How to improve 2-channel performance in HT rig?

Hi all . . ..

I just "finished" upgrading my HT system, and I'm pretty happy with the way it sounds for movies. However, a funny thing happened during the upgrade -- my 2-channel performance actually became good enough to be enjoyable. I had planned on using the system for purely home theater, and using my headphone system (ASL MG Head OTL, Music Hall CD-25, and Senn 600's) to listen to music. However, I find that I now enjoy the home theater system more than the headphone system, so now the inevitable "I want to enjoy it MORE" kicks in, so . . . .

Lexicon DC-1 pre/pro
Rotel RB981 (130w x 2)
NHT 2.3A floorstanders
NHT SW2P subwoofer/amp combo
Signal Cable Analog One interconnects
Signal Cable Speaker Cable
Monster Cable HTS-2500 MKII power conditioner (Rotel is plugged directly into the wall, tho)

Plus six other NHT speakers and a Rotel 985 that aren't used for 2-channel playback.

What would be the best next upgrade to make? My suspicion, based on comments I've heard, is that I need to get the Lexicon out of the 2-channel signal path and replace it with a really nice, musical 2-channel preamp with a HT passthrough. But there are other possibilities -- add an outboard DAC, for example, or upgrade the amp driving the main speakers, or upgrade the main speakers, for that matter . . . . Aagggh! ;-0)

Eventually, I'd like to do all those things, but an upgrade of many thousands of dollars starts with a single step, so . . . .

I'm pretty happy with the soundstaging now (speakers are set up about 8' apart with about 3' to the side walls for each, about 4' to the rear wall and about 8' from the listening position, and about a foot out in front of the 51" TV), but I think the imaging could be improved, and I'd really like more richness, liquidity, and body to female vocals (Eva Cassidy, for example). The vocals and instruments have a presence, now, but still sound more "recorded" than "real."

(Of course, they ARE recorded, but what is audiophilia if not tilting at sonic reproduction windmills? ;-0) )

Any suggestions greatly appreciated!

Pat - nice system, and I'm not surprised that you find yourself liking it for music instead of just HT. I, at one point, had the DC-1 and NHT speakers (the 2.9's), using a Sony DVD player as a transport into the DC-1, driven by a 5-channel Krell. I was probably at a similar place to where you're at now - really fantastic on HT, enjoyable but not perfect on music.

I have since upgraded basically everything and, not surprisingly, like the performance on music much better. I have the MC-12 now, which has 2-channel analog pass-thru. I like where I currently am, but IF I was to do it over, starting back with the DC-1, I'd probably go a different route.

If you like the basic sound of your speakers, then make sure they're driven fully. My guess is that the Rotel is very adequate for the NHT's. The NHT's are very accurate sounding, but I wouldn't describe them as rich or liquid. Ultimately, to get those characteristics, you might have to change to a different brand of speaker. I would warn that the NHTs are right at the top of my list for somebody really wanting great HT (something I love, to be sure), so proceed with caution. Anyway, the word of warning is that if you do change your speakers at some point, take into account that your amplification quite likely will have to be upgraded as well. I now use Dynaudio's and I have upgraded amplification for them twice with very significant improvements both times.

Upgrading the pre/pro, which I did twice as well, stopping at the MC-1 for a couple years in between, brought about nice changes for the better as well, still driving them from the Sony DVD player as a transport. I did try a KRC-3 as a 2-channel preamp, and a separate DAC. There wasn't anywhere near enough improvement, IMO, to warrant all the extra confusion of cabling and boxes, etc. So I dismantled all of that.

What did bring a really nice upgrade to music was ultimately getting a very nice CD player, in my case the Muse Model 9 Signature DVD player. Using that with it's analog outs through an analog preamp was a significantly nicer sound, and brought some of that richness and body. I wouldn't want to have to put words to the changes, but playing the same saxaphone piece through the MC-12 with a transport, vs. through the MC-12 as an analog preamp, there was no question the Muse sounded much better.

So, if I was in your exact situation, I'd buy a Krell KRC-3 used (for around $1200). Then, depending on how good your current CD player is with it's analog outs (I'm not familiar with the model at all), I'd either use it as a full-blown CD player, or I'd look for a used Muse Model 9 DVD player (signature is better, but not req'd). The Muse gear doesn't hold it's value at all, for some reason, so you can get them cheap used. If you search for reviews, though, you'll see that they all rave about this machine. I certainly have found it to be a wonderful player. It also does a good job with DVD playback.

That's $2500, so it's not cheap, and maybe has to be done in a couple steps, but with that setup you'd be set for a long-time for both music and HT playback. You could concentrate in the future on speakers / amplification if the urge ever strikes.

BTW - I found the upgrade from the DC-1 to the MC-1 to be significant for music, though many claim otherwise. YMMV, but I thought it was worth it. I'd probably still go the route I described above, and I don't know that I'd spend the money to upgrade just for the better HT performance.

Kirk --

Thanks for the suggestions! I've decided to start out by trying to see just how good my DVP9000ES is in terms of Redbook CD playback, so I just ordered a Channel Islands passive preamp -- it's supposed to be EXTREMELY transparent, so it should let me hear everything that's going on with the Rotel and the Sony. And, at $220 new, if it doesn't turn out the way I'd like, it's not a major loss.

I did swap amps, though -- I discovered through a quick test that the Rotel 985MkII sounds MUCH better on 2-channel playback than the RB981 does, even the the 981 is rated at 20 wpc more power. As it turns out, the 985 uses power sharing between its five (100 wpc each) channels, so with only two channels driving it's putting something over 150 wpc into each, with lots of headroom for transients (since the transformer can produce up to 500 wpc). Better soundstage, better bass . . .. heck, better everything.

So we'll see how the gear sounds once I get the Lexicon out of the signal path, and then go from there.

Thanks again for the input!

Pat have you tried using any temporary acoustic absorbers over your RPTV? That big reflective surface only a foot behind the plane of your mains has a rather major effect. You might do a simple experiment of covering with thick layers of blankets. Not perfect, but I bet you'll notice an immediate difference. If that helps, you could always make or buy something that could be put in place when doing stereo.
No, I haven't tried anything like that. Seems like a good idea, though . . . . I ahould cover all the surfaces of the TV, right?

If it works, I'd imagine that a simple four-walled frame could be put together pretty easily, even using something like eggcrate foam, and that could be folded flat when not in use and and then erected around the TV for serious 2-channel listening . . . .

Thanks for the tip! I'll give it a try and report back.

My situation is similar. I am using the NHT VT 2.4 with Rotel RMB-1095 and a Sony DVD player/CD recorder/player for a source, all through a Marantz receiver as the Pre-pro. Home Theater sounds awsome, 2 channel sounds bright most of the time. I think from the sound of the suggestions I am going to try a new CD player.
Carlabarla --

I just ordered a 2-channel passive preamp from Channel Islands to replace the Lexicon in the 2-channel signal path -- I'll let you know how that turns out.

You mentioned in your other post, though, that you were using an inexpensive Sony DVD player -- if that's the case, you will definitely want to upgrade that. Of the things I'm trying to "fix" in my system, brightness isn't really one of them -- but I'm using the Sony 9000ES, which The Absolute Sound ranked as competitive with any sub-$2000 player for Redbook CD playback.

I've been living with NHTs for a number of years, and they are merciless to inexpensive electronics. When I was using my Pioneer Elite CLD-59 as a CD player, I had to use a tube amp (Jolida SJ-202A) to make NHTs listenable, and even then some CDs still sounded unpleasant.
Carlabarla --

Another thought for you . . . . I don't know what the VT2.4s are like, but I know my 2.3As benefitted significantly from being raised up about 8 inches off the floor, so that the tweeters are level with my ears when seated. Doing that improved the soundstage depth, and made vocals recess slightly back into that increased soundstage so that they didn't sound "in your face" any more.
The 2.4's are pretty tall and the tweeters are generally slightly above my listening position already. Thanks for the suggestions and let me know how the passive preamp works out.
The passive pre is supposed to be here on Dec. 2 ((!($*!_$*!$ UPS! TWELVE days from CA to PA?????)

I'll let you know how it works out . . . .

The passive pre is here and installed -- makes a BIG difference. The sound is much more detailed without the Lexicon in the chain, and vocals are a little more rounded with better weight. Bass is about the same, which is good since I was happy with it already.

I highly recommend that anyone looking to improve 2-channel performance in a theater system give it a shot -- the passive even makes integration a snap, since all you have to do is turn it the whole way up and it "disappears," allowing your HT pre/pro to control the volume.
I am currently looking at the same situation, HT is where I want it and 2 channel is much improved to the point I want MORE!!!! I am using the Anthem AVM-20 with the Anthem MCA-50 amplifier hooked up with XLR Red Dawns. I have a Marantz DV-7100 as my source. I am running Paradigm Ref. 100 v2 for fronts. From what I have been reading, upgrading to a nice cdp should make a big difference. The Sony you have has seen good reviews but when compared to good cdps it fails in comparison. I am strongly considering the Njoe Tjoeb 4000 with upsampler because of the price. I have heard adding a tubed cdp adds body to the music playback that you will not get from similarly priced SS cdps. I am also considering a used BAT VK D5SE. I heard this player in a similar SS system and almost wet myself. The other areas that need close attention are wiring and power. If power source is bad, 2 channel music will be affected more than HT because of the attention to detail. HT is usually more complex and the attention to detail is masked by the movie itself. Wiring will make a huge difference in many systems, the one goal is to not out wire your component thresholds. By this I mean you can spend way too much on cables and see very little return if you go all out. As the equipment gets better the cables should get better to allow your equipments abilities to shine through. You can spend a boat load upfront on cables but I feel the initial investment should be made in front end equipment, then the cables.
Tsmack --

Thanks for the suggestions!

I'm using Signal Cable Analog Two interconnects for the CD playback chain, and I just put a DIY Belden power cord on the 9000ES (for a nice improvement!).

Right now, I'm not convinced that the problems that I'm having are CDP based. A better unit would certainly improve things overall, but my major issue now is with a loss of soundstage and air at moderately higher volumes, and I suspect the cause is either my amp's lack of power or poor synergy with the passive preamp. (I just put up a new post to ask for some opinions on this issue.) So I think a new amp and/or preamp is going to take precedence over the new CDP, although I've been looking at the Njoe Tjoeb 4000 myself . . . .

I also just ordered a pair of Ah!'s LS-Noise Killers from Kevin at Upscale Audio . . . . apparently, they are very popular with owners of NHT speakers, and are supposed to really help cut down on ringing and harshness in the upper frequencies (I imagine by filtering out interference).
I just bought a copy of CARA speaker positioning software and spent about 12 hours modelling my living room and running basic calculations for optimum speaker positioning.

Best $50.00 I've spent on my system in a long while. While dropping a CD23 into the rig was an improvement (Plinius 8200 w/ ProAc Response 1.5), the results from the CARA software are really rather impressive. I'd come close to CARA's placement results a couple of times, but never nailed it quite the way the CARA software did (which I'm flattered by...tells me my ears aren't lying as much as I'd thought).

When I can leave the computer on for a while, I'm going to dial up the complexity and let the thing run (I was up to around 15 minutes per iteration the other night before I figured that I'd gone too far).

They always say that the most expensive and difficult part of any system is the room. The CARA software helps you wrestle the room.