Home theatre and Musical Experience

Current system driven by Denon avr 2800 and does anadequate job for ht but only mediocre for music. Have been planning to add a power amp for the mains driven by the pre outs from the denon. Hoping to find the sound. Current system is muddy on music until I go to higher spl's. Want the dynamics and airiness that I am missing at lower spl's. Looking for what you would hear at a nice jazz club where the musical presence is there without the volume. Auditioned B&w naut805 and found the same thing so have turned to possible amp upgrade. Am I on the right track? Anyone gone through this upgrade and had success? Any amp suggestions? Feel sure this will lead to future upgrades just want to start where I will hear and feel a difference and go from there.
Music and HT together is very very hard. I have a Denon AVR 5600 and Def Tech 2000 - great for HT but very lacking in music. I've upgraded to Link III DAC, MIT T2 cables, separated all my cables and moved speakers around but got only barely satisfying results. I can't afford to dump my HT system for a music first/HT second set up. Good luck I know what you're going through and you'll hear from lots of people shortly.
I had the same feelings for many years with my home theater system. I had a Sony ES Processor for home theater which was fine for movies and even DVD and Laserdisc concerts, but when playing CD's it was muddy and lifeless. I always prefered listening to music on my small system in the other room which was Sony ES 5 disc changer, Adcom 555 preamp and 454 amp. I was always disappointed that my bigger room with better equipment sounded so lame when it came to music. When I was auditioning speakers at several shops, I realized how much difference a decent preamp and CD player made to the clarity and detail of the sound so I looked around and bit and bought the Adcom GFP 750 preamp which has the theater pass-through switch so I could hook up my Sony processor to it, and pass it through to the power amp, or when listening to CD's, the signal path was CD player to preamp to power amp. It was an easy way to integrate a preamp with the home theater stuff. It made such a huge difference that it set me on the path to more upgrades. Before with the muddy sound of the Sony it was hard to tell any difference between different DAC's or cables or speakers - it was making everything sound bad. Once I got a better source for music, everything was so much more revealing that I could enjoy my big system again.

I don't know if many other preamps have a good way to pass through the R/L channels of a theater processor which bypass the volume control on the preamp like the Adcom does - maybe someone else knows of some. It is a very nice and convenient feature - you don't want to have to reconnect cables certainly, or have your R/L as an input to the preamp in which case you would have two volume controls for while using the home theater equipment.

In any case, a decent analog preamp/power amp combo makes a huge difference over a receiver or processor stuffed with ton of DSP and other digital enhancement features. If you can find a good way to share the power amp for music and home theater it works out to be a good compromise in my opinion. When integrating home theater and music you always have the acoustic compromises of having the TV in the center which can hurt the imaging of the speakers a bit, but it can still be a great sounding room for both applications.

Wish you luck on your project.
I went through this process last year. I had an antiquated 2-channel system an wanted a new 2-channel and HT system combines. I bought 3 different HT receivers (Sony DB930, Denon AVR-3300, B&K AVR-202). They were priced $500-$2800. None of them came close to the old 2-channel system I was trying to replace. I did try adding-on an old(but very good) Adcom GFA-555 amplifier, and it helped, but it still didn't meet my needs.

I ended up with a great integrated amp.(Arcam Alpha 10) that has an HT bypass. I have the Denon AVR-3300 for HT duties. All music sources connect directly into the Arcam's pre-amo section and the HT sources connect to the Pre-amp/processor portion of the Denon. The Arcam always powers the from speakers, and the Denon powers the surrounds and center, and controls the bass to the LFE port.

This system works great. It easily outperforms my old 2-channel system for music, and works seamlessly for HT. I'm ecstatic!!

Steve: If your objective is to have a good system for music, then that's where to start, even if means that you may have to compromise a bit on the HT sound. I have been an audiophile for a long time, but wanted to build a good HT system around my audio system. If you have the money, there are some pretty good pre/pros that do justice to both music and HT. The ones I am familiar with and can recommend are (cheapest to most expensive): Adcom GTP-760 (can be bought for around $1350 discounted); Parasound AVC-2500 (chosen by "The Perfect Vision" mag as one of the 2 best pre/pros under $6K); and the Bryston SP-1 (this unit has dedicated analog circuits as well as digital circuits, so you get the best of both worlds). I currently have a Bryston SP-1 feeding Bryston 4B-ST and 5B-ST power amps, which in turn drive Vandersteen 3A Signature front speakers, etc. This system does an excellent job with both music and HT. As I have mentioned in several recent posts, I have been helping my ex-wife install a HT system, and she is using the Adcom GTP-760 as the pre/pro. I am quite impressed with the quality of the sound on both music and HT, and for $1350 (discounted) I think the unit is very hard to beat. (The Perfect Vision mag has a very positive review of the Adcom GTP-760 in the current issue - #35.)
Away from the computer for a while (had to work) and come back to the most realistic answers I have gotten so far. Thanks a lot! May end up just building a seperate system using the same mains for music but the pass through feature sounds like it might work great. Enjoy HT but first priority is music.
Will get back on this.
You've gotten some excellent advice, particularly with the analog preamp w/ HT pass through comment. If you're using nice speakers (which the N805's certainly are), you're not going to get anywhere near their full potential unless you give them adequate amplification, which the Denon AVR most certainly isn't. Buy a beefier amp to drive at least the L/R channels and feed it from the Denon as a first step, and you'll hear a nice difference. Replacing the Denon with a nice analog preamp or a high-end processor will make another big leap in sound. Don't short-change on the power - you won't regret having more than you "need".

I haven't experimented to the extent of the other respondants here, but here are my experiences.

My HT setup was assembled in mid-1998 and is comprised of Marantz AV550, ATI AT1505, Sony DSS, Pioneer DVL700 combo player, NHT SuperOnes and SuperZeros, and NHT SW3P sub. I tried using a Musical Fidelity CD player with this system, but wasn't even close to being satisfied. I even tried adding a Z-Man tube buffer stage after the CD player, and experimented with different affordable cables. The music was just plain lifeless.

In early 2000, I decided the only way I was going to be satisfied was to build a separate and dedicated music system. So far my music setup consists of a Sim Audio Moon I-5 integrated, Sonus Faber Concertinos, the same MF CD player [soon to be a transport only], with a Bel Canto DAC 1.1 on the way. I use the NHT sub for both systems.

From my example you can probably surmise that I didn't take the most affordable route. Even on my modest budget. The music bug bit me hard, and I ended up spending much more on cables for my current music system than I would have dreamed possible 3 years ago.

You might want to consider a nice pre-pro like a Citation, Classé or Proceed and a good multi-channel amp for example and use that for both music and HT. It sounds like SDcampbell has a really nice setup for both.

Good luck, and I hope you find something that works for you.
Good bang for the buck to drive the mains for music is a Bryston 3BST. Lots in great shape available used.
The advice here is incredible. Have a lot to think about now but will be back with more questions I'm sure.
As Panzercat mentioned, one of the big drawbacks with combining audio and HT systems (which I was forced to due when I moved to a smaller house in the UK) is having a TV sitting between your speakers (unless you fork out the long green for front projection, which I hope to do soon!). I recommend trying to keep the L/R speakers at least somewhat forward of the screen, and using tube traps either in front of the screen (during music listening only, obviously), or just inboard of the L/R speakers, to reduce reflections off the TV that will muddy the soundstage or create a hard center image with no depth. Take the time to really experiment with room treatment...even simple things like bookshelves, furniture, wall hangings, etc. It makes for a much more invloving experience, for both music and HT.

I saw in some of your other threads that you are now considering McCormack as your amplification. I think this is good move. Good deals on used DNA 0.5s and DNA 1s are easy to be had. And if you so incline in the future, you can have Steve McCormack upgrade the amp driving your mains to one of his mods to enhance you music listening sessions.

Your journey will be fun and expensive. Ever since I got bit by the audio/music bug I'm finding that out everyday. My HT setup has remained the same for the last 2 years, but my music system is always in metamorphosis.

Doing the research is sometimes as fun as actually finally getting the stuff. There's no harm in taking your time.

Steve, I recently took my first plunge into HT. I've been a audiophile for 20 years but was always nervous about making the move to HT, because music still remains 75-80% of my listening. I bought a Proceed PAV with Classe CA-200 and Classe CAV-75 amps used for less than $3k. I'm not wealthy but I like good sound. The Proceed PAV doesn't have DD or DTS, but I couldn't find a <$1500 pre/pro that did such a good job on music. The Dolby Pro Logic does a good enough job for my limited HT watching. I also went with a seperate stereo amp for music. The Classe CA-200 drives my mains and sounds better to me than any multi-channel amp I've heard on 2 channel music. When I play HT, I turn on the CAV-75 to drive the surrounds. To me I have the best of both worlds, I know the pre/pro could have better HT setup but with my budget limitations and my listening habits I chose a used pre/pro that's strength is music over HT. How much you value or listen to music and your budget will determine where you go, there are many different directions to go in. I hope this helps.
Steve...Ditto on the same problem..I stumbled on a possible solution.....I've been a big fan of Mac/Jbl combo over the years, and have had various amps/preamps...Now I wanted all that "surround" stuff, so I went out and bought a Mac 7205 5 ch amp, c42 preamp, and msd4 processor...For sheer sonic fidelity, I was sadly disappointed....So I sold my 7205, and went back to a combination of higher power amps for the 5 channels.......An improvement, but still missing what I had been getting from my good old 2 channel stereo. For music listening, which is 95% of the time, the processor seemed to be the weak link in the system.

In the "pro-logic" mode, the msd4 threw far too much stuff into the center channel, and the front l and r became, well, "muddled".......I figured I was destined to go back to stereo for my music listening......I had an idea, a very simple one, and ran it by the guys down at the stereo store....They said I shouldn't do this, so naturally, I went home and tried it immediatly.

Here's what I did. You guys tell me if I'm going to wreck my equipment...Basicly, I wanted the best of both worlds. The full richness of my stereo, plus the ambiance of the surround......Soooooo, why not combine both signals.? For starters, I inserted a "monster " "Y" fitting into the L and R input of my main front amp. Now I have 2 female inputs for L and R. From my c42 preamp, I took my MAIN OUT and ran it to one of the 2 "Y" inputs to my main front amp that I described. Then, from my msd4 processor, I took the FRONT L & R and hooked it to the vacant input on my "Y" connector.......So what am I really doing here---I'm mixing 2 signals to my front L&R....The best stereo signal, un-muddled by the processor, and the processors signal....My other channels, sub, center, and surround l and r were left undisturbed. MAN, WHAT A DIFFERENCE...I didn't get off that couch till well after 2AM....AND....My equipment didn't blow up like my "knowledgeable professionals" down at the stereo store said.......I preserved 100% of the rich, beautiful Stereo signal, AND the full "ambiance" of my surround...WOW !! And I was ready to chuck the whole system and go back to Stereo...Any comments?? Anybody else tried this?? By the way, I am able to operate the volume control on BOTH the pre-amp AND processor from my only remote...The one that came with the C42...So once I get the volumes generally matched manually, I use the remote......I'm ecstatic!! Macfan Al...Beautiful Lake Tahoe, NV
Hi Steve,
I had the same situation 5 months ago when I had DENON AVR-1601 which was good in HT but very muddy in music. I tried to change speakers to NHT and B&W but no luck. I decided to go for separates starting from a new power-amp (EAD PowerMaster 500), a new pre/pro (Kinergetics Chiro C-802). The result was much more musical. Then , in search of musical sound, I a separate DACs and CD trasport into my system which is very satisfied. But, you know, before I got the right DAC for my system I bought 3 DACs (ADCOM GDA-600, Theta Pro BasicII, and EAD 700MKII) to test with my system. Furthermore that I bought a Camelot Dragon 5.1 Jitter reduction. Then finally, got a EAD TM Signature to replace my existing Pre/Proc, DACS, Transport, and Jitter Reducer.

I've been buying more than 20 equipments within 5 month period. I just want to tell you that I can't stop upgrading my system anymore. Everytime I upgrade and it sounds better, I never satisfied enough to stop upgrading. It seem to me that anything would be better if I keep upgrading. Just want to ask you if you sure to come this way?

In case you really want to upgrade you system. My suggestion: If your CD player is good enough ( I mean the internal DAC in your CD Player), buy a good integrated amp (Classe, Rotel, or NAD) for separate music listening. Doing this way will save you a lot of money from upgrading to separates. Or if you have money to spend and want real quality, go for separates. Good luck.

Supakit S.
So much info and so many different ways to go about it. With the budget I get to work with it will be a slow process. I suppose each step will be an upgrade and as long as I can see improvement there will be a lot of enjoyment. Today I think that the first will be a new amp that will run off the pre outs of the receiver for a while. Should improve the sound and will be able to get new speakers befor to long (possibly the magnepan mmg's). Have to decide between a 2, 4, or 5 channel but leaning to a 2 that will drive the mains. Considering the bryston 2bst, arragon 4004, but have also read great things about the anthem. Have considered the citation 7.1 that would be good later on but only if it is as musical as the others. The pre with ht pass through sound good too so may have to do a little research on pre's with this feature.
Thanks again for all the input. The help here offsets some of the frustration of being in a town with only 2 upperend stores. Even they don't handle any of the equiptment that I am considering.
This truly is a good thread. I posted something similar a while back with lesser results. It's good to see that the forum is both growing AND maintaining a high level of usable info. Kudos to all of you for helping out and sharing your experiences and knowledge.

Like many others here, i've tried to do a dual purpose system before and keep finding out just how poor most of the preamp / processors really sound on music. I REALLY found this out when i substituted one of my 2 channel preamps for the last HT processor that i had and was blown away. I would REALLY like to keep this preamp ( Marsh MSD P-2000) in the system and use an external processor, but the preamp has no processor loop and i can't find a simple way around this. As such, i keep coming back to checking into the Proceed pre / processor or the Adcom GFP-750 ( because it DOES have a processor loop ) but just haven't gotten around to it. I've got 7 channels of amplification just waiting to be kicked in the ass. Anybody have any suggestions ? Are you folks with the GFP-750 REALLY happy with them in terms of music performance ??? Anybody check into the Anthem pre / processor ??? Sean
Steve, this can be done but as mentioned above it is expensive to do, this is what I have come to experience. First of all I run Martin aerius i's which the cost of a good amp has made my journey a pricey one. I'm using a bat vk200 amp to drive those little bastards, but it has brought me pleasure. I also have a dc-1 that I do my 2 ch and ht with. The dc-1 does great with ht and pretty good with 2 ch, but I have realized to get what I want I need a bat tube pre the vk30, which has a pass thru for when you listen to ht. I have listened to my current setup with a bat 3i pre and it gave me a big, big smile. So to get the best of both worlds I will eventually own a pre for 2 ch and processor for ht. Like I said it does get expensive, but its probably do to my speakers being so picky. One day my audio heaven will come, anyone looking to donate a Bat vk30. You may find better luck starting with 2 ch and a pre that has the pass thru feature. I think its very hard to have both with just one pre. Good luck with your adventure. pete

I don't have the GFP 750 in my system but have listened to it extensively in local audio emporia. It is good beyond all proportion to its cost. The Stereophile crew has it in the Class A category. Yes, I know the criticisms of that bunch, but they usually offer soundly conceived opinions and tell you how they got there.

In fact, I'm thinking of buying the 750 for a second system because of its price/performance ratio - off the scale. It is an incredible bargain.
Sean, have you listened to a Proceed in your system? I have the older PAV, like I mentioned previously, because I just moved to HT this year and was very nervous. Previous preamps were Audio Research and Coda, since music is my priority, I ventured apprehensively into HT. I've been very happy with the PAV. In fact I had one gentleman offer me $400 more than I paid for it. He told me he is big into high end and friends with many audio salesmen, and they all thought the PAV better sonically with 2 channel than the AVP. I just bought it 'cause it sounded better than any other <$1500 pre/pro I auditioned. I might be missing awesome DTS or whatever, but music is 80% of my listening, and I would rather have a great pre with a adequite pro than vice versa. I haven't been able to demo the AVP and PAV side by side, but I think the Proceed line is very good in 2 channel and just might be what you're looking for.
HT and high end 2 channel together .... it can be done, but it ain't cheap.

I started with a similar setup to yours and have done so much upgrading that I literally have two separate systems in one room. That said, here are some of the things I have learned along the way and how I married reasonably high end HT and 2 channel.

1. Front speakers: Start here. Listen to the very best speakers your budget can afford in a two channel format first. (Your going to then build your system around those speakers.) But ....if your room must be used for both HT and audiophile 2 channel listening be aware of WHERE the front speakers will be placed. (Most wives, kids, etc. can't tolerate speakers set out from the front wall too much.) This becomes even more problematic if you've got a big screen RPTV sitting between the front speakers, as many otherwise great speakers sound like BestBuy B stock when stuck between a TV and 2 inches from the front wall. Case in point, I once heard an awesome $60K Krell/Martin Logan HT setup at a local dealer. The Logans were set up perfectly about 1/3 of the distance from the front wall. I asked the dealer to move them back (about 16" from the wall) to simulate how they would be in MY room. The sounstage collapsed faster than a 3rd World government, bass, or what was left of it, was muddy and unconnected. Too bad -- I really liked the Logans. So I ended up buying Kef Reference 4's, not quite as sweet as the Logans, but they are able to tolerate typical HT positioning much better than a panel speaker and have a larger sweet spot.

2. You'll then need to match centre and rears to whatever fronts you choose. (For me that meant Kefs all around). (B&W and Dunlavy are also a good choice, and I think their centre channel(s) are amoung the best, but your into $20 -$40 large to do it right). Six Dunlavy V's are what Wide Screen Review are using in their newly constructed reference room, but if you can afford those, then you can also probably afford better advice than mine!

3. Keep the 2 channel and home theatre system separate. In my opinion, only the very best multi-channel stuff such Classe, Krell, etc. sounds any good for 2 channel -- and I'd still put a nice set of BAT monos or my Aranov tubes up against almsot all the solid state multi-channel amps for two channel. So that brings us to Step 2 -- invest in a high quality 2 channel separate amp and preamp. Hook NONE of this up to the Denon or whatever HT theatre receiver you have, unless it has preamp and poweramp pass through. Even so, I'd prefer to keep the high end separates, separate from the HT stuff! Instead, run a second set of speaker wires to your fronts from the 2 channel amp. (If you quessed I'm running two systems here, you are correct, the only comonality is the front speakers)

3. Your Dennon is excellent for HT, with much flexibility and enough power. I have a Marantz 14-EX whcih costs as much as some decent separates and is reasonably musical. But I dare not use it for 2 channel. I was going to sell it and go with Aragon or Krell multi-channel stuff, but the Marantz was so easy for the kids and wife to use and was par excellence for HT, besides having the best remote. So I sold the Aragon and bought Aranov mono blocks for two channel and I now have the best of both worlds. For seven channel THX-EX the Aranovs drive the front channels- simply by moving over the RCA cables (Cardas Golden Cross) from the 2 channel preamp to the Marantz. Of note, a second set of speaker wires (Nordost Red Dawn II's) keep the Aranovs totally separate from the Marantz when driving my Kefs for serious channel lsitening. A Sony SCD-1 on Black Diamond Racing Shelf is the front end, and when I can afford it, a Levinson 360s DAC for Redbook CD will round out my two channel set-up. The best of both worlds. I'm not sure... but damm close. And finally, you'll need a electrician. You dare not plug those wonderful tube monos into the same noise infested outlet as all your HT. (I run a Monster Power Conditioner for HT and AudioPrism for the two channel stuff on separate outlets).

I know this set-up sounds strange, but short of six monoblocks feeding six Dunlavy VI's, I have not found a better way to get good HT and audiophile quality 2 channel in the same room.

The key to this system is the Marantz which is so very close to separates anyway and has huge flexibilty. The other things that make this set-up work so well are: (a)two sets of speaker wires that allow me to run two systems (one for HT and one for 2 channel) into the same front speakers. (b) good speakers that can tolerate the non-ideal placement between a TV and 16" form the back wall (c)the Sony SD-1 that has relegated the HT stuff to the wife and kids because I can't stop lsitening to SACD. (d)Grado RS-1 and RA-1 headphone and amp when the rest of family wants to watch TV (the Grado RA-1 hooked directly to the Sony is awesome) and finally...(d)a credit card with a high limit to pay for all the experimenting I've had to do to acheive this. Now if I can just trade those Kefs in for 6 of Mr. Dunlavy's finest ....
As with many of my endeavors money became an issue and a decision that since this is my first step into the upgrade world small steps might be better for me. Connected the 3b last night and what a revelation. Music became what I had hoped for. Clarity, detail, emotion surrounded us. Even my wife, who claims to not hear the sutilities was awed by what we were hearing. Clapton "Unplugged" was first and the reality gave me that "you are there" feeling that I was hoping for. Linda said for the first time music sounded like it was in the room and not coming out of those (speakers). Patricia Barber "Cafe Blue" was next and was like hearing a new master. Things that had sounded good were now great and the depth of the sound drew you to it. Needless to say we are thrilled. I know that there is much more to come but for now I will enjoy this first step and be happy for a while. Thanks to all who participated in this for their advice and encouragement. It would not have happened without all the help.
Steve - You've hit on the most important aspect - take the steps you can afford and enjoy each step to the max. No need to be in a hurry, as there is much improvement to be made with each step. You'll learn a lot more about what makes a difference to you and why if you let your system develop over time. Enjoy. -Kirk