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Old 08-21-2008   #105
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Philadelphia
Posts: 68
Default Re: High end pre/pro's. Are they worth it???

Originally Posted by DerekR View Post

Not sure I folow your reference to the Benchmark and Bel Canto having analog inputs?? My thought was to use one of them as the DAC for my digital files (only) and my thought was to send the analog outputs of the Benchmark or Bel Canto (they both have balanced as well as single-ended outputs) to a) the balanced input of my power amp as well as b) a stereo input of the Integra to allow, mainly, the playback of the stereo files from the DAC into the same power amp the Integra would be connected to via its single-ended outputs. Just a thought, if it would work, to allow me the luxury of listening to the Benchmark or Bel Canto without the intervention of the Integra - the Bel Canto has a remote controlled preamp.

I totally concur that it's too early in the game to spring lots of dollars for a compromised pre/pro - to me it's a no-brainer to acquire a relatively affordable Integra (even the 9.9 at $1800 is 'affordable' compared to the other supposedly 'high-end' offerings that reportedly have better sound) that 'does it all' and enjoy the software until a clear 'champion' emerges and then (perhaps) upgrade. At least the Integra will be saleable!!

And, as a once-confirmed audiophile, I find it ironic that the high-end offerings are being compared to the mid-fi names of the Audiophile Era and found wanting - at least in terms of functionality. It used to be the other way round, back in the day. For now, and until the high-end gets its act together, I guess the gap is narrow. I presume lots of high-end manufacturers waited for the dust to settle in the format war, the HDMI issues and the BluRay profiles so as to commence hostilities. At least I hope so. And I wonder if the likes of Denon and Integra haven't stolen a chunk of audiophiles like yourself away in the interim. Interesting times.
I see now how you intend to do the hook up to your amp. I'm not sure if it's going to work. Almost all amps with balanced/unbalanced inputs have a little switch to toggle between them. If that's true, it'll be a pain to flip the switch on the back of the amps. You might as well just change the connections, doing balanced on both sources, which is optimal. I love XLR connectors anyway.

I once had an old Krell that did not have the switch, but there might be some issues with an amp of this type being disturbed, maybe only subtly, by seeing a load on both the balanced and unbalanced connections. It might do so even if one of the units is off or in standby. I am not at all sure about this, of course. You would have to try it and see.

Yes, I have learned it's a new ball game. Home theater, which we all used to sneer at and look down on sonically, has made huge gains so rapidly that high end audio appears to be standing still. I have begun to question the whole paradigm of the analog-centric high end. With a few exceptions, we do not seem to have made much sonic progress one expensive new phono cartridge clad in exotic metals or woods at a time. Or, one exotic power cord at a time. Or, one behemouth, power eating, Class A amplifier at a time. It's been about guilding the lily. It's been focused too much on voicing equipment euphonically, and not cutting through the basic barriers of the recorded media that have been limiting us from getting closer to the sound of live music. That, and high end prices have simply been in an uncontrolled upward spiral with generally only subtle listening gains, if they were true gains at all. Maybe they were just mostly euphonic voicing differences.

Advanced new DSP-based EQ, like Audyssey, tends to wipe a lot of those differences out anyway. With digital sources, it EQ's for everything after the DSP chips in the pre/pro. This includes the room, the speakers, the amps, the cables and the pre/pro DACís and output stages. That's because the calibration mike hears the net result of all of these. Small differences between expensive components like speakers, amplifiers or cables that high-end reviewers would wax rhapsodic about for page after page now tend to be simply replaced by the Audyssey target curve in both the frequency and time domains.

Home theater has really begun to put new digital technology to work, especially the Asian mid-fi guys. And, I think this is only the beginning. High end home theater will get there eventually, but at a very high price. Perhaps, the high end home theater makers can teach the Asians a thing or two about analog stages, which is where the high enders hearts and minds really are. But, what else might the Asians be cooking up in the mean time? Whatever it is, I hope it might include really good ADC stages, so that analog sources can enjoy the benefits of DSP, including Audyssey EQ. This then opens the gateway for all source material Ė digital or analog Ė to be distributed digitally, possibly wirelessly, to the speakers. Meridian has already done this with wires, but if the Asians want to, they could do it really well much less expensively. While analog technology moves ahead very slowly and at increasing cost, digital technology moves fast and gets cheaper every day.

If I have not put you to sleep yet, here is a slice of history. There once was a time when all cameras were analog and made by many companies in Europe or the US. Along came Japan, Inc., first making lower quality cameras but at much lower prices. Their quality steadily improved, rivaling and sometimes exceeding traditional standards, but always at a more favorable price. They also offered enhanced features, which non-Japanese makers could not keep up with. Many American and European makers disappeared. Then came digital photography, an American invention, which Japan Inc. embraced and started producing a wide array of cameras using this technology. For awhile, they were not considered nearly as good as analog cameras. But, they continued to improve year after year. The switch to digital completely killed almost all remaining traditional non-Japanese makers. Today, digital photography totally dominates main-stream photography and achieves quality rivaling the best analog, and at low prices. By itís nature, it is tremendously more convenient than analog photography. It needs no chemical developing. Images can be easily resized and retouched. Images can easily be stored digitally and emailed. Etc., etc. A really small group of high-brows still think nothing is better than analog photography, which exists as a really tiny, very expensive niche. There is also still some low quality, cheap analog, but not in major markets. A miniscule fraction of the original makers still exist. They make only specialty cameras for very narrow markets or else they survive by making lenses for the now totally dominant Japanese companies. Do we see any parallels here?
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