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just an update on where I've temporarily landed.
A local guy was selling a Rotel RSP-960AX surround processor/preamp on craigslist, so I bought it for $50. I hooked it up to the Rotel power amp and the combination clearly outshines the old Denon receiver I have. Much more clarity and bass response out of my Boston speakers.
Next step: finish my DIY speaker project, then possibly buy a used cd player instead of playing cds on my sony dvd carosel.
Meanwhile, I'll enjoy this very budget setup and slowly shop for a dedicated 2 channel preamp
thanks everyone for advice and brand suggestions. Long term, I'm looking at: rotel, naim, creek, acurus and some tube pres. No rush now that I have a superior system to my current one.
here's a quick update on where I landed:
-- I went with a GR Research DIY kit and I've had it playing for a week now. I'm guessing I've put 30 hours on it so far, so its on the way to being burned in. I put $365 into these speakers and I'm blown away by how great they sound. When they're fully burned in, I'll take them to the paradigm and B&W dealer to see how they compare to the Studio and CM series, respectively.
-- I traded out the budget RSP960ax processor for a budget RSP980 unit by rotel. Big improvement in bass, clarity and dynamics. The bass is MUCH better, but now the whole system leans toward being too bright. Still for the money, I can't beat this sound improvement. I suspect "down the road" I'll try a tube pre to see if that serves what I'm after.
-- currently my interconnects and speaker wire are home depot quality. I'm researching better connections. Apparently this is a hot topic, but in keeping with my budget ways, a friend of mine runs a commercial AV company (church and business installs) and I can get cable at cost through him.
thanks everyone for all your help and advice. in a short time, with very little money out, I've gone from a denon receiver through Boston bookshelves to Rotel separates through a high end DIY kit. Once I sell all the leftover stuff, I'll barely be out $200. I'm absolutely thrilled with the quality improvement so far.