Trinnov Tag

A Guide to Luxury Amps & Preamps

A Guide to Luxury Amps & Preamps
What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

As promised in our last Cineluxe Basics post, which covered the things you should consider when picking source components for your luxury home-entertainment system, this time we’ll be turning our attention to one of the most important—but also one of the most overlooked—components required to make such systems work. It’s such an esoteric piece of gear that you may not fully understand what it does.

 

But hopefully by the end of this discussion you’ll not only have a lot more respect for the lowly preamplifier; you’ll also be better able to make a more informed decision about which one is right for your system.

 

Everyone understands that source components like disc players, satellite boxes, movie servers, and video streamers deliver the movies and TV shows you watch on a regular basis, either from a silver platter, the airwaves, or a hard drive somewhere.

It’s positively axiomatic that your TV or projector is responsible for delivering those images to your eyes, and your speakers transmit sound through the air to your ears.

 

The preamp, though? It’s the box that sits in the middle, functioning as a sort of air-traffic control for your entertainment system. It sends the video from your sources to your display. It decodes the digital audio stream from your source components and sends it to your amps and speakers in analog form.

 

And you may be thinking to yourself, “That sounds an awful lot like an AV receiver!” It’s true. Preamp/amplifiers serve the same function in a luxury home-entertainment system as do AV receivers. It’s simply that a receiver combines all of the preamplification and amplification in one box, whereas going the preamp/amplifier route gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of perfectly matching your amplification needs to your speakers and your room.

 

As a result, it’s not inaccurate to say that a preamp/amp combo will generally give you better performance than a receiver, especially in a larger room. A more accurate explanation would also be a much more complicated one, but if you’re itching for a geeky discussion about the topic, I wrote one a few years back for Home Theater Review.

 

At any rate, these days all of the above is only part of the equation when it comes to selecting the right preamp. Another important function that has arisen in the past few years is digital room correction. Broadly speaking, “digital room correction” is a catch-all term that covers a number of different technologies, but all of them ostensibly serve the same purpose: To use a combination of equalization and other filtering to reverse the deleterious acoustic effects your room itself has on the sound leaving your speakers.

 

These effects come in two forms: Those caused by the shape of your room and those caused by the surfaces in your room. The former affects the clarity and evenness of bass in the room, as the low-frequency sounds coming from

your subwoofers and other speakers bounce off the walls and ceilings and either cancel each other out or reinforce one another.

 

Bass frequencies below 250 Hz or so (the highest note you can play on a double bass) have a really long wavelength, between five and 60 feet, so it takes a really big, flat surface to reflect them. So, it doesn’t really matter if your room is decorated with wood paneling or acoustic fabric; your subwoofer is going to sound overwhelming in one part of the room and wimpy in another. All good room-correction systems will listen to a microphone placed in and around the seats in

your entertainment space and tweak the sounds coming from your subs and speakers so the bass has impact and authority without sounding boomy or sloppy.

 

A great example of a room-correction system that positively excels in this respect is Anthem Room Correction, which you’ll find, appropriately enough, on preamps made by Anthem, like the AVM 60 (shown at the top of the page). If you have a dedicated home cinema space with acoustically treated walls, Anthem Room Correction is likely all you need to whip your bass into shape and make your subwoofers sounds like a million bucks.

If, on the other hand, you have a multi-use home-entertainment space in a living room or family room, your installer may recommend a more sophisticated—and indeed more expensive—preamplifier with a more advanced room-correction solution. That’s because it takes a lot more processing power and a lot more calculations to digitally correct problems that arise from hard or uneven surfaces in the room—like mirrors, windows, cabinets, hardwood floors, etc.—or even standard decorations like vases, coffee tables, or even columns along the wall. Since these surfaces are smaller than, say, the entire back wall of your room, they affect smaller wavelengths of sound—hence, higher frequencies.

 

You can attempt to correct for such problems with almost any room-correction system, but the cheaper ones—like you’ll find on most mass-market AV receivers—don’t do a very good job of it, leaving you with a sound system that’s lifeless, dull, and uninspiring.

 

Better, more sophisticated room-correction solutions, though, can go a long way toward erasing the harsh audible effects of such surfaces from the sound that reaches your ears, without making it sound like you’ve thrown a blanket over your head. Examples of such systems include RoomPerfect, which you can find on Lyngdorf’s MP-50 and MP-60 preamplifiers, as 

well as Trinnov’s Speaker/Room Optimizer, found on the company’s Altitude line of preamps. Your installer may also recommend preamps that rely on Dirac Live room correction, an excellent mid-priced solution.

 

As for amplifiers? Your best bet here is simply to listen to the advice of your installer. You will, of course, need one channel of amplification for every speaker in your system (except perhaps for the subwoofers, which often contain their own amplification),

so if you’re installing a 7.2.6-channel system (that’s seven ear-level speakers, two subwoofers, and six overhead speakers), you’ll need at least 13 channels of amplification. That may come in the form of two seven-channel amps, seven stereo amps, or even 13 standalone “monoblock” amplifiers, with each configuration having its own relative pluses and minuses. But again, chances are good your installer is intimately familiar with the speakers going into your system, and knows what amplification will work best.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 6

Six installments in, we’ve arrived at the end of our tale about turning a trade show booth into a reference-quality home cinema space. But we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back. Yes, the demo room ultimately drew scores of visitors, and praise from the people who experienced it.

 

But this series of posts was meant to be inspirational, not self-congratulatory. Our aim was to encourage you to not give up on “problem” spaces until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities. The technology and expertise definitely now exist to turn rooms that would have once been dismissed as impossible into killer luxury home entertainment spaces.

 

Here are the key takeaways:

 

Even rooms with weird dimensions can make for a great home theater

If we had focused all of our design efforts exclusively on performance, there’s no way we would have chosen an overgrown bay window as the geometrical inspiration for our room. The hacked-off corners inside the room were driven by the various needs of the outside of the booth. But with the right choice of gear and some optimization with the speaker placement, we made this kooky space sound great.

For more on how to make non-symmetrical rooms work 

to your advantage, see Part 1 and Part 2

 

Choose your speakers carefully—not all luxury speaker systems are made the same

This doesn’t mean that one speaker is necessarily the best answer for all applications. Speaker systems come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and configurations. Some are designed like audio spotlights. Some deliver a wider swath of sound. Some subwoofers are designed for in-ceiling placement. Of course, if you don’t have attic space to work with, you might opt for in-wall subs, or even discreet in-room subs (like we did). The point is, you shouldn’t just assume that a speaker is a speaker. Find the right solution for your unique room.

For more on choosing the right speakers, see Part 3

 

Room correction can eliminate a lot of a “bad” room’s worst flaws

It wasn’t that long ago that the room-correction software solutions built into most surround sound systems created more problems than they solved, but in recent years they’ve made monumental improvements. These days, a good room correction system can practically eliminate the need for big bass traps and other gargantuan physical acoustical treatments. And the best of these solutions can even correct for sub-optimal speaker placement.

For more about room correction, see Part 4

 

Acoustic treatments can help solve the problems room correction can’t fix

Since room correction still struggles with some acoustical problems, don’t turn your nose up at physical acoustical treatments. You may find that you can even work these treatments into your interior design.

For more about acoustic treatments, see Part 5

 

And maybe most important of all:

 

Creating a premium entertainment space is a team effort, so pick your players wisely

If, for whatever reason, subtle acoustical treatments are an absolute no-no in your luxury entertainment space, encourage your integrator and designer to work together on alternative solutions. A carefully placed bookshelf or even draperies positioned in the right place can work wonders for the sound of your room. But this requires that all of the

Jack Shafton, Golden Ear VP of Marketing & Sales
GoldenEar’s Jack Shafton on the Finished Booth

 

GoldenEar VP of Marketing & Sales Jack Shafton co-authored the 3rd installment of this series with Dennis Burger. Here’s his reaction to experiencing the completed booth at the CEDIA convention in San Diego this past September:

 

“Upon seeing the finished product when the show opened, I was impressed with how the booth turned out (it looked great and highly functional), and also alarmed by the openness of the demo space. There was already a big crowd milling about the booth (kudos to Kaleidescape) and the theater demo was standing room only. The space was basically open to the show floor, just behind a draped entryway. I waited for the next showing and grabbed a seat before the room filled. I should have known, but the demo of Baby Driver caught me by surprise—this system, in this terrible room, just rocked! And other than the small subs, the sound system was basically invisible. It presented a seamless bubble of sound around and above with pinpoint imaging, and the the subs made the air move with a thunder. Of course I kept thinking ‘louder, make it louder’ because it was fun—although they had chosen a good compromise on volume level. I got the impression after the demo that the other people in the room would have liked to kick back and watch the whole movie!”

players respect one another and their specific design expertise. There will always be some give-and-take. All parties will have to compromise at some point. But if you can find collaborators who know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, your luxury entertainment space will be all the better for it.

 

If you’re ready to tame a problem space but aren’t sure where to look for help, the Home Technology Association (HTA) can be a great resource. And, by continuing to showcase unusual but successful home entertainment rooms, we at Cineluxe will do whatever we can to lend a hand.

 

Before we wrap this up, we’d like to thank some of the greatest experts in the business—in particular, Jack Shafton at GoldenEar, Jon Herron at Trinnov, and Anthony Grimani at PMI—for making our pitifully small demo room sound way bigger and better than it ever should have. And we’d like to wish all of you luck with turning your own problem rooms into amazing sight and sound experiences.

Dennis Burger & Michael Gaughn

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.