Upgrading my Home Theater to 4k, Part 2

Now with the Projector chosen (Epson EH-TW9400) it was time to find some 4k sources and a way of switching the signal between these.

I had a Panasonic Blu Ray already, a DMP-BDT460, that I have been very satisfied with. I have quite some Blu Ray discs, and I have found that especially the sound available on discs are much better than what has been available on streaming services, like Netflix, Viaplay, HBO and Disney+. The streaming services have been concentrating on delivering a better picture quality, and many people have really good and big flat screens today, with very high contrast and high resolution og 4k or even higher.

Most people do not own a Home Theater, with capable surround speakers, normally the really good screen is parried with a smallish sound-bar and a small subwoofer if lucky! Therefore high bitrate, multi channel sound has not been and still is not of a high concern. Therefore I still whish to be able to play discs in my setup, and this including 4k UHD Blu Ray disks.

In order not to break the bank I decided to go with an upgraded Panasonic player, namely the DP-UB820.

The player is the best in the Panasonic range (only surpassed by the much more expensive DP-UB9000 which is both a video product and a high end CD player). I chose the DP-UB820 over the cheaper DP-UB450 due to the build in features for optimizing the picture, like the HDR Optimizer. It comes with a 7.1 output, which I think I’ll never come to use as I’m going for a full Atmos setup including height channels.

The Panasonic has some streaming capabilities, not least for Netfix for which it has a separate button on the remote control. But in the area of streaming development goes fast and you need a product that is evolved along side. A cheap and very good option is the Google “Chromecast with Google TV” in the 4k version. It boasts 4k in 60fps (Frame per second), Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG …. and it supports all common streaming services. And then its really cheap. What’s not to like.

But now starts the troubles. In al honesty I do not really have the time to setup height speakers (firstly developing these as I want to go the DIY way on this), so I had hoped to reuse my trusted and beloved Yamaha RX-V3800 Receiver. It was once one of the higher tier products, with 7x140W, 7.1 DTS/Dolby, YAPO DSP and built like a tank weighing in at 17.4 kg! A real beast, but also a good sounding amp, with high quality components like 24 bit ADC/DAC section with -102 db/ -100 db THD+N delivered by PCN1804 and DSD1791 on all channels.

But, and that is a big BUT, it is only capable of switching HD signals on the video section! Damn. So no 4k possibility here. I of course tried it out, just to see if it was more of a, we do not guarantee 4k signal integrity, but it only said not supported!

So time for finding a new receiver as well. As I want to opportunity to upgrade further on the power amp side, not least with my own designed amps, I need pre-amp out on all channels. In my setup I have an additional power amp for the front, my own creation, a Class D amp of around 300W 8 ohm, and I want to further this, by building active speakers for the 3 front channels and maybe support the surround channels with higher power.

In addition I want to be able to go full Atmos with a 7.1.4 setup, adding 4 height channels.

In addition I do not really want to spend a fortune 🙂

Looking around I found 3 good options: Onkyo TX-RZ50, Marantz Cinema 50 and Denon AVR-X3800H. All having 7.1.4 capabilities (all needing an extra power amp for the last height speakers), all with pre-amp out on all channels, and all being in a price category not too high.

There are a lot of good reviews and comparisons out there of these 3 receivers, and it’s not easy to find out which is actually best. In all honesty I think there are more similarities between these products, than there is differences. So for me it actually came down to getting a really, really good offer on the Denon.

The new receiver weighs in at just 12.5 kg, compared to the old Yamaha at 17.4 kg! At the pictures above it is clear that it is also somewhat smaller. So what makes the overall 5 kg difference?

Well the power amplifier section no doubt. Ewen though the new Denon has 2 more channels, that is 2 more power amps, it still weighs lay less.

The Yamaha for sure have a larger transformer and it also have a larger heat sink to cool all the amps. The Denon uses 2 small fans in the bottom to force cool the amps. What does this mean? Well the Yamaha can probably deliver more power to the speakers, and will be able to drive more difficult and less sensitive speakers than the Denon. Will the Denon power amp sound worse? Not necessary, as long as it is not stressed, and overall the sound will be more determined by other factors like equalization possibilities and good sound formats like Atmos.

Would this have been much different with the Onkyo TX-RZ50 (14 kg, 9 x 120W, 8 Ohm) or the Marantz Cinema 50 (13.5 kg, 9 x 110W, 8 Ohm), against the Denon AVR-X3800H (12.5 kg, 9 x 105W, 8 Ohm) not really, but maybe a little. But I got the Denon at ½ the price of the Onkyo!

What surprises me the most, is that all these receivers, are still using old amplifier technology with big transformers and capacitors, and Class A/B amps which on a good day will have an efficiency of just over 50%, burning half of the energy up as heat, needing a lot of cooling in the form of large heat sinks and potentially noisy fans! SMPS (Switch Mode Power Supplies) and Class D amplifiers have been here for may years, boasting of efficiencies in the 90’s of percent! Companies will for sure tell you that this is because of the better sound. Reality is that it is still less expensive, and requires less change in development and production. Actually Pioneer used to make receivers with Class D amps, like the SC-57, but seem to have dropped it all together! Maybe again most people do not need as much power, and do not have a separate Home Teather room where they can unleash the same kind of sound pressure we are all familiar with in good cinemas (in cinemas you will easily encounter +105 db …. in a home setting a lot less).

What would be uber cool, and just to show what can be done today, take a look at the L’Acoustics LA7.16 boasting 16 x 1300 W in a box which is smaller than the Receivers her described, weighing only 15.8 kg …. and now you might say it is not able to deliver the power all at once … guess again, this is all channels driven, where the watt specifications for the receivers are 2 channels only.

L’Acoustics LA7.16 just for comparison! 16×1.3kW!!

Another good indicator is the specification says you need to provide it with 16A and 230V …. not so common in a domestic installation as it gives 6.4 kVA (Watt) (yes it is lees than 16X1300W, so yes it is no full power in all channels at once, but still a LOT …. and yes but yes it also cost a lot more. But scale this down. Do just say 9 x 300W … and we would be in for a real treat.

Reality is that a well developed amplifier does not add to the sound, only things like Valve amplifiers, will really have a different sound as they will add some distortion, which will be heard and perceived as a warmer sound. But as we will come to, the sound is really determined as the in room response, the frequency response in the actual room, for which there is a lot of options to optimize with the large amounts and possibilities of DSP (digital signal processing) capabilities in all these new receiver products, with the integration of systems like Audyssey and Dirac.

But what does matter, is the ability to deliver enough amount of clean power.

Testing it all and Conclusion

The video and picture is just stunning, both the Blu ray and Chrome Cast works flawless and is highly recommended. Here I’ll go a bit more into the sound, as a first impression, as it has become quite clear that it will take time to adjust the sound to gain the most out of the system.

Firstly the receiver, of course switches the 4k signals whihout a problem. It is actually capable of switching 8k signals, so there is a bit of room grow, though I don’t really see things going there. But who knows.

The receiver comes with a small microphone (fun fact, actually the exact same type my 15 year old Yamaha came with:

It also comes with a cardboard stand high enough to stand on the floor, but I opted to use a real microphone stand I have. Not really critical though.

I decided to go with the Audyssey room correction. Dirac might be the better option, but I find the license price highly overpriced. A license for Dirac Live with Bass Control Multi Subwoofer is 500 USD!! I you want Dirac, I would think the Onkyo Z50 is the better option as it comes with built in Dirac Live (but not Bass Control Multi Subwoofer). By the way Audyssey is used for correction in IMAX cinemas … maybe it speaks a bit for the quality.

Denon comes with built in automatic setup for MultEQ XT32, the newest generation of Audyssey room correction. Using the microphone and the microphone stand setting this up is quite straight forward using the build in guide that will be shown on the screen.

The setup goes through 8 measurement positions, and it of course takes a bit of time. Thereafter it calculates the correction needed for each speaker and applies this.

First listening of the result, I must say was quite disappointing, and I really considered whether to use it or not!! The sound becomes very clear, with distinct midrange and high frequency, but also very fatiguing. The Bass is not heavy at all and with movies the feeling of explosions, and just body of speech is rather missing. With music it just sounds quite awful!

Well we do not give up this easily 🙂 … and if you read my post on frequency response in another post here you have seen how important the target curve or in room frequency response is.

Reading a lot on the net and also watching a bunch of videos, it became clear that to get more control of the optimization process you need either the phone app or the PC app. I start with the iPhone App which is ca 25 USD. I’ll probably get the PC app a bit later on as it gives yet some more flexibility. But for now it’s just to get an acceptable sound asap.

The App goes through the same procedure of measurement with 8 positions. It communicates a lot with the receiver along the way and can be disturbed by incoming phone calls and messages, loosing the connection to the receiver. This is a bit annoying, because you’ll have to redo the measurements!

Using the iPhone App you get a number of options after the measurements. This is where it gets more interesting, as you now have some control over what target you want to apply. And the really great thing is that when you have made the measurements you can change the target curve as many times as you want without having to preform the process again, and the receiver even have 2 presets so you can have two different corrections to switch between. This i very handy in the process of finding the best option by listening to different movies, music etc. You could also have two different settings overall, one for Stereo Music and one for Movies.

First item just verifies that you have made the right setup and all speakers are working properly including that the phase is correct (you might have accidentally switched the plus and minus wires either on the amp or the speaker).

Room correction we’ll come back to in a minute.

Target Sound option actually gives you a choice of high frequency roll off. Which is the better or more correct? … I chose no 2 as it gives a bit more clarity, but you can still make alterations to this in the Curve editor section.

Midrange compensation adds the dip you see on the graph around 2 kHz. This is not unwise as it is also my own experience that this section is what makes the sound too sharp. Here you get ca 3 db “compensation”. Try it out and see what you think sounds best.

The curve editor is where it really gets down to business. In the top right corner you can chose for which speaker you are creating the curve or for.

You can set in a number of points with a finger, changing the increase or decrese in db and by shifting left or right, at which frequency.

Remembering the Harman House Curve, and Floyd E. Toole’s paper on sound preference, it has been shown that most people prefer a sloping frequency response, In Room steady state that is. What was found was the well behaving speakers, having near linear frequency response in and anechoic chamber will show a sloping frequency response in a normal room. At low frequencies the room will provide a “gain” of up to 10 db, and in the high frequency the sound tends to be both absorbed more and the speaker will normally also have less directionality and the reflections will therefore be less, and the resulting Power will therefore also be less.

What is also important to notice as the rather big difference between direct sound and direct + reflected sound (or steady state or power). What Audyssey and other systems seem to correct is the sound power and not the direct sound. Maybe an even better system should try to take care of both and find the right compromise!

Anyway I started out simply just placing an 10 db raise at 20 Hz.

Applying this to front, center and subs, made a whole world of improvement!

It is literally as from night to day change. The funny thing is that a bass light sound will be perceived as high pitched and sharp. It’s of course the overall balance which is not in place, but even with the higher frequencies played at the exact level, with and without the bass increase, the perception of fatigue is really pronounced.

I really wonder why Audyssey do not have this option in the menu; with or without bass increase?

If you do not have the APP you are not able to make this change, and the result will be just awful!

This is also what you read on different pages, people trying out the automatic correction and finding the sound to be way less than optimal …. no wonder why!!

With this first try, you are in business and the overall sound is really good. Happy days.

I will work more with the setting. I think the Bass raise should probably only start from somewhere around 200 to 400 Hz, And the treble seems a bit subdued, maybe exactly because of the balance in 200 – 2k where the compensation should be more like zero db.

In the Room Correction Result window you’ll be able to see the correction done. The green curve the average of the 8 position measurements (not sure it is just the mean, as some of the positions might carry more weight), and the red is the corrected curve.

It would of course be interesting to make a measurement with REW just to verify the results. I’ll do that later, but I have no doubt and no reason to think that the measurement is not correct.

So first really important Conclusion: Get The APP!

Secondly it now sounds really good with movies, but tweaking still needed. For Stereo music a lot of tweaking is needed. I’ll be back on this.

As for the Denon AVR-X3800H it is a rather powerful tool, but it takes time to master, as would any receiver of this kind.

The amount of DSP power is quite amazing and it will for sure be able to make less perfect speakers sound quite great. I had actually counted on creating a power amp for all channels including a DSP function so I could make all the necessary adjustments, but now it is all available in this one box … much smarter 🙂

If I should list a few pros and cons it would be:

– DSP Power
– Audyessy and Dirac Capability
– 4k / 8k video switching and upscaling
– Atmos 7.4.4 capable
– Pre out for all channels
– Overall sound
– Power capability (if actually shut down
once because it got hot!)

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