First home theater. HELP


Hi guys,

Luddite that I am, I am in the process of putting together our first home theater setup, and could use some help. It's always been about two channel/analog for me, and I am way behind the times when it comes to video. I want to keep it as simple as possible, not too expensive, and want to use some of the gear that I now use as a second system in our weekend country get-away place. I am interested in a basic surround setup (5.1), for prerecorded movie playback only (DVD's, movie downloads , but no cable or network tv), and the kids' video games. The
system will be also used for two channel music listening, which is why I would like keep the current gear and hopefully simply (?) integrate the new video and additional audio gear.

The current sound system consists of Meitner PA6i preamp and Meitner 101 mono blocks, Totem Arro speakers and EAD transport and DAC. I will probably add a turntable to the system at some point, which is one of the reasons I want to keep the Meitner gear (good phono), as well as the fact that it sounds great with the Arro's, is small and looks great.

My thoughts so far are to add a Totem Dreamcatcher center, rears and subwoofer for 5.1 use, an appropriate 5.1 surround processor, and a Meitner MTR50 stereo amp for the rear channels. Video will probably be handled by a Panasonic or Samsung 60in plasma. First question:

Is there a good, reasonably priced surround preamp that has a "pass-through" feature so that I can use the Meitner pre for two channel music listening with minimal sound degradation? BTW, the Meitner has two sets of outputs for whatever that's worth.

I have no illusions about getting sound that comes anywhere near SOTA, but would like to enhance movie viewing, and retain the sound of the existing second system for music listening. I welcome any thoughts/suggestions re processor, speakers, set-up, etc.

Thanks in advance.
frogman
If you've got the speaker selection and the L/R amplifiers you don't need much more. I think a simple receiver would do to control and power the center and surround speakers.

Or a pre/pro and a three channel amp.
I wound up with a five channel amp, and a two channel amp. The two channel amp drives the two front channels. The five channel drives the center (bi-amped due to extra channels), and the surrounds. For two channel listening, I have a passive pre, with HT pass-through. I would think the extra out on your Meitner pre might suffice for a pass-through.

Enjoy!
Dan
Your needs matched mine when I started out. I am very happy with my Arcam FMJ888 pre/pro. It's strength are:
1. Two Channel Audio with analogue stereo direct.
2. HDMI input for all your DVD decoding options including Dolby True HD. One cable in - one cable out.
3. Analogue inputs for Multi Channel
4. Tremendous amount of inputs for all your source needs including phono. I connect my kids WII to the system, computers etc.
The sound is excellent and the picture quality is supurb.
IMHO the Arcam is worth the investment as it just does what ever is asked. If you have other questions ask away!

I am using mono block amps for the front L&R and a three channel amp for the center and rears.
Thanks for the suggestions guys. OK, let me see if I am understanding this. I could use a HT receiver to do the processing and power the center and rears? So, the receiver would have the capability of sending a line level, processed signal to the left/right amplifiers for the mains, while at the same time sending a high-level processed signal directly to the center and rears? Please help me understand the hookup scheme. Thanks again.
Yes and yes.

Unfortunately, I don't think your preamp has a theater bypass or unity gain outputs but check to make sure. This feature allows you to use the PA6i independent of the receiver for two channel listening.
I have no illusions about getting sound that comes anywhere near SOTA, but would like to enhance movie viewing, and retain the sound of the existing second system for music listening. I welcome any thoughts/suggestions re processor, speakers, set-up, etc.

You may be surprised....a lot! (Especially if you are digital centric in your program material).

Find any pre-pro with Audyssey XT32 Pro (I use an Onkyo in my music only 2.2 main system). These are available from Onkyo, Integra, Marantz, NAD and Denon, and tend to cluster between $1500 and $2500, tho some go much higher. Audyssey will calculate and implement a digital domain x-over between your Arrow mains and the new subwoofers. It will also provide room correction which, IME, cleans up bass response in a startling way.

I found the performance so impressive in my HT room that I ended up effectively ditching my all traditional high-end electronics (ARC, Joule, Cary, PrimaLuna, et. al.) for Onkyo electronics. I'm 100% certain that not everyone will follow suit, but you might want to remain open minded. A room corrected, seamlessly integrated full range sub/main system can become really addictive.

Good Luck,

Marty
Oops....I don't think Marantz offers XT32 - only the lower end versions of Audyssey. My bad.

BTW, XT32 is available in AVRs from the same group listed above, except Marantz.

Marty
Hi Frogman. I have integrated my two channel system with a modest surround system by using a 5.1 receiver with preamp outputs. I hooked the left/right front preamp outs from the receiver into a line level input on my 2-channel preamp. When setting the channel levels on the receiver, it is necessary to determine a position for the volume control on the two-channel preamp which you can return to when using the surround system. For me, the 12:00 position worked great and is easy to remember. This method should work with a surround processor also.
Actually, I just corresponded with John Wright, and he tells me that, as Islandmandan suggested, I could use the extra set of outputs on the PA6i as a passthrough as long as the preamp is turned on and is not playing any other source. Curious, as I thought it would have to be turned off, but he explained that when off or muted, the outputs are shorted to ground. It's an inconvenient setup either way as the PA6's volume is set via remote only, and it does not have a way to visually reset a particular volume setting. I am still looking at all the options. Thanks.
Hi Frogman (and others who have responded),

I must admit that all of this leaves me totally confused.

How can the second set of outputs on the Meitner preamp provide any usefulness in this situation? The Meitner monoblock amps have to be driven by either the Meitner preamp (which presumably would give the best sonic results for two-channel listening) or by the A-V processor or receiver (at line level). The output of whichever of those two devices is not driving the power amps would have to be connected into an input of the device that is driving the power amps. In either case only one set of Meitner preamp outputs would be used.

Or is what is being envisioned connecting BOTH the A-V component and the Meitner preamp to the monoblocks, AND also connecting the Meitner preamp into the A-V component? Which wouldn't work properly, because when the A-V component is being used its output would be loaded by the low (47 ohm) output impedance the Meitner has when powered up and unmuted (or by a short to ground when powered down or muted, as you indicated). And for two-channel listening, having the output of the powered down A-V component and its cabling connected to the output of the Meitner preamp would not be a good idea either.

I do agree that unfortunately the lack of an easily repeatable means of resetting a specific volume on the Meitner preamp is a significant constraint on how the system can be configured.

Best regards,
-- Al
Thank you for chiming in, Al. I confess to being confused myself as to how connecting the line level front L/R outputs of the receiver to the extra output of the Meitner preamp would work; seems improbable. Nonetheless, the idea seems to be that this allows the Meitner to remain connected to the front mono's for critical music playback, and that for video, the two outputs of the Meitner, being connected in parallel, would allow the front L/R line level signals from the receiver to "pass through" from one set of RCA jacks to the other set which is permanently connected to the two front amplifiers. Please shed some light on this.

As I think about it further, why not simply send the receiver's two front channel signals to one of the aux inputs on the Meitner, which would send it to the front amplifiers? The Meitner has the capability to adjust the volume of each input relative to the other inputs. Would the volume of the two front channel signals not be controlled by the volume control on the receiver as it passes through the Meitner?
Minkwelder, just read your post, thanks for confirming what I had in mind.
Hi Frogman,
The idea seems to be that this allows the Meitner to remain connected to the front mono's for critical music playback, and that for video, the two outputs of the Meitner, being connected in parallel, would allow the front L/R line level signals from the receiver to "pass through" from one set of RCA jacks to the other set which is permanently connected to the two front amplifiers. Please shed some light on this.
It won't work. Electrically that is essentially no different than connecting the outputs of both the preamp and the receiver together at the power amp inputs, via a y-adapter. The comments in my previous post about connecting both the preamp and the receiver to the power amp apply. I would also recommend against doing that even if the preamp did not short its outputs to ground when turned off, per the reasons stated in my posts in this thread. Basically, connecting two outputs together is almost never good practice IMO.
As I think about it further, why not simply send the receiver's two front channel signals to one of the aux inputs on the Meitner, which would send it to the front amplifiers? The Meitner has the capability to adjust the volume of each input relative to the other inputs. Would the volume of the two front channel signals not be controlled by the volume control on the receiver as it passes through the Meitner?
That would be the ideal arrangement (using pre-out signals from the receiver), EXCEPT for the problem of not being able to easily return to a specific volume setting on the Meitner. Yes the volume would be controlled by the receiver, but it would also be affected by the volume control setting in the Meitner, and therefore thrown out of balance with the volume on the center and rear channels unless the Meitner's volume control could be returned to a consistent setting when the receiver is being used.

Perhaps the answer is to go the other way, as I believe you alluded to in your original post, and find a receiver or processor having pre-outs (that would be connected to the Meitner power amps) and preferably also a pass-through provision to those outputs, with the Meitner preamp's output being connected to an input of the receiver or processor. If a receiver were being used (as opposed to a processor + multi-channel power amp), it would have to provide a convenient means of disabling the center and rear channel speakers while providing normal signals to the pre-out jacks. I don't know if a beast meeting all of those requirements exists, as I don't have a lot of familiarity with A-V stuff.

Best regards,
-- Al
Another possibility is to connect the outputs (left and right) of the Meitner preamp and the pre-outs from the receiver or processor to the inputs of a switch box, that would select one or the other. The outputs of the switch box would be connected to the power amps.

The DB Systems model DBP-2JAU/5 is a good one, which I have used in the past. It costs $110, though, as shown here. Note the link to a review. Here is their home page.

Best regards,
-- Al
"That would be the ideal arrangement (using pre-out signals from the receiver), EXCEPT for the problem of not being able to easily return to a specific volume setting on the Meitner." - Al

I have not found this to be a problem. As I said, I simply used a 12:00 volume level position on my 2-channel preamp when I ran the receiver's auto-level routine, and return to that setting when using the receiver. Due to differences in preamps, a different setting may be required to remain within the receiver's range of volume adjustment.

"If a receiver were being used (as opposed to a processor + multi-channel power amp), it would have to provide a convenient means of disabling the center and rear channel speakers while providing normal signals to the pre-out jacks." - Al

I am using the receiver's amplifiers for center and surround by hooking speakers to the center and surround speaker outputs on the receiver, but I do not hook speakers to the receiver's front speaker outputs. There is no need to disable anything. Actually, the receiver could be used as a processor alone without the need to hook up any speakers to it. Of course, for two channel listening, the receiver is not powered up at all.
03-23-12: Minkwelder
I simply used a 12:00 volume level position on my 2-channel preamp when I ran the receiver's auto-level routine, and return to that setting when using the receiver.
The Meitner preamp only provides a volume control on the remote. I had interpreted Frogman's comments to mean that the volume control mechanism on the remote is something like a pair of up/down buttons, with no means of telling where you are other than by listening. I just did some further research, and it looks like the remote provides a rotary control for volume (as well as for balance). So the approach of sending the receiver's pre-outs into an aux input on the Meitner may be practicable after all.
I am using the receiver's amplifiers for center and surround by hooking speakers to the center and surround speaker outputs on the receiver, but I do not hook speakers to the receiver's front speaker outputs. There is no need to disable anything.
You're probably right; thanks for pointing that out. But I wouldn't be completely certain. My statement pertained to the possibility of routing the Meitner's output into an input of the receiver, and routing the receiver's pre-outs for the front L & R channels into the two-channel Meitner power amps. Obviously in that configuration the receiver would have to be powered up for two-channel listening. If the amplifier sections of the receiver are not disabled during two-channel listening, in that configuration, depending on the design of the specific receiver it is possible that inter-channel crosstalk could result in sound being produced at audible levels by the center and rear speakers.

Regards,
-- Al
D'ohhh!
I hadn't even considered the possibility of a preamp without a manual volume pot on the unit itself. If there is no way to return to a specific volume level on the Meitner, that would indeed complicate matters. On the other hand, depending on how critical one is about the audio balance for movie watching, the volume level of the Meitner could be set using the receiver's test tones.
Thank you Al for the great info and resources, and thank you Minkwelder for your contribution.

Al, you initially interpreted my description of the Meitner's volume control correctly. The PA6 was available with either a wired remote (which I suspect is what you saw a picture of), or an infrared remote (the "i" designation). I have the infrared remote which simply has +/- buttons with no way of replicating a particular volume setting; other than aurally. What do you think about the idea of using a simple passive volume controller (passive preamp) in line with the L/R front outputs from the HT receiver?
This way, for HT use the volume on the Meitner can simply be set to max, and the appropriate (and repeatable) volume setting can be set with the volume control on the passive pre. The L/R front signals would be routed through the Meitner as Minkwelder suggested, and be volume controlled by the passive controller.
Yes, it was a picture of the wired remote that I saw.

I think that a better and also much less expensive approach than a passive preamp would be to put a pair of fixed-value 10 db or 20 db in-line attenuators at the preamp inputs, and then set the preamp's volume to max for HT as you suggested. Unfortunately the gain of the preamp doesn't appear to be specified, but I would feel fairly confident that with a 10 db in-line attenuator in place, and certainly with a 20 db attenuator, the overall gain at the max volume setting should be low enough to allow you to use reasonable level settings on the receiver.

As you may be aware, Rothwell makes 10 db attenuators that are generally well regarded. Some other makers supply 20 db attenuators, but I don't recall the specific names.

These would be (and should be) inserted directly into the input jacks of the preamp, with no intervening cable.

If you go that route, it may be worthwhile to try connecting them via the tape inputs, and comparing sonics with the results you get when connecting via one of the other line-level inputs. I see that the input impedance of the tape inputs is 100K, while the other inputs have an input impedance of 33K. Depending mainly on how much those numbers vary across the frequency range, it's possible that the higher input impedance of the tape inputs would provide better results when driven by a passive attenuator. On the other hand, using the 33K inputs would result in slightly more attenuation, assuming that the gains of both signal paths within the preamp are the same. My guess is that it would work fine either way, though.

Best regards,
-- Al
Minkwelder, out of curiosity, what receiver did you use, and how do you like it?
Aha! In-line attenuators. Brilliant! These, in conduction with I just discovered (remembered?) about the Meitner should do the trick. From the owner's manual:

****Input Gain Adjustment- There are three trim pots to adjust the gain of phono, tuner and AUX/CD relative to the tape input and relative to each other. Access to the trim pots is through three holes on the metal top chassis panel. The wooden sleeve can be removed by removing the two screws at the bottom of the unit. Each trimpot can then be used to adjust input sensitivity for the corresponding input. Phono, Tuner and CD/AUX
can be adjusted relative to Tape, which is fixed. If Tape is not used, two inputs can be adjusted relative to the third.****

Thanks again for the great suggestions. I will order some Rothwells.
I am using the Yamaha RX-V657. I upgraded from a cheap Sherwood 5.1 to get the DTS and the auto-level adjustment. I think they both sounded OK. The Yamaha sounds better, but then I'm not super critical about home theater sound. I was surprised to find preamp outputs in the Sherwood (I forget which model), which I bought new for a little over $100 online.