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Time For a Significant Music System Update (1 Viewer)

JohnRice

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The #1 priority for the system in my main HT has always been music reproduction. It was put together for disc based music, but since then I've added the ability to play high resolution music. The problem is, that part of the system is rather out of date. I'm playing HD files that are stored on an NVMe drive controlled by an Oppo BDP-103, feeding into an Emotiva DC-1 DAC, which is then sent to an Emotiva XSP-1 preamp (which has a Home Theater Bypass mode) and on to an Emotiva XPS-DR2 amp which feeds my Thiel CS 3.6 speakers. The XSP-1 also has a sub crossover, which is fed to dual SVS SB-16 Ultra subs. I also have about 50 SACDs which I can play with a Marantz SA8004 two channel SACD player. I'm not interested in the surround sections of SACDs, but those would be played with the Oppo and fed into my surround preamp anyway, so nothing needs to change with that.

I had been planning to change to a good streaming DAC in place of the Oppo/DC-1 to play back music files, but in recent weeks my XSP-1 preamp has developed an electrical problem. It's generating a buzzing noise that fluctuates and comes and goes. So, instead of the streamer/DAC approach, I'm wondering about looking for a newer, hopefully better stereo preamp with HT bypass, which might or might not have an internal DAC capable of at least 24/192 PCM as well as DSD playback from a connected drive. Then the issue is how to control playback without the Oppo, which I can't rely on in the long term. If the new preamp has an internal DAC it eliminates the problem with how to get all file formats, especially DSD to it. Of course, my understanding is most if not all DACs which can play DSD are internally converting them to PCM anyway, so maybe I want to explore converting DSD files (from my SACDs) to PCM.

The bottom line is, I want the highest quality audio I can afford. I'm having difficulty finding stereo preamps that have an HT bypass and a sub crossover. There is the Parasound P6, which is a little more limited than I care for, and I wonder if the audio quality is as good as I'd like. It has an internal DAC, but only the USB input is capable of files greater than 24/96 or DSD. So I'd need some way to manage playback from the SSD that can be controlled by an iPad and output by USB. That part might actually be pretty easy. I'm just not very up on what's available.

I also haven't found any stereo preamps with an HT bypass and a sub crossover other than the Parasound P6. I also prefer balanced outputs. At least the P6 does have one pair of balanced inputs, so I could use a better, external DAC/streamer if needed. I had already pretty much decided on the Naim Uniti Atom HE for that, but am now holding off with the idea of bringing more of the system up to date. One weird problem with the P6 is it's not clear to me if the balanced outputs use the sub crossover or not. They simply don't make that detail clear. It appears the crossover only works on the unbalanced outputs.

I know this is a very specific and unusual setup I'm looking for, but I'm hoping especially that I can get some suggestions for the HD file playback which can be fed to USB or coax/optical and controlled by an iPad. The files I'd be playing are either ripped from CDs or bought from HDTracks, as well as DSD I will rip from my SACDs.

Any suggestions?
 

DaveF

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Well, good luck! I don’t know anything about hi-res audio (except awareness of the streaming services that specialize in the format). Hope you can find what you’re looking for!

While you’re digging deep into new audio hardware, do you have any interest in vinyl? (Also not my thing, but I see the appeal of the aesthetic and desire to regain a tangible or visceral experience with actually playing music.)
 

John Dirk

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Yea, the details of this topic are way over my head. I do try to get my music in FLACC format whenever possible to take advantage of it's lossless characteristics as opposed to MP3. I know very little about DSD but aren't all such files converted to PCM before playback?
 

JohnRice

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I know very little about DSD but aren't all such files converted to PCM before playback?
My understanding is that most DACs which accept DSD files do convert to PCM internally before converting. Manufacturers like to keep this a secret. I've been trying to set up ripping from my SACDs, which can be done with the Oppo, but haven't succeeded yet.

I'm hoping Dave Upton has something to contribute. This is his wheelhouse. I'm inclined to give the Parasound P6 a try.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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Yeah, I used to want to get an SACD player (or DSD DAC) that would *not* do the extra (essentially, extremely nearly lossless) DSD->PCM conversion, but have basically given up that purist ideal... since really, even if there's remotely any perceivable diff, it would be very (extremely) far from being the weakest link in my non-uber-$$$ playback system, LOL.

And ever since I started dabbling w/ actual (acoustic) musical instruments as an adult beginner some years ago, really, nothing in the audio playback world can quite compare w/ the real, live thing anyway... even if/when hacked at by my essentially talentless, faking (no-)skills, LOL...

Toward that end, I'll be attending this concert (w/ pretty good tier box seats) in a couple weeks...

Janine Jansen at Carnegie Hall

_Man_
 

JohnRice

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Yeah, I used to want to get an SACD player (or DSD DAC) that would *not* do the extra (essentially, extremely nearly lossless) DSD->PCM conversion, but have basically given up that purist ideal...
Supposedly my Marantz SACD player does direct DSD to analog conversion, but its DAC just isn't as good as the external one I have, so it pretty much defeats the purpose. I'm guessing a good computer based DSD>PCM conversion is going to be the best solution. At least I can try that at no cost, assuming I can get the (absurdly complicated) rip process to work.

And I'll have to check out those pieces in the concert you're going to. I certainly have the Beethoven and Brahms, but I'm not certain of the Schubert.
 

Scott Merryfield

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My Denon X3300W AVR will accept a DSD input. I only occasionally play SACDs these days, but do have my old Oppo DVD player that supports SACD setup to output SACD as DSD via HDMI to the AVR. I think it's becoming more rare to find a pre-amp or AVR that accepts DSD audio, though.
 

JohnRice

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I think it's becoming more rare to find a pre-amp or AVR that accepts DSD audio, though.
It's getting more common with external DACs but almost unheard of with receivers and preamps. However, as I'd said, it appears that most if not all DACs which accept DSD are just internally converting it to PCM.
 

JohnRice

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Still trying to figure out what to do. The Emotiva RMC-1L would be a perfect solution, if it didn’t seem to have so many glitches, and its audio performance seems to be sub-par for what it should be. The Monoprice HTC-1 seems to perform better, but lacks some features and isn’t available anyway.
 

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I read your initial post but wasn't sure if you are you up for a major upgrade/replacement phase or just surgically replacing a few components.

You said "The #1 priority for the system in my main HT has always been music reproduction."

And the big question -- Why are you looking at Home Theater (ie Surround) equipment when your primary goal appears to be 2 Channel music? If you want the best in 2 channel music go into Pro Audio and leave the Home Theater stuff behind. But it depends on your budget. Do you have a budget in mind?

You said: "...it appears that most if not all DACs which accept DSD are just internally converting it to PCM."

You should look for a DAC that supports DoP (DSD over PCM). It uses PCM for the transport mechanism but plays the DSD file as native in the original bit rate of 64 or (in the case of the Prism interface suggested below) upscaled to 128. This allows you to manage/transport/play your DSD files as if they are PCM but still retain the DSD quality.

I've not used this piece personally but Prism Audio has an excellent rep in pro audio circles.
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/CalliaBK--prism-sound-callia-reference-stereo-usb-dac-black

This would connect to your computer via USB but also accepts other digital inputs- -
> Digital Coax (ie S/PDIF over RCA)
> AES over XLR
> S/PDIF over Optical Toslink


More on DoP:

 
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JohnRice

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I read your initial post but wasn't sure if you are you up for a major upgrade/replacement phase or just surgically replacing a few components.

You said "The #1 priority for the system in my main HT has always been music reproduction."

And the big question -- Why are you looking at Home Theater (ie Surround) equipment when your primary goal appears to be 2 Channel music?
Thanks for the info on DoP.

To answer your question, it is a home theater, so I want it to be capable of surround sound. What I have is something of a hybrid system, where I have the best music reproduction I can afford with a dedicated stereo preamp, power amp and subwoofers, along with high res file playback, CD, SACD and excellent speakers. Then, when I want to watch a video source, I turn on the surround preamp, additional amps and speakers for surround sound, and the L&R channels and subs are passed through the stereo preamp "HT Bypass". It allows me to have the best music playback I can afford, while still having surround sound. It's not that unusual, because multiple manufacturers make stereo preamps designed to be integrated into surround systems.

When I first went down this road 30 years ago, I used a CD player that had a remote volume control that was fed straight into the front amp, and I'd actually switch the cables to the amp depending on whether I wanted to listen to music or watch surround video. This setup is more refined.

Now that I almost exclusively play music from files, either bought from HDTracks or ripped from CDs, I want a better music playback option. I want some way to control playback from an iPad, which the Oppo BR player allows, but that option is sort of clunky and getting outdated. So, I'm looking for options. One approach is a stereo preamp with internal DAC like the Parasound P6, but then I still need a better way to control playback of files. I can continue using the Emotiva XSP-1 preamp I have now and update to, for example, a Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition digital streamer which has a top notch DAC, I can connect the SSD to and can be controlled with an iPad. Or, maybe I can really simplify things at a price by replacing both stereo and surround preamps with a really premium surround preamp that can produce the audio quality I want for music, I can connect the SSD to and has the ability to control playback of music files with an iPad.

Each option I find has positives and negatives. It's looking like I might just have to go with my initial solution of the Naim Uniti Atom streamer.
 

JohnRice

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Well, now Emotiva is tempting me with a closeout of their outgoing processors. I had sworn I'd never get an Emotiva processor, because they tend to be twitchy. But that's a tendency with any "boutique" brand. Arcam and even Anthem have a tendency to be twitchy. But now, the RMC-1L, which could be just about ideal has dropped from $4K to $2.5K with a trade-in, which I have sitting in a storage room. The thing is, there has always been a lot of online hate for Emotiva, so plenty of trolls bashing them. Most of the people who actually own the processor seem to really like it. The fact is, I can't expect it to be a rock solid as the Marantz I have now, but will it sound enough better to justify it? They have a 30 day trial, but that's not really long enough to genuinely try it out.

What to do?

Resisting my frugality, the Anthem AVM 70 might be the better decision in the long run.
 

John Dirk

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Resisting my frugality, the Anthem AVM 70 might be the better decision in the long run.
I tend to agree. While I have limited experience with Emotiva gear [I do own their now discontinued PA-1 Class D mono amp] some of the reviews I've read concerning their processors give me extreme pause. Anthem gear may enter the market in beta condition but they do seem to get all of the bugs worked out eventually and they also have a powerful parent organization behind them.
 

JohnRice

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I tend to agree. While I have limited experience with Emotiva gear [I do own their now discontinued PA-1 Class D mono amp] some of the reviews I've read concerning their processors give me extreme pause. Anthem gear may enter the market in beta condition but they do seem to get all of the bugs worked out eventually and they also have a powerful parent organization behind them.
Yeah. There were some pretty serious problems with the original AVM 70, but it has now had a board upgrade and the current model is not the same as the original one. What I worry about is the RMC-1L simply doesn't have enough processing power, so firmware can't fix it completely. In fact, the v3 firmware they announced months ago has never become a reality. Oddly, I learned how annoying that can be with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee I had bought. It lacked processing power for all the gadgets, and it was infuriating. I liked everything else about it (except its absurd gear shift, another stupid item that has been well documented and is blamed for the death of actor Anton Yelchin) so last year I decided to trade it for the 2021 model, which was the last year before a complete redesign. Everything on it is perfect. It was an expensive lesson, but teaches me that the deal on the RMC-1L isn't necessarily a deal.
 

JohnRice

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I'm finally taking the first steps to upgrading not only the music aspect of the system, but surround as well. This will sound absurd, but the surround part of my system, at least the speakers, were kind of cobbled together a long time ago, and expanded as the system expanded. The side speakers I bought in 1994. Some Polk di/bipolar ones. I'd been wanting to move to all direct radiating ones for a while, because current surround really works better with those, and my room is large enough that I'm not sitting close to any of them. I noticed the Evil A has ELAC Uni-Fi UB52s on sale for 35% off, and I'll even get an additional 5%. So I have four of them on the way. I'll have to install shelves, since all my current surround speakers are wall mounted. I also plan to finally wire all the surround and Atmos speakers through the ceiling and have CL2 wire at the ready.

Then I just have to decide on in-ceiling speakers for Atmos. ELAC has them, or I might go for the Emotiva ones. The room has ugly surface mounted fluorescent fixtures, but I already have cans ready to replace them with. I need to do that before I install any Atmos speakers. I have everything I need to get that done. Just need to do it.

And I'm 98% certain what processor I will go with.
 

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I went through a similar process a couple years ago and ended up getting the Anthem STR Pre-Amp.

While I have carte blanche in my basement theater, my wife has veto power in the family room where I prefer to listen to 2-channel music. Her requirements were no tower speakers and minimal components or wires showing. I was able to put most in a cabinet with cooling fans and the external amps in a cabinet I built in the crawl space under the family room.

I have a couple options to play physical CD’s but would need to find a way to fit a player in the small cabinet. For now I’ve burned all my CD’s in Apple Lossless and use an Apple Camera Connecter to bypass the iPhone DAC and use the Anthem STR DAC. My main enjoyment comes from the VPI turntable though. Good old fashioned Music to my ears.

I liked how the HT Bypass mode on the STR engages while the preamp is on standby. With external amps driving my mains and subs I needed to build a 12v Y-cable to turn the amps on from either my Anthem STR or Denon AVR. Soldering a simple diode in line prevents backloading of the 12v signal. In addition to the excellent Anthem Room Correction the STR allows stereo or mono bass management for two subwoofers along with automatic phase correction and with HT Bypass, the 2 subs and FL/FR speakers can also be independently calibrated from the AVR with Audyssey.

Other STR features I liked were the MM and MC Phono inputs and USB input.

2.2 system: Anthem STR Preamp, Bryston 6BSST amp, QSC PLD4.2 amp, 2 ea. Dynaudio Contour 20 Monitors, 2 ea. Scan-Speak 32W/4878T Revelator 13" Subwoofer’s, VPI Prime Turntable, Ortofon MC Cadenza Bronze Cartridge.

5.1 system (same 2 subs and FL/FR) w/STR HT Bypass: Denon AVR-X6500H, LG 77 CX, 3rd Dynaudio Contour 20 for Center Channel, 2 ea. Infinity Cascade Model Nine surrounds, Apple 4K TV, Panasonic DP-UB820, Xfinity XG1v4. Zone 2, Crown XTi2 4002 Amp for in-house speaker system (six pairs, mostly in-wall ADS)

Family_Room_LG_Dynaudio_72pi.jpg
 
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JohnRice

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I went through a similar process a couple years ago and ended up getting the Anthem STR Pre-Amp.

While I have carte blanche in my basement theater, my wife has veto power in the family room where I prefer to listen to 2-channel music. Her requirements were no tower speakers and minimal components or wires showing. I was able to put most in a cabinet with cooling fans and the external amps in a cabinet I built in the crawl space under the family room.

I have a couple options to play physical CD’s but would need to find a way to fit a player in the small cabinet. For now I’ve burned all my CD’s in Apple Lossless and use an Apple Camera Connecter to bypass the iPhone DAC and use the Anthem STR DAC. My main enjoyment comes from the VPI turntable though. Good old fashioned Music to my ears.

I liked how the HT Bypass mode on the STR engages while the preamp is on standby. With external amps driving my mains and subs I needed to build a 12v Y-cable to turn the amps on from either my Anthem STR or Denon AVR. Soldering a simple diode in line prevents backloading of the 12v signal. In addition to the excellent Anthem Room Correction the STR allows stereo or mono bass management for two subwoofers along with automatic phase correction and with HT Bypass, the 2 subs and FL/FR speakers can also be independently calibrated from the AVR with Audyssey.

Other STR features I liked were the MM and MC Phono inputs and USB input.

2.2 system: Anthem STR Preamp, Bryston 6BSST amp, QSC PLD4.2 amp, 2 ea. Dynaudio Contour 20 Monitors, 2 ea. Scan-Speak 32W/4878T Revelator 13" Subwoofer’s, VPI Prime Turntable, Ortofon MC Cadenza Bronze Cartridge.

5.1 system (same 2 subs and FL/FR) w/STR HT Bypass: Denon AVR-X6500H, LG 77 CX, 3rd Dynaudio Contour 20 for Center Channel, 2 ea. Infinity Cascade Model Nine surrounds, Apple 4K TV, Panasonic DP-UB820, Xfinity XG1v4. Zone 2, Crown XTi2 4002 Amp for in-house speaker system (six pairs, mostly in-wall ADS)

View attachment 159244

George, it's good to see another music lover. Even though I actually spend more time in my HT watching video sources, music has always been the priority, mostly because I've never been able to afford putting together a complete surround system of the caliber I want for music.

Also, I think you take the prize for being an HTF member for 23 years, with only 81 posts.

The Anthem STR preamp could be exactly what I'm looking for if I was going to continue with the HT Bypass route with separate music and surround preamps, but I've pretty much decided to jump the shark, get rid of the hybrid system, and use an Anthem AVM 90 for everything. One reason is I often watch sports while listening to music, so a premium music quality surround preamp makes a lot of sense. Also, the outstanding configuration flexibility of the Anthem AVM 70 and 90 makes them ideal for mixing audio and video sources. Especially with more sports coming from streaming services, it allows me to set up virtual inputs mixing hdmi video and any audio source I want. I'll just need to work out the details of playing back HD audio. I don't know if Roon will be the solution, or a music streaming device that can play back from local media and be controlled from an iPad.
 

GeorgeHolland

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George, it's good to see another music lover. Even though I actually spend more time in my HT watching video sources, music has always been the priority, mostly because I've never been able to afford putting together a complete surround system of the caliber I want for music.

Also, I think you take the prize for being an HTF member for 23 years, with only 81 posts.

The Anthem STR preamp could be exactly what I'm looking for if I was going to continue with the HT Bypass route with separate music and surround preamps, but I've pretty much decided to jump the shark, get rid of the hybrid system, and use an Anthem AVM 90 for everything. One reason is I often watch sports while listening to music, so a premium music quality surround preamp makes a lot of sense. Also, the outstanding configuration flexibility of the Anthem AVM 70 and 90 makes them ideal for mixing audio and video sources. Especially with more sports coming from streaming services, it allows me to set up virtual inputs mixing hdmi video and any audio source I want. I'll just need to work out the details of playing back HD audio. I don't know if Roon will be the solution, or a music streaming device that can play back from local media and be controlled from an iPad.
Ha, yea I have so many hobbies my focus and participation is spotty and I typically only reengage in forums when I am considering a significant upgrade. The latest was a JVC DLA-RS3100 (NZ8) for my basement theater.

I think you will be very happy with an Anthem. If I ever decide to upgrade an AVR I will definitely consider one. I've really enjoyed my STR and ARC, especially the stereo bass management. I also like to watch sports while listening to music. Fortunately the Denon has HDMI passthrough when in standby so I can watch and listen without an issue.
 

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