Pure Direct mode Surround Receivers

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 125 watts 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.


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

  1. jim

    I agree 100 percent . I have good ears for sound,good speakers ,good subwoofer and after appreciating what a good subwoofer can do to enhance the music ,pure direct takes it all away. Music without enough bass sounds very bland, Hence many bands have bass players for that very reason. I find it amazing that anyone likes pure direct . Nice to realize someone else feels the same 🙂

  2. Jim Grove

    And just to add another, I also agree. My AV amp was calibrated as soon as it was wired up in its spot with each channel. Direct and Pure Direct sound horrible in comparison to correct room EQ. Really lifeless, muddy and dull. Stereo with Room EQ is much livelier and cleaner.

  3. Max

    Nonsense from an internet expert. The single most important use case for Pure Direct is for bypassing the receiver’s DAC. I started using an external ESS Sabre 9038 based dac to bypass my aging receiver’s dac and the difference in sound quality is night and day (to my ears). Pure Direct means your analog signal will not be re-digitized for various DSP transforms and converted back to analog using the *receiver’s* inferior DAC. Thus the signal is pure….and direct (from your external DAC).

    • Andrew Thomas

      Generally for movie content, you want the correct sound mode applied, and you also want your room correction and bass management on as well. I have yet to find a scenario when I don’t want my AV receiver applying room correction and bass management for ALL my content.

  4. Carlton

    I am a recording engineer by profession and agree this is wholly subjective, but I have a pair of B&W 600 S2 bookshelfs that act as my L-R in my home theater. I am listening to some indie R&B music in the room right now in Pure mode on purpose. These speakers sound great. I never get a chance to hear them by themselves in other modes. Yeah, I listen to music in other modes to take advantage of my sub and surrounds and center, but when you need something “pure” and simple and “direct”, this mode works well. I selected these B&W for my L-R specifically for these times, and I am not missing all the “Michael Bay” type of enhancements that come with the other modes.

    • Andrew Thomas

      I am with you, almost everything we do in audio is subjective. As a recording engineer, you, more than anyone, would realize how much we manipulate recordings to get the perfect mix that appeals to most.

      What I hope comes across in my article is this belief that THE ONLY WAY to enjoy music is with no processing at all. Sure, we can still make it to the moon without a supercomputer, but I think we all can agree that it’s easier with it.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the thoughtful reply!

  5. Sergei

    No, it’s not. The audiophile value of the DACs is greatly exaggerated. In this case, different DACs do not save the situation, and the DSP of the receivers does not spoil anything. As the author of the article correctly noted, to listen in Pure direct you need a special room, preferably measured by an acoustic engineer and a high sound volume. We tried different DACs based on Saber 9038, Verita AKM 4490, CS and compared with the DSP-DAC in the pioneer receiver. All of them sounded good with certain minor differences and did not audibly outperform the receiver’s DAC. They all sounded good in stereo mode, but in pure direct mode they sounded as unsatisfactory as the receiver’s DAC, you will always feel the lack of bass and treble. It’s not about the DAC. Also it depends on the source, for example CD Genesis “Trick of the tail” sounds good in pure direct on all DACs, but Helloween «My god given right» 2015 with high RD compression sounds bad. I thought that my Pioneer receiver is a bullshit and went to the audio store to test my hypothesis on the cool equipment in the store. What was my surprise when on advanced systems in pure direct Genesis sounded good everywhere, and Helloween – bad, deaf and lifeless. So, the main criterion is your ears, have fun with music.

    • Andrew Thomas

      Hi Sergei, you and I have very similar experiences. I went down the rabbit hole and quickly realized how much money I wasted for marginal (or no) change to my sound. I now focus on quality pieces that will complete my system and last me a very long time. Thanks for the feedback!

  6. Clive

    I have a Sony AV and Pure Direct is the ONLY mode i have found that really enhances the dialog and suppresses the background noise and music significantly, which is what i need desperately.

  7. David Blair

    How can I be sure that any Direct or Pure modes are disabled on my Denon 1600H? What is the auto setting as a choice with these settings?

    • Andrew Thomas

      Hi David,

      The good news is that it’s usually off by default and you have to hit the direct button to put it into that mode. I believe if you hit the Direct button on your Denon remote 3x it puts it into auto mode which bypasses pure direct.

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