Do I need a preamp/processor?

Hi everyone, 

Home theater is new to me so I need assistance. The question I have is do I need a HT preamp/processor to properly listen to movies (DVD, streaming etc)?  I currently have a 2 channel system using a Red Dragon S500 amplifier, Schiit SYS preamp, and Kef ls50 speakers.  I’m mainly streaming Tidal through a Sonos Connect which is connected to the preamp via rca.

 I would like to add in the capability to listen to movies through the ls50s and Red Dragon. I’m currently doing it by running a toslink cable to an external DAC then rca to the preamplifier, then rca to the amp. The hook up works but it doesn’t sound that great. 

I was planning on upgrading my preamp anyway, and it was suggested that a HT preamp/processor might be a good alternative. It sounds very appealing since it would do double duty for me. However I’m still vacillating between the two choices since some nice 2 channel preamps pop up every so often.  

Please help!

A Processor preamp is for decoding and sending the correct info to the different channels 5.1 or 7.1.

(Unless you plan on getting more speakers and more amplifiers to drive them you can get by without)

Using your 2 channel setup with LS50’s:

I would change up the source. Invest in a Oppo universal player/DAC, the BDP 105 and other models have variable volume control so I think you could hook it directly to your Red Dragon or still use the Schiit. Once you have a great source you can build from there and add to it. EXAMPLE: you could add a music server because the Oppo is a DAC already and a dam good one with USB 2.0 audio input it can be easily connected to anything! , the Oppo's sound is so good it is Stereophile rated class A (BDP105) with dual audio outs XLR and RCA connections. Did I mention it up samples (using some of the best video circuitry on the planet) all your DVD’s to 4K! Oppo makes many models for all budgets.

You could also use a PS4pro as a source it is only $400 and has digital (optical) audio outs so u can use a outboard dac then to your system pre amp , It is a great universal player, video/music streamer and with Playstation Vue u can get all ur TV shows as well.

Matt M
This is always a bit of an issue. You could use a Parasound P7, which has 7.1 in and out along with something like an Oppo 103 or later which has 7.1 outs.

This is what I do. I'm a little disappointed with the P7 however, as it is not completely transparent and takes a little air out of the signal.

One "audiophile" solution I have been toying with is the idea of a Krell HTS, but others here seem ti like Marantz a great deal as well.



Erik's suggesting of combining an Oppo 103/105/203/205 with a Parsound P7 is an excellent one.  There are also looking at a really nice HT Processor.  It all depends on your budget.  Can you give us an idea of what you're able or willing to spend here?

Also, when playing movies, one of the critical elements is a center channel.  The center channel combined with left/right would significantly increase the clarity and impact of vocal dialogue and sound from the movie.  In movies, the center channel is used 90% of the time, with left/right being supporting speakers.  It increases the ambience of the movie experience.

I would think about adding a third LS50 speaker for center channel purposes and combine it with a Red Dragon M500 single channel amp, in addition to the Oppo/Parasound or an HT Processor selection.

Thanks for the replies. Is the audio that comes out of my tv via toslink in mono or is it in stereo?
This might be far fetched but if a processor replaces the preamp and DAC in my current set-up, is it possible to add in wireless speakers and have the processor transmit the correct channel to each speaker via Sonos, while still using the wired ls50s as the front speakers?

The audio coming out of the TV via toslink is either going to be 2-channel stereo or multi-channel Dolby Digital (which can only be handled by an HT Processor).

I would not get wireless speakers at all because you will be sacrificing sound quality through the wireless analog-to-digital-to-analog process as well as the RF transfer medium.  If you did not want to buy another amp for center channel, you could get a "powered" KEF LS50W model.

I would connect the Sonos to the HT Processor using the digital coax output.  Then connect the analog output of the HT Processor to the left/right Dragon amps.  The HT Processor would handle all DAC and preamp duties, including toslink from the TV.


Since you’re already familiar with Sonos and mentioned wireless speakers, I suggest looking into Sonos Soundbar, Sub and a pair of PLAY 1’s. And you can leave your current 2 ch setup as is.

I am using the above 5.1 setup with my TV, and Oppo 203; absolutely love 2 ch sound and the 5.1 movie experience.

I also own a Connect, to my ears it sounds the best connected to a external DAC (via SPDIF cable) instead of RCA outs.

Autre > I was planning on upgrading my preamp anyway, and it was suggested that a HT preamp/processor might be a good alternative. It sounds very appealing since it would do double duty for me. However I’m still vacillating between the two choices since some nice 2 channel preamps pop up every so often.

Blindjim > Hi!! Looks like its time to choose, for the short or long term, huh?

Need, or want? let's see.

Nothing is cast into stone. Regardless the choice you make today on pre vs proc, you can alter this later.

The first thing you said is you want to listen to movies, DVDs, etc.

The simplest way is via an HT receiver. Yeah it doesn’t carry the audio freak credentials a dedicated processor does, BUT, its cheaper and enables many many things and one thing a dedicated proc does not… amplification.

I’ve owned both dedicated Procs on varying levels. HT receivers too again on varying levels. Having the factor of amplification is very nice.

Yes, but there’s that audio quality factor too! Not really.

I’ve had Anthem proc, Sony ES rec, Onkyo HT rec, Integra HT proc and the level of sound quality from one to another is marginal. At best! Use the right power cord and signal cables and any of them will sound great for film or music. No question.

Versatility is the key now for you, IMHO.

There’s more to the HT deal than merely multi ch audio. Or, now, 4K video.

The ‘dull’ sound from a DAC can be easily fixed. The CATV box hooked to your DAC is likely passing PCM only. Greater bandwidth is available via the HD audio streams. Not knowing the setup config you are using I can’t say more.

Adding a proc adds decoding for the HD and multi ch audio now available. DTS & DOLBY Master audio and bit stream info. Any recent HT rec or proc should offer these feature sets. I have a DAC connected to my integra Proc via RCA for digital file playback from a NAS PC or internet PCM streaming.

An Apple TV and CATV box connects to the integra too.

As you said, there are some nice preamps available on the ‘gon. There always will be as well.

Getting an Oppo BDP XXX would be a step in the right direction but there is a caveat if you forsee attempting to use it as a pre/pro. Oppo does not endorse or advise this activity. Truth! Call ‘em and ask. You’ll see. But it will afford you the versatility you seem to desire. Buying a pre-owned ver shouldn’t hurt too much if 4K video is no biggie. Depending on model. They’ll do all else. Your CATV box wil sound better and look better too thru one… if you have a comparable HD screen/TV and HDMI ins and outs.

The biggest impact after the mains is a sub. Period and paragraph.

I’ve spent over a grand on my last center ch speaker. Nearly as much on others. I’ve also ‘gohsted’ center ch for darn near ever. No center speaker? Nope. Ho hum.

No sub? Now, that’s a very big deal!! Every multi ch audio format has a dedicated low end audio stream. Presently, you ain’t getting it fully.

Adding a sub to do flicks is like watching black and white films or watching hD color movies. Its that dramatic.

Again, my onkyo rec and integra Proc IMO can not be picked out in a blind A B test based purely on video or audio. Despite what threads around here say, the proc in the onkyos is or was just as good as was the Integras procs. Current models may be more widely separated however I’ll remain moot on that point looking at the investment for each.

Sony likewise versions are a bit more tipped up on their top ends IMO, but both are very good. My next dedicated proc will likely be another Onk or Integ.

High end Meridian if I get the right six numbers some Saturday night.

For a grand you ought to be able to pick up a nice upper end HT rec with very good power. A few hundred for a nice Oppo BDP. Somewhere in between those two for a pretty nice sub. So two grand or less gets your system significantly greater versatility, deeper audio and video immersion, and allows further growth without the need to rush out and buy more amps. Immediately.

7.1 or 7.2 rigs usually allow for bi amping the mains too. So there is that. All I know of allow for adding amps if desired.

New HT recs will have loads more connectivity too. Blue tooth. Air play. Internet and or LAN connectivity. Second and third room audio and video transmission. Even their tuner sections offer HD quality for AM and FM and there are usually several channels for the more popular statons to choose from. . Wow. Way more versatility and functionality.

Or go with the nice preamp and an Oppo disc player and essentially be right where you are now.. albeit the Oppo will aid in decoding the CATV info better, IMHO.

I enjoy having as much flexibility as is possible. Going forward it is a tremendous aid.

If you do this process the other way around, at least look for the HT pass thru in what ever preamp you decide on as HT appears a fairly stong inclination.

Best of all possible luck in your trek.

I didn't want to get too complicated, so I bought an Oppo, which has greatly improved movie and TV sound in a two channel system
stick with the 2 channel system you have and possibly do a affordable ht setup ......

if not, get ready to go down the rabbit hole......
There are two questions to answer before you proceed any further.
First, are you also unhapy with the sound quality if you are listening to Tidal through the Sonos Connect? If yes, you are probably unhappy about the sound of the speakers and/or the room. If not, the sound quality problem is in the audio quality of the TV signal or in your external DAC. Do not overestimate the quality of the signal that is used in tv broadcasts or by cable companies. It is often sacrificed to save on bandwith. If that is the case, there is nothing you can do. As for the DAC, if you are using an ultra cheap external DAC there could be an issue, but otherwise not really. Did you try the analogue output of the TV (if it has any)? Some DACs built into the TVs of major brands can be quite a bit better than cheap external ones (the DAC in my Panasonic Plasma certainly is fine).
Second, do you plan to go for multichannel HT or just stereo HT? Personally, I have opted for stereo HT with a very good stereo system with large speakers (Quad 2805 with B&W PV1d sub and Antimode 8033). My priority is music, and I cannot imagine having five or even seven huge electrostats in my living room. The result is really very good, and on balance far better than I could get for the same budget and space requirement spread over five main speakers. Stereo HT does not need any special processor. If you want to watch Netflix all you need is to add a Chromecast, and if you want to play (UHD) Bluray, just add a player like the Oppo 205 that can serve as a pre amplifier as well (make sure you buy one with stereo outputs). You can use a digital output of the Sonos as input into the Oppo.
Wow I’m really glad I asked this question. All of you provided me with such helpful information. I researched the Oppo line since that seemed to. be a common suggestion and one that sounded good for my system. Now I understand why a lot of members here like the Oppo players, they can do a LOT and do it well. It seems that this could replace the DAC, and provide me with an excellent preamp, and better yet, also includes multi channel audio output!

Now this brings about another question. Which Oppo do you recommend? I can afford either the 105, 105D, or the 203. The 205 seems fantastic but there’s no way I can get that until prices fall. The 105 seems more versatile and stronger on audio, while the 203 is newer and offers 4K,but the audio emphasis isn’t as strong. Since the majority of usage of my system will be 2 channel stereo, I’m leaning towards the 105 or 105D but please lemme know your thoughts. 

If audio quality is your primary concern, I would go with the 105 or 105D.  The 105D includes the Darbee video processing, which does help sharpen the image somewhat, as long as you do not overdo the Darbee setting.  I have my set at about 35%.  If you crank it too high, the image becomes un-natural.  The Darbee helps a little bit with HD, but it does more improvement with SD.

If 4K was a priority, obviously get the 203.  Then get a linear power supply upgrade, such as from these sources:

Linear Power Supply is a significant upgrade to both audio quality and video quality.  The 103/203 series uses only a switching power supply (bad).  The 105/205 series uses switching power supply for digital board and then a linear power supply for audio boards.

105 stock vs 203 with linear power supply -- I'm not sure which one would win out here.  Getting rid of the switching power supply in the 203 will significantly help clean up and improve the audio.  Be aware that the 203/205 models do not include the streaming functionality (Netflix, Pandora, etc.).  The 203/205 also do not include Darbee.

It appears that the new 203/205 uses less power on the digital board because the amount of capacitance on the switching power supply is about 3/5 that of the 103/105 series.  It also uses an 8 pin internal power connector instead of a 15-pin (for digital board).

Actually, upgrading the switching power supply in any of the models will significantly improve things in any event.  If you got the 105, the linear power supply could be a future upgrade.

Thanks auxinput,
you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that I wanted flexibility in the system. Its nice to be able to pick up the pieces to build that foundation and the Oppo does sound like it will fit that bill. We are looking to pick up a new tv and the one my wife likes doesn’t have 4K so it’s not a biggie. I can pick up the 105 and the 204 for virtually the same price so it’s a matter of picking one. 

One thing I wasn’t able to clarify last night was if the 105D has WiFi built in like the 203. Can anyone please shed some light?

One caveat…

Did you take a look at the costs of used HT receivers?

Sure, an Oppo 100 or 200 series is a no brainer addition, depending on features and needs.

The thing about the Oppo as versatile as it is with digital formats, streaming, spinning, etc. it is NOT an END ALL BE ALL PRE - PROCESSOR.

Trudging down this road years ago and seeing that volume control for all the analog outputs, I felt well, well. Here is the thing no one else is seeing and a really cheap short cut so I don’t have to invest into more stuff!

It seemed a no brainer. Cool. But then why wasn’t this feature and its obvious attributes expanded on more in the Oppo ads on their own website?

As well, why did I not see Oppos being used strickly in place of Pre Pros by many other members in their listed systems??

That’s why I called and asked them about running amps from it.

Their report was essentially, it can work but it is not advised as a constant use solution. They kept it short and sweet and I was left to draw my own conclusions.

I came away with this, given their input, one can only surmise although it does a ton of stuff,and most of it very well, working as a preamp pro is not one of its strengths if relied upon for daily operations. The preamp section must be a bare bones oh, by the way, affair. Channel matching, etc. Pressed into constant use could be a significant issue later.

A side ways step? As a stop gap, maybe so. Everyday? Not as sure.

Then too, there’s that question on SQ which right now seems a fairly important aspect OP is seeking to improve upon.

This is a question I’d ask the community – how many folks are using or have used the oppo as a pre pro running amps directly off of it on a daily basis?

That could be quite interesting, or simply searching the threads for something similar already posted should help.

One box solutions in an Audio first and always forum often meets less than enthusiastic responses especially when it comes to the audio section of an HT system. Then a default to separates is the normal bent. HT recs are simply met with dismissive attitudes a lot.

In HT forums, it is not this way. As a solution they are accepted as a viable path from which to begin quite regularly.

With an HT receiver
1 Break ins
Running in any gear using the HT rec gives longer life to the main gear. Wires, components, speakers, power cords, etc.

2 Break downs
Sure is nice to NOT be without a fall back system if some part of the main rig fails.

3. instant amplification means more channels!
Picking up bookshelf spkrs and merely using home Depot 12ga wire actually does work and adds to the movie watching experience. Most info in the rears is not tremendously crucial unless in Action, Adventure, Sci Fi, chases, battles, etc. often its only crickets flies, and frogs or dogs barking or cars passing by. Its all additive though.

4. one box solution
The preamp is as durable as are its other feature sets. Many late models are going to class D amps so their weight is down. Use the interior amps, or add your own as you are able.

5 they’re built to be THE stand alone solution
Durability. Functionality, versatility. Competency. A spring board for growth.

6 trickle down
Later on they move into other rooms of the home serving as well there as they did initially.

BTW, oppo outputs are all hot all the time. It enables multi connectivity to multiple devices.

As for available streaming services included or not, merely adding a Roku fixes that and they ain’t expensive either.

I would say go Apple but their updates have not been without significant problems in basic operations or in conjunction with 3rd party apps, Netflix, HBO, FOX, NFL, TNT, History, AMC, etc.

Their last OS 11 update has almost completely disabled my Gen 4 box so only youtube and Netflix still work OK, but not great.

All the best

See here for Oppo's view:
There is really no technical reson not to do this.The backend of the unit is just  a high quality DAC with volume control and stereo outputs.
However, if the OP is not principally interested in a disc spinner, he does not need anything anyway, at least not until he has diagnosed why he does not like the audio from his tv. If it is bad quality from the tv station, even an Oppo willnot improve in this. And he should have a close look at the connections on the tv his wife is fancying. If it is just hdmi he will have a problem.
Has anyone compared the audio quality of the Oppo 105 to that of the 203?

also I checked the specs of the tv my wife likes (Samsung Frame), and guess what, it does do 4K UHD. The tv also has HDMI out, and toslink but it’s not specified if it’s an input or output. 

@blindjim - I see that you are really pushing the idea of a AVR Receiver. I don’t think this is really in autre’s best interests as he already has a Red Dragon S500 amp. If he is wanting to improve the sound, I would suggest a dedicated HT Processor instead of an AVR. Sure, the AVR is a great band-for-the-buck one-size-fits-all solution, but it is a compromise when compared to separates and also the OP here is not in that situation. The money spend on a receiver could be better spent towards an HT Processor that would yield better results for his amplifiers (better audio stages, better power supply, XLR outputs, etc.).

I am trying to respond to the OPs exact questions instead of going into an entirely different direction. I do agree that the Oppo players are a good solution, but if you look way back to my first post, I recommend an Oppo player PLUS a Parasound P7 preamp (multi-channel preamp). The Oppo by itself can be used to drive an amp directly, but the sound will be somewhat on the dry side and the Oppo does not exactly have the output gain that a preamp will have.

So, for autre’s recommendation, I would either say a nice HT Processor or an Oppo + Parasound P7. In either case, he has the ability to grow with adding a center channel speaker/amp if he wants to.

@autre - with regards to Oppo 105 vs 203. I would say that the 105 would have better sound because of linear power supply and fully balanced left/right outputs. That being said, if you get the 203 and upgrade it with a linear power supply (i.e. OPPOMOD), it may be VERY close to the 105 sound quality and has the ability to support 4K modes. However, keep in mind that the 203 does not support streaming services directly (such as Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, etc.)

There is really no technical reson not to do this.The backend of the unit is just a high quality DAC with volume control and stereo outputs.
That could be quite interesting, or simply searching the threads for something similar already posted should help.
One box solutions in an Audio first and always forum often meets less than enthusiastic responses especially when it comes to the audio section of an HT system. Then a default to separates is the normal bent. HT recs are simply met with dismissive attitudes a lot.
In HT forums, it is not this way. As a solution they are accepted as a viable path from which to begin quite regularly.

My source for the 105 doesn’t have it anymore bummer. So my question now is, does the 4K of the 203 outweigh the drop in audio quality?    Or posed differently, does the audio quality of the 105 outweigh the 4K of the 203?

By the way,  I spoke with Red Dragon Audio and they said that the Oppo works brilliantly hooked up directly to the S500!  The input buffer allows for higher input impedance, and the Oppo falls within that range. 
That's a question you will have to answer yourself, as it is totally apples vs. oranges.  For me, the audio quality of the 105 would trump.  I don't care about 4K because my 1080p projector is excellent as it is.  You really don't need 4K for a panel, in my opinion.  You really just need a very high quality panel/projector.  In todays market, almost everything is 4K anyways.
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