger power supply, though, so it should be better able to provide the output power that it's rated for on all channels simultaneously. Like the pre/pro, it also doesn't have additional circuitry which would be contributing to the heat and reducing air flow.

FWIW, even after long periods of activity, both units become only somewhat warm to the touch.
post #26 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Selden Ball View Post

You're asking about the difference between separates (preamp+amp) and receivers.
A preamp(+ amp) usually costs more than the equivalent receiver simply because of manufacturing economies of scale. Receivers are sold in large quantities. Preamp/processors are not.
The reasons people buy preamp/processors usually have little or nothing to do with the resulting audio quality. Modern high-quality receivers have distortion levels far below what can be heard. So far as I'm concerned, most of the reasons for choosing a pre/pro are emotional, and some of them are rationalizations.
I prefer a preamp+separate multichannel amp because of the potential improvement in reliability, and perhaps in the quality of the design. In my case, the pre/pro is the same size as the equivalent receiver would have been, but it contains far fewer circuit boards, so there's better convection, so the circuits can run cooler. Since it does not contain the amplifier channels, it produces that much less heat to begin with. The quality of build doesn't directly contribute to the quality of the sound, but, again, should contribute to the reliability of the electronics. Similarly, the multichannel amp that I use is itself the same size as the receiver would have been. It has a much larger power supply, though, so it should be better able to provide the output power that it's rated for on all channels simultaneously. Like the pre/pro, it also doesn't have additional circuitry which would be contributing to the heat and reducing air flow.
FWIW, even after long periods of activity, both units become only somewhat warm to the touch.

Thanks, Selden. They system I have now is essentially separates, since I only use my Onkyo 3009 as a pre-amp for five channels. I get what you're saying about the preamp having fewer circuits and running cooler, and that's why I plan to buy an AV preamp to go with my Outlaw 7500 when I replace the 3009, but it still seems like the Integra AV preamps cost just as much as the Onkyo 3009, and they're essentially the same thing, but without the amplifier ... so they should be cheaper.
post #27 of 27
Like I wrote, economies of scale predominate in the pricing. I'm not sure about the Integra pre/pro (or the equivalent Onkyo pre/pro), but the new Marantz AV8801 pre/pro is being made in Japan, not China, which also affects the price.
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