Meridian, Meridian, and Meridian. The 561 and 568 can be picked up at good prices. Upgradable via internet software.
In the MSRP range you've indicated, I'd give Rotel a serious look. Not many manufacturers are making a pure 5.1 pre/pro now, as everyone seems to think that more surround channels means better sound (often, maybe even rarely, true). Like you, I decided to stick with 5.1 channel HT, and haven't regretted the decision a bit. If you are willing to buy a used pre/pro, add the Bryston SP1 to your list. It's a really fine unit with analog bypass, although it lacks inputs for SACD as well as Dolby Pro Logic II. Several used SP1's have been listed for salerecently on A-gon in the $2200-2400 range.
I'm surprised no one mentioned the studio choice for processors "Lexicon". In your price range you may have to go used, but the Lexicons will blow the socks off of most processors. There is a trade off however, for pure music pleasure they are not the best. Picture quality and effects they can't be beat. So all and all they build some of the best units. You also may consider that if you get a 7 channel even if you don't use it for now you are future proof. I have a DC1 couple years old no problems really impresses my friends while watching things blowing up
Well, yes, the Bryston is great for stereo but.....about 1/3 of the DVDs currently on the market have been QC'd or mixed with a Bryston in the chain. No other brand is even close to having as many professionals relying on their gear. Bryston is widely accepted as "the" standard for audio quality control in the Movie industry.
That being said, I still believe that HT performance is very close among all the top competitors. I have practically heard them all and liked a lot of them. Along with Bryston, and Meridian, I would look at Lexicon, Anthem, Rotel, and EAD, as well.
Meridian 561, Bryston SP1, Lexicon MC1 looks nice,
Mdridian 561 - I heard that it's DAC is only 20bit as opposed to 24bit on others... is it true? what does it mean?
Bryston SP1 - Beside those extra featurs and bells & whistles, is there differece sonically sounds quality performance etc compare to SP1.7?
Also, Bryston's website says "Easy Upgrades" with bold face under feature section(http://www.bryston.ca/sp1_m.html), What does it mean? Does it mean I can get it upgraded with DPLII - Is it supported?
Bryston is a chip based software upgrade. I upgraded my SP1.7, it was $50.00 and included two chips, a chip tool, and all new case screws. It was easy.
The SP1.7 is devoid of bells and whistles, really straight forward, and downright easy to use. No video switching though!
I think the only difference between the two is the 5.1 input. I dont know about the SP1 and DPLII. I like it(DPLII) and wouldnt want to do without it, or DTS:Neo 6, for that matter. You better check with Bryston to see if those are available through chip upgrades in the SP1.
Based on what I have read -- I have not done an A-B comparison between the SP1 and SP1.7 -- the SP1.7 is an upgraded SP1 that provides 5.1 SACD/DVD-A analog inputs, 6.1 and 7.1 formats, and several updated HT processing formats (Dolby ProLogic II, etc.). There may also be an upgrade to the DAC chip. For more info, I suggest you read comments on Bryston's web site (www.bryston.ca), or send an E-mail to James Tanner, Bryston's technical guru. (You can send an E-mail by going to the web site, and clicking on the link that says "Contact".) Tanner is great about giving prompt replies -- I have never waited more than 4 hours to get an answer from him or one of his staff.
Distortion: you may have had a chip upgrade done to your SP1.7, but that is not the same as having a SP1 upgraded to the 1.7 version. The upgrade from 1.0 to 1.7 is very extensive: replacement of the rear panel inputs to include 5.1 jacks for SACD/DVD-A, output jacks for 6.1 and 7.1 channel output, updated surround-sound processor formats (such as Dolby PL2), etc. The last time I checked, the cost for the conversion was $1000, plus another $200 for the newer remote.
SD, thats true and I didnt mean to imply that. Sorry. The chip is a software upgrade only. The 5.1 inputs and the 7.1 outputs are unique to the SP1.7 or factory upgraded SP1's.
I am still not sure you must have a SP1.7 in order to upgrade to the newer surround software decoding/encoding (DPLII/DTS:neo 6). Currently my setup is 5.1. It seems logical that the SP1 "could" handle DPLII with the proper software. I digress, that logic could be flawed. For instance, the SP1's boards may not have the proper configuration for the DSP engine.
I would like to add that, not only is James Tanner extremely attentive. Ann Forbes with Bryston (who handled my chip purchase) is just as attentive and professional.