I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

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I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:53 am

Hi all,

I need a new component for my audio set up but I'm not even sure what specific equipment I actually need.

I'd like to be able to run a 2.1 setup with a powered sub and passive speakers and switch between multiple inputs. I'll be connecting a PS3 and an HTPC (with dedicated sound card) to my system.

Currently I have a vacuum tube amplifier the speakers and I want something that will let me select different audio sources (video source switching is strictly necessary, but would be nice).

I've looked at pre/pros but they're generally very expensive since they target the high end of the market. I've looked at receivers, but most don't have pre-outs (which are necessary to use a receiver in conjunction with an amp) and the onese that do have pre-outs are pretty expensive ($400).

I've looked a little bit at simple audio source selectors, but I can't really find one that seems well made and reliable.

Finally, I'd like this to be as cheap possible (hopefully around $100) so long as something really cheap will not have a large negative impact on sound quality.

So what competent do I need to accomplish my goal?

Thanks.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:30 am

For the purpose of the question, I assume you want to run digital from the PS3 and the computer.

The question is, do you want to run your current tube amp? If not, any recent receiver will do - they all have subwoofer pre outs. Example: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6882120194.

If you do want to run your tube amp, then that's where it gets tricky, as the receivers that have pre analog outputs, as you noted, are expensive. The Onkyo TX-NR414 has a "Zone 2 Line out" at the back which seems like it would do what you want. The question is, if both this and the sub pre out stay active at the same time.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:46 am

Presumably your tube amp has its own volume control? Level-controlled preouts are exceedingly rare on modern receivers, I've looked because I have a 2x150W homebrew amplifier that I would like to integrate into a 5.1 theater and had no luck within my price range, so for now it's not being used. Receivers with Zone2 outputs typically just give you line-level outputs. You pretty much have to buy a pre/pro setup if you want to feed through an uncontrolled amplifier.

Also, just FYI most receivers under the $600-ish range do not perform source conversion, only switching. HDMI in will go to HDMI out, and component or analog inputs will go to the component or analog output, but it won't up- or down-convert between the three source types.

From what I found during my recent upgrade cycle, $100 will buy a good used receiver with no digital video switching, or if you have a friend who is upgrading, you might get lucky and snag their old piece for a Franklin. But not much else.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:23 pm

For the purpose of the question, I assume you want to run digital from the PS3 and the computer.

The question is, do you want to run your current tube amp?


I do want to run digital from the PS3, I was planning on running analogue from the computer. I currently have a cheap soundcard (Asus DG) in my computer but I was thinking about upgrading to the Asus STX. However, if the DAC in receiver will be better than that's fine.

I do want to run my current tube amp. That's why I'm not sure exactly what I need.


Presumably your tube amp has its own volume control?


My tube amp does have its own volume control. So my real objective is to bypass the amp in the receiver.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:45 pm

What you want in the end is a multi-source DAC. Problem is, you have to find one to match your budget, which is going to be tricky. And once you get into $400+ territory, unless you tell me your tube amp really is all kinds of awesome, it's probably not going to sound better than a good receiver - those have been getting better and better all the time.

Disclaimer: I have a tube amp - a guitar amp, but nonetheless... :)
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:23 pm

What you are looking for is an AV processor/preamp. These are aimed at the home theater crowd and are therefore overkill for your 2-channel needs, but I don't know of any stereo-oriented alternatives. Here are two of the most inexpensive I know of (Outlaw for $550 and Emotiva for $600).

The main reason why devices such as the two linked above are so pricey is because they are directed to more of a niche market. Most people looking for AV gear on a tight budget will buy an AVR receiver (with the amp included). These sell in much larger quantities and can be had starting from under $200 new (such as this Yamaha). This one would do everything you need - it even has analogue stereo out, but as already stated, AVRs at this price range don't convert digital to analogue, and therefor you'd only be able to use the analogue out with analogue input sources (no good for the PS3). However, you can obviously just connect your speakers directly to the AVR and skip the tube amp.

If you want to forgo video switching, there are some stereo switching DACs closer to your price range (About $150 including shipping). This Topping D2, for example, has analog, SPDIF, USB inputs, a headphone amplifier and analog out for your tube amp.

Edit: Here is a cheaper Ebay listing for the Topping: $135 with shipping...
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Wed Jan 30, 2013 2:17 am

cynan wrote: This Topping D2, for example, has analog, SPDIF, USB inputs, a headphone amplifier and analog out for your tube amp.


That actually looks pretty good. I think I can let my TV handle video switching.

Am I correct that this allows four inputs different inputs (Coax, Optical, USB, and RCA) and acts as a DAC for all of the inputs except the RCA?

So I would probably plug my computer in using USB and my PS3 via optical leaving the other two open for something else?
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:30 pm

kumori wrote:
cynan wrote: This Topping D2, for example, has analog, SPDIF, USB inputs, a headphone amplifier and analog out for your tube amp.


That actually looks pretty good. I think I can let my TV handle video switching.

Am I correct that this allows four inputs different inputs (Coax, Optical, USB, and RCA) and acts as a DAC for all of the inputs except the RCA?

So I would probably plug my computer in using USB and my PS3 via optical leaving the other two open for something else?


I haven't used one myself, but yes. It sure looks like it. See the picture of the front panel on the first Ebay listing. There is one switch for DAC/AUX, which switches between analog in and digital in and a second switch that switches between the digital inputs (USB/optical/Coaxial) which I presume are only operational when "DAC" is selected on the first switch. You can plug your computer in via analog from your sound card, USB, or SPDIF from your sound card and decide what you think sounds best. Plug the PS3 into either the Coax or Toslink.

I've come across a couple of reviews for the Topping which seem mostly favorable. Perhaps if you search for those you'll find some more info on specific operation. Probably also some info in forums such as headfi...
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Thu Jan 31, 2013 5:32 am

I have two follow up questions that I hope that someone can help me answer:

1) Will I lose any sound quality if I connect my HTPC and PS3 via HDMI and then run an optical out to the DAC? My understanding is that the signal would be all digital and so the quality of the components I route it through doesn't matter. Is this correct?

2) Will I be able to control the volume using windows or my TV volume if I connect everything up like I plan to?

Thanks for your help.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Thu Jan 31, 2013 9:36 am

kumori wrote:
cynan wrote: This Topping D2, for example, has analog, SPDIF, USB inputs, a headphone amplifier and analog out for your tube amp.


That actually looks pretty good. I think I can let my TV handle video switching.

Am I correct that this allows four inputs different inputs (Coax, Optical, USB, and RCA) and acts as a DAC for all of the inputs except the RCA?

So I would probably plug my computer in using USB and my PS3 via optical leaving the other two open for something else?

http://www.mightybigword.com/tnt/2012/0 ... ac-review/
In USB mode, the D2 is detected by Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems automatically; as a class 1 USB audio device however, it is limited to 16 bit and 44.1 or 48 KHz operation.
If this is important.

And what about the sub if you use this?

kumori wrote:1) Will I lose any sound quality if I connect my HTPC and PS3 via HDMI and then run an optical out to the DAC? My understanding is that the signal would be all digital and so the quality of the components I route it through doesn't matter. Is this correct?
Since you don't have 5.1 there should not be any "loss". If you play Bluray, then you will not be able to use the lossless TruHD/DTS-MA audio (to me it is not a "loss in quality", you simply cannot use these audio formats).

kumori wrote:2) Will I be able to control the volume using windows or my TV volume if I connect everything up like I plan to?
You are connecting all your audio to that box, so you can control volume there. If you connect your Windows computer using USB, it is a USB sound device, so you can adjust volume there. TV volume probably will not do squat.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:22 am

The only thing you'll be missing out on without using HDMI for audio would be the newer High Definition audio formats found on Blurays. To get those you would need an HDMI receiver or a Bluray player with built-in decoders and analog outputs (almost as rare and expensive as receivers with analog pre-outs). As you're just looking at a 2.1 system, I don't think you need to worry about those. Digital output from the PS3 and computer are going to be your best bets/highest quality for a reasonable price.

One thing you haven't addressed is your subwoofer - you're probably going to need to run line-level inputs there (assuming your sub amp has that feature) as I don't see a sub pre-out on those dacs.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:01 am

Flying Fox wrote:http://www.mightybigword.com/tnt/2012/0 ... ac-review/


I actually read that review. Because of the limited bit rate I don't want to use the USB connection. That was why I was thinking about routing optical through my TV. That way I could have as many connections as HDMI ports on my TV through one optical port of the DAC.

Flying Fox wrote:You are connecting all your audio to that box, so you can control volume there. If you connect your Windows computer using USB, it is a USB sound device, so you can adjust volume there. TV volume probably will not do squat.


My understanding was that so long as a signal is digital it doesn't have any volume information. If my TV is just doing pass through will I actually be able to control the volume. I don't actually have anything that accepts an optical in at the moment so I can't test this out.

frumper15 wrote:One thing you haven't addressed is your subwoofer - you're probably going to need to run line-level inputs there (assuming your sub amp has that feature) as I don't see a sub pre-out on those dacs.


I was planning on running DAC > Powered Sub > Amp > Passive Speakers.
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Re: I'm not even sure what I need (pre/pro, receiver, etc.)

Postposted on Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:21 am

kumori wrote:My understanding was that so long as a signal is digital it doesn't have any volume information. If my TV is just doing pass through will I actually be able to control the volume. I don't actually have anything that accepts an optical in at the moment so I can't test this out.

Set-top boxes with the digital equivalent of a line-out (e.g. a Blu-Ray player) always output a reference-level signal, and rely on a downstream device to control the volume. Many other sources with digital outputs, such as computer soundcards, are level-controlled.
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