Let's Talk About Amplifiers

JohnRice

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I think it's past due to have an open, continuing thread discussing external amplifiers, using separates and so on. Especially helping to understand what benefits they present.

I definitely have things to start off with, which I will do once I get home from work.

In the meantime, let's get going on the topic.

I realize that not everyone "believes" in using external power, but please, no thread crapping. Let's keep it to constructive, first hand and helpful information on the topic.
 

John Dirk

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Right now the decision I'm facing is how to supplement my existing setup which consists of an Outlaw 7140, [currently in for repair] an aging Acurus 3xA200 and a lone Harmon Kardon 100 watt amp used to round out my 7.1.4 room. The Acurus powers the front stage which consists of Klipsch RP280 towers and a Klipsch RP450C center. The Outlaw powers everything else [Axiom QS8 surrounds, SVS bookshelf rear surrounds and 3 of the 4 RSL Atmos overheads. The last of the RSL's is powered by the HK.

I'm considering something in the 400 WPC range for my front stage and will probably relegate the Acurus to rear surrounds only. When I get the Outlaw back I'll probably have it power the remaining rear stage only. I've looked at offerings from both Emotiva and D Sonic for the front stage. I'm a little nervous about D Sonic since I have no experience whatsoever with Class D. I've also never owned an Emotiva product and have some concerns based on your feedback regarding quality control and service.

Thoughts?
 

JohnRice

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Right now the decision I'm facing is how to supplement my existing setup which consists of an Outlaw 7140, [currently in for repair] an aging Acurus 3xA200 and a lone Harmon Kardon 100 watt amp used to round out my 7.1.4 room. The Acurus powers the front stage which consists of Klipsch RP280 towers and a Klipsch RP450C center. The Outlaw powers everything else [Axiom QS8 surrounds, SVS bookshelf rear surrounds and 3 of the 4 RSL Atmos overheads. The last of the RSL's is powered by the HK.

I'm considering something in the 400 WPC range for my front stage and will probably relegate the Acurus to rear surrounds only. When I get the Outlaw back I'll probably have it power the remaining rear stage only. I've looked at offerings from both Emotiva and D Sonic for the front stage. I'm a little nervous about D Sonic since I have no experience whatsoever with Class D. I've also never owned an Emotiva product and have some concerns based on your feedback regarding quality control and service.

Thoughts?
Something I've been meaning to say is that the QC of Emotiva lately seems to have improved quite a bit, along with higher prices. The last three amps I've bought don't have any of the nagging little inconsistencies I've seen in the past, such as inconsistent/non functioning lights.

In fact, I'm so happy with my recent amps that I'm considering replacing my original XPA-5 with the current model, simply for the improved performance I've found with the XPA-DR2.

I hesitate to recommend any of their processors though. I think that's something that is technologically beyond what they can do reliably.
 

JohnRice

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I added some to my last post, then realized that I should specify that Emotiva has changed their manufacturing process. Everything used to be done in China, but now they've gone to a modular system on their higher end models where components are assembled in China, but as far as I know, are completed here domestically. One result seems to be that every amp (in the XPA line, but not the Bas-X) is actually assembled and boxed domestically. Even with the Bas-X models, which are not done this way, the QC seems to be better.
 
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ManW_TheUncool

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Hey! Very timely for my upcoming plans to (completely?) overhaul my relatively modest HT setup! :D

I'm starting to look into possibly going Atmos for a (finally) dedicated HT room (~17x17ft)... and looks like I may have to go hybrid even if I'm willing to spend much more than I've done in the past -- had mostly gone the used/refurbed route to stay fairly low budget in the past (on the largely audio side anyway). Can't really see myself spending $2K-plus just on a prepro (as part of an overhaul), but the Anthem MRX-720, for instance, might be something I can consider stretching my as-yet-TBD budget to acquire probably to combine w/ my aging B&K 5-channel 105wpc amp (along w/ a possible, if moderate, upgrade on my now-3-decade-old Vandersteen 2Ci's as the mains)...

Currently, I'm just using a refurbed Emotiva UMC200 as prepro, but would likely need to upgrade to go 4K even if I don't go Atmos -- in that case, I might just go for a UMC700... unless I can make do w/ some kinda (remote-capable?) HDMI switcher just for the 4K video I suppose...

I suppose I may end up doing the overhaul piece-meal... starting w/ the room itself (while keeping Atmos is mind)...

Anyhoo, sorry if this is getting a tad OT... although seems like such issues (of going hybrid, instead of all separates) would have to be considered (for HT vs audio-only) in order to be practical for at least some of us...

_Man_
 

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Not exactly what people are talking about here but definitely related. I just ordered a JDS Labs Ol DAC and an S.M.S.L. THX 888 Headphone amp.
 

JohnRice

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along w/ a possible, if moderate, upgrade on my now-3-decade-old Vandersteen 2Ci's as the mains
Vandersteens are awesome. You'd be hard pressed to find something that would be an upgrade in my book for anything resembling a reasonable price.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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Vandersteens are awesome. You'd be hard pressed to find something that would be an upgrade in my book for anything resembling a reasonable price.
I very briefly looked at their next models up, and they probably jump in prices way too much for me to consider for the seemingly diminishing returns.

At the moment, I'm thinking of maybe just going for the latest edition of the 2C series for mains and moving the old 2Ci's to the surrounds. I don't have much multichannel hirez audio recordings, but that's partly because I hadn't had the time on top of the space (and budget/gear) to do it much, if any, justice -- that and I just hadn't come across much in my very casual attempts to inspire me. The old 2Ci's wouldn't be perfect matches for the 2Ce Signature Mk 2(?) for multichannel hirez, but I'm guessing probably closer than anything else outside the 2C series.

Incidentally, I'm wondering if Mahler might get me into multichannel hirez a bit more -- I hadn't gotten into Mahler in the past, but may start to after attending a concert of his 5th Symphony at Carnegie Hall last Autumn... Currently, I only have the Tilson Thomas led SFSO recording of his 1st on SACD.

Also, wish there were more high quality BDs of great modern opera performances that make fuller use of the format (and modern HT setup). Seems like a bit of mixed bag near as I can tell...

Anyhoo, sorry again for getting OT...

_Man_
 

ManW_TheUncool

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Not exactly what people are talking about here but definitely related. I just ordered a JDS Labs Ol DAC and an S.M.S.L. THX 888 Headphone amp.
That reminds me... I still need to get cracking :lol: on my DIY Bottlehead Crack OTL head amp kit for my Sennheiser HD600 cans... I'm seriously delinquent on that little project now... :blush:

_Man_
 

JohnRice

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I hadn't gotten into Mahler in the past, but may start to after attending a concert of his 5th Symphony at Carnegie Hall last Autumn... Currently, I only have the Tilson Thomas led SFSO recording of his 1st on SACD.
I don't care for multichannel music myself. I have a bunch of SACDs, but always listen to them in 2 channel. Two Mahler Symphonies, the 2nd and 8th, are ready made for surround though, since they are actually supposed to be performed that way.
 
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John Dirk

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@JohnRice . So let's hear more about that XPA2-DR2. It might be overkill for my needs but I'm still very curious. I want my next front stage amp to be my last.
 

JohnRice

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@JohnRice . So let's hear more about that XPA2-DR2. It might be overkill for my needs but I'm still very curious. I want my next front stage amp to be my last.
I will. I never posted anything last night, but I want to start off by explaining some things about amps first. Like a lot of things, it's amazing how many misunderstandings there are about such a basic component.
 

Clinton McClure

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I have a 20 year old Anthem MCA-5 amp that I’m currently using with a 20 year old Yamaha RX-V995 receiver. Sonically, I can’t tell the difference between the Anthem and running my speakers directly from the Yamaha. It sounds the same to me, however, it’s nice to know I have about 100 watts per channel overhead from the Anthem. Whenever I can afford to upgrade my receiver, I’ll most likely get another one with pre outs and continue to use the Anthem amp.
 

Brian Kleinke

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I have a very new Anthem MCA 525, before this I used a Sony N9000ES. To my ears it was an upgrade.

My pre went from being a denon 3808ci to a Anthem AVM 60 and that was a noticeable upgrade as well. I suspect your speakers matter as much, I have Polk LSi's and I think they like the extra overhead the Anthem has over the Sony.
 

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I'm running a Sherwood Newcastle P-965 Pre-amp-processor and feeding it into an ADCOM GFA7605. Source is a modified OPPO BDP103D. I've serviced the 7605 so I know it is working properly and at 125 watts/channel it seems to have enough grunt for the stuff we watch. No cable or streaming, we buy what we want to see. But I think sound could be improved and I'm sick of the Sherwood Newcastle's foibles so I think that's what I'd change, but to what? Or should I try more power first?
 

Clinton McClure

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I have a very new Anthem MCA 525, before this I used a Sony N9000ES. To my ears it was an upgrade.

My pre went from being a denon 3808ci to a Anthem AVM 60 and that was a noticeable upgrade as well. I suspect your speakers matter as much, I have Polk LSi's and I think they like the extra overhead the Anthem has over the Sony.
My speakers are all from the Paradigm Monitor line. I suspect I’ll notice an improvement in sound quality when I can upgrade my receiver to one that uses modern audio codecs and I can decode true HD audio.
 

JohnRice

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The first thing I want to do is explain what amplifiers actually do. because it's a little different from what's the general perception.

All preamps and receivers have an analog (post-digital) stage, which is that last part before the audio is sent to the amps, regardless of if those are in a receiver or external. The level of that analog signal generally has a maximum level of 1-2 volts. This is how "loud" the signal is. 1-2 volts isn't very loud. Then the signal is sent to (internal or external) amplifiers, which have two circuits or stages. These are called the "input" (voltage) and "output" (wattage) stage. The input stage applies "gain" to the signal, which is what makes the signal "louder". It takes that signal with a 1-2 volt maximum and increases it to, for example, a maximum of 30 volts. The signal isn't 30 volts. It varies with the content, but the maximum is 30 volts, instead of 2. That is how "loud" the signal is.

Then the amp passes the high level signal to the output (wattage) stage, which provides the power to actually drive the speakers, because speakers need watts to make their drivers move. The biggest misunderstanding in audio is that a "loud" signal equals a lot of power. We've all done it... "Look how much power this has! I barely turn it up and the walls are shaking!" Dishonest companies have been feeding on this misunderstanding for decades. Gain is relatively easy and cheap to increase. Power is expensive. The problem is, too much gain actually degrades the sound, and it's not power. As an example, one manufacturer I'm familiar with makes amps that range from distribution amps with 40 wpc to a monoblock with 1,000 watts at 4 Ohm. The all have the exact same gain. In other words, if you connect the 40 watt amp and play something, then replace it with the 1,000 watt amp and play the same thing without changing anything else, they will play at the same volume. Yes, you can turn up the kilowatt amp higher (this goes to 11) but the greater power doesn't mean it plays louder at a given setting.

So, what's the point of power? Sure, it's about playing louder, but it's also about dynamics and reserve power. Nothing performs well at its limits of operation. So, one benefit is the opportunity to never stress the amp, or to stress it less. Where that really comes into play is with dynamics. You watch an action movie and the amps are cruising along at 10-20 watts average, then that explosion hits and suddenly, for an instant, the signal wants 300 watts. "Oh, but my receiver has 150 wpc. That's pretty close." Yeah, actually it is, but aside from taking it to its limit, we get to another thing. Maybe your receiver can output 150 watts to one or two channels, but how much power does it have coming in? Even the Denon X8500H has a maximum power draw of 900 watts... total. It has to run all (up to) 13 channels on that 900 watts. When that explosion hits, that 300 watt signal only gets 70. You get "...boom..." instead of "BOOM!!". "But my system plays so loud." Power isn't so much about loud as dynamics. It's similar to power in a car. Most of the time you don't "need" a ton of power, but when it comes to passing a car, going uphill on a two lane highway, that reserve power makes all the difference in the world. Sure, you can use power to drive fast, but where it really comes in handy is that brief time when you really need it. As an example, where that X8500H can provide a total of 900 watts to everything it's doing, including driving up to 13 channels, the Emotiva XPA-DR2 amp I recently got can supply 1,700 watts when needed, and that's just for two channels.

What I've talked about here are just a couple measurable, undeniable factors of amps. There are plenty of less obvious things that we can get into.

@Dave Upton will certainly want to talk about damping factor, which involves the amp's ability to control the movement of drivers. Because the power from an amp and how it interacts with speakers is extremely complex.
 
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daddyora

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A few years back I made the mistake of buying a decent Yamaha Aventage AVR but decided not to get one with pre-outs. Now I would like to upgrade my system but am limited by the AVR or required to buy another one plus the external amps. My bad.
 

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John, nice read about power.
My understanding (and I’m just a consumer) is that it’s all about current capability and how the power supply controls it. Iv’e been an audiophile for longer than a home theatre enthusiast. I have (no longer using) some hand made original Hovland equipment (long time Absolute Sound readers Should recognize that name) that only had 200wpc but an incredible current handling ability. It was ridiculous in dynamics. My real inquiry here is about the subject of currently available amplification. I love the sound of tubes but don’t want the downsides of heat generation and touch exposure, biasing, replacing tubes, etc. What is available in solid state application for surround that is the most “tube sounding”? I’m not very up on current brand names and models, so please be specific and include both when replying. I do know that tube amplification is still available but not sure who is doing surround with them, and unless they’e addressed my above issues, not interested. Thanks ahead for any responses.
 

JohnRice

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John, nice read about power.
My understanding (and I’m just a consumer) is that it’s all about current capability and how the power supply controls it. Iv’e been an audiophile for longer than a home theatre enthusiast. I have (no longer using) some hand made original Hovland equipment (long time Absolute Sound readers Should recognize that name) that only had 200wpc but an incredible current handling ability. It was ridiculous in dynamics. My real inquiry here is about the subject of currently available amplification. I love the sound of tubes but don’t want the downsides of heat generation and touch exposure, biasing, replacing tubes, etc. What is available in solid state application for surround that is the most “tube sounding”? I’m not very up on current brand names and models, so please be specific and include both when replying. I do know that tube amplification is still available but not sure who is doing surround with them, and unless they’e addressed my above issues, not interested. Thanks ahead for any responses.
Yeah, current capability is another value that is rarely revealed. I have to admit that is a factor I'm not sure I fully comprehend. I do understand it can have the result of greater power and dynamics.

Probably what you want, not knowing your budget, is a high bias class A/B amp. Biasing on A/B amps varies widely, and the higher it is generally the more "tubelike" the sound. But it makes the amp consume a lot more power. You could look for pure Class A, but, massive power consumption. One line I know of that's highly regarded is the Parasound Halo line. I believe it has two amps, the 21+ and 23+. They also have pure Class A inputs, which all leans toward a "tube" sound.

I have to say, the Emotiva XPA-DR2 I got this year is very smooth sounding. Best sounding amp I've had connected to my speakers since the Proceed pure Class A amp I sampled when I got them 27 years ago. It's a rather high tech design. Very efficient and powerful, and surprisingly smooth sounding with a wide and deep sound stage. It's not 100% to the Proceed, but probably 94% of the way there.
 

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