Extremely High-End "Pre-Pro" Surround Pre-Amp

By all standards, I have excellent amplification (VAC Renaissance Mk II Preamplifier & 300.1 Stereo Power Amp.)

I am in the process of integrating a 5-channel surround system, which uses my 2-channel rig for the main/front L & R, via the preamp's "theatre bypass."

Though I am adding a surround system, I estimate that 85% of my system's use will still be for 2-channel music listening.

My initial plan was to buy a modestly priced surrround processor, such as the Marantz AV-7005 and run the 2 main channels to the VAC pre.

From the music side, I've even considered upgarding my VAC pre to one of the newer models that came out within the past year.

However, before I go down this path, are there any truely "high-end" surround processor/pre-amps that I should consider, and consolidate into one (surround/pre) unit?

By this, I mean are there any that would handle the duties of surround processing AND perform as well or better than my current pre-amp for 2-channel music playback?

It would be nice to have one piece of gear that could work dual-purpose, and avoid essentially having 2 pre's, but I will NOT go this route if there is any compromise to the musical pleasure that I am acustommed to.

So, is there a truely high-end, MUSICAL surround processor out there?

As you probably figured out, I'm a fan of tubes. What are the chances of a tube unit that fits this bill?

Thanks gang.
The only 'high end' pre/pro that comes to mind would be from Linn. Not tubes, but if you like Linn stuff worth considering.

Most people don't bother integrating - given your stuff, I'd be inclined to go the receiver route, although you might want to consider a pretty good one, so that at least the centre has a running chance of integrating with your mains. At least a NAD T775Hd or similar.
Anthem Statement D2v should fit the bill.
Kal usually posts here and he may have even better suggestions, as the D2 has been around a while....
Hi, I'm not a home theater guy, but I saw something on the "Decware" website- an all tube multi channel preamp. You should at least go to the site and read about it and see if its something that you are looking for. Just a heads up.
Hi again, I forgot to mention the name of the preamp its the ZEN ULTRA, and it retails for $3000.00.
Their really aren't any tube based current pre/pro's, none that I know of that will accommodate HDMI switching and the new codecs of Blu-ray at least.

I have had almost all the upper end AV preamps except the Theta though have heard it many times. For my money the most open and musical are the Meridian 861 and the Krell Evo 707. That said I run the Classe' SSP-800 and an ARC 40th Anniversary in HT bypass for movies and it sounds sick. You won't get the tube sound you crave from a SS AV preamp so keep a hybrid system and the VAC pre if it does you well now.
I think Kennyt said it all.

Yea, to echo the consensus, I'd stick with the two-channel gear you like and then add on a cheaper HT processor or receiver to handle the bells and whistles for the extra channels on movies and such. You can spend as much as you like on the HT gear, and chase whatever level of fidelity you like, but there's no way that I am aware of to equal well considered, tubed, dedicated two-channel gear for stereo playback. If tubes make you go "ah," seems virtually certain that ditching them for a HT processor tasked to pull double-duty for stereo playback would leave you disappointed in the long run. The HT bypass loop is your friend, don't be afraid to use it -- one of the few times in life where you genuinely get to have your cake and eat it too.
might this fit the bill?

It is just a 5 channel amp/preamp. No processing.

According to its owners, the Krell 707 is only SSP with a 2 channel analog pre section that can compete with reference dedicated 2 channel pre's. However, it is crazy expensive and you are much better off keeping the VAC and buying one of very respectable SSPs for a third of the price of Krell that have been mentioned.

I am very happy with my Modwright 36.5 LS/PS, used with Theta in bypass mode. Additional benefit is it is a true bypass that works when switched off. Most tubes with bypass have unity gain and need to be turned on burning tubes and heating up the room while you watch a movie or TV.
"According to its owners, the Krell 707 is only SSP with a 2 channel analog pre section that can compete with reference dedicated 2 channel pre's. However, it is crazy expensive.........." and huge!

FWIW, after listening to 3 or 4 v. high end pre-amps, you can get different than the VAC Ren pre, but not much better. I agree, stick w the VAC for 2 ch and go bypass for HT. IMO, if you are using a SSP/HTR for movies alone, you do not need to go very high end. As recommended above, a good NAD or Arcam would be more than adequate, IMO. The sound adds to the experience but the visuals ARE the experience. Put your $ into the display and video source. YMMV.
This one is the most interesting to me:

The Tact is no doubt a very competent digital processor, as are a host of others mentioned (and not mentioned) on this forum.

However, for the "occasional multi channel" listener seeking to maintain reference 2 channel performance using analog sources, this box is not a good alternative to a 2 channel preamp with HT bypass and a reasonably priced "good enough" SSP.

In fact, the Tact probably digitizes its two channel sources, which is anathema to most two channel afficionados.
Another vote for a separate preamp or integrated amp with HT Bypass for 'serious' 2-channel performance.

Pre/Pros are like a swiss army knife - they have to do alot of things in a single unit - and there are gonna be compromises to cram all those features into a single unit for a given price - many of which have nothing to do with audio.

I'd take dedicated audio separates for 'serious' 2-channel than a pre/pro solution any day of the week.

I've got a hybrid system myself using an int w/ HT bypass along with a regular AVR for movie/multichannel listening.

The int. wins hands down for 2-channel w/ source components directly connected.
So far, none of the OP contributions to this forum suggest he has analog sources. The OP threads include queries re: CD players, DACs, servers and switching amps. It's hard enough to get 2 channels properly set up in a room, adding more can only be more difficult. Having all channel room correction in it's native digital state might be better than having it converted to analog then to digital then back to analog. The OP has suggested he prefers tubes, this unit can be connected to many tube amps, the tube component that usually imparts tube character the most.
Simaudio Evolution line...prepro runs about $25k or so and is fully balanced. Sims evolution line for two channel is the cat's meow, however it is not inexpensive.
How about the McIntosh MX150? MSRP 12,000...has all the latest and greatest audio and video features.
The Mac MX150 is an outstanding option but note that it has no analog passthrough as all analog inputs are digitized. My Meridian is similar in that regard so, obviously, it ain't a problem for me but might be for some.

I will not comment on the Sim.

Kal, just curious...why no comment on Sim?
If I told you, I would be commenting.

Let me guess. There is a review forthcoming in the magazine and you do not want (and/or are not allowed) to give away any clues prior to publication.
No review planned.
That leaves two other possibilities:

You think the SIM is an overprices mediocre piece of gear, but - especially given your standing as an influential authority on SSPs - publicly stating this would not endear you to the manufacturer (who happens to be a solid advertiser in the mag), so you wisely plead the fifth.

You have not had enough exposure to the sim to form a qualified opinion about it, and therefore wisely refrain from expressing one.
Answer: NO

Been there, tried that. Maybe something in the $15K+ range has come about recently that is truly properly designed, but nothing I have ever heard up to about $10K can do what you want as a pre/pro.

Not only is there no HT pre/pro that I have ever heard but there is not 5 or 7 channel amp either that is going to compete with a 2-channel based system (of comparable quality) when it comes to 2-channel performance.

Save yourself the time, frustration and ultimately the cost and stick with your 2-channel rig incorporating the HT passthrough on your preamp.

Oh, and don't forget when you buy a new Pre/Pro you can expect it to drop in value by about 80-90% in just a few years! Just get a used HT receiver that is about 2 years old, you'll pay about 25 cents on the dollar. I got my Pioneer Elite with TrueHD and all sorts of other junk, including HDMI switching, second zone, Ipod in and all that other stuff for $185 (it was 14 months since new release when I bought it) on a product that listed for over $1,000.
07-29-11: Kr4
If I told you, I would be commenting.


Well played sir. :)

You are right, the Evo 707 is HUGE! My rack still has a place for it, and I was able to put the Meridian 861v6, HD621 Switcher AND my G98DH into that same spot!!!!!

Agreed on the Sim, I can't blame you for being silent on that one!
Well I just bought a Classe SSP800 and would have to say that I am not disappointed with it's resolution on two channel sources and some multi channel software has been spectacular. I have always had high end gear and feel that Classe fits in the top tier of solid state gear. It almost seems reasonably priced when compared to many other high end companies.
Kal...no problem.

BTW...my grandmother used to say..." if you don't have anything nice to say about someone/ something....come sit by me"!!!
Thanks for everyone's input. I will be sticking with my original plan of maintaining my 2-channel rig for music listening, and taking advantage of the theatre bypass for use with the cinema set-up.
I am using the Marantz 7005 in conjunction with a VAC phi beta pre; and am very pleased with the sonic qualities of both my two channel;and home theater. The Marantz is well priced for its features; I use an Oppo 95 and Directv for video sources. Not sure how much more improvement in quality and features you will gain by spending more. The Cinema bypass on the VAC works well; and I'm able to utilize the room eq features thru the processor.
Good luck; let us know which processor you choose.
Thanks for your post, Mribob. Your comments are worth gold, reassuring that I am on the right path.