AV Pre/Pro as 2-channel preamp

How important are the auto level and timing calibration facilities, as well as subwoofer support, provided in an AV pre/pro for a stereo or 2.1 music system? It's seems like these features are painfully missing in the typical audio system.

Wouldn't a good AV pre/pro be better than a dumb 2-channel preamp at getting the most from the speaker system and room?

Is anyone doing this? If so, what pre/pro are you using?
I agree with you, in principle, but there are many issues. Most AVRs are less transparent going through all their processing and analog outputs than a good pure analog preamp. OTOH, if your source is digital, this is less of an issue but still significant.

OTOH, I enjoy what the bass management and roomEQ does in my main system and the Meridian Ref861 suffers only a little in comparison with the transparency of the best analog preamps. The processing features are, to me, more than compensation.

BTW, imho, I would make the same statements regardless of the number of channels.

As Kr4 mentions, the knock on AVRs is the possible lack of transparency. While that may be concern, IMHO it is offset by the utter versatility to obtained from the AVR. I use a Denon AVR 3805 as the term implies ... as a 'preamp/processor' to the fullest. It performs great preamp duty as front end for 2-channel listening. In "Pure Direct" mode, all Digital Signal Processing (DSP), video circuits, etc are shut off. So the signal delivery is about as pure as one can get ... from an AVR. I run the Denon's front L/R pre-out through a Musical Fidelity Tube Buffer/Outboard power supply to Channel Island D-200 monoblocks ... musically very satisfying indeed.

The other thing the Denon does, and this is the added bonus, is process multi-channel direct by taking "External Direct" from my Tube Research Lab modified Sony ES2000 CDP in 5.1 mode. It requires 6 extra interconnects; and it's worth it. Great results with multi-channel SACD source material. You also have the choice of going direct 2-channel from CDP to 5.1 surround using the 3805's DSP function. Or, the DSP can process a straight digital signal from my Oppo 970HD DVD player in HT mode for movies.

Finally, this particular AVR has the Auto Room Equalization feature ... and a few others have this option as well. My previous AVR, the Denon 3803 did not include this capability. Have you ever spent the greater part of a Saturday with SPL Meter in hand, calibration CD playing over and over ... trying to get it just right? The Auto EQ eliminates all that. Once it's set, switching between processed sound - music, movies, TV - and 2-channel listening is very easy. Just my 2 cents.
Thanks Kal and Strateahed. I wouldn't expect many AVRs or pre/pros to match my Bryston BP-26 preamp in transparency. But, if I could get close and get bass management, auto calibration of level and timing and some room correction, I think it'd be a good trade-off. Balanced I/O would be a plus.

Kal, I recall you liked the Bryston SP-2. But, I don't think it has any sort of parameteric EQ.

Denon has announced a separate pre/pro (with balanced connections, I think), but way beyond what I'm willing to pay ($8K, I think).

Has anyone heard the little NAD T175 pre/pro with Audyssey? What is it missing?
I have two experiences to relay. First I've used a Proceed AVP2 as a Pre with built in DAC with a Lexicon RT10 as transport with very good success. It compared very well to my Levinson 320S and 390S for a lot less money on the used market. Also I have a Denon 3806 that I tried to use the pre out of running into a Cayin int. tube amp. The Denon pre sounded flat compared to the Cayin. I was thinking this would be a great way to sell these amps just doing this as a comparison. Just my two cents.
The other thing the Denon does, and this is the added bonus, is process multi-channel direct by taking "External Direct" from my Tube Research Lab modified Sony ES2000 CDP in 5.1 mode.
It doesn't really process it, does it? Going direct, it bypasses all the Denon processing. Newer AVRs and prepros will take DSD direct+digital over HDMI, so that it can be passed through all the useful processing without unnecessary D/A/D.

Has anyone heard the little NAD T175 pre/pro with Audyssey? What is it missing?
HD and DSD codecs.
DSD decoding is of no interest to me. However, at this point in time decoding HD audio is a must.

Are there currently any pre/pros that support the HD audio codecs?
Denon, Integra, Onkyo and the imminent Cary. I am not sure about the Halcro or the Anthem.

Regarding my earlier post ... thanks Kr4, you are absolutely correct - from a technical perspective. No signal processing takes place in "External Direct" mode. I was using "Preamp" in the context of 2-channel/stereo listening; and "Processor" for everything else. Hope no one was confused, as my objective is always to try and make a positive contribution to the forum.
What are the trade-offs of the HD audio decoding being done in a Blu-Ray player versus a pre/pro?

My speaker system does bass management, level & timing calibration and limited room correction. If there's no serious drawback to the player doing the decoding, then I can skip the pre/pro.

Your listing of Denon and Onkyo, is that AV receivers being used as a pre/pro?

What's the thinking that a "good" receiver is maybe $1200, but a pre/pro is easily 3X that price?
Bob_reynolds wrote:

Your listing of Denon and Onkyo, is that AV receivers being used as a pre/pro?
Nope. The request was for pre/pros and that's what I meant.

What's the thinking that a "good" receiver is maybe $1200, but a pre/pro is easily 3X that price?
(1)The Integra is $1600.
(2)Pre/pros can be much more expensive.

Sorry Kal, but I didn't find one from Onkyo. The only Denon I'm aware of is the just released model at $7K. I've seen an Integra Research model at around $5.5K. I'll look up the other Integra options. Thanks.
I do not know where or how you are looking but here's help:

Integra DTC-9.8 $1600 http://www.integrahometheater.com/model.cfm?m=DTC-9.8&class=Separates&p=i

Onkyo PR-SC885P $1800 http://www.onkyopro.com/model.cfm?m=PR-SC885P&class=Preamplifier&p=i

The Cary Cinema11A is coming soon but the audio-only Cinema 11 is still up on their site.

Ooops. The Onkyo link is:
Well, all things asside, a 2 channel system doesn't really need distance parameter settings, and auto sound leveling, and such, IMO. I mean, it's irrelevent if the system knows how far you sit from your speakers, as the sound gets there when it gets there, so to speak. And you can EASILY balance the sound between 2 measly speakers, and tell where the balance is set between there (Pick any recording you know, where the vocals are dead center, and adjust your balance levels accordingly!)
There again, in trying to creat the best possible performing 2 channel and multi-channel audio system possible, there's many issues to consider and deal with here, in a perfect world. However, straight up, more pure pre-amp and amp combo's, mixed with superb sources (like excellent digital players, analog, tuner, etc) are often the prefered high purity path to great 2 channel sound - nothing else considered. If 2 channel is all you're doing, ideally, and you have a SUPERBLY CONSTRUCTED ACOUSTIC SPACE and setup, then you can really (at this stage of the game) get better audio 2 channel performance (at the very least), with a world class 2 channel preamp and amp combo for 2 channel dubties. Adding some of the better (limited, indeed) multichannel dedicated preamps out there, and multiple amps and speaker combo's, you can then achieve more state of the art "sound quality", IMO, for multi-channel music, and such, yes.(not necessarily DD/DTS multi, as that sounds better usually processed through an AV pre/pro, for various reasons I've found).Now that's an ideal scenario, again, all things perfectly setup, perfect room (almost impossible to do in a typical living environment), and lots of knowledge about tweaking and dialing in a system - 2 channel or otherwise.
Now, here are some of the major drawbacks and issues to "audio-perfection", if you will, in that most people have FAR from perfect acoustic spaces, if not down right severely acoustically problematic spaces and poorly engineered setups! In this case, if you could first make a good foundation for 2 channel setup, by placing listening seat(s) and speakers fundamentally correct(flat response, good imaging, solid soundstage, proper tonality, clarity, focus, and dynamics, etc), it would then possibly better achieve what would be, again, a more pure fidelity. Of course, you need the best quality gear (I like active, high efficiency, high end designs for this endevor - but you get the point). But this is the ideal! And in most people's case, even if they are proficient at setting up a couple of speakers and a chair in a system, they would still likely have all the other acoustical concerns to adress, otherwise you can garantee they will be compromising their otherwise possibly superb audio system.
Now as of the last several years, there have been good 2 channel products out on the market to help deal with some of the basic acoustic issues in systems, like TACT and Rives PARC, etc, that help the fundamental response of an audio system.- furthering what's practical and capable from an audio system. The products like the Rives PARC, alone, have helped people "EQ" the nasties out of their systems in terms of bass response, which helped greatly in terms of fidelity improvement and accuracy, considering the acoustically challenged spaces most everyone deals with.This has helped bring higher fidelity even further in typical domestic spaces.
Enter AV Pre/pro's!...
...Some of the better technology in today's processors allows for even futher refinement of sound processing, via the likes of "Audyssey DSP room correction" What even professional audio/video reviewers have found, is that the acoustical benefits which these such technologies offer possibly outweigh alot of the "refinement benefits" that the otherwise "higher fidelity" gear offers, or even some of the best, most higly refined audio equipment in typical acoustic environements is capable of by itself!
What todays AV pre/pro's are starting to do is to do what only thousands and thousands of dollars in room construction techniques and acoustial treatments are capable of doing, in furthering the potential sound quality from a system!! Something like the Audyssey, it seams is making even modest more entry level type systems perform more like higher fidelity systems (and better in some regards). You then take some of the better sources, associated equipment, speakers and cables, etc, and you put em together with a system that's using this technology, and you have some prettty impressive sonic potential!
Traditionally, yes, a dedicated separates based 2 channel system has been the potentially superior sonic path, over using an AV pre/pro (or av receiver as a preamp). But now there's other variables in the game! I think some of the better pre's that are starting to incorporate this kind of room correction technology are making higher fidelity even more achievable with normal means, in more applications and setups. Wether a dediated 2 channel or mulit-channel system, the overall sound quality being available through a well planned system using something like "The Audyssey", can be simply spectacular! - and achieve what was otherwise not possible sonically in certain aspects, previously practical to attain.
So, what I'm saying is, if I were trying to get the best possible sound from a 2 channel system today, in a typical challenging acoustical environement, I would either be using higher end audiophile gear, and AT LEAST be incorporating something like a Rives PARC to EQ the system. If I was using more mid-fi gear, I would be looking to use a digital AV pre/pro with digital connections, and using a pre/pro with something like the Audyssey room correction processing! (proper setup fundamental procedures and foundation considered for best possible results - i.e, no holes in the response, and limited acousitcal liabilities). Otherwise, I could also possibly use higher end gear, and still incorporate the digital pre/pro mentioned, and get different benefits, and similar results all around.
Another possible scenario, is to do what many are doing here - which is loop in an AV pre/pro into a 2 channel system, maximizing some of the fundamental purity from the 2 channel sources, and keeping the benefits of the AV pre/pro and current processing for multi-channel music, movies, etc. What I find here is that you still very much need to maximize your 2 channel setup, and deal with proper acoustical integration and room setup, for best possible sound, WITHOUT DSP room processing and EQ! (for the 2 channel system, at least).
An ideal world here would be that some of the better high end audio manufacturers would start to incorporate more of the kind of technology that Audyssey is offering into their products! I'd like to see companies like Krell, Audio Research, Meridian, Theta, Pass Labs, whatever, etc, that are making 2 channel and multichannel preamps alike, start to offer products that incorporate some of this current DSP room correction technology, personally. I think what would then be possible, would an ultimate sonic experience from a typical system, yes!
Right now, there's compromises and trade-offs. On the one hand, my experience as an audiophile, enthusiest, and professional custom guy, is that experience has shown me that traditional 2 channel systems, made up of higher end gear, offers better potential sonic capabilities over your mid-fi digital pre's and receivers, and such - But that's in an ideal setup. I know what acoustics in customers house can do to wreak havok on the sound of a system!
In my world, with the right time and a budget, I know I can build a world class acoustical environment, properly setup up high end, quality audio gear, dial it all in, and achieve nothing short of world class results! But when those ambitions and applications aren't available, you start to deal with some serious obstacles acoustically, and some compromises to the sound. Now-a-day's, some of this better digital DSP tech is offering some fixes to get over some hurdles, and still allow you to achieve some pretty stellar sonic results, from even more modest systems than ever before! And, for the average consumer or enthusiest, who want to put the highes possible performance system together, with limited means and options, I think what's available using an AV pre/pro and higher end sources and speakers, equipment, powerconditioning, tweaks, and such, is the way to go. You can then get the best possible sound from all sources and applications - that mainly because the sound of the room, the acoustics, and all the necessary tweaks, make up at least 50% (if not more, depending) of the overall soundquality that you here in a given system! And the Audyssey can help perfect about 80% or more of the acoustical challenges that are most often pressent in a room/system.
I won't get into what all exactly something like the Audyssey is doing to help benefit the sound (you all can research that on your own). But I will say this IS the dirrection that we need to be going as an industry, and incorporating this tech into more and more products, high end or otherwise.
I would say then that, down the line, with proper due attention, that an ultra high end performing system could be achieved with limited means, by using a either high-end sources or dedicated high-end 2 channel preamps, multi-channel preamp,etc, which some how incorporates Room DSP processing! Right now, that technology, and those affordable benefits are being offered in only limited mid-fi products, unfortunatly (or fortunately, however you look at it). So, there are compromises, and then benefits also. For a completely digital AV system pressently, the best route is to do all your processing in the digital relm, for both 2 ch and multi, movies, etc, via a good DSP EQ'd AV pre/pro and amp combo! - and all connections mostly digital ones.
With all the benefits being offered in mult-channel AV systems these days, via the kind of technological advances we are implementing these days in pre/pro's and receivers, all the necessary acoustical corrections, delay settings, phase controls, level settings, etc, yes, can all be quickly and easily processed for speed and convenience.
This makes it possible for more and more people to have great results from their systems, in a timely easy fashion. In short, these systems are effective, and sound good when done right. Technology is making things better and easier.
Thanks Kal. I found the Integra DTC 9.8. It looks quite promising. I was searching onkyousa.com (seemed like a reasonable place for Onkyo products), but did not find a pre/pro only receivers. I was not aware of the onkyopro.com site.
Well, all things asside, a 2 channel system doesn't really need distance parameter settings, and auto sound leveling, and such, IMO. I mean, it's irrelevent if the system knows how far you sit from your speakers, as the sound gets there when it gets there, so to speak. And you can EASILY balance the sound between 2 measly speakers, and tell where the balance is set between there (Pick any recording you know, where the vocals are dead center, and adjust your balance levels accordingly!)

Yes, I can definitely ensure that the distance from the listening seat to the left and right speakers match using a tape measure and adjusting the speakers accordingly. The system does not need to know.

However, level matching between left and right channels is rare because balance controls are rare. I'm not one to fiddle with controls based on how a particular recording sounds. I prefer to set things once with test tones and then forget it. The automatic features using a mic in AV pre/pros eases this task and is likely more accurate than I could do manually with an SPL meter assuming a balance control was available. My preamp happens to have a balance control, but I do level matching in my M&K LFE-4 bass management controller.

In general I agree with the rest of your comments, though I think the sonic purity ideal has distracted us from the speakers and room for way too long.

As I said, my active JBL speakers do auto delay and level matching, including the subwoofer. They also have a limited form of single point room correction. So for me it's going to be a matter of HD audio sources and where that decoding will take place.
The benefits of something like the Integra (have no experience with this piece) would be, from what I can see, doing digital connections, and getting the Audyssey involved in ALL sources and setup parameters. If you are looking for straight 2 channel preamp dubties, and are planning on using analog connections (and thus going from analog, to digital, back to analog again, in terms of processing), I would consider looping a pre-pro into a 2 channel high quality preamp, and adding the pre/pro-pro to that mix. Depends on your lifestyle and system needs, which route you would take for best results. However you might find simplicity is the most important factor.
Again, if I were "stricktly" going to use something like the av pre/pro for music and movies, I'd be using digital connections, keeping it all in the digital relm, etc.
good luck
"My preamp happens to have a balance control" (bob)

Yeah, most all preamps have a balance. So, if your only using a left and right speaker setup, then it's very very easy, like I said. However, yes, getting a sub involved, figuring matching volumes between speakers and sub, phase between them as well, etc, is an easy fix for some of the AV pre's out there today.
Sounds like for you, it's a matter of convenience, and that's as far as you want to go with things, tweaks included. I think a superb digital AV pre/pro then, for sure, makes all the sense in the world for you.
Everyone has his/her own ideas about what is important in a sound system, so I think you've narrowed down what you are after. - AV pre/pro all the way!...I say.
I once did a system for a guy who wanted dedicated 2 channel systems in bedrooms and dedicated theater in another. He insisted that all digital sources and CD players alike HAD to sound the same, because digital was all the same "1's" and "0's!" I argued with him to no avail. We finally ended up having to sell him the cheapest cd player we had (lol).
I'm adding blue ray capability to my theater, so, while at the dealer, I took the opportunity to briefly (20 minutes) audition an Integra 9.9 pre/pro today. It was set up with w/ a Cayin CD player as source and VAC monos and the new Gallo Ref towers downstream - no powered subs involved. I wanted to get a feel for the Integra's suitability for high end 2 channel use. Some very quick impressions:

Imaging wasn't great (may have been the disc and/or the room), but all else was first rate as a straight (non-corrected) cd system. I was a bit surprised that there was no obvious issue with overall quality - just very, very impressive in all ways save imaging and deepest bass (none on the CD I was using for the demo). The comparison of CD direct to stereo with Audyssey correction was also instructive.

First off, level changes made it tought to reach any firm conluscions. It appeared to be app. 3db louder with Audyssey on-line.

Also there was a definite shift in tonality. Nancy Wilson's voice had a faintly "nasal" (probably a bad word, but better than "adenoidal" which is the other word that comes to mind) quality with Audyssey in the loop. Also, there was a notable increase in mid-bass response with Audyssey. Not at all what I had anticipated, but certainly interesting.

The combo of the above made it hard to evaluate an issue like "transparency" which would be subtler and take more time to work though.

Quick take away, the system certaintly sounded good in CD direct. It certainly sounded different with Audyssey. Don't know which is "better" because the system/room/etc are unfamiliar. A more extensive audition with a familiar room, system, powered subs, and more challenging music would be required to make a meaningful judgement.

I'm adding an Integra AVR and Pioneer blue ray to my home theater so I hope to get a better handle on Audyssey in this setting. If all goes well in the theater, I will definitely arrange a home audition of the 9.9 for my 2 channel system and follow up here.

I used a 2003 Yamaha 7.1 with ARC initially. The ARC definately make a postive impact on balance, clarity and added a sense of "control and lightness" that wasn't there before the ARC. Later, I added a Proceed AMP 5, keeping the Yammi as my processor only.

The Yamaha's ARC again cleaned up the sounds. When I switched to the Proceed AVP2 +6, everything improved and I didn't use the Yamaha's ARC calibrations to adjust the Proceed AVP2. I simply measured distances to each speaker and set the crossovers for the LFE in the AVP2.

I worked around higher end video switching in my audio processor.

For video out, I send composite video outs or S-video from my OPPO and older VCR to the AVP2 for on-screen programming only. For video reproduction, I connect the HDMI and components video outs directly from players to my Sony's 60 inch display monitor.

This bipasses any need for high end video switching through my Proceed music processor and sends the best possible video signals directly to the Sony's video processor. Additionally, it allows on-screen programming for all units. A separate 7 inch sony Trinitron for $10.00 works great when I don't want to power up my large screen for on-screen programming. Connecting a small monitor is very handy.

I initially went with the Yamaha reciever for the same reasons. I find this set up sounds much better due to the Proceeds' audio component quality. The video quality is as good as I can get - directly from the source player to the display.

A couple dealer-owners who have been in this business years (20 and 25 years plus) recommended keeping audio and video switching completely separate.

I gave this allot of thought and it worked out best for me. . I was looking at a Cary AVP Cinema unit and Anthem D2. Nice units.

I have less cables and connections, and it's much easier to make "audiophile" changes in my system.

Although the "specs" may read similiar, the SQ difference between the Yamaha reciever and Proceed separates is huge to my ears.

I had the same desision to look at, and thought these other considerations may possibly help you make the right decision for you .