Who has the space and money for separate home theater and music systems in different rooms? I don’t, and neither does anyone I know. So we are all stuck with systems we built around a large TV screen, mesmerized by pretty DVD and HD video. Even if you spent a load of cash on a “flagship” AV receiver like I did (my Onkyo TX-DS989), telling your spouse it would be the last “stereo” you would have to buy to justify its cost, you’ll be disappointed by electronic compromises hidden in the “do everything” receiver. That fancy AV receiver is obscuring the best music from you because internal components share power supplies between seven channels of amplification, crowded in with DACs, FM tuners, DSPs and multiple in and out video circuits and good luck with the phono stage. So what can you do if you want the best music and home theater playback through the same system?
Here’s how I integrated separate front stereo amplification and rewired my system for no compromise stereo and surround sound. I first read about the hybrid system in the Audio Perfectionist Journal and I know Robert Harley covered it in the latest edition of his Guide to High End Audio.
The concept is simple: separate out analog only sources (like turntables, CD players, DAC analog outs) into a dedicated stereo amplification stage that feeds the same loudspeakers and subwoofer you use for home theater. When you want to watch a DVD or HDTV or play a video game, flip a switch on the analog pre-amp to pass the AV receiver’s signal through to the stereo amplifier. I list what you equipment you need to achieve this goal below.
Features and accessories you need for a hi-fi/home theater hybrid:
- Sources: A digital source with analog output like a CD Player, Music Server or DAC, a Turntable
- AV Receiver: Your existing AV receiver needs front channel pre-amp outs and bass management that routes all small speaker bass and LFE info to the large front channels (good luck if your receivers manual explains its bass management facilities well, you may have to experiment)
- Analog Stereo Pre-Amp: The pre-amp must have an HT bypass or a clearly marked unity gain (the volume level where the input signal is neither attenuated or amplified), enough inputs to accommodate all your sources including a turntable, CD player, the AV receiver pre-amp out and a DAC; two separate amplifier outputs, one for the main channels and the other for your subwoofer
- Amplifier: Separate two channel (or dual monoblock) amplifier powerful enough for music and movie volume levels
- Accessories: Depending on the ports between your AV receiver, pre-amp and amplifier you may need some high quality (Teflon dielectric) RCA splitters, high quality interconnects and inline RCA high pass crossover filters to relieve your main channels of the bass frequencies your subwoofer covers
I’ll wait for you to go out and get all that extra equipment. Next time I’ll give you my tips on putting it all together with a handy connection chart.