Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Fully Functional

The problem with building a really tricked out sound system is that you eventually run out of inputs on your amp. Now, one can either get a more elaborate amp, which would be obnoxiously expensive, or one finds alternative methods of getting everything through the pipes available.

My system is particularly complex. I have to somehow manage to accommodate a great many items: a phonograph, tape deck, VCR, laserdisc player, a DVD/SACD 5 disc changer, a DVD-Audio player and the high def combo player. Some of these are pretty straightforward; the phonograph and the tape deck obviously have dedicated inputs on the amp, and there is really no problem finding places for the VCR and laserdisc player.

The issue comes up with the high def stuff; I need to use the 5.1 analog connections for the SACD and DVD-Audio signals, and I do for many of the higher quality signals on HD-DVD or Blu-ray. Before I got the high def player, it was pretty straightforward, the SACD player went into multi-channel 1 and the DVD-Audio player went into multi-channel 2; the high def player forced me to disconnect any one of these at a time.

But it's even more complicated than that. Some signals are just better off decoded in the amp, so it pays to have a digital connection, and some DVD-Audio and SACD discs are encoded in stereo, and playing that signal through the multi-channel inputs means that I don't get the subwoofer. So that means that in addition to the 5.1 connections I have to make, I also want to make one digital and one standard stereo connection so that I can have as many options as possible during playback.

Worse, a cursory search for 5.1 switching units reveals some obnoxious prices! All of them are now HDMI equipped, something which I do not require for the SACD or DVD-Audio players, but that is what is boosting the price on them. I found a much more elegant solution: a component video switcher. Such items, now being old school technology, are fairly easy to get ahold of for not terribly much money, and they do exactly what I need them to do, as they have six RCA jacks for each input. Furthermore, I had a video switcher from way, way back which had one video and two audio jacks, so I was able to use that as a switcher for the analog stereo signals from the SACD and DVD-Audio players, as well as the coax; these are set up to all go to the same input setting on the amp that can be toggled via the digital/analog input selector there.

So... now I can play anything in my collection again for the first time in a while. Between that and how the collection itself has finally been marshaled into order is very gratifying. I even have connected the rear back connections of the high def player to the amp, even though I have not yet figured out what I'm doing about the rear back speakers (to date I know of only one Blu-ray disc that is actually in 7.1, it's 3:10 to Yuma, and I don't own that one yet). I suppose I could mount them on the ceiling, but I want to see if there are any other options first (the current configuration of the speakers would be significantly improved with the rear back speakers being reinstated).

The only exception I made was the RF demodulator on the laserdisc player, which I didn't bother to hook up. This converted the Dolby AC-3 signal that was encoded on the right analog channel of a Dolby AC-3 laserdisc into the standard Dolby Digital signal currently in use. Technically I still could hook this up, but to be honest there are now very few titles on laser that I'll watch that have AC-3 tracks. Honestly, the laserdisc player tends to get more use now playing commentaries and special features than it does proper films, and the meager 364 kb/s bit rate on those laserdisc 5.1 tracks usually can't hold a candle to the power available in Dolby Surround on the digital tracks.

One of the best things about the high def player is that they can have soundtracks that are either compressed losslessly or are just uncompressed. If there was one area that I felt DVDs never really managed to live up to their hype, it was the sound. While 5.1 was often great for dimension, it was also hobbled by the fact that it had to be compressed to fit on the disc, and when you're graduating from laserdiscs, it was something of a step backward. The high def discs often sport soundtracks that have all of the depth and richness that a laserdiscs do, but also the additional dimension that a full 5.1 soundfield offers. At last, the movies sound like what they should sound like!

Tags: audio
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