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post #1 of 18 Old 06-07-2016, 09:04 AM - Thread Starter
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Gain matching

Following will be my chain of equipment for my desktop setup, and have all with me except sub and its amplification.

PC -> Focusrite 2i2 -> minidsp 2x4 (unbal) -> Emotiva Mini X A100 -> KEF Q100s
-> Power amp/Plate amp -> Subs(TBD)

[Though currently its setup as 2.0 only, PC -> Emotiva Mini X A100 -> KEF Q100s ]

Now 2i2 outputs upto 10dBu i.e 2.45V
minidsp 2x4 can be configured to take in 2V but it outputs 0.9V
Mini X A100 has input sensitivity of 0.6V
Power amp like Crown XLi series has 0.775V input sensitivity

Questions :
1) Is there anything to worry on gain matching across the chain, based on the above numbers ?
2) I don't know the gain of power amp section of mini X A100 ( I have asked Emotiva) but if its different from sub power amp, will that be an issue ?
3) Should I keep volume control of Mini X A100 at full, to make it a power amp ? So that I can control volume, for entire 2.x system, only via Focusrite ?

Thanks !

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post #2 of 18 Old 06-07-2016, 02:18 PM
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Ideally, for best gain staging and system SNR, volume on the Focusrite should be increased until you are just below the level of clipping the minidsp input, and then left alone. Use the Emotiva flexamp for volume control. The general idea is to keep gains at full scale early in the signal chain, especially through ADC and DSP stages, then attenuate later down the line.

Except that with a .x system you lose control of sub output by doing so. The next best solution would be a multichannel analog volume control after the minidsp. There are a few around, none are particularly cheap IIRC. Digital attenuation/volume in the minidsp itself would be a good option, but I think that's only available on the 4x10 and 10x10, and maybe the DDRC series, right?

Practically, you may have to use the focusrite for volume control. Follow the general goal of keeping upstream levels high, attenuating as late in the chain as possible. To do that, turn focusrite wide open or to the point just below clipping the minidsp input, and then increase volume on the Emotiva only up to the point where it is as loud as you'd ever actually like to play it. Leave it there, and then attenuate on the focusrite for volume control.

Sub amp is similar. Most power amps have gain/level controls. If that is the case for whatever you choose, keep the sub level in minidsp neutral and attenuate the signal at the power amp with the gain control. Focusrite wide open/up to minidsp input clipping, minidsp sub level neutral, increase gain on sub amp until it either measures or sounds balanced with mains/Emotiva. If you use a plate amp or otherwise that happens to have no gain control, the sub level setting will all be handled inside the minidsp.



Hopefully others will chime in as well to make sure I haven't gone astray in my thinking or overlooked something. Proper gain staging can be confusing and is often difficult to do "ideally" even when you understand how.

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post #3 of 18 Old 06-07-2016, 09:23 PM - Thread Starter
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I can try this...

Though wouldn't making its volume control full (or maybe bypassing it by DIY) make Emotiva A100 a power amp ?
Luckily the voltage gain of its power amp section is 29dB (the Emotiva guys got back on that).
Same as Crown XLi800 (which I may purchase for sub)

Would this overall simplify ?


Last edited by Hifisound; 06-07-2016 at 09:37 PM.
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post #4 of 18 Old 06-08-2016, 03:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hifisound View Post
I can try this...

Though wouldn't making its volume control full (or maybe bypassing it by DIY) make Emotiva A100 a power amp ?
Luckily the voltage gain of its power amp section is 29dB (the Emotiva guys got back on that).
Same as Crown XLi800 (which I may purchase for sub)

Would this overall simplify ?
Aren't all amplifiers "power amplifiers"? I would get either the Crown you mentioned or grab an inuke3000dsp. The latter would be simpler to gain match as the MiniDsp would be out of the signal chain.

First thing that you need to do is figure out how high to set the level of your Emo power amplifier so that it does not clip the inputs of the MiniDsp. I don't have any experience with a MiniDsp, but I would guess that it has some input meters that you can monitor for clipping.
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post #5 of 18 Old 06-08-2016, 03:27 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Tip24/96 View Post
Aren't all amplifiers "power amplifiers"?
What I meant is, converting the integrated mini x a100 into power amp only, by maxing/removing the volume control of the pre part (It has only one input so should be pretty minimal pre)

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post #6 of 18 Old 06-08-2016, 07:15 AM
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That's generally going the wrong direction. You want the signal from source and through processing to be as hot as possible without clipping, and use as little gain in the amplifier as possible to reach the max volume you would realistically use.

Self noise is the primary reason why. Take a simple source with a volume control connected to an amplifier with a gain control. The source/pre combination will have some given noise floor. This noise floor varies little with the volume knob setting. If it's putting out whatever microvolts of noise at wide open volume, it will be putting out about the same level of noise at -30dB volume. If that's the case, and it is, you want the signal to be as large as possible relative to the noise to maintain a high SNR. Since noise is relatively fixed, that means cranking up the signal.

The amplifier on the other hand simply amplifies what it gets, signal, noise, whatever. If you attenuate the signal a lot on the front end, you have small noise and also small signal levels, and both are amplified to the max if your amp gain is set wide open. Better to have a hot signal level coming in to an amp with low gain, such that the amplified signal level is sufficient and the amplification of the incoming noise is minimized.

While it is true that the gain control circuitry in the amplifier will have a bit of self noise, it is typically relatively small. If it happens to be as noisy as everything upstream from it, then it won't really matter where you attenuate the signal. That is rarely the case, and I think safe to say never the case when you have DSP in the chain particularly with an extra DAC/ADC step between PC and DSP.

Which brings up another issue that I started with in the "ideal" gain staging scenario. When you are using DSP, you'd like to keep the signal level as hot as possible coming in to the DSP. If you are using analog in, then it needs an ADC stage to get the signal digital to work with. If you have a volume knob before the miniDSP, the both the low noise and low signal levels are converted to digital, and only occupy a small portion of the potential dynamic range/bit depth available. You can "digitally amplify" / multiply the signal to expand it to the available bit depth, but much like the amplifier with high gain you're multiplying the noise present as well. That means the noise in the PC's soundcard, and/or focusrite analog sections, as well as the miniDSP ADC stage noise. Essentially, you're trying to do high precision calculations on a signal that is low precision to begin with. And it's worse than just analog gain matching, because the relatively high noise levels now present within the DSP are manipulated and filtered digitally in all manner of ways and can potentially result in even worse sounding artifacts than just some annoying hiss.



Long way of saying - don't just max the volume on the Emotiva as your starting point. It should be your ending point, turning it up until you get the max system volume you will ever use, then leave it alone and control volume somewhere else. Unless you've abandoned the sub - in which case the Emotiva itself is the best place to control volume.

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post #7 of 18 Old 06-08-2016, 08:59 AM - Thread Starter
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@Bigus

Thanks! Got it
One troublesome factor is that the Emotiva vol control is a smooth moving one and hard to match exactly again with Crown, if it moves...
Probably 2 Crowns XLi800s may be better then , although an overkill for the KEF Q100s...

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post #8 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 06:23 PM
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I’m surprised to see the old myths that high signal levels are required for proper gain structure, and that ADC bit depth is dependent on signal levels, still persist after I thoroughly debunked the ideas eight years ago in my article on gain structure.

I’d agree that adjusting the amplifier gain is the last thing to be dealt with, not the first, but basically the level of the entire signal chain is determined right up front at the signal source. Downstream processors, be they digital or analog, only need to be able to pass that signal straight through without clipping. That’s not the same thing as boosting the signal as high as the processor will take. The system SNR is basically determined by whatever the individual components in the signal chain manifest: If one of the pieces is noisy, there is no signal-level manipulation you can do that will make it better. So choose your components wisely. In fact, boosting the signal between the source and amplifier is actually what can increase the noise floor, not reduce it.

In the OP’s scenario there are two potential choke-points:

* The miniDSP and its limited headroom. As mentioned, the output of the Focusrite or PC may have to be reduced to keep it from clipping. If that ends up with the amp not being able to deliver the listening levels desired (i.e. the amp isn’t able to be driven to its maximum output), then the mini should be replaced.

* The amplifier. It is fairly low-powered for speakers with only an 87 dB sensitivity rating.

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post #9 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 07:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigus View Post
volume on the Focusrite should be increased until you are just below the level of clipping the minidsp input, and then left alone.
With a 0dbFS square-wave signal, with all filters and EQ disabled.
With the filters and EQ re-enabled, and a sinewave within the bandpass of said filters, then you adjust the miniDSP so that it's output doesn't clip.
Setting the amp is more tricky because you need an o-scope. But basically it would be a max-output level.


In my system I leave my Oppo 105 at 100% and my DCX's at 0db.
I then set the amp's gain to max, and the amp's sensitivity to something reasonable.
In JRiver or Foobar in WASAPI exclusive-mode I set the windows and player volumes at 0db as well.
I then adjust my Emotiva XSP-1 to whatever master volume I want (+6db is 100% power, I rarely go above 25-50% power.)
I find that this gives the best SQ for a reasonably level of trade-off.

For movies I usually have to lower the Oppo to 50-70%, depending on how loud the bluray mix was. The emotiva at 0db and DCX at 0db and amps remain unchanged.

So the Oppo is my master volume for movies, and the XSP-1 is the master volume for music.

Sometimes for music I'll just set the XSP-1 to 0-3db, and use the player to adjust the master volume, it sounds really-really good when I do this (for some reason that I an unable to quantify), but this is extremely dangerous as one wrong click of the mouse could send 40-50kW into the speakers

If music and movies didn't have such wildly varying mix levels and assuming the DCX's came with a remote, then I'd just use that. But that just ain't EVER happening.

The LFE channel on most movies can vary by as much as 20db, which I find is BEYOND FRUSTRATING.
To optimize the bass you basically have to do spectral analysis on it before watching, LOL, otherwise you'll get sub-optimal bass.

-My 2 cents

That said, I would love to get my hands on $5000 worth of Motu in/out's. That would probably be more-optimal, for both SNR and convenience than 10 DCX's and XSP-1's. I'd also like a 8802 instead of a 105 and 3 cleanboxes. A person can dream can't they?

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post #10 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 07:45 PM - Thread Starter
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@Wayne A. Pflughaupt

I will go through the article you wrote

Though wrt mini x a100 and KEF Q100s, power shouldn't be a concern as it gets plenty loud even at 50% volume, more than enough (unless you meant after the introduction of minidsp and reduction of output from Focusrite)

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post #11 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 07:56 PM
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Wouldn't the 2x4HD serve the function of the 2i2+2x4 in one unit?

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post #12 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 08:23 PM - Thread Starter
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I guess none of my equipment is complying to any of the voltage standard ?

Such a mess...

Though using something else instead of minidsp 2x4 ( similar cost) is an option, though I wonder if it will help...

I can use the minidsp 2x4 later in a HT setup , AVR LFE -> minidsp
I wonder what kind of voltages do likes of Denon X series AVR give out on their LFE out


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post #13 of 18 Old 06-09-2016, 10:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne A. Pflughaupt View Post
[FONT="Verdana"]
I’m surprised to see the old myths that high signal levels are required for proper gain structure, and that ADC bit depth is dependent on signal levels, still persist after I thoroughly debunked the ideas eight years ago in my article on gain structure.
Wayne, I supposed this was addressed to me. I just read your article for the first time and its full of some good information. But with all due respect, you contradict yourself a bit in a few places, and in others focus your attention somewhat off the goal and miss important considerations that may well lead to different conclusions.

Sort of briefly, and as it pertains to my suggestions above:

1. There is a difference between ideal and practical. I addressed them separately. I acknowledge that sometimes we chase ideal (even bleeding objectivists like me) when it isn't necessary, but that may still be part of the fun and satisfaction of the hobby. I stop if it seriously conflicts with practical.

2. A chunk of the article addresses maintaining high levels in the context of artificially boosting the upstream signal (amplifying it), which is quite different than simply maximizing the gain available in the existing preamp, and is something I certainly didn't suggest and would not in general advocate. Turning up preamp gain to Max or near Max does not have the exact same effect on noise floor that an external booster does.

3. The most important point of high upstream signal levels is fairly simple and I think may often be victim to forest for the trees. It isn't about just how high you get the levels (for the most part), which you covered pretty well, but rather where you attenuate the signal when there are multiple devices in the chain. Each device adds self noise which as you point out is usually rather independent of signal level. Final noise floor is a sum of these. The end goal of having the signal be as far above the noise floor as possible is best accomplished by not attenuating the signal until the end of the chain, or better yet amplifying with a gain only as large ad nneeded to reach the desired volume. Reducing signal level early necessitates more gain eventually, which is applied equally to signal and all noise that comes before that gain stage. We all do volume up front, but that doesn't make it ideal by any stretch. In daily listening, most of us probably aren't far from unity system gain. Something to think about.

4. You are correct in that a good 24 bit adc and dsp stage would perform just fine with a signal a dozen db or more below full scale. I doubt any loss of effective bit depth would have audible consequences. So you set the upstream full scale signal at some reasonable level, not trying to "keep it hot, near clipping". Great. Now what happens when you aren't listening at reference ++ levels, and have turned down the preamp/avr volume knob some additional 20dB or whatever. Are you willing to say that the quantization errors will always be inaudible? And that the upstream noise floor, that was admittedly a low level but is now a much larger percentage of the total level, bastardized and manipulated by all manner of digital processing including potentially FIR filters, to be later amplified by your high gain power amp, will also remain inaudible? I'm not, and your article failed to convince me, and quite frankly I think you've missed the mark.

5. For many people with average sensitivity speakers, this isn't such a big deal and I think your article makes that point well. Certainly some people overemphasize the ideal as the only way. Hopefully I kept that clear enough in my initial advice.
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post #14 of 18 Old 06-10-2016, 06:07 PM
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Hey there Bigus,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigus View Post
Now what happens when you aren't listening at reference ++ levels, and have turned down the preamp/avr volume knob some additional 20dB or whatever.
Well, that’s world we live in most of the time. Few listen to music at reference, and no movie runs at reference for its entirety. Signal levels present in the program material are part of the signal chain as well, and if they’re low due to say, whispered dialog, that’s no different than turning down the master volume control. Anyone can test this by measuring the voltage at the RCA outputs from a quiet scene vs. an explosive scene. But maybe I shouldn’t make that point, else people who fret about high signal levels will start having anxiety attacks during scenes where there’s nothing going on except birds quietly chirping.


Quote:
Are you willing to say that the quantization errors will always be inaudible?
Yes, because audible quantization errors are only an issue when the ADC is less than 16 bits (as I adequately covered in Part 5). We’re living in a 24-bit world now. So I’m not only willing to say quantization won’t be audible in the situation mentioned, I’ll go even father and say that if anyone has that problem with a 24-bit processor, it is defective. I’m running outboard EQs in my system that have “only” 20-bit conversion, and they sound perfectly fine at even the lowest levels.


Quote:
And that the upstream noise floor, that was admittedly a low level but is now a much larger percentage of the total level, bastardized and manipulated by all manner of digital processing including potentially FIR filters, to be later amplified by your high gain power amp, will also remain inaudible?
I’m not quite sure what to make of what comes after “FIR filters,” because I don’t know of anyone who would deliberately turn the volume knob of their pre-amp down really low (as mentioned a few sentences back), and then go boosting the gains of the amp to make up for it.

If that’s not what you were saying, and the amp gains are staying as they were even with the pre-amp turned down, then of course the “percentage” (or S/N ratio) between the signal level and background noise changes when the system volume is decreased. But it should be obvious that that is a non-issue because the system noise floor does not increase when the volume is turned down. In fact, if anything it probably decreases. If someone uses their system solely for background music, are they supposed to be horrified that they’ve trashed their system S/N ratio?

Quote:
5. For many people with average sensitivity speakers, this isn't such a big deal and I think your article makes that point well. Certainly some people overemphasize the ideal as the only way. Hopefully I kept that clear enough in my initial advice.
Overall your advice was / is good. I just thought the OP needed to know that it isn’t necessary to have the hottest possible signal levels to get acceptable results, and that his ADC won’t go to crap unless its inputs are at hovering just under clipping.

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post #15 of 18 Old 06-10-2016, 06:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne A. Pflughaupt View Post
Yes, because audible quantization errors are only an issue when the ADC is less than 16 bits (as I adequately covered in Part 5). We’re living in a 24-bit world now. So I’m not only willing to say quantization won’t be audible in the situation mentioned, I’ll go even father and say that if anyone has that problem with a 24-bit processor, it is defective.
Well, I should probably take a look at the math myself. I understand the argument you made in your article, but it was still superficial. Taking a dozen dB off the max full scale signal won't cause problems. And if you have a full scale signal that takes up the full dynamic range of the adc, the quiet passages will of course be fine. We chose enough bit depth even at 16 bit to be fine. If you are at 24 bit, and turn down the volume, the now attenuated quiet passages may still be fine, though at some level of attenuation obviously there will be quantization errors. Although if you're turning down the volume that much, such issues may no longer matter (background music, as you put it).

My concern is what happens when because of varied gear, the max source level is already quite a bit below full scale, and then you turn down the volume further... is 24 bit still adequate? Conceptually that doesn't sit well but I suppose I should run the numbers sooner or later as this is something I'll face eventually in my own system layout.

The point I was making about high among gain to get back the signal levels is a simple one. Instead of the source being -15dB because of non-optomized gain staging and an amp gain of 25dB, it would be better to have a full scale source signal and amp gain of 10dB.
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post #16 of 18 Old 06-12-2016, 08:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigus View Post
My concern is what happens when because of varied gear, the max source level is already quite a bit below full scale, and then you turn down the volume further... is 24 bit still adequate?
That’s exactly the situation I addressed in the article, that home theater front ends have much lower signal levels than the pro audio gear, be it analog or digital, that is often connected downstream. While researching the piece I queried the folks at various pro-audio forums about the situation – people who work with digital audio equipment for a living and had seen its evolution over the years – and the consensus was that 24-bit processors functioned essentially like analog gear, and input levels were a non-issue because quantization errors are so far below the component’s noise floor (which is ultimately determined more by the rest of the electronics rather than its AD/DA converters) that they are inaudible.

The only problem I’ve come across is not so much related to gear with mismatched level capabilities as with gear that was just inherently noisy. I’ve seen that situation even with some expensive 24-bit pro-audio processors. The converters are only a part of the equation, the rest of the circuitry has to be right as well (case in point, my Yamaha equalizers with “only” 20-bit converters).


Quote:
The point I was making about high among gain to get back the signal levels is a simple one. Instead of the source being -15dB because of non-optomized gain staging and an amp gain of 25dB, it would be better to have a full scale source signal and amp gain of 10dB.
I wrote the article from the angle of integrating pro gear into a home system, but you’re right: When you throw a “scab” piece like the miniDSP 2x4 into the mix (that potentially requires a gain reduction between the front end and amplifier) it can sure foul things up. Ultimately the goal is to achieve all the in-room volume you want, with a noise floor you can live with (which to me means pretty close to “none!”). If that can’t be achieved, then some component changes will be required.

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post #17 of 18 Old 06-16-2016, 06:53 AM - Thread Starter
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Any idea what voltage out does AVRs like Denon X series provide on its LFE out ?


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post #18 of 18 Old 06-18-2016, 06:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FriscoDTM View Post
Wouldn't the 2x4HD serve the function of the 2i2+2x4 in one unit?
Sorry missed this, 2x4HD should have had a volume control. That would be make it a 2i2+2x4

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