Best next step to upgrade sound?


I just put together a home theater system with a mid-range Marantz AV Receiver, Marantz DVD player, and Infinity tower speakers. The sound is actually pretty good, I think. My question is: In terms of improving my 2 channel audio sound, what should my next upgrade be? Assuming that I am going to stick with the speakers for at least a little while, I am thinking that a Rega or Music Hall CD player would be a good step up for cd listening. Or should I consider a separate audio-only pre/pro? (Assume that the AVR receiver will stay because it's there for the video duties as well). Any advice in this area would be appreciated.
That door is wide open to you now.

If now, you want to improve upon or add to this, a more dedicated 2 ch aspect, I'd say add an amp first. But that's me.

The Fidelity wall you have in place now is the receiver. Although I'm sure it is fine enough, I see it as the major restriction to improving 2 ch dramatically.

Very nice to great 2 ch rigs require a fine source, preamp, amp, and loudspeakers... as well as the peripherals... cables, power cond, isolation, and acoustical treatments.

Any item (s) you add now in those respects will be a benefit. I just like the approach of having in place a strong motor (amp) first, then adding to it. Ultimately, my track record shows I replace the amp eventually though. Primarily as I see the front end (source & preamp) as being more important by some margin than the loudspeakers & amp.

A moderately performing front end & amp with outstanding speakers is usually surpassed by having a great front end and mid level amp & speakers. IMO

I suppose it all comes back to signal integrity throughout the chain of components... If you don't have a great source to begin with, I don't see how you can manage to make the signal better thereafter.

...again, its all up from here. Good luck.
Room treatments perhaps....good luck,Bob
The best bang for your buck is powercords. This is probably one of the most overlooked areas in terms of upgrades but will yield significant improvement in sound.
Thanks, all. So Blindjim, when you recommend an amp, do you mean add an external power amp via my AVR's preamp out? Do you think that would make a difference more than say, a dedicated CD only player?
yes... added to the pre outputs of the receiver.

I'd say given you have a mid level Marantz receiver. That means you have a mid level pre/proc and amp in there too.

For now... IMO... an amp will lend itself to better control of the loudspeakers, and greater fidelity overall, regardless the sources, and for BOTH HT & 2ch events.

Depending on how far up the food chain you go there, and if HT is going to be in house for a while, IF another amp is had later on, this initial one can do the rear ch duties... or as another systems amp... or to bi amp... it just seems to me a good way to start out from a receiver ONLY situation.

it should also help the Marantz by subtracting some of the power needs it currently has to endure.

Amps such as ATI, Odyssey, Parasound, Rotel, Anthem, etc, all have usually better power supplies and there's that 'singleness of purpose' too... dedicated.

Naturally, then it follows you'll need a pair of ICs, and later on a better power cord.

If the situation was that you had a nice integrated on hand, I'd say go get a real nice source first.

Eventually, you'll want to do that anyhow... if not already.

USBLUES is right too... room treatments will help if none are in place now, but it's not necessary to go whole hog and hang up a bunch of burlap covered fiberglass rectangles and squres all over the place... some plants in the corners behind the speakers and at the point of first reflection... after that, attending to the bass issues if you are bothered by them is likely in order. The EQ in the Marantz will help over come some of those bass issues for now.

Cabling can and should be done too... but again... I'd wait till I had some more upscale items to put 'em on.

Just my two cents worth as it's what I've done again, and again... and ....

have fun.
My recommendation is a tube dac and a mac (or a pc).
The best bang for your buck is powercords. This is probably one of the most overlooked areas in terms of upgrades but will yield significant improvement in sound.
Seriously? I'm guessing his current equipment has captured power cords.
Bob's suggestion for room treatments makes more sense to me. This is only true though if the wife approves.
I would think a dedicated CDP would be an improvement over your DVD player which has to do double duty. I own the Marantz SR 4500 which is a very fine receiver BUT it is still a reciever if you know what I mean. Adding a power amp would probably improve the sound but your are still going through the rec's pre-amp section. I'd add the CDP first and see how things sound. The right interconnect will make a hugh difference. I'd find a solid-core design which would mate well w/ the Marantz. Tara Labs Prism 33i/55 are both exc. AQ PSC copper IC's are good as well. Good Luck, Bill
Blindjim, I'd say that's all worth at least a nickel.
Kotta, if I use the analog outs on a CDP, is the receiver pre-amp bypassed? (please forgive the newbie question, I want to make sure I understand this correctly).

And another general question if you will: Is it generally desirable to use an analog RCA interconnect from CDP to receiver? (vs. digital coax or optical?)

I am interested in the prospect of a decent CDP -- say, under $1000 -- because I am curious of just how much a difference I would be able to hear with a modest system.

As for the power amp Blindjim suggests, my speakers do have 2 sets of binding posts, so there is the option to bi-amp, as well. Therefore, I am giving the amplifier idea serious consideration as well.

Thanks again to all of you for the great feedback...
Also, Timrhu, Bob: Room treatments ain't gonna happen, the system is in our living room - no dedicated listening room yet.
Your pre-amp section is still being used w/an external amp. I've only used analog rca's so I cannot comment from experience. My passion is 2-ch stereo and I've never had a rec. sound as good as seperates or an int. amp/tuner. I listen to quite a bit of FM radio and the tuner section in most rec's is just so-so. The Marantz has a surprising good FM section BUT if you connect a good seperate tuner the difference is obvious. Your/my rec. is a compromise and geared towards HT. I'd first get a good CDP. It will make a difference and you'll need one anyway. See how things sound to you. If you want to upgrade upgrade further, get an external 2/3/5-ch. amp.(Which one? I'd ask dedicated HT members this question.) Your final question if I understand correctly is can you connet both rec's and external amp to your bi-wire spk. binding posts? No. Just the extenal amp would get connected to your spks. You would not use the Marantz's binding posts. Good Luck. Bill
Re-read your post and my response. Yes, you could bi-amp your spks. using your rec's amp section and the external amp. I'm assuming you are thinking of a 2 ch. amp and using it on the low freq. of the front spks. amd the Marantz on the high freq.? I'd make sure the ext. amp has gain adjustment controls. Hope things work out for the better. Bill

Some thoughts here which are simply my considered opinion, is the thinking which goes on before buying a receiver in the first place... simplicity. One gizmo to do all or most all, of the work. Not a bunch of boxes to connect up and provide shelf space for, and once learned, an easy to use device for music and movies. A lower cost option than an all separates configuration to be sure.

having a receiver can be a great starting point for many people. it is also the last poit for some, as what a receiver provides is often quite good enough. those are the same ones I think.

A receiver is a compromise however. To buy separately, ALL of the devices contained within an HT rec the investment increases dramatically. Arguably the greatest compromise within an HT rec is the amplifier section.

If you pay attention to the various tiers of any receiver line of a given maker, what improves as price goes up is the power section and the processor sections. Mostly.

With that premise, addressing those two items initially always seemed the best path IMHO. Adding either an amp, 2 ch or more ch's, or a better source will help. Adding an amp reduces the working temp of the reciever, and adds greater fidelity to the presentation, regardless the event… music or movies.

Adding a better 2ch source provides a more narrow benefit, yet indeed a positive one.

Simple plans are often the best plans. With the addition of a dedicated amp, the need to bi amp using the rec + the ?? amp, is problematical at the very least, and unecessary. Gain is not the only issue at hand when bi amping. Tonality can as well be troublesome.

If chosen wisely, the power of this dedicated amp will exceed that of the receiver, the fidelity will be well improved. That’s the idea right? Improve? There are tons of info here on biamping... vertically, and horizontally. With Tubes & SS. I'd leave the biamping thoughts alone for a goodly while personally, if not completely.

About the only reason I can see that one would want to use the digital inputs (coaxial, or optical) on a receiver is because:
1 they either don't believe wires make a diff
2 Don't want to or can't pay for good wire presently
3 the receiver's DAC processor is better than that of the source unit being used.

A CDP, in the 1K range, preowned or new, is going to have a better DAC usually, than a reciever which costs roughly the same amount. That makes sense, right? Therefore going with wires (analog) out of the CDP and then into the Receivers analog CDP input, is considered the best path. Following that is the use of coaxial interconnects, over that of optical ones.

Given you have made a choice to have your own personal HT rig, thinking along the lines of a multi format player over that of a 2ch unit, might also provide a better overall impact and save money too. Take a look at what Oppo digital is up too lately. You could do far worse here than one of their offerings… and they are being modded left and right by many very good people if the need for more performance is desired later on.

Also, take a look at Stereovox XV2 digital coaxial link. I’ve tried coaxial links upwards of $700+ and not found them to be better overall than the $129-149, XV2.

Defeating the EQ and/or tone controls in the rec is also a better path by many accounts. Research signal purity, or signal degredation.

Either way the hook up happens, digital, or analog inputs, the preamp in the receiver is being used. That is what gives you gain... or in essence, volume, tone controls, and balance.

Good luck in your quest.
For me, I will keep my audio and video systems separate, so I would say you should get different equipment entirely for two channel listening. The stuff made for video won't sound anywhere near as good as you can do in an audio only system, even for CD's. I can highly recommend the Rega Apollo, having just bought one myself. It certainly sounds better than any kind of hybrid video player. Audio only pres and power amps (or you could save money as I did and get an integrated) also sound far better than even the very best receivers. I had a top level Harmon Kardon receiver, and my new 2 channel integrated blows it away.
Blindjim, as to your recommendation of adding an external amp:

Will I be able to hear a difference at moderate volume levels? (Obviously this depends on amp quality) If it's a question of more power, I don't think I need that -- my AVR is 100W -- but if a quality external amp can offer increased sound benefit in most listening situations, that is something I will consider.

One thought I had is that I could use an external amp to power the front L + R channels, and use the AVR to power the center and surrounds. That way I would have the benefit of the amp for 2-channel listening, and I could purchase a 2 channel amp instead of a multi-channel. Thoughts?
Upgrade the receiver to one of the high end ones and you'll be surprised at how good everything sounds. If you can do a separate pre/pro/amp, even better, but don't think the do the new lossless formats yet.
Braudio 7, the key to great sound (along with great speakers and a source, of course) is the amplifier. Great, beautiful sound happens in the amp. At any listening level.

There's watts, then there's WATTS!

your thoughts are my own too, for the present. I use an Odyssey Stratos SE I bought new and well outfitted direct from Klaus just a couple months ago. Bought it without audition too.... just based upon recommendations I got from right here on the 'gone.

It does nothing I can really take it to task about and to be very honest, I’m quite impressed with the performance given the price. But there are many such amps around I suppose.

I plan on adding either another 3 ch Odyssey amp, or moving directly onto the Odyssey Extreme Mono blocks. the latter format will make the TX SR 805 drive my middle and rears. I will probably opt for the former scenario as I have a pretty decent two ch tube rig in place already. Having around a pair of SS monos as well as a pair of hollow state monos is just a real nicety or plus, not a necessity.

How an amp performs at whatever level depends on more than just the amp itself. Generally speaking, At 1600 - 1750 new, the Odyssey isn't an Oh my God, or even out freaking' standin', amp.... but it is very good. In performance and value. To be sure, I’ve a fair amount vested in cables too though.

Even using only the Onkyo 805 receiver through a pair of MIT Shotgun S2s, it does mighty good. Mighty good indeed.

I hardly ever peel the paint with it... if at all. Average to moderate levels is about all I can stand. 94db avg is about my max, and then for only a single song or two. Some ZZ or DEf is usually the ticket for me then... elsewise, it's Ella, Frank, Eva, blues, and big band jazz... some Americana as a rule…. And hollow state power.

A quality amp will play well regardless the volume, if all else is in order. Speakers mainly are it's limiting factor, though the whole of the system can't be discounted or ignored either.

My speakers are rated at 93db, so I'm not getting into the meat of the amps power band at all. Likely I'm running it most often around 12wpc or less. 80-90% of what we hear usually is made in the first 20wpc. So it ain't a question of watts. Lots of watts just gives you headroom... and safety.

The amp puts out reprtedly 180wpc… the rec puts out reprtedly 130wpc. What’s the diff? Definition. Impact. Stage. Tone. Body. All were improved, some marginally, some more so.

IMO it comes down to quality of the amp itself, not the max output. Evidence of a quality amp can be determined without cranking the volume. That's for kids... and those who perceive very loud as very good. Mo betta definition, more natural tonality, better control, depth of soundstage, solid imaging, etc., earmark the better amps. Weight too is a clue. Power supplies are key, and better ones aside from switching and digital amps, have great big transformers and quality parts connecting them to the circuit topology. There's more clues of course, but your ears and budget will make that call... or as with me, trust. I simply trusted some other members I've gotten to know here and went on their say so this last go ‘round..

Don't ignore the aspect of a real nice integrated unit either, as I suspect you want a very good two ch setup in the end. In the 1500 - 2500 used mkt, some great amps, and some great ints can be had.

it's all in what your mindset and or long range plans are about, and the budget too, in the end. Both ways will be a step up. Have no fear about that. ATI, Odyssey, McCormack, Parasound, and other's have a lot to offer in used gear for under $1K. Add a nice power cord to it, and I assure you things will improve sonically.... and there's tons of threads here on "best amps under..." to read too. I’m sure you’ll do what is good for you and yours, which ever way you choose to go. Take care.
Blindjim, Cerrot, thanks for the thoughtful responses, they are appreciated. What I am going to do first is spend some time listening to my modest system now and ask myself what it needs. The next step will most likely be an external amp or a dedicated cd player. But I'm also rethinking the whole "cd thing" as well. Why not just use the MacBook and an external DAC?

In terms of an amp, what I'd really be excited about is tube power. I enjoy the warm sound of tube amplifiers with my electric guitars, and I'm asking myself if that isn't the sound I'm looking for. I've got some decisions to make.

Bite the bullet man... you're a closet tube head! Step into the light!

Get yourself a real nice disc player... dig your rig... and investigate that Prima Luna int. It's not too pricey, and offers both SET and ultra linear output. A couple folks here have personally recommended it to me before I bought the Dodd amps and I was thinking strongly about an int myself.

there's tons of ways to go with music... the notebook + DAC is only one of 'em. With the right selection there, you might even forego the new CDP. I'm in the midst of trying to improve the sonics of my USB out from PC to DAC... and things are getting there... slowly.

What seems to be most integral there is the ripping.. The better, the better. The DAC too plays a tremendous part as well. But going back to basics... if the signal ain't super to begin with... well, there's no making up for it later on...

Take your time, and have fun... there's no dead line... just 'The Dead'
It's been almost a year, so I'll update this thread for those who might be interested. I'll pose another question as well.

I ditched the HT Receiver and got myself a legit integrated (for me, multi-channel is overrated since don't watch a lot of films). I have also added a decent CDP, quality interconnects, speaker cable, and some power line stuff (conditioner, power cords). And wow, did the sound quality improve.

In fact, the only thing that is the same are my Infinity Beta 40 speakers. And I have to be honest, they don't sound that bad. I listened to a couple budget floorstanders recently - the Monitor Audio RS6 and the PSB Imagine T (I mentioned this in another thread). Neither caused me to want to pull out my wallet. I didn't care for the MA's treble, and while the Imagine T sounded better than my speakers, they were not better ENOUGH (and they were being driven by Bel Canto REF 500 monoblocks). So what I have concluded is this: It will behoove me to take my time with speaker selection, and it may end up that I'm going to spend quite a bit more than I thought I would.

So in the meantime, I am considering adding an external power amp to my current setup. My question: How important is it to match an external amp to my integrated if I'm not bi-amping? I can guess that a Rega Exon for example, would sound good with my Rega Mira. But what about something class D like Channel Island D100, or D200, or one of the PS Audio digital amps? I would plan on running a pre-out from my integrated. BTW, I'm asking about class D amps primarily because this is a living room system and space and appearance are considerations.
At this time I am using two PS Audio Trio A-100 class D amps to bi-amp my Kestrel Hot Rod speakers. So far so good. When I first hooked them up I was a bit concerned as they are so small and quiet I wasn't sure how they would sound. I'm thinking of a negative placebo effect. Sort of a "they are so small, how can they sound good?" type reaction. After about 50 hours of listening they sound very good, especially for the price (used).
Small, quiet, and efficient enough to leave on all the time. They might be worth a try.
Bradio7 have you listened to Snell D7 or Snell K7?
I think the K7 is about a grand, not sure about D7. I was very impressed, albeit in dealers showroom. Sounded much, much better than KEF's.
I'll check the D7 out, thanks. I don't see a lot written about Snell.
The big $20K Snells are poorly designed IME but the small floor standers are a hidden gem. I heard the older $1,400 Snell E.5 and much, much better than Monitor Audio in the same room at Cosmophonic Sound in NYC. Had rear tweeter to even out room response.