Are you looking for a pre amp and a power amp? Or an integrated amplifier?
If you are willing to spend 500 on the amp and another 500 on the preamp, Parasound P3 and P23 are the only way to go in my opinion. Look sweet, sound very good with tons of features, and balanced inputs.
If you are referring to an integrated (pre amp and power amp in one box) I would choose the audio refinement for 500 dollars. You might have to search.
I am looking for an integrated amp, not seperates. I really want to concentrate on the "sound" of the amp, not features. One thing I would like is 2 sets of speaker outputs so I could run smaller speakers for TV while having a better set for music.
For the budget you're speaking off,
I'm a fan of Nikko amps. For the price you're paying for them used it's very hard to find a better one.
You may use your current receiver and add a poweramp Nikko alpha that's being sold from $150...$400 depending on condition and the output power.
You might be hard pressed to find an integrated with two sets of outputs.
As far as I know, there are only receivers that offer this. The audio refinement isn't loaded with features but sounds incredible for the price. I've owned one on four different occassions.
NAD C372 has what you are asking for.
But, why not just use one set of speakers for both TV and music?
Is the seating area off center from the television?
The TV sits in the corner of the room and we sit a bit off center from the TV. I can get better imaging if the speakers are a bit further apart which I can do if I place the speakers along the wall opposite from our seating space. That's the reason for wanting and A/B speaker option.
Regarding the NAD C372, what make of speakers would be good choices to match up with it in the $200-500 price range?
You don't need a preamp with a squeezebox, it has its own volume control. Forget about a preamp and buy a better amp.
Actually, there are a couple of receivers that offer fairly decent amplifier sections for the price and will work well with speakers in the price range that you are looking for:
Denon DRA395 (list $350)
Outlaw RR2150 (list $600; available direct from Outlaw Audio)
Yamaha RX 797 (list $500)
As for speakers, try to track down a pair of NHT SB2 or SB3. They have been discontinued, but are available if you shop around. Very special speakers.
You can also try the Wharfedale Diamond 9.2's. Another special speaker. they list for $550 and Audio Advisor has them for $350.
A used Rotel 1060, 1062 or RA-02 would give you great sound within your budget and the outputs for two pair of speakers.
Thanks for the insight and suggestions! So far the NAD C372 and Rotel 1060/1062 seem like contenders price/budget wise. What are the major differences in sound from those 2 manufacturers, is there a significantly different sound? Also, how do the Cambridge Audio integrated amps compare and what are some suggested bookshelf speakers to pair up with these amps?
The difference between NAD and Rotel is going to come down to personal preference and your choice of speakers is going to have a considerably more significant effect on the sound than your choice between either of those brands.
I've owned a couple of NAD integrateds and at least five different Rotel components. My preference is for the Rotel stuff. I like the build quality, sound and the ergonomics better but there's absolutely nothing wrong with NAD gear in the same general price range and you can't really go wrong with either. It's probably more important that you find an amp in good condition at a good price than worrying too much about whether of those two brands you buy.
I've also owned one Cambridge Audio integrated and still listen to it often at a friend's house. It sounds great and the price was right but the build quality isn't as good as either Rotel or NAD.
It's much harder to narrow down the speaker choice, you're really going to have to spend some time listening to the options or just take a chance and try to find something that keeps its resale value in case you want to switch. Read everything you can find in the speaker forum here, try to match up what you read with the classifieds listings and then take a leap. If you read enough you'll find the same brands coming up over and over and you'll eventually get some sense of what might work for you. It's safe enough to start with B&W, Epos, Usher, Paradigm, PSB, NHT, Meadowlark, Soliloquy or any of the other brands you'll see mentioned often but try to listen to your choice first if you can.
All 3 manufacturers that you list ... NAD (C372); Rotel (1060/1062); and Cambridge Audio (540 or 640) sound different to a certain degree ... though I am not sure how much those differences will mean to you. All 3 makes have their fans and detractors; all 3 are quality products; and all 3 will probably work out well in your family room given the room size; how loud you listen; etc. All 3 have been reviewed in Stereophile; The Absolute Sound; and/or What Hi Fi (British) ... so reviews and reviewers' impressions are easy enough to track down ... but auditioning is still key, especially with speakers. Your idea of great sound may not be mine and vice versa.
In your price range ... I like NAD's paired with NHT (SB2 or SB3; now Classic 2 & 3; respectively) and Wharfedale (Diamond 9 series) speakers ... great synergy. If you read the British hifi press, they are often pairing Rotel and CA with speakers from B&W (DM 600 series); Monitor Audio (Bronze series); and Wharfedale (Diamond 9 series).
As an aside, I was working with a fellow Agoner on putting together a system for a small sized, but dedicated listening room and he just paired a NAD C320BEE with Wharfedale Diamond 9.2 speakers (Pioneer PD 65 CD player) and he is enjoying his set-up quite a bit. I had a NAD C320BEE paired with NHT SB2 speakers (Music Hall MMF CD25 CD player) happily for 2+ years, before changing things around. I am now using those same NHT's with the Outlaw RR2150 receiver (SONY GX315 DVD recorder/player) and it really is a pleasing set-up.
What are some of the speaker brands that you have access to for a listen?
The NAD/NHT combo is a big bang for the buck and a good pairing in most cases.
I like the NAD integrateds better than the Cambridge.
I like the Cambridge CDP's better than the NAD.
As stated above, just preferance though. No good/better/best among them.
The new NHT's like LOTS of power before they open up.