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New receiver advice needed, Bridging the gap between HTPC/components and speakers
post Apr 9 2012, 08:15
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Hi, first post but long time lurker (generally on the foobar side of things though). I was given a nice set of audio components a while back (along with 2 great speakers) with a minor catch: there was no receiver, and each component had at least one sizable problem. I've slowly been fixing these issues, and built a HTPC from which virtually all of my sound is being supplied. In the meantime I also put in a cheap receiver my grandparents had rotting in their attic, it did it's job and worked for a while but it appears to be on it's last legs. I'm looking to replace it with a newer receiver that can handle HDMI (currently I'm using the 3.5mm mobo jack - receiver rca), can drive my speakers (Kef 104s), and take a decent number of inputs (phono, tape, cd, + at least a couple HDMI). This is where I get totally lost. I have absolutely no idea which brands or models I should be looking at, if I am thinking about anything arse backwards, or just generally not being too bright. My price range is fairly low (broke student here), but I'd like to have an idea of what the options are across the board. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.
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post Apr 12 2012, 04:21
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I had a nice long response, but I switched tabs on the iPad and it disappeared >.<. Here is the slightly shorter, less well thought out reply.

QUOTE (mzil @ Apr 9 2012, 15:36) *
QUOTE (Adiventure @ Apr 9 2012, 02:15) *
my speakers (Kef 104s),.... My price range is fairly low (broke student here), but I'd like to have an idea of what the options are across the board. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.
Some KEF 104s came with (or at least recommended you buy) a small, customized, outboard EQ box called a "KUBE" [maybe "KEF Universal Bass Equalizer", I'd guess]. If yours do, or you intend to get one to add on, I highly recommend looking for a receiver with a "tape monitor loop", aka "record out monitor loop" or "EPL" ("external processor loop", the KUBE being a classic example of external processor). [The KUBE is not 100% necessary, however if you have one it would seem a shame to not use it.]

This EPL feature used to be almost impossible to not find on a receiver, even introductory designs, but many if not most modern "A/V" receivers have dropped it. Audio only designs are more likely to have it, but they may be lacking the HDMI jacks you requested and of course will be stereo only, no surround sound.

Receivers are a good category to consider buying used or when discontinued by the maker since they don't really get better year after year, like computers do, they just get more features and are fairly reliable and not prone to decay or "wear and tear", even if the owner before you used it heavily.

So I lied. Theoretically somewhere in my house there is a Kube. In retrospect I may have even seen it, though in which corner of which box in which closet it has gotten to I have no freaking clue. It may have been thrown out, or lost in a move, but probably it is in a pile, with some entirely unrelated stuff in some cabinet I've never seen. I think I can safely say I will find or replace it, now that I know it exists.

That makes EPL a much more appealing feature in whatever I get.
QUOTE (kraut @ Apr 9 2012, 23:50) *
You are going to use a HTPC.
Ever considered using the spdif audio output to feed something like a hypex AS2.100

I use two mounted into the back of each kef 104/2 speakers, and use a m-audio 1010lt soundcard for all analogue and digital (satellite set top box only)inputs into my HTPC (which is less that but more a music server).

I have considered using S/PDIF, though I haven't researched it much. Those look really appealing, but I know nothing about the idea. How would they/would they at all work in conjunction with other sources beyond the HTPC?

QUOTE (Nessuno @ Apr 10 2012, 08:20) *
QUOTE (Adiventure @ Apr 10 2012, 00:09) *
In short it's a big, oddly shaped room.

Which is a good starting point to have a great sound.
Because it's big, you should avoid lesser powered amplifier. An amplifier with specificied power rating of 80-100W should be enough to avoid clipping in the loudest passages of recordings with great dynamic, like symphonic, organ, choruses etc... (if well recorded and mixed! wink.gif)

I second mzil's advice about making good bargains with used or discontinued.

On that alone, for sure. My guess, and it's not really an educated one at that, is that the combination of windows, thin walls, poor spacing, and furniture will keep it from being "ideal", but I'm not really complaining, it sounds pretty darned good as it is, and can only improve.

Bargains are awesome. My issue is primarily that I don't know enough to tell the diamonds in the rough from the general trash.

QUOTE (icstm @ Apr 10 2012, 11:01) *
I will be intrigued to what advice ppl give. I would have thought that given it is an HTPC digital audio to the amp/receiver would be the way forward and given that most hdmi carrying amps are actually receivers I think the OP is right to look at receivers.

My only advice would be for 2-channel sound, it may be worth also using S/PDIF as well as HDMI, as some set-ups report problems of loosing sound when the display switches off (ie the PCs power management settings).

That was my impression too.

I need to look into S/PDIF, though I can also do my part by keeping my HTPC awake and consuming as much electricity as possible all the time. You know, do my part as an american to single-handedly consume far more than my share of global resources laugh.gif . I like the idea of simplifying and putting as much as possible through my computer but I know nothing of how that would work. Do I want to get a dedicated sound card?

QUOTE (stephan_g @ Apr 10 2012, 22:33) *
There's not an awful lot of stereo receivers with HDMI input that I'm aware of... Kenwood RA-5000, and that's about it. Even Onkyo's TX-8050, while supporting network streaming (wouldn't that be another option?), does not carry HDMI inputs. I guess the license fees and things related to encryption (booby traps, anyone?) make implementing them unattractive when you have any kind of choice.

What kind of motherboard (and onboard sound chip) does the HTPC have? HD Audio codecs of the better kind, implemented well, tend to measure up well enough on the DAC side that they should be audibly transparent. It is far more important to get OS and driver configuration correct then, which can be a little fussy. You don't want resampling with WASAPI in shared mode, for example (which is what all of DSound and MME go through).

I'm using the onboard sound from an ASROCK|880G PRO3 880G AM3 R (I can't check what chip that is at the moment). I really have no idea what I am doing on the computer sound side of things (I'm fairly good with computer video, and general troubleshooting though >.>).

I believe there are a greater number of HDMI recievers than that though. Looking at the Onkyo site, all of the models above the 8050 have HDMI in/out, and that seems to carry across the other major brands (though I just did a quick search). That being said, though I can read reviews, they don't generally tell me what would fit my situation the best.

I guess this all leads to new questions, and some new desires.
Optimally I would get something with EPL, and that can do surround as I probably will expand in the future. I could lose the phono if I really had to, but if at all possible I would like to keep it. I do not know if HDMI is the best option for me, it seems like it would be, but there also seem to be valid alternatives. If I am going for EPL, are there receivers that would fit the bill? If there are not, what would the alternative be, a pre and post amp? I've had a heck of a time researching those, but it would seem some of them might have HDMI and surround capabilities? If so, would that be optimal?

I was searching a bit and turned up the yet to be released Emotiva XMC-1 which sounds like just what I'm looking for (albeit at a pretty hefty price). Is that what I am looking for? Should I just start saving my pennies, and maybe get some cheap stopgap in the meantime? Since that is a pre-amp, I understand I would need a power amp too? Would I want a matching pair from them, or would something else make sense.

And on the learning process goes. I appreciate the support guys.
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post Apr 12 2012, 06:27
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QUOTE (Adiventure @ Apr 11 2012, 22:21) *
I think I can safely say I will find or replace it, now that I know it exists.

That makes EPL a much more appealing feature in whatever I get.

The KUBE wont make a night and day difference. [Although its importance may vary based on which exact version of the 104s you have. It is too long ago for me to remember specifics. Check the manual.] It was sort of icing on the cake and I'd say it, being a trial and error EQ device developed decades ago, pales in comparison to more modern computer controlled systems such as Audyssey (found on many modestly priced A/V receivers, but never stereo only ones) which use sophisticated room analysis via a microphone (and a test tone generator) to set a built-it EQ, markedly more accurately than we could by ear alone using the KUBE. [Me? I would prioritize getting Audyssey over a tape monitor loop in order to be "KUBE friendly".]

Alternative locations (nearly as good) to install a KUBE, by the way, would include in a "preamp out / main amp in (loop)" on the receiver's rear panel, found on at least upscale offerings, or if a receiver has a separate "rec out selector" that can used in a pinch, too [Be warned you will effectively lose remote control of input selection if you go that last "rec out selector" path, though]. Both of these seem more common than a tape monitor loop button( these days), but only that allows for quick A/B comparisons to hear exactly what the KUBE is doing for you, with the quick push of a button . [I know I said "EPL" was technically more accurate, but so few people call it that I'd advise using "tape monitor loop" to be more universally understood. Many wont have a clue what "EPL" means even though they get what a "tape monitor loop" is!]

All things being equal, I'd say buying an A/V receiver, even if you only expect to use stereo and not extra speakers to make it 5.1 /7.1 etc., makes the most sense in that you will have dozens to choose from, not just a few. Oddly they don't really cost more than stereo alone in this day and age and you aren't compromising performance either, despite what the naysayers, "audiophile" snobs with golden ears, and audio salon sales staff claim.

AV ones also will have tons of HDMI and other digital inputs, compared to stereo only ones, so you'll have an easier time there too.

I don't know how much you want to spend, but one level above "introductory level", or so, is sort of a sweet spot for many brands in terms of bang for buck. Buying a Denon or Yamaha, for example, from this level from the last season's series often can be quite affordable. Heres just an example, I'm not saying "This is the one!", but Home Theater magazine did seem to speak well of his one if it has the features you need (a phono input is often dropped at this level but an add-on box to correct this absence will be less than $100):



This post has been edited by mzil: Apr 12 2012, 07:15
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