Once we have achieved a certain nadir with our HT system, and begin the process of enjoying our sound system, we then move to a state of enjoyment, which can last for years, or unfortunately, for those with a bit of pruritis ani (aka itchy backside), this state of contentment could last merely months or weeks.
The HT system could still sound fabulous, but we then start to consider the stereo performance and ponder if we can do better.
There are many solutions to this.
Firstly, we could begin building a dedicated stereo system from scratch. Separate speakers, amps, sources and the whole shebang. This approach requires deep pockets and more importantly space, which could be a premium in a small apartment.
Secondly, we could integrate things into our surround setup. This can be done in a few ways. Sharing the same front speakers is one way, which minimizes costs, and space utilization, and but the speaker placement for HT versus stereo can vary and those pieces of acoustic treatment can also alter the sound negatively. Usually in stereo, one has the option of switching off the auto-Eq or go to “Pure Direct” or similar modes on the AV amp.
For a step up, one can swop out the current AV amp for a more musically inclined one, but this option can be the most expensive way to do this, as the cost of the better processor with better music capabilities can be significantly more. You may also have to factor in the cost of better power amps in order to take advantage of the better processor. In addition don’t forget cable costs, as one will need interconnects between the processor and power amp.
You can save some money by only upgrading the processor and the amps that power the front two or three channels, as these are the main stars in music performance.
The third option is to use a stereo setup in between the HT processor and the front pair of speakers. You save on the speakers, and only upgrade the front channels.
One can either get a stereo pre-amp with HT BYPASS and then hook up a suitably music power amp which then powers the front channels, or buy an integrated amplifier with the same HT BYPASS function.
So the magical feature to look for will be this HT BYPASS. What is it?
Well normally inputs on an amp are variable in nature, which means the volume on these inputs are controlled by the volume control of the amp. The sound that comes out can be too soft or too loud causing distortion and even destroy the speakers.
A HT BYPASS input on the other hand, has a fixed level input, and the volume control on the amp is disabled. How loud the speaker is driven will be controlled by the AV processor.
This also means that after you swop in the new amp, you will need to re-do the auto-EQ for the best level matching.
Just ten years ago, finding an amp with this HT BYPASS would have been harder than looking for hen’s teeth. But now, even mid-priced integrated stereo amp will have this function. It goes by a variety of names, some use a switch for a regular analogue input, others have dedicated “Power Amp” inputs, but the function remains the same.
Do remember that for certain models, the amp can go very loud if the source is still playing when you switch in or out of the HT BYPASS mode, and this can be damaging for the speakers so do beware.
Some stereo amp even allow for more than one speaker to be hooked up and you can then use another pair of speakers for stereo performance, allowing you to keep one setup for HT and another to be powered by the same amp for music. These amps usually have options for “speaker A” and “speaker B”.
You can then hook up a music stereo source such as a dedicated CD player instead of using that Blu Ray player for music, or a DAC to improve the sound.
I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.