Best way to go HT with focus on 2 channel

I am looking to build my first home theater system, which will have double duty with my 2 channel rig. I really want the focus of quality to be on 2 channel, but want to set up a modest HT rig with 5.1 sound and a plasma. I have a tube pre and amp today and would prefer to keep them in the chain, or move to a tube integrated, maybe a VAC Avatar.

Since I'm new to the HT world, I'm not sure the best way to integrate a AV processor and what exactly I'll need. A little advice from you goners would be a big help. Thanks!
Does your current preamp have a bypass circuit in it? If it does, then you can add a home theater processor into the loop.
Depending on you price range there are some great processors out there. Welcome to the wide wide world of home theater!
What's your budget?
A home theater processor would normally take the place of your pre. Usually the home theater pre/pro controls your volume, processes the dolby or dts signal on the dvd and cable/sat box and handles base management - crossover points (also speaker distance and time alignment). All good ones have an analog pass through.

There are some ht pre that don't do any processing, they just let your dvd (or universal player) do the signal processing etc. Mccormack MAP-1 is one that I can think of off hand. There are several more. I don't know what would be gained (other than the tube sound) by keeping your current pre in the chain.

You'll see a lot of advice on this forum saying you don't need a center channel speaker or subwoofer, but to get the real home theater experience I think they are critical. In this months stereophile mag the surround column makes one of the best arguments for a center I've heard. If you like action movies you'll miss a ton without a sub.

No knowing what speakers or amp you are currently using makes its hard to recommend much more.
I've tried HT for music and sold them off after couple month. It is night and day difference. Not good for serious listening.
Even playing the DVD msic video, the 2 channel sounds better. The HT mode gives you background noise make you feel like you are sitting in the middle of room. The 2 channel mode gives you front row experience but with much musical presentation via 2 channel preamp and amp.

For a medium to small room, I would probably hook up HT with computer and computer speakers to get the same HT effect. Get a HDTV card for the PC will do just fine.
The best way is what Fedreams sugested.
If you're considering the Avatar you shouldn't have any trouble piecing together a great HT/2ch system. My 2ch system includes a Denon 3910 player, Sim Audio I5 integrated, and Von Schweikert VR4jr speakers. When I'm in HT mode, the processing is done by an A/V receiver which passes the front two channels to the Sim Audio (bypassing the pre section) and to the VR4Jr's. Von Scweikert sub, center and rear speakers round out the 5.1 system. I have selected components that give me great sound no matter what 'mode' I'm listening in.

If you're looking for tube 2ch sound then the Avatar would be perfect for a HT/2ch setup. Get rid of the pre and amp and purchase a good quality HT processor/amp or receiver, center, surrounds, and sub and enjoy.
Some Excellent advice given here.
Your preamp does not absolutely need "pass through". You do not need to get rid of it. Send the signal from the source for video to the video/aux input on the main two channel amp. Send the surround signals to the surround preamp. Calibrate/Match them volume-wise for HT use (Just be extremely careful when switching between movie mode and music mode that the volume is not too high). You'll need a multichannel amp if you don't have one yet. If you acquire a 5 channel amp, you can play around with vertically biamping your main speakers (two amps per speaker L/R)- often a nice improvement.
If you're not a die hard video fan, then put about 85% into two channel and about 15% into HT. Learn not to be hyper critical of the sound when watching movies...
Magnepan makes a very affordable surround/center speaker system. $700 can get you a pair of surrounds and center channel. Nice quality for the price. I believe there was a good review of them in Stereophile about a year ago. Also, check on for others' experiences on speakers.

First, I have been going through the same scenario over the last 5 years and have had many different iterations of "combo" systems in my listening room. I speak from years of personal experience!

There are several different ways to go about adding HT to your system. It is all going to depend on your budget, how much hassle you can tolerate when engaging the HT portion of the system and how much sonic performance you demand from the HT portion of the system. I do like the fact that you seem to want to add-on HT and not try to mess with your existing 2-channel rig that you currently enjoy.

I did not see what main speakers you use when I viewed your "system". For quality HT, you will need (at least) to match the center channel speaker to the main L&R front speakers that you plan to use in the system. If you don't plan to do this, or if there is not a matching center channel speaker to your mains, you might want to consider not even bothering. Maybe just add a sub to your system and crank it up a bit when watching action flicks. Of course, you can always use "phantom" center channel mode (no center speaker, center content sent equally to L&R fronts).

If you truely like your current 2-channel system and want to add HT, the easiest and least expensive way is to buy a decent HT reciever with (at least) L&R main pre-outs. You can connect these pre-outs from the HT receiver to a processor loop/HT bypass on your pre-amp, or, if your pre-amp does not have a bypass, simply connect the L&R pre-outs to an unused input on you pre-amp. Now, you current 2-channel rig (amplification and speakers) will provide the L&R front output for the HT system. Connect center, surrounds, sub and HT source devices to the HT receiver.

As you can see, this setup does not have any affect on your current 2-channel rig and it does not even need to be turned on when listening to music. To play HT content, turn on the HT receiver, select HT source, select ht bypass/processor loop on the pre-amp (or select the appropriat input if you do not have HT bypass). You will need to "pre-select a volume setting on the pre-amp (like top-dead-center) if you don't have an HT bypass crcuit and you will need to "calibrate" the HT setup. You will always have to set the pre-amp to this pre-selected setting when listening to HT or you speaker output calibration will not be correct.

This is much simpler than it may seem from this post. Of course, an HT bypass/processor loop simplifies the process because there is no need to "pre-select" the appropriate volume each time you engage the HT portion of the system.

I have used a setup like the one described in several different iterations of my 2-channel/HT combo systems. That said, I have now abandoned the combo setup and have simply built two competely separate setups (one for 2-channel, one for HT) that both sit on one audio rack. I placed relatively inexpensive "on-wall" HT speakers above/beside my Plasma TV for L/C/R HT speakers. These speakers are up and out of the way, so they do not affect the performance of my 2-channel rig. This may also be an option for you and it would have the benefit of not causing tube life issues for you when watching TV/DVD.

Here is a link to a picture of my current setup:


One of the first big decisions you will have to make is -- do you want to go with a receiver or do you want separates.
I have a Sunfire receiver with Von Schweikerts all around in a HT system. I have tentatively made the decision to go with an integrated amp and use a bypass type set-up just like longhornav. I thought about the sim audio but I thought it was shy on power for the VR-4JRS. I am about to do some auditioning here in a couple of weeks.
I've had the same experience as S23chang. Moving the stereo speakers or even placing a video screen between them to accommodate Home Theater lets the stereo image fall apart. You seem to have some very nice two channel gear. Have you ever had your two channel setup, room, speaker placement, etc. evaluated? Once dialed in even minor changes will dramatically effect the stereo presentation.

I gave up and went an inexpensive HT setup in another room. The 5.1 audio (not HT) is another animal.
Thanks for all the great advice! I was out of town for a while and am thrilled with all the great responses. A couple more questions:

If I were to use one of these configurations, what is the best way to connect a powered sub for use in 2 channel and HT?

If I use an HT pre/processor and go with a separate amp for the rear speakers do I need to match power or gain of my 2 channel amp?
Theta surround processor with possibility to connect external GENVIII DAC/preamp.
I grafted on an HT setup to my 2-channel rig as well, pretty much the same way others have mentioned here. I have my pure 2-channel setup with my sources (arcam FMJ CD23 and a VPI HW-19Jr turntable) going directly into my preamp (audible illusions mod 3) which drives the 2 main channels. I use a cheapie Harmon Kardon refurb processor (AV230) as a surround processor; at the time, this was the cheapest receiver they sold with preouts on all channels. I feed my HT sources (LD player, cheapie Sony DVD/SACD, Windows media center PC, laptop, occasional Xbox) into the surround receiver. L and R preouts from the surround receiver go the preamp onto an unused input. Had to pick a volume setting on the preamp that was close to full volume and calibrate the channels on the surround receiver at that volume level and then always have to return to that volume level when running in surround mode.

I am also able to run SACD in surround or 3-channel mode (e.g. living stereo releases) for music, but it's not as purely direct as it could be since the L and R channels from my SACD/DVD go all into the surround receiver. Theoretically, I would feed the L + R directly from the SACD into my preamp as well, but I'd need to deal with coordinating volume levels between both systems.

regarding your sub question, personally, I only use my sub for HT duty as the LFE channel and not in 2-channel at all. A couple times, I have hooked up the sub for 2-channel use in parallel with the L and R channels (so did not use the line level crossover in the sub) by using another setup of outputs on my preamp.

Last thought is that since you are running a tube amp, you'll obviously also be using these amps to drive L + R channels for all HT duty as well so you'll shorten the life on them. Today, I'm running solid state amp, but my intent was to also move to VTL amps and preamps and I have that same concern.

Your setup must be very nice sounding. Looks like you've done a great job building a musical system. I think you're thinking the right thing by keeping your 2-channel setup as pure as possible and tacking on the HT onto that.
A lot above, like switching the pre/pro through your 2channel pre, will work fine. That's how I've done it in the past, and it's perfect. And you WILL NEED an outboard pre/pro..don't use the multichannel out's of you're dvd for dD/DTS processing. It's not as good.
Your challenge would be the matching speaker for your center and rears to go with the mains. Tonally, they need to be identical to do it right. If not, forget it. I'd stay 2 channel with a sub! Otherwise, get 5/6/7 matching small satalites around the room for movies, and swich to 2 channel and your main speakers for music. Otherwise, you'll have a very cruddy and compromised system with "mismatched speakers"...garanteed! I say no no no on that idea.
The other choice is to do quality speakers all around, matching, and ditch your existing 2 channel speakers, if you can't get matching center and rears.
I thought for the longest time to do two systems was the best idea ... no compromises. With my heart fully ensconsed in two channel but desiring a multichannel system, the process began. having accomplished obtaining both, I'm no longer desirous of committing the funds necessary to having both systems... with equal levels of quality... So I personally think compromise seems the way to go, unless of course copius amounts of money are avaiable.

what I've finally decided to do is add a three ch. amp, the same brand center speaker, likewise rear speakers perhaps. (rear speakers are no where near as important in terms of matching as the center is... trust me here...), and of course a full range sub.

If I didn't have the gear I already do and wwere out to go from the jump... I'd agree with the earlier posts... simply add a HT Receiver and the appropriate center and rear spkrs... and a dynamic sub... and not a great amount of money needs be spent to do that either... you'll gain the experience of the surround listening factor, and the grins too. What level of 'experience' you want will determine the money you[ll spend...

So far as I'm concerned, a good two channel set up and a sub are fine for movies.... and in HT the 'BIG DEAL' truly is the screen... spend all you want on sound... but without that big old screen up there to get the true impact of the "theater" you are selling yourself short.

The screen is the ticket. No one goes to listen to a movie.. right? ..for myself this works... Spend the money on improving the two ch. sys. get as big a screen as you can... do the other three ch comfortably.... and don't worry about the overuse of the tubes.... just how long is a movie anyway these days...? Good luck...
The best way to do a music first home theater is to use an anologue 5.1 preamp without any processing. They are the Macintosh, MacCormack Map-1, and Audio Refinement Pre-5. These are high quality 2 channel preamps with 5.1 channel pass through that uses the volume control to control the master volume.

To make this system works you will use a high quality DVD source or universal player that has 5.1 anologue outputs with internal processing (dolby digital, DTS, etc). You will NOT use the digital outputs of your source. The source also has to have bass management (most do) to control the output gain to your speakers in the menu so that you can balance al your speakers. Use a radio shack SPL meter to balance your speakers.

You can then use your tube power amp for your L+R channel and a high quality 3 channel amp for your C+RR+LR. The truth is you can skip your center channel and use full tube for your rears as well if your front speakers image well with a good soundstage. You will go into your sources menu and turn off the center channel. When it processes the multi channel music or movie it will send the center channel info to your L+R channels.

You can have your cake and eat it too.
I personally agree about the movies, and that's that the picture is first priority for the experience. Still, as an adiophile first, quality of sound has to be there, but it's second for the experience.
I would still rather have quality over quantity, and don't care about sitting between two speakers anymore. I'd rather "share" the experience with other seats in the house. That said, the multichannel system is the best regardless for me personally. Getting 5/6 or more speakers tuned in harmony of high quality sound is just fine by me...I don't need a two channel "sit in the middle" set up anymore. I'm over people to let in the house now...bye