I think it's an overstatement to say that pre/pro's are horrible as 2-channel audio preamps. It is certainly true that most are not optimized for pure audio use, but there are some that work well for both audio and HT. Price, however, may be a concern. Among the pre/pro's that I suggest you explore are (listed by increasing price):
1. Adcom GTP-760
2. Parasound AVP-2500
3. B&K's unit (can't remember the model number)
4. Bryston SP-1
5. Lexicon MC-1 (made by Bryston)
The Bryston SP-1 is one of the few pre/pro's that has dedicated analog circuits built in, so you can run a turntable or other analog source without having its signal go through a digital conversion process.
The B&K model is the Reference 30. I don't use it much for stereo sound, but I can say that it is great for HT. It is very simple to use and have unlimited speakers and listening modes setup. Addittionaly it has THX-EX 7.1 surround format (6.1 channels for 1 or 2 surround back speakers), which is coming in several DVDs movies.
Several others to consider are the Linn AV 5103, Proceed PAV/PDSD combo (skip the AVP if two channel is a big concren), and, if you can afford it, wait for the Mark Levinson HT processor.....at $25,000, it's a little more than I can spend! Make that alot!
I don't usually offer advice, but I'm so impressed with my recent upgrade to the Linn AV5103 that I had to drop a plug for it. Recently upgraded from B&K AVR202 (used only as a preamp/tuner), and the difference is impressive in both HT and 2 channel. Only HT downsides are that its 5.1 (not an issue to me), and that it doesn't have component video switching. Stereo is amazing! HT field integration is seamless. It's not a harshly analytic piece, but the detail is certainly there. Stereo soundstaging is precise and full. In fact, Linn uses this preamp in 2ch to demo their highest end sources, amps, and speakers. They can be found on the used market for $2k (non-DTS) to $3500 (DTS).
A much overlooked pre/pro is the Aragon Soundstage.Not only is an execellent processor,but it is the Aurum preamp(top of the line preamp from Aragon) so 2 channel is among the best of any of the listed pre/pros.The Lexicon is worthless in 2 channel,but certainly rates amongst the best in HT.
Kennyt, why skip the AVP if two channel is a concern? I am almost sure the left and right channel Dacs in the AVP are the same Dacs that are in the PAV/PDSD, it's just that the PAV/PDSD had five and not just two. Please make me understand how it is your comments make sense if that is right. Thanks.
I have a very good music system that also does HT. I tried buying a high-end HT receiver(B&K AVR202), and it couldn't match my 15 year old budget audiophile system for music, so I started over with a different plan. I build a good music system using the Arcam Alpha 10 Integrated Amp. The Arcam, like many other quality pre-amps/integrated amplifiers, has an HT bypass which will allow you to connect a HT processor or receiver for HT duties. I bought a cheap used Denon AVR3300 for the HT duties. It provides the three additional channels of power(center,surrounds), LFE/HT bass managment and the digital inputs and tuner for my system.
This setup works well for music because the cheap HT receiver is not in the chain when listening to music, but you can hit the HT bypass switch and have great HT anytime you need it. Works great, is relatively cheap and provides very good 2-channel music.
This setup can be used with any 2-channel pre-amp or integrated that has an HT bypass.
I've been using something like that and I think it works well. My Krell 500i has "Theater Through-put" which bypasses the integrated's volume control allowing one to adjust the volume for HT through the AV processor/pre.
My outlaw 1050 powers the center, r/l surround, rear
center, and sends a LFE signal to my sub. The outlaw is a good home theater receiver at a bargain of a price but.. sounds a little dark.
There has to be a better setup...
What about this:
I am thinking that maybe the BEST setup would be to get an Amplifier with balanced inputs & single ended inputs.
Connect a CD player with Balanced outputs to a two channel pre-amp, and then to the amplifiers balanced input.
This way the 2 channel would only utilize the 2 channel components through balanced connections.
From the HT pre/processor run single ended (RCA) line level outs directly to the amplifier for Left and Right HT.
Wouldn't this work?
IMHO there are a couple of other choices out there. In the budget realm is the Anthem AVM2. Works great for HT and sounds darn good as a stereo preamp. Has direct bypass. On the other end of the scale is the Krell HTS2. I have used them both. While they each have a different sound they are both very nice pieces.
J Thunders, I suggest skipping the AVP not because of the DAC's, and you're right, the R/L are the same in the AVP and PDSD, but the PAV is far superior handling analog than the AVP.
And Chester, I agree, got mine as a one week old demo for $4200 in silver with newest software from Linn. Killer pre/pro, it's a little light though, seems for that kind of money, it should weigh more! It's petty, I know, but....
Isn't the analog bypass essentially the same in the AVP as in the PDSD? Far superior how?