All good choices, but I urge you to add the Bryston SP1.7 to your short list.
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I'm in a similar hunt for a new pre/pro, I personally don't like the Bryston, and have had Aragon in the past and found it a little rough in the mids and highs, so to me it was somewhat fatiguing. Ive heard good things of the Integra gear, but havent been able to listen to it anywhere yet. I am heading towards the Classe SSP 75, and in your case, since your also considering Classe amps, I would go with that and match your pre/pro and amps. What can I say, Im a believer in synergy!
I am somewhat in the same market. My current pre/pro is a Rotel RSP-1066, which is quite nice in its price range. But, now that the rest of my system is shaping up nicely (Thiel speakers and Theta amps), it has become one of my weak links. My top contenders are the Krell HTS 7.1 or the Theta pres (Casa Nova or CasablancaIII), although Sim Moon Audio, and EAD are probably also on my short list. I would consider Classe' and Bryston as well. However, my thoughts are that if I go for a no holds barred, final word pre/pro, I am really looking at the HTS 7.l or the CasablancaIII. But, if I want to focus on getting awesome 2-channel (which I do), and I can live with 5.1 (which I definitely can) and no multi-channel input (which I am not sure if I can live without), you can pick up a great deal on a Casa Nova right now.
The Sunfire Theatergrand IV is another pre-pro you may want to give a listen to. I've owned my Theatergrand II for a long while and love it's sound..I have had not one problem with this component. It also makes a very good DAC when used with a transport for redbook cd's. If you give one a listen, make sure they use it's balanced outs as this takes it's sound level up a good bit.
I heard the sunfire Theater Grand III got the reviewers choice award from Home & Theater in 2003. I will have to look into Sunfire. I listened to the Arcam AV8, and it sounded very nice in 2 channel. Classe on there web page discontinued the ssp75, so I don't know if I will persue Classe in the pre/pro area. Ken have you heard anything about that? Ead is suppose to have a nice sound, but someone told me if you lose the remote you are unable to control the machine using the face plate. Is that true??? Anyway how often do you lose a remote. I search is on!!!!
Having heard a many of the pre/pros mentioned above, i just wanted to state that they don't all sound the same. The higher priced models tend to have far fewer features, and MUCH better sound quality.
The best sound coming from the Theta, Krell, Classe, and Meridian models. I've found that none of these pre/pro's sound as good as a real high quality two channel pre-amp. I run my Meridian pre/pro through my two channel pre-amp.
With any pre/pro, be sure to understand how the analog inputs are handled. Some high end pre/pro's do not provide an analog pass thru.
I have been considering a 2 channel with a HT pass through. I have heard the Classe has the best analog pass through, but Arcam is very close, and it has a shielded phono area in the unit for audiophiles. Completely separated from the rest of the system. Theta of course is one of the best out there, but $ 15,000 is not in my budget. My budget new or used is $ 5,000. I read a review that compared Classe against Arcam AV8, and Classe nudged out Arcam in 2 channel, but did not have the detail / punch or features of the Arcam. There you are you can't have your cake, and eat it to.lol :) I will sacrifice a little of one to get both without having 2 seperate systems, and without getting overly complicated. Is it possible if you have an analog pass through to get a better DAC then what is in the processor to get better 2 channel music? Just an idea.
Analog pre-amps don't have a DAC like pre-pros do, you must use your cdp's analog outs. You can of course add an out-board DAC to use with your cdp before the pre-amp.
In your $5,000 price range there are many pre-pros that are also very good pre-amp...thats the reason they cost more. Only you can decide if any of them are good enough for you. If you decide not, then you will need to insert a two channel pre-amp into the system.
A good two channel pre with HT pass through is a great option but somewhat over rated..Why?, because it limits your choice to those pre-amps that have this option. If you like one of these pre-amps then there is no problem. What if you don't like any of these pre-amps?
In that case, you can use any pre-amp you like. You will only need to set it's volume control at 12:00 O'clock each time you watch a movie. This is the old (other) pass through method. I have used a very good passive pre-amp along with my Sunfire in this way and the results were fantastic.
By the way, you did not mention your source components? I would hope that they are of very good quality. Also, my recomendations are based on your stated price range and subject to change with price range. Many, many options out there.
My third and last is Bryston SP1.7. It wasnt bestable in 2 channel bypass (I auditioned quite a few) and its DD/DTS has really opened up with some burn in time.
Having said that, I think you can find similar 2 channel performance in the Classe 75 and the Krell 7.1 albeit for a few thousand more. As I understand it, both of these units have built in analog preamps, like the Bryston.
The Bryston will NOT have video switching, a plus in my book.
My best advice is....Go and audition. Reviews are skewed by advertising dollars, word of mouth is skewed by name recognition and personal justification. Your ears should be true to the end.
I own the Krell Showcase and let me tell you, with the analog pass through; I can put up some very impressive 2 channel performance. I had a few 2 channel devotees come and sample my rig and they all left shaking there heads. I laugh when people make that all encompassing statement, "you will not be happy with 2 channel sound from any Pre/Pro". If you would like to experience the exception to that rule, you are cordially invited to come and listen to my 2 channel/HT system.........John
I recommend you go with the Krell line of Pre/Pros; I've listened to almost all mentioned, except Theta, and the Krell gives the best balance with HT and 2 channel performance. For my money Krell is, without question, the best for HT and it will hold it's own against all in its price range when it comes to 2 channel performance.
I second the Krell's! They simply make a sonically superb and well built, easy to operate piece! I have yet to hear better for digital AV pre'pro's than the Krell's I've auditioned over the years. Many are "syrupy", "slow", digital sounding, dry, plain, artificial, noisy, or lacking in dynamics. The Krell's seem to define neutrality, purity, dynamics, and soundstage!..and a host of other audiophile descriptives. In short, you just don't go wrong with them in the front end of an HT/music system!...my experiences anyway.
All those pre/pro's suggested are good but expensive, its seems like they get outdated fairly fast. IF you're more into music get the Outlaw for $800 and spend the money on a good 2 ch pre which makes the biggest difference. Then when new technology comes along you can upgrade the Outlaw and not lose out that much , and the good 2 ch pre will last you a while.
Update: I have an eVo6 with a Arcam cd23T with ring DAC on the way from fellow Agoner's. I don't need 7.1 for my 20'x12.5' room, so what other Krells are good. One Agoner has the SSP75, and likes it very much, and said 5.1 is all I need. These units do get out dated very quickly, so the other option I am thinking of, is going with a Supratek or VTL 5.5 as my 2 channel preamp with HT bypass. The Heron speakers I have match up best with tube gear, so a tube preamp maybe the best option. Still on the fence. Will keep you updated.
I'm really interested to hear what route you end up taking. If I go the pre/pro with very strong 2-channel peformance route, it's most likely going to be either a Theta CasablancaIII or the Krell HTS 7.1. But the two channel pre with a HT pass through is also a possibility. The Rotel I have is really quite good at HT, but I'd like to take the 2-channel performance up a notch or two. On the two-channel side of things, I would probably go with something from Audio Research.
BTW, I recently picked up an FMJ CD23T (along with a matching FMJ A22 integrated and FMJ T21 tuner) for my office system (ProAc speakers). That is a very nice player. You are going to love it.
Take care, Tom.
I can't say enough about the high quality 2 channel pre-amp with HT pass thru and a seperate processor. The pre-amp doesn't even need a specific HT passthru, you just need to be able to reliably hit the same volume setting. So any pre-amp with a digital volume display, or a notch on the knob will do.
Just set the preamp to the passthrough mode or volume, and calibrate the processor. Voila. Get a good pre-amp though.
The upgrade a cheaper processor as the times require. You'll the latest digital processing, and stellar two channel performance.
I do this today with a Boulder 1012 and a Meridian 568.
I went with a 2 Channel preamp with the pass through option. I just orderd a Supratek Chenin with that option. The system is coming together slowly. Here is how it looks so far:
Preamp - Chenin with remote and pas through
CDP - Arcam CD23T
amp - eVo6
L/R speakers - Heron i
Now for the prepro, cabling, interconects, and deciding if I will monoblock the fronts with something like VTL 450 sig., since Meadowlark speakers match well with tube gear. I will run the eVo6 bridged with the Chenin when it arrives, and see how it sounds. This is my first system, so I don't know the sonic difference between SS and tubes. I know one thing, I can't wait to here it for the first. I will keep you updated on the system as it develops.
Sounds like a nice setup! I plan on heavily looking into both the "2-channel with HT pass through", and the "HT pre/pro with decent 2-channel performance" options. My thoughts at this time are that if I went 2-channel pre, it would be an Audio Research, while the pre/pro would be either Krell HTS 7.1 or Theta CasablancaIII. I should be able to compare all three options at my local dealer.
I do have a question as to how you set things up with the 2-channel pre and HT processor option. I would think that 2-channel sources would be hooked up directly to the 2-channel pre, and that your DVD, SACD, etc. gets hooked up to the pre/pro. But what I don't get is, which unit is directly connected to the amps that drive the L/R speakers? Is is the 2-channel preamp, or the pre/pro? And does this setup in any way compromise the sound as compared to setting up the system as 2-channel only?
connect the line level outputs for L/R from the processor to one set of pre-amps inputs. connect all the two-channel sources to the pre-amp. connect the pre-amps L/R line level outputs to the two main amplifier channels. connect the processors other outputs (Center/RR/LR) directly to the surround amplifier channels.
then there isn't a compromise for 2 channel sources.
Duh, that makes sense! For some reason, I was trying to think about it the other way around. One concern that I would have with multi-channel audio, though, would be the L/R not matching up with the center (and to a lesser extent, the surrounds). I suppose if the 2-channel pre had a dedicated pass through that didn't add much, then it shouldn't be too noticeable, though.
I have read a lot about Krell and Theta on Audiogon about how well there 2 channel sounds. I don't think you can go wrong with either one. I will let you know what pre/pro I go with when it happens. I can look at more options now that I don't have to worry about 2 channel sonics. I think you hook up the DVD player into the prepro and the prepro into the preamp. CDP will go into the preamp, and the preamp goes to the amp or amps. I am not sure on the SACD player for multichannel. Would you hook the SACD player into the prepro and then use the 2 channel bypass in the preamp. Then you could control all 5 channels with the prepro. Am I right on that or not. The prepro is connected to one amp that controls the CC and surrouonds, and the preamp is connected to the amps that run the L/R. I will figure it out when it all gets here, LOL. :)