When to Use Direct or Pure Direct Mode on your AV Receiver

I consider myself an Audio Enthusiast, and while some may prefer the term audiophile, I don’t. I have purchased the exact opposite gear of an audiophile: AV receiver vs. Pre-Amp/Amp, CD player vs. transport and DAC, and cheap speaker wire vs. bespoke. I feel confident that my system sounds as good, if not better than their systems. It would blow their minds that when I listen to my CDs or streaming music that I, gasp, don’t use Direct or Pure Direct Mode on my AV receiver. Oh, the humanity of it all! Are you confused by what these modes do? Read on, and I explain what those modes do and when to use them.

Editor’s Note: I suspect that Andrew is very correct about how good his system sounds. While the audiophile may have paid thousands more for each piece of gear in their system, Andrew has made an even better investment – room treatments. Audiophiles notoriously eschew room treatments in favor of upgrading their cables or other components. Even though Andrew’s system is likely many thousands of dollars less expensive than an audiophile’s, his focus on following the science to improve his room has led to much better results. Be like Andrew.

So What is Direct and Pure Direct Mode on Your AV Receiver

Ok, so depending on what model of AV receiver you have, you may encounter different names and slightly different functions. For example, I have heard these called Straight, Pure, Pure Direct, Direct, and even Reference. In all cases, your AV receiver will have modes turn off all the fancy processing, EQ, room correction, and bass management and pass the signal directly to your speakers unadulterated. You’ll see people online refer to these modes as passing the signal as the “artist intended.” Most often people will say that you should do this for music.

Now, if you are anything like me, you considered the room correction offered when you made your AV receiver buying purchase. You knew that there were different flavors of room correction and that you wanted a specific level (or version) because you considered it best. But now you are hearing that you should use Pure Direct or Direct Mode when listening to music. If you try it out it certainly sounds different. But is that better?

In my case, my Denon AVR-X3600H AV receiver has two modes, Direct and Pure Direct. In Direct, it turns off all of my processing. This includes my room correction and bass management. In Pure Direct, it does all that, AND it turns off all the processes that aren’t related to the sound, even the front display. This, they claim, ensures that nothing interferes with the sound and the reproduction of those golden tones.

Sounds like audio bliss, eh? Not so fast. Keep reading.

Pictured: A thing you want playing even for music

Stereo vs Direct

So, I am sure you are wondering, is there a difference between stereo and some form of “Direct” mode? Sure is! With stereo, you get full room correction, bass management, and all the built-in features of your AV receiver that optimize the sound for your space. With Direct and Pure Direct, you get none of that. And before you ask, Stereo Mode doesn’t up-mix or add any processing, aside from bass management (which sends the lowest notes to your subwoofers) and room correction (which EQs the sound for your room). Stereo mode is just that – your front left and right speakers only (and your subs if you have them). And trust me, you want that!

But Andrew, what about the artist’s intent? I hate to burst your bubble, but have you ever been to a recording studio? Most have a massive mixing board that transforms the raw output from the artist into something that we know is pleasing to most people. Ever been to a live concert? Kick drums don’t hit you in the chest like a sledgehammer. But the person mixing it makes sure it does by boosting it on the recording. On top of that, the artist has no idea what type of room you are listening in. Maybe they wanted cozy and intimate, but you have a set of big ole horn tweeters in a reflective space.

If you want artists’ intent, invite them to your house with a guitar and have them play live right in front of you – Pure Direct Mode from their guitar to your ears.

THIS is artist’s intent!

So When Should I Use Direct or Pure Direct Mode?

The simple answer is: Never. The more complicated answer is: Never! My Denon puts 105 watts (2 channels driven) per channel into my 90dB sensitive speakers. I sit eight feet away, using a fraction of that output. Putting my AV receiver into Direct or Pure Direct Mode doesn’t change the output or volume of those speakers. So turning off my AV receiver’s display or extra amps doesn’t change anything. And guess what? Those amps aren’t powered up and take away from anything unless they are needed.

Room correction compensates for any issues your room layout has and attempts to create a smooth and linear response. And your subwoofers? You want bass management engaged so that they get the lowest notes. Not only are they the best at reproducing them, but they are in the correct locations. Again, you want these features on. Don’t just trust me, try it out and trust your ears!

I legitimately have tried to find a scenario in which I would prefer to use Direct or Pure Direct over Stereo. The only time I have ever used Direct exclusively was in the ’90s when my Yammy had all these weird DSP modes attached to stereo, and I wanted to bypass them all. With modern AV receivers, this is no longer an issue. So today, I can’t think of a reason.

What About Interference?

The true audiophile will claim that any extra power being used by your AV receiver can corrupt the output by adding “noise” to the signal. They look at everything that your AV receiver can do (Bluetooth, video processing, DSP modes, etc.) and think, “Surely it can’t do that AND sound good?” Using Direct or Pure Direct Mode to turn all that off in their AV receiver gives them peace of mind that they are getting the best sound.

The reality is that there is little evidence that any of these extra features add any audible noise to playback. If it did, it would be…you know…audible. But they engage Pure Direct Mode on their AV receiver and say, “Hey! It sounds different! It’s doing something!” Yes, it is. It has disabled your bass management so your subwoofer(s) aren’t playing. It has turned off your room correction so there is no EQ applied. Your speakers are now running full range when they almost certainly aren’t. Yes, it sounds different. But different isn’t necessarily better. And better is what we are going for here.

Our Take

I think it’s pretty apparent that I don’t believe that using Direct, Pure Direct (or whatever Mode you call it) on your AV receiver is a good idea. You are taking all of the technology in your receiver and turning it off. While I agree that some of those DSP modes that add reverb or other effects are pure garbage, listening to your music in stereo, with room correction and bass management turned on, is a good thing. But as in most things related to audio, sound and sound preferences are wholly subjective. So let your ears be the best judge if you think Direct is for you. It is just important to know what these modes are doing so that you can make an informed decision.

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