Experiment: High End DAC vs. Pre/Pro in Home Theater

It can easily be argued that Harbeth speakers deliver the very best voice reproduction when compared to competitors at similar and often higher price points. Of course this should come as no surprise since from its inception, the BBC incorporated this bent into its design for that very purpose. This got me to wondering… how would they perform in a home theater application since voice is the most critical aspect of home theater?

Since 80% of home theater audio is experienced through the front, right, and center speakers, my first experiment was to turn off the surrounds and center, focusing only on a 2.1 setup on a Marantz AV8805 13.2 channel Pre/Pro. With the Harbeth P3ESR Anniversary speakers, the results were nothing short of stunning, providing the highest voice clarity that I’ve ever experienced in my home—even without a center speaker. Never once did I ever have to rewind a video in order to understand what was being said, and the vocal imaging was so good that it came off like pure magic. In the movie Tombstone (1993), When Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russel) yelled, “Hell’s coming with me. You hear me! Hell’s coming with me!” His voice was right there in front of me, natural and full of texture.

Then I began to wonder again… would using a high end two-channel DAC like the Bricasti M1SE bring even more sonic nirvana to my home theater? Of course I had to find out!

With the Harbeth P3ESR Anniversary speakers, the results were nothing short of stunning, providing the highest voice clarity that I’ve ever experienced in my home—even without a center speaker.

While not exactly apples to apples since the Bricasti doesn’t have the capability to send low frequency effects (LFE) to my REL subwoofer like the Marantz does, it can still be setup as a 2+1 system using the REL Neutrik cable, which simply piggy backs onto the amplifier’s speaker outputs and measure pulse. Bass would still be there, it would just be presented as more of an extension of the mains.

The Marantz walked away easily from the Bricasti in this experiment. In fact, the performance was so pronounced that while I often found myself rewinding video in order to understand what was being said when using the Bricasti, with the Marantz that never happened. Further, Marantz’ Audyssey brings the added benefit of room correction, by yielding the optimal sound based on my preferred sitting position.

While I found these results surprising at first, it quickly began to make sense: The Marantz is built around voice reproduction in a home theater. And the Bricasti… at over twice the price and less than ten percent of the features… is built around reproducing a complete music soundstage. And yet as expected, the Bricasti smokes the Marantz when it comes to two-channel music listening, which it was made to do.

The Music is the Trophy

Videos:

Tombstone (1993)

Equipment:

DAC: Bricasti M1SE
Pre/Pro: Marantz AV8805
Integrated Amplifier: Belles Aria
Speakers: Harbeth P3ESR Anniversary
Cables: Analysis Plus Oval 9 & Solo Crystal