Diminishing Returns In A Hi-End Preamp/Processor?

I will always have a separate 2-channel preamp in my system, period. That being said, the two-channel performance in a processor for me means absolutely nothing. I have a stand-alone home theater system.

Therefore, all other components in the system being equal, can the home theater sound of a $1500 processor approach the performance of a $7500 processor like the Anthem D2v?

In a $7500 pre/pro, how much of that is 2-channel excellence? I don't want to pay for what I don't use.

If I've got a killer 2-channel preamp, superior 2-channel performance in a pre-pro is redundant and wasteful.

So, my question is, as you go up the pre-pro price chain starting at $1500, does the processing get proportionately better, or is performance of the 2-channel getting markedly better?

Mitch asks:

So, my question is, as you go up the pre-pro price chain starting at $1500, does the processing get proportionately better, or is performance of the 2-channel getting markedly better?


I did a fair bit of research on this question about 2 years ago. I was looking for a pre-pro to replace my ARC LS-25 in a 2.2 channel, music only system because I had added subwoofers and the involved x-over hardware I was using (don't ask) involved multiple boxes and had become a PITA. I don't use the video functions at all, so the following conclusion is limited to audio performance.

Based on reasonably extensive (tho by no means exhaustive) auditioning of pre-pros at many price points, I reached the following conclusion:

If you're using the pre-pro in X.1 or X.2 channel configurations with a digital source and using the internal software to effect the x-over (and likely room correction) in the digital domain, I found little to no audible improvement as the price of the pre-pro goes up from the $1500-$2000 range (where top-line software is employed).

If you switch to the "analog direct" option, it's a much harder call, particularly if you're using analog sources. At some auditions, I felt like the difference in A/B was pretty material, at others, much less so. I knew that I was not likely to go the all analog route very often (deeply spoiled by the convenience of my Q-Sonix server), so I went with a $1500ish Onkyo 5508.

Reiterating: This is just my personal take...and one based on an extensive, tho by necessity limited sample of A/B comparisons of the lower vs higher priced pre-pros.

More to the point, is there any point to spending more than $1500-$2000 on a pre/pro if all you want to use it for is home theater?
In my experience there is a big difference in sound with multi-channel processors. I have a separate HT system that I only listen to movies and cable TV with. I have had many many many processors and have found that the amplification as well as the processor makes a big difference.......... I like the Anthem.
is there any point to spending more than $1500-$2000 on a pre/pro if all you want to use it for is home theater?

Dont think you even have to spend that much if its only for HT use.
I disagree. In my room, there is a huge difference in the pre/pro for home theater. It is also as big, or bigger, for 2 channel. (I use it for both in this room.) I've had the opportunity to try many. I expect great 2 channel performance, but, there is a difference in 5.1, or 7.1 also. If you think a $1500 pre/pro is going to sound the same as one that is $7500, it isn't. There is a reason you pay more, and it isn't just the name. I don't think it's subtle either. To me, it's night and day...
For multi channel sacd music and concert blu ray most definitely yes. For movies I would not bother, but guys with ultra expensive theaters and multiple subs will obviously not settle for a 2k pre/pro.
Marty comments, "If you switch to the "analog direct" option, it's a much harder call, particularly if you're using analog sources. At some auditions, I felt like the difference in A/B was pretty material, at others, much less so."

I've wonder what if any is the contribution of the pre/pro to sound quality when its in bypass mode with analog input. My Oppo BDP-95 sends analog as unbalanced 7.1 or balanced stereo to a Cary Cinema 11a. The Oppo does speaker management and codec processing; the Cary passes that input to the amps.


I've often wondered about his same question. While we won't know without direct comparisons, we can certainly speculate. I have an AVM50v for the record and I use it for 2-channel and multichannel. I heard a D2v in a home theater environment at a retailer. The audio was simply excellent.

I auditioned my current front speakers (Revels) and a competing speaker system (Wilsons) on Ayre and McIntosh 2-channel electronics respectively. I can't say that there were massive and groundbreaking differences in the electronics that made me go, WOW! I was told that the Revels opened up more with the Ayre than the McIntoah and really sang with Levinson. But I digress. Given that aural memory is what it is, I would conjecture that there might not be *huge* differences with analog pass through.

However, remember that the D2v specifically has premium A/D and D/A DACs and superior room correction and granular bass management.. Those can and do play an audible role--and a significant one.

Personally, I've found the role of high quality room correction to be significant and valuable in both two-channel and multichannel.

So, depending on what you value and what you want the system to do there may or may not be stellar differences. Remember that for units like Anthem Pre-Pros you are getting 3 zones, DACs, independent and assignable inputs, ability to label all sources, RS-232 automation, room correction, insependent bass management for music and movies, HDMI, multi-path recording of sources, top-notch video upsampling, noise reduction, and switching, individual source adjustments and tweaks and much more at premium execution. You also get Anthem's support (which is stellar).

In your case, if all you really want is two channel analog with decoding done at the source, with no room correction, etc, then yes the D2v is likely overkill and you won't use 95% of the features. Now, what will give you the same sound? We can conjecture that $1,500 pre-pro is a good price point and may very well do the trick, but that's all it will be unless a good head to head double blind test commences.

If however, you are starting to drag in things like room correction and decoding at the Pre-pro level, then I'd conjecture that it may be a different story and the $1,500 Pre pro may not match up sonically to the D2v.

Just my 2 cents.

If you're going to use the DACs and processing of the pre/pro, my experience is there is a difference in sound quality. If you're using the DACs and processing of the source, i.e. bypassed analog input, I'm skeptical. Most high-end pre/pros offer differential balanced output to the amps that may not be available with low-end pre/pros, and that can be important if you value short speaker leads that require long runs from pre/pro to amps.

Then there's room correction, but I think the Integra 80.2 offers SOTA room correction.

In my case, I used analog to get around a bug in the pre/pro that prevents bass management with PCM from SACDs -- the speakers I now use don't need to be augmented by subs even for low pedal notes from a pipe organ. But balanced stereo from an Oppo BDP-95 is something to behold, so I'm likely to stick with analog.

interesting thread. if i understand the op's question, it's not whether a $7k levinson or cary will sound better than, say, a $1.5k onkyo; rather it's whether the sonic improvement is cost-effective. that, necessarily, is a very subjective determination. personally, i don't watch a lot of action movies or multichannel dvd concerts; for my usual diet of "pawn stars" and nfl i'm okay with my lesser denon/integra gear. the other consideration is that however much their makers claim that they're "future-proof", pre/pros probably depreciate and become obsolescent faster than any other component. i see an awful lot of once-sota pre/pros listed here for a tiny fraction of their original price. ergo, if you're not determined to have the latest-and-greatest codecs and gizmos, you can get some great bargains.
I think it matters a lot what your video habits are and how much importance you assign to the sound in those situations. I agree with Loomis that if you're watching a lot of "Pawn Stars" and the like, it won't make any difference. If, on the other hand, you watch a lot of big-production Blu-Ray movies, you might care more about the sound. Even so, I would expect the amps, speakers, subs and room treatment to make a much bigger difference for cinematic audio than the pre-pro.

In my case, I have a tiny house and share my system for 2-channel and 5.1, so I thought it was worth spending more to buy an Anthem (AVM 50v). However, if I had a separate HT rig, I'd probably buy a $1500 processor (unless it was a full-on custom big-buck home theater situation)
Can anyone comment on the Analog bypass of the Integra 80.2,80.3 or Onkyo 5508 pre's. I love the way my current Avthem AVM 20 handles the stereo XLR and analog 5.1 inputs from my Oppo 95, but I would love to update to room correction but not at the cost of musical performance!
I confess that I inverted the question in my initial response. Based on my experience in multichannel and especially Anthem units the answer is absolutely yes there is a sonic difference between a $1,500 prepro and the D2v specifically. There's also a difference with the 50v, which is what I chose. The soundstage, clarity, ambiance, panning of sound and sheer dynamic impact are all different. If you are decoding in the Anthem there is yet more of a difference.

So in my opinion and experience, the multichannel experience improves in spades. It absolutely improves in spades (and granular configuration flexibility). The Anthem, for example allows you to specify direct or nipple for rears and surrounds, my Marantz (in my second theater) doesn't. My Anthem allows for more granular crossover and bass management settings and more advanced room correction than my Marantz. The soundstage, imaging, and dynamics are better on my Anthem.

The more expensive you get (in theory) the better the two channel and multichannel performance will be. If you look at the differences between the D2v and AVM50v it's not in the video but rather all in the audio. It's in te DACs and analog stage and A/D converters.

So if, for example I'm feeding analog multichannel or digital sources into the D2v then I should get better audio on all fronts. Is there a difference between my Oppo analog and Anthem decoding? You bet!

So if multichannel audio is important to you for music or movies you get better multichannel performance and control with more expensive. PrePros. The D2v?... It's a special product.

Analog Direct kills the digital cross-over and directs all bass to the main speakers. The Pure Audio (sic?) mode kills all video DSP. The idea is to re-create a minimalist 2 channel high-end system.

I found that it works pretty well. However, your main speakers must have sufficiently wide bandwidth (or your preferred program material must have sufficiently limited bandwidth) to justify killing the subwoofers or this mode will probably make little sense (to me anyway). If the bottom octaves don't matter - for either of those reasons - then it comes down to Audyssey or no Audyssey. I like the former in most every set-up that I've heard, but YMMV.

When I was comparing more expensive and less expensive pre-pros, I suspect that the performance of the DSP software dominated my own evaluation of the listening experience. I preferred Audyssey XT32 to "lesser" Audyssey versions, but not dramatically. The Meridian and Anthem alternatives did sound a bit different from high-end Audyssey equipped models, but in both cases, I found the delta pretty subtle.

My take-away: spend up for the XT-32, but not more than that.

As always, YMMV.

Thanks guys! Marty would you say the analog bypass is then on par or pretty close with the Meridian or Anthem's that minimal approach is important to me with out having to add another box (dedicated pre) unless nessasary ? My mains are capable of pressurizing my room quite well and they allow me to listen to 2 ch without a sub which is 90% of my listening habits, now if the Onkyo/Integra's have this covered with a great bypass, it can potentialy offer me the best of both worlds as Audessey XT-32 will open the doors to more flexibility for multich sacd and movies with the correction it offers.

You've asked the one really tricky question that I'm reluctant to answer.

Honestly, I thought that the Integra sounded very good in Analog Direct, and it impressed me as a "traditional" preamp. However, there were times that the Meridian (on direct A/B) sounded better to me. On other occasions, I thought they were closer. I liked the Anthem in analog mode, too. If I were planning to use the unit in this mode -ultimately, I concluded that I was not - I would have done further auditioning before buying. Once I decided that Analog Mode performance wasn't a real factor in the decision, I pulled the trigger on the least expensive XT32 unit out there (Onkyo).

That's good enough! I' shall try to compare the two in this regard first, sounds like it may be close enough to get the job done, only problem I see now is getting my hands on a Onkyo 5508 but they are hard to find, any word on the 5509 hitting the States soon? I may have to pony up for the 80.3

Is Audessey XT-32 active in the Analog Direct mode with the Integra or Onkyo processors? The Cary Cinema 11a does volume control and converts unbalanced inputs to differentially balanced outputs, but mostly turns off other processing in bypass mode.

Using analog input eliminated the pops, clicks, and delayed starts I experienced with HDMI when playing discs, but that may be just a problem with the Cary implementation of HDMI.

When I auditioned an Integra 80.1, I relistened to the same discs on my system with the Proceed PAV/PDSD within 10 minutes and concluded the sense of "air" and transparency was missing with the Integra, so i bought the Cary. In retrospect, there were so many differences in the auditioned system and my system, my judgement was hopelessly confounded.
Unless, memory confounds (I haven't used Analog Direct since I bought the unit) Analog Direct kills all audio DSP, including the x-over and Audyssey.

I do recall auditioning the Integra in Analog Direct mode using a CD source and the big Gallo 5 LS speakers without subwoofers, but I can't recall which power amps were in the chain. I thought it sounded very good for a solid state pre-amp and was pretty impressed. However, when we switched out of Analog Direct and engaged Audyssey, the bottom octaves cleaned up instantly and the mid-seemed more articulate and detailed,too.

It was not much shy of complete transformation, in my book.

In the end, FOR ME, Analog Direct became a great idea, but one that I knew would be of little to no practical use to me, so I just kinda ignored it.