Option 1, and consider the 2 channel preamp as the most important component.
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Option 1 without a doubt. Or a slight modification to option 1 - a high quality 2 channel integrated with HT bypass for your two channel listening. This will cut down the number of components by one. You can further cut down by using an AVR as your processor and amp to power the center and surrounds - Hey, its only movies right?
Whichever route you go, I agree with Zd and Akg - don't listen to 2 channel music through an AVR or a pre/pro.
After a 10 plus year affair with the HT mistress and always being left unsatisfied when it came to listening to music, this is the route I took. Now, I couldn't be happier.
Agree with others on option 1. Personally I'd get a good stereo pre and amp and a decent AVR (I've read budget Yamahas do relatively well for audio) to handle processing and powering center/surrounds so you can put the most money where it matters most. As Paraneer mentioned, a good integrated could work too if space is a concern and may save a little $$$. Best of luck.
I bought the Audio Refinement Multi 3 three channel power amp and a matched Multi 2 two channel power amp (both used) to go with my Rega Osiris integrated amp (primary for 2 channel audio) . The Rega integrated has a full signal bypass for hookup as the LF and RF channels in a multichannel setup with the AV pre-proc below.
These Audio Refinement power amps are the YBA designed (France ) with the hi-end YBA parts but assembled as French designed units in China as YBA's Lower priced kit. I bought them used within the last year for about $450 each (each was pushing $3000 new).
For the AV preamp processor I went with the all digital NuForce AV18 preamplifier / processor) . Multichannel favours HDMI and this unit forgoes all the legacy inputs in favour of all digital. Google for reviews - highly recommended AV pre-pro separate.
With the subwoofer and 7 speakers, (mains were the LF and RF) I now had my discrete 2 channel primary audio 2channel rig integrated as part of the 7.1 multi channel system. For two channel serious audio enjoyment, it is only the standalone 2 channel system, but with a flick of the button it integrates into the Multi channel system when I need it.
I had the expensive top-end Cambridge AVR before. As good as it is, it does not compete with this and many other similar hi-end separate components systems.
IMO, you need to answer an important question (or two or three) before you choose from your options:
Do you plan to use your subwoofer(s) for stereo listening?
If you do plan to use them, Option 1 may not be your best choice. IME, AVRs and Pre-Pros will likely get you substantially better subwoofer integration than you'll achieve with a traditional stereo preamp. "Likely" is the key word there, as absolutes are risky, but the bass management systems in pre-pros and AVRs really do this job well.
A second question runs to source material. If your music is strictly digital, the trade-offs of DSP are IMO pretty beneficial. Not everyone here will agree, but IMO crossing in the digital domain and room correction schemes like Audyssey are simply a better mousetrap. If you use mainly LPs or other analog sources, the decision is more complicated. If you're amenable to subjecting your analog signal to processing in the digital domain, you may still prefer options 2 or 3. If that idea troubles you, I'd agree that Option 1 is best.
As to Option 2 vs Option 3, good AVRs are probably better value, but a pre-pro and separate amps may be preferable, particularly if your main speakers present a difficult load to an amp (provided that your budget allows).
"If you do plan to use them, Option 1 may not be your best choice. IME, AVRs and Pre-Pros will likely get you substantially better subwoofer integration than you'll achieve with a traditional stereo preamp. "Likely" is the key word there, as absolutes are risky, but the bass management systems in pre-pros and AVRs really do this job well."
The OP's preference is pretty strong for 2 channel. Going with theater gear just to integrate a sub probably wouldn't be worth it for the hit you will most certainly take in overall SQ. It may be a little more work, but you can get a sub working well without all the processing. For a system like this, a sub made for music would probably be a better choice. Or maybe just use the sub for theater only.
Option 1 is probably best on a budget.
Option 3 is definitely best IF you buy the RIGHT digital processor. The list is short - I would select a Meridian 861 or G65 or G68, or the excellent Theta Casablanca. The room correction these processors provide clearly trumps any disadvantages in going through an A/D and D/A for your analog sources. In addition, the Meridian "apodizing" reconstruction filters correct most CD problems - your CD's sound like SACD or DVD-A's. As a bonus, these processors include the Trifield algorithm which gives you a very good center channel with stereo sources. Stereo imaging and depth of field using this algorithm is better than ANY two-channel system, regardless of the price tag.
There are integrateds with HT bypass available from many manufacturers - Marantz, Musical Fidelity, Creek, Arcam, Krell, are a few that come to mind. There are 2 channel preamps from Musical Fidelity, Parasound, and even Rogue if you want to consider tube gear.
Any specific model recommendations would be based on your budget and the power demands of your L/R main speakers. Since you mention that your thinking about the Triton Twos, these are fairly efficient at 8 Ohms and 91 Dbw. That would further widen the range of models that you can consider.
I find it a bit curious that those endorsing option 1 are not also commenting on the op's choice of speakers. The GoldenEars seem to me to be an odd choice for someone who wants to maximize 2 channel stereo performance.
As one who strongly endorses option 1, I will not comment on the OPs' choice of speakers. As we all know, speakers are highly subjective and since I never heard a pair, they might sound great for music.
I have heard flagship AVR's and pre/pros though, and these IMO do not sound great with music.
Cdxskier, I'm going to take a step back and take a different approach. First, welcome to the forum! Second, your comments indicate that you don't have any equipment yet so I'm going to assume that you are building a system.
When building a system, the conventional wisdom is to pick your speakers first; then an amp to match well with your speakers. The preamp will often be determined by your source or the "flavor" of sound you prefer.
It is from the perspective of this conventional wisdom that I am curious about your choice of speaker. The side firing woofers might be a source of some difficult acoustic issues in your room if you are trying to truly maximize the sound quality for stereo listening.
Clearly the best HT systems include timbre matched speakers all the way around. However, if multichannel is secondary to stereo, then I recommend finding the best left and right mains you can find within your budget. Spend your money on what is important to you, stereo. With some patience and research, you can fill in the center and surrounds without spending much.
If you have already heard several different speakers and have settled on the Triton Two because of their sound, then great. If not, please listen to a few other speakers if possible before you purchase. Given the MSRP price of $3K for a pair of Triton Twos, I think you should be able to find some excellent speakers for the same money, especially on the used market. Totem, Aerial, Silverline, Thiel, Harbeth, Spendor, PSB and Paradigm are brands who have some products with great performance to price value on the used market.
Finally, if you'd like more help with suggestions, provide some additional info with respect to budget, room dimensions, and source.
Option 1 is probably best on a budget.
Option 3 is definitely best IF you buy the RIGHT digital processor. The list is short - I would select a Meridian 861 or G65 or G68, or the excellent Theta Casablanca. The room correction these processors provide clearly trumps any disadvantages in going through an A/D and D/A for your analog sources."
I don't know if I would agree with that. I had an 800 and an 861, and didn't think that much of them for stereo. For theater, they make very good products, but I feel you can do much better, for much less money. No to go too far off topic, but I feel so much is wasted when you go with a Meridian system. You buy a 20k CD/DVD player and use it just as a transport (and it has a computer CD/DVD drive, no less). From there, the signal goes to a 20k full function HT processor. One again, you bypass the analog stage, and are just using the processor for digital only. The digital signal signal is then sent to the DAC inside the speaker. That's the last place I would want a DAC. (I know the OP is probably not considering Meridian speakers. I mention them just to make a complete example.) Why pay that kind of money for things you are not using? I do agree with you on using a phantom center channel. To me, it sounds better.