Preamp for music and home theater for under $3500

Current system:
Audio Refinement Pre2 DSP preamp
Hafler 9300 amps in mono for each speaker (L, C, R, RR, LR)
Velodyne sub 
Oppo BDP 103

So, a little background may help for the recommendations I hope to receive. I primarily listen to music in High-Rez formats (non-downloads) like SACD, DVD-A and a few pure audio Blu-rays. I prefer, when mixed properly, to listen in surround though many of the SACD's I have are stereo only. I use the AR Pre2 DSP in "pure audio" mode meaning the digital processing is all done via the Oppo for both music and movies and goes directly through the AR unit's 5.1 inputs and outputs with no processing. I chose the Audio Refinement originally for this purpose and love the clarity it provides. However, over the years its shortcomings have become more apparent in that it has poor bass management. When listening to music in surround or movies for example the subwoofer is engaged but if I listened to an SACD or (regular redbook) CD the subwoofer is not engaged. FWIW, I have both the Oppo and the AR's low pass filter set at 70 Hz. The subwoofer is not a filter issue however as much as a signal issue in that the subwoofer only accommodates a single input so I have to use the "subwoofer out" on the preamp and therefore it only plays the dedicated subwoofer channel in the surround mix, whether movie or music. In a previous HT/music set-up years ago I had a Velodyne sub where I ran the main LR signal through the sub, using it's low pass filter, and then back to the amplifiers. This was more flexible for music as anything under 60Hz (the setting at the time) was played by the sub. However, the limitation here was I never got the "true" dedicated subwoofer channel for surround music or movies. So, with that out of the way, I am looking for a pre-amp now that will accommodate the signals from the Oppo player (and any other source, digital or analogue) and allow me to utilize the subwoofer whether from a 5.1 or stereo source. Philosophically, I have always tried to stick with preamps that were musically oriented and out of the digital realm as I want to use this for many years - my belief being that technology upgrades be contained in the player (like the Oppo or even an external DAC) and the preamp simply allow for flexibility of source inputs and outputs and be as "clean and pure" as possible. I have recently been to a few high-end audio places here in the Dallas area but it seems like all the preamps have DAC's built in (with the higher-end ones using the same chipset in the Oppo). Some accept HDMI which I suppose could clean up some of the wires and even solve the bass management issue but I am concerned the SACD signal will not "travel" this way (get converted to PCM in other words) and I have no idea about the DVD-A or Blu-Ray signal (I assume those would be OK?). Again, I don't want to buy a preamp with 24/192 DAC's and 5 years from now have some source component providing me 48/384 or some other "revolutionary" technology being down-converted. Don't get me wrong, I am fine with a preamp that has a good DAC, and in fact need the preamp to have this to convert digital signals via fiber, coax or even HDMI from sources like the satellite receiver or (if I ever purchase one) a music server, etc. it is just a requisite that the pre-amp have inputs (at least 1 set of 5.1 inputs) that are strictly analogue!  Are there any other High-Rez audiophiles out there that are feeling my pain and have some recommendations for a preamp that will allow for the various inputs AND solve the bass management issue?

Clarification - I can't currently use the subwoofer when listening to a stereo SACD or any other High-Rez source.

First thing to know is that SACD (i.e. DSD audio bitstream) cannot be filtered. This means that you cannot apply DSP to the SACD/DSD audio such as EQ, phase, crossover, etc. Any 2-channel SACD disc is going to have to be played full range with only 2 speakers. If you do see a device that does true bass management with SACD, it is either converting the DSD to PCM so that it can apply a crossover filter, or it has a completely analog crossover (not likely). You can actually buy an analog crossover (such as the Bryston 10B) if you wanted bass management for all 2-channel music -- this would require you to disable the SUB in the Oppo speaker configuration. Otherwise, you’ll have to just live with Left/Right for SACD.

CD and other 2-channel hi-res (i.e. 24/96 or 24/192) can be filtered through a digital crossover. You might try going into your Oppo settings and configure your Left/Right speakers as "SMALL". This would force the Oppo to use subwoofer for any 2-channel music output. I would also disable any filter setting in your Pre2 preamp. You do not want a crossover filter applied on top of another crossover filter.  In your situation, it could be that the Oppo is not doing bass management for 2-channel music.

I would highly recommend NOT using your 5.1 analog preamp to do any crossover/bass management, unless you are sending a digital signal to your preamp to be processed. In my opinion, the Oppo 103 is lacking in audio quality for your system. I would maybe suggest upgrading to an Oppo 105 (or the upcoming UDP-205) to get the superior audio boards. Or look at a higher-end home theater processor.  A processor would do bass management for 2-channel audio (except for SACD/DSD).

There are two HT processors I know of that will accept SACD/DSD through HDMI. Both of these are architected to be somewhat future proof. They have already have had upgraded HDMI boards implemented to support 4K & HDCP2.2:

Emotiva XMC-1 (Dolby Atmos & DTS-X support coming soon)

Krell Foundation (superior audio, but much more expensive)

One other processor option you can look at is the Marantz AV8802A. It not really future proof, but it can play DSD from files or HDMI inputs. I would put it as much better sound quality than the Emotiva. It’s difficult to know if the Marantz is better than then Krell Foundation because the Marantz has fully discrete audio stages (HDAM). The Marantz has a whole lot more features than the Krell (internet radio, straming, Pandora, etc.)

For me, I am mostly a movie watcher, but I am very critical on 2-channel audio and love to listen to music. I went a different route and got a Krell S-1200U processor to do all my audio processing and generation. I decided that having a superior audio stage in my equipment was much better then trying to get something that supported SACD/DSD. The Krell S1200 has a much better audio stage than any of my above suggestions, but it is somewhat archaic in the HDMI interfacing and operation. I am happy to live with those quirks if I get superior audio as a result.

Lots of great used ARC tube pre-amps under $3500 - I just bought an LS25 Mk II for $2500 with new tubes
Thank you for the thoughtful response. I should have left out mention of the low pass filter setting on the AR as anything that goes through the 5.1 input on the AR is pure analogue pass through with no filtering at all. It is this same input that 2 channel SACD goes through as well (since coming from the same player), hence no signal to the subwoofer. This also makes me think changing the speaker settings to "small" would have no effect as there would still be no signal going to the sub. It may be worth mentioning I do have full range speakers but still appreciate the sub for the very low end. The Bryston intrigues me and I appreciate the suggestion. I will have to look into that. In addition, the Marantz and Emotiva sound like they are both worth checking out. I do not believe my Oppo player sends the DSD signal through HDMI (pretty sure it converts it to PCM) but will re-read the manual. If this is the case it may render any pre-amp that accepts DSD through HDMI a moot point unless I upgrade the Oppo to a player that will allow DSD through HDMI output. Thank you again for pointing me in the right direction!

Just so that you know:

The Oppo will support sending DSD signals over HDMI, but only if you use the HDMI 2 port on the Oppo -- and as long as your AV processor will decode DSD from HDMI.


     You may want to simplify and just upgrade to the Oppo-105 and forget about using a separate preamp or processor.  The Oppo-105 is very versatile and has a better capacity to be utilized as a high quality preamp than the Oppo-103.  

     I really don't understand why you would want or think you need a separate preamp.  A used Oppo-105 or its soon to be released replacement will do everything you are looking for.

Tim     .
Well, I do have some other components like my satellite receiver, Apple TV for streaming my music library and a separate tuner that I seldom use...

"Are there any other High-Rez audiophiles out there that are feeling my pain and have some recommendations for a preamp that will allow for the various inputs AND solve the bass management issue?"

You don't need bass management for music. Get a sub for music, set it up properly, and you won't have to complicate your system with unnecessary processing. For a preamp, get a high quality 2 channel with a HT bypass.

As an owner of an Oppo 105 and Emotiva UMC-200, I would agree  with many comments above.  I had a 103 and was always sorry that I didn't buy the 105.  I finally upgraded and it was an impressive difference.   Not only was the sound quality better but the control is much better too.  

The emotivas do 1 thing really well-they pass the signal through on direct mode with no noticeable affect on the signal quality.  My emotiva is a seamless multichannel volume control.  I do like the volume control in the emotiva much better than that of a digital volume of the oppo.

SACD processing is really only done one way and newer technology won't trump high quality from a few years ago.  And it is designed to be processed by the play.  So the quality from the player is more important than the pre-amp.

My suggestion:  
1-upgrade your oppo
2-try using it without the pre-amp before wasting money on a pre.
3-why in the world do you have 5 amps when there are so many high quality 5 channel amps out there?  Downsizing might just improve and/or simplify things?  (My amp is a 5 channel Mac)
4-really read the suggestions above.  These guys are giving great suggestions.
Thanks for the suggestions regarding the Oppo. As I see it, if the current Oppo player I have allows the DSD signal to pass via HDMI then perhaps the preamp/DAC combo is a consideration. I do want to have the ability to listen to different sources (non-digital) hence the reason for a preamp instead of just the Oppo acting as a pre. As for the 5 amps I have each amp powering separate speakers which are bi-amped (my Dahlquist speakers have two modules top/bottom). My Audioquest Argent cables are configured (had this done by AQ years ago) to use the silver wire for the mid/treble section and copper for the bass modules so a 5 channel amp is not the best option for my system configuration. I have read the suggestions above and appreciate the feedback. However, I don't have the desire to reconfigure my entire system simply to allow for the bass frequencies to route to the sub when listening to 2 channel. It is here I was looking for some guidance. It seems the two options I have are:

1. Route both the main L/R signals out of the Oppo to an external crossover. If said crossover allows for inputs I can"select", then I could feed the main L/R signals to one input and the actual subwoofer signal to a second input allowing for both the filtered low frequencies from the two channel and the separate subwoofer channel to go to the sub. The downside is this means more wires and probably would have to go between the Oppo and my current preamp (I haven't had the chance to look into the Bryston Auxinput suggested to see how it works exactly, but sounds promising).

2. Get a new preamp that has HDMI inputs and processes DSD. I would then use the HDMI 2 out of the Oppo which Auxinput pointed out carries the DSD signal, effectively making the Oppo a transport. Of course this gets me back to a situation where I would have to get an all digital preamp but the benefit would be less cables and a sound upgrade to the other digital sources I have.  Again, my concern going this route is I am effectively left with a preamp perpetually stuck with "2017 technology" (I have rarely seen a digital unit be upgradable over the years, contrary to manufacturers claims). Going this route effectively cancels out any upgrades I may want to make to the Oppo (to another "latest/greatest" Oppo model or any other brand in the future) as it would be effectively rendered a transport.

This leads me back to my original post/question as to a preamp that has a bass management feature (read crossover options for all channels) but operates in pure analogue mode hence allowing me, when I intend to upgrade my digital source, to only have to replace that single component. This would be my preferred solution as opposed to either an external crossover or all digital preamp. To this end I will look at the Emotiva and the Marantz (I know the Krell is out of my price range) but if there are any other preamp suggestions out there (or something else I haven't thought of) I am all ears.
The emotivas will allow different bass management for each source (many pre's do this now).  I run my oppo 2 ways:  Pure 2 channel direct for stereo listening and then I use 7 channel output for theater.  You can use hdmi instead of 7 channel.
Why do the processing in the oppo vs emotiva?  I like the sound better.  Also, sacd is a 6th channel and won't get process by most preamps.  It needs a sub unless you can set the pre to no sub and the pre will push the sub channel to your mains.
You could always look for the outlaw audio ICBM.  This was a 6 channel analogue bass management pre.  It came out 5-10 years ago but doubt you can find one.
Thanks elevick. That Outlaw audio sounds like the most promising solution I've heard so far! I'll definitely check that there.