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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I was wondering what people here think is the best for a home theatre:

* A Pre/Pro with Power Amp

* All-in-one Receiver

I know that money is a major consideration to take into account regarding the pre/pro option, but I would like to read about what would you consider the plusses and minus of each path toward HT Nirvana.
 

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Money was a major concern for me. I couldn't seem to find a receiver with enough power for me and then I couldn't find a pre-pro that I liked that was within my budget. I've always been impressed with the Sunfire Theater Grand and that new Anthem Statement looks sweet indeed, but both way out of my financial range. There's other that I like too but those stand out the most to me. Several years back I did enjoy my Lexicon CP3+ and DC1, and I like their pre-pros too, but still expensive. I sold my DC1 just in time to come out ahead.

I ended up opting for a receiver/amp combo. I have the Denon 3806 Receiver for a pre-pro and it powers my rear surrounds. Then I chose the Earthquake Cinenova Grande 5 using 3 of its channels to power the front. It's brute power sold me and the fact I got a pretty good deal on it used via another forum buddy.

The 3806 isn't anything near what a separate pre-pro would probably do, but it satisfies me and it was cheap, being I'm a Denon rep.

The biggest drawback with receivers I think is lack of power, if you are power hungry like me. Otherwise, I think they've come a long way in the recent years. Then if you can afford it, no doubt it would be nice to have that separate pre-pro + amp combo. Separates would have their critical listening benefits if you are a music person... I'm mostly (95% or so) a movie buff.
 

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If you ignore the cost angle, a Preamp/Amp combo will sound better than a all in one receiver. I don't know ALL of the technical details, but the fact that the amps and the preamp circuitry are actually separated is supposed to be good thing. People smarter than me have said that any preamp/amp combo is going to sound better than any receiver. I don't know if I buy into that argument completely, but I don't think the statement is completely invalid.

I've also heard arguments that it's cheaper in the long run to go with separates. Since you can keep an amp for decades, you just need to swap out the pre-amp as new formats become available; however, with a receiver, you need to swap out the entire unit. This argument only makes sense if you're going with the really high end receivers.

The obvious pro-receiver argument is cost. A good receiver can be had for <$1,000, whereas an entry level preamp/amp will cost you >$1,000. Probably the best inexpensive preamp/amp combo I know of is from Outlaw. Their 970 PrePro/7075 Pwr Amp combo costs $1,298.

Which speakers will you be mating your electronics with? To me this would be the real deciding factor. My general rule of thumb is to spend ~70% on speakers and ~30% on electronics. So, if your speakers cost ~$3,150, then I think it makes sense to go the separates route.

That's my $0.02 at least..

JCD
 

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I concur on the side of seperates - the basics being that preamps/processors have different power requirements to power amps, consequently power supplies can be chosen/designed that meet the exact demands of the equipment they're supplying.
However, some of the integrated units do a great job - here's a good example:

http://www.outlawaudio.com/products/1070.html

With a good integrated unit you only need one shelf space and no inteconnects to a power amp.
 

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Measurements at Audioholics (albeit limited measurements) gave the nod to the Yamaha RX-V2600 as a better pre-amp than the Emotiva DMC-1 (which is based off the Sunfire IV, IIRC). So the old rule of thumb that seperates will always perform better is something that I consider a fallacy. Especially considering how many people have found their preference to be a receiver for their pre-amp.

However, that isn't the say the RX-V2600 will necessarily sound better. They didn't measure everything. I do agree that receivers will provide less power in terms of watts, but I also think the vast majority people don't really need 300W RMS of power in a single channel. Maybe 300W of power peak, which means if your amp can provide 300W RMS you won't hit as much distortion as an amp that peaks at 300W.

A more meaningful measurement of amps for me is the frequency response for different impedence loads. Many amps cannot drive lower impedence, and speaker impedence can vary a lot. That's proably not an issue if your speakers are 8ohm nominal. Some amps are +/-3dB between 20Hz-20kHz. That might mean a 6dB drop at ~20kHz, which isn't so hot if you think about it. Unless your speakers happen to be one designed to give more "air" and thus have an equivalent boost in the really high frequencies.
 

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I am similar to Sonnie, in that I use a receiver (HK-DPR2005) as a prepro and also to power my surrounds. I use a 3 channel amp, the Adcom GFA-5503 which is 200 wpc to power my L/C/R. It was a really solid improvement for me. The amp retails for $1700, but I bought it used on Audiogon for $500. It made a real difference in my system at both moderate and high volume levels, and the HK has some pretty robust amps to start with. I did a lot of research, and many people feel that there are very few things that can go wrong with amps, and it is one of the better components, as far as longevity, to buy used. If you are open to going with pre-owned, this may be an option for you.

Greg
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Josuah said:
A more meaningful measurement of amps for me is the frequency response for different impedence loads. Many amps cannot drive lower impedence, and speaker impedence can vary a lot. That's proably not an issue if your speakers are 8ohm nominal. Some amps are +/-3dB between 20Hz-20kHz. That might mean a 6dB drop at ~20kHz, which isn't so hot if you think about it. Unless your speakers happen to be one designed to give more "air" and thus have an equivalent boost in the really high frequencies.
This is such an important point! I know some friends that burned amps trying to drive very low impedence speakers like the Apogee Scintillas (1 ohm!!!) Then, you need not only powerful amps, but also amps that can deliver and sustain very high current charges. Excellent point!

Then, most receivers will have a hard time to sustain low impedence load because high current amps take a lot of space (physically) and run HOT!

I guess that is one factor to consider when looking at pre/pro + amp vs. receiver component.
 

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Another vote for receiver as pre/pro. Running a Denon AVR-3200 (1998 vintage) with two McIntosh MC-250's (one bridged for the center), surrounds (LaScala's) by the receiver. Works for me. Been eyeing the Outlaw 990 however.
 

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A lot of good comments have already been made about preamp/processors with amps vs receivers. To those discussions, the only thing I can add is that senergies exist between speakers and amps. You want to be careful to match speakers with the right amps/receivers and avoid situations where a bright amp is matched with bright speakers or warm amps/receivers are match with warm speakers.

Another area that should be considered before flashing the plastic, is the total budget. Within that budget, the choice of what equipment to buy will become more obvious. If you have a $4 K budget, once you buy some speakers, you're more likely to be able to buy a better receiver than you would seperates. If you view your system as one that can grow as money becomes available, buy better components and add to them over time. Avoid buying something that will likely be replaced in a few years. (did I hear an ouch?)
 

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I somewhat disagree with this synergy thing. A good amplifier will be flat across the 20Hz-20kHz spectrum. For example, the Emotiva MPS-1 looks to be within +/-0.25dB from 20Hz-20kHz. It's also stable down to 2ohms, which is probably the lowest impedance the vast majority of speakers in all price ranges will hit. If for whatever reason your speaker goes even lower than that, then the Anthem Statement P2 or P5 amps are stable into something close to 0ohms. Granted, these are more expensive products but even very inexpensive per-channel pro gear have measured responses that are flat across 20Hz-20kHz at 8ohms.

A lower quality amplifier will drop off more quickly at the edges of that spectrum, and also drop off more quickly at those edges for lower impedance loads than for 8ohm loads. This might be desirable if you are trying to compensate for a boost in your speaker's frequency response at ~30Hz and ~18kHz. But I would equate that to mixing two under-performing products in an attempt to cancel them out. This is why some people buy expensive cables with the goal of attenuating 14kHz-18kHz, but I would say why did you buy speakers that are boosting 14kHz-18kHz in the first place if you didn't like that sound? Unless it just so happens that you don't like hearing those frequencies as much as the mixer/conductor wanted you to, in which case I suppose that would make sense. Sort of.

An amplifier's response also will never be to boost the frequencies at the edge of its operating spectrum. So an amplifier cannot be "dark" or "bright", in the sense of boosting low frequencies (~30Hz) or high frequencies (~18kHz) exclusively. It might be "warm", if you consider having everything from ~60Hz-~15kHz equally boosted in comparison to the edge frequencies your "warm" area.

All that being said, I'm just saying that I don't find much merit in thinking you need to match your solid state electronics to your incredibly fickle speakers (it's much easier to get voltage and frequency to do what you want than drivers and air). Moving into gear that's specifically designed to not have a flat frequency response is a whole other game, of course. Tube amplifiers are a good example of that, where you will get different behavior based on which tubes you install.

Anyway, all of this is based on what technical knowledge I've learned on the subject, and I'm by no means an expert. So I'm sure there are people who can further explain or correct some of my points.
 

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I don't have a lot to add here but I concur with JimP's comments whole heartedly. I started out a couple of years ago with a new Yamaha RX-V1400 because it was the biggest bang-for-the-buck receiver in my price range. It had excellent spec's and I was impressed when I audition one in a show room. I also bought some good quality Paradigm speakers that had a very impressive sound. I agree that most of your money should go into speakers, but my long range plan was to get an excellent pair of mains later when I could afford it, and then relegate the Monitor 3's to the rear.

When I got the Yamaha I was extremely pleased with its sound quality and features and it satisfied my needs until I got the itch about two years later. I wanted a separate amp for my recently upgraded mains, so I did a lot of research, read the reviews, and finally decided on a used Yamaha M65 amp I found on EBAY.

Yamaha is well respected when it comes to receivers, but is often overlooked as an amplifier choice. But I was so pleased with how my receiver performed I figured I couldn't go too wrong with the M65 even though I never auditioned one. I have been very happy with this choice as well.

I recommend that you start with a high quality receiver and put as much money as you are able into speakers. You may have to do this in a two or three step approach as I did. Don't bother with the separate main amp until you have speakers of sufficient quality that you can hear the difference. Also, when you choose your amp, there are many very good choices, but you don't have to go with the flavor of the day in order to get excellent results.
 

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Haver, after all this 'advice' I would forget the specs and just use your ears. Try demo's at various retailers to get an idea of what you can get for your budget - if you're able to get seperate components that meet your budget and sonic needs then this gives you a potential upgrade path in the future.

A good specialist retailer will have done the hard work for you and put systems together at various price points.
 

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Lots of good advice in this thread, but I'll add my opinion anyway:

You can always start with an integrated solution and then tack on separates as you can afford them. From personal experience, I achieved much better performance replacing my Yamaha AVR with my NAD T763, but still wished for more power to drive my inefficient NHT ST4 towers.
So for the front L/R channels, I acquired 2 Outlaw Audio monoblocks and use the T763 as a pre/pro for those. The rest of the setup is still driven by the NAD, which is more than adequate for the reduced workload.

Most competent AVRs these days give you this migration path, so there's no reason not to shoot for the best of both worlds!
 

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No doubt that seperate components can sound significantly better. What I have found, however, is that recent receivers from the better brands sound surprisingly good. Put the emphasis on the speakers and if the budget is a limitation get a good Yamaha, Denon, or Marantz receiver then upgrade later if you become aware of the limitations.
 

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I generally think that separates provide better sound. Mostly because they use higher quality components. That being said I think in some ways we are comparing apples to oranges. How many pres do you know that can do half as much as a good receiver. Video up-conversion, bass management, multiple surround sound formats, radio etc...

Whereas receivers are jack-of-all-trades pres are specialists. As a specialist you will almost always beat out the master of none in your field. However the trade off is you can only do one thing really well.

I am not entirely convinced that separating stuff is the best either. Separation requires interconnects and poor connections can kill SQ, also they can be $pendy.

Technology is catching up to the separates IMO. Receivers are getting more capable with more features every year. I don't know that any receiver will be able to compete with an amp like the cinanova anytime soon, but I think that some good ones out there do as good a job as a number of separate pre-amps.

In the end try as much stuff out as you can and see what you like. All the inane ramblings in the world can't replace that experience.:T
 
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I've had a mid - priced receiver for a few years and I'm upgrading to separates. I have a new multichannel amp that is now attached to the receiver's preamp section and the difference between the new amp and the internal amp is noticable. Maybe it's because the standalone power amp can afford to use larger transformers and produce more drive current within it's chassis than the receiver which has to cram a lot of electronics into the same space, smaller surface mount devices not withstanding. I'm curious to see what happens when I replace the receiver. Will the sound change again? We'll see.
By the way, no disrespect to the gentleman who said amps aren't "brighter" or "darker", electronics with the same "specs" sound different in the real world. All you have to do is pick a set of speakers and source material you know and A/B several amps- you'll hear the difference. Sometimes it's subtle, sometimes dramatic. It's like comparing cars- you've got to drive one to know if it's right for you, if it fits. There's an organic component at work that's hard to verbalize or even quantify, but it's there and it's part of what makes this world of audio so interesting.
 

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I have to agree with sportsound to the extent that amplifiers with "similar" specs can sound different. There are several reasons for this. One is we often don't know the testing methodology of the manufacturer so we could be looking at apples and oranges. For instance, I have seen published thd measured at 1KHz only instead across the entire spectrum from 20Hz - 20KHz.

Another is some important specs aren't listed at all. Intermodulation distortion is not often listed and yet it is an extremely important spec, especially when you consider that most of the sound we hear is a mixture of frequencies and not one note tones. This type of distortion is much harder to eliminate in amplifier designs and that may be why we don't see it very often.

Another one that is sometimes left out is dampening ratio. You want your amp to remain in firm control even if you are driving speakers with reflective impedance all over the map.

Now I said that amps with similar specs can sound different, that doesn't necessarily mean you will notice the difference. I have read reports of double blind tests where different amplifiers have been switches in and out and no one in the sample group was able to tell the difference. However these types of test are far from being exhaustive considering all the amps that are on the market, and maybe their speakers weren’t revealing enough to tell what was going on.

Well I am not sure you can draw many conclusions from this except to choose a respected amp manufacturer who isn't afraid to list their specs in great detail. However when choosing an amp don't get caught up in comparing small inconsequential differences in specs; it is very unlikely you will tell the difference. As someone earlier said it is much more important to listen to your choices, preferably in your own home.
 

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Audioholics' Damping Factor: Effects On System Response concludes that a damping factor of 50 or more across the audio range would be more than sufficient. And I agree with their less conservative statement that a damping factor of >5 or >10 is more than sufficient.
 

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reed.hannebaum said:
I have to agree with sportsound to the extent that amplifiers with "similar" specs can sound different. There are several reasons for this. One is we often don't know the testing methodology of the manufacturer so we could be looking at apples and oranges. For instance, I have seen published thd measured at 1KHz only instead across the entire spectrum from 20Hz - 20KHz.

Another is some important specs aren't listed at all. Intermodulation distortion is not often listed and yet it is an extremely important spec, especially when you consider that most of the sound we hear is a mixture of frequencies and not one note tones. This type of distortion is much harder to eliminate in amplifier designs and that may be why we don't see it very often.

Another one that is sometimes left out is dampening ratio. You want your amp to remain in firm control even if you are driving speakers with reflective impedance all over the map.

Now I said that amps with similar specs can sound different, that doesn't necessarily mean you will notice the difference. I have read reports of double blind tests where different amplifiers have been switches in and out and no one in the sample group was able to tell the difference. However these types of test are far from being exhaustive considering all the amps that are on the market, and maybe their speakers weren’t revealing enough to tell what was going on.

Well I am not sure you can draw many conclusions from this except to choose a respected amp manufacturer who isn't afraid to list their specs in great detail. However when choosing an amp don't get caught up in comparing small inconsequential differences in specs; it is very unlikely you will tell the difference. As someone earlier said it is much more important to listen to your choices, preferably in your own home.
I largely agree with what you are saying. It may be a bit pedantic but "reflected impedance" could more clearly be replaced by "impedance." Reflected impedance is usually a term applied to effects due to coupling in transformers. Impedance pretty much sums it up (pun intended). Also, the correct term is "damping factor." While it is a useful number, there are some caveats. A low damping factor is typically bad news, but a high one is not necessarily going to result in better performance. DF actually varies with frequency and would be better demonstrated with a curve over frequency than a single number and some amp designs that are undesirable can increase the value.
 

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Leonard,

I stand corrected, damping factor is the term I should have used.

The other point you raised about high damping factor is also true. Beyond a certain level, a higher damping factor will make no difference in what we can hear. In fact I have read arguments that speakers in sealed enclosures should be driven by current sources not voltage sources, which implies zero damping factor. In addition, one has to be leery of inexpensive amplifiers with high damping factor and ultra low harmonic distortion numbers. While these number may very well be accurate, they may be achieved at the expense of slew rate; another seldom seen number.

In most large companies, marketing drives engineering. So to achieve eye-popping specs while keeping the cost down, engineers will use large amounts of negative feedback which is a relatively easy way of improving some of the specs. However, this can result in a poor transient response, turning a crashing cymbol or a kick drum into a less than desirable sound. This is not to say that negative feedback is inherently bad, it just has to be applied judiciously in the circuit design.
 
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