AV Bypass; the ultimate trick to upgrading sound quality in your home theatre! (YMMV)

Hello;

photo to ‘set the mood’ (I am writing this from a National Park a wee bit after sunrise)…


The dawning of an idea; the illumination that brings one out from ignorance…

So photos are from an ‘all in one’ device rather than a dedicated seperates system (camera phone vs Fuji lens and camera system)…
some may be realising I am setting the scene here…

Decades of tinkering with Hifi has reaffirmed a few points to me - “you get what you ‘weigh’ for” (weight of equipment is a better ‘spec sheet’ metric than most of the ‘other numbers’), and “simple and dedicated” has a naturalness that ‘complex and incorporated’ seldom delivers (or costs 4x the price).

So here is a post to get some people thinking about their present/past/future SURROUND setups and a pathway they may not have done the due dilligence with…

AV BYPASS, or, using a dedicated power amp/integrated amp (with AV BYPASSability) to take the heavy load off a surround receiver and give the speakers what they want!

Thats it- that is the entire rest of this post; if you feel I am here needing a hand or some advice with my ‘broken setup’ etc- “Nope” - I am very happy continuting to service my households home entertainment needs and we have everything pretty much where we want things to be.

“All good” - so to speak…
but…
absolutely enthused to share a recent experience of VASTLY IMPROVED SOUND QUALITY.
ie as a forum member, I am happy to ask for guidance but in this instance, just a FYI for those who may not have given much thought to ‘best pathways forward’ when upgrading kit that may already be installed in the house.


Background:
I’ve been using surround amps since before the Yamaha DSPA1000 came to the market. Naturally (pun intended) the Yamaha was the surround receiver to use during the early to mid nineties, at which point I even found myself using some outboard processors that Yamaha made, great for upgrading bedroom setups etc…

I learned early that Yamaha made nice audio kit, but even in their ranks a simple dedicated TWO CHANNEL amplifier delivered musicality that the biggest of their brethren promised to deliver whilst driving seven speakers (Yamaha did ‘front effects’ back in the early nineties)…

Dedicated processors seemed to always deliver better nuances and ‘more musicality’ (SUBJECTIVE,SUBJECTIVE,SUBJECTIVE!!), and by the 2000s I typically bought a preamp/processor and used outboard power amps (and vintage hifi) to do the MAIN SPEAKERS (or all channels!).

By the late 2000s, I had a habit of buying most THX ULTRA ‘flagship’ receivers that turned up on the market second hand for ‘peanuts price points’, that, whilst being ‘pre HDMI’, often had five or more channels of amplification that was of a higher quality than the generally included ‘power amps’ inside integrated ‘one box’ units that seemed to go down in absolute quality and up in price every couple of years as more and more ‘standards’ and formats came to market… (wifi/blueooth/dolby Z and dts X/internet radio/network servers etc etc)
Simple- costs go up (more to have to include to ‘stay competitive’), specs go up (has to be better than last years model), cost of production goes up (scales of production smaller/challenged supply lines in recent years equals ‘extra costs’ etc)…

In my eyes (subjective!), audio has gone downhill for the equivalent price point since the height of two channel audio (late nineties/early 2000s being the last watering down that I actually cared about).
Every mid 2000s + surround amp I have used has benefitted GREATLY by using an early 2000s THX ULTRA (not ‘select’ or ‘multimedia’ or later variants) receiver as ‘dedicated power amplifiers’ for as many channels as I care to use.
Sometimes, when I am using a modern flagship or ‘one from top of the tree’ in the lineup unit, I will use the internal seven to eleven channels of amplification to render my centre channel speakers. Maybe.

(interesting aside number one: centre channel is probably the most important in a ‘surround setup’)

An average processor, using outdated formats, AND proper amplification equals a better rendition on everything, and I would weigh in with - I’d rather 7.1 channels done well, than 11.2 Atmos setup that has 100 bits of media that use the channels ‘well’ and then EVERYTHING ELSE sounds worse than Hifi we had twenty years ago…

So- “best of both worlds”-
AV BYPASS allows using a high powered two channel amplifier to take the heavy lifting of the front MAINS speakers (most typically the hardest speakers to drive in any given setup) off the amplifier, and allows all the headroom/‘reserve power’ in the front end device to go to the remaining speakers.

This is where the YMMV in the title kicks in hard: Your Mileage May Vary; you may have easy to drive satellites speakers with an easy to drive 8ohm and high sensitivity (etc etc), and you may listen no louder than 65Decibel Peaks etc… there are a range of reasons why we may all net different experiences when playing with this stuff…

My story involves some ‘very hard to drive’ (properly) main speakers.
Revelationary was the difference of giving them the two channel ‘power amplification’ they really needed. (In my case it was a Nait XS3 added to an Anthem MRX720, but it could easily be Nait 5si added to a multithousand dollar front end- the improvement in sound quality (SUBJECTIVE!), for me, was substantial.

I had used said Anthem MRX720 in conjunction with ‘other’ power amps… - have used a stack of Rotel monoblockable power amps for said duties and quite a few times a Marantz SR9200 or an Onkyo TS-DX989 generally being ‘easy’ fallbacks to throw in place, but a few 2000 and 3000 (near flagship) Yamaha TOPARTs in the mix too… all gave a nice sound quality jump over burdened ‘onboard power amps’…

Now; with regards to the Anthem MRX720 - it is the best budget ‘not quite a processor, but nearly a processor grade sound quality’ front end device I could find, in the modern hifi world, at a somewhat affordable price -

I found it after going to the market and looking at all options, and walking around the stores until I found the MINIMUM SOUND QUALITY that would equal ‘ten years earlier’ cheaperparts. (I wanted to have a front end that could handle higher refresh rate 4K and HDR)

For Atmos the need to rebuy a home theatre simply wasn’t going to be worth it, but a hardware collusion in the marketplace was forcing my kit forward in unison, and other than buying all new transports with dual HDMI outputs (one directly to screen/one directly to audio front end), of which the market had stopped innovating (Still have my Oppo!); buying ‘new’ and getting sound quality was nearly impossible (for reasonable coin).
Based on what I was finding prices had doubled to net sound quality equal to what I was using.
Quite simply- the Anthem MRX720, which I only planned to use as a processor (does Anthem Room Correction), was twice the cost of what I felt was marketed to me as equivalent to what I was using (spec sheets implied budget stuff was good, but junk-fi was clearly creating more tiers in the lower end of the market and ‘mid-fi’ was more about MQA and latest formats rather than actual sound quality.)

Anthem MRX720 is a stripped down surround product.
It doesn’t have fourty flavours of surround sound.
Heck it barely amplifies seven channels well; but is CLEVER- it uses class D amping on some rear channels so that the MRX720s’ power supply isn’t taxed fully at any given moment (reserves of current for the main channels to handle peaks that the rear channels pull straight from the power block).


I have heard the MRX720, I have heard the MRX720 using ancient THX Ultra ‘all in ones’ as ‘power amps’, and, now having heard the Anthem MRX720 with a Naim integrated 'AS A POWER AMP": excellence achieved!!

For anyone picking on an Nait XS3 as having a smaller sound field than other competing (same class) integrateds’- this may be true, but when it does the stereo duties vs those found in a (crappy) modern surround receiver?
The soundfield extended back beyond the rear wall, the left and right staging improved considerably; in fact all steering of sound qualities was improved (reasons given in a moment), and the extra ease of hearing dialogue and, more so- musical nuances- this was like what the venerable Yamaha DSPA1000 was delivering thirty odd years ago, back when surround amps had to be equal/better than cheaper stereo units that filled the lower price points in the sales market…

EVERYTHING had improved!
So, again, “YMMV”- I was using tricky to drive front speakers that drink a lot of power if it is available, but the massive burden being taken from the amp (main Left and Right speakers), freeing up all that power ‘headroom’ for the remaining channels, especially the Centre channel; the improvements were so very night and day.

Using a Sound Pressure Level tool, and quite awhile measuring this… the actual channel levels didn’t need varying, and the test tones were identical- up until some actual media was playing that required some power to be thrown to all speakers; and then the amp was quite noticeably louder.
Nearly two times louder.
but during power draw moments…

The obvious reveal was the opening credit music to a streaming TV show (ie ‘the Office’), where the compressed ‘everything is loud’ taxed the seven channels of amplification- it clearly didn’t have the steam to resolve the same performance as when doing so with a lowly little Naim Nait attatched to the loungerooms’ surround sound setup.

Whilst many in the Naim community use setups of vastly more cost and refinement than this- the fact is that an Anthem MRX720 is probably twice the price point of what most would consider ‘a great surround amp’… and the Anthem gets away with being ‘better bang to buck’ by being super simple.
(closest to ‘processor grade’ dedicated/seperate sound quality that a modern integrated could give for ‘reasonable coin’)
Given many will use ‘lesser’ eqiupment - it stands to reason they have more to gain.

My setup- the remaining speakers beyond front left/right are all SUPER EASY to drive, and the listening levels we like are ‘low’. (amp runs at -43dB for majority listening).
The Nait amp doing ‘AV Bypass’ is such a step up in sound quality it is better than/‘equivalent’ to significant upgrades elsewhere in the system.

All audio from the integrated surround receiver has been improved and the cost being relatively low, and upgrade/‘install time’ being easy and quick; it is a ‘no brainer’ for anyone wanting

MORE BASS
MORE CLARITY
MORE MUSICALITY
MORE SOUNDFIELD
BETTER IMAGING
and, as a bonus-
VASTLY IMPROVED CENTRE CHANNEL (assuming the ‘all in one box’ is being taxed, which is likely it will be… )

YMMV: ear training and ‘expectations’ is a large part of this
a fully modern system with matched ‘super easy to drive’ speakers may sound ‘alright’ in some instances…

Hoping this helps anyone ‘on the fence’ about future upgrades for their theatre room.
I’d highly recommend adding a power amp to do the duties of front left and right speakers; and the added boogie that Naim give is wonderful to experience in TV/games/movies and music videos etc.

Best audio upgrade for my family in awhile; was the reason we bought a Naim integrated (“AV BYPASS mode”), and was one of the easiest upgrades to a hifi rig I have done.
(took half an hour for me, not including rerunning ‘room re-eq’)

AV BYPASS for the win

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For the last 20 years or so, professional reviewers have always advised that good quality stereo amplifiers easily out perform hi-end AV amps for music. Similarly, they have also advised that good CD players/transports play CDs better than DVD players and Bluray Players.
Thats why I enhanced my Denon A1D AV Amp with a Supernait 2 in 2013 (and also then started to use AV Bypass for Front L & R main speakers) and then in 2014 added a CD Player for CDs rather than using my Bluray Player.
Music sound quality so much better and I think that approach also extended the life of the AV Amp that only failed on the Centre channel last year after almost 25 years of use.
I agree, AV Bypass is really great and still use it all the time in my main system for 5.1.

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As Moondrifter advocates; CD players do a better job (as dedicated units vs UHD/bluray and DVD etc).

a price ratio helps here, based on experience of testing a couple of gandfuls of players from varying vintages and formats.

eg a 3000$ DVD player had ~ 1000$ CD player sound (when using both as transports into a very high quality DAC).

The ratio on disc spinners was about a third the price… was the equivalent part.

Certain aspects of higher price point parts do net improvements that carry over to the ‘other formats’ playing in compatible modes… (eg a 780nm laser attempting to read a 650nm ‘grooved’ media).

Good players are built well around time of a format adoption, and likely include BOTH 650nm laser AND 780nm lasers as an example of what DVD players did when wanting to also be considered high quality CD players and be truly capable rather than just ‘compatible’.)

CD mechanisms left market decades ago, and many started using modified DVD mechanisms to carry on having CDplayers to sell…

having compared good mid tier and ‘better’ UHD players; a well built bluray player smashes UHD products for sound quality.

There are some great UHD players, sure; but most will use a gaming console or a 500$ (or less) UHD player that has very subpar sound quality (yes-even passing Atmos direct to AV processor via a dedicated ‘audio’ HDMI cable).

Having compared mid tier Bluray players vs higher tiered UHD players; UHD not being adopted by market well has led to NO innovation on the transports side.

worse; chip shortages meant a few decent designs had to rotate chips (no further effort given to chip inplementation when doing so due to ‘rush’).

I’ve ‘gone back’ to blurays as the TV can ‘upscale’ to UHD res and colour and the better audio is night and day difference.

of course to force UHD sales- Atmos/DTS X soundtracks are now only on the latest format. (a bit like hiw film grain became ‘all the rage’ when upscaling DVD players sold for same price against Blu-ray players consumers were hesitant to rebuy into… (film grain hurts upscaling quality badly).

We get pushed along to rebuy and rebuy, but, a little knowledge and a few tricks up sleeve can do wonders with less $.

(I do buy UHDs, but typically dual ‘Bluray&4K’ disc packages, and I no longer lament ‘going back to Bluray’ as they sound so much better due to better transport quality easily found from better built bluray players (higher price points etc))

Many swear by their Oppo BD player as a great CD player…

I personally like four seconds from tray close to music starting, so, stick with dedicated CD transports…
amazing how much better a dedicated part is vs ‘all in ones’; but an expensive all in one can do the work of a much cheaper setup… (or ‘get close enough’ that nobody cares).

Most would simply believe that digital is zeros and ones and a 30$ supermarket player can ‘do the job’.

disc compatible vs disc (highly) capable are not semantics.
we do get what we pay for…

reusing higher tiered equipment, from ‘yesteryear’, at bargain pricepoints is often a great pathway forward for those who are time rich/money poor and have champagne tastes on a beer budget…

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I find the biggest issue with using AV bypass is whether the speakers still attached to the AV amps are a match or not.

I have built many AV systems and without a doubt, even a low cost AV amp is preferable to using AV bypass into a high end system if the low cost AV amp is driving a full set of matched speakers. That is really the key in my experience. The solidarity of consistent panning without tonal differences. Without it, the most high end stereo in the world can make the AV experience just sound like Frankensystem.

So if you can afford the matching centre and rears that go with your main stereo speakers, that’s great. But after a certain level it becomes prohibitively expensive. For this reason, although I have a 282/SCdr/250dr driving PMC Twenty5.23 on hand in the living room, I decided to not use AV bypass and connect a fully matched set of speakers to my Denon AVC-6800H instead. Full ATMOS 7.2.4 speakers all from the same manufacturer.

I’ve done AV bypass in the past and it the point of failure was never the AV bypass or superior amp or even the superior speakers - it was simply the mismatch of speakers.

Regarding AV Bypass benefitting SQ from a processor; I find the boon/benefit from removing the heavy load of the main two speakers (besides centre channel of course) from the highly taxed 7-11 channels being provided; that the extra headroom given to 5-9 speakers because off board amp with equal power handles ‘some of the load’ a much more dynamic, much less anaemic system.
harshness or dryness goes and the speakers have a better chance of delivering their best .

having done so recently, the much better depth to the stage and ‘airyness’ felt like we had gone up a tier (or two) in quality.

sure -my speakers are big power drinkers if its available, so they’ve sxaled noticeably ‘up’, but the better inprovement really was in every other surround channel speaker.

dynamics galore and better transparency, and again, ‘air’.

interesting post. I just use a Chord DAC into a 202/200DR with Dynaudio speakers, Excite X16 for watching movies

Dialogue is crystal clear (and tonally almost the same as a cinema), bass is powerful and punch without a subwoofer (the Dynaudio goes down 40 HZ flat) and the soundstage from the 2 channels is expansive

I have compared this to very hi-end full surround systems (we are talking about Linn Klimax level with full 350 active speaker) which to some extent are considerably better because of dedicated surround and rears only and a nice punch subwoofer, but my home cinema system really does the job for me.

The reason is most of my enjoyment comes from watching YouTube music videos. And 2 channel is enough for that.

I have another room with a Yamaha AV DSP 757 into Kef 2005.2 eggs, and I don’t bother much, I just use it in 2.1 channels, the whole sound gets an upgrade with I use a Chord Mojo for 2 channel for watching movies.

That for me is more of an upgrade than using it in 5 channels.

That’s certainly valid though I think I’d prefer to keep all the speakers matched for AV and add a dedicated power amp for the front stereo channels if the AV amp needed the help. The consistency of panning across three identical front and 4 identical rears is really a striking difference over mixed speakers.

That said, my 6800H drives 11 4Ohm speakers very well and twin KEF subs that go down to 11Hz really stop anything running out of steam.

But I dare say, if extending my main stereo PMCs with a matching PMC centre and PMC rears had been fiscally viable (it wasn’t) then AV bypass would be a no brainer for the best experience.

For my family main living room it is not visually acceptable to other family members to have both a dedicated stereo system and a separate multi-speaker AV system in the same room (and possibly many others have this same issue) which is where AV Bypass is a very acceptable solution as it allows maximisation of the stereo system (my preference is stereo first by a long margin and AV secondary).
I appreciate that technically, perfectly matched AV speaker set ups will out perform AV Bypass Systems (all other things being equal quality/performance wise) but practically I dont think Im missing out very much sound quality wise while Im watching movies.
30 years or so ago the thinking was to match the front three speakers for optimum movie sound and the rears (at that time only 5.1 systems) were not so important to match. That thinking has probably changed now with technical progress beyond 5.1 systems, but thats what Ive still got and it still sounds very good/excellent for movies and also very importantly is still agreeable to the rest of the family members from the visual perspective.

weird that people keep making put like AV Bypass equals mismatching speakers and amps.

No,… and No.

Top tier sound amps are still taxed under load.
arguably ‘less’ perhaps if using small speakers that are sensitive and easy to drive.

most modern surround amps are built for 4ohm and 6ohms etc (allows quoting great watts numbers, and, 8ohm speakers aren’t typical of budget speaker packages etc…

but even in speaker packages, the main L and R speakers typically are hardest to drive, and an a dedicated amp to handle them frees up headroom.

matched speakers or mismatched and time alignned or frequency aligned reprocessing of the audio still works with AV Bypass mode.
Just using better capabiltiy amplification… (simply equals ‘better sound’.

only negative is price being split from main part, but, at upgrade time, power amp stays and a new processor can be put in place (ie HDMI 3/Atmos 2/DTS Z etc)…

buying new better ‘math’ (reprocessing) every few years when the tech upgrades almost makes sense.

rebuying amplifiers doesn’t.

spending some money into a nice 2channel power amp is logical/financial sence.

the improved audio is very wallet friendly, over a longer timeline…