What to do? 5.1 plus external amps or 7.1 direct


New member
Username: Oldiebutgoodie

Post Number: 1
Registered: Mar-17
Hello all. I am going to ask an age old question about integrated vs. receivers with a twist. Most audiophiles prefer separates (as do I for music) but in this case I would like to mix it up for my HT set up. My room is 18'x26'x8' I am currently running a Harman Kardon AVR-320 (55Wx5), it is 5.1 and 7.1 capable with external amps (TOA-924 240W@0.5THD). I just picked up a Denon 3805 (120Wx7) which will deliver 7.1 all by itself.
Speakers are PSB 500i, PSB 8C, Paradigm 5SeMk3, Paradigm Servo 15 and NHT surrounds.
I find the Harman warmer but less detailed in 5.1 mode. Obviously the Denon is a "better" receiver with more options but it is a bit bright, my ears fatigue easily as I have worked around compressors most of my life. I used to have Revel F-12's up front but found them too laid back with the HK, they came alive when I hooked them to an adcom 555, their new home is in the music system upstairs. So the questions are, do I need to learn how to use the auto EQ on the 3805 to soften the high end? Move the TOA amps to the fronts on the HK? Is the Denon actually better in the preamp and decoding? Other suggestions?
I appreciate the responses from Macintosh, Cambridge and rotel fans here trying to enlighten those of us who bottom fish. I like the older quality equipment that sells for cheap. I live in Canada, good stuff is hard to find for low prices here.

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 18392
Registered: May-04

There's really not an answer to your question. First, you appear to be placing the entire burden on the receiver/amplifier. Sort of like saying your car gets lousy mileage because of the tires only.

I am a McIntosh fan and have owned Mac and sold Mac since the '70's. So, yeah, I get it when you say your ears hurt with less than great equipment. But, you haven't even run the eq? Why not?

HK is my first go to line when discussing less expensive components. Lots of HK has also passed through my systems. But you're comparing AV receivers and thinking higher end audio.

Except, of course, you're not really - from what you've posted - thinking about the issues as if this were your music system.

If it were, and you described the basic issues you mention here, the first thing I would suggest is you do a proper speaker set up procedure and then consider room treatments.

May I safely assume you've not thought about either in this system?


New member
Username: Oldiebutgoodie

Post Number: 2
Registered: Mar-17
I understand this is not tuned to be a "music" system but there are times when it does fill that role. Some thought (not extensive) has been put into treatments, a bank of plants and black out curtains to reduce the reflected noise from the nearly floor to ceiling windows. 12x8 carpet covers 60% of floor between listening position and fronts, hardwood everywhere else. Have tried placing solid foam insulation at 45* in the front two corners, can't say I notice much of a difference. I understand using materials like this are not optimal and proper sound absorbing material would make more of a difference.
The HK was equalized long ago, I have now run the auto eq for the Denon 3805 and tweaked it a bit. Most noticeably knocked down the highest two eq frequencies one point on fronts which softens stage slightly and added one to highest in rear. It is really quite an amazing tool with separate equalization curves for all channels. Added 4.5" stands under the front PSB's to equalize the height of all tweeters (excluding surrounds). This creates an eerie sound stage having high tones fully surround my ears, very cool. To state what I am hearing more precisely would be that HK provides a more harmonious joined sound, not locality of the speakers but a wall of sound vs. the Denon being extremely clear, you can pinpoint every sound with laser accuracy. The paradigms are quite laid back by nature and make excellent rear fill speakers, they seem to perform similarly with any amplification. The PSB's up front become more forward, not huge but noticeable. It is great for dialogue but a bit distracting when the music breaks out as the stage becomes split so to speak. I was testing using "Frozen" for theater reference and music from dedicated CD player as well as CD from DVD player. Green Day was quite harsh, especially from the DVD player. Granted I rarely play music from this device as I have a SACD player but thought I would see if it was the source, and some of it is. The Thriller SACD was fantastic, not sure if it was better but not harsh at all. Most movies I watch (95%) are streamed so DVD upgrade is not really high on my list. Any additional ideas? I toyed with swapping the paradigm speaker to the front which might blend the stage more but they don't really match the PSB for outright performance. Thanks for any comments, ideas, or things that have worked for you in the past.

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 18393
Registered: May-04

Things that have worked for me?

Though I sold high end audio and AV for several decades - or because I sold high end audio and then AV came along - I am not someone who thinks about AV sound as I do my main audio system.

There's no references for AV other than more AV and whatever the he11 you think the recording/mixing/mastering folks wanted at the moment. Two car doors slamming will not sound alike with the same AV system. One person talking isn't the same from film to film or even scene to scene in the same film. Therefore, IMO, AV is a wasteland of whatevers and nothings.

So ...

"The PSB's up front become more forward, not huge but noticeable. It is great for dialogue but a bit distracting when the music breaks out as the stage becomes split so to speak."

I really have no idea what that is meant to say.

DVD players never took music seriously so I wouldn't worry at all about sound quality, particularly if you don't use the source for music. That easily becomes a, "Doc, my arm hurts when I do this" moment. Answer: don't do that.

"Added 4.5" stands under the front PSB's to equalize the height of all tweeters ... "

It's not having all the tweeters the same height that matters IMO. Not great stands can do more harm than good.

It's having your ears on axis to the front array that matters. Or vice versa depending on how you have to go about this.

Ideally all three front speakers should have their tweeters at about 36" above the floor - or whatever it takes to get that on axis position - but that's seldom possible unless you have a projector or a wall mounted flat screen and the screen is well above your speaker level - which just introduces other problems with video clarity, color rendition and brightness.

Most folks can only settle for proper position on the two fronts and maybe tilting the center towards the on axis position. Otherwise, surrounds and ambient speakers are positioned according to their directive and polar patterns.

The problem is once again a lack of standards in AV where you don't always know how the sound was mastered for home use. Domestic bliss takes precedent and so you're sort of making do and making it up as you go along in most cases. Get the fronts right and don't sweat the rest IMO.

You sound as if your room is very alive and that's likely a good bit of your problem. Without being in front of the system, there's not much to suggest other than doing a proper speaker set up.

Pick your poison as far as which set up procedure to use. I tend to mix and match several as the needs arise.

But just expecting the sound to be OK when you ignore the room isn't going to cut it. Domestic rooms are not designed for decent sound quality.

Plants(?) and curtains don't really solve any reflection issues since they are not selective and, at best, will be too broadband and irregular to do any good.

Plants essentially do nothing for sound quality.

Heavy, deeply pleated curtains are a 1960's way to deaden one end of a room. But again they are not frequency selective - they are extremely broadband if they are anything - and they need to be quite thick and deeply pleated to do much of anything real.

Same for carpets on a floor. Yeah, one carpet with a thick pad is better than nothing but then, a foam cooler to hang onto is better than nothing when the boat capsizes. Just sort of makes you a better target for whatever is in the water.

Diffusion is better for music than for AV. In general, diffusion with AV systems is somewhat self defeating and is a last resort treatment.

You should be thinking of absorption, deflection and reflection with AV systems IMO. And you need to position your listening chair for the best SQ.

"Solid foam" - whatever that is, styrofoam? - is not a sound treatment. Open cell, and some closed cell, foam blocks - not "solid foam" - can be effective when used for mid to upper frequencies on side and back walls when properly positioned and when they present sufficient surface area to deal with direct/reflected sound waves.

Corrugated foam or egg crate type is what is required here.

Bass traps require lots of fairly dense material with a fair bit of depth to deal with the very long pressure waves of bass frequencies.

Anechoic chambers have foam walls which are as much as 4' deep. Corner bass traps need to be at least 4' in diameter to be effective down to about 40Hz.

Film scores often have subsonic frequencies which simply cannot be dealt with in a home. Sub position, and possibly more subs, in the room to better break up standing waves is the best bet.

You can't really cheap out there though you can do some less expensive DIY alternatives if you don't care about looks.

So, basically, from what you've posted, you have done neither a proper set up nor any real world room treatments.

Both of those are where I would suggest you begin. What you perceive at your listening chair is as much as 90% the room.

You either deal with it first or you continue to swap out gear thinking you'll hit on a combination that doesn't excite the room's issues. That isn't going to happen.


New member
Username: Oldiebutgoodie

Post Number: 3
Registered: Mar-17
That's a lot to take in, thank you for the extensive knowledge. The stands came from an old set of Rega 3's and are solid, it puts the tweeter at 26" and are slightly tilted back. The fronts have toe in focusing slightly behind my listening position. I do have a second matching servo 15 and can start the treatment with dual subs, the x-30 can dial in the phase. The insulation is open cell foam but it has already been nixed, shag carpet and heavy curtains would meet a similar fate. I used the rule of thirds for speaker placement, 30% from each side wall, 40% between and 120% to listening position. About 28" into the room, I know it should more but the intrusion distance is a compromise. Rears are same except they are tight to the back wall. Knowing that the room can make such a difference gives me a different perspective on the whole exercise. I will do more homework on deadening the space, I have seen the floor to ceiling half moon cones spaced along the nodes of the room but that in not going to happen here. I understand that the room reflects with hard surfaces everywhere, I could start with a couple of treatments where the high frequency nodes converge hopefully reducing the greatest reflections.
Thanks again, still having fun playing with the eq. it changes the sound signature significantly.

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 18395
Registered: May-04

Well, yeah, that's sort of been one of the knocks on eq for decades; it changes things but doesn't really improve things.

Of course, "improve" is a subjective word.

The rule of thirds is fine if you have a perfect room. Most are not perfect and are subject to the demands of domestic life.

Read a few set up procedures and make a thoughtful mix of what is required in your specific case. In other words, the W.A.S.P, system works well for many rooms as does the Galen Carol process. On their own they both place the speakers in slightly different locations within the same room. Know enough about why their objectives have been created and pull from both - or all - as you listen for results from a change.

Unless you have a room which can accommodate only a music or AV system and a listening chair, then you should be seeking knowledge rather than specifics.

The more you read about how to set up speakers in a real world room, the more you understand the objectives of setting up speakers. That vision of the whole beats a script for the quick and dirty.

One thing to keep in mind, I simply do not see any procedure or process aimed at the less than doctoral student discuss setting up loudspeakers in a real world room which actually discusses real world conditions of sound wave propagation. Most, if not all, of the authors of these articles tend to treat pressure waves as the single, straight lines they illustrate to make a point. Problem is, their points, and their illustrations are wrong. I have yet to run into anyone who lives in a two dimensional world of only straight lines.

You MUST think of "pressure waves" as functions which exist within a room as anything from completely omni-directional (bass) to extremely directional (highs) and a wide ranging diversity in between.

Each musical note, and any acoustic sound, reproduced by your speakers will be a mix of fundamental frequencies and an infinite degree of harmonics extending upward beyond the capacity of your speakers' frequency range. That's simply one note or one sound.

The point is, music is infinitely complex and it expands into a room as anything but a simple straight line. Rather than a single stone dropped into a bucket of water, music is a whole truck full of stones of all sizes being dumped into the same sized bucket. Given the reflections which occur due to the constraints of the room or bucket, the result is predictable chaos.

The dimensions of the room constrain the longest bass frequencies which are either partially deflected by room surfaces or reflected back upon themself in repeating patterns. Walls and windows cannot hold a 40' pressure wave. Some of the energy passes through which deadens the bass impact while most is reflected back into the room where it will find other boundaries.

High frequencies become increasingly more directional due to the directional patterns of modern loudspeaker drivers. Yet each pressure wave will also be constrained by the room's surfaces and will bounce around the room as a billiard ball travels around a table. From the upper bass to the low trebles, the pressure waves act as those billiard balls upon first break.

Another mistake I often see in articles is, each speaker is discussed as if it existed without another speaker in the same room. Dealing with a multi-channel system is a mish mash of things happening constantly.

I approach AV systems as three primary front channels and perform a set up on the two fronts (minus the center for now) as if they were a music only system. Certain situations of an AV system may make this far more difficult but I generally start there. The ambient speakers are then added only after I have satisfactory sound from the front two, and then the front three, speakers.

Speaker placement and room treatments are intended to minimize everything other than the direct signal from the speaker arriving at your ears. Since that extreme degree of control, trying to eliminate the entirety of the reflections, is an impractical goal in a domestic room, you must realize what will be required to perform satisfactory minimization.

Do some reading and do some tweaking. However, unless you do some treatments to the room, you cannot change the physics of the situation.

Changing equipment and playing with eq does "change" the sound. Improvement is more complicated.


Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 18396
Registered: May-04
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