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Why are separates better than an a/v receiver?


Bruce B
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I've been kicking around the idea for months now of replacing my Denon AVR 4800. On Outlaws website you can get an amp and preamp for around $3000. They both get great reviews. I really like my Denon and the newer receivers are around $4000. So is the Outlaw going to perform better than the Denon just because they are separate devices? I know this is probably an HTF question but there are enough audiophiles here to probably give me an ample answer.

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So is the Outlaw going to perform better than the Denon just because they are separate devices?

 

Not just because they’re separate devices no. After all, they’d still need to be well made separate devices in the first place. I’ve no experience with Outlaw save for hearing some of their stuff on an HTF Los Angeles meet back in 2001. They certainly have a lot of grunt. For the past six or so years I’ve been living off and on with a mix of Tag Mclaren separates, Rotel and now Meridian components having initially started with a Pioneer receiver in the late 90s.

 

If you’re willing to put the investment into separates, and the ex-demo/2nd hand market often allows for you to get into high-end components at what may be considered more realistic prices, then the rewards are potentially immense compared to an integrated solution, and I say that as someone who has still yet to perfect my set up as I mean to make changes to the power-amplification and speaker side of my system next year.

 

I came very close in the past year to selling up and reverting back to a receiver - a thought that had nothing to do with the desire for convenience or the feeling my separates were not delivering good quality, it was merely a situation where I could have done with the money at the time. However (thankfully), I didn’t have to sell my Meridian gear off as I simply do not feel I can ever revert back to an integrated solution and with Meridian components I have found a sonic ‘voice’ that I hold in far higher esteem than I do for their competitors like Linn, Lexicon and so on. Although I hope to move up from my 568.2 processor to the highest tier of Meridian pre-amps at some point (the 861) I don’t envision ever siding with any other manufacturer again.

 

As for WHY good separates ought be better, simply put, you’ve got a separate components each handling a dedicated job. One is doing the processing alone, another the amplification, and so on. No corners are cut as there would be in a device trying to do everything in one box. I am oversimplifying the benefits here of course but the fact each device is tailored to do one thing and one thing alone is a key factor here, and second to that is, like I say, how well each of those components is at their jobs because it's not difficult to end up with a rubbish pre-amp and a rubbish power amp. You'd probably find if you hooked a good power amp up to your Denon and just let your Denon act as a pre-amp you'd hear an improvement.

 

Demo, demo, demo is the answer. Can you get a home demo of the Outlaw gear to hear with your own speakers and in the environment in which it would live?

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When you put a power amp in the same box as your pre you are going to have to fight the comman issue that when a company does this they compromise something to make it work.

 

Usually it's the dac section and amp section.

 

Amp wise: Most receivers if not a vast majority won't meet their rated specs. Also keep in mind that amp technology isn't going to change that much if at all in the next 10 years or so. Thus when you buy an amp you are buying one for long term and you KNOW you are getting the rated power or more. My friends Bryston is rated at 150 per channel but it produces more than 200WPC when tested. You don't need a double blind test to verify this stuff. The testing being done confirms this.

 

Since processing technologies change this puts you in a better spot for flexibility when going with seperates. Thus if a new set of processing features comes out on a new processor, you can move forward w/o getting rid of your amp. Also, seperate processors typically are more upgradable in terms of software/hardware. The Anthem, Meridian and Lexicon lines are prime examples of this.

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I agree w/ exile, one of the main advantages of separates is you can buy a high quality amp today that could very well last you 10-15 years. Once you have a quality amp you can then just go around and upgrade your preprocessor/preamp every 3-5 years.

 

I've always found that the benefit didn't outweigh the extra cost of getting separates. Any half decent receiver will have less then 1% THD. Your speakers and your listening environment are much more likely to be the culprits coloring your sound then the reciever and/or amp.

 

I'd put my money into acoustical treatments for the room, or upgrading my speakers before I ventured into the separates market.

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It’s a salient point regarding the modular upgrades and frequent software downloads that are made available for separates at the higher end. If you’re looking to set out a larger budget to go the separates route, you might want to ensure your investment is one that offers such an upgrade path as a good upgradeable pre-amp should last your five to six years if not longer depending on just how modular it is. Remember that we’re in a period of transition where HDMI 1.3 and the new audio codecs will no doubt become common place this time next year.

 

I've always found that the benefit didn't outweigh the extra cost of getting separates.

 

I would say this is true only if you’re not seeking to basically tailor everything to suit a separates system, so indeed this would include perfecting your environment and matching with the right speakers, cables and so on. You can buy into separates in stages like I am doing, knowing that you won’t be running the gear at its best for a while, but certainly the investment is only truly worth it if you do intend to eventually go the whole way. Once there I truly do believe that the benefits in quality are immense but it requires money and patience.

 

I'd put my money into acoustical treatments for the room, or upgrading my speakers before I ventured into the separates market.

 

The only dangerous thing there is you don’t want to get speakers that suit your current receiver, then eventually go the separates route and find the speakers don’t match the power amp at all. This is particularly why I am considering active speakers because I know they’ll be perfectly matched.

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Speaking directly of Outlaw, I'm using an Outlaw 950 (discontinued) pre/pro and an Outlaw 7100 (also discontinued, but it lives on the 7125 with slightly more power) amp. No complaints, especially in the amp category. For a 100-wpc, 7-channel amp, it's built like a tank, and gives excellent sound. I'm using it in a fairly large room but I've yet to feel I've taxed it.

 

I'll likely drop the 950 soon in favor of an HDMI 1.3-capable receiver with the new audio formats, but the amp is staying.

 

I don't know how much power you're looking for, Bruce, but I have two Parasound amps that I would be willing to sell you dirt-cheap. One 85 wpc, five-channel, one 75 wpc, stereo (but bridgeable.) No issue with either, I just went with the Outlaw so I had a single amp driving my HT.

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