Amplification for Denon 3802 for 2-ch listening

I'm just getting started in the home theatre / mid-fi arena, so please bear with my ignorance... that's why I'm researching here.

Current Setup:
I recently purchased a Denon AVR-3802 for home theatre use, based on a friend's recommendation. I got a good deal on it, and I like the processing features for HT. That purchase has started a snowball effect. I then decided to upgrade my speakers, and I took a quantum leap up to B&W CDM 7NT's for the fronts, the CDM CNT Center, and a used set of CDM 1SE's for the rear surrounds. I also have a REL Q150E sub coming next week (I know it's a little small for the 7NT's, but space was an issue with my wife, and it seemed pretty powerful when I auditioned it at a local shop). My source components aren't that great, and I will be upgrading those along the way. I have a cheap DVD player, and an older Sony ES CD player. I did buy decent quality interconnects and Canare star-quad bi-wire speaker cables for the whole system.

I'm relatively satisfied with the sound of the system for home theatre (although it does seem like I have to crank up the volume to about -15db on the receiver to get the full effect), but I don't think I'm doing my speakers justice for music listening with the Denon powering them. I'd guess my usage of the system is about 65% music, 35% movies. I'm looking for recommendations on an amp or amp / pre amp combo to improve the performance of my speakers for music (and home theatre, if possible). Does it make sense to use the denon as a preamp for music, or should I take it completely out of the loop and only use it for HT. If the latter, how do I do this, and what features in the preamp should I look for? I have a budget of $1200 for this (I'll buy used gear).

Thanks, and sorry for the long winded question.

At this price range, there really isn't any other to suggest for you, other than the Acurus act 3 pre/pro, and a used acrus 125 x 5 amp combo!!! YOu can get both for around $600 range used, for a total of $1200 used. Both are as clean, clear, detailed, dynamic, uncolored, refined sounding, and just plain musical as you're going to get for that money! You can find a preamp out there with better signal to noise ratio than the Act 3 at more money however. But, with your speakers being like 90db sensitivity, this shouldn't be a problem with that processor, and it should sound quiet, and dead neutral!
I've used many high end pre/pro's out there for double dubty for ht/music, and you'll be hard pressed to surpass the sonics of the ACt 3. The Thule at around $800 used is a great sounding piece too. Both of these units should be used DIGITAL-IN with your dvd/cd player, and letting the processor in them do the processing.
The next better chioce for HI END sound in a pre/pro is going to be the used Classe SSp25(superb) at $850=1200 used. This offers DIRECT ANALOG INPUTS, and has simply superb hi-end sonics and performance...very good infact!
I used to use the Acurus act 3 and 125 x 5 amp combo on some high end speakers, and it was fantastic with HT and music dubties! You'll need to go DIGITAL IN for best sound, but it's worth it for the money!...or any money!
At the money you're talking($1200), you could EASILY SELL EM off if you didn't like em. But I seriously doubt you would! The match with your B&W's can't be beaten for $1200 used for HT and music!
Good luck
What's the downside of using my Denon 3802 as a Pre/Pro, and spending the $1200 budget on amplification (2 or 5 channel)? Down the road, I may want to upgrade the Denon, but I just purchased it, and don't really want to remove it from the setup entirely. I think it's fine for movies. I'm primarily looking for better sound for 2 channel music. Thanks.

I'd go with your second thought...put the money into an amp, and use your denon as a pre amp. If you are that skewed towards 2-channel, I'd spend all your budget on a 2 channel amp, and let the denon push the rest of the speakers for HT (the mains take up a lot of juice, so a dedicated 2 channel amp will relieve some of the stress on the denon). For $1200, you can buy a nice used amp, McCormick DNA, Anthem Amp2, and I'm sure a whole host of others. this will also keep your upgrade path completely open for when you decide exactly where you want to go.
How does the volume control on the Denon work when there are two different amps in the system? Let's say I get a separate 225 wpc 2 channel amp for my fronts, and the dennon drives the rest of the system - will the front speakers be louder than the rest at the same volume level, using the denon as a pre?
You may need to adjust the speaker volume within the menu system of the denon (if the denon has that feature). It would be where the denon generates white noise and you tune the volume. The external amp may have more power than the denon, and therefore, yes the mains may overpower the CC, however that is true if speakers aren't place correctly, hence the speaker adjustment feature. The volume control on the denon controls everything in that scenario. I warn you though, you'll get bit by the seperates bug...this is how I got into HT and consequentially spereates.
If I were you I would look into the B&K av5000. It's a sweet 5ch amp that should mate well with your B&W speakers, and when you are ready, you can upgrade to a stand alone preamp. I saw one on this sight for 600 used. Spending 1200 on a 2ch amp will not make a night and day difference over the B&K, and might also pose problems when you switch to multi-channel. If you find the rel a bit lacking in dynamics and still need to keep the size down, Bob Carver's true subs will more then fit the bill. Once properly tuned, they are the ultimate small home theater sub, particularly the signature model.
I found myself in exactly your shoes not so long ago, but with a Denon avr-3300. For improving 2 channel, start by adding a two channel amp to drive your front r and l speakers. In denon's set up menu, you can adjust the levels for each speaker individually. Use the test tone option and a sound level meter (can get one from radioshack for cheap - i think $30-40) That way, you can equalize the volume levels of all of your speakers and there will be no no issues with a more powerful amp powering your mains. I found that adding better amplification to the denon significantly improved the quality of the audio.

From there, you can get a higher end stereo pre-amp with a home theater passthrough. The front speaker pre-outs from the denon would go to the pre-amp, and the pre-amp outputs would go to your new amp. When using two channel, the denon stays off, your two channel source goes directly to the new two channel pre-amp, and you're in business. For home theater, you turn on the denon, use as usual, and have the new pre-amp in pass through mode, letting the denon control everything, as if the front pre-outs from the denon were connected directly to your 2 channel amp. Your denon can handle all of the processing and remaining amplificaion for ht.

After a few purchases of used multichannel amps, I ended up with an Odyssey Stratos for my fronts, and used the denon for powering my center and surrounds. Then I added a Chiro C-500 for the center and surrounds. Still looking for either a new processor to add 7.1 processing or a good deal on a pre-amp with ht pass thru. The denon is solely being used as a pre-pro. Lots of people recommended an adcom gfp-750 preamp for 2 channel. If you are happy with your current ht, buying a 2 channel power amp and a stereo preamp with ht pass thru is the way to go.

Anyway, I'm writing a novel. Start with a good 2 channel amp for the fronts, and move on from there. Good luck.
Same situation here, although i have a Denon 2801 (90wpc x5).I just wasn't happy with 2 channel. So, just last week i picked up a used NAD 218 amp (225x2) and boy did it make a difference. My speakers really came alive and sounded like a new pair. Anyway, as mentioned above, a SPL meter and the onscreen Denon menu will adjust the sound level.

However, there is one thing you should know, if the external amp does NOT have a 12v trigger, you must turn the amp on/off each time you power up the Denon or listen to 2 channel. If your Denon has a 12v trigger, then locate an amp also w/ a trigger. this will link the two. good luck and your moving in the right direction.
DK, don't know what your budget is, but check out Anthem's AVM new pre pro, Proceed Pre/Pro v.2 or Tag's Pre/Pro. I went the reverse order, and have just 2 channel and now looking for HT stuff. May go with a reciever to save $$; especially since I'm much more into 2 channel. Do you think seperates would be a huge improvment over a Denon receiver pushing center and rears only?
I did not read all your responses so I apologize if I am repeating something. I have the Denon 5800 i use as only a pre pro brcause it had all the bells and whistles at the time. I have it mated with a Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature and I have struck an acceptable medium between music and HT. On my Denon when you plug into the main pre outs it kills those channels in the Denon amp and the volume control works fine with the combination of the Denon and the Sunfire. I do use the back channels of the Denon to drive the EX and ES channels.Look for a good two channel amp that is pleasing to you and go for it. Some previously mentioned brands are good.
mdominick -

there is definitely an improvement with the center and rears being driven by the chiro instead of the denon, but for theater, using the denon's amps was more than satisfactory when using only a 2 channel amp for the fronts. if i wasn't looking to update to a pre/pro, i would have been fine with just the denon running the center and surrounds...if theater needs are totally secondary to 2 channel, just keep the receiver, add a good 2 channel, and get a nice pre-amp with ht passthru. i'm updating the denon b/c i want the surround rears, which the avr-3300 does not have. i got a good deal on the 5 channel amp, so now i hve to buy a processor. thinking about the rotel rsp-1066. anyway, for 2 channel, that pass thru option is the way to go. you can also get a nice pre-amp w/out the passthru, but make suer you calibrate the channel levels with the per set to a specific volume so the levels will be correct everytime you watch theater. good luck

Thanks Dan...I got the pre with HT pass-thru, and am debating between a receiver for HT or stay with complete seperates. I am very much into 2 channel, so a receiver I'm sure would keep me happy for HT, yet thinking about DVDA and SACD, 2 formats that do not impress me, but have potential, would sound better with seperates. At this point I am weighing my options.
Yes Scottweb, you will get better sonics all around by adding another amp to your existing Denon receiver, for sure! I would recommend doing EQUAL POWER all around for best results, ESPECIALLY KEEPING EQUAL AMPLIFICATION(QUALITY) TO THE CENTER ALONG WITH L/R!! If you just get a 2 channel amp, that's good for 2 channel. But you'll get shorted on the 5 channel side using the amps in the receiver(which are weaker, trust me...). But, it will be better than the amps in the receiver all around for sure.
THE DOWN SIDE TO KEEPING YOUR RECEIVER FOR BOTH 2 CHANNEL AND 5 CHANNEL, is that RECEIVERS PREAMP SECTIONS ARE WEAKER DYNAMICALLY than a good separates processor, and they sound softer....NOT TO MENTION LESS REFINED AND MUSICAL! Stil though, if you want to stay with the REceiver, you'll do better immediately with the added amp! Still, I would say you can easily get something around $600-800 used in a very nice sounding 5 channel amp, from the Acurus 125x5, ATI 1505,Parasound HCA1205(?..maybe), and have very nice sound from your B&W's(which I've sold for years).
Just some suggestions and feedback.
But remember, for FUTURE REFERENCE AT LEAST, the receiver THROUGHOUT DOES NOT HAVE THE DYNAMICS, REFINEMENT, OR CLAIRITY AND SEPARATION of a good prepro! So, you can upgrade that for better sonics if you ever decide. Receivers are fun and attractive in cheaper systems. But if you want to go foreward, the receiver will be holding your sound back, in all areas ultimatlely! good luck....
I set up my friend, who purchased my Denon AVR 3801, with a used Parasound HCA 1206 amp. He uses his Adcom GFA 535 amplifier to drive the front mains (Linn tukans) and the Parasound for the center/rears and bridges channels 5/6 to mono for his McIntosh HT2 passive subwoofer. The Parasound at 800, or thereabouts, is Very Powerful, and a great deal on the used market when one considers it retailed for just under 2k when new and can be had for 800. I also have one and it has never failed me; bought it in 1997 or so.
Thanks to everyone for the input. I think I'm going to look for a five channel amp right now, and keep the Denon as a pre-pro for the time being. I'll probably go to a pre/pro separate in a couple years.

A six channel amp provides the ability to utilize a totally passive subwoofer and utilize the internal crossover for most processors. I set up a friend with an early 90's McIntosh HT2 subwoofer and it is powered by a channel from his Parasound HCA 1206 with excellent results. Would he like more power? Not yet; the Parasound does pretty darned well. Each channel has its own output/volume control and the amp is THX certified; bargain at around 850 on the used market imho.
scott, i dont think you should get a 5 channel amp. i mean, spreading out your limited budget on 5 channel won't get you nearly as far as putting them into a 2 channel amp. I suggest you stick with the built in amps for theater purposes and get a 2 channel for music. furthmore, there are more 2 channel amps that will sound good with music than 5 channel amps. in other words, musical 2 channel amps are less cost prohibitive than musical 5 channel amps.
I'm going through a similar process with my Denon AVR-3300. I similarly wanted a better amp that will be good for music as well. Your Denon should work well as a pre/pro. One amp that may work well for you is made by Classe, and is well regarded for its musicality. I'm thinking of the CAV-75, which is a six channel amp rated at 75wpc. If the 75wpc doesn't do it for you, each channel is bridgeable so you can go to 150wpc x 3 for the L/C/R. You can then have all the same power across the front, and drive the two surrounds with the Denon. Then down the road you can pick up another CAV-75 if you need and you'll be ready for 6.1 surround. THe CAV can be found listed on Audiogon used for about $1,100-1,200. Good luck with whatever you decide.
Couple things I will add from my experience of owning a Denon receiver (AVR1702) and adding a nice 2 channel amp to it (old McIntosh 2105):

- Keep in mind the Denon redigitizes all signals that are fed to it, even analog inputs (block diagram on for my model shows this, almost positive it's the same for the 3802). For this reason, you should always feed it digital inputs, and you should not bother buying any CD or DVD player for anything other than a transport. Any fancy D/A converters you buy are wasted, since the Denon forces you to redigitize the signal.

- I would agree that a better option than a 5 channel amp is a good 2 channel amp. Especially for a 65% music listener. During movies, I think you will find, as I have, the better 2 channel amplification is very noticeable during movies. Remember, Dolby Digital, etc. routes the music in the soundtrack to your front L and R channels. Your ears will thank you for putting the extra money into the two channel setup, and the following reasons should help convince you not to go 5 channel amp (unless you've done so already):
1. Better music during movies will involve you more than upping the amp to the surrounds. The great lion's share of movie audio still goes to your front speakers (I admit the center is included in this). I think your Denon is plenty to drive your rear speakers.
2. 3 channels of your purchase are wasted during 2 channel music playback.
3. Once you add a nice analog preamp for music playback (and trust me, the day is coming eventually), your 2 channel amp will be of very nice quality and match your system overall.

Of course a 5 channel amp could work also, no wrong way to go necessarily.
1st question,

This isn't webby from Eau Claire is it?

2nd Comment. I'm in the same boat you are. I just bought a 3802 and I am driving my fronts with a 150W Jeff Rowland Model 5. I have been impressed with the preamp section of the 3802. I have a $2,500 preamp I was using just for music and the 3802 sounds a lot better than I would have imagined, not quite as good but pretty damn close. I have read great reviews on the sunfire sig grand, the 400 watt X 5 channel. I'm thinking about selling the jeff rowland and going with sunfire. I am thinking about the sunfire 200X5 as well but my speakers need a lot of juice. Have you tried sunfire yet?

James DaRosa
St. Paul
Forgive me for not reading all of the postings, I'm a begginer at this as well.

I just read foreverhifi's comments on 11/27/02. I would have to agree with him. I'm driving my fronts with the jeff rowland Mod 5 and they sound great. My 3802 is driving my rears and center, they sound horrible when compared to the fronts. The system sounds out of balance when listening to movies. It sounds pretty good when listening to music though.
I have a Denon Avr-4800 and i use a Parasound HCA-855
(5 channels at 85 watts) it sounds great. Amp costs $450.
If you bump up to the HCA-2205, you will have superb amp
power and finess IMHO, John Curl design 220 watts per