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Preamp, Amp Development Led By Full Spectrum of Trends

By Lindsey Adler August 29,2013




The latest generation of Anthem’s Statement D2v 3D and AVM 50v 3D have eight HDMI inputs and two parallel outputs, supporting 3D pass-through mode.
Hi-fi audio enthusiasts expect a multitude of options and capabilities for preamp and amps today, and there is a wide range of trends impacting how manufacturers look to keep up with demands.

“The functional requirements for preamps and power amps are undergoing rapid change while simultaneously posing the need to address signal sources that have been with us for decades,” said Bob Gassel, Anthem’s vice president of engineering and product development.

As signal sources in home audio have rapidly changed, seeing an influx in new sources, both digital and analog, as well as a trendy resurgence in vinyl, preamps and amps look to include USB, HDMI, optical, and coax connections, in addition to legacy source inputs. “Wireless connectivity has become important to a broad range of users,” Gassel added. “To have such flexibility in a single product is quite rare, but these are the contemporary expectations.”

For some consumers, the category may have been poised to become a relic of audiophile days of yore, but according to Kevin Knoll, president and founder of Knoll Systems, “Preamp and amplifier innovations are becoming more and more important as this category not only survives, but begins to prosper again.”

Knoll also emphasized the broader range of connectivity options that are necessary. “For example, HDMI audio needs to be converted to stereo 2.1, so wireless technologies like Chromecast, Apple TV, and others can be enjoyed from the stereo, rather than just in the home theater room,” he said.

On the digital connectivity front, studio master 24- bit downloads are generating the next generation of preamps and amps, according to Greg Stidsen, director, technology and product planning, NAD. “Direct digital amplifiers eliminate the traditional analog preamplifier and perform all control functions and amplification in the digital domain,” he said. “This radical new technology provides wider dynamic range with lower noise and distortion than traditional analog equivalents and precisely mirrors the modern recording end of the signal path.”

Remote management and programming requests from dealers have been on the uptick for AudioControl, Chris Kane, director of sales and marketing, noted. “This has resulted in strong demand for products that have IP ports and software that supports these functions,” he said.

Kane also has observed smaller form factors becoming more desirable for dealers and clients. “While clients request performance and strong power levels, they don’t always want to sacrifice large amounts of space for equipment, requiring integrators to get creative and choose products with smaller footprints.”

Demand for smaller footprints is a trend Russound’s Charlie Porritt has observed as well, with energy efficiency making a strong play too. “Eco-friendly, energy-efficient designs will continue to proliferate, with high power output, smaller footprints, and less weight,” he said. “Along with energy savings and ease of use, these designs support integration of audio and video with handheld devices, PCs, and other streaming content solutions, making it a very compelling product for consumers.”

Billy Wright, president, Cary Audio, also identified cosmetics as a major factor affecting preamp/amp design. "In addition, features that allow the products to access or be seen over the internet or home network are becoming critical because consumers want to control their products effortlessly.”

Integra director of sales Keith Haas further emphasized the need to do it all with preamps and amps. “They need to provide solutions for moving audio and video in multiple zones, either wired, or where possible, wirelessly, and offer access to popular internet radio apps,” he said. “Modern preamps must also provide a great user interface with easy integration to the control system of choice, be it an RS-232, IR, or IP-based remote, as well as the latest smartphone or tablet. All this is expected without sacrificing build quality or sonic performance in any way. Companion power amplifiers must be powerful, robust, and stable at low impedances. Ideally, they should have XLR inputs, and connections [for] seven or nine speakers [to] handle today’s surround codecs.”

Similar ideas were conveyed by Yamaha’s AV division general manager Bob Goedken, “Right now, we are seeing two main trends. There are more and better control options–including intuitive apps for a growing number of devices. There is also a need for more amplification flexibility, anywhere from 5.1 to 11.2 channels of theater playback, for the expanding needs of multi-zone systems.”

Ultimately, what dealers and their customers are looking to achieve with today’s preamps and amps in their sound systems is purely emotional, as Anthem’s Gassel articulated: “The joy in owning and using high-quality audio doesn’t come from rereading a features checklist, but rather, from those moments of high emotion our systems provide long after the purchase.”

Lindsey Adler is associate editor of Residential Systems, Systems Contractor News, and Healthcare AV.

Product Breakdown

Here’s a look at some of the latest offerings in the preamp/amp category

McIntosh C2500
The McIntosh C2500 has 15 inputs–including two dedicated phono (moving magnet and moving coil) and five digital–and six dual triode tubes. The digital inputs will decode music at up to 32bits and 192kHz for high-resolution audio playback. Tone controls may be assigned to individual sources as needed. Up to three stereo power amplifiers may be connected at one time; two of them can be switched on and off to simplify whole house audio distribution. The home theater pass through feature allows for integration into existing multi-channel theater systems. The stainless steel chassis shields the noise sensitive analog audio section from the power supply and control circuitry.

Knoll Q450
The Knoll Q450 controller amp has four stereo 50 watt per zone amplifiers with a multisource preamp controlled by keypads, RS232, or Ethernet. It has an Apple and Android app for control, and it was designed for mounting out of sight. Inputs can be local RCA type or with fully balanced input boards, for noise suppression (BIB) that can be up to 2,000 feet away from the Q450 and is connected by a single Cat- 5e wire. The BIB can be ordered with an internal Bluetooth receiver. The Q450 will have its debut at CEDIA EXPO in Denver.

Anthem Statement D2v and AVM 50v
The latest generation of Anthem’s Statement D2v 3D and AVM 50v 3D have eight HDMI inputs and two parallel outputs, supporting 3D pass-through mode, automatically switching to it upon sensing a 3D source. In pass-through mode, the output refresh rate is now automatically matched to the source’s frame refresh rate, useful for sources that output a mix between 24-, 50-, and 60Hz. A physical upgrade for existing owners of the Anthem preamplifier/ processors will also be available via a new dealer- installed mezzanine board, which replaces the two smaller video boards. A software update, downloaded from the Anthem website, will also be part of the upgrade package. The upgrade equips both processors with video processor bypass for 2D, useful for reference quality video content that does not require cleanup or scaling.

Yamaha Aventage CX-A5000 and MX-A5000
The Aventage CXA5000 11.2 channel AV preamplifier paired with the MX-A5000 11 channel power amplifier reproduces dynamics with power in a home theater experience. Among the features of the CX-A5000 and MX-A5000 are the preamp’s dual high performance ESS Technology SABRE32 Ultra DACs for accurate sound imaging. Yamaha’s proprietary Cinema DSP HD3 creates a 360-degree sound field when using front and rear presence speakers. A dedicated second zone graphic user interface makes it simple to select and play any HD video and all audio sources that are available in the main zone in a second room through the advanced HDMI zone switching feature.

Cary Audio SA- 200.2, SLP-05
The SA-200.2 is a solid-state twochannel power amplifier rated at 200 watts-per-channel into an 8-ohm load and 350 watts-per-channel into a 4-ohm load. The rear panel has XLR and RCA inputs and a remote turn on trigger. Its wide frequency bandwidth and low noise characteristics combine to reproduce subtle harmonic shadings of the music. The SLP-05 is a vacuum tube preamplifier featuring eight 6SN7 vacuum tubes and includes 2 balanced and 3 RCA stereo inputs, cinema bypass, tape monitor loop, and a built in vacuum tube head phone power amplifier section. It also consists of a matching external heavy-duty power supply with 5AR4 vacuum tube rectification, as well as front panel voltage and bias meters for the power supply.

NAD D 7050
The D 7050 direct digital network amplifier combines NAD’s direct digital technology with Apple’s AirPlay. In addition, the D 7050 can also stream any UPnP audio content on a home network. If no network is available, it can also stream directly from a smartphone or laptop using Bluetooth aptX. The user can also play from a wired connection from their computer or from a USB Drive. A premium quality headphone amplifier output is included with a high quality volume control.

NAD’s direct digital technology of the D 7050 performs all preamplifier functions in the digital domain, using software to control all aspects of performance. Digital is converted to analog by a passive two-pole reconstruction filter located at the speaker outputs. The D 7050 packs four times the amount of circuitry into a quarter the space of traditional analog amplifiers.

Russound CAA66
The CAA66 system includes simplified programming, audio playback adjustments, and expandability, for a more affordable choice in multiroom audio. Three keypad options are available for control. Extensive IR device codes and learning capabilities are built into the CAA66, making remote and keypad control of the system simpler. Russound has system kits that include all the necessary components for a CAA66 system. For additional cost savings, the kits include a CAA66 controller- amplifier, six keypads (KP6 or KPL), an SRC1 remote, and six 845.1 emitters. Other features include six sources and zones, internal IR library, RS-232, and switchable preamp outputs. The CA66 is linkable up to 36 zones.

AudioControl Director Model D4400
The Director Model D4400 drives sixteen channels of amplification that deliver 100 watts per channel. The D4400 features on-board digital signal processing, graphic and parametric equalization by zone, network monitoring, and programming and control. It allows individual channel and zone selection via standard TCIP, the ability to bridge the channels up to 200 watts per channel and operates stable into low impedances. The Director Model D4400 has the ability to reside on any network, allowing installers to control and monitor the operation and performance both on-site and remotely.

Integra DHC-60.5 and DTR-60.5
Integra’s mid-range THX certified AV preamp processor and AV receiver, the DHC-60.5 and DTR- 60.5, are the first Integra products to support HDBaseT. The HDBaseT port can be assigned for use in either the main zone or a second zone, while the HDMI output is used exclusively for the main zone. The DHC-60.5 7.2 channel network AV preamp processor is THX Ultra2 Plus certified and a companion to the DTA-70.1 THX Ultra2 certified amplifier. The DHC-60.5 also includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and full support for 4K video displays, using either the 4K pass-through feature or upscaling for conventional SD and HD video sources via a Marvel QDEO processor. There are connections for nine HDMI inputs and one output, plus HDBaseT, along with 7.2 multichannel balanced XLR pre-outs (with front-channel bi-amp capability) and two-channel balanced XLR audio inputs.