Step up from $2000 rec. to dedicated pre-pro?

Looks like a new round of upgrades are due as my aging McCormack pre-amp bit the dust. I was just wondering whether there would be a big improvement in getting a dedicated pre-proc in the < $2000 range vs. using a receiver (for purely pre-pro duties) in the same range. I'm consolidating my two systems, one of which was supposed to stay 2 chan, and one grow into a multi-channel setup, but I'd rather just have one quality system.

For receivers in this range I was thinking Pioneer Elite, Marantz, B&K , or for pre-processors Rotel, Adcom (or maybe Outlaw.) If people have suggestion for either receivers or pre-pros in this range, I'd love to hear them.

The Pioneer Elite especially has very nice features, including component upsampling (used with Front Projector), every digital format under the sun, very flexible setup for room correction and bass management, and 'i.Link' for jitter free single cable digital connection to DVD/CD/DVD-Audio/SACD, but on the other hand, I'm worried about 'mid-fi' sound when it comes to music.
I currently have 4 channels of PS Audio amplification (2x HCA-2), and would probably use my old Classe for the rear channels if I went with a pre-pro - with a receiver I could use the built in amp for rears or use the 3rd power amp.
I really dont want poor sounding 2 channel music, as I still listen to music more and find music more demeanding on components than HT, so I'm not sure how I can get a system thats decent at home theater but still good for music. I know some pre-amps support HT bypass, so I could go that route too, but things quickly add up, so I'm wondering what the most efficient option here would be.
I have a pair of Dynaudio Contour MK IIs, and a pair of GMA Europas, I'm still considering which one I'm going to sell to complete the speaker package (I'd like to have 5 or 6 identical speakers), but that's another story.

Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks!
You're exactly right, music is much more difficult to get sounding good than HT. For a receiver, I'd recommend Arcam. I've heard the $1500-$3500 Pioneer, Rotel, Integra, Denon, Sony, Yamaha, NAD and B&K receivers. The Rotel, B&K & NAD all sounded okay for music. But the Arcam AVR300 was the only 1 to sound good. It has a true 170 watt per channel rating for the front 2 channels in music, 100 watt x 5 for surround. Instead of the usual over-stated Japanese ratings for a very narrow band. I owned the $3300 Integra DSP 9.1 (I got 1 for a good price) with bells & whistles out the wazzoo, but it was terrible for music, and even home theater had a dull, muffled sound. My Rotel 1066 and Parasound 2205A combo for $3000 absolutely blew the Integra away. And I even prefer the Arcam sound over that combo. It's not as dynamic, won't play as loud, but it seems to pull out details from music and movies better, and has a warm, almost nostalgic sound. The 1066 has a kind of digital, analytical sound on music. I'd put the Arcam up against any $1500 pre-amp processor.

But for really good 2 channel music you have to go to a dedicated 2 channel pre in my opinion. No processor or receiver in your price range, or even 5 times as much can match a good $2000+ 2 channel pre. I've owned the $5000 AVP, $6500 AVP2 and $4500 Integra RC7 pre-amp processors, with the Integra being my favorite. All well reviewed, but couldn't match an Audio Research LS16 on music in a side-by-side demo. Which was $3000 new, selling for around $1800 now. And I've heard the Ayre K-5x up against the $10,000 Lexicon and Theta Casablana II, and for $7000 less I thought it cleanly beat them both on music. With the Casablanca being jaw-dropping for movies.

Most $2000 new 2 channel pre-amps will have HT pass-through for movies. So if you really want a step-up, I recommend you research $2000+ when new, 2 channel pre-amps. Otherwise, maybe pickup an Arcam AVR100 or 200 for less than $1000. Which is almost stealing at that price.
Good luck.
The more I tried to make my home theater amp also work/integrate with 2 channel the harder it got with compromises to both effects. Currently I am recomending to my friends an "ok" inexpensive 5 channel receiver with a matched set of 5 speakers (Polk, DefTech, Paradigm, etc) with all speaker wire the same from a bulk roll. This gives a satisfactory surround sound movie only experience and leaves the BIG money for a 'REAL' 2 channel system. Personally I'm going to sell my Paradigm big center channel and replace it with 2 small Radio Shack 4" speakers for space considerations as well as more intelligible voice for these old ears. Rear speakers are now home-made with crossover built to match characteristics of main 2 speakers (were Zingali 6", going to Zingali 8").
Hope this gets you thinking about some other options to not get trapped into a mid-fi compromised system, let us know how it works out, best of luck, Mike.
I'm starting to see that even when used just as a pre-processor, the HT system will most likely be a compromise. I wasn't planning on using the amplification features of the receiver (except maybe for 1 channel) which is why I was mostly concerned with how good the receiver was as a pre-amp.
I'm now looking for a good 2 channel "pure" pre-amp with HT bypass, and I guess I won't be so concerned about the receiver, because it won't be used for music too often.
A local dealer sells Bel Canto, Musical Fidelity and PS Audio pre-amps, so I'll have to go audition, or maybe do some reasearch and just buy used.
I may need to rethink my speaker choices too. I was going to buy 5 identical speakers but I may now go with a really nice pair for stereo use and round out the center / surrounds with something that's voice matched but not identical down the road.
I use my Arcam as a pre for the 2 mains, (using an Ayre V-3X to power them) and the receiver to power the center and surround channels. I've heard it against the Rotel 1066 and the $1500 NAD processor, used as a pre, and slightly preferred the Arcam. A little smoother sound, with the other 2 being a little more dynamic, the NAD a little forward. But definitely try to hear a unit 1st.

And I agree with your latest decision on your speakers. :)