Also audition meridian on your short list.
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I would say it depends on your ratio of music/HT. I was in the high end HT pre/pro (Proceed/Krell/Classe) market a couple of years ago, but then I realized that 80% of my listening was to music. I also tired of the constant upgrade versions of the pre/pro's. Then I took the advice the advice that many here told me in the first place. If you listen to much music, you'll be happier with a high end stereo preamp with a HT throughput. There are many models on the market from companies like BAT, Classe, Sonic Frontiers, Cary, VAC, just to name a few. When I tried a Classe CP-60 stereo preamp, it was all over for my high end pre/pro's. I now use a Denon receiver for HT duties, with the FL&FR preamp outputs feeding into a unity gain input on my BAT preamp. I will never play with pre/pro's or multi-channel amps again. The Denon does fine for HT purposes. In my opinion you're visually distracted when watching a film anyway, so the level of finesse that I love in my music (mostly through tubes), isn't necessary for HT. However, dim the lights, and music never sounded so real in my home as it does now.
I hope this was helpful, I know I ignored many of these type of replies when I was playing the pre/pro game. I'm much happier now though. If you use your system for mostly HT, then a pre/pro may be for you though. Only you can make that call though.
You can get by without a HT processor. I think that perhaps the only reason to have one has more to do with the total anarchy of what is called HT today. There is firewire, DTV, HDCP, DVI and more to come tomorrow.
I own an excellant projector that's most modern input is component and it has a 15-pin computer RGB input. With all of the anarchy in today's HT possibilities, a decent pre/pro might be in order as you can always update/improve it without having to go out and buy a new system. This can cover firewire, DTV, DVI, etc.
My DAC is an Audio Aero Capitole Mark II and I run both Satellite and DVDs through it so, for me a processor would only be used to modify/interpret various HD signals for my Dukane projector.
Here's the deal...JMCGrogan2 is about right for you if you are mainly into highest fidelity possible music listening, have an excellent digital source(with good DAC's) from it's analog-out's, and home theater is a secondary priority for you!...then I think what he said is a good scenario for you to go for(or you could do better with a more budget, yet more refined used digital pre/pro for HT..but you DO NEED SOME KIND OF EXERTNAL DIGITAL PROCESSING FOR DD/DTS MOVIES!)In this case, you'd buy a high end dedicated 2 channel preamp(many excellent sounding tube preamps out there, as well as passsive jobbers, etc), connect all your sources for music listening(i.e, CD player, tuner, whatever) to the preamp, and then loop in either a receiver or AV pre/pro into an auxilary or "dirrect input" connection on the 2 ch preamp! You can then maximize your 2 channel, as well as multi ch HT! This way you can find a much less costly possibly used processor for movie dubties(i.e, anthing from used sonically excellent Acurus act 3's, to Aragon Sounstage, Classe SSP25, Krell HTS, even entry level Parasound AVP800(?)!..all sound better than most any receiver for processing dd/dts movies, down to the Parasound/Acurus!). You can use a cheeper receiver from say, yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Harmon, or whatever through it's pre-out's into your 2 channel pre for movies, and save more money if needed for budget. Many of those pieces offer more than adequate sonics overall, if your needs for HT are secondary, but you still value excellent external digital processing for movies!(and you do need this for movies, as opposed to running out of your dvd players analog out's into your 2 channel preamp!...never sounds as good!!!).
HOWEVER, to each his own! You may just find that, if you do pick one of these excellent used 5.1 digital pre/pro's to try out, you may just find that some of the unit's sound absolutely superb for your music needs! Some, like the Krell HTS, Aragon soundstage, and Classe SSP25 sound very very good from the digital in for digital connections, as well as from the analog through-put's that the Classe and Aragon offer!!!(these offer "dirrect analog inputs" for sonic purity", which is a huge benefit to those with superb CD players that already posses good DAC's, tuners, and other good analog sources, etc.). You might find that something like these unit's (in the $1200-$1500 range used or better!) offer a lot of audiophile value, and many are more than pleased with them for music and HT dubties. In short, they are superb units' sonically, most well built, and can be had for cheep on the net! Infact, the Krell HTS is still the best sounding DD/DTS 5.1 channel AV pre/pro I've ever heard for movies from a digital connection for DD/DTS!!!...world class even! The Classe's and ARagon's, maybe even used EAD's, and such are also very very good digitally as well. I owned the Krell, Aragon, Acurus Act 3, and many others, but sold quite a few brands in my time. Infact, I worked in 5 high end stores over the last 15 years. I know what's out there.
If you do try to buy a higher end AV pre/pro for your needs, you can at least find out what they can do for you! If you don't think they meet all your sonic needs, or you long for something more(better?) for at least 2 channel(You'll most certainly not lack or improve on the digital end for DD/DTS here however!), you can always sell, downgrade, and maybe go the "dedicated 2 channel preamp route, and buy a cheeper processor or av receiver for your movies, like jmcgrogan2 recommended! Infact, for the last few years, I've used his approach basically, except I used a snoically superior process for movies.
My suggestion is to try the higher end av pre/pro first, see what they can do first, then maybe pick up a high end 2 channel preamp and see if you think you're missing anything for your needs!..you can alway sell gear here on the used market, and often make more sellilng it than you bought it for! Long live the used market!!!
I like the DAC in my pre-pro for two channel music a lot, I think you may be barking up the wrong tree for what you are looking for. For a more simple (less cables) way to go, consider a cd player or DAC with a high quality volume control direct to your tube amp. If less cables is a lesser goal than acoustical music and vocal reproduction..then I would switch out the tubed pre-amp and insert the Bent NOH passive pre-amp. I had this passive in my system for about a year and sold it to a guy that replaced a tubed pre-amp with it..his amp is tube along with his cd player and remain in his system. He reported the he was very, very happy with this new setup. Your amp/room size/and speakers may be just the ticket for one of these two types of setups and I think you will find acoustic and vocals to be world class.
P.S. I only sold the Bent passive to swing fast cash for a pair of MINT speakers I had been searching out for a very long time. This has forced me to use my pre-pro's DAC for two channel as it is much better than the one in my player.
If you're only going to listen to two-channel and your objective is to save space; I would look to a player with an integral volume control. There are a number of players with the volume control built in (Theta Miles and there is a Krell integrated player for example) and you could run the output direct to your amp (that would save you even more space). Some think that minimizing the number of interconnects and separate units will result in the best sound.
I don't know why anyone would buy a HT pre/pro with no intention of using it for HT. Are you getting one at 75% off list? If so, I guess I could see where you are going. However, you'll still need a cd transport and a pre/pro, that's two boxes. IMHO, you'd be better served with a high quality cd player and stereo preamp (still two boxes), for music only purposes. As others have suggested, if cd is your only source, get a high quality cd player w/volume control like a Audio Aero Capitole (one box!), and run it directly into your amp. I really don't see any reason to buy a Theta or EAD pre/pro for music only, unless the price is so low it's basically being given to you. It's like looking to buy a pick-up truck when you've got nothing to haul. A Toyota Camry would be more comfortable and cost less. If you want the pick-up truck/ pre/pro for looks only, or because of a steal of a deal, then that's your right. For around $1K you can get a Audible Illusions M3A that will sound much better on music than pre/pro's costing 10 times more. Get a AA Capitole for $2K and you don't even need a preamp!
I used to have a combination HT/Listening room. Before I seperated everything. I used a Lexicon processor for both. I thought it sounded great. It worked well for me for some time. Like 2 or 3 years. Then I discovered the sound of tubes. I built a dedicated listening room.
I have built basicaly a Class B system for music. Rogue Magnum M120 monos and a Rogue Magnum 99 pre. Proac Studio 250 speakers. Cal CL 15 CD and a Vpi TT. Also a Graham Slee phono pre. Now I cant even think of combining 2 rooms. Every now and then I will pop in a CD in my HT room. Then I sit and hit play. Get up real quick and think to myself, "what the hell am I doing". My HT room and a lot of time and effort put into the design abd proportions.
18" thick walls, and sized according to the ceiling height.I have 7 Luxury HT chairs in there in 2 levels. 3 in the front row and 4 in the back row.
Even with the thousands spent on my HT equipment that used to pull double duty. And the time and money designing the room for the perfect sound. It doesn't compare to my listening room that is not the ideal measurments.
Thanks for the responses. I guess you all pretty much answered my question and agree that a preamp processor is not the way to get maximum musical information out of a 2 channel system. Sooo, for now I will continue to search for a line level preamp or player with volume control that fits my needs. Thanks again to all for your responses and suggestions. Roman
Yeah unfortunately you can't ultimately expect world class sonics by simply using an HT pre/pro connected digitally from a source!...thus using the DAC's in your pre/pro. You will get better refinement by finding a very good CD source that has good DAC's, and thus sounds good from it's analog out's, connected to a good high quality 2 channel preamp!(or maybe soon/future, a good 5.1 or better SACD/DVDA player, with outputs into a 5.1 or better high quality high end analag preamp I presume!).
I've done it both way's with just about every kind of system imaginable, right up to the very pinnacle of gear sellections($60k speakers, $40k amp's, $12k av pre/pro's, $15k digital sources, multi $k connections, etc, etc, etc.).
Don't get me wrong...while digital processors in these AV pre/pro's have come ALONG WAY, especially for 16 bit cd playback or HDCD, etc., and they still better the sound of older CD player processing, they can't compete overall in refinement by doing what I mentioned earlier!
The analog or digital preamp sections in these AV pre/pro's just doesn't quite offer the goods compared to what's capable ultimately...at least not yet.
However, that said, many will find using a good AV pre/pro as a preamp, either digitally or from analog connections, more than satisfactory!...and it can sound good...don't get me wrong. You gotta judge for yourself.
But I've done it both ways, with passives, actives, pre/pro's only, etc, and the CD source into a good preamp is still the purist. However, there is not bass managment or Digital EQ's or anything that can be utiliazed that way if you need it...which are really the only downside there.
As for passive preamp choices, I think that argument/topic has been more than covered a bagillion times
I would like to add one Caveat to the mix here pertaining to this topic, and that's the issue of flexibility (which offers some advantages sonically) that AV pre/pro's offer, that 2 ch pre's don't...
...I have noticed however that there are at least a couple of major advantages that using a high end digital AV pre/pro can offer a music listner. And even though most of us, including myself, conceed that even though we mostly like the sonic purity of a 2 channel pre from a good source, there are some drawbacks there. The main deal being that I find most home audiophile systems are rather dynamically challenged! Using the bass management in a high end AV pre/pro(considering digital connnetion) can let you configure your speakers as "small" Or "smaller", thus allowing you to get an ACTive subwoofer(s) into the mix! If you can dial in and properly integrate subs to do the "dirty work", you will extend the dynamic range/ability of most any home audio sytem!
Basically, most passive audiphile rigs suffer from dynamic transparancy. Using powerd bass woofer helps put dynamics into the system, and lets your amp simply drive the upper bass and above...effectively "actively bi-amping" your system(almost).
What eI've noticed over my 20 years around high end audio, is just that...most audiophile rigs can't kick out the goods like a good active system or pro audio system offers(with exceptions being the likes of ATC's, Avantgarde's, Powered speaker systems, etc). In that case, if your music listening preffernce is techo, hip-hop, hard rock, heavy dynamic stuff and similar, then the AV pre/pro offeres some advantages! But for the average audiophile(and this is the truth), who only listens to occasional Steely Dan, Miles Davis, Dianna Krall(ick!) or smooth jazz and light classical, the 2 channel is the most pure. If you like to rock, then with most passive speaker systems, doing bass managment from an AV pre/pro offeres some tremendous advantages!...if you can use a well integrated woofer set up.
The deal there is however that, in ultimate terms of coherency, integration, and proper set up(but then most can't even set up their speakers optimally anyway), many can't get subwoofers set up so well as to give a turely audiophile experience!...thus many auidophiles dislike, even hate subwoofers! But, if you can setn it up right, there's tremendous potential there, to the skilled/experienced person.
Anyway, I just thought I'd add that, incase you were like some who do more heavy dynamic music listening!
For those of you who do, the absolute worst option is a passive sysetm!..dynamics are heavily challenged there!
Hope this helps
I used a Theta Casa Nova for several years as my preamp/DAC/processor. The sound while it wasn't bad per say, I improved my sound by a huge margin when I added a 2 channel tube preamp from Granite and relagated the Theta to HT duties only.
It actually shocked me just how big of improvement it was, becausein order to finance the move I had to downgrade my digital source a bit, but that just didn't matter compared to getting the processor out of the music chain.