My opinion would be that the amp is not the problem, I would place the blame at the pre-amp. Pick up a very good dedicated two channel pre-amp with hometheater pass-through and use it when you listen to two-channel music.
The high-end pre-pro's are pretty good as music pre-amps and are a good step above mid-fi pre-pro's...but, IMO... pretty good is far from very good.
I'm not saying that an amp upgrade is not a benefit...just saying that I would start at the pre-amp.
You might want to include the AR VT-100, II or III to your list. I highly recommend going the two channel route with a good transport and DAC.
While I can't reccomend an upgrade five channel amp, I can confirm you are looking to replace the right component! I've had an extended audition of a Sunfire Cinema 2ch amp with the same results. Uninvolving, lack of detail,a bland piece of work. When I replaced it with a Classe' amp it was if I were listening to the music for the first time.
I second Dave's opinion. I think the pre should be looked at first. I would pick Theta on your current list of amps and add SimAudio Titan to the list. Good luck.
I have a Sunfire 5 channel 225 watts on my audio system, and I replaced an EAD Powermaster 2000 to reduce the heat output and the rack requirements for that 125lb amp. The Sunfire amps don't do anything wrong with the way they sound (No major sins of being Harsh, Bright, Edgy) but what I have found is they lack the imaging and some pace. Theta amp and EAD amplifier in multichannel would be good. I've had problems with transformers buzzing and humming (not connected to anything so it wasn't a ground humm) from multiple CJ's so your system will dictate whether it does this.
I would however say that Dave is correct you need to look at a good 2 channel preamp or a more musical processor, and then finally a more musical CD player if you don't change processors. Some of the best 2 channel audio you can get out of a processor is from the original EAD Signature which can be had for a bargain and used with your DVD as a transport.
Switching to a 2 channel or three channel amp (been there done that, can be an exercise in patience because of miss matched gain/input sensitivity), so make sure your processor can handle the volume gains. Back channels aren't a big deal, but most 3 channel amps are steps backward from what you already have!
let me give you an out of the box suggestion.Get 5 individual Accoustic Reality 1001 mono amps,they are rated at 500 watts@8 ohms and 1000 watts@4 ohms. I just purchased a pair direct from the manufacturer I paid atound $1700. including shipping.They way less than 10lbs each look great,and most important sounds GREAT. they replaced a Gryphon S100 amp used in single channel to drive center speaker,and a Classe 201 to do the same in my second system.I strongly recommend that option for max flexibility, looks,low heat generation,and ofcourse sound.For more data on the amps you should look up the manufacturer they are listed on audiogon.
I doubt you'll find musical satisfaction chasing the multi-channel path. Sell the pre/pro and the multi-channel amp, and don't look back. Buy a good stereo preamp with HT throughput and a stereo amp. Then compliment it with a pre/pro & mutli-channel amp or receiver that will only be used for surround and center channel purposes.
I chased music along the multi-channel path several years ago and also tired of lack of emotional involvement when listening to two channel. I'd been through many pre/pro's and multi-channel amps, all to no avail. Now my two channel rig has a list price of over $60K, and two channel music never sounded so good. I'm over 90% music now. I still have an integrated HT. I find that a Denon receiver drives the rears nicely, and I run the FR & FL outputs from my Denon receiver in through my two channel preamp, allowing me to use my main speakers for HT. Add a subwoofer, and I'm very happy with my HT also.
It's much easier to find a two channel system that does HT well, than it is to find a HT system that does two channel well, IMHO.
Get rid of the Classe' and find a suitable preamp or preamp / processor. It is my experience that most Pre / Pro's suck the life out of music. Whatever you choose to go with, make sure that you run the preamp to power amp in balanced mode. When doing this, make sure that the pin-out of the preamp or preamp - processor uses the same pin configuration as Sunfire's use a sligthly different wiring arrangement. The system would still work if the pin-outs weren't the same, but the sound wouldn't be anywhere near as good. In fact, you might want to check to make sure that this isn't what you're already dealing with now before spending any more money. Replace the stock power cord on the Sunfire amp with something more suitable and for speaker cabling, use Goertz MI-2 Veracity. Been there, done that and on more than one Sunfire based multi-channel system. Sean
Thanks for all of the great responses here. A lot of information to ponder and based upon your comments, several different choices in altering my system. I think that the first step would be to try a two channel preamp and see if that makes a significant difference. If not, then I know it is not the preamp that is the problem. Just a side note, I have owned a Audible Illusions L1 preamp and a Clayton Audio S 40 amp which has been my best gauge for two channel listening. The sound was sweet and detailed which I like.
What preamp with HT pass through would be a significant upgrade around 2K? Blue Circle BC 21? Any others??
I'm in a similar boat, and have been thinking about adding a Vacuum Tube Logic pre-amp for use in two-channel listening. It has theater bypass circuit to pass signal on to my Rotel five-channel pre-pro. I've heard the VTL 2.5 and 5.5 in the store, and hope to arrange a home demo soon. Happy listening.
Clayton amps, good choice. I have a pair of M100's running now.....sweet....
How about something like this: Cary SLP-2002 (highly modded)
I have no affiliation with the seller.
BAT, Sonic Frontiers, Classe, Blue Circle, many others out there. A couple bucks more and I've got a Mark Levinson 38S I can sell you.
I have a Theta Dreadnaught that I run with my Classe ssp-30mk11 with excellent results. It is well known to be one of the best 5-channel amps that excel in 2-channel listening. Give one a listen.