Originally Posted by Selden Ball
What's the room like where you are listening?
Are you sure Audyssey is turned off?
Are you sure you have "loudness" disabled in stereo mode?
Your symptoms seem to be to be consistent with Audyssey doing a very good job of equalizing your speakers to your listening room's acoustics and/or that the loudness frequency contour is compensating for low listening levels.
In Direct modes, no audio processing of any kind is applied to the audio signals. As a result, they sound best with full-range speakers in a carefully designed, quality listening environment at reasonably high volumes.
FWIW, the frequency response curves on Ascend's web site suggest to me that your speakers aren't quite what I would be willing to call full range. They probably should be crossed over to a subwoofer at 60 Hz or higher. See http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages.../srm1meas.html
As a result, if you really want to get the best out of your speaker system in Direct modes, you need to integrate your sub with your fronts external to the receiver and not use the AVR's SW output. The bass management would have to be done either in the sub or using an external crossover since the AVR provides no bass management in Direct modes.
FYI, I'm using an SR8001. I think I forgot to mention that. I don't think that model has a loudness curve, or at least I couldn't find it. I triple checked to make sure that I had all EQ off. I do. My room is 11' wide x 20' deep x 8' high for the front half, although the back half opens a bit to around 14-15 feet because it opens up to stairs. There's also a open doorway to the kitchen very close to the left front speaker and sub. It's Carpeted, no treatments, but it has a couch about half way back with assorted lamps, end tables etc. In other words, it's not ideal for listening, but it's the only space I have.
wow, thanks for the extra thought put into your post, even checking the frequency response of my speakers! Anyway, I've been running with speakers set to small, crossed at 80Hz. I have plugs in my speakers right now that cause a roll off around 60Hz. So in pure direct, I turn on the sub's crossover and set it to around 60Hz. The sub is connected to the 8001 by the RCA input for regular stereo/surround modes, and it is also hooked up by speaker wire using the speaker B connection for pure direct (I turn on A+B in pure direct to get the sub).
I was thinking last night that maybe some of the differences I was hearing were symptoms of having slightly different configurations when trying to do A/B tests. Or, that the speakers were able to open up more and perform better when set to small because some of those low frequencies were taken from them. That could give regular "stereo mode" a possible advantage. To make it easier to test, I've turned off the sub, put the front trim levels to 0, and set them to large. So everything should be as close to identical as possible when switching. The overall sound suffers from lack of bass, but at least I can compare apples to apples for everything else.
What I found is still odd. The bass and midrange have a bit of a boost in stereo mode and the soundstage is still wider. I suppose some people may say it's a little "bloated" when directly A/B'd, but I think it's nice. In Pure Direct, the soundstage is somewhat collapsed/claustrophobic in nature, and thin. It does sound finely detailed, in some ways perhaps more so than in stereo mode, but over all not as musical. I'm wondering if the 8001 has something like a "house curve" that's always there. You know sort of like TV's are set to torch mode at the store. This "house curve" could make the receiver sound "better" to most people. I'm just not so sure a company like Marantz would do that though. Even with the speakers at "0" trim level stereo mode seems to have a slight volume boost compared to pure direct, although that could just be a perception because of the enhanced bass and midrange. Seldon, I think you're right. It does sort of sound like the old school "loudness" button that most modern receivers have gotten rid of (including the 8001 unless I'm wrong). Which still leaves me perplexed. Maybe there is still a bit of processing going on even with all EQ's off.
I have tried using the HDMI outs and the analog outs from the Oppo to see if that made a difference. Using analog out, volume level matched, speakers at large, and sub off for all testing, the two modes are a little closer to each other. There are some trade offs here though. The higher end of the treble seems more decisive and sharp, contributing to a bit more perceived high end detail in pure direct.
This all started because I have a nice new turntable on the way and I wanted the purist analog sound I could get. I don't want the whole ADC/DAC conversion going on with my analog sources. So I'm getting my system ready for that.
Hmmm . . .