Absolutely Ridiculous Cambridge Soundworks Experience

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Eujin, Jan 16, 2002.

  1. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    I'm currently in shopping mode for a new receiver, having arrived at the conclusion that it's time to retire my Onkyo 484 to the bedroom. After demoing a Yamaha RX-V1200 and Denon 2802 last weekend, I wanted to hear a H/K AVR 520 or 320. Unfortunately, the only local place that carries Harman/Kardon that I know of is Cambridge Soundworks.

    So I sucked it up and went to my nearest one, but all they had set up in the listening room was a Marantz 5200 and Onkyo 989. When I asked if they would hook up either a 520 or 320 for me to demo, the sales people told me that they "don't do receiver demos"! Why? Because "you can't hear the difference between receivers"! At this point, I asked them to let me do a blind test of the Marantz and Onkyo. The guy was skeptical, but agreed because he was sure that I'd make a fool of myself. They had TPM playing the climactic Obi Wan vs. Darth Maul scene. After a couple of minutes of the sales guy switching back and forth between the receivers, I was able to easily identify better sound coming from one of the two. Unsurprisingly, it was the Onkyo that sounded better (don't know if it was $2500 better, but that's another post).

    After this, the guy back-peddled and said that he could hear the differences that I was pointing out and also claimed that he could hear the difference between Sony receivers and those made my "true audio companies". So, the end of the story is that I managed to educate (however slightly) a CSW employee, while leaving with no better idea of what the HK 520 sounded like. No wonder the mass HT market is in a shambles.
     
  2. John Sully

    John Sully Stunt Coordinator

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    Not so fast grasshopper...

    Humans can discern differences in levels of as little as .3db (that's no error, 3/10ths of a decibel), so unless the output levels of the two receivers were very closely matched, you might just have been picking the louder one.

    Do a search for "Southern Michigan Woofer and Tweeter Marching Society" over at Google. Many of their test results are archived on the net. This was the group which basically invented ABX testing and found many interesting psychoacoustic phenomenon while doing it. It makes interesting reading.
     
  3. DanaA

    DanaA Screenwriter

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    I don't know about that. I definitely hear a difference between my Sony and either of my Onkyos that go way beyond the amount of sound being put out.
     
  4. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    John Sully, that's a good point you made and I'll look up the info. However, the output levels of the two receivers seemed pretty close to me, with neither sound being obviously louder than the other. All I was trying to point out to the CSW sales guy was the obvious fact that receivers CAN sound different, especially in this case where you have Marantz 5200 duking it out with an Onkyo 989. These receivers don't play in the same league and it didn't take much to hear the difference. If the Marantz was something higher up the line, like an 18EX or 19EX, I doubt I'd have been able to come to a very quick conclusion.
     
  5. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I'd say that is not to be unexpected at most places like that. At my local CSW, the only one I talk to is the manager because he owns higher end gear and knows what he's talking about. The others don't really care about the sound, only the sale, so they will say whatever they think you want to hear.

    I also can tell a distinct difference between my Marantz and Sony receivers. This is very likely attributable to cleaner, more powerful amplification, but there is something else about the specific electronics and design that give the sound a certain character.

    If there is really no difference, then why do we have so many different manufacturers?
     
  6. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Well said, John Garcia. That was exactly the point I was trying to make to the sales guy. It was only after I pointed out how the Onkyo sounded better that he "remembered" that Sony receivers sound worse compared to Marantz and Onkyo. I'm not trying to overly bash CSW here, as I think they actually have decent customer service. I've bought stuff from them before (not speakers) and never had a problem. Still, I can't fathom not demoing receivers as store policy when they already have a listening room set up to demo different speakers.
     
  7. Jah-Wren Ryel

    Jah-Wren Ryel Stunt Coordinator

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    Just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised that the reason they won't demo receivers is that manually swapping in a new receiver is beyond the ability of their average salesperson to do regularly without a reasonably high chance of breaking it, or doing such a poor job that the sound is totally messed up (speakers out of phase, cd-player connected to the phono-in, etc).
     
  8. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Hmmm....never thought about that. You may have stumbled on something there...
     
  9. John Sully

    John Sully Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, every bench test of a Sony receiver I've seen in the last few years makes it quite clear that Sony puts wimpy power supplies into their boxes. Quite often a Sony will put out only 1/2 its FTC output into 5 channels. This is pathetic performance when compared with most other brands. Maybe this is the source of the "Sony's sound thin" reputation they have.

    Seriously, the SMWTMS guys found that almost all differences in the sound of an amp (which is not driven to overload) can be traced to frequency response differences. The human ear is remarkably sensitive to differences in frequency response, especially in the midrange.

    [RANT]The fact is that the parameters which affect the sound of an amplifier, IMHO, are well known and routinely measured. For the record and IMHO these are: IHF dynamic headroom, frequency response, damping factor and continuous power output. What!? I didn't mention distortion!? Yep, that's right. A long, long time ago it was determined that anything less than about 1% THD was basically inaudible. With the extremely low levels of distortion produced by today's amplifiers, distortion just isn't a factor anymore, nor has it been for 30 or 40 years.

    The problem when evaluating amplifier performance today is that there is no equivalent of the rule the FTC promulgated in the mid 70's to put a stop the the specsmanship being played with amps at that time. Before the FTC rule was made, it was basically the law of the test bench: if you can measure it, you can claim it. The FTC made liars out of most manufacturers by placing rigid requirements on the measuring process as well as the language in which a power claim could be made. This led to power specifications worded like this:
     
  10. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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  11. Bhagi Katbamna

    Bhagi Katbamna Supporting Actor

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    Unless marantz pays you to take the 5200 off of their hands, the difference is not $2500. I bought my Onkyo at an authorized dealer for $2100.
     
  12. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Years ago after discovering that electronics DO make a difference, I started going around and looking at what receivers are used in speaker demo rooms.

    At Cambridge Soundworks they were selling Sony and Marantz receivers out front. But in the demo room, hidden in a cabinent was....Yamaha. All their speaker demos were done with electronics they cant/dont even sell with their systems. (This has changed in the last few years by the way.)

    (I can just see the Marketing guys going around training the salespeople "...dont worry about the electronics, it's the speakers that are important." (subtext: "our major profits come from the speakers, the electronics dont matter because we dont make any money on them.")

    Good Guys, Circuit City, Andersons, .. all used Yamaha receivers in the speaker demo rooms.
     
  13. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Bhagi:

    I was making the price comparison between the Onkyo 989 and Marantz 5200 based on list pricing. The 989 lists for $2999, while the 5200 lists for $549. Ok, so the diffrence comes out at $2450--round that to the nearest hundred and you get $2500. It's great that you got such a good discount on your 989!
     
  14. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    One other thing to think about: was each receiver set up exactly the same? Crossover to the sub (if present), parametric eq settings, channel balances, cinema re eq (if present), etc, etc, etc.
    Plus, to indeed make sure you have 2 components matched within 0.3 or even better yet 0.1 dB, you cannot do it by ear. Must use a sound level meter.
    Don't believe me? Mess up all the speaker levels on your receiver/pro-pro at home. Then try to balance all the levels by ear. Then compare to an SPL meter. You will be surprised! [​IMG]
     
  15. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Kevin, like many others on this thread, you make some very good points. I'm not suggesting that I was able to make the most precise, accurate and scientific evaluation of the two receivers after listening to them for 5 minutes, minus SPL meter or any other measuring gear. And I wouldn't be surprised at all about setting channel balances without an SPL meter--you'd get inaccurate results. I know, I set up my system at home with my trusty Ratshack SPL meter.
    Why is there even a debate in this thread? Has anyone out there actually unearthed data that says that the Marantz SR5200 outperforms the Onkyo 989? If so, please enlighten us, as you may be sitting on the receiver bargain of the century! [​IMG]
    So, here's the bottom line about what I heard: I listened to both receivers. One sounded consistently and obviously better than the other, with more power, more presence, wider soundstage, and tighter bass. When I asked the sales guy which one of the two receivers I'd picked out, I was UNSURPRISED to learn that it was the Onkyo 989. I was just trying to refute the sales guy's assertion that ALL receivers sound the same.
     
  16. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Eujin- Just that me, myself, and I: I believe that due to advancements in ICs, and audio component design in general, that I *don't* believe that anyone can properly tell in an HT shop the difference between receivers. Not if they were set up exactly the same, matched levels, etc. In your own HT with material you're familiar with, we could debate that one. But not in an HT shop with too many of the unknowns we have talked about not known. [​IMG] You heard what you heard, and I believe that you heard a difference. But I doubt it was just due to Marantz model xyz vs Onkyo abc. Both companies make great products, obviously though!
     
  17. Dave Vaughn

    Dave Vaughn Stunt Coordinator

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    My experience at CSW has actually been quite good. I agree that the managers do know a lot more about things than the "employees", but isn't that the case in just about any store? Quality help is very hard to find.

    Also, I did a blind test between the Onkyo 989 and a Sony product...Onkyo won out...hands down. Even my wife could tell the difference!
     
  18. TomMadden

    TomMadden Agent

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    If there's a Circuit City nearby, some of them sell Harman/Kardon products. I would definitely give the AVR 520 a listen. I just got one and I love it (not from CC, though). You may want to check out their website. They have a "dealer locator" as well. Of course, I had it easy. A friend of mine bought one and I went over to his house and gave it a listen. It's definately a worthy sucessor to my previous H/K receiver.

    I only have one gripe - the remote. I doesn't feel as well built as my old H/K's remote. It does come with a smaller, simpler "Zone 2" remote that I may just use instead.
     
  19. ThomasL

    ThomasL Supporting Actor

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    My experience at my local CSW in Nashua, NH has also been quite good. They're friendly, can be bargained with, and are knowledgable enough. I've also been in one down in a mall in Cambridge/Boston, and that one was more like your best Buy/circuit city with college age kids just looking to earn their keep. No offense to anyone who is that age [​IMG] but they seemed less interested in actually helping people and didn't really know much about what they were selling.
    cheers,
    --tom
     
  20. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    I'd have to weigh in with Mr. Sulley's comments. The ability of human hearing to discern differences is approximately 0.25 dB and that is in the range of about 1-5 kHz. Understand that this level of discriminaton was performed using tones not music (much more sensitive) and headphones not speakers (lower noise floor). In a practial situation involving music our ability to discern is worse. Nonetheless, its important when one is searching for differences to pay particular attention to ensuring the output of 2 different devices is the same. This level matching allows one to 'trust your ears'. So the question becomes how does one level match? For starters trying to use your ears, or an SPL is flat out wrong. The correct way is to match the output of your device at the speaker terminals using a VOM (volt meter) at three frequencies: 0.1, 1, 10 kHz using test tones for those frequencies. When this is done one finds that the two units are now balanced to less than 0.1 dB and provided that you're not aware of which unit is being played, allows you to make a true comparison. Now understand, we're not talking about kicking in the sound processing features which can be differently implemented. Nor are we talking about comparing tubes to solid state. Nor are we talking about driving the units outside of their design parameters. At the very least, it requires that the listener, truly not know which device is currently playing.

    To this day, in numerous tests that have been level matched, tests that have involved by way of example a more than 10 year old Yamaha integrated amp with recent vintage amps costing 100x times more, there has yet to be any individual that can reliably distinguish between which is being played. This has involved speakers such as the typical consumer might own, and speakers the consumer would own if they won LOTTO.

    The ability to do this is well within a place even such as Cambridge to do, and is most certainly within the capabilities of the high end places where they pride themselves on being meticulous and oh so quite proper.

    Understand, that the results of this do not mean that one necessarily buys by price. We buy for a variety of quite valid and personal reasons. Warranty, look, features, experience with the brand, uniqueness, weight, company reputation, personal prejudices (maybe you just like stuff coming from Germany...maybe you just can't stand French components), the list goes on.

    As to Bob McElfresh's particular observation, there were likely a variety of reasons for having used a Yamaha and not something else. Perhaps its having adequate power at both high and low impedence allowing it to properly drive the speakers they carried was a contributing factor.

    Nonetheless Eujin, I feel badly for your experience. I feel badly the salesperson did not how to conduct a proper test. I feel badly that he did not take out the unit you wanted so you can check it out...take it out for a spin so to speak. That's either a crappy saleperson or a crappy store manager. I feel badly the salesperson was unable to provide you with useful information regarding any in-depth tests that may've been published on your unit. One finds crappy salespeople in Cambridge, BB, CC, and even in the high end places that cater to the stratosphere. They may be uninformed, misinformed, lazy, overly helpful and follow you like hyena, condescending, etc. A good salesperson reads his customer properly. Hard to find. If HK is what you want Eujin, well hell my good man, they've been around for years. If they meet your needs go forth and buy one!
     

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