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What am I hearing?
What am I hearing?
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Old 31st December 2005, 11:58 PM   #1
peace brainerd is offline peace brainerd
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Default What am I hearing?

I just brought home an Onkyo five channel 70wpc
home theater receiver and a pair of Polk Audio RT55i
speakers. Mint condition for thirty five bucks at
the local thrift shop. Not really my taste, but I couldn't
pass it up.

Here's the rub. My regular listening is fed through a couple
of vintage amps. A Hitachi integrated or an Altec Lansing
receiver - both from the 70's. I've never felt the sound
was lacking. I was now interested to finally get the chance
to bring home a modern high quality HT receiver and see/hear what
I might be missing.

I was pretty disappointed. I set the amp up and followed
instructions from a manual I downloaded from the web.
I really despise the bells and whistles (equalization options for orchestral,
rock, jazz, movie soundtracks, etc????? - gimme a break), but
I was scrupulous about setting them up properly to give the amp a fair audition.

The Onkyo appears to be very well built. Heavy as an anchor
and the innards look pretty top-shelf. But it's
lacking, by comparison to my older amps, everything that
is generally described as "musical". There's no "punch" "pluck"
"airiness" "sparkle" or "depth". I swapped out numerous speakers
I had on hand and finally just set the amp aside for future sale
and went back to my Altec.

Can I assume that the Onkyo is actually more accurate, but that
I am, after all, used to a lower quality sound that may only seem more
"musical" to me? This is the rationelle I sometimes hear leveled against
tube lovers and I always considered myself above it.

Any broad generalizations one might offer? Or is this just too small
a sampling really comment on? Maybe the Onkyo is just a very dull,
very laid back amplifier for the masses.
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Old 1st January 2006, 12:14 AM   #2
adason is offline adason  United States
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hi bluebeard
here is my opinion
based on similar observation
i believe the reason why modern ht receivers sound so "dull" (put all the other characteristics here) is that while the output power amplifier section is ok, the preamp section and especialy all the curcuitry which allows remote control messes up the sound (something with phase shifts, or transients)

i once had powerfull 2ch receiver fisher, pretty cheap, but it had discrete output power amp nicely built, big powerfull transistors, big trafo, good caps to filter the volatage, yet it sounded horrible

guess what
i bypassed all those bells and whistles, (it had volume, balance, bass, treble, plus those preset equalization curves all done by remote or push buttons on the front)....anyway, long story short, once i bypased signal from input thrue normal volume pot, which i mounted on the back, directly to the power amp section, wow, wonderfull, dynamic, musical sound, pleasure to listen to....

just my experience
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Old 1st January 2006, 02:05 AM   #3
DigitalJunkie is offline DigitalJunkie  United States
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I really despise the bells and whistles (equalization options for orchestral,rock, jazz, movie soundtracks, etc????? - gimme a break)

I can't even explain how much I hate that crap.
The ones I really hate are the ones you can't set to "Flat" or "Bypass"

Echoey reverb,and they F'd the EQ all up...it sounds disgusting.

And also the "surround sound" presets..
They always sounds like you're in a tin-can. Ugh.

If you bypass all that preamp mumbo-jumbo,and feed your signal straight into the power amp,it may sound alot better.
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Old 2nd January 2006, 12:15 AM   #4
GRollins is offline GRollins  United States
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Location: Columbia, SC
Two suggestions:
1) Turn off any and all sound "enhancements." They aren't.
2) I'm not clear from your post as to how many channels you were listening to, but I would suggest dropping back from five channels to two. Setting aside questions of the design of the amplifier circuitry, the power supply in an AV receiver is never really big enough to handle five channels simultaneously.
I recently went through a cycle where I was attempting to buy a dead Hafler DH-200. I'll bypass all the intermediate steps and say that the amps I chased down were all victims of botched 'upgrades' that revived quite quickly after I undid poorly conceived & executed modifications. I couldn't bring myself to gut working amplifiers, so I tossed them into my AV system, which uses a Pioneer Elite receiver for the decoding and sound. Fortunately, the Pioneer has line outs for everything, and the Haflers were easily jacked into the system.
It will come as no surprise to experienced audio folks that the more channels I put on the Haflers, the better the Pioneer sounded. Why? Puny power supply. Mind you, the power transformer in the Pioneer is the size of both of my fists put together, but (in my not so humble opinion) that's only about enough iron for one channel. Dividing it amongst five is idiotic. Nor is the capacitance in the power supply anything to write home about. In short...ugh.
You can look at this in any number of ways, asking why a late-'70s power amp design simply whomps a late-'90s design, or claim that an American design is better than a Japanese one (for those prone to thinking that the Japanese can't design things [so why, then, are Japanese car manufacturers cleaning the clocks of the ones based in Detroit?]), or that a dedicated audio system beats an AV system with all the digital whatnots fouling up the power supply rails...etc. I think for the purposes of this thread, I'd suggest looking at it in terms of the relative priorities of the designers and their accountant overseers. In receiver terms, meaning absolutely pathetic power supplies from the git-go, they went from two channels to five channels' worth of audio circuitry, but only put in enough power supply to support three "receiver quality" channels.
If you want to take it a step further, you can look at the incredibly light bias they use, but that's another story for another day and only leads back to the power supply anyway. (Okay, okay, and heatsinks...)
Incidentally, I only use the Elite to run the two least demanding channels now--the left and right surrounds. Everything else is running on rebuilt Haflers. As time goes by, I'll donate a few more pieces from my audio system and eventually get the AV system to where it sounds half-decent.

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Old 2nd January 2006, 12:35 AM   #5
poobah is offline poobah  United States
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I second, third, forth, and fifth ya on all of that.

I bought a Sony Integrated just because I don't have time to build amps... I build other stuff to get $$. Nice JBL speakers.

I'll be d4mned if I can figure out how to just get FLAT STEREO out of it. The REAL mystique of tube amps, IF you could call it that, is that they at most, have 4 knobs on the front:





If I wanted to hear the music with a "live" sound... I would buy a LIVE album!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Old 2nd January 2006, 03:23 AM   #6
peace brainerd is offline peace brainerd
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I followed the Onkyo manual's instructions painstakingly. No equalization, flat tone controls, and speaker settings for straight stereo - two speakers minus subwoofer. Pretty unsatisfying.

Someday I'll find the nerve to try building my own amp - but I'm at the low end of the learning curve right now. I was thinking along those lines the other day when I was in my favorite
thrift shop. So I'll move on from my previous question.

There was an early 70's Tandberg 2075 receiver there.
Looked exceptionally well cared for on the outside. 30 bucks. I looked it over and decided that it would likely be more trouble to refurbish/rebuild than I had the money or expertise for. But it had the finest looking massive toroidal transformer, large caps, transistors and heat sinks visible through the ventilation slots.

I got home and thought, gee, for thirty bucks I might be able to cannibalize one heck of a nice little straight amp from those
parts - sort of a diy-lite project using a redi made design. When I returned the next day it was gone.

Has anyone else done this? There are some pretty high quality receivers out there in the want ads, garage sales, thrift shops, for a fraction of ebay prices. These five channel HT monsters from Best Buy seem to be displacing some really fine old amps in peoples dens. Lucky me! Would it be worth while to attempt to separate out the power supply and amplifier sections, bypass the tone controls entirely, and tuck everything into a handmade little cabinet with
power switch and volume control? Or am I asking for headaches?
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Old 2nd January 2006, 04:08 AM   #7
adason is offline adason  United States
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hi bluebeard,
i think i am not the only one to tell you to stay away from 5 channel amps
get the decent 80ties Pioneer or Technics receiver, they are way better what is being made these days
i know it because i tried
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Old 2nd January 2006, 12:46 PM   #8
Tekko is offline Tekko
Join Date: Jan 2005
I had a ht receiver too, yes it sounded horrible as a functioning unit, but the poweramps themselves was pretty good, the preamp with the pot controlled controls is that that bad either, the bottle neck was the sound processing stuff.

This is all that is left of my ht receiver:remains of a yamaha rx-v592
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Old 2nd January 2006, 02:44 PM   #9
peace brainerd is offline peace brainerd
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Did anything useful come from that salvage? Like I said, there
appear to be some pretty nice parts available for the taking
(toroidal xformers, amp boards, heat sinks and power components) in picking up one of these big two channel cast-offs.

People are selling them dirt cheap just to get the "latest and greatest". There really isn't a used market, like there is for used cars for instance, and lots of folks don't want to mess around in ebay just to unload one or two items.
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Old 2nd January 2006, 05:15 PM   #10
Tekko is offline Tekko
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I use the amp on the pics as computer amp. Works good.
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