Look into Music Hall Raven and Mambo. The Raven has a tuner built in and is 100 watts. The Mambo is tuner-less but has 50 watts of nice warm class A power. Both have awesome built in DAC's with upsampling and pre-amp outs for a sub. Just run your CD into the digital or audio inputs and you are set.
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I feel that the SB3 with flac is a decent source. I would look to an integrated with HT bypass. Take the SB3 straight through the integrated and you are good to go. Then when you are ready you can add a DAC.
A little over your budget but it does have HT bypass. A 3.5 would be pleanty. There are other's of course. Hopefully others will chime in with some ideas.
I think you need to consider how you will do bass management for both a 2.1 HT and a 2.1 music system -- share your sub with both systems.
One good solution is the NHT X2 filter http://nhthifi.com/2006/products/s/x2.html.
Regarding amps, I'm a big fan of ATI. http://www.ati-amp.com/ Take a look at the AT2000 series of balanced multichannel amps.
Elevick/Artizen65 thanks for pointing me towards integrated amps. Music Hall Mambo looks like a nice amp but it doesn't have HT bypass or pre outs from what I was able to gather. MF M5 looks like a great match to my needs although a bit more expansive than what I was looking to spend.
Bob_reynolds, I was thinking about bass management. I was going to configure my receiver to output bass to LR speakers, connect LR preamp out from receiver to the integrated amp HT bypass input and connect a preamp out from the amp to subwoofer. My SB3 would be connected to a line level input of the integrated amp. I would get sub signal from both sources however my LR speaker would be getting full bass signal (no crossover). Would it be harder (impossible?) to integrate subwoofer with main speakers? Is it always better to use crossover for monitor speakers?
X2 looks like an interesting product. To use it in my case I would need a separate preamp (with HT bypass) and separate power amp. It wouldn't help with bass management with integrated, right?
OK, I have just bought a Threshold S/200 Stasis amp here. I hope I made a right decision.
That puts me on a path to separate preamp. Can anybody recommend a preamp that will pair well with the Threshold (no more than $500 used)? It needs to have two preamp outputs and a HT bypass would be desirable. I also want to be able to control volume with a remote.
I think I have read somewhere here that Thresholds don't pair well with tube preamps. Is that true? Could you explain why?
Regarding Threshold amps and tube preamps:
I use an old threshold 4000 with a lector zoe tube amp and find the synergy just fine. If you want an inexpensive ss pre amp for your threshold s/200 try a forte 44. It was designed by Nelson Pass or his design team at forte and should match well with threshold ss amps. It is soley for 2 channel as I don't think it has HT bypass.
Sorry to be slow. If you are sticking with 2.1, it's really hard to call that theater. In my opinion, you really need an equal quality center channel speaker with a matching amp to your L&R speakers to get any quality listening. You will never get a good balance across the soundstage and will be adding extra electronics to the signal path.
I would push you to scrap the receiver and just go with a nice pre/pro and amp. With a good pre/pro you can add amps and speakers as you go. Something like and Anthem or Sunfire will have great DACs, nice bass control and will rival most 2 channel rigs while producing great theater results.
Elevick, I appreciate your advice. I'm going to try a dedicated 2ch preamp (it is already on its way), but I can see that I might eventually get to a setup with a good pre/pro instead. My HT is 4.1 (phantom center) so I don't worry about center integration. However I'm wondering about bass management/subwoofer; it is definitely easier with a pre/pro. The reason I've been resisting investing in a good pre/pro is that HT technology is such a moving target (new HD DTS/Dolby formats, HDMI, etc.). It is easier to swallow the frequent updates at the lower end (i.e. a receiver) than a pre/pro that is good enough to also serve as a quality 2ch.