Yaqin (or similar)Class A EL34 or KT88 Tube integrated amp with outboard DAC(Peachtree Audio DACiTx).An entry level tube integrated will outperform any SS amp in the same price range.Better imaging & soundstaging as well as more tonal color.Tubes will also tame the tendency toward stridency the metal woofers & tweeter can be prone to.
You said it best...Ditch the receiver, get an integrated amplifier.
I can't speak to any of those particular amps, but it's important to audition them, possibly at a Best Buy Magnolia.
For a well respected integrated w/ DAC, there is the Peachtree Audio Nova. It's more than your budget, so you'd have to look used.
Emotiva just released a new line of products called Emersa. Among those offerings lies a 100 watts/ch. integrated amp with the inputs you seek, the EPI-1 - $799. It looks like Dirac Live room correction is part of the package. Dirac is a top of the line room correction system that will improve the sound quality of almost every room in which the system is placed.
You have very nice speakers but I doubt that the entry level Elite AVR you have has the stones to properly drive them. Isn’t it a shame that the very AVR’s that need pre-outs the most, entry level ones, don’t have them.
Unless you absolutely want surround sound, your Option #1 is not an option at all. Even a high powered AVR will not deliver the performance needed for quality reproduction of music.
So your Option #2 is the best one. Even an integrated amp at the prices of those models you site, $500-$700, will smoke a flagship AVR costing $2000 plus when it comes to 2 channel stereo and overall audio quality.
thanks, I want to keep it below $1000. NAD is nice but it doesn't have digital inputs and gets pricey.
what are your thoughts about Cambridge Audi CX-A80