DVD player dacs test

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by Wayde_R, Apr 8, 2005.

  1. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I have an Arcam avr200 receiver and a Cambridge Audio Azur 540D DVD player. The C.A. DVD player is renowned for it's nice audio quality, but I've always used the Arcam as the center using its dacs whenever possible hence nothing but digital connections whenever possible, DVD audio notwithstanding.

    On the Arcam I have all speakers set to Small for bass management. Arcam doesn't print their crossover spec in the manual and my emails to Arcam have been frustratingly ignored, I've asked what the actual crossover is set to. Well no matter, my sub is set to the input freq setting (where it lets the receiver dictate what the crossover should be).

    The Cambridge doesn't publish crossover specs either but I read on a message board (an English board so I suspect it's authentic) one of the designers of the DVD player said the small speaker crossover on the player is 80hz, which is a nice industry average.

    Yesterday I took my chronicles of Riddick DVD (I don't recommend the movie really unless you like mindless action with cheesy dialogue and don't mind gobs of second rate CGI, which I do by the way) and experimented with the Arcam's 5.1 input, letting the CA handle the dac responsibilities.

    Well... I was blown away. The receiver was still set to small speakers all the way around, I didn't mess with this setting because I suspect that using the external source (5.1 input) you bypass the receiver's bass management, I believe my suspicion is correct. I set the DVD player to small speakers all the way ‘round for the experiment (normally I leave the DVD player on large and let Mr. Receiver handle bass management duties).

    The dialogue was crisp and clear, not the least bit muted which often plagues soundtracks. Everything else was amazingly “pure”, the bass was tight and not the least bit boomy. In fact bass seemed thin from what I was used to but eventually my ears got used to it and when the soundtrack offered lots of bass it was up to the task and it seemed right after all. All in all I felt like my system 'woke up' from a sort of nap the difference was quite noticeable, and I am always suspicious of so called "differences" in sound quality, I seldom imagine them.

    Switching back to the Arcam's DACs (not bothering to take my CA out of the small speaker setting and switching to digital connection to the receiver) I instantly noticed TONS more bass, very boomy, perhaps annoying from what my ears had grown accustomed to. Dialogue had that thinness problem associated with some soundtracks where normally I'd boost my center channel. When action and fight scenes occurred the soundtrack was thin in comparison to when I was just using the DVD players analogue connections. It was almost like a slice of the frequencies (perhaps due to the bad "double" bass management I had going on) were muted, or maybe even cut right out. Low-mid range loud noises like that of an axe hitting a stone wall didn't give the impact it had with analog connections.

    I’m having difficulty drawing a conclusion. I feel the receiver and DVD player should have very similar quality dacs, perhaps I am very wrong about this and the Cambridge Audio unit has very good quality dacs and that is what I'm hearing. Perhaps the Arcam receiver is also really good at the external source setting and doesn't try to convert back to digital and re-convert back to analogue (which many receivers do for their external source setting) essentially letting my DVD player operate as a pre-amp.

    OR, the other conclusion I could draw is perhaps not having set the DVD player's bass management settings back to large speakers literally caused a freq slice around the 100hz range to be filtered out... so I might not have been getting the full signal and therefore this might not have been a good representation of the Arcam's ability to process the digital input from the DVD player.

    I suspect a bit of both. Even if the latter is the case using the Cambridge Audio DVD player's analogue outputs to the Arcam's external (5.1) input setting gave me some amazing results. It seemed that I did without some of the bass the Arcam's dacs usually provide. Perhaps this is because the Small speaker setting is set to a higher frequency on the DVD player. If you have a good sub you'll be surprised how much MORE bass you get when you turn your receiver's "small" speaker setting on for ALL your speakers including the fronts. I used to be one of those heretics that set my fronts to Large reasoning that it could handle lower frequencies. It can, but just not to the volumes the sub can.

    I'm open to any theories about what might be going on and invite anyone else to experiment as I had. It sure is a fun hobby... and everyone's ‘gotta have a hobby, right?
     
  2. Jose G

    Jose G Supporting Actor

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    I think you're correct that the receiver is passing the signal through without double conversion, just like it would a dvd-audio or sacd player. Congrats on the discovery. It's always nice when your system sings with it's full potential. As far as the small versus large issue, that also makes sense and may also play a role, but I think, from what I understand, I think the receiver's pass-through is making the real difference here.

    José
     
  3. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the response Jose. I reread my post and man it is a monster, no wonder nobody read it.

    It's nice to hear someone else believes it's possible my receiver is not "double converting". I always assumed it would hence no benifit to watching DVD's with the 5.1 input.
     
  4. John S

    John S Producer

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    That DVD player is known for it's audio quailty from what I have read, so probably a good idea.

    For must of us, I would still think the better performance comes from using the AVR. But gosh, your post has me giving it a shot at some point in the future, just to see.
     
  5. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    I'm familiar with both pieces of gear (I own the 540D). The Arcam's xover is 100hz, fixed, while the 540D's xover is 80hz, fixed. The Arcam MCH input is a complete bypass, no A/D/A involved whatsoever. I bought the 540D purely for its audio, as I already had another player for movies and hi-res audio. In fact, I was shopping for a CD only player and ended up with the 540D over the 540C, NAD C541i and several other players. My other player, a Marantz DV6400, no slouch in the audio department, is great with hi-res but for CD playback, I find the 540D gives me a wider soundstage (though with a touch less bass than the Marantz or my receiver). I prefer the wider soundstage. I wanted a separate CD player as I wanted access to the bulk of my music if my other player ever went down AND I thought by splitting the workload, each piece would last longer.

    In the end, it doesn't really matter WHY you prefer the 540D for audio playback, does it? It just matters that you're enjoying the tunes.

    P.S. For DTS soundtracks, though, you'll have to rely on the Arcam as the 540D can only pass a DTS signal along its digital output, it has no internal DTS decoder.
     
  6. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the info Paul, I didn't know this about the Arcam.

    So, just to clarify... am I correct in assuming that the bass management settings on the receiver are only active from the digital inputs? That means the 100Hz cutoff to small speakers isn't active with the Aracm receiver when the 5.1 input is being used. I'm pretty sure it's not because I thought the bass management (on the AVR200 at least) occurs in the digital domain.

    I know what you mean about the bass Paul, it's not "lacking" in the CA DVD player but it just seems more defined, more deliberate, not as boomy compared to the Arcam.

    Funny how this is the first time I've explicitly heard the difference in DACs. Anytime I've compared with other CD/DVD players I've owned I've heard only negligible differences. I guess that's a testament to the Cambridge Audio Azur DVD player.
     
  7. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    You're not entirely correct re: bass management. The MCH input is an analogue bypass, and no bass management is active on it. However, if you plug a source into any other two channel analogue input AND engage any of the DSP modes, the receiver will do an A/D/A to the signal and apply whatever speaker settings (LARGE or SMALL) you have set in the receiver--thus applying bass management. If you engage the "PURE AUDIO or DIRECT or BYPASS" (I don't remember what Arcam calls it), then the analogue inputs across the board will remain DSP-free, thus bass management free.
     
  8. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Cool, thanks Paul. How do you know so much about Arcam's receiver? Most places nobody's ever even heard of the AVR200.

    I understand, the two channel inputs do the A/D/A conversion and apply bass management, DSP settings, there is a 2.1 setting in the receiver's menu system too. But using that 5.1 setting it's a straight bypass, which is nice. I'm not even using any of the Arcam's 2 channel inputs. My Marantz CD player is connected digitally and sounds great. I haven't done any head to head comparisons between it and my DVD player's audio ability. Considering the Marantz is a multi-disc changer I think if any difference is heard at all it will be a nod toward the Cambrige Audio.

    Merci Paul, et voyez-vous plus tard
     
  9. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    I know the Arcam because I bought one, but had a rather freakish quality control issue (two brand new units had faulty centre channel connections that caused them to blow internal fuses whenever I turned on the unit with a centre speaker attached). I was a bit "gunshy" after that and went with my second choice. I'm quite happy with my receiver (it has far more flexible settings than the Arcam) and it's musically very close, but I do sometimes wonder if I should have gone with the third replacement. Oh well, perhaps I'll add some outboard Arcam amps in the future.

    Actually, if it had been available at the time, I might have gone for the Cambridge Audio 540R as an alternative to my Arcam problems. Too bad Cambridge doesn't make power amps (though I suppose I could adapt an integrated amp).
     

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