Is my best upgrade a new receiver?

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by Chris-St, Dec 22, 2004.

  1. Chris-St

    Chris-St Auditioning

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    I am looking to make a cost-effective upgrade to my system. I am currently leaning toward a new receiver, but need guidance.

    I currently have the following:

    --Sapphire Audio all around with ST1B Towers as my mains
    --Athena AS-P300 8" sub
    --Harman/Kardon AVR 130 receiver (45 watts x 5)
    --Pioneer DV-563A universal DVD player
    --Monster and Acoustic Research cables

    What is my best upgrade for under, say, $700? Should I focus on getting more power to my mains? If so, does this mean a new surround receiver, or maybe a stereo amplifier? Should I focus on a better dvd player (I listen to a lot of multichannel music and am pretty happy with the DV-563A). Should I save and get better speakers/sub?

    Thanks. Your suggestions are appreciated.
     
  2. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    Since you mentioned getting better speakers/sub, your best move right now would be to keep your present speakers but upgrade your subwoofer. This can make a world of difference both for movies and music. SVS is always a good place to start looking.

    Artie
     
  3. Chris-St

    Chris-St Auditioning

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    Does this hold true even though I live in a high-rise apartment and find myself turning down my current sub so as to not disturb the neighbors? Would a new sub be that much more efficient in quality, not just quantity?
     
  4. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    A better dvd player with better multi channel bass management maybe in order like the Denon 2910. Being that you are turning down the sub, I'd think that you are likely not pushing your mains that much in terms of power thus a new receiver wouldn't gain you anything.
     
  5. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    I think Shane's probably right, whatever you 'might' gain by tossing more power is going to be offset by your neighbors calling building management.
     
  6. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    Yes

    Now that you mention your apartment situation a new sub is probably not a good idea unless you see yourself moving in the next year.

    My next recommendation would be a larger display (TV). You don't say much about video but a large screen has a tremendous impact.

    Artie
     
  7. Elinor

    Elinor Supporting Actor

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    If the current receiver has pre-outs, I'd go for a 3-channel amp for F L+C+R. Few people who have made the jump to separate amps have failed to notice a dramatic difference.
     
  8. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    $700 for a display isn't much. Unless you are using a 20" TV, I'd say that I'd save your cash for a larger "big screen" if you wanted a new display.
    It is not a might notice a difference but will he actually use it for the levels he uses ? No.
     
  9. Chris-St

    Chris-St Auditioning

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    Thanks for the suggestions.

    Question: Would an amp or new receiver just increase volume level, or would I notice an all-around improvement in sound quality?

    Another option is capitalizing on Tweeter's "one-year upgrade" policy and focusing on new speakers. However, with a budget under $1000, I am not sure this is the best option.

    I appreciate the suggestion about a better DVD player, specifically the Denon. Anyone heard the "Denon Link" digital multichannel audio? Is this a big improvement over analog?

    Yeah, a new TV is not an option right now. I currently have a 36" Sony Trinitron, so it will work for now--besides, I am having more fun with the audio portion of my home theater.
     
  10. Elinor

    Elinor Supporting Actor

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    >"Would an amp or new receiver just increase volume level, or would I notice an all-around improvement in sound quality?"

    In most cases a separate amp is going to provide better sound quality (ok, don't tell me about $3000 receivers vs. $200 amps). Amps generally feature more robust designs that enable them to deliver the rated watts through ALL channels. Amps generally have much beefier capacitors, enabling them to deliver power during transient peaks without pooping out.

    Few receivers are designed to do these things as competently as dedicated amps do.

    There are ways though to improve power levels to speakers without changing components. If you are driving tower speakers with a low-mid powered receiver, and you also have a decent subwoofer, you can probably improve the sound simply by setting the speakers to "small." This routes lower frequencies to the sub rather than the speakers. The advantage is that when the music/movie gets loud, a significant amount of energy is being used by the speakers to produce low frequency sound. This can leave midrange-high frequencies without sufficient juice to produce clean sound at the same time.

    Now, give those towers enough power (such as provided by a dedicated amp) and you don't need such tricks, but they can work in a low to medium powered situation.
     
  11. Chris-St

    Chris-St Auditioning

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    My receiver does not appear to have pre-outs. Am I out of luck with regard to a 3-channel amp, as you suggested?
     
  12. Elinor

    Elinor Supporting Actor

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    Yes, I think "out of luck" would pretty much cover it.

    Any chance you'd want a new receiver with more juice? Really, 45w to tower mains sounds a little bit anemic. I mean, more power isn't just about making louder volume, it's about making cleaner more detailed sound at any volume level....
     
  13. Chris-St

    Chris-St Auditioning

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    Yeah, I think that is what I am going to do. I have been somewhat reluctant to do so, however, because I am generally happy with the Harman/Kardon and have read very good reviews, despite the lacking wattage.

    How much do I have to spend to get a audible difference? Do I have to break a grand? What would you recommend? I am very interested in Denon due to the digital multichannel music capabilities (I realize I would have to get a compatible Denon universal player).
     
  14. eddieZEN

    eddieZEN Second Unit

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    Not sure if upgrading the DVD player is going to make a whole lot of difference, unless you have truly audiophile-sensitive ears. I noticed a difference when I added a Sony ES CD player for music instead of using my Panasonic DVD player for music, but I've listened to dealers' high end CD players (NAD, Denon, etc.) and couldn't really hear much of a difference.

    Since you live in an apartment, what you could try is upgrading to extremely sensitive bookshelf speakers (91 db and above) and placing them on stands---towers are known to suck up a lot more power. When I put my mediocre and tiny Mordaunt Short bookshelves on cheapie $30 MDF stands it was like night and day.

    And since you have the powered sub, just run all your low frequencies (say under 80-100Hz) to the sub so the bookshelves just take care of the mids and highs, which further maximizes their efficiency.

    I know that H/K is known for conservative and very clean power ratings but 45wpc is still pretty meager for towers, and I don't mean loudness/volume but the extra clarity and fullness which adequate power can provide.

    Good bookshelves and a cheap stand should run you well under $1000, I'd say closer to $400. I'm looking into the Ascend CMB-170s myself due to their excellent reputation for delivering transparent mids and highs, $340 shipped from their website direct. The speaker stands I got from ac4l.com.
     
  15. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    Yep SOL.

    I hate to say it but save your cash. You aren't likely to be able to get an I-Link capable decent dvd player right now for under $1k. Ditto for the receiver and while your speakers could use an upgrade(IMHO), you'll need to plunk down alot more than $1k IMHO to gain a difference worth appreciating.
     
  16. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    Now that I think of it, this one is actually simple. Speakers make a vastly bigger difference in sound quality than any of your electronics. If a really significant audible difference is what you are after, change speakers. That is the easy part of the equation. The hard part is finding the speakers that are going to put a big smile on your face. You don't necessarily have to spend over $1,000 to get this smile. But it will take a lot of driving around and auditioning everything in your price range. Please remember, speakers will always sound brighter in your home than they will in a showroom. So you need 30 day return privileges. Of course, there are also a lot of good speakers available only via internet so auditioning them is a problem.

    So now, if you are ready to spend the time listening to speakers, you can make a real change in your sound. If you do not add any bass on your receiver tone control, your receiver should be able to handle almost all of the speakers in your price range. True 4 ohm speakers are a bit of a challenge, but your HK can probably handle it.

    All in all, a daunting propostion, but that is the answer.

    Artie
     

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