Recreating Le Diatope at home
November 9, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Multi-channel audio for music, not movies. Please help me listen to multi-channel mixes of classic avant garde electronic music like Xenakis and Subotnick which come in 24-bit and DTS / Dolby 5.1. I am completely ignorant of "home theatre" surround sound. I would probably be pleased to own a budget Blu-ray player or maybe something more pricy that "does it all" and produces good quality Red Book CD audio as well. I have also read about Dolby Headphone. I am in the U.S.

I would like to listen to Mode Records DVDs like this and get an experience that's comparable to a modest separates-based CD system, but in, well, multiple channels.

I know that this kind of discussion often boils down to the budget expectations of the asker, so: I'm kind of a sub-audiophile "better-reviewed budget/mid-price" kind of audio consumer. I won't ever be spending thousands on a system until I'm less itinerant.

Let's assume I have no speaker/amp setup now because my setup is currently monitors and dump power amp, and I don't want to use that unless I have to.

I've always been a low-end DVD video consumer -- much less concerned about that than about sound. $50 region-free player kind of person. However, I'm interested in upgrading to a Blu-ray player, again not being too picky about video quality, and notice that these players can have DTS / Dolby 5.1 components built in. It seems like a plausible starting point for listening to DVD Audio; maybe something like the LG BD57 or Panasonic DMP-BD85K? Unfortunately DVD/Blu-ray reviews don't seem to spend much time talking about audio quality from a music-listening perspective.

But where to go from there? Amplifier/receiver and a speaker system? Analogue audio from the player to the amp or digital? Let's say my budget is approximately $1000 (could go higher if it gets me into a new class of capabilities) and my instincts are to prioritize the core feature of stereo audio (for CD and vinyl) above all, but with an eye on multi-channel playback for those terribly serious multi-channel DVD Audio moments. Also, my amplifier needs include being able to wire up multiple analogue components (turntable via outboard preamp, cassette deck, etc.). I am an apartment dweller so I want reasonable clarity at low volumes and I am not interested in earth-shaking bass.

Also, I have read a little elsewhere about Dolby Headphone. This could be worth a crack on a budget and would help me be less antisocial. There seems to be a tension here between "critical listening" and the fact that it's a software simulation of a 5.1 speaker setup. Still, a small unit for this would be great but it seems like they are fairly hard to come by and maybe more "gaming" oriented, e.g. the Astro Mixamp. (I have an Apogee Duet DAC so I could just about see myself doing something with a cobbled together HTPC though the Duet is maybe a challenge as Mac-centric FireWire device.) I think it must be obvious that I am a bit confused about my options for headphone listening.

Thanks for listening to my existential problems. Naturally this could be asked on A/V forums but I would like to avoid the ideological stuff.
posted by galaksit to Technology (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: my setup is currently monitors and dump power amp

DUMB power amp.
posted by galaksit at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I would recommend the Oppo BDP-83 as a starting point for multichannel audio, supports Blu-ray, SACD and DVD-A. A Marantz or Denon receiver for the more musical end of the AVR.

Also, look at the Blu-ray Tier lists on AVSforum for Audio and the surround music formats subforum for better recommendations.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:51 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: It depends on your budget and what you want to listen to now and in the future. If you're only interested in Dolby Digital/DTS-encoded mixes, the best budget option would be to get a cheapo DVD/Blu-Ray player and simply connect it to your receiver with an optical cable (often called "Toslink" or "S/PDIF"), and the receiver will do all the lifting of decoding and running the D/A conversion on the DD/DTS stream. Just about any surround sound receiver made in the last ten years should be able to do this. Heck, you could even source the audio from your PC, if you get a sound card with digital output (although in my experience this requires a good bit of fussing around with software).

However, if you're interested in Super Audio CD or multichannel DVD-Audio (the uncompressed kind), you'll want a high-quality player, since those formats won't transfer via S/PDIF.
posted by neckro23 at 2:06 PM on November 9, 2010

Response by poster: I am interested in DVD-Audio. E.g. for this release which has a DVD-Audio mix in addition to the Dolby Digital/DTS mixes. Thanks for the clarification. I figure if I am going to spend any money on this I don't want to lock myself out of an emerging standard.

The Oppos do look like nice players. I see that it's probably worth waiting for the imminent launch of the BDP-93 as the BDP-8x series was recently discontinued and the prices of remaining units look artificially high.

posted by galaksit at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2010

Response by poster: So, I haven't got a lot further with this -- but I did pick up the Oppo BDP-93.

For anyone interested in the same problem, I am also now looking at Dolby Headphone as a way to do this without hammering the apartment below. The reviews of this technology are mixed, but it sounds good enough for me.
posted by galaksit at 11:30 AM on January 14, 2011

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