No opinions people? Help me out, please.
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I have written about the sony 999es' processing prowess for a while on this forum. When I first bought the unit in late 2002 it was to improve upon my older DVD/LD (Pioneer) player for the video quality. I also figured it would be a good way to "test-out" the SACD format. I NEVER intended to use the internal processor for DTS or DD as I assumed an on-board chip would never compare to a true Poc/pre-amp or a dedicated processor which I had at the time. I had a Yamaha processor that only decoded DD. Since I had to use the pre-outs of the Sony to listen to multi-channel SACD and only had one set of 5.1 inputs in the pre-amp, I had to take the Yamaha processor out of the chain. At the time, I decided I would "suffer" with the Sony's internal processing until I upgraded my pre-amp. It turned out the Sony killed the old Yamaha, which I kind of expected (but not by as much as it did!). I thought; "God, if technology has increased this much in just a few years, imagine what a NEW processor could do!" With this in mind, I purchased a processor pre-amp with my main concern being "quality" (clean) 5.1 inputs because the 5.1 inputs on my old pre had a noticable "hiss" when engaged. My second concern was that the pre-amp be musical, i.e. function as a pre-amp first and NOT convert everything to digital. The idea of A/D conversion in the pre has ALWAYS bothered me, especially with those models that don't allow for a "bypass" input mode. Sorry, I digress. My final concern was the quality of the processing with more emphasis being palced on the former qualities I spoke about. Well, I bought the processor pre-amp and hit a home run with the first two concerns. However, I am here to tell you the processor in the Sony smokes the pre-amp on DD and DTS! It is warmer, more detailed and has a "fuller" soundstage than both my old, Yamaha processor and the pre-amp processor (which sounds thin and sterile in comparison). Out of all of the reviews I read on the Sony (before I bought it and since) nobody has ever mentioned the processor built-in to the Sony (negative/neutral/positive or otherwise). I happen to feel the processing is one of the 999's major strengths!
Comparing the Sony against the Bryston 1.7 or any of the other units you mention could be a little unfair and I personally have not compared the Sony vs. those models. You also have to consider the cost with the Sony being far less $ and is built for different functions save this one "overlap". The other consideration is upgrade-ability with the pre-amps being able to process Pro-logic 2, Neo-DTS, DD-EX and whatever 7.1 (or higher) process they'll come up with next!
I hope this helps but I will always encourage people to listen for themselves and do comparisons. Good luck no matter which way you go. Also, one last tidbit of "advice" -if you like the pre-amp you have now and are just wanting "better" processing, you will be hard-pressed doing better than the Sony especially for the other things it brings to the table (multi-channel SACD for example). On the other hand, if you are not happy with the sound from your pre-amp, the money might be better spent there.
I have looked in to the "mod" people and was told that modding the Sony outputs (op-amps, power supply, caps, etc) would positively effect the quality of sound in general - be it SACD or DD/DTS. This will probably be my next system upgrade. Again, good luck! - Tony