Preamp or Surround Processor for Stereo?

I am looking for a preamp to go with my NHT Power2 amp and Monitor Audio RS6 speakers. I currently have an NAD 1600 preamp. I want to get the best preamp I can for the money and want to stay under $1,000. I definitely plan to buy used.

I have been perusing the ads here on AudioGon and there is just a plethora of pre’s available. Since I have a two-channel system I have been looking mostly at stereo preamps. Several older 5.1 surround processors have caught my eye.

Since most of these units are older, there is no way to audition them so I must rely on reviews and user opinions. Can a surround processor sound as good as a dedicated two channel preamp?

I have seen some very nice processors like the Classe SSP 30 MKII, B&K Ref. 20 and 30, Outlaw 990, Sunfire TGP 2 and 3, Proceed AVP-S, Anthem AVM 20, Arcam Avr300 Diva, Theta Casa Nova, etc., etc. listed here. Some of these were three and four grand new and are now selling for less than $1,000. Some are offered in the $6 to $7 hundred range.

There does not seem to be quite the selection of stereo preamps in my range, but there are some good buys listed. I’ve seen a Linn Kolektor, Musical Fidelity A3.2 CR, various Rotels, Bryston, Arcam, B&K, Anthem, etc. between $500 and $1,000.

I am looking for a preamp that will deliver pure, clean, good, musical sound. As I said, I would like to get a preamp I could keep for several years and would just get better as I added better components to it. I definitely want a remote. I would like tone controls because sometimes I just like messing around with the bass and treble, but it's not required. I would also like a phono input as I still listen to a lot of vinyl, but I could always add a phono preamp.

So, can an older surround processor match a stereo preamp? If so, which Processors would you recommend in my price range? If not, which preamps would you recommend?

Thanks in advance for all opinions and recommendations.

I think a stereo preamp in the <$1000 range will best any of the pre-pros available in that price range. This is based on my own experience, though limited as it is. If you compare some of the older pre-pros that sell for <$300 the story may be different (ie compared to preamps in that same price range). Example: I had a Rotel RC1070 preamp at the same time I had a B&K AVP3090. I found I preferred the B&K to the Rotel even for 2 channel.

I've read here that Proceed, Meridian, and other pre-pros are very exceptional for 2 channel, and my own Lexicon DC-1 is excellent IMHO, but not compared to my 2 channel pres that sell in your price range (used). I'll be interested to see what other opinions you receive.
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Thanks for your responses. The Parasound P3 was on my list but the two latest reviews on panned it. I take most reviews with a grain of salt, but two in a row makes me wonder about the unit.

Right now, the Musical Fidelity A3.2cr is high on my list. Any thoughts on this amp? I also like the BAT VK-20, but even used this is just outside my budget.
Go for a dedicated pre-amp.
If you decide you want surround capability, you might consider a McIntosh MX130 . . . with a little hunting around you can probably find one well within your price range. They were one of the few preamp/processors available in the mid-1990s that had a high quality preamp section, and when used in stereo, they bypass the surround-sound processing entirely. They have a passable MM phono stage built in, tone controls, remote control, and an outstanding FM tuner. The preamp and tuner circuitry is virtually identical to Mac's two-channel separates of the era. There is also the C39, which is identical except that it has no tuner.

The catch is that the surround-sound section is REALLY primitive by today's standards, being Pro Logic only . . . this is why they're highly depreciated. But if you're only minimally concerned with surround modes and want it mainly for two-channel, it's great. Some of the later-produced units had 6-channel inputs, and many of the earlier ones were modified to have this as well. And if this is the case, simply add a DVD player or Blu-Ray player with 6-channel analog outputs, and you'll have decoding for all of the latest sound formats, and the McIntosh will still provide analog-domain bass management if you wish.
Kirkus, I think I am going to go with a dedicated preamp. Now, which one? You mentioned McIntosh. Have you heard the C15?

Besides the Musical Fidelity A3.2cr I mentioned above, I am also looking at the Classe 47.5. Anyone have any opinions on any of these?
I have the Musical Fidelity Nuvista preamp which I really like. I haven't heard theA3.2cr but think I read somewhere that the A3.2cr is based on the Nuvista circuit, just uses transistors instead of the Nuvistors. The only weakness in the Nuvista is the phono section is pretty basic and not so great. Other than that it's a great preamp - if that helps.
The C15 is amoung a whole group of McIntosh preamps that are pretty much classic implementations of the 5532 and 5534 opamps, done very competently. Many people would turn their nose up at these parts . . . but the truth of the matter is that in a medium-impedance audio application, the performance of these opamps is VERY difficult to improve upon.

And that's pretty much a fair representation of these Mac preamps. They really don't have much personality, and I mean that as a complement. They're clean, quiet, and smooth-sounding, and will operate perfectly for decades. Their tone controls (or EQ, depending on model) really do bypass themselves when set to center -- the potentiometers have a center-tap connection specifically for this purpose. And while the built-in MM phono preamps certainly aren't the ultimate statement in performance . . . they're great for less-critical use or for getting started in vinyl.

The only real difference between most of these models (from about the late 1980s to the early 2000s) is the feature set and input/output connections.
Thanks all for your replies. I am still looking over all the possibilities. As I mentioned, I've decided to go with a dedicated pre. In the $600 - $800 range I've found the C15, A3.2CR and a Classe 47.5 that I like.

If I bumped my budget a little, say to $1200 or so, would I be looking at pre's that are a lot better (I know "better" is subjective)? Since I am not too picky about brand name, and I'm not in too big of a hurry, I am really looking for a good deal. If I find a really good deal, and I am not totally happy, I can sell and buy something else and not lose too much.

Please, keep the suggestions and comments coming. I do appreciate it.