If you are buying used be sure to check out the sister station: Videogon. Also, www.avsforums.com is a good place for reviews.
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Your best bet used is probabaly the Anthem AVM20 I guess. Otherwise, I have a factory upgraded Acurus Act 3(upgraded to Aragon Stage One status basically), which is mondo detailed, clear, and dynamic, has multi-channel input, and "dirrect inputs" for all analaog in's. That's very good actually!...hard find though.
As for "bass managment from the multi-channel input, you might need to pick up the OUtlaw ICBM.
Have you considered the Outlaw 990? It has received nice professional reviews, and according to the threads on the Outlaw forums, it has sonic improvements over the 950 as well as more/newer features. I just ordered the Sherwood P-965, upon which the Outlaw 990 is closely based. Both products are within your price range.
I second the Audio Refinement - either the pre-5 or the Pre-2 DSP which I own. Both are excellent preamplifiers for 2 channel and 6 channel (SACD/DVDA) - the 6-channel inputs are dead-quiet! The pre-5 is all analogue while the Pre-2 DSP processes DTS/DD and DPL. I recently upgraded mine to be able to process DPL2 so it has that capability as well. I highly receommend you audition one of these units! Good luck!
Thanks for all of your responses. I'd really like to hear more about your AR Pre-2 if you find time. The all analog unit looks decnet, but I also run a digital output from the cable box to my pre-amp so I can listen to movies coming off the cable (HDTV) in DD 5.1. Therfore, I would probably lean more toward the Pre-2. And as for the new Outlaw, yes, I have been giving it some serious consideration. I've always been happy with the switching, HT performance, etc. of the 950. The anlog section is also very good, but just not quite as detailed as I'd like, but as you said, many are saying the new unit in vastly improved in this area. Good thing about the Outlaws is they let you test drive. I also read the 990 was based on the same platform as the Sherwood, but I'm curious as to why you chose the Sherwood, and if you don't mind, how much did you have to pay? The 990 has balanced outputs for all channels and DVI as well as component. Just trying to figure how you gave the edge to the Sherwood. Thanks again for your time and responses, I appreicate it.
The Pre-2 DSP is a really great processor. It may not do all of the whiz-bang things that Sony's and the like will do but it does do what it was designed to do very well. My only gripe is that the remote absolutely sucks. This can be amended with a $35 Sony learning remote. After the thing is set up properly all you need is the ability to switch inputs and change the volume.
I guess the only further information I could give concerning the Pre-2 DSP would be to again point out that the pre-amp portion is top notch. Forget the processing for a moment. It does audio VERY well! The sound is natural and very detailed - it has almost a "tube-like" characteristic. It is not cold or analytical like so many "all-digital" pre-amps can be.
You will get many recommendation in this price range and several will be everything they are made out to be. In the end it will be what works best for you.
For what it's worth, I can tell you that I auditioned only 2 preamps - mainly because switching them out was a pain in the A@#! - I rolled the dice on the AR never having heard it or owned any other AR gear. It was a fortunate (lucky) move on my part as it is the best peramp I have ever owned!
PLII is available on the Pre-2 DSP. I don't know that this would be a selling point but it is another stinsled logo that can adorn the faceplate. But if we were looking to maximize our processors logo bearing potentiality we would all have Sony's.
What I have found the Pre-2DSP to provide is a minimilistic approach to surround sound while maintaining the integrity of the two channel playback. If you have a very large room that could possibly benefit from 6 or 7 channel surround sound this may not be the processor for you.
In your price range there is a nice processor from NAD that does a good job, has very intuitive set-up menu and is just plain easy to use. It is not going to touch the AR in sound quality though.
Thanks to everyone for your advise. I'm still looking, but can take my time. I actually found a problem with my system that was causing some issues. Somehow I developed the dreaded ground loop hum. The only time it was a real problem was when the volume was way up, which doesn't happen that often these days, and when using analog inputs. However, I finally cured it and guess what, that little hum is more than just a hum. Better picture on my TV and much better sound. That little buzz was actually masking allot of the details, even at low volumes. I never realized how much this problem effected the auido and video in my system. I put a ISO-MAX JT VRD-1FF on the cable input and now all is well. Lesson learned.
I chose the Sherwood P-965 over the Outlaw 990 for a few reasons:
1. The Sherwood has a room EQ feature called "SNAP" that EQ's the entire audible range, including subwoofer response. The Outlaw 990 currently has no room EQ. I may not use that feature, but I want it there just in case.
2. I don't need balanced outputs because my interconnect distances are short, they sound fine as they are, and my amplifiers don't have balanced inputs. My sub is passive, so it has speaker cable going to it, not an interconnect.
3. I don't plan to use the pre-pro for video switching, so DVI doesn't matter to me.
4. I got the Sherwood, new with warranty, for slightly less than the Outlaw. You can do a search on this site and find the listing if it is still posted.
Two days after I ordered the Sherwood, Outlaw announced their new Model 970 pre-pro for $699, which is basically their Model 1070 receiver minus the amplifier. When the 1070 was released 2 months ago, some of the comments indicated that the 990 sounded better for 2 channel music than the 1070 used as a preamp. I assume the 990 will sound better than the 970 as well. I assume (and hope) that the Sherwood will sound the same as the Outlaw 990.
The Sherwood is a fine sounding unit. I have had mine since last March and I am quite pleased with it. Also the support is exceptional. Jeff from Sherwood frequents AVS forums, and works with members there to resolve any problems encountered. In fact the latest firmware revision was a direct result of issues brought up by members there.
You can find the Cary Audio Cinema 6 used around here for just over $1500. It really excels at sound quality for both music and HT. It's missing many of the bells and whistles, but has the latest sound formats, is easy to operate, and its sound quality in both 2 channel and multichannel just slays anything near its price.
In fact I've had a number of people say that they've flat out never heard a better sound system anywhere - and that was playing 2 channel music through a HT Pre/Pro, 5 channel amp, and DVD player (all Cary). On AVS there are two individuals I've PM's that both used to own the Parasound Halo gear (megabuck) and prefer the sound of the Cary.
One other nice thing is that running all your component video through the Cinema 6 doesn't cause even the slightest degradation of picture quality - whether HD, DVD or whatever. Good luck!