Are preamp's necessary?

 

Silver Member
Username: Tpizzle

Post Number: 576
Registered: Apr-05
Hey guys,

Sorry if this is a terribly ignorant question but I need to make sure I understand everything before I splurge and I would rather get the info here than by some sleezy salesman at the hifi store.

I currently have a 2-channel system powered by a receiver. The receiver isn't intended for 2-channel listening and so I plan on upgrading. Is it possible to power the speakers solely with cd player and 2-channel amp or is a preamp necessary? I understand amps generally do not have volume controls but I wasn't sure if a remote was the fix or if a preamp is the only answer. Also, if a preamp is necessary is usually more desirable to have a preamp/amp or just an integrated, assuming the same is spent on each option.

thanks again guys for the help. Basically I am trying to get into the most simple system possible, I would rather not have a rack full of equipment and have wiring strung all over.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 471
Registered: Oct-10
Basically, the preamp is the "control center" of your system. The input/source switch, loudness, tone and volume controls and one stage of amplification are in a preamp. That stage of amplification is not really necessary. Infact some people would rather it not be there. Without the preamp, you'd have to rig up a source switch, volume control and whatever other controls you want. IMO, you're better off with a preamp.

Generally, an integrated amp, will sound better and cost more than receiver and seperate preamp and power amp will sound better and cost more than an integrated.
 

Silver Member
Username: Tpizzle

Post Number: 577
Registered: Apr-05
Thanks!

What cables will I need, and how much should I reasonably budget for, to connect a cd player, preamp, amp, speakers (if I go the preamp/amp route).
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 479
Registered: Oct-10
Yw.

Cables: Any of the better grades of Monster, Audio Quest, Tributaries, even Rockfish (best buy brand) will do. Just don't go too crazy. I have one pair of 8' audio cables that cost $130. They aren't any better than the $90, 8' foot cables. Both sets are made by AQ. Just don't use real cheaply made cables. If you do digital coax to a DAC, a $30 cable will be more than sufficient as will a $50 optical cable. If you have or get an iPod dock with a usb port on the back such as Dynex (same attachment as on the iPod), Rockfish makes a special cable for that for $40. It has 3 ends. One end goes to the the charger, one to the back of the dock and the other is your RCA left, right & video. If you don't use the video, it's okay. No harm will be done. Just never use the cable that comes with that dock.

Speaker wire: I recommend Monster 12 guage, $75.

If you go seperates, you'll be looking at tens or hundreds of thousands. If you go with an integrated, $5000 to $10,000, maybe a little more. Depends on your ears and what you can afford. Buying in parts over time is an option too (speakers this month, power amp next month, preamp in Feb, etc).

If you go with seperates, you should use the xlr (balanced) connection. This will eliminate noise that can be picked up between stages. This will be especially important with large, heavy amps like McIntosch which usually sit on the floor. Very good amps!

To expand on what I meant by "That stage of amplification is not really necessary." I have a Denon receiver with a feature called "pure direct". When turned on, the premp stage is bypassed. The signal goes right from input switch to volume control. With the tone controls flat, loudness off and all 3 channel volume controls set to zero, there is no difference in volume at all. I don't use this feature for a number of reasons, but that's what it does.

I hope all of this is helpful.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 480
Registered: Oct-10
Don't forget surge protection! Very important!
 

Gold Member
Username: Dmitchell

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Post Number: 4466
Registered: Feb-07
I'm really into integrateds lately over the seperates solution. It generally costs less, takes up less space, and there's mess with cables and stuff all over the place. Less chance of introducing noise into the mix too.

To answer your question, though - yes you can get away with just a CDP and an amp (with no pre-amp), if you have the right CD player. My old McIntosh 301 had a volume control and you could hook it directly to an amp. Obviously this isn't entry level gear.

My suggestion is to avoid the surge protection, and plug the amp right into the wall, unless you're willing to invest in a very good surge protector/power conditioner.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 483
Registered: Oct-10
David, your CDP to power amp idea would work, but there would be no way to add sources and no loudness enhancement. Of course loudness only matters at less than 12 o'clock, but if that's where listens, it's good to have.

The type of surge protection used depends on what it protects. I can get by with a Monster HDP 900 or 850 ($130 & $100 respectively). I wouldn't use one for a Mac amp though. I have 2 of the 900s. Monster will reimberse me up to $400,000 if one ever fails. I'd say they're pretty confident in it. They also make ones appropriate for Mac and their competition.
 

Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 1887
Registered: Oct-07
I agree about surge protection / power conditioners with amps. I gave it up after several tests.
However, all my low-level stuff is thru either an isolation transformer included with my Panamax or just the conditioner part of the same unit.

IMO, all Monster stuff is overrated. They are not nice people, either. From the power stuff to the cables. Blue Jeans cable, AntiCables and others provide good performance at less than stellar prices. Several posters here love DIY stuff including speaker cables sourced from the extension cord department of Home Depot.

Magnet wire interconnects can be had for a fraction the cost many others.

A few years ago, I was sort of forced to the integrated solution. No regrets.
 

Gold Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 1126
Registered: Jul-07
db-bass, going from where you are to separates might be the right thing, but it depends on where you're headed. What do you want to get out of this ? What are your goals ? You can get great sound out of a very simple setup, without needing separates. If you are only going to use 1 source (a cdp), David's suggestion is a very simple and effective solution. If you need multiple sources then either an integrated amp, or pre/power combination. You will compromise very little (if any) with an integrated amp over pre/power separates.

But you have to know where you're going, and what you're hoping to achieve with your system.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 485
Registered: Oct-10
"They (Monster) are not nice people."

I agree Leo. Overrated? Somewhat. For me, Monster is the most readily available and affordable. Having compared Monster 12 awg spkr wire at $75 a spool with Audio Quest's $220 pkg of pre soldered wire and hearing no difference, I bought the Monster. Speaker wire from Home Depot? Not in my house! I've tried that and some of those DIY ideas. If I were going to run speaker line to my sub, yeah, but otherwise no!

Well db bass, I hope we helped you out.
 

Gold Member
Username: Dmitchell

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Post Number: 4476
Registered: Feb-07
What's wrong with Home Depot wire?
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 486
Registered: Oct-10
I found home depot wire didn't carry the signal well at all. Sometimes spending the extra for Monster, AQ, etc is worth the $, sometimes it's not. For speaker wire, I get which ever of the name brands is least expensive.
 

Silver Member
Username: Tpizzle

Post Number: 578
Registered: Apr-05
I just want a simple 2-channel system that I can relax to in the evenings. Occasionally I will need to crank it as the wife likes to throw mini-dance parties but mostly classical, jazz, soft electronic music will be playing.

I envision only one source, a CDP but also need ability to connect IPod. I am back-and-forth about seperates verse integrated but either way I would like to keep the cost around $600, leaving $400 for a CDP. I feel I can get a decent integrated for this but will have difficulty finding a pair of seperates in this range. I then will upgrade speakers - this weekend I heard some Monitor Audio and Focal stuff and was impressed.
 

Gold Member
Username: Dmitchell

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Post Number: 4478
Registered: Feb-07
600 will not get you into seperates. Remember, you need a pre-amp AND a power amp. This will effectively double your costs.

Maybe you can stretch your budget a bit? Take a look at a Cambridge Audio 840A v2. You can get a used one for around 800. This was an integrated I could have lived with for a long time.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 497
Registered: Oct-10
For $600, you can get a new receiver or a pretty good used integrated amp. A lot of people here are impressed by some used Rotel integrateds floating around. You probably should check into one.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15600
Registered: May-04
.

"Is it possible to power the speakers solely with cd player and 2-channel amp or is a preamp necessary? I understand amps generally do not have volume controls but I wasn't sure if a remote was the fix or if a preamp is the only answer. Also, if a preamp is necessary is usually more desirable to have a preamp/amp or just an integrated, assuming the same is spent on each option."


Technically, a "pre amp" is an active stage of amplification which is used to step up the output voltage component from a very small voltage source. There are other ways to accomplish this stepping up processs but they are not generally considered to be "pre amps". Without this step up in voltage, the source player's output voltage wouldn't be sufficient to drive the next stage of amplificaton to its full voltage output. Phono pre amps are the most commonly found "pre amp" in most home systems though older systems would have probably included a pre amp for a tape head and even the occasional microphone. Take away the need for this first stage of pre-amplification by way of using only source players with high voltage output and you can think of the conventional pre amp as it's original nature intended and that would be as a "control amp" providing the user the basic controls to make a system function. The issue to be considered there would be the nature of home audio systems has changed over the years and in a modern high end audio system controls can be taken down to nothing more than volume control in a single source system using a digital source player which feeds sufficient voltage output to drive most power amplifiers to full power. Some listeners would prefer to include some way to also control speaker balance between channels but that's not always available in high end set ups - a sad situation IMO. If that sort of set up meets your needs, then what is now commonly referred to as a "passive pre amp" would be sufficient. And, even with that said, a straight line from a digital source to the inputs of a power amp would be sufficient (note the word "sufficient" and not "excellent") should the amplifier provide convenient gain controls which would then serve as "passive" controls in that they do not themself feed the sort of active circits commonly found in a conventional "pre amp". Such a simple set up would then operate with only a few issues to be resolved.

Digital players are for the most part still intended to run through a conventional pre amp and therefore often are not well suited to a purely passive volume control system. The issue here is the output/input impedance of most digital players and power amps are not good electrical matches since a conventional pre amp is expected to exist between the two components. You would first need to check the impedances of the devices in question and, if you cannot arrive at a minimum of a 10:1 ratio with the source player being the "1", then the combination will be somewhat compromised in performance. In other words, if the player is rated at a nominal output impedance of 1.5kOhm, the input impedance of the power amplifier would need to be 10X that at a nominal 15kOhms. Then you need to remember that the input impedance of most power amplifiers with gain controls will be compromised by the action of the gain control itself. Therefore, that 10kOhm input impedance will (probably) only be realized when the gain control is effectively removed from the signal path - run wide open or at full power from the amplifier. Any actual trimming of the input signal by way of the gain control will alter the actual impedance shown to the source player.

If the gain control is a simple potentiometer as most are, the source player will interact with the varying input impedance in ways that will affect sonic performance. Depending on the design of the amplifier, the next stages of the amplifier's circuitry might also be affected by the changing impedance resulting from trimming the gain pot. What results is the typical problem of passive pre amps in that the sound quality can actually vary to some extent with each rotation of the gain control due to the constantly changing impedance values of the resulting circuit. This presents a possible problem of "best sound" only being available within a certain range of the gain control's rotation and lower quality sound being obtained at all other settings. With a conventional pre amp in line the all but hairshirt varieties will include buffer crcuits which serve several functions. Buffers normally result in a constant input/output impedance from an active pre amp which provides consistent loading for both source player and the power amplifier. This buffering action then removes the loading of the volume control pot from the circuit thereby providing better sound quality throughout the vc's range.

The second function of a buffer circuit would be to lower the output impedance of the pre amp which makes for a more flexible system set up. If you're running a source player with an output impedance of, say, 1.5kOhm, you'll need to maintain very short interconnect cables between the player and the power amplifier or else you'll run into cable induced frequency response alterations. Until you drop down beneath a generally recognized 500-600Ohms output impedance cable length becomes a fairly major consideration in system set up with any unbalanced cabling system. (The Rega Apollo for example has a specified/measured output impedance of 600Ohms which would make it a good candidate for such a passive control system.) For such a high output impedance source the cable lengths would need to be no longer than 2 meters. This constriction will typically place the source player within the near field of the speakers if you run short speaker cables which then could result in acoustic and mechanical feedback into the player. The alternative would be long speaker cable runs but these don't suit every power amp/speaker combination and it's simply easier to include the buffer circuits than to explain to each customer the restrictions on set up their chosen system demands.

So, if your budget says you should buy better source and power amp components until you can afford a decent pre amp, then you can make do with a set up of source player run directly into your power amp or a passive pre amp - what can be nothing more than a stereo potentiometer in line. This hairshirt/direct path approach can yield very good results in terms of sound quality if you can work around the electrical restrictions of impedance matching and cable length. The results then depend largely upon the quality of the pots used for gain control included in the power amplifier or source player. Most vc's used in CD players or DAC's are not worth the effort since they are included more as a convenience than as a real world way to drive your power amp. Gain controls on power amplifiers are similarly not always of the highest quality and any competently designed and executed active pre amp will provide better sound quality overall. Certainly, any system with more than one source would benefit from an active pre amp or, at the very least, a very high quality transformer based passive pre amp. For most people a source player running into a power amp with gain controls is nothing more than a stop gap on their way to using a pre amp as a control device.

The differences between integrated amplifier with active pre amp and a separate pre amp come down to issues of quality in each component and ultimate flexibility of system set up and upgrades. If you intend for the next purchase to be long staying in your system, then a high quality pre amp (active as is typical or passive as found in the Exposure line of integrateds) can actually serve to eliminate the issues surrounding a "pre amp" since input/ouput impedances are fixed and there is no need for an interconnect cable between the two sections of amplification. The draw back to any integrated is you are generally going to outgrow the component if your system is going to improve/expand on a continuing basis.


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Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 499
Registered: Oct-10
Jan, perhaps you can explain something. In the the owner's manual for my receiver, Denon states that "...pure direct is an extremely high sound quality feature." It's obvious that the preamp is bypassed because the tone controls and loudness are shut off and the channel volumes (left, right and sub) are set to zero (they go -80 to +12 db). Also the impedence spec for the preamp input is the same as for the power amp input. Since there is no direct power amp input, I'm guessing they include that spec incase the user is interested in knowing.

To see what the difference is, I have set the tone controls and channel volumes to zero and turned the loudness off and listened to various music and movie sound tracks switching the pure direct on and off. I do not detect any difference in sound quality or volume at all and neither do other people who have listened with me. Shouldn't there be some difference? If what Denon claims is true, shouldn't it sound better? Or shouldn't the sound be degraded by going from source right to power amp? Why doesn't it have any effect at all?
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15604
Registered: May-04
.

"In the the owner's manual for my receiver, Denon states that '...pure direct is an extremely high sound quality feature'."


It probably also congratulates you on buying a Denon product which has been "designed for the highest performance possible". Pretty much the same thing is in the owner's manual to my $29 room humidifer. You'll need to recognize marketing from actual instructions in the owner's manual.


The pre amp is unlikely to be bypassed in most receivers as this would disable many of the circuits which make the system operate properly, such as those buffers. Switches are taken out of circuit and occasionaly circuits are bypassed in a "direct" mode but the pre amp with volume and balance controls are typically unaffected. If the volume is automatically set to "0", then it's possible what Denon has in mind is closer to a true bypass where the signal does not run through most of the pre amp circuits. I don't know the specifics of your receiver so I can't tell.

It's also near impossible to decipher what mass market specs might mean. Typically, input impedances are higher than output impedances. Does that mean Denon is quoiting the values for inputs to both the pre amp and the power amp sections as being identical? That could be or maybe Denon is, as you say, just quoting numbers to fill a spec sheet for the somewhat curious user. Without a power amp input there's not much point in mentioning the input impedance of the power amplifier.


To explain why you hear no significant difference between "pure direct" and no "pure direct" is asking me to explain both human perception and the functions of high quality audio components. To begin with, I have often said I am not responsible for what someone else cannot hear. Similarly, I am also not responsible for what someone else claims to perceive. Quite simply, this means I don't know what anyone other than myself can perceive at any one moment - perception over simple hearing being the key. I do know I have sat alongside others - whom I consider to have reasonably good perception of music and audio - to listen to a piece of music and I have heard what I would consider to be quite dissimilar qualities than my friends can notate. Neither of us is necessarily wrong in our assumptions about what just occurred but both of us are driven by our own perceptions which amount to not only what we actually hear but also what we expect to hear. I've sold a complete audio system to a person who was technically deaf. I've worked with symphony musicians and conductors who have not much more than a low-fi rack system for their main music source. Each of us seeks the level of competency in our audio components that we deem necessary. What I prefer might be fine to listen to for a friend but not what they would own for their own system. The end result is I can't tell you what you can and cannot hear or perceive, I can only tell you what I am aware of.

Generally, as a system improves the old adage of veils dropping can be heard to be in effect. If you insert a good isolation system into a reasonably transparent system, you might hear noises and distortions reduced in level. Once a noise or distortion is removed, it is much easier to identify what it was (graininess, coarseness, impure tone, incorrect timing, etc.) and when it is reintroduced. However, until the noise or distortion is removed, many listeners will simply accept that the noise or distortion exists at a low level and they are not really adversely aware of its presence. On occasion the opposite is true. For example, I can listen with pleasure to my battery powered T-amps which are deathly quiet when it comes to circuit noise yet when I switch to my AC powered tube amplifiers - which certainly have a higher quiescent noise floor - I hear a higher degree of transparency to the source. This is not a function of any euphonic distortions being produced by the tube amps, it is simply a function of a higher quality amplifier which has more fidelity to the original source input. I have no idea what you are aware of and what you are not or at what level you expect your system to perform so I can't assume you hear the same way I do and I would actually expect no one else on the forum to hear as I do or to hear exactly what it is I listen for in music reproduction. This is one reason why I seldom make product recommendations. Unless I'm reasonably certain your priorities are at least somewhat similar to my own, IMO there's no point in me telling you what I like as you might prefer something quite different.

I would assume that should you compare, say, a $600 receiver to a $60k system of separate components, you would be aware of veils which have been lifted and windows which have been wiped clean with the higher priced system. As such we would have to conclude the $600 receiver might be quite good at its price range but not in a direct comparsion to the higher priced components. The issue for the listener then becomes one of degrees and to what degree are they willing to spend to increase the transparency and fidelity of their system. Until a certain level of transparency is reached however, many layers of noise and distortion still exist which will impede the perception of musical performance as elicited by the $60k system. At one level of performance the slightest adjustment to the supporting shelf or a 1/4" adjustment to speaker location might provide an obvious change in perception of the music while at another level changing between low and high priced digital source players might not prove to be illuminating of anything other than the distinct need not to own the high end player at the present time. Do cables affect the system's performance or only the perception of the music by the listener? That question has remained unanswered for decades now. Perception is the stock and trade of music and an audio systyem is only the teller of the tale and not the music maker itself. Any percepotion of the music is distinctly third hand when arrived at through a collection of components and speakers.

For your receiver the pure direct might not be doing anything towards the way music is perceived by you and your friends. That doesn't mean another listener might not perceive a change any more than you perceiving a change when inserting an interconnect in reverse position would mean I would also be aware of such a change. We all hear on different levels at any one moment. You might swear to the difference the cable direction made and yet not be able to pick it up in a test on another day. Whether the change has occurred in you or somewhere else in the system is then a question which needs to be explored.

Whether your receiver itself has sufficient overall transparency to the source to allow those differences in circuitry to be made evident would be a point to discuss as one of the limiting qualities of your system. Consider that any active audio component save those such as eq's and the like will strive for neutrality and a pre amp can in many ways be one of the most neutral of components when properly doing its job. If Denon is now telling you the elimination of their pre amp from the circuit will result in "extremely high sound quality", aren't they telling you the inclusion of their pre amp is less than highly neutral? If their pre amp isn't extremely neutral, what about their power amp? If one component is not sufficiently transparent to reveal the improvements gained in another component, the weakest link in the chain or the bottleneck in the flow of information can be found in the least transparent device and changing the other components won't matter.

This is what system building is all about. The "garbage in = garbage out" concept of source first improvements stems from the idea that no component can put back what has been left out or remove what has been put in. In this case, it might be that the source player is not transparent enough to show off what the pure direct system can achieve. A player with more information to provide and greater transparency itself might reveal the amount of information bottlenecked by those pre amp circuits.

Of course, its likely that on most receivers, the pure direct feature is nothing more than another feature which is meant to attract a prospective buyer. Since receivers tend to get sold on the basis of their watts per dollar and the number of features included this would be my first assumption. In other words, it is just another sellable feature which has just as much usefulness as any other feature on a receiver. Your component video inputs have what value in your HDMI connected system? But they are a feature someone might desire and so they are included. Having worked with "direct" switches since they became popular on "upscale" mass market receivers and integrateds in the 1980's I personally don't put much stock in their actually improving the performance of the amplifier. But they did give me another feature to point to and talk about when I was trying to avoid talking about the audio performance of the receiver or integrated. Not to disparage your system but there is only so much that can be said about the actual audio performance of most receivers and integrateds.

Though the other rationales for what is and is not occurring might be worth considering too.



.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 521
Registered: Oct-10
Thanks for the input.

Yes, the congrats were in there as is the case with everything that comes with a manual. DVD/blu-ray players, foot messagers, coffee makers.....

Of course I realized that it was marketing, make pure direct sound as good as possible. I just thought there would be a noticeable difference. Other than tone controls, the signal follows a pretty simple path to begin with. With pure direct off, it already sounds IMO, much better than I thought a $400 receiver ever could and much better than any I've heard for $1000 or less as crazy as that may seem. I guess the gimmicks get people though.

It doesn't bother me if you or anyone tells me what they like and why. I find the vast differences in taste and what appeals to people facinating. Apparently you like tube amps. If you explained why I'd at least find it interesting. I don't have anything against their sound, however, I wouldn't want one right now for a number of reasons.

I guess the commercial angle will always be there.
 

Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 1891
Registered: Oct-07
Isn't it possible that all the 'source direct' switch does is 'Zero' all the controls which super manually adjusted?

That would account for 'no difference' heard.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 528
Registered: Oct-10
I'm beginning to think that's what it is Leo. Pure direct also shuts off the display and won't allow video to pass through as if they will interfere with the audio signal. Uh....yeah!
 

Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 1893
Registered: Oct-07
some persons with switchable displays shut them off saying
'It sounds better with the display off'.

Who am I to argue?

ALL my major gear includes that option.
Integrated? yep. CD player? of course Universal player? Oppo includes the feature.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 530
Registered: Oct-10
My wife's uncle used to watch TV with the back of the set off. The picture was sharper that way. Okay Bill, whatever you say.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 15588
Registered: Dec-04
Audio Aero
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 533
Registered: Oct-10
Next, TVs will allow you to shut off the screen so the pic won't interfere with the sound. ROTFL!
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 15589
Registered: Dec-04
The defeat likely does exactly the same as the control because it is in the digital domain, which means the signal cannot be disconnected fom the chain.
Of course you hear no difference, because the controls are already flat, and you make no input difference.

as opposed to a builder like, say, McIntosh, which provide a disconnect from the circuit and disappear, on an equalized preamp. Gone.

Your perception of the receiver is relieved to find that the bypass makes it sound like....your prized receiver.

Many 'builders' do the same.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 536
Registered: Oct-10
The tone defeat only defeats the tone control. It doesn't affect loudness, display, chan vol or video. I think Leo hit the nail on the head. I like the receiver. The pure direct, not so much. At least it's not packed with useless featutes like some of its competition.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15608
Registered: May-04
.

"Apparently you like tube amps. If you explained why I'd at least find it interesting."


You're once again asking me to provide answers where answers aren't easy to come by and what answers are commonly available are often no more than conjecture. I wouldn't say I like tube amps as much as I would say I've heard more tubed components than solid state components offer musical qualities which are preferrable to me. I don't judge music qualities by looking at a spec sheet for a component though, through experience, I've come to recognize a few common attributes which are shared by many of the components which I prefer. A wide power bandwidth, fast rise times without ringing and low level high order harmonic content are consistent with the "sound" I prefer. But "sound" is not music and I own the system to experience the music I prefer. These few qualities are neither tubed nor transistor qualities, they are qualities which some audio designers find important in the reproduction of music just as they experience it in a live setting. I can only assume they are aware of music in much the same way I am while other designers have their own personal take on how music "sounds" or how they respond to music. Just as some speaker designers prefer first order filters and others might prefer fourth order filters the result of the complete system is what matters and then only as it pertains to the quality I perceive as "musical" - or at best non-interferring.

Those who dislike tubes will point to various technical aspects of this or that just as those who dislike certain types of speakers will claim my preference is for "pleasant distortions" while their's is for accuracy. That's all well and good since it makes then feel superior to think they hold some key to unlocking the mysteries of both audio and music. I've heard what is generally considered to be "accurate" sound reproduction and for the most part I don't feel it serves the music well. And, when you begin to actually examine what is being termed accurate, it seldom is that in reality. For my own tastes I would rather have greater transparency to the source than "accurate" reproduction of the signal. I learned long ago my tastes are not what are common tastes and that's fine by me. It's not that my tastes are any better than anyone else's tastes, they probably aren't in many cases, it's just that they are my own.

Since we all have our own concepts of how music and more specifically a musical instrument or a performer should sound my preferences tend more towards those designers who would appear to share many of the same musical priorities that I am aware of. Quite often I can hear many of the same priorities in the music but also discern other qualities which are less to my liking. Then there are some components which are to my ears just obviously wrong musically while being perennially successful in the market place.

I sold high end audio for twenty five years and since my job was to explain sound and technology I was always being asked what components I liked. I generally gave very vague answers because as a salesperson the process was never about what I preferred. Eventually, I acquired a system of components that essentially could not be replicated by the average consumer and even for most audiophiles contained equipment they had never really experienced. But, if I said I owned tubes, that alone put ideas in someone's head as to what music should sound like through my system. I have found most people who draw such conclusions are almost always under the impression they know what "sound" I am hearing when in fact I am listening to music. Having to know as a salesperson what a customer was perceiving so that I could direct the audition to a hopefully successful conclusion, I never found such preconceptions useful. Customers were always surprising me and requiring I readjust my thinking. Asking someone to explain why they preferred a particular experience after each piece of music was to me like asking them to explain why they chose their favorite color or favorite film. There are multiple dynamics at work in any such decisions and many of them can only be explained when they are experienced by both parties. Even then you risk not communicating well as two people are quite unlikely to hear the same qualities in the same way. You didn't understand Art's use of the word "grain" but to Art it makes perfect sense. Maybe you would describe the sound differently or possibly you wouldn't hear the quality Art experiences at all. We are all made up of component parts which drive our thinking and decision making and finding which of those components are most meaningful to any one individual is a large part of a successful salesperson's job. A good salesperson has likely gone through training to assist them in understanding how to communicate their ideas to a customer and how to also use the words and body language of the customer which can be translated by the salesperson into intended meanings when words are not sufficient or even in some cases tell the opposite of what is being intended. To do that in a forum is almost impossible and would require far more time and space than this thread has for my experiences.

And that should be the point of all of audio, it is your experience and no one else's that should matter. That doesn't mean there is no right and wrong in audio, just that IMO you must have those priorities firmly in place before you can bring forth from your system the music you hear in your imagination. If you've established priorities for yourself when it comes to music, then it's likely you've actually given this some thought and hopefully you've reached conclusions which are logical and not just distractions of the moment. Most people in my experience have no real priorities, they go with what "sounds good" at the moment and they tend to judge the audio system or component rather than the music. That I use tubes or transistors or FETs or chips shouldn't matter since you will never be aware of the same qualities in music that I have experienced. For me to say I believe tubes have the ability to stop and start more musically and with greater fidelity to the performer's intent than other devices is very broad and probably not to be understood any more than had I said I prefer Bela Lugosi's Dracula to all others.

So I can't provide a simple answer as to why I use tubes in most of my system other than to me the musical performance sounds right with those components in place. To say anymore is likely to give you ideas which are not consistent with how my system reproduces music or how I experience the performance of an artist. My system provides what I consider to be the most insightful perspective into the performance of music that I can afford. Other than that, I have no specific reason for liking anything that I can easily relate to anyone else's experience.


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Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 558
Registered: Oct-10
You start with, "You're once again asking me for answers where answers are hard to come by." Then you go on to give me the exact type of answer I was looking for, seemingly effortlessly! That didn't seem hard for you at all.

Why did I choose my system? The system as a whole gives what is IMO, the cleanest, most accurate, detailed, unveiled sound available in my price range. If you compared it to other comparable systems, you might dissagree. Or perhaps you prefer warmth over accuracy or a balance of the two. Most people who specifically persue tubes speak of warmth. There's nothing wrong with that. Whatever a person likes about his/her system is what I like to hear about. Whether I agree or not, doesn't matter, we just share. By fast rise times, I'm guessing you are talking about the system's ability to react quickly when music suddenly goes from calm to active like in the 1st movement of Tchaicovsky's 6th Symphony when it goes from Adigio almost to Presto in an instant as the strings jump to life without warning! My son was 13 first time he heard it. Jumped out of his skin!

Last I heard there were 6.5 billion people in the world with 6.5 billion sets of likes and dislikes. That doesn't account for everyone who has lived and died and those yet to be born. None of us gets to meet even 1% of the rest of the population in our life times, but understanding why (as best I can), other people like and dislike what they do is something I find helpful.

My favorite color? Red! Why? I find it warm (I like visual warmth) and cheerful and reminds me of many favorite childhood memories including Christmas. My wife looks great in a red sweater. I could go on and on.

I don't know why people feel compelled to make a competition out of who has the better system. Who cares?! Tell them to "Bury the arrogance, enjoy what you have and enjoy life!" Will I ever have seperates, true high end? Probably not. Is my world crumbling over it? Not a chance! I can think of nothing more self destructive than allowing jealosy to rule a person's attitudes toward those who own more inanimate objects or better inanimate objects than themselves to the point that they look for angles to say theirs is better. That's where terms like "pleasant distortions" come from. I've only heard a few tube amps. Most were warm, some were accurate, none were distorted. The jealousy and arrogance get even uglier when they realize that you paid less for what you have than they did for what they have and they like what you have better. I was able to remedy one such person's ire by showing him how to tune his subwoofer (story for another time).

So, why you or anyone likes or dislikes something is a point of interest for me and that's all.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Stamford, Connecticut USA

Post Number: 4181
Registered: May-05
Jazzy -

The reason why your receiver sounds as good as anything under $1k is because the higher up models within the brand most likely have the same amp and preamp sections in them. The higher up models usually only have more options and features. Those features may lead to better sound, like room correction, but that's about it.

I don't know much about AV receivers, but that's the way it was the last time I looked. The flagship receivers may be diferent, but the majority aren't. Then again, those flagship receivers that claim something like 300 watts x 7 aren't exactly honest either. I'm referring to the couple thouand dollar AVRs from Pioneer, Onkyo, Denon, etc.

Of the bunch, I generally prefer the Denon stuff. They've been criticized for not doing so well with lower impedence speakers though.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Stamford, Connecticut USA

Post Number: 4182
Registered: May-05
db Bass -

For $600, forget about seperates. Most $600 integrateds I know will sound far better than $600 worth of seperates. Then again, are their any $600 brand new amp and preamp combos?

Spearit Sound has great prices on B-Stock integrateds from NAD and Cambridge. Maybe a few others too.
 

Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 1899
Registered: Oct-07
Does B-Stock Emotiva exist?
You could leverage separates that way, no?
 

Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 1900
Registered: Oct-07
The smallest Emotiva 2ch amp and the nice looking stereo preamp will set you back about 800$. 1/3 over budget and probably not enough remaining for a decent CDP.
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 584
Registered: Oct-10
You make a lot of good points Stu. I've never seen a 5 or 7 chan receiver that claimed more than 150 wpc. Denon recently introduced one at 150. The most I've seen in a stereo receiver is 250 wpc made by Mac. I don't doubt Mac. If I had thousands to spend on each component, I'd go for seperates or at least an integrated.

The owner's manual says the reveiver is stable down to 4 ohms. I've only ever used 8 ohm spkrs with it.

db bass, I agree with Stu. If you can get new seperates for under $600, you'll get what you pay for. Integrated is your best bet for now.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15614
Registered: May-04
.

"The reason why your receiver sounds as good as anything under $1k is because the higher up models within the brand most likely have the same amp and preamp sections in them. The higher up models usually only have more options and features."


Mass market receivers are sectioned into two or possibly three groups to take advantage of the economies of similarity in production. The first group and each subsequent group thereafter will be based around one common chassis layout. Boards are layed out with the concept of adding to the basic circuitry as the price increases. That makes the least expensive receiver a rather bare bones affair when you look at a board filled with numerous jumpers and open areas where the higher priced components in that series will be placed. Usually three receivers will be in the base line group and maybe two or three in the each subsequent group. A company like HK with fewer models overall obviously has fewer groups than a highly mass market line such as Pioneer. But Stu's right in that features and connections are the main difference between any receivers within a group. Most products from TV's to computers to automobiles are built this way today. A Honda Accord is the base "platform" as it's called today for a half dozen vehicles which often don't look anything like an Accord or cost anything like an Accord. A basic Toyota or Nissan easily becomes a Lexus or an Infinity across several models in each line.

Looking at Denon's current line of AV receivers with thirteen models (http://usa.denon.com/us/product/pages/Product-Detail.aspx?CatId=3d9614d1-8000-41 06-ab91-8192242cab83&SubId=40b5820d-83c2-4e93-9909-60aae60e0bdd&ProductId=e090f9 c8-98d5-41b9-8f03-0b2a17016964 you can expect all of the AVR-X91 models to be the same basic unit and all of the AVR-XX11 models to be based on a similar chassis with the two top receivers having their own layout. Any one of those groups can have different power ratings without much in the way of changes to the basic circuitry, particularly if the power for some or all channels is derived from chip based amplifiers. The main difference between any two receivers in a group will be the features, the features on the remote (backlit, universal, UHF, etc.) and the back panel connectability of the receiver. If you're shopping for a new receiver, this is what you'll be sold - features and the remote. Even companies such as Nakamichi when they had a three receiver line built the same way and the salesperson mostly sold the feature differnces between the models with passing reference to the additional power in the higher priced receivers. Some companies want their products sold in this manner to suggest sound quality is not compromised by buying the lowest priced receiver. That point is highly deabtable.

This makes life simple for the production layout team, for retailers and for technical support as a minimum of parts are changed between models and so a minimum of parts need to be stocked at any one time. Automated production techniques have made this sort of assembly the norm for virtually all mass market audio components for the last three plus decades. Look at other components from any company, let's say Denon's six BluRay players, and you would see a similar plan with probably two or three divisions of basically similar players defined as separate models by the features and not the performance of each unit. The same transport, same analog circuitry and possibly the same DAC's will be in each group, beyond that you buy the features you want as all players in a similar groud will sound identical to any other player in that group.

Manufacturers with "upscale" product lines such as Sony ES and Pioneer Elite are still using the same basic layout for their two lines. While both companies hedge on whether the two lines of mass market and upscale share production facilities a look inside the components says the manufacturers would be foolish not to and silly to say otherwise. Other than having what is typically referred to as a flagship model in one area - Sony always had their very best technology in their ES CD player which was a fairly distinct unit from all other Sony CD players - the difference between Sony and Sony ES or Pioneer and Pioneer Elite typically comes down to the upscale models having even more features and gold plated connectors where possible. A Sony model might have 20 surround modes while a Sony ES with similar construction might have 45 surround modes. It's fairly easy to be cynical about all of this as digital technology has made it an easy affair to "upgrade" a component by simply swapping digital chips which requires no other upgrade to the circuitry of the receiver.


"The owner's manual says the reveiver is stable down to 4 ohms"


There's a large difference to an amplifier in whether that 4 Ohm load is purely resistive or highly reactive. Speaker designers have never cared about what the amplifier designer is doing.


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Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15615
Registered: May-04
.

" The most I've seen in a stereo receiver is 250 wpc made by Mac."


I don't know where you would have seen that receiver; http://www.roger-russell.com/rcvrs.htm

McIntosh receivers were always based on their similarly powered integrated amplifiers. But Mac hasn't built a receiver for almost twenty years.

In the mid 1970's there was a "horsepower race" between the mass market lines for the highest powered stereo receiver. The competitors were Marantz, Pioneer, Kenwood (Trio) and Techincs with Sony and Sansui stopping before things got absolutely ridiculous. Along with high power the THD specs were in the 0.001% range for the amplifiers. Obviously, these were fairly bogus numbers that didn't hold up to real world speakers due to the high values of NFB used to acquire the test bench THD specs. In most people's opinions these were not good products but they do remain somewhat popular with a certain segment of the "vintage receiver" crowd who mostly long for what they couldn't afford in their youth.

If I remember right the Pioneer SX-1080 was the highest powered receiver they ever produced at 120 watts per side and only the 125 watt Techincs had a higher power rating in a receiver.

http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-pioneer-sx-1080-receiver-98805776


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Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 596
Registered: Oct-10
Jan, I looked at Mac's website. No metion of a receiver. I know I saw a link to an ad that read "McIntosh stereo receiver, 250 watts per channel!" I'm guessing that was a miss print and the ad was pulled. Thinking about it now, I only remember seeing it a day or two.

I remember that receiver race and all the comics about it. Sad that they weren't consentrating on sound quality instead.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 15618
Registered: May-04
.

That would have been a vey strange ad since Mac simply doesn't produce stereo receivers at the moment and hasn't for many years. Maybe you saw a blurb for something someone hoped was going to happen. But Mac is what Mac is and they don't under build anything, look at the size and weight of their 250 watt power amplifier; http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/products/mcintosh-mc252-power-amplifier.asp

94 lbs. of amplifier without a pre amp. A pre amp adds another two dozen plus pounds; http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/products/mcintosh-mc252-power-amplifier.asp and while the receiver wouldn't need two discrete power supplies as separates do, the entire "stereo" receiver would be well over 100 lbs. I don't know, ya'think there's market for a two channel receiver that would take a friend to help you lift it into the cabinet in the "small library"?

Receivers were a product of another generation of McIntosh when the people at Mac had worked with Frank McIntosh. I'm not up to date on what McIntosh intends to do but I just don't see a market for a truly high end stereo receiver like Mac used to build. The integrateds are the reasonable replacement for the receiver and have fared well in the market. Anyone wishing a tuner can pick up a pre owned Mac tuner wthout problem. To have a 250 watt per channel stereo receiver would be pushing the limits IMO.



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Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 15609
Registered: Dec-04
If anyone is looking at an integrated, look at the Anthem225.

Then look a little further, at the MX series of new HT receivers.

HUGE value for $!
 

Silver Member
Username: Superjazzyjames

Post Number: 601
Registered: Oct-10
I can only guess that the advertiser goofed, someone at Mac saw it and yelled at them. As for the size, weight and marketability, I wasn't really thinking about that when I saw the ad. It caught my eye, I was going to check it out later, out of sight, of mind. Then Stu mentioned 7.1 chan receivers claiming 300 wpc. The ad came to mind. Call it a senior moment.

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