Pre/Pro choice at around $1500 new...

Rotel RSP-1068
Sherbourn PT-7000
Outlaw 950

what else out there?

how these compare and pro's con's...

Are these considered midfi?

which ones will be one step higher

Yes, they are all what I would call mid-fi, but that's not a slam, just their price point. I'd go for the Rotel. It is quite good at its price point, and offers analog bypass for both multichannel input and two-channel. I own an RSP-1066, and I debated upgrading to the 1068, but decided to hold off for a little while longer and upgrade to a higher end unit, like the Krell HTS 7.1 or Theta CasablancaIII.

Atlantic Tech has a pre/pro P2000 for $1699.00 US.
The atlantic tech unit is based on the same East-tech unit as the outlaw and sherbourn processors.

Good Luck,
No preamp/processor can compete with high quality stereo equipment so give up on that idea from the start. Of the processors available, the Outlaw is the way to go. It is surprisingly good and so inexpensive that it should be the first choice for nearly everyone. It easily compares to the current B&K, Audio Refinement, and Rotel in sound quality and is more flexible than any of them. The user interface and remote are also reasonably good. Throw in a 5 year warranty and 30 day return policy and you just can't lose. If it isn't your cup of tea send it back. Good luck!
Have you heard of EAD?

How about the Integra DTC-9.4? List is $2k, but street may not be that much more than $1500 (I got mine on sale for $1650).

It seems that no one that's picked one of these up (including me) has anything bad to say about it. For a pre-pro and for the price, I'm quite impressed with the sound quality. Pure Direct mode (I use for SACDs) is very neutral (all digital processing bypassed; video and display circuitry switched off). It's perhaps a bit thinner than through just my Creek volume control, but the difference is really pretty subtle. I use the digital input for regular CDs, with upsampling turned on, and the Wolfsom DACs are obviously quite good.

The feature set is also hard to beat on this unit. Way too much to even try to list here. You should add it to your list!

The Audio Refinement should also be on your list, if you can deal with the quirky interface and limited features. Supposed to be a nice sounding unit, though.

Good luck with your choice!