Stereo amp upgrade path?

Hello all,

First time posting here, but after reading many of the posts here, I think I may be in a place to get some seriously unbiased (yeah right!) opinions of how to approach my given situation.

“System” Set-up:
1. Yamaha RV703 AVR. About 5 years old. NO pre-outs!
2. Panasonic (cheapy) DVD player (trust me, good enough for my AV needs)
3. CD Player: ummm, the Panasonic DVD atm…
4. PSB Silver Stratus i’s, C5i center channel, and Subsonic 7 subwoofer. No surround speakers atm, but planning on matching with more PSB…perhaps the mini’s. Main speakers are Bi-wired.
5. 12 gauge $4 a foot bi-wire speaker cable with Dayton gold connectors plugs. Hell, I got the speaker cable thrown in free with the purchase of the speakers and it sure is better than the 20 gauge Rat-shack zip cord I used to use…

My TOTAL (remaining) Budget for upgrades: $1,000. (I blew $1k on the Silver Strats, $350 on the C5i, and $600 on the sub…all in all I think a great deal.)

I am looking for an upgrade path to improve my stereo listening needs.

Obviously the first thing is a new CD player. I am leaning towards a NAD C521/C541. It is my understanding that NAD works great with PSB speakers … Figure up to $350 for the CD player but I am very open to listening to other options and/or buying used. Suggestions?

NOW we get to the fun part: HOW do I upgrade the amplification? Some options I have thought of:

a. Buy a higher end AVR with pre-outs to allow use of a downstream amp: Aka: NAD 762 or such, then add an additional 2/3 channel amp down the road

b. Buy a completely separate int/amp such as a NAD C532ct or Rotel and somehow run TWO sets of speaker wires to the PSB mains directly from the int/amp. IE: CD to Int/Amp wire split to speakers…DVD to Yamaha split wires to speakers…

c. Just buy the CD player and wait for something like an Outlaw separates system to come out for sale…

My listening is easily 80% stereo, and maybe 20% HT. I like movies, but they don’t stir my soul. To me, the movie is more or less icing on the cake.

Any suggestions on upgrade paths would be greatly appreciated.
(c). will not work properly. Should not have 2 amps connected to same speakers at same time. I'd probably sell the DVD and get an older ref quality DVD, like Elite DV-05 or 09, or Sony 7000 or 9000, depending on what you find for sale. The 05 and 7000 will be in the $200-250 range, while the 09-9000 will be in the $450-500 range.
1-stratus mini's might be the best speaker psb has made!
2-You need a good sub for the 5.1 recordings. Not only will it keep your mains from picking up the slack, it will keep the amp driving the mains from overworking.
3-If you buy a used dvd, make sure you get a warranty. Even 30 days will cover any shipping problems. Personally, I would just buy new so you get the best features and the longest possible use before it's obsolete. Features you need to consider: Bass Management, SACD, DVD-A, 24/96 or 192, dual outputs, coax and toslink digital outs.
4-You will like movies better even if you use tiny radio shack speakers for the rears. Hell, go to a garage sale and get anything. It will be fun.
5-The receiver will need replaced eventually. Even though you don't have pre-amp outs, you should still have a tape loop output if you really need a pair of stereo outputs to an integrated. This is a pain in the butt though since the speakers can only be hooked up to the integrated and its volume control.
WHAT WOULD I DO: Buy a nice dvd. Blow the rest of the budget on the best used receiver that you can get with pre-amp outs. You can use the dvd for dolby decoding..... and use the 5.1 inputs in the receiver. Eventually, you will be able to add external amps as your budget allows. If you spend the $350 on a dvd, you will be amazed how much receiver you can get for $650. That buys one heck of a used denon unit.
I know this is a shamless plug but I have a nice Entegra 6.2 with pre out for all ch. Not that you would 'need' different amps---This is a nice sounding piece. Actually there are a bunch of these late model receivers available. Mine is 100x5---Price is flexable.--Like most of these owners, I have moved up to a 7 ch amp./receiver. I think once you hear music from a 2ch source going into all 5 speakers--- Well it's pretty good. You just get so much for your money with a good sounding receiver. This refers to most of them,not just mine. Also there is good selection of used book shelf speakers for 300 or so. Really good cd players will run a grand. A half decent dvd-cd player can be had for 200,used as suggested from above. Good luck careful spending can yeild good results.
essentiall you have two choices. the cheapest out is to buy another AVR WITH pre-outs. this will give you much better audio tham that old yamaha, and set you up for you next upgrade.

the other way is ultimately cheaper, with a higher up front cost. just bite the bullet. buy a new pre/pro and a new 5 channel amp. look at the NAD, Rotel, Outlaw gear in your price range.

have fun either way.
I'd have to agree with most of the responses so far, especially Avguygeorge & From what I read and/or understand from your message, sound quality is important to you, not necessarily features. And there are some minor constraints regarding money, so building two separate systems, one dedicated for audio, the other for AV, will be expensive, even if you chose to "share" the speakers (you'll need to connect & disconnect the speakers cables to avoid any electrical problems to do this).

(Here are a couple of my recommendations based on what you did or did not say: DVD-Audio & SACD were not requirements, just better sounding CD - hence the current Panasonic DVD player and NAD 541/521 thoughts, neither of these units support either format that I am aware - though I love both the NAD players).

1. Your current Yamaha AVR is the weak point in your current system, no question. Get a good USED AVR or separates if you can afford it. Integra, Denon, Rotel & B&K all make good AVRs. An old B&K AVR202 would be good, and most of the Integras are a excellent choice, as well as the Rotel & Denon units. I have experience with all but the Denon AVRs, all sound wonderful for both CD and DVD. You can find most of these for several hundred dollars ($300-800). Recall that these units will actually be producing your sound, whether CD or DVD, so look for one that has a good quality DAC in it. For now you can still use your Panasonic DVD player as the transport.

2. Get some supporting surround speakers, as indicated in previous responses. For starters, almost anything would do. You'll be surprised at what this will do to your movie experience. You may end up watching a couple more movies to enjoy this new experience, that's OK.

3. Get a good transport to play both CD's & DVD's. Again, there are several NEW & USED out there for little money. For example I've read online that there is an Onkyo DVD player (NEW) that goes for cheap (about $70) and is very good to excellent. I would recommend, if you can, to look upward a bit more, for example Meridian's older 586 & 586.2 players are fantastic for both CD & DVD formats, and you can find a USED 586.2 around the $700 range, there are several others in this realm as well. Enough said, but get a solid transport and deliver the best signal possible to the DAC in the AVR.

4. You obviously have a PC, get a good sound card for it and hook that up to your new AVR. A great way to enjoy your CD's and might replace getting a dedicated CD player to do the same. Begin to build a PC-based music server if you haven't already.

5. Get good interconnects and speaker cables. No these don't need to be expensive, just good. I'm not sure what you are using on your current system, you only mentioned speaker cables. A good cable works, a bad cable will screw things up - and a "20 gauge Rat-shack zip cord" would not do you well, so you did good upgrading the speaker cables, though you might want to continue looking at other cost-effective alternatives.

The biggest thing you want to think about, is there are a lot of changes coming down soon, so what do you see in a year from now, maybe two, and how can you best build to that dream. You've got a good start with your speakers, and I hate to say to stay away from new equipment, someone's got to buy it, but your are only losing more money, because inevitably, you going to change and upgrade you system again, so keep the financial losses down if you can.

Thank you all for the responses.

Based on what I am reading (correct me if I am wrong), a better quality AVR will make a more significant impact on my "system" than adding a dedicated CDP. If that is the case, then I have a net budget of $1k to spend on the AVR (and write off the CDP?).

Oh, for Todd, my AVR connectors are (sigh) admitedly Rat-Shack connectors. Not the classic ultra cheap $2.99 red/white connectors that I thought so highly of as a child, but the "better" gold class ones that they offer. I think the gold ones were a whopping $15 per connector.

Features really aren't that important to me. I honestly could care less that the Yamaha AVR that I have has 7 or 8 suround modes: I (no joke) have never used them. To my ears, all they do is change the way the music sounds, not necessarily improve them. Heck, I don't even bother adjusting bass/treble controls as I don't really feel a need to.

Simple is good. 5.1 suround is more than enough for my needs - quite frankly my listening room simply won't support 7 speaker surround.

As to buying new vs. used, I have no problems at all buying used. Fact is, I am not about to ever be "cutting edge". What I want is something that works for my ears. I am very open to suggestions here.

I did notice several B&K 5.1 AVR's (202) on the classifieds. Can anyone comment on how well B&K works with PSB speakers? Final note here, the PSB's are 4ohm speakers. Will the B&K be able to drive them effectively?

and, perhaps more importantly, can someone explain to me the importance of a DAC (Digital-analog-converter) as it pertains to the CD player? I am not well versed on this. Is it that the DAC resides in the AVR or the CDP/DVD? Or both? And, why is this important? I have seen notes about 24/96 DAC's. What does that mean?

Yes, noob questions, but one has to start somewhere! I am finally in a financial position to actually begin creating a high(er) quality sound in my home. As always, there are a LOT of questions.

Thank you most kindly for your responses.
Hello again,

Let's start with the DAC, or Digital-to-Analog Converter. A DAC converts the bits of data from a disk, whether CD or DVD, to analog form. The analog form is then amplified by the preamp and amp functions of your separates or receiver.

Both an AVR and CD player (as well as DVD players) have a DAC, but in the chain of equipment, only one will be used. Ideally, you would like to perform the digital-to-analog conversion as far into the system chain as possible. Theoretically, this would obtain the least signal loss of the analog signal (essentially digital signals have no loss, unlike an analog signal). For examples, many audiophiles will connect their CD player directly to the amplifier to minimize any loss associated with a preamp, that is of course that their CD player provides some sort of gain (volume) control.

If you noticed, your Panasonic DVD player probably connected to your Yamaha receiver using just one cable. This is the digital connection (there are several terms for digital - but what is going through this connection is the PCM data stream from the disk. And in this situation, your DVD player is behaving as just an audio transport, and not a player, another device is providing the digital-to-analog sound conversion or decoding. That device your Yamaha receiver. That is how your Yamaha receiver knows to play in Dolby Digital, Dolby Prologic, or Stereo modes (your right, the other sound modes at first are unique, but over time sound wrong - I agree, and I am sure there are many others on Audiogon that also agree, simple is better - in regards to surround modes at least).

If you did not use the digital (PCM) connection from the Panasonic DVD player to the Yamaha, then you would be using the stereo (left, right) analog connections from your DVD player. And these two connections would plug into and RCA audio input in the Yamaha receiver. In this case you could only obtain Dolby Prologic or Stereo modes, and not Dolby Digital. Also, in this setup, the DAC in the DVD player is now being used instead of the DAC in the AVR (though I could go off on a tangent here regarding the AVRs DAC, I'm not going to, it clouds the issue for the moment).

Now there are varying levels of DACs, and there is way too much to be said here, so to keep it simple, yes, you want a DAC that is at least 24/96, or 24/192, but nothing really less than 24/96. The numbers here represent the digital word size (24 bits) and a sample rate, 96 Mhz, or 96,000 cycles a second. A CD has a format of 16/44, and I believe DVD is 20/44 or 20/48, I don't immediately recall. And I should note that these formats are for most standard, common disks, there are audiophile grade disks that have higher numbers, but none are higher that 24/96. Now a 24/96 DAC can play any format less than 24/96, that is it can play, or decode, a 16/44 CD. And probably a lot better than a 16/44 DAC could.

Finally, I think a B&K AVR202 would make a fantastic match with your PSBs (but you will get a different opinion from many different people, the big thing you should know is to try it out and see if you like it yourself). Hey, If you hook it up, and you don't like it, you can always sell it again. Most of the AVRs we have mentioned are highly desirable and highly sellable. These four brands that we mentioned, B&K, Denon, Integra, and Rotel, have a reputation for good sound quality and reliability. If you end up selling, the only thing you might be out is your original shipping costs, $30-40 maybe.

In regards to the interconnects. There is a difference for digital and analog interconnects. As you may know, there are a few types of digital interconnects, the two most common are optical (SPDIF) and coaxial (single RCA) varieties. The optical is fairly straight forward, there is only one type of cable that can be used, an optical cable. But the coax looks just like an analog connector, but this requires a specific type of cable, and I am unsure from your previous posts if you have the correct cable. A digital interconnect (and a video cable will work as well) is not the same cable as an analog interconnect, though they look identical. Analog interconnects are usually labeled red and white (or black), digital/video cables are usually yellow. This is important to the digital signal quality being transmitted through the cable, and could have some afect on the final sound quality of your system, so it is important that you use the correct cable if you chose to use the coaxial connector over the optical connector for the connection between the DVD player and AVR. Side note, it is believed by some that the coaxial connection sounds better than the optical connections, but this may be subjective.

You mentioned improving your stereo listening needs...which is 80% of your time...reality: AN entry level intergrated amp by NAD,etc will SOUND significantly better than any AV receiver...and for improved imaging...hard to beat a 2-way monitor such as the minis(Used) any rate...hope this helps...
Tjz, I cannot thank you enough for the explanation.

After your response, I spent a few minutes completely re-reading the entire manual for my AVR. And, uhhhh, guess what? My AVR doesn't have digital connections for DVD! Nope, to get 5.1 out of it, I would have needed to have an external processor with separate channel outs to make it happen.

No doubt about it now, that AVR is the singularly huge missing link.

Time to start listening. Looks like my $1k budget is now fully going into the AVR (or separates if I can find them cheap enough).

And thank you.