NEWBIE need help understanding Seperates V Receive

Hi all!

Ok this is my first post, ive had home theaters set up before but im talking Bose etc. I have been doing some reading and I am now getting more into this as a hobby rather than a sit on the sofa and listen/watch type of thing.

So my first thing is I dont understand the terminology, like when I look on this site I see "pre-amps" "poweramps" "integrated" etc, what are these things and their role?

Previously I just used a receiver but the more I read the more I am into buying seperates, so what would I need to basically have a 5.1 or 7.1 set up without having a receiver but achieving the same goal as a receiver????

From what I know and please correct me, I need an amp and also the A/V that it??? And obviously my speakers and sub.

But ive never had separates before so I am somewhat confused on that piece.

So for speakers I am hoping to go with B&W, the CM series or the XT series, the room is smallish 13x13x9H feet.

I will use the system for 50:50 Music:Movies

What combos would you recommend to power these B&W's and what brands?

Thank you for any input and sorry to be asking these questions!
A pre-amp switches between source components (DVD, CD, phono, etc) and either attenuates it or boosts it a small amount and then it is passed on to the power amplifier. It is also sometimes called a control amplifier.

The power amplifier has no switching duties. It takes the signal from the pre-amp, and (drun roll please) amplifies it, or increases the voltage and current, to a level that will drive a typical speaker.

An integrated amp has input selection, volume control and final amplification all on one chassis. A receiver adds FM/AM/(maybe Sat or HD) to the integrated amp.

For multi-channel audio and video, a surround sound or AV processor is the functional equivalent of a pre-amp. It has source selection, volume control, and digital/surround sound processing built into a single chassis, but not power amplification. So yes, you are correct, for AV separates, you will need an AV processor and a multi-channel amp or amps. Assuming you use a powered sub, you would need either 5 or 7 channels of amplification for a 5.1 or 7.1 channel set-up.

Your room is pretty small so you are not going to need gobs of power, esp. if you set up your front L & R channels as "small speakers", thereby sending most of the low frequency power hungry information to a sub. There are many good AV processors out there. If you give us a budget, we can provide some specific recommendations. Most of all, have fun.
Normally in one-box receiver or one-box stereo system there's one power supply for source, preamp and amplifier section.
In separates power supplies are separate. This gives a huge advantage isolating small signal path from the large signal giving a clean signal to an input of the power amplifier. The small signal components do not need large power supplies that ponentially can be more noisy. A power transformer for the larger power is always noisier than one for the smaller. Therefore I kinda like the idea of having source and preamp together: DAC-preamp, CD-Player-preamp-DAC-headphone-amp...

Welcome to the sickness!

Thanks guys,
I really appreciate the help, I was on another forum and they were not so nice at all actually they wouldnt answer anything and kept digging at each other so I came here. Your replies really help!

The room is small but im hoping to move to a new house in 2 years and want to take the stuff with me and not have to upgrade then or wait two years to get a nice system.

So what would you guys recommend? So should I get an integrated amp so I can select my source and then the AV processor for the dolby etc to do its thing??

Or should I get a pre-amp, an amp, and an AV processor????

I am hoping to get some B&W speakers, currently im fine with 5.1 with the hope to go to 7 in a few years when I make a dedicated home theater room. I like the look and sound of the B&W, I am putting up a budget of about $4,500 to $5000 for everything ie the 5.1 and the amp/av processor. I am mainly hoping to buy ex-demo or lightly used gear in order to make the impossible possible!

If you think that is a ridiculous budget do let me know, but I had an offer of an Arcam AVR600 with Vienna Acoustics Grands up front, the Maestro Center, and waltz's at the rear with a cambridge sub all about 2 years old for $4,500!

I never heard VA speakers so I am not familiar with them, the Arcam is still under warranty, again read the reviews and it seems good but I am thinking of getting an amp and av processor now instead of a receiver so I might shy away from that deal!

So lastly, do I just need an amp and an AV processor, or do I also need the pre-amp to select the source or does the AV processor do that?

I like Rotels, what are good combos in the Rotel line???

Also I use the system for 50% music 50% movies, would vienna acoustics suit this as I heard they are only good for music really and lack a punch compared to the XT line or CM line of B&W which I see myself getting.........

maybe im wrong??
Without making specific recomendations -- and just to embellish whatnhas already been said -- you can think of things in terms of different "stages" or tasks that need to get done in the chain. Roughly in order, in order to get from your (we'll assume digital for the time being) media to noise coming out of speakers, you'll need to get the following things done: a mechanism to read the digital material from wherever it's stores ("transport"); a digital to analog converter ("DAC"), which can either be two-channel, 5.1 channel, 7.1 channel, and be capable of one ore more multi-channel codecs (ie, DTS, Dolby Digital, etc); assuming you have more than one source, source selection; volume control; and amplification (for however many of channels you've got).

Right, now each of these things can be done by a separate box, with a separate power supply, each designed to do their one thing as best as possible with minimal interference (on the theory that the jack of all trades is master of none, more or less). Or, one or more, or lots, of the tasks can be accomplished in the same box. Your average 5.1 channel HT receiver will include: a 5.1 channel DAC, a 2-channel DAC (which may or may not be the same as the 5.1), source selection, a volume pot, 5 channels of amplification, and likely a tuner to boot. Further, it will have analog inputs to bypass the onboard DACs, so you can use an external DAC (or the internal DAC on say, a blue ray player producing multichannel analog...); and it will also have "pre-outs" for each channel so that you can bypass the onboard amplification stages for one or more channels and use separate amplification. In short, a HT receiver does a whole lot of stuff, and also comes with the flexibility to delegate, so to speak, much of that same stuff to other equipment.

"Separates", however, come in all manner of permutations. If you were so inclined, you could find dedicated, single-purpose boxes for each individual task -- 2-channel transport, multi-channel transport, 2-channel DAC, multi-channel DAC, source selector, volume control, amplification for each discrete channel -- each in their separate inclosure, with their own power supply, and maximum isolation. "Separates." I wouldn't suggest it, but there you go.

The typical way your average HT receiver is whacked up into different boxes is to separate (a) the DACs, source selection and volume control into one box (the "HT processor"), (b) all amplification off board into either a multi-channel amp or separate "monoblock", single-channel amps for each channel, and (c) to ditch the tuner (want a tuner, get your own...). This will still leave you with some flexibility on the DACs, as it will also have multi-channel analog inputs. Which is to say, you could still bypass the onboard DACs (2, 5 or both) and use analog inputs in order to make use of an off-board DAC (either a separate box or the onboard DAC on a CD player, DVD, or blue ray...).

Now, at the risk of complicating matters way beyond their due for a first go, many -- well me, at any rate -- have concluded that spending coin on dedicated 2-channel gear is well worth while, while throwing coin at multi-channel gear so quickly arrives at the point of diminishing returns so as to, well, "cop out" pretty early on the veritable primrose path. Recognizing that this makes little sense in the abstract some particulars are in order.

My particular system consists mainly of a dedicated two-channel mess: transport (primarily Mac mini); separate two-channel DAC; separate two-channel pre-amp (source-selection and volume control only); and a separate mono block amp for each of the two channels. Voila. Now, running parallel to this, I have a HT receiver accepting digital inputs from each of a DVD player and the cable box. This means I am using the onboard, multi-channel DACs on the HT receiver to decode all multi-channel digital material (as well as any two-channel digital material either source happens to produce). Thus, the HT receiver is in charge of source selection (for those sources), DAC-duty, volume control (again for those sources), and amplification for only the center and surround channels -- the main channels use the pre-outs, which go into the HT bypass loop on the stereo pre-amp, and then through the monoblock amps and onto the main speakers.

As far as I am concerned (and yes, this is pure, unadulterated personal bias), two channel software / gear is really important. Nothing that is designed to pull double-duty as multi-channel gear will come close to being able to equal the quality, reality and emotional impact of dedicated two-channel gear. On the other hand, I look to multi-channel processing for the atmospheric bells and whistles. This, as far as I am concerned, demands and requires a sigfinicantly lesser degree of technological (and financial) commitment. Hence, dedicated two-channel separates mated with a HT receiver = (in my mind) having cake & eating it, too.

So, there you go. One opinion. Cheers and enjoy.
Separates versus an AVR? Conventional audiophile wisdom is to denigrate receivers as inferior to separates. Receivers have really improved in the last several years and thre are many that sound very fine indeed. They are also easier on the budget and living space.
Whatever speakers you pick, check their sensitivity and impede nice to ensure that your AVR has enough power to drive them.
Another advantage of AVRs are that they are upgradable. You can use the preamp outs to add a better power amp, for example.
Regarding individual components, such as speakers, you really do have to listen and make your own choices. My tastes may differ wildly from yours, your listening room may have a major impact, etc.
John, welcome. This forum is a bit lower key and less critical but there can be good information in all the disagreement and bickering if you can get through it.

I sense some confusion in your second post. No, you will either use an Audio Visual Processor (AVP) with a separate multi channel amplifier or an Audio Visual Receiver (AVR). Most AVR's have pre amplified outputs to use an outboard multi channel amplifier if you choose to later on.

Integrated amplifiers are usually a two channel pre and power amplifier in one component. Mezmo has done a good job of laying things out for you. His bias is towards two channel music listening, so is mine.

You mentioned you will be using this system for home theater and music equally in a small room.

Your first consideration should always be the room and speakers you choose. Together they make up the majority of what the system will eventually sound like. In home theater there is no substitute for a subwoofer. It is the .1. That said, the need for floor standing speakers in such a small space is not necessary.

A general rule for used audio at this level is some where around 50% of retail. Some may consider Arcam a premium Audio Visual Receiver. They have been known for slightly better sound quality but I find their Speaker Setup a bit dated. For instance, in their manual I see your asked to input speaker distances. In modern room correction this is done acoustically and then can be manually adjusted if need be.

I'm on my second HT from 5.1 to 7.1 in a small space. My first setup was using a 5.1 speaker set that used matching drivers but different enclosures. I've since replace the center and rear's with 7 all matching speakers. The improvement in surround balance was substantial. No room is too small for 7.1 just go a bit smaller on your speaker selection. While there is little in the way of 7.1 media so far, the matrixing effect in most modern AVR's and AVP's is very good. With an actual 7.1 production the effect is outstanding.
Rotel makes decent mid level components

Rotel RMB-1075 - 5 channel amp - 600-700 used
Rotel RSP-1570 - Pre Pro Pocessor - 850-1000 used
Oppo Bdp-93 - mutli disk player - I would by this new as I am not a fan of buying used disk players.

add your speakers & sub of choice and you'll be good to go for 5.1, have fun.

You can add a 2 channel amp and 2 more speakers when funds allow for your 7.1

I ran a rotel system for awhile and was quite happy, I used Paradigm studio and it did sound very good

Rotel RSP-1570
Separates do offer benefits in that you have complete separating between power supplies, low current circuits, video circuits, etc. Plus you have great flexibility to add to your system, expand it, or change it. Moving and getting a big room so you need more power?, just change the power amp. This is all great, but it does come at a price. Basically, you need to add another chassie, another power supply, additional power cord, etc. etc. it all adds up quickly.

A receiver on the other hand will always be the most cost effective alternative, basically, you will get much more for your money. Yes, separates can offer some benefits, but the difference can be surprisingly small. You do give up some flexibility though.

If it was me and money was an issue (which it's always for most of us...), I would spend the money on the best possible receiver you can get after you bought the speakers you want. Make sure that the speakers and receiver do sound good together. Very bright speakers and a very bright receiver can be too much... opposite it true as well of course.