Originally Posted by gstarr
Almost nobody performs double blind tests when buying audio equipment. The high end audio salons certainly don't do it, but rather often perform unfair component and speakercomparisons with lots of sound chain differences. I would bet that the exact same system with an Integra DHC-9.9 and a Classe SSP-800 hooked into the same B&W 800 series speakers and an Emotiva XPA-5 amp (or even a much more expensive amp solid state amp) would be indistinguishable to over 99% (or more) of listeners in a double blind test.
As long as the volume is the same in both systems tested and everything but the surround processors are the same, I just don't think the measurable specifications would make an audible difference. And if specifications don't make a difference--what does? Many of the high end audiophiles and almost all the sellers (the so-called audio cogniscenti) would want you to believe it is some mysterious and unmeasurable quality, that for some reason seems very much associated with the ever-increasing price of the components. And of course, it is mostly available only in the products they have for sale.
If you want the best performance in audio, buy great speakers, do significant room treatments, get a good amp or powerful receiver, and possibly a full-blown Audyssey EQ system (or NeptunEQ, etc.). Many people might be better off getting a professional to treat their room acoustics if they don't have the time, ability, or the desire to do it themselves.
The difference in audio performance in my upstairs surround theatre system was dramatically improved after I bought bass traps, room diffusers, and standard acoustic absorbers. When I won a hi-fi contest (a few months ago) and received a NeptunEQ (MSRP $4K), it smoothed out the bass areas even more and made the sound as close to perfect (or wonderful:-) as my current speakers are capable of providing. I left a little bump in the mid-bass, as that left the sound much more enjoyable. A ruler flat room is definitely not an enjoyable listening environment to most people. I also slightly sloped off the extreme tweeter frequencies, which also made the sound more enjoyable to me.
In my upstairs media room I have 2 pairs of Monitor Audio Gold Reference GR10's, the matching center channel, and two HSU ULS-15 self-powered subwoofers. The HDTV is Pioneer Elite 60" plasma which I had ISF service on. I also have the Integra DHC-9.9 surround pre-amp connected to an Emotiva XPA-5 and the new OPPO blu ray player.
Downstairs is my main listening area, where I have a pair of ProAc Response 2's (one of my all-time fave speakers), a pair of ProAc Response D 2's ( a newer rendition and slightly better), a ProAc Response D center channel, and a pair of HSU ULS-15 subwoofers connected to an Aragon 3005 amp and an older Classe pre-amp for stereo listening and the previous edition of Integra's surround pre-amp, the 9.8. In addition, I have a Cambridge Audio Azur 840c cd player and an ancient CJ Walker turntable with a Dynavector cartridge to play my old and extensive LP collection. The room is very live as I have a wood floor, a wall of windows covered by plantation shutters, and is also very large (24' x 27' x 16' high). I plan on bringing down the NeptunEQ to balance the acoustics, since I'm very confident it will have a far more impressive effect on taming hte hard and "hot" room. My wife is not too enthused about me installing room treatments in the great room (uggh). Hopefully I can find some acoustic treatments that fit in well with the decor and "she who must be obeyed" will like--or at least tolerate.
In my experience, having worked with Bob Carver since the mid 1960s, speakers make the greatest difference by far. The preamp is second, but way below speakers. The amps are considerably less important than the preamp, but that doesn't mean they are not important, just that, assuming they have decent specs and have sufficient power to easily drive the speakers, amps are less different sounding than speakers (huge difference) or preamplifiers (large difference).
One consideration of amplifier power is the "3db rule", where each readily perceptible increase in loudness requires approximately double the power to maintain the same quality of sound. Few do consider this, probably because they want to justify gutless but expensive amplifiers.
I have a gripe that few preamplifiers offer two HDMI outputs; I have a front projection HDTV and also a large LCD HDTV (for daylight watching). Since my preamp has only a single HDMI output, I wound up buying a Gefen switch with remote, an unsatisfactory solution for me as I prefer a more elegant solution: two HDMI outputs. Since many of the expensive preamps are marketed to the high end home theater user, many of whom do have front projection and LCD or plasma TVs, I find it very short sighted of manufacturers of preamps, as well as high end receivers, to fail to offer two HDMI outputs.
Dave Ladely in Snohomish, WA