B&K Ref 50 vs. Anthem AVM-20 - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 04:28 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi all,

A few months ago, I was shopping for either a flagship receiver or a mid-level pre/pro to replace an older Yamaha receiver. I ended up buying a refurb Marantz SR9200 that I've had for about the last three weeks. I really can't complain about the unit, but I'm just not in love with it and have pretty much decided to return it and make the move to seperates.

I want a pre/pro that's THX Ultra2 certified. With that in mind, I keep coming back to the Ref 50 and AVM-20 and am trying to decide between them.

The Anthem's big appeal is its upgradeability, but at the same time it carries a pretty substancial price premium over the B&K - roughly $800 more. It's hard to know what future upgrades may come, so it's difficult to say if that premium is justified.

Anyway, I'd appreciate any thoughts or opinions on either unit.

Thanks,
Endaar
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post #2 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 05:26 PM
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Both are very good preamps. I listened to the Anthem and all I can say is amazing. The sound was clean, clear and very neutral. I didn't listen to the B&K so I can't say much. In a month or two Anthem is coming out with version 2.10 for the AVM-20. This software is to make it really really flexible, more than it already is. I think its going to be based on which one sounds best to you, also if you are planning to upgrade to higher end preamp like a parasound or lexicon than I would go with the B&K. However if you want the preamp to last a very long time I think the Anthem would be the best choice. The best thing is to A/B them and see which one fits your needs.


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post #3 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 05:33 PM
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Hi Endaar

I think you're going to have a hard time finding someone who has had both units hooked up to the same system with each unit fully tweaked. Too many adjustments.

Everyone is going to say their's is the best.

I had my ref 50 for just over 9 days. I put a lot of time in setting up everything . Up until day 7, I was wondering if I hadn't made a fairly expensive mistake and should have stayed with my Yamaha receiver's preamp section. On day 7, I found a single adjustment that made a major difference. That's one adjustment out of at least a dozen with a couple of them interactive and infinitely variable. That'll ruin your dinner. After I made that adjustment, I still wasn't sure how it compared to the Yamaha. It had been seven day since I had heard the Yamaha. I unhooked the ref 50 and reconnected the Yamaha. I could then tell the difference. The ref 50 is staying. In quantitative terms, I would say that the improvement from the B&K ref 50 over the preamp section of the Yamaha RX-V1000 is in the 13 to 17 percent range. It won't blow you away, but it is a refinement.

The reason for tell you all this is to point out that very few people will have had both system long enough to understand the nuances of both systems and have them fully tweaked. One wrong setting is all it takes and it won't sound as good as it could.
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post #4 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 06:27 PM
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Endaar,

The B&K products are upgradeable, although it may take B&K a bit longer to offer the upgrade than its customers would prefer.

The only major upgrade that I can see on the horizon would be to add an i-link (Firewire) for DVD-A and SACD if it becomes the digital transfer standard that some predict.

Bill
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post #5 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 09:11 PM
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When I was looking I did an A/B test on the Ref 50 & Anthem. Both were connected to the amps made by their respective manufactures but everything else was identical. Speakers, cables, DVD player etc. I liked the Ref 50 more than the Anthem however there are many people that feel the same about the Anthem. And yes the Anthem does have an easier upgrade path. However given all that I chose the Ref 50 and haven't looked back.
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post #6 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 09:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the comments thus far.

I figure either unit will sound great to me as I'm probably not the most critical of listeners. Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to A/B them, or for that matter even to audition the Anthem as none of my local dealers stock it.

The B&K is substancially less expensive, especially considering that if I go with the Anthem I'm going to pick up a MX-700 remote (that comes with the B&K) anyway. I'm concerned about the 'whine' that seems somewhat prevalent in the Ref 50. On the other hand, connectivity on the B&K is a bit better, with more digital inputs and an extra component input.

The Anthem seems like the surer bet in that there really don't seem to be any issues with it, and any software bugs that might be present can be easily corrected with a download. But MrMcGoo raises a good point - if there's no significant upgrades to come, then I'm better off saving the money and buying the B&K and then perhaps replacing it entirely when there's enough reason to.

Those of you with the Ref 50, is there anything you wish the unit would do that it doesn't? What about those with the Anthem?

Thanks again for the continued feedback!

Endaar
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post #7 of 46 Old 07-21-2003, 10:04 PM
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The B&K does not have an all channel audio delay to sync with video processors like the Anthem but does have nifty presets making it smooth to use. The B&K's remote is far superior. Can't think of anything else
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post #8 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 01:44 AM
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Endaar:

As phyre3 said, the B&K doesn't have the delay feature like the Anthem, however, that's only important if your video signal is receiving heavy processing that puts it out of synch with the audio. Your particular installation dictates the importance of this feature.

As to a whine, my system doesn't have any. I did have a ground loop hum that wasn't there before, but was able to chase it down and totally eliminate. The ref 50 does have a grounded plug that the Yamaha didn't. This is where the ground imbalance that causes some of the ground fault hums originate. I think that in some cases, this is what people were hearing and reporting. My unit was manufactured this past May so verifying a recent manufacture date may help you sidestep this issue.

One feature other than that MX700 remote(woohoo) that I was a bit surprised with is the ref 50s ability to improve bad audio. It seems that several of my cable channels crunch all the audio to just the center channel and drop out the bass. One of the analog channels even drops most the audio into the front left channel. (what's that about?). Anyway, it's easy to temporarily bump up the bass(or if needed the treble and subwoofer) without altering the basic setup. You can also change the signal to mono and drop it into just the front 3 speakers. User programable presets (40 of them) are available to make up these kinds of odd setups easier.

I did audition a Anthem 20, but I have to admit that the installation wasn't very good and I would have really liked to have heard what the Anthem was capable of doing. The Ref 50 setup at a Tweeters I visited wasn't much better. I do recall thinking at the ref 50 audition that the the centerchannel made the voices sound a bit boxy and unnatural. That's when I start taking speaker grills off to see what the speakers driver compliment is. In both cases 2 way speaker with bass reflex ports. May go louder but distorts when they do. I prefer a 3 way speaker in a sealed enclosure. More accurate.

As you said, both systems are likely to do good. I would like to add that the total effect will also be a function of your amplifier and speakers and you will have to spend some time setting up the system.
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post #9 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 06:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
the ref 50s ability to improve bad audio. It seems that several of my cable channels crunch all the audio to just the center channel and drop out the bass. One of the analog channels even drops most the audio into the front left channel. (what's that about?). Anyway, it's easy to temporarily bump up the bass(or if needed the treble and subwoofer) without altering the basic setup. You can also change the signal to mono and drop it into just the front 3 speakers.
That's a pretty big advantage, and actually one of the reasons the Marantz is going back. My old Yamaha receiver never detected DD unless it was 5.1, so I at least had Pro-Logic on most of my cable channels. Most of the time when the Marantz gets a DD 2.0 signal, I can't get any sound out of my center channel regardless of processing mode. That is quite annoying as my favorite TV viewing position is a bit off axis and I end up only really hearing my right speaker.

Oddly enough I've run into the same problem with a couple channels having a very significant L/R imbalance, and again, the ability to correct that (temporarily) is quite nice.

I'm using a RPTV, so at least for now the audio delay feature is not important. I suspect by the time I consider a front-projector, I'll have replaced this entire system yet again.

As for amplification and speakers...I've got an Axiom setup - M60 mains, VP150 center, and 4 QS8s for side and back surrounds, plus a SVS 20-39 PC+ sub. I just ordered an Outlaw 7100 amp as it seems hard to beat for the price. The Axioms are pretty effecient and in a relatively small room, so I don't need a ton of power to reach reference levels - not that I normally listen that loud anyway.

Thanks again for the info!

Endaar
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post #10 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 07:30 AM
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Quote:
the ref 50s ability to improve bad audio. It seems that several of my cable channels crunch all the audio to just the center channel and drop out the bass. One of the analog channels even drops most the audio into the front left channel. (what's that about?). Anyway, it's easy to temporarily bump up the bass(or if needed the treble and subwoofer) without altering the basic setup. You can also change the signal to mono and drop it into just the front 3 speakers.
Quote:
Originally posted by Endaar
That's a pretty big advantage
Most, including the Anthem, can do that. Unless I am missing something here. The latest Anthem Software (due out in 2-3 weeks to the non beta testers) has addressed the DD2.0 and other 2 channel issues to great lengths. Each input has a default 2 channel mode. You can also apply any of the stereo effect (prologic II, anthem logic, etc..) to the DD2.0 signals.

They really are similar units. (I think the Anthem sounds a hint better but of course I do, I own it) And with this latest upgrade Anthem has really listened to their owners and added a ton of features that they have asked for. That is the real difference between the companies. B&K comes out with the upgrades late, very late. But they only come out with the standard pro-quo features. Nothing really out of the ordinary. While that is great, its just not quite as good as what Anthem does. And yes some of these features were "copied" from B&K's feature set...but that is what is so great about Anthem...they are willing to take that next step.

If the B&K has everything you want and you do not need those few extra features the Anthem has to offer, then get it. If you can swing the extra $600 - $800 more for the Anthem MY recommendation is get it.
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post #11 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:35 AM
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But they only come out with the standard pro-quo features. Nothing really out of the ordinary.
The AVM-20 is just now catching up with the Ref50 in available features.
Even with the new update yet to be released it falls a little short in a few areas, This could change prior to the final release. The AVM is a very nice feature rich contender.
But to say B&K has nothing out of the ordinary is a stretch,
They have offered usability & flexibility that no other has been able to match in this given price range for years.
Also the Software Suite is Sweet ;)
Yes B&K does supply hardware upgrades late.
They have many more products to upgrade & retro fit,
Anthem has ONE processor to upgrade.
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post #12 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:44 AM
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Endaar,

Quote:
Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to A/B them, or for that matter even to audition the Anthem as none of my local dealers stock it.
As much as I love owning the AVM-20, if I hadn't auditioned it I would not have bought it. I have been surprised on more than one occasion to find what works and what doesn't in our system. Relying on the opinion of other AVM-20 owners when you don't even get a chance to try it in your system (let alone audition it) is taking a big risk.

I would buy the processor that best fits your needs, both in features and in sound quality. Hopefully, that means having tried it out in your own system. If not, at least a very thorough audition (or several) at a dealer.

Good luck! :)

Michael
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post #13 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:56 AM
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I will restate this:
The AVM-20 is just now catching up with the Ref 20 & Ref30 & Ref50 in available features & usability.
I don't mean sound formats.
B&K has been able to do this because they are the only co-developer & Alfa beta tester for the moto chip in both the B&K & AVM.
B&K has added just a slight impact to all contenders that utilize this moto engine, I can see it now, maybe someday Motorola will place a decal that says Motorola & B&K Inside on all these processors, Just like Intel;)
Michael, I'm only playing around here :)
Let's just say, B&K & Motorola have offered a feature rich & rather bug free engine now for many years.
A very good thing for us end users of any brand with the moto engine.
Michael indeed gives very good advise, audition as many as you can.
That is the whole fun of this hobby for many, playing with a lot different toys.
-Jerry
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post #14 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 09:16 AM
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If you are interested in expanding the price difference even further without giving up anything on the performance side of things, you might want to consider buying a used Reference 30 and having it upgraded to Reference 50 internals by B&K. This strategy would probably put another$500 to $600 between the B&K and the Anthem and for all intents and purposes you wind up with a "new" unit.

Anthem, by the way, does not extend its warranty to subsequent owners potentially crippling resale appeal.
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post #15 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 11:50 AM
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Quote:
The AVM-20 is just now catching up with the Ref 20 & Ref30 & Ref50 in available features & usability.
I definatly do not agree with that. Yes some of the features they JUST added the B&K already had. But there are some the Anthem has that the B&K does not. audio delay sync, simulcast and bass management on the 5.1 input (I think the B&K does not have that, correct me if I am wrong here).

When I said "nothing out of the ordinary ", I meant that B&K does not add freatures like Anthem does after the fact. We asked, they gave. B&K does not close to that. Yes they have the presets, they have always had the presets. They have also always had that hiss/humm too. I could not use B&K seperates (AVP2000) with my Klipsch speakers becuase they amplifed the humm so much. On another brand you had to put your head against the speaker to hear it. Over the past 6 months I have seen many people post similar things about the ref 50. When Anthem gets a report of something like that, the fix is usualy posted within a few weeks. Thats what I like.

Let me know when B&K adds the features that Anthem has that it does not.

Is the B&K a great value Yes indeed it is. Considering the street price of it, I might even call it a better value than the AVM-20. I am an ex B&K owner. I had the Ref 20, and got the Ref 30 because the upgrade was nowhere in site. Then I traded it in for the Anthem well over a year ago. Now you can upgrade the Ref 30. Not to mention that I thought the sound of the Anthem was much better.
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post #16 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 03:19 PM
 
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For Anthem owners reading here, I was told by Anthem that the v2.10 update will be available Aug. 1st.

For those not familiar with the firmware updates (on this board? Nah.), this is a major update and will offer several new features, enough that an addendum to the owners manual will be necessary.
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post #17 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 03:50 PM
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Just my $.02 here.

I have the Ref 50 and like it very much. I didn't look at the anthem when I purchase mine so any opinion I might have in comparrison is going to be bunk.

The one thing I can contrubute on is the "whine" problem. Mine (and my Ref 30) have the whine problem and it is caused by my Sony KP57HW40 TV. I suspect that it's the flyback, but I'm not sure.

Also, the noise seems to backfeed into the Ref 50 from another component. I never notice the problem unless I am doing some "critical" listening. My lazy solution is to turn the TV off...

I'm sure that you could fix it with appropriate power filtration...
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post #18 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 03:53 PM
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Thanks for the update on the update, Robert! :D I guess I'll be going to RS to pick-up a serial RS-232 cable soon.

Ken

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Audio: ModWright LS36.5 / Mac Mini w/Paul Hynes SR7 PS / Schiit Audio Yggy Gen 5 USB / WireWorld IC and Curious USB cables
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post #19 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 03:56 PM
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Quote:
I'm sure that you could fix it with appropriate power filtration...
Maybe that explains why the AVM-20 generally does not exhibit these types of noise problems. The AVM-20 has built-in line conditioning, and that feature may be partly responsible for the floor noise differences some people experience between these processors.

Michael
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post #20 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 07:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by kmmd
Thanks for the update on the update, Robert! :D I guess I'll be going to RS to pick-up a serial RS-232 cable soon.
Ken,

Be sure that the cable you get is a 9 pin straight-through serial cable, sometimes known as a serial extension cable. Do not get a NULL modem serial cable. This will not work. Currently, the upgrade only works with a PC, not a MAC. Also, the serial cable can be up to 100' long, allowing you to keep the audio system together if your PC is close enough (if you have a laptop, all the better). I have been using a 50' cable without a problem (except for having to roll up the cable!:)).

Michael
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post #21 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:32 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for a very informative post.

Right now, I am leaning towards the Anthem, even though I actually like the feature-set on the B&K better and it's less expensive. Why? Because I can't get past the 'whine' issue. There's really no way I'm going to be able to demo either unit in my house, and since it seems the B&K whine is very much dependant on the rest of your system, I have no way of knowing if it's something I will experience. If I knew for sure I wouldn't have a whine issue, I'd buy the B&K. Seeing as how that's not possible, the Anthem, as I posted earlier, is the safer bet.

Even though I'm leaning towards the Anthem I am still open to any further comments about either product. Again, thanks for all your help!

Endaar
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post #22 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:46 PM
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Endaar,

Since you are unable to audition either processor in your home, are there other dealers in your area? Maybe you can audition the Bryston SP1.7, Integra Research RDC-7, Parasound Halo C2, Sunfire Theater Grand III, Aragon Stage One, Rotel RSP-1098 or RSP-1066, or the newly released Onkyo Integra DTC-9.4? How about a used Lexicon MC-1?

Sorry about the long list, but I have this issue about wanting to audition a product I am about to buy first, especially one that costs as much as the Ref50 and the AVM-20. If you can't audition one first, try to get a refund period (7-30 days) that doesn't have a restocking fee.

Michael
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post #23 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 08:58 PM
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Also take alook at Classe SSP-30MKII. One of the best sounding preamps out.

Classe


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post #24 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 09:06 PM
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Hi Michael!

Thanks for the advice! :) I'll probably buy one tomorrow. Luckily, I have a laptop that I can move to the Anthem in order to do the upgrade. By the way, I see that you're in the South Bay. How is Century Stereo...have you been there? I'm thinking about auditioning the new James Loudspeaker EMB-1000 sub.

Endaar,

Michael is giving you great advice and numerous other possibilities for pre/pros. Good luck and try to audition before making a purchase.

Ken

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post #25 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 09:14 PM
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Ken,

Quote:
How is Century Stereo...have you been there?
Yeah, I've been there. Bought a B&K 7250 amp from them some time ago. Auditioned numerous products in their store (Marantz, B&K, Monitor Audio, B&W). They seemed to have gone a bit more upscale in recent years, especially with regards to video displays.

Most of my auditioning and buying has been with Paradise Audio & Video, Bay Area Audio, Laserland Home Theater and Sound Perfection (Menlo Park). There are a few others I have visited (SF Stereo, Century, etc.), but the above are the main stores I visit, although I haven't done much auditioning the last 4-5 months.

Michael
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post #26 of 46 Old 07-22-2003, 09:27 PM - Thread Starter
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I live on Long Island, so there's no lack of dealers in my area. The problem I run into is that most of the dealers on the island (at least those that carry mid to high end brands) are custom installers who are doing theaters for the wealthy and can't be bothered with small sales, or they're making their living selling Plasma TVs to people who are buying them solely because they're the cool thing to have. The other issue is that the few dealers who are even tolerable to work with refuse to give a reasonable discount off MSRP. I don't mind paying a premium to buy locally, but in some cases I'm talking about spending 50% more, plus NY's absurd sales tax.

I'm sure I could trek into Manhattan and have more luck finding a decent dealer, but I just don't have the kind of time I'd need to do this right. So while I realize I'm not making a purchasing decision in the ideal manner, I'm doing it as best as I can under the circumstances. Believe me I envy the relationship some of you have with your local dealers.

I did look into most of the units you mentioned. The Rotels and the Sunfire don't have THX Ultra2 and that for me is a must have feature. While I had the Marantz I got a chance to compare Ultra2 processing of 5.1 material to forced EX decoding and found the Ultra2 results to be better. It wasn't a dramatic difference but enough of one that it's a feature I want.

The C2, RDC-7 and Stage One all seem like excellent units that would meet my needs but they come at a bit higher price than the Anthem. I don't know much about the Bryston and can't seem to find a website for them. The DTC-9.4 I'm not that familiar with although it certainly seems feature-filled.

I did very seriously consider a used Lex MC-1, but the lack of 5.1 analog inputs was a deal-breaker. If the MC-8 was just a little less expensive I'd probably be trying to convince myself to spend the extra money for that, as it's what I really want, but I can't justify the extra expense.

Michael, no need to apologize about a long list. I really appreciate your comments, and again I understand wanting to audition something like this before buying. It's just not to be, and given that I'm trying to make the most informed decision I can. Besides, I've bought virtually my entire HT setup sight-unseen so I figure I may as well be consistent. :P

Endaar
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post #27 of 46 Old 07-23-2003, 01:20 AM
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up to me, I'd take the Anthem
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post #28 of 46 Old 07-23-2003, 06:27 AM
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Just got my Ref50, its great. I don't have any whine, hiss or anything, the sound is very clean. And I like it.

Just my 0.02c

Good luck with your purchase,
Vishnu

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post #29 of 46 Old 07-24-2003, 03:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Well I just pulled the trigger on the Anthem.

There are a lot of things I really like about the B&K. Unfortunately, it does have a reputation for having a whine and I couldn't overlook that in making my final decision. At it turns out, I managed to get a little better deal on the Anthem than expected so the price difference between the two was minimal.

Thanks to everyone who posted and PM'd me regarding thees two units and others!

Endaar
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post #30 of 46 Old 07-24-2003, 09:40 PM
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Endaar,

Enjoy your AVM20. I am sure it will be good for you.

Do you mind if I ask how much did you pay for Anthem.

-V

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