One commonly accepted approach is to use a receiver as the surround amplifier and a separate preamp/amp combination for two channel. You need a receiver with preamp outs and you feed the left and right channels to the preamp. Then you have a marking on the preamp volume that allows for a repeatable setup of all of the surround channels. The receiver volume controls the volume of all channels when doing surround. I have a Harman Kardon receiver for surround and a Parasound preamp / Legacy power amp combination for 2 channel. I think it works well.
I run a combined system in one house. The basic components are:
Analog Multichannel Preamp
Analog Multichannel Amp
5 full range speakers and sub.
With 2 channel sources, there is no difference from a 2 channel system as the other channels are not used nor do they have any effect on operations.
For multichannel and/or HT, the decoding is done in the player which feeds 6 analog channels to the system.
The only issue is whether one needs more flexible bass management than the player provides but with full-range speakers all around, it is usually not a problem.
I do the same in my other system but without a video display.
The biggest problem you will find is getting a decent analog MCH preamp in your budget. The big bargains, if you can find them, are a used Sony TA-P9000ES (no longer made) or McCormack MAP-1 (have not seen a used one). The Audio Refinement Pre5 is another possibility but it, too (sigh!), is discontinued.
I have heard nice things ABOUT the Outlaw 950 pre/pro but I have not used one.
I greatly enjoy both HT and music on the follwing:
Krell Showcase DVD
Totem Hawk (hoping to be Wind in the future)
2 quality channels have replaced the need for the quantity of 5. I've done the full blown 5.1 & even 7.1 set-ups (spreading money thinner on lesser gear) and I don't miss them at all!
Anthem avm-20 with matching 5 channel amp should fit in the budget (used).
I think a Linar model 10 multi-channel integrated amp and a quality universal player would be a cool setup.
I've tried many configurations to accomplish what you're seeking. The one I have now is by far the best and most cost effective.
I have a separate 2ch preamp, and a pre/pro. I'm using a Lexicon DC-1 which I find is quite nice for the money and more than satisfactory for my purposes and budget. There are many others including this one that will fit your budget IMO. For speakers, I have Von Schweikerts all around. VR4-genIII's for mains and 2 channel; LCR-15 center, VR-3's for the rear, and a Rel sub for LFE. I run the front L/R channel outs to one of my 2ch preamp inputs. In my case I don't have processor passthru on my pre, so I calibrate the pre/pro volume with my preamp volume set at 12 o'clock (see my thread that discussed this at length - I got some good input from our fellow Agon'ers.
With this setup my 2 channel and HT share the same main power amp and speakers. It is optimized for 2 channel. If you prefer to optimize for HT, you may just go with a better pre/pro with 2 channel bypass and leave out the 2 ch preamp. For HT, you only need the add'l Ctr and Rr speakers and amps. You could accomplish this also using a HT receiver as described above too.
For pre/pro choices I suggest you search the archives to see what options fit your needs/budget. Likewise for 2 ch pre and amps. If you're not opposed to used I think your budget will easily set you up nicely. Other decisions you'll have to make are whether to go with a multi-champ, or separates. There are good options either way.
Here's the thread discussing passthru setup.
The setup Bdgregory describes is a good option. I participated in the thread that he referenced and agree that it is a good way of doing things, especially if your priority is a "no compromise" 2-channel system, but one that will also do HT.
I call one of these systems a "combo system". First, you build a quality 2-channel music system, then you add HT functionality to it. The added HT equipment does not have any affect on the 2-channel primary system.
So, in a combo system, you build the 2-channel rig by using a quality pre-amp and power amp, or a quality integrated amp. You connect 2 speakers and add a source and you are done with the 2-channel portion. For HT duties, you buy a decent HT receiver with pre-outs (for at least the front L&R channels) and connect it to your pre-amp/integrated amp using either any open input jacks or a dedicated HTbypass/processor loop (if your pre-amp has this feature). You connect the center speaker, surrounds and sub to the HT receiver and connect your HT source (DVD player, cable box, TV, etc.) to the receiver for processing.
To play music, just use the 2-channel rig. No need to even turn on the HT receiver as it is not part of the system. For HT, also turn on the HT receiver and select the appropriate input on your pre-amp. Now the 2-channel rig is part of the HT system, acting as the amplification and front L&R speakers for the HT setup.
It sounds more complicated than it really is. I think it is a good choice for many people with a 2-channel music priority. It doesn't compromise 2-channel at all, and adds good HT to the mix.
I've had a combo setup on numerous occassions and it worked well.
I also like my previous idea of the Linar model 10 driving a 5.1 speaker setup!
I totally disagree with these guys.
They end up processing music through a mediocre receiver and then run it on a really nice 2 channel rig-it degrades the sound.
Also, you really should have equal sound/speakers/amplification through your front 3 channels to get a really nice sound field and imaging for theater. You'll never get good theater sound the way described above (lousy dvda & sacd also).
That's why I'd recommend a really nice pre/pro (lexicon, anthem, B&k...). Great stereo & theater in one package. Some of these will even have 2 channel pass through to avoid any degredation of sound quality.
I dont think any system with a Sony / Harmon or antything like that would be of any interest at the moment.
Lexicon / Anthem are of some ideas, I am also including Meridian but at the asking price I am not going to be that lucky but does Krell make a HT Pre that has a 2C option linked to its KAV Power amp? Any suggestions on that would be highly appreciated.
I use a Proceed PAV/PDSD preamp/processor combination, but a AVP-2 would do as well. I use balanced outputs to Proceed 2 and 3 channel amps. For stereo, only the 2 channel amp is used to drive a pair of bi-wired KEF 104/2s with a Velodyne HGS-15. Center channel is a KEF 200C, surrounds are KEF 102/2s. I'm pleased with this system both for sterero music and movies.
I currently use a Sony S9000ES CD/SACD/DVD player, but expect to move to a Sony SCD-1 CD/SACD player and Blue-Ray (or HD-DVD) in the future. For CD, I use the Sony digital output with the Proceed DAC.
This stuff used is probably in your price range.
You totally missed the point of a combo system when you said "They end up processing music through a mediocre receiver and then run it on a really nice 2 channel rig-it degrades the sound.".
In the system I described there is ZERO possibility of the music getting processed as the receiver (processor) doesn't even need to be turned on in order to listen to music. You simply listen to the 2-channel rig, independant of any of the components involved in the HT/multi-channel portion of the system.
I'm not saying a combo system is the way to go for everyone. It's not. If you have a goal to also have excellent multi-channel music, a quality multi-channel pre/pro and multi-channel amp is possibly the better bet. However, if the goal is excellent 2-channel music reproduction and a system that will also do a decent job with HT, then a combo system could be the best bet.
Ultimately, a combo system likely cost less, does a better job of 2-channel music reproduction and does an adequate job with HT. It is also extremely flexible as you can upgrade the 2-channel portion of the system without incurring the huge depreciation associated with high-end HT equipement.
But ultimately, I get back to the point of checking out the Linar model 10. Here you get a quality 2-channel and multi-channel analog integrated amp. You don't pay for useless surround modes and processors, just a quality 5.1 channel analog pre-amp and 5 channels of amplification, in one box. Let your relatively inexpensive Universal player do any required processing (heck, you already paid for the processor in the player, you might as well use it). Check out the couple of reviews available. In one, the Linar was comapred to a $14,500 ARC multi-channel combo and it was superior in some respects. BTW, Linar is owned by the founder/ex-owner of SimAudio. He knows his stuff.
To get the best of both worlds you must separate systems in part. What I mean: Get a good two channel preamp, either ss or tube, with a multichannel amp and an HT processor. I use Cary cdp into a belles 21A preamp with HT pass through. I use a cambridge audio processor into the belles and then the stereo outs from the belles into a 5 channel Cary amp. I then use the center and 2 surrounds from the processor directly into the amp. This way I have a quality stereo system with a quality HT system utilizing the same amp. However, the processor doesn't degrade the quality of my stereo listening. Try this out as it is the only REAL quality option to combine the two systems. Several preamps make units with HT pass and you can use most preamps without one if you don't mind resetting the vol. each time. I moved to this from a meridian 568 pre/pro I used for 2 channel/HT. BIG improvement in 2 channel with only a slight degredation in HT. Hope this helps.
Through a series of upgrades over time, I have arrived at both an excellent 2 channel system as well as multichannel. I have a high-quality preamp and amp for 2 channel and a seperate processor and multichannel amp for 5 channel/movies. The multichannel amp drives the center speaker and rears, while the preamp and amp drive the front channels (L + R). I can either use the HT bypass or not of the preamp in this configuration, and truly get the best of both worlds, as they say, with tons of good clean power due to the 2 amps.
The systems recommended by Jamesw20 and Fplanner2000 are variations on the "combo system" that I recommended. My recommendation uses a receiver for HT processing and powering the center and surrounds. James recommendation uses a quality processor and 3 channel of a 5 channel amp for those duties. Fplanner2000 uses a dedicated processor and a seperate 3 channel amp for those duties.
The commonality here is that these systems do not use any compromised HT processor for 2-channel music. They simply built a quality 2-channel rig and added HT functionality that would not compromise the 2-channel music reproduction.
These three methods will all work well. It's simply a matter of choosing how much importance (and money) you put into the HT/multi-channel portion of your rig.
I still will stick to my Anthem pre/pro/tuner with 2 channel mode which bypasses all HT processing when I want.
In addition, it allows me to enjoy DVD/A and SACD when I feel like it.
Yes, I do have a 2 channel tube system upstairs but find myself using less and less.
I know this will drive the audio crazys nuts, but a Denon 5800 series receiver would likely do an excellent job. But then you claim to be serious, so a simple solution just won't do. I guess I find myslef put off by those who think of high-end audio as an end unto itself, a hobby, rather than as merely a means to enjoying music in their homes. Do you really imagine you could tell if it were a 5800 series or a cluge suggested by Bdgregory, Jamesw20, or Fplanner2000, or that such a cluge would make the music any more enjoyable?
I enjoy tweeking the tweekers.
The 5800 (or similar receiver) is a perfectly legitimate option; however, it depends on what you're after. If you want to optimize 2 channel listening, there's no way a receiver will do that. I don't have to imagine it, I tried it, for some time, in the same room. Indeed, a receiver probably won't optimize the home theater listening either. Another, probably better quality option is to have a great pre-pro as suggested by some of the posters above with great outboard power amps, and drive your 2 channel using the digital bypass available on most pre-pros. This can yield excellent 2 channel performance, but not as good as can be gotten with a great 2 channel preamp.
That's not to say that the 2 channel (and HT) performance can't be excellent. My experience (and preference) is that separates sound better $ for $.
I also don't think it's necessarily true that a 5800 is any less "clugey" than a separates approach. Indeed an argument can be made it's more of a cluge. At the end of the day the only thing you save is a handful of interconnects. I have a Sony ES receiver in my living room system, and the cabling is a mess.
I was asking similar quesion to myself and fellow A'goners.
I ended up with http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?vdone&1097693275&read&3&4&
I'm pretty satisfied with it, and I'm planning to upgrade to 568 for the 2ch improvement.
With this set up - HT is Exellent, and 2CH is Very nice.
However, If I start again from scratch, I might consider getting 2 separate systems going for bettter 2ch and very nice 5ch receiver or less expensive pre/pro with 5ch amps such as Outlaw.
oh, my reasoning of totally separate systems over 'combo' system is because of the matching speakers and amp problem.
One important thing on HT is to get the matching set of speakers.
If you have a expensive set of fronts for 2ch, you are forced to get the rest of the expensive matching center and rears.
Also, it's better to kind of 'match' the amps, too, unless you don't care about the overall quality of HT, which case, why bother in the first place, just get a HarmanKardon Receiver and decent speaker package.
Balancing is important in HT.
Thus, overall you might end up spending more than you need trying to do the combo way.
Bdgregory is exactly correct. The love of music AND HT can be enjoyed by all in all price ranges thanks to pricing of receivers. I have been at this for a number of years and have spent more than I care to remember. I also started with a CC receiver and speakers that I was happy with then started the evolution up the ladder to higher end receivers/speakers then to low budget separates to what I consider a nice but reasonable system. From experience can you enjoy both media with a receiver, YES. If you listen AND can afford, and I cannot, a $200,000 two channel system will it sound better than the mentioned above, YES! So, buy what you can afford and enjoy. BTW, this is a fun hobby as well as a passion!
In my mind, the whole issue gets a little tricky when you factor in the sonic advantages of the new multi-channel formats (HD-DVD / Blu-ray) that are at our doorstep. I have an older integrated amp based system that I've used for 2 channel audio and HT. I decided it was time to upgrade and decided to create a completely new 2 channel system for audio and use my existing components for HT until the whole high-definition format battle finds a winner. (It seems to me like a real poor time to upgrade HT electronics due to the format war and also that you'll want HDMI 1.3 to take full advantage of the new formats). I tend to buy the best equipment I can afford and keep if for a long time. Also my use and passion is about 2/3 audio and 1/3 video.
So I've spent a lot of time on A'gon, reading the industry rags, and auditioning equipment. Now that I've figured out what I want for a 2 channel system and have started to get serious about looking for the various components on A'gon, I'm also getting a little "anxious" that the new uncompressed formats will offer such superior sonics that one of the new formats (likely Blu-ray)will leave me kicking my own arse that I put all that money into a separate 2 channel system instead of waiting to put together a killer "combo" system. This has gotten much more complicated that it needs to be. Audio neurosis.
My thought was based on the reviews of the 5800 series Denon, which were excellent. I too tried to replace my Proceed preamp/processor and amps with a Sony ES receiver, a 444; openess and transparency were sacrificied, so I switched back to the separates. But I suspect the Denon 5800 serieis is different. It's true, if you have enough things hooked up, a rat's nest seems inevitable. By cluge, I was referring to schemes in which 2 channel preamps are used with multi-channel equipment where level control is an issue.
Although I'm not practicing what I preach, I continue to suspect that a 5800 series Denon would be fine for all but the highest-end applications, and that many of the neigh-sayers have not heard that series in such an application.
Eandylee: I agree with your comments about matching speakers. I was fortunate in that my rears used to be my fronts, until I replaced them with much better speakers from the same company.
I have had no incompatibilities with my amps at all (Sunfire 5-channel, 400w into 8 ohms; McCormack DNA-500, 500w into 8 ohms). I think as long as the power is in the same neighborhood, if you like the sound of both amps, they will probably sound OK together for movies, etc. My system sounds seamless for movies. I think speaker synergy is more important, especially between the center speaker and 2 front speakers. More and more speaker companies are coming out with center channel speakers as they also see this crossover market booming.
Do you ever feel that running built-in decoder in DVD player into analog preamp (that's exactly what I'm doing with McIntosh C-45), is inferior to using dedicated processor into preamp?