Questions on next steps with my power amp


Hi there, my first time buying new stereo equipment in a while. I bought myself a Outlaw 5.1 channel power amp. I have an old Onkyo integrated amp that does not have outputs to a power amp. So my question if I want to run a turntable, CD player, tape deck and a direct line from a computer to my power amp do I need a pre-amp, DAC or processor or a combination of those components?

I'm looking to spend around $1000 or below but will spend more if need be. Any suggestions on brand/models would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all for any help and advice
sftitan
Well you have several things going on let's tackle them one at a time.
Your amp accepts what we call line level inputs. But your Onkyo does not have line level outputs. Your computer certainly does, and your CD player and tape deck probably do as well. But are they fixed, or variable? If fixed then you definitely need something (not necessarily a preamp, but something) to adjust volume. Your computer on the other hand definitely has variable output. In other words you can control the volume. So with probably just a phone jack to RCA adaptor you can connect the computer to the amp and enjoy music.

The turntable is a special case. CD, tapes, the signal they put out is already line level (line level simply means around one to three volts) and flat. With turntables however, the level depends on the cartridge and in any case always needs equalization. So for records you need a phono stage. Some really cheap record players have the phono stage built. Back before CD everything had a phono stage built in. Less common now but some still do. The best are stand alone phono stages.

Forgive me asking but a much bigger question is what are you doing buying an amp with no idea how or even if it can be used? If your goal literally is what you say, that you are looking to spend $1k, believe me, you don't need our help! But seriously, you could have a really nice system, the whole thing, complete soup to nuts and sounding really good, for one thousand plus the $649 that amp cost. If you shift the goal posts from spending, to being able to play music on a system you would actually enjoy listening to, I mean.
Wait, your 5.1 amp ..... is a pure amplifier, or an integrated or a receiver???
So I guess it may have been a bit naive of me to just buy an amp before thinking through the whole audio strategy but I heard a lot about this Outlaw amp and I have good speakers that I know I want a good power amp to drive so I went ahead and bought it. The tape deck and turntable I inherited from my father who recently passed away along with the Onyko receiver. I knew the receiver was not going to cut it. So I thought a pre-amp would be able to bridge everything but I haven’t been up to date on audio equipment in a while so that’s why I’m asking now. I’m a bit confused on DAC vs Audio Processor vs Pre-amp.

I have the resources to spend more than $1000 on the needed equipment. I just thought a music processor or pre-amp may be able to do most of what I’m looking for. In terms of playing digital music it doesn’t necessarily need to be directly from my computer but could be via my Samsung 10+.

Erik, the 5.1amp is a pure Power amp and not integrated.

Also in terms of the turntable and tape deck, I can buy new ones of each if I have to (ie like if i have to buy a turn table with USB connection). The main thing that’s important to me is that I inherited a huge record and tape collection from my father that means very much to me and I would like to play them. Right now I have my father’s 20 year old components that were good for the time (Denon tape deck and Sony turntable).

Appreciate the help all.
Or would it just be easier if I bought a new intergrated amp that would act as pre-amp/DAC? It's just that I'd rather spend more money to get a better sounding system and more complete setup.
Okay would be nice if you could return the amp but if not no use crying over spilled watts.

You keep saying DAC but I'm not seeing anything makes me think you need a DAC. Since you inherited all this from your dad I would assume he had everything you need to - ie, he was playing records so he must have had a phono stage either built into the Onkyo or the record player. Let's go for the simplest first- look on the back of the Onkyo for RCA input that says PHONO. Let me know.

Next there's different things you can do. My advice is you do what you can do now and for free or cheap and not be in a hurry to spend money until you have a much better idea what you're doing. 

What you can do now and for next to nothing: Hook everything up to the Onkyo and enjoy.

While you're listening spend a minute thinking about what you're hearing. What you're hearing is the sound coming from the tape (or record) through a wire (interconnect), into the pre-amp stage of the receiver, then the power amp in the receiver, then through more wire (speaker wire), finally to the speakers. All of it powered by electricity that came from a wall through more wire (power cords). Every single one of these (and more I haven't mentioned) contributes for bad or good to what you hear. Its not just the amp and speakers. Its the interconnects, speaker wire, and power cords. Its everything.

So next step very cheap, you go on-line to some place like partsexpress.com and buy for next to nothing ($6, something like that) this thing called a Line Out Converter or LOC. None of these are very high quality and unlike most things you really don't get more when you pay more and this is probably not something you'll be using for long anyway so one of those rare times when it really is okay to go cheap.

The LOC will allow you to use the Onkyo as a pre-amp. So you will be able to hear exactly the difference between the amp in the Onkyo and the Outlaw amp you bought. Probably you're hoping the Outlaw sounds a lot better but that's not the point. The point is you learn the only way of knowing which is better and by how much is to actually compare by listening side by side. 

First things first though. Does the Onkyo have a phono input?
Thank you Miller. So I ended up running just through the Onkyo and the sound is ok. I was able to find an audio out and ran it through the Outlaw Power Amp. The only problem is that I was not able to control the volume through the Onkyo. It was set a certain volume level. Quite high actually. And I couldn't turn it down. Is this normal?

I think I need to buy a new integrated amp or pre-amp to take the place of the old Onkyo. I'm still not clear on what to get. 
@sftitan,

I am not a fan of using an outboard amp with an integrated amp that has no preouts. Line level outputs are really not designed to hook up to an amp. What Onkyo integrated do you have? What model is the Outlaw Audio?

Bill
So what you did was take a line out from the Onkyo and run it into your amp. The line out probably says Tape Out and is intended for tape recording. As such it is line level, ie about 1-3 volts in level and fixed. So in other words you are using the Onkyo as a phono stage and nothing more. Which is fine. Because now you have that Onkyo phono stage as a baseline. 

If its not clear don't worry that's normal. Most people just hook stuff up, never do understand what's going on.

This is how it works. You hook up, you listen, you compare. Or you run around throwing money, which is what most guys do. Listen and compare takes longer but you actually learn a lot more and go a lot further in the long run.

Like, already you have heard and learned what the phono stage inside your Onkyo sounds like. The pure phono stage, without even a volume control on it. That's not nothing. That's your first baseline component. You have just auditioned your first phono stage.

Now for $6 plus shipping you can get one of these https://www.parts-express.com/boss-b65n-speaker-level-to-line-level-output-converter--265-4040
Connect the wires to the Onkyo speaker terminals, connect the RCA to your amp, and now you can use the Onkyo as a pre-amp. Yes you can do a lot better- but not for $6!

Doing this will remove the urgency to "do something" and you will also now have another baseline from which to compare: pre-amp. So now if you want you can bring home a pre-amp to audition, or another power amp, or even an integrated and use the Onkyo phono-stage, see?

Because ultimately what you are probably going to want is a new amp, pre-amp, and phono stage. But remember we're talking functionally. You do not necessarily need those three components. You may find an integrated with built-in phono stage that sounds fantastic. Or you may find an integrated with a separate stand-alone phono stage that sounds even better for the same combined price. Or who knows, you might even find a pre-amp with phono stage that together with your existing amp sounds great. I think that is rather unlikely. Everything multi-channel for HT is almost always pure crap, sound quality-wise. But you never know. Everything works together. Could be the money you save using the amp lets you buy a much better phono stage that sounds so much better it makes up for the HT amp.

See what's going on here? The only way this works is by trying this stuff out and actually listening to it. I could never adequately explain how well this works, but I think it will become clear if you actually do it enough. 

Something else to keep in mind while you're doing this- everything works together. Everything. Everything includes speaker cables, interconnects, power cords. Pay attention when you go into stores what they are using to connect everything. Don't just listen to a component, have them change and let you listen to different interconnects and speaker cables too. Done right, taking time to try out and compare all these options, takes longer but you will be shocked how much difference it makes in the end.
Miller and everyone that responded thank you for taking the time. Millercarbon I did order your part just now. I’m very happy to see a part like this can turn my receiver into a pre-amp. We will now see what the speakers sound like with the Outlaw 5000 amp. I would like to ask why you are so negative on the Outlaw amp that I bought (if I can be so direct)? If you take a look at this review it does nothing but praise the amp and that it can drive Status Acoustics 8T speakers very well. I guess I bought the amp on this review and thought I would build the components around the amplifier. I realize this may not be the best strategy but when I read such a strong review I didn’t see that much harm with buying it and then finding the right components to compliment it.

I’m looking forward to getting the LOC and seeing what the amp sounds like.

https://www.audioholics.com/amplifier-reviews/outlaw-5000
@sftitan,

I don't think @millercarbon was trashing the Outlaw Audio amp, though I should let him answer.  Outlaw is often considered a very fine amp for the $$$.  

Bill
Yeah sorry its nothing to do with that amp in particular. The whole HT thing is a great big peeve of mine. I’m as big a cinephile as audiophile. Might love movies even more, if such a thing is possible. So when I remodeled and added a home theater of course I went shopping for the whole home theater setup.

Except I did what you’re supposed to do, went and listened and compared. Starting with all the recommended home theater components. And some other stuff, long as I’m there. Which thanks to all the BS home theater reviews- just like the one you read- I wasted months, many MONTHS chasing around trying to do what they all said I should do, the whole 5.1 channel thing. Until eventually, reluctantly, concluding there is no such thing as high end quality sound in HT. Does not exist. Period.

Oh, its not that you can’t do multi-channel and have it sound pretty darn good. Its that whatever amount you spend to achieve that, you could have a whole lot better sound with stereo. Its not even close.

Like, to give you some idea- the $600 your amp cost, I bet you could find a stereo integrated that sounds a whole lot better for the same $600. Which means instead of needing a pre-amp, and interconnect to connect them, and two power cords to plug them in.... you get the picture.

So now every chance I get I try and save people from that whole vast wasteland.

Something to know about reviews- they are at the very most filters to help you decide which components might be worth auditioning. Other than that you’re better off thinking of them as infomercials. You can learn something from them, it just takes forever.

Like this one, it says right up front that this amp "raises bar on performance/price ratio of multi-channel amplifier." Multi-channel, that qualifier is the first clue that should get you thinking. Then under Cons it says, "Nothing of consequence." Really? Remember what I said about infomercial? Published 2/16/15. Four years ago. They talk about the power supply, with pictures, which is great. What they don’t do is give you any idea how inadequate this is compared to what you would find in a stereo component. For that you have to read a lot of reviews, glean a whole lot of knowledge of component construction, power supplies, etc. (Or read a really good book like Robert Harley’s Complete Guide to High End Audio https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-High-End-Audio/dp/0978649311 )

None of which is a knock on you, or even this review. Everyone here has made the same mistake. Lots still do. Stereophile is a lot better but I read them the same critical way. Michael Fremer is the world authority on turntables. Great guy, personally helped me pick my first turntable. And arm. Makes no difference. I read him just as critically as anyone. He’s a filter. A really informative, entertaining and hella-good filter, but a filter nonetheless.

The only reviewer whose opinion really matters is you. At the rate you’re going, actually trying and listening and comparing, keep going, you’re well on your way to being a good one.




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Thanks Millercarbon. I appreciate what you’ve written. I just received the part you recommended. I will try it out soon. But I did write Outlaw and they will let me return the amp. If I would start over. What components would you recommend? I have some some vintage Klipsch Heresy 2 speakers. I have a Sony turntable I inherited from my dad. I just want a very nice sounding system with power to give full sound. Not loud sound. I remember a long time ago I bought some nice KEF speakers. At the audio place they had them plugged into a McIntosh Amp. It sounded like multiple speakers were turned on. I’ve been chasing that sound. I don’t mind spending if I have to but I also don’t mind saving if a new brand brings amazing sound without the name recognition.
Oh wow they will take the Outlaw back? That is great news! Send it back. For what you spent we can do a lot better. Equally great, the Klipsch Heresy are a very good and maybe even more important very efficient and easy to drive speaker!

So first let's make sure we're all on the same page. You inherited from your dad a tape deck, turntable, and an Onkyo receiver with a phono stage. Also you have Klipsch Heresy II speakers, presumably inherited as well. Want to keep everything straight partly to understand your options and also there's not only the usefulness but sentimental value involved. So let me know.

In any case the Klipsch really are good, and I know that first hand too. Easy to drive and very efficient you will not need a lot of watts which is great it leaves you free to focus on quality. A lot of guys fall into the trap of hard to drive or inefficient speakers and you have no idea how much easier it will be for you getting really good sound just from that one lucky break!

So now here's the thing- its not WHAT you buy, its HOW you buy it. 

What that means is you can forget about any and all advice telling you to go buy any particular component. Its not what you buy. Its how you buy. And the only way to buy is by what you yourself actually hear when you go and listen to it. 

What I see then is you've got a $1.6k budget- $650 from returning the Outlaw plus the $1k you can afford. You have your source components- tape player and turntable- you have your amp (Onkyo receiver) and speakers. And the Onkyo has a phono stage, which means you can use it for nothing but a phono stage if need be. And you have the LOC, which means you can also use the Onkyo as a pre-amp if need be.

Sorry if I'm being tedious, its just that I find it really helps to think of these things in terms of function. Especially when it comes to working out options. If for example you find a really good integrated and you like everything except it has no phono stage, well you can use the Onkyo as your phono stage until you are ready to get a better one. Which might actually happen.

Right now it seems to me you are sitting pretty. You got a fairly decent stereo right now, fully functional, and with a pretty darn good set of speakers. I've done whole systems that turned out great for much less than your budget, and that was starting from zero.

In your case, most likely, your best use of your $1600 will be to find a nice integrated amp, phono stage, speaker cables, a power cord for the integrated, and one or more interconnects. When you budget it out that works out to something like a $500 integrated, $300 phono stage, $400 speaker cable, $200 power cord and $200 interconnect. 

I'm not saying that's what you do, this is all just planting the seed in your mind saying this is how you go about it. How matters more than what, remember. You'd probably be smart to budget a little less for each of these keeping in mind that maybe along the way you start thinking the turntable would be a lot better with a better cartridge (very likely) or sitting on a nice base (extremely likely) or with a ZeroStat and some cleaner (beyond likely- for certain).

Probably reading this right now this makes very little sense. Eventually though as you go and listen and compare you will come to realize that yes indeed a really good amp and speakers are wasted if connected with crappy speaker wire.  The same goes for everything else. Because it all goes together. And little things like interconnects that don't seem like they could matter very much actually matter quite a lot. Your speakers are good enough you will be able to hear the difference when you try out some really good speaker cables. Or when you hook up a better amp.

Or when you move the speakers. Which actually comes first. Most important thing of all, speaker placement, and we haven't even mentioned it yet. 

That sound you've been chasing? You'll get there. And then some.
Millercarbon, I just read your post. I need to process it and then read it again, but I think I hear what you're saying. I need to think through even the less sexy components like cables and speaker wire. I didn't know the power cable was that important. I need to read more about it. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and I will let you know what I do. 
Power cables and speaker wires are the last thing you need to worry about!
Millercarbon has provided you with much good advice. I have a couple questions:

Have you put the system together as is? The TT, Onkyo, and Klipsch speakers. How does it sound?

Are the speakers ones you want to build a system around? 
+2 for Millercarbon. Excellent post, excellent advice.
Mesch I got the Klipsch for free from a friend. I’ve read they sound very nice. Playing the receiver only with the speakers and TT sounded ok. Nothing amazing nor bad. The turntable isn’t very good so I’m really open to building a whole new system from scratch.

I used to be into stereos as a teenager and early 20s. Obviously couldn’t afford a lot but I read a lot and knew all the brands. Had friends with nice systems so I car in contact with high fidelity. I knew all about wiring. Obviously things have changed but the basics stay the same. Always thought with a power amp you get a preamp and tuner, CD, tape, etc. What I don’t know a lot about is DACs and sound processors.
Ok, so you want to play records, CDs, Tapes (cassette?) and stream from computer. This is no problem as there are many integrated amps (amp + preamp) that would allow for this and fit into your budget. Some have internal DAC, some have internal phonostage, and some provide both. A primary question is your need for amplifier power which is dependent on speaker choice and room size. 

As millercarbon stated, the Klipsch speakers are very efficient and therefore don't require a great amount of power. I think the first thing you should try to determine is if you wish to build a system around them. There are forums specifically for these speakers. You may wish to explore them. 

If you purchase a DAC with USB, coax and toslink input, wether internal to an integrated amp or a separate unit, it would serve both computer streaming and CD playback. 

Unless you want to digitize your vinyl collection I would not choose a USB turntable. I once considered this and quickly decided against it. Must be done in real time and I decided If I want to play vinyl, then play vinyl.

Match speakers to room, partner amplifier to speakers, consider sources during amplifier selection. consider internal vs. external DAC and phonostage.  Though I don't believe that cables should be the last thing to worry about, I do believe they should be considered last. Start with budget cables. 

Are you willing to purchase used?