My recommendation would be to focus on building one system at a time. Assembling non-fatiguing 2 channel is not easy; at least it hasn't been for me. Home theater has a greater margin for error.
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Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. Your point is well taken. I'm leaving the 2-channel alone for now and focusing on the HT. In retrospect, the post probably had too much information, though the intent was to give readers context. None the less, guess I've learned how not to get help from forum members. Thanks again Judit.
Only advise I could offer is just go listen. Go to every dealer within a couple hours drive and see what you like with your evolved and unique tastes. I know what I like, but I only know that having heard many, many dozens of setups in dealers showrooms and more so from passing countless pieces of gear through my own system to get things 'right.' Suggestions for a single piece of gear given your tastes are easy, but asking someone to create a whole system for you is just not going to happen....
For non-fatiguing try the Vienna Acoustics line. Easy to audition at Tweeter's etc. Beware, B&K is said to be bright -dunno, I haven't compared.
Mission and ATC are also less fatiguing. ATC may be hard to find but a league ahead of mission for dynamic punch but still very smooth and non-fatiguing. Really try to find these speakers, I think you will be impressed.
B&W 600, especially bright with Teac - also related to distortion. Combination can be brutal.
I have the Paradigm reference 100 v2 fronts with the rest of the Paradigm reference HT speakers including a pair of studio 20s for rears running 7.1 with Anthem AVM20 v2. I also have the Anthem MCA50. I have been down this path as well and built the home theather portion first, then integrated 2 channel into my system. I think you will be hard pressed to find another speaker system that will out perform the paradigm setup for the money. Be careful when auditioning the 100s as they do take a while to break in and they also need at least 200w driving them to show what they will really do. A less expensive route to start would be to look at the studio 60s which are great speakers, but really need a sub in place for home theater. I would recommend a relatively cheap dvd player that is progressive scan only if your tv can take advantage of it. Why? Because most dvd players today are very good and you must spend quite a bit to get the good stuff. I would rather see you get a nice cd player and a cheaper dvd player to have both 2 channel and HT up front and the source is key to 2 channel. I went with the Ah Njoe Tjoeb 4000 with upsampler. With Amperex tube upgrade you will not find anything better for the money. The Anthem products are quite awesome at their price point. I would suggest buying the MCA50 over two separate amps unless you have plenty of room for 2 amps. The MCA5 mkII is another great alternative and can be found for under $1000 used. The AVM2 vs AVM20 hmmmm. I would strongly recommend the AVM20 if you can shell out the money. You will not need anything different for a long time, but if you do the AVM2 you will be wondering, what if I had.... My last upgrade was to drop in a nice 2 channel preamp with HT bypass. I wanted to preserve the XLR connections in my system and after talking to Kevin Deal at upscale audio I settled on the Cary SLP2002. Wow!!!! Now I feal like I have the best of both worlds. I think eventually I would like to try some different 2 channel amps, and then there is the continual question of which cables to buy but all in all I am quite pleased. The Studio 100s continue to amaze me as they seem to only shine when upgrades are made. To end it sounds like you have roughly $7500-8000 to spend.
AVM20 v2 ($3400 retail, around $2700 used)
MCA50 ($2000 retail, around $1400 used)
MCA5 mkII ($1600 retail, around $900 used)
Studio 100v2 ($1900 retail)
Studio CC ($500 retail)
Use you current DVD player unless you need progressive scan
Ah Njoe Tjoeb 4000 with upsampler and Amperex tubes (~$1100)
Cables - I would buy cables from Audiogon, I went with Nordost because of their quickness, which is awesome in HT. ($300-whatever you can afford) Cables do make a difference but diminishing returns set in given your front ends capabilities.
End total = Roughly $10,000 retail, which no one should ever pay. I would expect at least a 15% discount if not 20% if you purchased some of this new from the same dealer. Down the road you could add the 2 channel preamp if you think you need it. The AVM20 is really quite a nice preamp in itself, but I found a tubed 2 channel preamp worked better for me. Cary SLP2002 ($3000 Retail).
I did not mention a sub, but paradigm makes a killer sub for $700-800 the PW2200 and the servo 15 is $1500. Both are awesome for the money. Otherwise Rel is my suggestion if you really want a great sub that can shine for 2 channel listening. Storm III (~$2000) or Stadium III (better for HT at $3000).
I have an Anthem MCA-50 and it is doing a great job. I
auditioned a pair of speakers at a store that was using a
Macintosh 2102 100 Watts X 2 and a pre/pro similar to mine.
I got the speakers home and -- this is probably going to
sound like sacrilege to some -- I couldn't detect any
difference between the set up with my $2,000 Anthem MCA-50
[running my front speakers in two-channel] and the set up with the $6,000 Macintosh tube amp. The Anthem MCA-50 is
fast, the bass is tight, the music swings when it supposed to, and the sound-stage is wide. I highly recommend saving
money on the amplifier by going with the MCA-50 and spending
the money saved on your speakers.
In your price range, I haven't listened to everything,
but I really enjoyed the Paradigm Studio 100's. You can
also find Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home and Revel Performa
F-30's on Audiogon for a similar price to [New] Studio 100's. I really enjoyed those speakers, highly recommend you give them a listen. Only reason I didn't buy the Sonus Fabers was that I ended up buying at a higher price point and liked other speakers at that price. In a head to head
with B & W, I had to go to up the Nautilus 803's to beat
the Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home -- but even then, it was
close and I'm not sure I liked the B & W sound as much as
the Sonus Faber. [To my ear, B & W seems to "bump" the high end a little] If I were shopping around for front
speakers in the 2,000-ish price range, I'd be hard pressed to pass up some of the deals I've seen around here on Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home's. Listen to the Fabers and I think you'll see what I mean. But -- listen to the F-30's, too.
Between those and the Paradigm Studio 100's, I don't think
you can go wrong at that price point.
And, I think you'd be happy with the Anthem MCA-50 until
you can find a two-channel amp or mono-blocks that will
beat it for two channel listening -- and by then, maybe
you'll need 7 channels.
Are you looking for a buyer for for your superphon amp?
I have used the rotel (RMB 985 5X100) and anthem (MCA-2 200X2) amps. The rotel has much more authoratative bass, drums and sound effects are more noticeable and punchy. The anthem has clearer, more distinct highs and mids. However, since I upgraded my cables to Stan Warren pieces, these amps sound much more similar than different, and both sound significantly better.
For preamp I use a Rotel RSP 976 which is only 5.1 and does not have all the latest surround sound modes. This does not bother me because I don't want to buy and mount more speakers and pay for amp power and cables to drive them. The 5.1 gear is much cheaper than the 7.1 gear.
For speakers I use magnepans. MG-III's up front, MGCC1 for center, and MMG's for rears. Many don't think the maggies do bass as well as box. Maybe...but I don't have any complaints. Besides the Sunfire TrueSub Mk IV with 2700 watts will give you all the clean, tight bass you want. I would look for the MGCC2 instead of the series 1 because it is supposed to do male voices much better.
Also, my persective about HT is that most any good quality gear is good enough. How "real" does the sound need to be given that most of the sounds are not real anyway? How believable does the sound need to be when the movies themselves are not believable? I find I can enjoy a movie on good systems without obsessing about the details of the reproductions. Yes, better is better, and usually more expensive and may be worth it if you care. HOWEVER, if you are planning to do multi-channel sound, then all channels deserve the same obsessive care as both-channels in 2-channel.
Your speaker/amp combination will be the major determinant of the amount of listening fatigue you experience. My advice is listen to a lot of speakers, pick one, then find an amp that will drive them suitably. Since you seem to like speakers with a warm character, I'd recommend Soliloquy, Vandersteen, and Vienna Acoustics. Meadowlarks and ProAcs are also considered non-fatiguing but I haven't heard them. Basically, to minimize fatigue, chose speakers with soft dome tweeters instead of metal domes. If you chose a planar, like a Magnepan, your will need a high-current amplifier (a good idea anyway).
A lot of SS amps sound bright. You may need to spend more than you think to get a decent sounding one. It is hard to beat a used Rowland for the money.
Good idea to move the NHTs to the rears.
I recommend buying a mid-priced HT receiver, such as a Denon 3803, instead of an HT pre/pro. This eliminates your need for a multi-channel amp and gives you all the latest surround sound decoding formats. It also saves some money and allows you to spend more on the main speakers/amp combination where it will make the most difference in sound quality. The amps in the receiver are plenty good for HT duties. Use the amps in the receiver for the center and surrounds and power your mains with your power amp driven from the pre-outs of the receiver. Cardas Neutral Reference will work well for the IC from the receiver to the power amp (about $250 used). This cable is very neutral and non-fatiguing and is a great performer for the money. Use the DAC in the receiver as your source with the DVD player you already have as a transport.
This system will give you a baseline to build from. Live with it for a while before spending any more money. Try your pre-amp between the pre-outs of the receiver and the power amp. You may find you don't need a pre-amp. However, if you like the sound of the pre-amp in the circuit, you can use it for 2-channel and only use the receiver when you want to play movies. You'll need an external DAC or a CD player if you use a pre-amp.
Cabling can make or break a system. If you find the system is too bright, try some warm or warm/neutral cables such as Cardas, Audience, or Nirvana. Kimber tends to sound fast and neutral. Copper cables tend to sound warmer than silver ones. The Cable Co. has a rental program that lets you try out many types and applies your rental fee towards purchase.
You said you need component video connections on your HT pre/pro. You will get a little better picture if you connect your DVD player directly to your TV and only use the pre/pro for audio processing. That said, the Denon 3803 has component switching if you want to use it for convenience's sake.
Looks like you've got some great advice so far. I would agree with almost all of what tsmack wrote. I think that the Paradigm studio's are great bang for the buck, but like you I find their midrange and treble slightly veiled. Also, I have done a fair bit of auditioning lately and regardless of the equipment, I have found the experience fatiguing after about 1.5 hours. I think, I am listening so intently that it doesn't matter how the system is, I'm still going to be tired. With some bright systems, I find it hard to listen to right away, so I don't even make it past the first few tunes.
I would also agree with Kurtisk. I have experienced many HT systems and don't find that it is as critical too my enjoyment of the experience to have the biggest baddest. On the other hand, 2 channel music needs that extra bit. I decided to build a seperate 2 channel system because I didn't want to compromise it with more electronics in the way and a huge reflector between my speakers messing with the soundstage. If that's not possible, I would buy the best mains and subwoofer you can and then see if you think you need a centre and surround speakers. Since moving to a new house, I haven't hooked up my surrounds and have not yet missed it.
I echo the suggestion of a cheap DVD player. You can get a sub $200 player with DCDI that looks great. Add a good DAC and you've got some serious 2 channel, which IMO would best any of the DVD players for under a grand.