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You said surround isn't your cup of tea BUT your looking at Multi Channel Surround Receivers?Do you listen to a lot of FM Radio?If not you want to look at a 2 channel Integrated Amplifier...How big is your listening room?BIG speakers in a small room no good & vice versa..How are the acoustics?Lots of hard reflective surfaces will cause a brittle sound,heavy carpet with drapes & overstuffed furniture will sound like the music is in mud...
Dude, you've barely scratched the surface and you clearly have the open mind to appreciate the differences. PLEASE go to a few high end shops and listen to their 2 channel audio systems before you buy. I mean the stores that sell mostly brands that the general public never heard of. Most of them have more modestly priced gear like the the Anthem you enjoyed, that will open your eyes and ears.
Long ago I learned that I wasted about $30k on a big home theater rig that would give me barely any more enjoyment than a bluetooth box speaker since I'm watching football, comedy, news, etc. Invest the bucks in the 2 channel audio for your music, that's where nirvana lies for many....Just my take, Cheers,
Listen to all the great advice given above. You clearly have the ears to be a completely sick audiophile like the rest of us here. You appreciate things a lot of people either don't hear or don't care about. You are absolutely correct that Anthem is indeed a big step above the more mainstream brands. Wait until you hear what truly good dedicated stereo components can do.
If your priority is stereo and you can sit in or near the sweet spot for movies, I think you go with a quality stereo integrated amp and a 2.1 system. If HT is more important and/or you frequently have people sitting off axis during movies, you might need that center channel.
What most people will tell you here is to find the speakers that really do it for you first. Once you know that it will dictate how much power they need and how much you'll need to spend on an amp or AVR. Not sure why you're not into rear speakers. IME, when decently set up the rear surrounds GREATLY enhance the movie experience. Maybe you can even use two or three of your current "box" speakers for rear surrounds and upgrade the front two or three speakers. But, by all means go to some higher-end shops to hear what's possible with good gear in a well set-up system. The good news is that there's so much good budget and used gear available these days that you can get very, very good sound on a modest budget. Tell us your priorities and you'll get lots of great help here.