Separates, Wall Color, HTIB

The Perennial Question
Would it be better with a thin budget to buy an AVR rather than separates? I was thinking about getting Denon's flagship AVR-5308CI receiver, but there are separates from Integra, Anthem, Marantz, and Denon that all seem to have similar features but are somewhat lower in price. What would be a good solution?


You're considering the AVR-5308CI on a thin budget? That thing lists for $5200! I wish my budget was that thin.

The AVR-versus-separates debate has been raging for as long as there have been AVRs and separates, and I doubt I'll resolve it here. AVRs are more convenient because they integrate a preamp/processor, power amp, and radio tuner in one box, while separates are more flexible because you can mix and match components to optimize each function as well as repair or update individual components without replacing the entire system.

In the most general terms, AVRs tend to be less expensive than comparable separates, but the recent spate of über-receivers in the $5000+ range belie that common wisdom. Of course, AVRs can be found in much lower price strata than any separates, and separates can be found in much higher strata than any AVR. For example, the Denon AVP-A1HDCI/POA-A1HDCI pair lists for $15,000, more than twice as much as the most expensive AVR I've ever seen (the Pioneer Elite SC-09TX, $7000).

Then there are those who say that separates are more likely to sound better because the pre/pro, power amp, and radio tuner are in separate boxes. This results in less electrical interference between them and allows the manufacturer to devote more resources to each one without having to compromise in order to fit everything in one box.

Michael Fremer, the guy who reviewed the Denon AVR-5308CI for Home Theater and an audiophile's audiophile, raved about it. On the other hand, Kim Wilson reviewed the Marantz AV8003/MM8003 pre/pro and power amp combo for Ultimate AV, which lists for about the same as the Denon ($5000 for the pair vs. $5200 for the AVR), and she raved about them.

Only you can decide which approach is better for your situation. Sonically and visually, I'm sure you won't be disappointed either way if you're in this price range.

Black Hole
I have a basement theater room with an InFocus 7205 front projector. No light infiltration at all, but the walls are egg-shell white. What would be a better color for the walls to improve picture quality?


I'm so glad you are thinking of changing the wall color! White is the worst possible color in a home theater, especially with a front projector, because it reflects so much light back into the room—and into your eyes—that the picture tends to look washed out. The best color is called Munsell gray, which has no hue component (red, green, or blue) at all. It can be made in various shades of gray from white to black—the darker the better in a home theater.

You can buy a chip book called the Neutral Value Scale here (get the matte-finish edition), which any paint store can use to mix the desired color. But beware—the book costs over $50! Be sure to use a flat-finish paint, not gloss or semi-gloss, to further minimize reflections. Also, don't forget the ceiling, and put a neutral dark-gray or black carpet in the room.

The video-testing studio of Home Theater and Ultimate AV as well as my personal home theater are painted in a shade of Munsell gray that reflects only 9 percent of the incident light, which is very dark. I decided not to paint them pure black because I thought that would be too oppressive, and it would probably show any nicks and scratches more than dark gray. Both spaces are completely light-sealed, and when you turn out the lights, they are black holes, which is exactly what you want in a theater.

Of course, this color has a very low WAF (wife-acceptance factor). When my wife and I were setting up our house, she agreed to give me control over the theater and my office, and she got to decorate the rest of the house, which worked out just fine for domestic tranquility.

HTIB, Hold the Speakers
I'm trying to put my home theater together. I just purchased a new LCD TV, and I already have a set of surround speakers. I have DirecTV, and I'm trying to find a new DVD player with an audio decoder to hook it all up. But it seems that to get a DVD player with audio decoder, I must purchase it with speakers. Where can I find a DVD player with audio decoder so I can use the speakers I already have?

Earl Salyer

If I understand your question correctly, you want a DVD player with an integrated A/V receiver, which decodes the audio and powers the speakers—in other words, a home theater in a box without the speakers. I don't know of any such products; perhaps our readers do...

My best advice is to get a DVD player—or, better yet, a Blu-ray player, which can also play DVDs—and a separate A/V receiver. I don't know what your budget is, but the combined cost for both can be under $1000 or well over $1000, depending on the models you look at. These two components will complete your system nicely. Just be sure to get a receiver with HDMI inputs to use with the new player and the DirecTV box (if it has an HDMI output).

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to

Jeffrey's picture

NAD makes a few DVD/CD receivers ranging from $500 for the L 73 to $1,800 for the VISO five. I think Arcam also makes a Solo Movie 5.1 DVD receiver.

Saran's picture

Dear Scott,If I had USD5,000 to burn on either 1) An integrated receiver or 2) A seperate pre/pro and seperate power amp to drive a 7.1 channel Home Theatre set up, which units out there (brand and model) would you buy, considering that I will have a dedicated home cinema room built, measuring 6.9 metres by 5.5 metres?Many thanks. RgdsSaran

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Excellent suggestion, thanks Jeffrey! This is exactly what I want to happen in this blog—reader suggestions of things I don't know about. I'm more familiar with the video market than audio, so I don't know as much about audio products. And I really appreciate learning from our readers!Saran, I'd probably go with separates—I tend to believe that separating the pre/pro and power amp can lead to improved performance because fewer design compromises need be made if they're not in the same box. As for specific models, I'll have to get back to you on that after I do a little research. Or perhaps another reader has a suggestion...or maybe someone thinks the receiver route is better at the $5000 level...

Harold's picture

I'd suggest separates at any price range - best for upward improvements and keeping up with technology.