Good used surround processors??

I just split up my system--taking the high-end two channel section and moving it to my new living room, and taking what's left (with which i used a tape looped fosgate pro logic processor) and re-assemblling a mid-fi home theater in my new family room. As two channel listening isn't critical (at all) to the theater system, I don't want to spend the farm on a processor, but I do want to make the jump to digital surround.

As I'm sure digital surround sound processors are changing (and hopefully improving) more than probably any other component, I need a 101 guide on the pre-requisites to look for in a used processor, and features that don't really matter. Also, if I am looking for, say, a two year old mid-fi surround processor, what are some worthy candidates? In other words, should I avoid the Rotel, and look for a B&K or Parasound processor? I throw these arbitrarily as examples, but hopefully you get the idea.

Thanks in advance.

I'd stay very basic on the features you look for - good Dolby Digital decoding, DTS support if it matters to you, Dolby Pro Logic. I wouldn't worry about anything more than 5.1 channels as, once you do, you start creeping back into features that draw you closer to a current processor, and therefore more $$$. Map out what you're going to connect to it and be sure you have the right connections (inputs) to support it. I'd make sure that there is switchable S-Video support, as you don't have to go back very far to find this NOT on a processor, but S-Video is a dramatic improvement over composite. I'd also check out the bass management functionality, as many pre/pros don't have very flexible options. I would not worry about THX certification, though that's a big marketing item.

To be honest, if this is pure HT and you're really going for mid-level, I'd look for a slightly later model, but used, Denon receiver - you'll get performance that is definitely at least mid-fi, decent looks, more features, excellent build quality and a less complicated set-up (and therfore cheaper). If you really want to go the separates route, for $1000 (give or take) you should be able to pick up an Accurus ACT-3, a B&K 4090, or a Lexicon DC-1 (probably a bit more). -Kirk

The reasoning for sticking with separates versus the simplification advantages of a receiver is I'm already more than half way there in terms of amplification. Remember, I'm reassembling a home theater system and I still have a lot of what I need.

Here's the full picture--I always had a high end two channel system, which I branched out into HT via a tape loop and a Fosgate Model 4 (and equipment orphaned by upgrades.) In the end, I was driving NHT 3.3 speakers with a bi-amp set-up using VTL 225 vacumn tube monoblocks and a solid state Aragon 4004MK11 (to drive the woofers.) That part is going into the living room for 2 channel only listening. I used to have a pair of (British) Cambridge Audio 250W monoblocks, which drove the NHTs until one of them blew up--leaving me with with a perfect center amp, which is what it's doing--it's driving an NHT center channel amp.

My first amplifier, the B&K EX 442 200w dual monoblock amp, was pushed back in the chain as I upgraded, to ultimately drive my rears. I never bought dedicated rears--I used to drive a good pair of Energy 22.1 slightly-larger-than bookshelf speakers (~$1k in 1995)as satellites for another room. When I moved several years ago, they became my rears (driven by the B&K).

Long story short, after dismantling my two-channel rig (the DAC goes, too), I'm left with:

200w B&K EX 442 dual monoblock amplifier(s)
250w Cambridge Audio monoblock amplifer (1)

22.1 Energy speakers (2)
NHT VS-2 center channel

I'm thinking I simply need one more 2 channel amp to either drive my primaries or my rears (depending on how well I do finding a used one--if it's better than the B&K I'll put it up front, you get the idea...) I'm not sure what I'm doing with the speaker situation. The Energys were never meant to be rear speakers and it's been several years since I've listened to them critically. I'm thinking they were pretty good speakers (and as I have wall mounts for them from their prior duty in the rear)--I may very well use them as the primaries up off the floor on the wall mounts, which leaves me replacing the NHT center with a matching Energy center, and looking for dedicated Energy surrounds. OR, I may stick with the NHT center and go NHT all the way around but I'm skeptical about new NHT equipment since Ken Kantor is no longer affiliated with the company. I just moved last week and everything is still boxed other than the TV, the Tivo, and the DVD player. I need to break out the Energy speakers and give them a listen, but I wouldn't be surprised if they work out up front.

So, I (think I) need:

-digital surround sound processor to upgrade the Fosgate processor

-one more 2 channel amp (and I'm anticipating a ~200w mid-fi 2 channel amp can be had on the cheap since everyone's after multi-channel)

-a sub-woofer


-some more cables

-maybe a DAC

There's not much anyone can suggest in the speaker department until I evaluate the Energys, so the immediate mission seems to be the processor.

Am I on the right track?
1. Get a Lexicon DC-1 THX AC-3 DTS v4 for $1200-$1700 or a DC-2 for $2000-$2500. Logic 7 is a substantial improvement over the stock AC-3/DTS/Prologic decoding algorithms especially if you run both side and rear surround speakers (I really recommend this). The DC-1 was also a pleasant step up from the DACs in my $700 Adcom GCD700 CD player and DC-2/MC-1 owners suggest similar quantum improvements from the DC-1 are possible.

2. Many digital surround sound processors lack an (accessable - you can rig up a switch box on the Lexicons to use the analog zone 2 outputs) analog pass-through; so if you use an external DAC you'll be converting digital to analog to digital to analog.

3. If you have the shelf space, I think stereo amplifiers are a fine idea. On paper, many two-channel amplifiers are biased hotter than their multi-channel brethern and should therefore avoid cross-over distortion.
Hello Bismarch1

If you are going the used route to put together a home theater system (which is not a BAD idea when you stop and think about it. I got both of my VCRs that way, a JVC HR-VP638U VHS/Hi-Fi deck and a 1991 vintage Sony SLV-R5UC S-VHS/Hi-Fi "Prosumer Type" deck. The TV and the rest of my gear was purchased brand new), then I would definitely look for a 2 or 3 year old Fosgate with Dolby Digital Decoding, Dolby Pro-Logic, DTS (if that's what you want), and THX (again, if that's what you want). It should also have enough jacks in the back to connect all of your gear, and it should have a lot of S-VHS Jacks. I believe that some of the newer high-end standalone processors have "Component Video Jacks". If that doesn't concern you all that much, this would be a feature I would bypass if you happen to have these jacks on the back of your TV.

Now, about DAC's. I don't know what kind of DVD Player you have, but if you have a player that is equipped with good DAC's in the beginning, then I would forget about getting a DAC at this point. If not, then I would hunt down a used Theta Chroma for about $300.00 to about $450.00.

And finally, as for amps. I would say that you should listen to your Energy's first with both of your existing amps and see which amp sounds best with them, and then I would pursue a used stereo amp that either like one of your existing amps or one that is strikingly similar to it in sonic signature. Since everyone seems to be going for "multi-channel" sound right now, a good stereo amp may be had on the cheap. I would look here at "Audiogon" or at a site like "Audio Shopper", "Audio Review (if you are willing to put in the time)", or "E-Bay" to see if any bargains exist. If you see one that fits your ideal, jump on it then.

As for cables and a subwoofer. I think I will reserve comment until things on the speaker/amp front are resolved. I hope this is helpful enough for right now.

Good Luck,

My big relief was being able to use the amps at all. As I _thought_ I understood digital surround, you had to have equal power all the way around--a local dealer told me much like my dolby pro logic processor, the digital processors can compensate, as well. Good thing because the Cambridge Audio amp I described is a giant killer, and way more powerful than the B&K, doubling its output into 4 ohms.

What is the difference between DTS and Dolby Digital Decoding? In reference to your question about DVD and DACs, my DVD player is a Circuit City-grade Sony given to me as a gift this past Christmas. I have to check to verify it has a digital out, but I suspect it should. The DAC would be a later upgrade, nonetheless--I'm also buying dryers and hedge trimmers and furniture and, etc., etc.!

I'm in good shape for shelf space--I have to add a new rack upstairs for the high-end rig, but that's another story. From what I'm reading, S-video is better than component video jacks?
BTW, since posting as a guest under my bismarck email address, my registration has been activated, hence the user name Kitchener rather than

I don't know right off of the top of my head the difference between Dolby Digital and DTS. Both decoding methods use the 5.1 recording system. Dolby Digital is what you should be concerned about. It seems as though manufacturers also add DTS as an afterthought. DTS is a format that had some promise when it was launched about three or four years ago, but for some reason or another, it never caught on, and therefore, it was hardly mentioned. I hope I am right about this. But then again, you never know, because some of my DVDs at home can be decoded by either format, Dolby Digital and DTS. That may sound like a good subject for another thread altogether.

Now as for your Sony DVD Player, more than likely, it will have a digital output (in the form of both, a coaxial and a fiber optic toslink). Most DVD Players will have both of these jacks. My Pioneer Elite DV-37 certainly has them. The only ones that I have seen to have omit one form of the digital outputs so far seem to be the entry-level Toshibas (a friend of mine has an SD-1600..... he was someone who wanted a decent DVD Player that has a great picture, but doesn't cost a lot of money, so I told him about the Toshiba SD-1600/SD-1700), so you can add a DAC later on if you like.

And yes, in Dolby Digital, equal power goes to ALL channels (front, center, rear, and sides (if you have any), leaving only the subwoofer to fend for itself, hence the name, 5.1 channel sound. However, the surround sound processor should blend the subwoofer with the rest of the channels of your home theater system).

Kitchener - you can definitely utilize amps that you already have. As the dealer told you, the pre/pro will allow you to calibrate the sound level by channel (you'll need an SPL meter), so power differences can be compensated for.

Dolby Digital and DTS are both multi-channel digital encoding techniques. DD is encapsulated in AC-3, which allows for many different encoding techniques. The two are used interchangably which, for most conversations, doesn't matter much, but isn't technically accurate. DTS is an alternative encoding which, therefore, requires a different decoder. It's higher-bandwidth and, therefore, assumed to be superior and may well be. There is no doubt that DD is universally accepted by DVD manufacturers. DTS soundtracks are often included now, but not on every DVD by a long shot. Most pre/pros include DTS decoding now, though it used to be a premium feature and if you buy a used one you may not get it. The most straight-forward approach would be just to be sure that the pre/pro you buy does DD 5.1 (again, there are new versions of DD that you can pursue, but at some expense), that the DVD player you get outputs a digital signal (so that the pre/pro is the box doing the decoding), and get a 5.1 channel setup going and sit back and enjoy. A few years from now, you may want to pursue one of the myriad of new multi-channel HT encoding schemes, but after some of the dust has settled. -Kirk

If you thnk the debates get heated around here, visit a few HT discussion boards and look for the DD vs DTS threads. With that much "passion" on both sides, there's probably very little inherent differences and they pale in comparison to the engineering of the soundtrack.

Kitchener, I have to disagree with Charles. You will balance the soundpressure level form each of the 5 speakers at the listening position. You do not need equal power to all channels to do this.

What you *do* want to match is the front soundstage speakers. It is best to have these closely matched, if not identical, to maintain consistent timbre and tonal qualities as sounds pan across the stage. It is best if the rears are also closely matched, but not nearly as critical. To this end you might consider getting a pair of VT-2's for your mains. You can probably find a used pair for less than $1200. The B&K's might be a touch on the warm side of neutral and should be a good match with these.

Finally, you ask about the video connections. Virtually everyone sees a very discernable difference moving from composite to S-video. Most see a discernable but less striking difference moving from S-video to component. You will need component video and digital-ready TV to take advantage of progressive scan DVD, which is also a very noticeable improvement over interlaced.
DD vs DTS. It's funny--I built my system over a period of a year or two five years ago (which is what I'm breaking up into two separate systems now), and after I was done, I pretty much stopped haunting the audio sites, primarily the USENET newsgroups. Coming back now to research rebuilding my HT system, it's like I never left with regards to the sniping, LOL. I posted a similar question on, and they're so caught up in the same crap (who's a fraud, do cables matter, etc., etc.--the flames haven't changed in five years) that I never did hear back.

In any case, I knew I'd have to have some sort of complementing L/C/R speaker system, figuring I might keep the Energys, or I might keep the NHT center, but not both.

You mentioned the VT-2. I've been assuming NHT hasn't been the same company since Ken Kantor left, thinking I might be better off working with my Energy speakers (assuming they measure up when I get them hooked up). I could bore you all to tears with how great my NHT 3.3s are (which are going to my dedicated 2-channel music system), or how many speakers I auditioned before I settled on the 3.3s. What is the word on current generation NHT speakers (and the VT-2s) these days?

I must say I've been hoping to wall mount my left and right speakers--the wall behind the HT system has the basement on the other side, lending itself very well (read easy) to running wires behind the wall and back out again at the wall-mounted speakers. Obviously with the NHT line, the VT-2s aren't wall-mountable! With a quality sub I'm not worried, of course, about the bass aspects. With a growing baby, I like the idea of less stuff for him to draw with crayons!

On the other hand, I'm cognitive of the ambient aspects of having speakers out in the rooms a bit more, though bookshelf-size speakers on stands seem pretty untenable (and unsafe) with the baby. One of the best HT systems I ever heard (in a store) was using Magnapan speakers, but I don't have the room or the space for that.

I'm just going to have to break down and hook up the amps and speakers to see what I have in those Energy 22.1s. I've been holding off because I need a bridge from Salamander for my TV (the Salamander Synergy cabinet it used to sit on is in the living room now so I can lock my vacumn tube monoblocks in it--that's a whole other research thread I'm pursuing trying to determine how I'm going to keep them cool and how long I can get away with for interconnects.) In any case, the result of that research will determine what I get from Salamander, an extension for my Twin 20 cabinets or a new rack altogether, and at that time I was planning to buy the bridge for my Salamander Archetype racks I'm now using with the HT system--then taking on the task of putting everything back together.

Anyone want to chime in with their thoughts on the max length one would want to go with interconnects? With my high-end 2-channel living room set-up, I can either build up the Salamander Synergy cabinet from its roughly 20" height to something higher to accomodate the rest of my components (cd, dac, pre-amp, crossover because I'm bi-amping), or I could buy a new rack to be placed to the right of my listening position (the cabinets with the amps are between the speakers, of course), but this would require 25' to 30' interconnects from the preamp to the amps (which because the living room is above the basement I could easily run under the floor and back up again at the amps...) The latter is my preference as it seems the more elegant solution, not the least of which because I won't be left with something that would look like an entertainment center in my music-only living room, as well as having something large in the sound field between my speakers. Ah, me. Sorry for the side tangent--it's so easy to over-load the synapses when it comes to audio, no?
Welcome to another RAO refugee! Like I said somewhere here recently, I just stop reading when the threads turn irreversibly ugly - never seemed to get more than 4 posts in at RAO ;-)

Can't say I've heard those Energy's and have no idea what center would match with them. I *have* listened a bit to the VT-2 (not the newer bipolar VT-2.4) and like them quite a bit. Other than the last year or so of their model run they would have been during the KK reign - certainly designed then, no?

I don't hink you have a problem with 30' interconnects - lots of 10 meter sub cables sold. This is admittedly not your primary music system anyway.

WRT the wall-mounting thing - can you get omni-mounts for a pair of VS-2's?