Add External Amp to Receiver?...Just Do It!

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Robert George, Mar 22, 2002.

  1. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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    There has been a war fought in the audio trenches for years. The battles have been bloody and the losses have been high, yet the war drags on. Of course, I'm speaking of the war between "receivers" and "separates".
    On one side, the "separatists" claim sonic purity, improved dynamics, and greater flexibility. The "Receiverites" claim equal or better sound on a dollar-for-dollar basis and more advanced features for less money. This war has reached a level of stalemate due to the fact that both sides are (mostly) right. Is it then possible to ever reconcile the do-or-die hardcore in each camp? Well, maybe....
    In the true spirit of diplomacy, I think I have found a comfortable middle ground where one can have the best of both recievers and separates. Add a dedicated power amp to a receiver.
    Now, I'm not going to try to tell you I invented this solution, and certainly this will not be a panacea to cure all ills. I have seen others heralding the benefits of adding a separate power amp to a receiver for quite a while, usually getting their voice lost in the din of the "receivers vs. separates" battle royal. And, no matter how good an amp, it won't make a cheap (read; shitty) receiver into anything it isn't. On the other hand, if one starts with a good receiver, adding a separate amp to a speaker system that is not capable of resolving the nuances of sound between the external amp and the receiver is a waste of money.
    So, with that very large caveat that all the components in the system will affect the outcome, I'm here to tell you it is definitely possible to get the best of both separates and receivers if one is willing to concede the inherent advantages of a dedicated power amp for driving quality speakers AND that there are receivers out there that are at least equal to, and in some cases better than, pre/pros costing much more.
    Case in point. I have a Pioneeer Elite VSX-49TX receiver. The latest and greatest from the Land of the Rising Sun with full THX Ultra 2 certification and processing, automatic room equalization, very high quality component video switching as well as video format conversion. In short, this shiny black jam box has stuff even $10K pre/pros don't. And it does what it does very well.
    Don't any of you hardcore separatists try to tell me a receiver can't sound as good as a equivalently priced pre/pro because I'm going to tell you to prove it and you won't be able to. However, I will concede that the one major shortcoming of even this state-of-the-art receiver is the amplifers built in. While I am absolutely certain that a well-designed receiver can bring a level of performance to a modest system that could only be exceeded by spending considerably more money on a full-blown separates system, not to mention the convenience and ease of use for the non-technophiles out there, I also now know with certainty that once the price/performance of one's speakers exceeds the price of the electronics in the system, no receiver's amps will do them justice.
    Continuing my case in point...
    I have had a hardon for B&W speakers since the first time I heard the venerable 801 many years ago. You remember that funny looking one that looked like stacked boxes with the little tweeter cube on top. Obviously, everyone's tastes in speakers will vary, but to my taste, the B&W Nautilus line is simply the cat's meow. I have reached a point in my life that I can justify the kind of fundage that it takes to put these beauties in my living room. Just barely, and I still can only wish for a pair of N802s, but I am the proud owner of a pair of N804s and, just recently, the baddest center channel speaker on the block, the N-HTM1.
    I have now had two top-of-the-line receivers hooked into the B&Ws. It took me just under a year to figure out that even the very highly rated B&K AVR307 nor the 49TX were doing these speakers justice. I finally started paying attention to those smart guys that figured this out before me. Time to get out the checkbook/credit card/whatever and get some real ampage for my speakers.
    The first step was a tentative one. I bought a used 2-channel audiophile quality amp, a Sumo Andromeda, from a friend. My thought was it would take the obvious strain off the receiver allowing the other channels to be driven more efficiently and it would provide me with true "separates" sound for music, which I listen to in 2-channel stereo exclusively. That was when I had the smaller HTM2 center speaker. After trading the HTM2 for the big brother HTM1 last week, I couldn't stand the thought of powering a two thousand dollar speaker with a receiver. The solution was a solid 3-channel amp of sufficient quality to bring out the potential of the B&Ws. I selected the now-discontinued Acurus A200X3.
    Acurus amps are (were) the "budget" line of Mondial, if you can call a $1500 amp a "budget" amp, whose flagship Aragon amps have a well-deserved reputation for stunning audio performance. The Acurus line share a common design philosophy with the Aragons, and hence a similar sound, though without the esoteric level of build quality and esoteric price tag.
    I found a close-out deal on a new A200X3 for under a grand ($999 actually) so I leapt upon it. Hats off to Bob at Avalon Audio (avalonav.com) for terrific service and a special thanks to UPS for screwing up and delivering the box a day early. Overnight service for the price of 2-day. Cool.
    I actually went to work late (with permission) so I could set up the system and do some listening right away. Once the amp was wired in, I sat down to recalibrate and was greeted with my first surprise. Not only did I have to reduce the levels of the front three channels (expected), I had to rather dramatically reduce the level of the side and back surrounds which are still powered by the 49TX. It seems the power supply of the receiver performs considerably better when it is not under any sort of strain. Duh.
    After lining up everything, I was treated to the next surprise, and I have yet to wipe this silly grin off my face. This receiver controlling this amp driving these speakers is something I was not prepared for. Frankly, I did not expect much real improvement in sound quality beyond having more power for demanding soundtracks. What I have gotten is a top-to-bottom overhaul of my entire front soundstage that has thrilled and amazed me. Now my B&Ws sound like what I paid for them. Well, actually they sound like more than what I paid for them.
    The forward soundstage has taken on a clarity, depth, and breadth that I would not have thought possible. And that for stereo. With 5.1 soudtrack material, the improvements are at least as apparent. The sheer effortlessness with which even the most ddemanding soundtracks are reproduced, even at reference level, is stunning. Dynamics I never knew were there have me in a position to have to become acccustomed to a completely different kind of sound. Along with the incredible clarity and detail is a smoothness of sound that allows for very comfortable listening at much higher levels than before. I suppose this is what happens when one feeds this kind of clean power to a good speaker. There is no trace of harshness or gritiness in any register. Just smooth, clean sound with great delicacy and subtlty on the one end and serious slam on the other. I am truly amazed.
    Now, before you separatists tell me I should just buy a pre/pro and an amp with a few more channels, I will direct you to the Pioneer website (VSX-49TX). Find me a pre/pro that does all that for $2400 because that's what I paid for the receiver.
    And for you guys with receivers that are thinking you don't need a dedicated amp, well, maybe you don't need one. Or maybe you do. I didn't need the Acurus amp for my front channels, but then, I'll never go back to "just" a receiver ever again.
     
  2. David Judah

    David Judah Screenwriter

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    Hey, Obi, I haven't seen you posting much lately, of course I haven't been online as much as I used to be(new baby girl). It's good to hear from you.
    I agree. While we HTF'ers could debate the merits of a seperate pre/pro vs. a receiver's pre/pro until the cows come home, there shouldn't be much disagreement that adding extra amps to a receiver makes a big difference.
    I noticed a huge improvement moving from my Yamaha's amps to seperate amplification. My receiver's amps aren't nearly as robust as your 49TX(which has a good amp section as far as receivers go to begin with), so the fact that you make a case for seperate amps drives the point home even more, IMO.
    You've got some very nice equipment there(I love them Nautilus' too--I plan to upgrade my CDM 9NTs to some 804s or 803s before the year is out).
    Now all you need is an SACD player(if you don't have one already).[​IMG]
    DJ
     
  3. JackS

    JackS Supporting Actor

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    Your next step will be to amp the rears also.(I did) Although not as a dramatic change as the fronts, the surrounds will improve to. If your like me, you will do this because it will always be on your mind that it is somthing that can be done and maybe, just maybe, should be done. I think I can hear the difference, therefore there is a difference. I ,at least have the satisfaction knowing I've taken my receiver to the limit, and as you say, "you can never go back"
     
  4. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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    David:
    I've been thinking about SACD, but thinking only right now. I have DVD-A in the system now (RP91) and am not terribly impresssed. I think there is potential there, but I would like to hear some high-resolution stereo in DVD-A instead of the 5.1 stuff out there. I may spring for a Sony SACD player before much longer, but not until there is more software support in the types of music I listen to the most.
    Jack:
    Don't even get me going on another amp. I've already been looking at the Acurus A125X5 with amp-envy, but my common sense tells me this is simply overkill for surrounds in my setup. I mean, c'mon. Even though the 49TX is a receiver, it is one of the two or three best receivers out there. With the receiver driving only the four surround channels, it is doing little more than idling. With absolutely no strain at all on the power supply, there is plenty of current and headrooom for the surrounds.
    Still...nah [​IMG].
     
  5. Ricky T

    Ricky T Supporting Actor

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    Robert,

    Congrats! For people with hard to drive, analytical speakers like yours (or a big room), a nice 3 channel amp is the way to go. I've always said the best bang for the buck setup is a receiver plus a 200x3 amp....bingo, you're there. You can freely upgrade your receiver in the future, with the comfort that your front 3 speakers will always be married to that 200x3 amp. The Pioneer has ample headroom for four rears.

    And I totally agree with you..this improvement is NOT separates vs receivers, this is "power amp" vs "receiver amp". IMO, if you compare dynamic power, 20 - 20k hz, 2-8 ohms, even the biggest receivers are equaled or bettered by ~ 100 wpc power amps.
     
  6. Brian Corr

    Brian Corr Supporting Actor

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    I agree with everything stated above.

    I had a Denon 5700 and used a parasound HCA-1000 (on loan) on the front 2 channels to experiment with. Yep, I loved the improvement.

    I recently sold the 5700 and picked up the 3802 (I'm waiting on the Outlaw 950). After having the 3802 in my system for a couple weeks, I picked up an ATI 1505. Again, I loved the improvement.

    I'd guess that the level of improvement is greater going from a reciever's amps to an external amp than going from a receiver as a pre/pro to a dedicated pre/pro. As soon as Outlaw starts filling orders, I'll be able to verify that!
     
  7. Craig Ball

    Craig Ball Second Unit

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    I use a H/K 520 with two Acurus A200x3 amps in a 6.1 setup!![​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Craig
     
  8. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    Obi,
    Your findings mirror my sentiments to a T! I've just added a Rotel 1090 to the front end with my Denon 5800. The difference is stunning. I've been putting off the Nautilus upgrade until I could get a seperately amplified front-end. I'm still using B&W 604s and an LCR6 up front, but the way that the Rotel lifted that piece of cellophane off the sound like we do the wrapper from a slice of Kraft cheese is amazing.
    My local B&M has a 2 year old pair of 802s sitting on his floor that he only wants $5k for. It's still a ton of money to spend...but it gets tougher and tougher to walk out of the store every time I visit without them. Since my wife and I have moved into a new house, the moneys have to spread out logically[​IMG] This is a demanding hobby, but the smile and satisfaction one receives when adding outboard amplification is worth every penny....
    Jeremy
     
  9. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Damn you Obi, just when I decided not to upgrade this year, your new amp has me a thinking again.[​IMG]
    $5000.00 how can you guys justified that price for a pair of speakers???????????
    Crawdaddy
     
  11. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    "$5000.00 how can you guys justified that price for a pair of speakers???????????"
    Easily....just gotta find the right wife[​IMG]
    Jeremy
     
  12. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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  13. Aslam Imran

    Aslam Imran Second Unit

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    Just buy a nice receiver and rest easy. Receivers offer the most bang for the buck and separates are for the obsessionists who cant sleep at night (anyway) worrying about the length and guage of their cables and what its doing to the sound of their system. Its a pity they spend the mega bucks on something that doesnt offer half the pride and satisfaction of say donating a fraction of that amount to the red cross or the national cancer society, and all that for something that isn't even there (placebo effect). I laugh when I read some so called audiophile claiming how the kilobuck cable opened up his soundstage and blossomed his upper end. The only upper end I see blossoming is of the sales man that sold you that cable[​IMG]
    There is so much hunger and depravation in the world yet we keep spending all those big bucks on an amp that could feed a whole family in a third world country for a whole friggin year. The irony is that we still dont sleep well at night inspite of spending all that money.
    I know some of you will scream at me to get out of this forum and I wouldn't blame you for that. After all this is a hometheater forum and not the Red Cross forum. Those poor Red Cross people probably dont even have a server to host a forum of this magnitude.
    In any case what I am saying is that I have a 3801 and I luv it and wont be upgrading or adding amplification to it unless I move to a house with big enough space to drown out the impact of my 3801. Right now my home has a living room 17 x 15 feet in size with plenty of power from the 3801. I have a pair of RS4 Infinities for main channels and a set of 3 Sony (yes!!! Sony) speakers for the Center and two surrounds and a pair of KLH (you probably havent heard of it) speakers for rear surround and a Velodyne sub. This with a Sony 32" TV completes my modest hometheater. I am not ashamed to admit that I am probably in the lower 1 percentile of everybody's setup here in terms of cost. Yet I am proud to admit that I sent $1000 from my tax refund to Red Cross last week. So in terms of satisfaction and happiness I am in the top 1 percentile of the people here.
    I am not asking people here to start giving charity, all I am saying is, guys happiness comes from within and not without. SO stop worrying about the soundstage and the upper end and enjoy what you have right here right now. Because you only live once.
    Cmon guys time to bash this sucker[​IMG] out of this room.
     
  14. Frank_S

    Frank_S Supporting Actor

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    Quote:"$5000.00 how can you guys justified that price for a pair of speakers??????????? "
    How can Hillbilly Joe justify spending $30k on a Bass boat?
    How can Ricerocket Johnny justify spending $thousands on rims/Tires,turbos, Nitros,etc?
    It's obvious different folks put their priorities in different hobbies, we just prefer audio. [​IMG]
    I appologize if I offended any Ricerocket owners or hillbillys out there. [​IMG]
     
  15. DavidSegelstein

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    Well, Aslam, I'm quite happy with the length and guage of my cable, thank you. I also give to charity regularly. However, I think you may have paid too much for your 3801. I'm sure you could have gotten something that would produce sound for much less.
    I think adding a separate amp (Bryston 4BST) to my Integra 7.1 receiver to power the front L&R channels has made more difference to the sound than anything else I've done to my home theater. All you have to do is go listen to separate amps compared to receivers to find out how much difference they can make. This is guaranteed to do more for your sound than changing the length and guage of your cable. [​IMG]
     
  16. Vishwa Somayaji

    Vishwa Somayaji Stunt Coordinator

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    Robert,

    That was the best vindication of how I felt after powering my lowly marantz receiver with Anthem MCA-2+3. Of course, in my case it is not a flagship. But, it is nice to hear from someone whose opinion I respect, that it makes a big difference even with a good receiver.

    I was wondering if you would have any thoughts on the difference between 47Tx and 49TX. I have done all the reading and comparison of the features and specs. That is not what I am asking. I have a feeling that apart from the obvious difference such as the remote and extra inputs, the main difference seems to be the MCACC between the two. I have been on the outlaw list but the way it is going it may be a long time until it reaches me. I am losing patience and leaning heavily towards 47TX but also thinking about 49TX. Here in Canada, it is over a grand difference between the two. I already have a pronto so the bigger better remote of the 49 is not important to me. The power supply specs look identical. I am thinking that my money is better spent on 47TX. If you hae any words of wisdom, I would like to hear before I make the plunge.

    Thanks in advance
     
  17. JaleelK

    JaleelK Second Unit

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    Just buy a nice receiver and rest easy. Receivers offer the most bang for the buck and separates are for the obsessionists who cant sleep at night (anyway) worrying about the length and guage of their cables and what its doing to the sound of their system. Its a pity they spend the mega bucks on something that doesnt offer half the pride and satisfaction of say donating a fraction of that amount to the red cross or the national cancer society, and all that for something that isn't even there (placebo effect). I laugh when I read some so called audiophile claiming how the kilobuck cable opened up his soundstage and blossomed his upper end. The only upper end I see blossoming is of the sales man that sold you that cable



    There is so much hunger and depravation in the world yet we keep spending all those big bucks on an amp that could feed a whole family in a third world country for a whole friggin year. The irony is that we still dont sleep well at night inspite of spending all that money.



    I know some of you will scream at me to get out of this forum and I wouldn't blame you for that. After all this is a hometheater forum and not the Red Cross forum. Those poor Red Cross people probably dont even have a server to host a forum of this magnitude.



    In any case what I am saying is that I have a 3801 and I luv it and wont be upgrading or adding amplification to it unless I move to a house with big enough space to drown out the impact of my 3801. Right now my home has a living room 17 x 15 feet in size with plenty of power from the 3801. I have a pair of RS4 Infinities for main channels and a set of 3 Sony (yes!!! Sony) speakers for the Center and two surrounds and a pair of KLH (you probably havent heard of it) speakers for rear surround and a Velodyne sub. This with a Sony 32" TV completes my modest hometheater. I am not ashamed to admit that I am probably in the lower 1 percentile of everybody's setup here in terms of cost. Yet I am proud to admit that I sent $1000 from my tax refund to Red Cross last week. So in terms of satisfaction and happiness I am in the top 1 percentile of the people here.



    I am not asking people here to start giving charity, all I am saying is, guys happiness comes from within and not without. SO stop worrying about the soundstage and the upper end and enjoy what you have right here right now. Because you only live once.



    Cmon guys time to bash this sucker out of this room.
     
  18. Kevin T

    Kevin T Screenwriter

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    robert

    i upgraded from an acurus a200x5 to an aragon 8008x3b and i'm amazed at the difference in sound i'm getting. most noticeably, the bass has more weight and impact. of course, the amp has only been out of the box 1 hours so it hasn't even been properly burned in yet. the acurus is a very good deal for the money but in my opinion will always come in behind the aragon (as it should based upon the retail prices of each). i got the aragon off of ubid for a steal to boot! after i sold my acurus i ended up forking out an extra $300 for the aragon and couldn't be happier. now to find an 8008bb. the search is on!

    kevin t
     
  19. RajeeK

    RajeeK Second Unit

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    This place is simply out of hand. I have had my 49TX for about 2 months now and absolutely love it. Now I am considering adding an additional amplifer to my system simply because of this thread. I am running CDM-9NT's for the fronts. Not particularly difficult to drive as I recall. Any comments out there on my 9NT's. Would it really be worth the cost to add an amplifer to those, or will the 49TX be ok? Damn you Obi [​IMG]
     
  20. Aslam Imran

    Aslam Imran Second Unit

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