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post #1 of 22 Old 04-11-2019, 07:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Upgrade 5.1 to HiFi Stereo

I am looking to upgrade my vinyl stereo sound either using my current 5.1 surround set-up, or abandoning it all together. Right now, I have a Denon AVR with Polk 5.1 Signature Series bookshelves. It's great for movies, but I feel like my vinyl could sound more transparent, analog and warmer. Here's my current set-up and my specific questions:

Current Set-up:
Audio Technica LP-120 TT
Denon AV S640H receiver
Polk Signature Series 5.1 (bookshelf size)

-What change could I make that would have the greatest improvement on my vinyl stereo sound?
-Should I integrate a stereo amplifier into my current surround sound set-up. That is, run pre-outs from AV into a new stereo amp to power my two front speakers? Do I have pre-outs on my AV? Are my two front speakers powerful enough?
-Or should I just build a complete separate stereo system. New stereo amp, two new fronts. But this will mean I will have a lot of speakers in my living room! Two Front-Left and Two Front-right speakers for each system! Anybody do this?


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post #2 of 22 Old 04-11-2019, 08:16 PM
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There is no way to integrate a stereo amp into your current setup. You would need an AVR with preamp out jacks, and a stereo preamp or integrated amp to power the front L/R for multi channel sounds. And that preamp or integrated amp will need home theater or direct amp inputs, one of the two, which are the same thing, just called different names. My Yamaha A-S1000 has two inputs that are labeled 'direct amp input'. Nothing special, just two RCA input jacks. In that mode it acts as a stand-alone amp and allows the AVR to use it just as it would a stereo power amp. For 2 channel my AVR is off and only the front L/R speakers are active, no sub either.

You didn't mention a sub. If you're system lacks in the low end you might look at adding one.


You can dump a lot of money into such a setup, or you can stick with an AVR and use it in pure direct or whatever Denon calls it. The sound quality is pretty good with most AVRs these days. I think you'd be better off exploring a pair of tower speakers, unless you have a big wad of money burning a hole in your pocket and just have to have such a system.

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post #3 of 22 Old 04-11-2019, 11:09 PM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
-What change could I make that would have the greatest improvement on my vinyl stereo sound?
Your transducers: your speakers and your turntable's cartridge. These devices alter the sound greatly whereas all the other devices between them, namely the phono preamp and power amp, barely alter the sound quality.

Your speakers aiming and position within the room, including the room itself and its decor also matter more than the phono preamp and the power amp (assuming of course your amp is powerful enough and you are not clipping the peaks).

Another huge determinant to TT sound is (for reasons I can't understand) so often overlooked by many: your records themselves. Pristine condition LPs from audiophile labels made from well produced master tapes sound markedly different from old, scratched up, warped, heavily worn, poorly recorded LPs from no-name labels.
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post #4 of 22 Old 04-14-2019, 12:40 PM
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You did not mention what phono cartridge you are using, but you could warm up the sound by using any Grado cartridge. For example, you could try the Black2 for only $75. Note that Grados are unshielded and sometimes emit hum through loudspeakers when used with certain turntable motors (both belt-driven and direct-drive, depending on brand and model) or when located too close to amplifier power supplies. A bit of googling pulled up contradictory info about whether Grados hum when used with your A-T turntable.

Another cartridge (unlike a few Grados, I've never tried one) with a reputation for warm sonics is the inexpensive and highly rated Nagaoka MP-110 or MP-110H (the "H" means the cartridge is mounted and wired to a universal headshell, which is compatible with your A-T; you'll need to adjust the overhang). Happily, Nagaokas are shielded.

Links:

https://www.needledoctor.com/analog/...and/Grado-Labs

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...1V5RR5QA&psc=1

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...51M5WMV2&psc=1

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post #5 of 22 Old 04-18-2019, 09:46 AM
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I would check to see if your AVR has a "direct mode" to bypass internal conversion of your phono signal to digital and then back to analog on the way out. I think I'm in the minority on this, but I have never had great sound with AVR's for stereo and strongly prefer dumb two channel amps that are guaranteed to keep everything analog throughout the signal chain. Choosing "direct mode", if it exists on your AVR, hopefully will make it behave more like a 2-channel amp. I think selecting direct would bypass any room EQ if you have it, so you'd need to compare both ways and see which sounds better.

I heard your Polk speakers in a stereo store about a month ago and I was very impressed with their clarity. They obviously can't cover the lowest frequencies without a sub, but seemed very transparent to me in a variety of material.
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post #6 of 22 Old 04-18-2019, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
I am looking to upgrade my vinyl stereo sound either using my current 5.1 surround set-up ...
What are you using for a phono premp (or does your AVR or Turntable have a preamp built in)?
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post #7 of 22 Old 04-18-2019, 12:16 PM
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What are you using for a phono premp (or does your AVR or Turntable have a preamp built in)?
According to Audio-Technica's website, both current versions of the OP's turntable have a switchable (on/off) phono preamp. His Denon receiver has an integral phono preamp as well (see the back panel inputs, top left, shown in Post 1).
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post #8 of 22 Old 04-18-2019, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Alex F. View Post
According to Audio-Technica's website, both current versions of the OP's turntable have a switchable (on/off) phono preamp. His Denon receiver has an integral phono preamp as well (see the back panel inputs, top left, shown in Post 1).
Great info -- I didn't have time to look up the TT. I did scan the back panel of the Denon but didn't notice it with the label on the bottom. Given there are two preamps, the OP might try switching between both preamps to see if one sounds better than the other. If it really sounds bad on phono relative to everything else, it would be worthwhile to make sure both preamps aren't enabled (though it seems like it would be really loud if that was the case).
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post #9 of 22 Old 04-19-2019, 07:49 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the great suggestions. I’ve always had my TT pre-amp off and use the preamp on the phono input on the AVR.
My Denon AVR does in fact have a “Direct” option which bypasses the EQ and plays pure stereo, no subwoofer. I noticed music plays slightly clearer and warmer, though I’ve decided to now upgrade my fronts from Polk S15 to S20. My fronts’ low frequency response has gone from 50hz to 39hz which makes stereo listening much more enjoyable.
If I want to use the subwoofer, I just use one of the sound processing formats such as “Stereo” or “Neo:6”. I like “Neo:6”, it’s very much Stereo but adds a little center channel and ambience to my surrounds for more spaciousness. As an audiophile, I know this changes the soundstage originally intended by the production but for some music, I really enjoy the sound.
Next month I will look to upgrade my cartridge. I’d love to buy one pre-attached to a compatible headshell for convenience. I’ll look into the suggestions and I’m also considering the AT-120e/b if anyone has opinions. Thanks!
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post #10 of 22 Old 04-19-2019, 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
Thanks for all the great suggestions. I’ve always had my TT pre-amp off and use the preamp on the phono input on the AVR.
My Denon AVR does in fact have a “Direct” option which bypasses the EQ and plays pure stereo, no subwoofer. I noticed music plays slightly clearer and warmer, though I’ve decided to now upgrade my fronts from Polk S15 to S20. My fronts’ low frequency response has gone from 50hz to 39hz which makes stereo listening much more enjoyable.
If I want to use the subwoofer, I just use one of the sound processing formats such as “Stereo” or “Neo:6”. I like “Neo:6”, it’s very much Stereo but adds a little center channel and ambience to my surrounds for more spaciousness. As an audiophile, I know this changes the soundstage originally intended by the production but for some music, I really enjoy the sound.
Next month I will look to upgrade my cartridge. I’d love to buy one pre-attached to a compatible headshell for convenience. I’ll look into the suggestions and I’m also considering the AT-120e/b if anyone has opinions. Thanks!
Sounds like a good plan. You can still use a sub in direct mode by just driving the sub with the left/right speaker outputs rather than using RCA LFE output. I actually prefer driving subs by speaker-level for music (not for home theater). The argument for connecting via speaker level is that it makes the sub more of a direct extension of the main speakers because the mains/sub see the exact same signal including any slight coloration or nonlinearity of the amp. The argument against speaker level connection that it will have very slightly increased distortion/noise from the amp versus the preamp RCA outputs. In my experience, the former far outweighs the latter, but not everyone agrees with that.

If your sub only has speaker-level inputs, and no outputs, you can just wire the main speakers in parallel with the left/right subwoofer speaker-level inputs (in other words, one pair of speaker wires goes to the main speakers and another pair wires goes to the sub speaker-level left/right inputs). Subwoofer speaker-level inputs are typically designed to have very high impedance so that running them in parallel with the mains does not affect the circuit.

If going from the S15's to S20's made a big difference, a sub will work miracles. My Sunfire sub amp died a while ago and I've been running fairly large speakers (Soliloquy 6.3's) without sub. I had convinced myself it sounded good without the sub because the mains put out very healthy bass (down to 30hz with slightly rolled off extension to 25hz), but when I finally had the amp fixed and put the Sunfire sub back in, I realized how much a sub adds even though (in my case) it is only filling out the lowest of the low frequencies.

.

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post #11 of 22 Old 04-19-2019, 11:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Sounds like a good plan. You can still use a sub in direct mode by just driving the sub with the left/right speaker outputs rather than using RCA LFE output...

If going from the S15's to S20's made a big difference, a sub will work miracles.
I just tested this out and you're right! I'm running speaker wire from my receiver to the "speaker-level in" on the subwoofer. It's great because I can use the sub in direct and I've never heard it sound so prominent. I will need more wire to run both left and right channels. I currently have only left channel wired in and depending on how each song is mixed is how much bass signal hits the sub.

Still, since I live in an apartment building, I have to run the subwoofer pretty low. The S20's rated to 39Hz are a nice compromise as they sit on a 36" stand with spikes.

I have to say I've learned a ton just from this thread.
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post #12 of 22 Old 04-19-2019, 01:41 PM
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Next month I will look to upgrade my cartridge. I’d love to buy one pre-attached to a compatible headshell for convenience. I’ll look into the suggestions and I’m also considering the AT-120e/b if anyone has opinions. Thanks!
Audio-Technica moving-magnet (MM) phono cartridges are known for their bright upper midrange and treble and above-average tracking ability. My AT150MLX certainly fits that description. It can be tiring with some recordings. Their cartridges are a good match with systems that are a bit rolled off in the upper frequencies or for folks who prefer a forward sound.

Note that Audio-Technica's latest premium MM cartridges, the 700 series, according to several user comments I have read, are tonally more neutral than their predecessors. I have not heard them myself.

If you want a really bright cartridge, look at an Ortofon 2M Red, which made my ears bleed.

If you seek a warm sound, look at Grados, but see my comments in Post 4.

I have read so many positive comments about the Nagaoka MP-110 that I ordered one from Amazon. I received it two days ago. I bought the "H" model, which has the cartridge mounted to a very nice headshell and is already wired up--very convenient indeed. It took about five minutes to set the overhang. For some reason the cost dropped from the usual $145 or so down to $115 and I could no longer resist trying one.

The Nagaoka has only about four hours of run-in time so far, but I am impressed. I set tracking at 1.9 grams. Sonically I find it tonally neutral. It has a very open and clear sound. Female and male vocals sound like they are coming from a much more expensive cartridge. The only negative is the reproduction of cymbals, which are lacking in detail. To be fair, I have never heard a budget cartridge that could reproduce cymbals really well. Possibly the Nagaoka will improve in this area with more playing time.

I now understand why the MP-110 is highly regarded. Overall it is an exceptionally fine cartridge for such a low price.
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Last edited by Alex F.; 04-19-2019 at 08:00 PM.
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post #13 of 22 Old 04-20-2019, 08:00 AM
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I just tested this out and you're right! I'm running speaker wire from my receiver to the "speaker-level in" on the subwoofer. It's great because I can use the sub in direct and I've never heard it sound so prominent. I will need more wire to run both left and right channels. I currently have only left channel wired in and depending on how each song is mixed is how much bass signal hits the sub.

Still, since I live in an apartment building, I have to run the subwoofer pretty low. The S20's rated to 39Hz are a nice compromise as they sit on a 36" stand with spikes.

I have to say I've learned a ton just from this thread.
Awesome to hear. Placing the sub on an Auralex SubDude foam sub support (or just making one yourself with a board and foam from home depot) will reduce the sub vibration through the floor, which may allow you to raise the sub level a bit while still being neighbor friendly.

Please keep us posted on progress about what works and doesn't work as you make changes.
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post #14 of 22 Old 04-20-2019, 09:39 AM - Thread Starter
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I’m thinking of returning the S20’s and sticking with the S15’s. They’re aesthetically large for my space and in Direct mode the bass is boomy and overpowers. I like that the S15 stops at 50hz and then the subwoofer picks up the rest, unlike the 39hz S20. This way each speaker sticks to what it does best.
I know crossover settings on my receiver can address this, but I’m trying to use Direct mode on my AVR for transparency and therefore EQ is not an option.
The one part of the S20’s I love is the rich mids coming from its 6.5” driver. The 5.25” S15 can’t compete. I guess I’m on the hunt for a 6” bookshelf with a similar minimum response such as 50hz. If I’m missing something here please let me know, I still have the S20s boxed up.
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post #15 of 22 Old 04-20-2019, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
I’m thinking of returning the S20’s and sticking with the S15’s. They’re aesthetically large for my space and in Direct mode the bass is boomy and overpowers. I like that the S15 stops at 50hz and then the subwoofer picks up the rest, unlike the 39hz S20. This way each speaker sticks to what it does best.
I know crossover settings on my receiver can address this, but I’m trying to use Direct mode on my AVR for transparency and therefore EQ is not an option.
The one part of the S20’s I love is the rich mids coming from its 6.5” driver. The 5.25” S15 can’t compete. I guess I’m on the hunt for a 6” bookshelf with a similar minimum response such as 50hz. If I’m missing something here please let me know, I still have the S20s boxed up.
Which subwoofer do you have? You should be able to adjust the crossover and level on the back of the sub directly (outside the AVR) to be able to blend it perfectly with either the S20 or the S15's. Although I think you can get the S20's to blend fine (on the presumption of the sub having level/crossover controls), I agree with returning them because, with the sub in the picture, the difference between the S20's and S15's should be fairly minimal (different sub settings will be required for each speaker type, but the overall sound difference will be minimal once the sub is dialed in).

If the S20's are boomy with the sub on, that may just be because the sub crossover is too high and you are getting double impact from the S20's going lower than the S15's and the sub being set to also produce the frequencies that the S15 can't -- so you would be getting double bass output in that zone between the S15 and S20 bass extension.

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post #16 of 22 Old 04-21-2019, 05:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Which subwoofer do you have? You should be able to adjust the crossover and level on the back of the sub directly (outside the AVR) to be able to blend it perfectly with either the S20 or the S15's. Although I think you can get the S20's to blend fine (on the presumption of the sub having level/crossover controls), I agree with returning them because, with the sub in the picture, the difference between the S20's and S15's should be fairly minimal (different sub settings will be required for each speaker type, but the overall sound difference will be minimal once the sub is dialed in).
Right now I have my mains and Sub hooked up in parallel to the L/R output of my receiver with speaker wire. If I took your suggestion and connected the mains to the subwoofer’s speaker out, then yes I could control the crossover using the dial on my sub.

However, my question is- will I affect clarity by introducing another component and resistor (the sub) between the receiver and my mains? I will try it out myself but interested to hear if there are opinions.
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post #17 of 22 Old 04-21-2019, 07:24 AM
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Right now I have my mains and Sub hooked up in parallel to the L/R output of my receiver with speaker wire. If I took your suggestion and connected the mains to the subwoofer’s speaker out, then yes I could control the crossover using the dial on my sub.
It actually doesn't make any significant difference whether you wire the sub in parallel with the main speakers or wire the speaker outputs to the sub and then drive the mains with the sub speaker outputs. Either way, the subwoofer level and crossover control affect the subwoofer level only (almost). You definitely need to carefully set the sub's crossover and level controls to blend with whichever mains you end up keeping, but tweaking the sub controls will have almost no effect on what comes out of your main speakers.

I say "almost" no effect on the main speakers because some subwoofers do include a high-pass filter on the speaker level outputs to offload the mains from trying to reproduce the lowest frequencies that the subwoofer is taking care of and that your mains can't reproduce anyway. The advantage of this is that it reduces the load on your mains trying to produce frequencies they can't reproduce. In general, it's probably better to use the sub speaker outputs in case the sub does high pass filtering -- you won't hear any difference in what your mains produce, but they won't have to work as hard.

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However, my question is- will I affect clarity by introducing another component and resistor (the sub) between the receiver and my mains? I will try it out myself but interested to hear if there are opinions.
This is not issue at all. The crossover in the sub is no different than the crossovers inside your Polks to control what frequencies are sent to the Polk's sub versus the Polk's tweeter. What you are avoiding with "direct mode" is digital manipulation in the AVR for bass control. If you are listing to a CD player through RCA jacks for example, the AVR is receiving an analog signal, but in non-direct mode it will reconvert that signal back to digital, manipulate it in digital form for bass effects and whatever else, and then reconvert it to analog. That re-digitization of the signal, and manipulation in the digital domain, is what you want to avoid for music (the digital stuff is great for movies). In direct mode, the AVR should keep everything analog.

You don't need to worry about the sub controls adding an additiional resister -- the sub crossover circuit components are already in the signal path and are active, you are just changing the values of those electrical components.

You might be better off switching to the sub speaker outputs to offload your mains slightly if your sub does have a high pass filter. Regardless of whether you do that, definitely use the sub crossover and level controls to blend the sub with your mains. Don't think of the sub controls as affecting the mains, they don't do that, they are only there to modify how the sub behaves to blend with your mains.

The easiest starting point for sub tuning is to put the sub level at a fixed level -- say the midpoint, then adjust the sub crossover to the highest level where the bass is not boomy (boomy usually indicates the subs and mains are overlapping a lot). If the overall sound seems bass heavy, then turn the level control down, and tweak the crossover slightly again staying below boomy. If the overall sound is light on bass, the turn up the level and you may need to reduce the crossover frequency to reduce boominess. It will take a bit of iteration, but once you have it dialed in, you don't need to change it again ever (unless you later move or upgrade the mains).

There are a ton of people on AVS who know a lot more about sub tuning than I do -- hopefully they will chime in, but the above will get you in the ballpark pretty quickly.
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post #18 of 22 Old 04-21-2019, 09:17 AM - Thread Starter
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It actually doesn't make any significant difference whether you wire the sub in parallel with the main speakers or wire the speaker outputs to the sub and then drive the mains with the sub speaker outputs. Either way, the subwoofer level and crossover control affect the subwoofer level only (almost). You definitely need to carefully set the sub's crossover and level controls to blend with whichever mains you end up keeping, but tweaking the sub controls will have almost no effect on what comes out of your main speakers.

I say "almost" no effect on the main speakers because some subwoofers do include a high-pass filter on the speaker level outputs to offload the mains from trying to reproduce the lowest frequencies that the subwoofer is taking care of and that your mains can't reproduce anyway. The advantage of this is that it reduces the load on your mains trying to produce frequencies they can't reproduce. In general, it's probably better to use the sub speaker outputs in case the sub does high pass filtering -- you won't hear any difference in what your mains produce, but they won't have to work as hard.
I find this very interesting, I attempted this expecting my subs low pass control to affect how my mains sound, which of course it did not. Then I read your post more carefully.

Even though there is no high pass control on my sub, I wonder if there is a natural fixed high pass built into the sub? It does sound like my mains are working a bit less, not moving so much air.

Overall I think my sound has improved doing this (using the Sub as a pass-through to the mains). I’m now working on getting the right setting so I don’t hear the location of the subwoofer, keeping the sound evenly distributed. I’m sure that will be another post and research.
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post #19 of 22 Old 04-21-2019, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
Even though there is no high pass control on my sub, I wonder if there is a natural fixed high pass built into the sub? It does sound like my mains are working a bit less, not moving so much air.
Correct, you will not see any external indication of the high-pass filter if it exists, it is built into the sub crossover circuit internally with no external controls. If the mains are working less, then the sub probably has it and that is almost always a good thing.
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post #20 of 22 Old 04-22-2019, 08:11 AM
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I'd upgrade the speakers and/or room acoustics - this will do the most for the sound. Another thing you can try is adding several subwoofers to your system(start with at least two). When your speakers are crossed over to these they will get way more headroom and produce less distortion which will give you better sound. This should make your sound more calm, distortion free, "warmer". You might also find yourself not pushing your speakers as much when bass get produced in an easier and calmer fashion - you don't have to crank it to try and get some bass.

Make sure to use the crossover in your receiver and not on the sub as these are notoriously bad and inaccurate. I've previously owned a Marantz receiver and in direct and pure direct modes the crossovers did not behave as I expected! It actually seemed to bybass the bass management all together so watch out for that.

And lastly find some threads about room acoustics and speaker placement if you haven't already as this make a super big difference. Just a few cm in speaker position can make a dramatic difference!

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post #21 of 22 Old 04-22-2019, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by AspiringAudio21 View Post
I feel like my vinyl could sound more transparent, analog and warmer.

Transparent sound = uncoloured (in the means of as close to the source material as possible)
Analog = increased harmonic distortion i.e. colouration
Warm sound = reduced top end, with usually a bump between 100 and 200hz


Now pick one, can't have all three


Jokes aside, your sound might be 'muddy' (to pick up the transparency topic) because of the room. Too long of a decay 'smears' the sound because you hear much more of the indirect sound (reflections from walls, tables, floor, ceiling, windows.. basically any hard surface). Carpets help, as do curtains, bookshelves (irregularly shaped objects) and sofas/pillows. This is always a matter of taste and how far you're willing to compromise aesthetics for function. Ofc the WAF also plays a role here.
If you want a warmer sound a simple EQ will do exactly that, but a different phono cartridge might do the same (I have no clue of phono, but several others pointed that out).
Avoid HD Vinyls if you want the typical 'analog' and 'warm' vinyl sound, these are made to get rid of analog imperfections, thus sound more like a CD than a vinyl record, unless the mastering was greatly altered for that (you usually do deliver different masterings for vinyl and for CD, but the differences are fairly subtle to the listener and are more of a compensation thing for the stuff that vinyl doesn't do well).
Also, maybe your small bookshelves are lacking bass (warmth)? That might be something to consider. Subs usually only add below 100Hz, which is below the typical 'warmth' we hear in the octave above.

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post #22 of 22 Old 04-22-2019, 12:40 PM
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I’ve always had my TT pre-amp off and use the preamp on the phono input on the AVR.
For the sake of experimentation, it might be worth trying turning on the Audio-Technica TT preamp and moving the turntable to "Aux" or some other analog Denon input to see if that combination sounds better. There probably isn't a huge difference between the two, but since the phono preamp is more directly integral to the turntable, it might have received more design focus than the phono preamp in the Denon. Or it might not. There's probably a 50/50 chance for which which sounds better, if they sound different at all.
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