Cutting edge features needed along with traditional audiophile sound

default -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 04:44

 My music library, as are so many's music libraries these days, is no longer on traditional CDs.  Storage being as inexpensive as it is, I have converted my thousand-plus CDs into uncompressed aiff files on a hard drive.  The music is currently managed via iTunes.  The current hardware flow is:
external USB HDD to
MacBook Pro with iTunes to
wireless router to
Apple AirPort Express via digital optical cable to
TOSLINK input on my AVR.  
The controller is my iPhone running the free "Remote" software.
Although this works, I'd very much like to get the computer, router, AirPort Express, and iPhone out of the chain.  To do so, I'll need an AVR that will allow direct connection of the external USB HDD.  Additionally, the AVR will need either a remote or an on-screen interface to allow me to browse and select music from the USB input.
I see that various models from Onkyo and Yamaha allow USB input, but they seem geared to removable USB memory sticks.  Will such interfaces allow HDD connection?  Do they have browsing software built in?
My situation is further complicated by my power and quality requirements.  I run Thiel speakers whose 4-ohm impedance is below the current capability of most inexpensive AVRs.  The Thiels also require 100 watts or more to best display their dynamics.  Further, the Thiels, being so accurate, will not tolerate any but the highest quality of electronics without revealing the amplifiers' sonic shortcomings.
Another of my requirements is exceptionally flexible bass management.  I would prefer to run my Thiel main speakers in full-range mode and cut in the sub at or below 40 Hz.  I would simultaneously prefer that the sub be engaged at a significantly higher frequency for the center channel speaker and yet at even higher frequencies for the surround channels.
Now to my question - Who makes such an AVR?  An older model is preferred so that I might shop among the less-expensive used equipment.  If only a current model will suffice, though, I'm willing to go that route.  I have confidence that the level of expertise on these forums is greater than that found among local audio salesmen, and therefore ask - your thoughts?

Boomzilla -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 11:13

 OK - this was MY post (I just wasn't logged in at the time).  I forgot to say that I also want electronic room correction such as Audissey or YPAQ.  Thanks.

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

sheepherder -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 17:21

 I would try the new receivers from Marantz and see if they meet your requirements.  Rotel would meet your sonic requirements but not need for state of the art connections to your various geek devices.  You didn't mention a budget.  Linn may have something.
I have been dealing w/ Gifted Listener in Centerville, VA since they opened 20 years ago. I believe they carry both Thiel and Marantz. Tom the owner knows as much as anyone on this forum.  
I am not sure when Marantz's new receivers hit the market. Unlike most other AVR manufactures Marantz rated power is conservative and they usually meet the stated specs with all channels driven.

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Boomzilla -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 18:40

 So far as I can tell, even the top-of-the-line receivers from Yamaha, NAD, and Onkyo lack support for USB hard drives.  Only two models in Denon's line have USB hard drive support - the AVR-4308CI and the AVR-5308CI.  These run somewhere between $2K-$4K.  I'm willing to spend that if I must, but one would think that the manufacturers would realize by now that the average consumer keeps their media on hard disc - not on CD.
The first manufacturer to realize the new reality and offer a full line of products with external hard-drive support will reap a windfall.  Who will it be?  Enquiring minds want to know!  :-)

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

Steven Stone -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 23:08

 Boomzilla, I think its only a matter of time before you see receivers with the features you want at a lower price point.
I guess the question is, "how long can you wait?"

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound,, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

Boomzilla -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 06:13

 Hi Steven - The AVR I have now does everything I want except for the power, room correction, & bass management.  I think that I'll just keep what I have for the next year & see what next year's crop of products brings.  The sound of my existing receiver (cheap Yamaha RX-V620) is absolutely exquisite with my Thiel 1.5s despite lacking ultimate dynamics, volume capability, and bass response.  One would typically expect a $400 AVR to sound weak, edgy, shrill, and coarse, but the little Yamaha defies every expectation.  Kudos to Yamaha!  
Unless I get SIGNIFICANT improvement in a new AVR, I'm satisfied for the time being.  By the way, I ** DID ** spend significant time online looking at specs for "top-of-the-line" products from Sherwood, Carver, Outlaw, Sunfire, Sony, Adcom, Marantz, Yamaha, Pioneer, Onkyo, Harmon-Kardon, Lexicon, Cambridge, NAD, Arcam, and Denon.  The ONLY two receivers that had a USB-HDD input were the Denon AVR-4308CI and the Denon AVR-5308CI.  Even then, it was unclear whether the HDD input was managed by onboard browsing software.
My current kludge media server system may not be elegant, but it sure sounds good.  I'm not ready to tamper with success!

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

sheepherder -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 09:46
  • Marantz 6004 approx $1300 
  • RX101 Bluetooth/IR Receiver included
  • Front USB audio input for iPod/iPhone digital connection or USB Memory
  • Dolby TrueHD/Pro Logic IIz, dts-HD Master Audio Decoder
  • Audyssey Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume and MultEQ Auto Calibration
  • Sophisticated aluminum/reinforced resin front panel with Front door design for Clean Panel
  • HDMI (v1.3) Repeating: Four Inputs, Two Outputs
  • Graphical User Interface
  • 10% Improved 110 watts (into 8 ohms) x 7 ch Amps
  • Analog, Digital Independent PWBs design to minimize mutual interference
  • Component Video output for 2nd Zone
  • Marantz Custom High Quality Block Capacitor
  • Full 10-bit Video Processing
  • M-DAX(Marantz Dynamic Audio eXpander)
  • 2nd Zone Analog audio output (Individual source) w/discrete command
  • 3rd Zone Digital audio output (for Digital input source)
  • SIRIUS & XM Ready with discrete IR commands
  • Bi-Amp Drive Capability
  • RS-232C, DC Trigger out, Flasher In and Marantz D-BUS (RC-5) In/Out
  • LCD Learning Backlight system remote
  • Available Option Rack Mount Kit RMK6504SR

Marantz hasn't released their top of the line AVR yet but this might just get you by. It will drive your Thiels. again Gifted Listener in Centerville Va sells both   brands. 

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Boomzilla -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 13:37

 Alas - it will not get me by.  The Marantz's  iPod/USB Memory socket (typical of all but two AVRs on the market) will ** NOT ** accept a USB hard drive (according to the local salesman).  There is a significant difference in device types between a simple USB memory stick and a formatted hard drive.  Although both come up on computers as a device with a drive letter, the similarity ends there.  Further, the Marantz, although it can play the music on a USB memory stick, has little or no browsing capability to selectively choose individual songs off of the outboard USB device.  Since I have 1.5 Terabytes of music on my drive, browsing software is critical.
Because I want to get the computer completely out of the system, the AVR has to take over the music management duties.  Only two Denon models can do this.  Every other AVR, including the Marantz, just don't measure up.

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

neburg964 -- Sun, 10/18/2009 - 20:52

Hey Sheepherder -
I will be talking to you eventually about home audio but for now, I just wanted to tell you that many of your former friends at Motor Trend are missing you there, and I undertook the mission to find you.  It was not easy...
Anyway, drop by and say Hi

J D (not verified) -- Thu, 09/24/2009 - 11:16

 Several years ago I sold off ALL of my gear and restarted in the digital age.   All digital all of the time  - well, almost!   
Speakers:  Meridian DSP 5200 (R+L)  The Meridians have internal amps and are driven by PCM SPDIF coax.   Very neat and simple.
Communications with the Meridians is done with a simple Geffen HDMI four port switch which has the singular virtue of separating the HDMI audio stream to a coax PCM output.   
The Geffen switch connects to four HDMI input sources, which include a networked Apple TV box, an Oppo BDP-83 Blu Ray player, a cable HD DVR and a DirecTV HD DVR.  The Geffen output goes to the Meridians ( via PCM) and a Samsung LCD via HDMI.
All of the audio, some 100 GB worth, is stored in Apple lossless format on a Mac Pro elsewhere in the house.   Connection to the Apple TV is 1 GB ethernet.   The Apple TV is a recent addition.  It replaced a Mac Mini / M-Audio Firewire Audiiophile PCM box combination.   
It's seamless and works beautifully.   
My office Mac Pro does have a Dared MP-5 DAC / tube amp for my headphones, however!

Boomzilla -- Thu, 09/24/2009 - 12:51

 Hi JD!
Thanks for the feedback.  It sounds like you've gone farther down the digital divide than I have.  I just converted all my music library from Apple lossless back to uncompressed aiff format.  I believe that within a year or two, the AV receiver manufacturers will realize the pent-up demand for an AVR that will allow an outboard HDD to plug directly in and be browsed from the AVR itself.  
Once this happens, the need for external servers will disappear (since AVRs are already internet-capable for streaming audio & video).  I consider the likelihood that Apple will license its proprietary music formats / iTunes browser to the AVR manufacturers to be somewhere between slim and none (what a shame...).  Therefore, in anticipation of AVR HDD compatibility, I went back to uncompressed.
Your current system sounds to me like the best that can be done within the limits of currently available technology.  I just want more...

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

J D (not verified) -- Thu, 09/24/2009 - 13:21

Few, if any, of the AVR manufacturers will ever get it.  They are living in a bounded, proprietary, analog world and show no signs of changing.   The Apple based system allows me to use "Home Sharing" (in ITunes 9.1) to share all of my music throughout the home from a single server - or from as many servers as I want, for that matter.   Don't count on Apple licensing it's formats - but it really doesn't matter because iTunes can accommodate several open source formats as well.   All you need is a DAC, an amp and some speakers - and in my case, the speakers and amp are combined.   I'd like to see more high end audio suppliers adopt the Meridian idea of keeping all of the interconnect digital (PCM , ethernet, etc.) with combination amp / speakers.   It's happening at the low end with powered iPod speakers.   In this case the high end (with the exception of Meridian)  is far from cutting edge.  
Just my  .02.

Paul -- Thu, 09/24/2009 - 14:02

This is not the full solution you are looking for but might simplify things in the short term.
If you have an external HDD to serve the music, and want this plugged into the AVR, you could replace the HDD with a multimedia one, like the Iomega Multimedia Screenplay, comes in 500-GB and I think 1-TB sizes. Download your music to it via the USB connection, then remove and connect to your AVR.
It has a component video out connection. Does not do hi-def, but hooked up to my wide screen TV its menu navigation works fine for a music collection, as long as the music is well organized into folders and such. They sell in the $100 - $200 range, and have an RCA digital out which you can connect to your AVR. You can choose RAW or PCM for the digital out format.
You would of course have to check for file compatibility issues to make sure it supports the music in your file format. There are other similar drives on the market that you can find by googling "multimedia hard drive" or similar.
I use the Iomega now. It is not elegant, but it's cheap and works ok for now until I can afford a more complete solution. Currently, I have it connected to the digital input of my Cambridge Audio 840C, which upconverts the signal to my NAD surround receiver very nicely. What receiver you use does not matter in this type of setup, in terms of connectivity.


Boomzilla -- Fri, 09/25/2009 - 02:53

 Hi Paul -
Thanks for the feedback.  I was unaware of  "multimedia drives."  As I understand you, the drives have their own browsing software & video interface built in?  Do you happen to know if any of the available multimedia drives have the capability of using iTunes metadata (album/track names, album cover art, etc.)?
This might be an inexpensive solution until a more elegant one comes along...

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

Paul -- Fri, 09/25/2009 - 19:38

Yes, they have their own browsing software and video interface. I don't believe this can retrieve the album art cover, but I could be wrong. I burn WAV files to the drive, and also WMA files, and that's it. All the album names, song titles, etc. display on screen. I believe you can also setup slide shows and such to play while the music is on, if your so inclined.  I'm not an itunes person so I don't know the answer to your question about itunes compatibility.
The specs on the Iomega Screenplay 500-GB which I use are below. This works for me since the RCA digital out is pretty clean sounding when fed into my CA 840C.
With this device there are two issues. One is hard drive noise. In my setup, not an issue since I have it inside a ventilated case. if it were sitting outside, you will hear the drive whine even at moderate listening levels. The other issue is that any music I have recorded from vinyl to hard drive will emit an audible pop between tracks. I notice that other users have complained of the same thing. However, if I just rip a CD to my computer hard drive and then copy this to the Iomega, there is no pop in between tracks. So this only happens on collections and such that you might burn individually file by file to a folder. Pre-recorded cd's burned to the device do not suffer from this issue. Iomega says it is something to do with a frequency change between tracks, which they have not been able to fix. I can live with this though due to the cheap cost and the convenience.

  • Audio Formats - MP3, AC3 (Dolby® Digital.Encoding), WMA, WAV, OGG
  • Video Formats - MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (AVI/VOB), .MPEG-4 (AVI/DiVX 3.11, 4.x, 5.x/XViD)
  • Photo Formats - JPEG
  • PAL/NTSC - 480i/480p; scalable to 720p/1080i
  • AV connections: SCART (RGB); HDMI.Composite video and audio R/L; .Component video: Y, Pb, Pr; Coaxial S/PDIF output
  • Hard drive format: NTFS
  • Resolution: PAL/NTSC - 480i/480p; scalable to 720p/1080i


  • USB 2.0 (USB 1.1 backwards compatible)
  • AV Connections:
    • Composite video and audio R/L
    • Component video: Y, Pb, Pr (480i/480p)
    • Coaxial S/PDIF output
    • SCART (RGB)
    • HDMI

Supported File System

  • NTFS (default)
  • FAT32



Boomzilla -- Sat, 09/26/2009 - 05:52

 Thanks for the info, Paul.  As for now, I'm still going to hang onto the iTunes interface.  I'm familiar with it and I've spent LOTS of time adding cover art etc.  For about the price of a large multimedia drive, I could keep my existing external HDD and add an older Mac Mini to be a media server.  This is more hardware, but it gets the server duties off my main computer and lets me keep the iTunes interface.
Since any of the Intel-based Minis have a digital optical output (that plugs into the Toslink input on the receiver), I'd minimize the number of DA-AD conversions going on too.  Since my flat panel has a DVI input, I could just use the display for iTunes when listening to music.
Overall, this option seems the least hassle to me.  If I go with the multimedia HDD, then I have to convert my 1+ TB of AIFF files to WAV format. I don't know if this is a big problem or not, but it seems to me that every time I've tried to convert, there have been some tracks that just either disappear or don't convert properly.  Also, I suspect that a conversion to WAV format would lose all the iTunes metadata.
If I were starting from scratch (from the original CDs or records) again, then the multimedia drive would make more sense.  WIth my investment in iTunes, I think I'd best stay there.  Thanks again for the info!

 A good sense of humor makes it ALL sound better!

All content, design, and layout are Copyright © 1999 - 2011 NextScreen. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in whole or part in any form or medium without specific written permission is prohibited.