I've been happy with my Marantz AV7005. I'd probably choose the AV7701 today. I'd like to have Audyssey XT32, but I couldn't justify the price delta for that model.
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I have the Yamaha CXA5000, I had a chance to compare it side by side with the Marantz AV7701 and AV8801 in my house. The Yam blows the 7701 away, the 2 channel is better on the Yam vs the 8801, but i believe the HT is better on the 8801, but not $1000 better in price difference. You also have Onkyo 5509 and Integra 80.3 in that range youll want to check out. I didnt use any measuring tools, just my ears.
I'm always gunna recommend the high end 2 channel dedicated preamp, mated with the best used high end AV pre-pro you can then afford after Is left over the budget. Otherwise, know you're likely gunna at least compromise the 2 channel ultimate quality, trying to find the "do-all" AV pre to do all duties! That's my experience over the years, anyway. And, as long as you find a clear, detailed, dynamic sounding AV pre-pro for movie duties, and your HDMI digital connection, you'll still have pretty much the best of both worlds! Just loop the AV pre into your 2 channel analog preamp, and it works great.
If you spend $3k on some older used Krell, Theta, Classe, Meridian, whatever, I still think you lose some on the 2 channel, just keeping it all in digital domain from HDMI, but mileage may vary.
Otherwise, go through the used listings here, and find the best AV processor that fits your budget, and do a google search for a review. Peace...
I use an Onkyo 5509 on my main 2.2 channel (music only) system because it sounds better than the ARC, Joule, and Benchmark pre-amps it replaced. I attribute the improved performance mainly to superior bass management software and Audyssey XT32, but can't say that with certainty. It's always available new for less than $2500 and - from time to time - you'll see a new one under $2K.
Several years ago, during the research before I bought my Onkyo, I AB'd a pair of AVRs (Denon?) at a local Magnolia AV showroom just for that purpose. It was one of the few places equipped for rapid switching of AVRs for A/B testing. Unfamiliar room, unfamiliar system, centerboard switching in-line, etc. are appropriate caveats to my final judgement.
I recall that the difference between the AVRs featuring diifferent Audyssey versions was subtle (and might have been due in part to other distinctions between the models) , but that I preferred the xt-32 version for greater clarity/definition in (roughly) the 1 1/2 octaves below middle A. Complex rhythm lines on bass guitar, synth, and/or stand-up bass just popped. Vocals (right up into the middle of most song's vocal range) also seemed generally cleaned up a bit and, overall, I was sold on xt-32.
Once I settled on x-t32, I did decide to save a few bucks with the Onkyo vs the Integra variation. BTW, I've also done less formal A/B comparisons with my own Integra non-xt32 AVR vs my Onkyo xt-32 equipped pre-pro and reached a similar conclusion. I do like xt-32 equipped models better, but it's never Audyssey A/B'd in a vacuum.
For me, the Onkyo's price tag of just over $1500 made it a pretty easy call, because it was still a helluva lot cheaper than the ARC, Joule, etc that I'd previously used. Given that the differences were subtle, I can't say that it's a clear cut call. Were I making a strictly rational value decision, I might have opted to save the money and pass on xt-32.
Look at the Antherm MRX 510 and 710 as well. They are receivers but lots of folks are using them as pre/pro's. Their room correction (ARC) is supposed to be one of, if not the best in the business and they forego some of the frills of the Denon and Onkyo's of the world in favor of better specs and sonic performance. I'm replacing my aged Onkyo 805 with the 510 and have auditioned it an was very impressed. Haven't received mine yet, but its on he way! My Onkyo has served me well but stories of poor quality in recent years have scared me away from them.
I followed a version of the path suggested by Avgoround. I replaced a Cary Cinema 11a with a Parasound JC-2 analog preamp. I had been using only analog bypass inputs to the Cary. If you buy an Oppo 105, that could serve as your processor. It does speaker and bass management, can switch among several digital inputs, optical. SP/DIF, and HDMI, and has fine analog audio and superb video. I connect a DirecTV HD-DVR via HDMI to the Oppo to use its superior audio and video. Stereo from the Oppo goes to the JC-2.
In my case, I need the separate preamp to accommodate a Sony XA5400ES and a JC-3 phono stage. I marked the volume control of the JC-2 at the level where it matched the surrounds direct from the Oppo to the amps using an SPL meter. Parasound offers a by-pass mod that does this with a switch, but I've yet to return mine to the factory. If you only want to play discs and TV, then you need only an Oppo 105 connected directly to your amp, and that connection can be 7.1 if your amp has the inputs. You'll want to use the stereo outputs from the Oppo for the front LR channels so you get the best sound, but the manual will tell you how to set that up.
Just to kinda resonate with some of the inferences here - recommending the 2ch analog preamp avenue - I remember going to quite a few sales training and "demo" seminars of both main stream AVRs and even small company esoteric electronics (Separates AV pre/processor makers) companies, over the years of being in the business...and I remember, on more than a few occasions, saying to myself, "MY LITTLE PASSIVE 2ch VOLUME CONTROL POTS IN A METAL BOX SOUNDS BETTER THAN ALL THE R&D AND EFFORT THEY ENDED UP GETTING OUT OF THIS $3-4k FLAG-SHIP RECEIVER OR PROCESSOR THEY'RE PLAYING FOR ME!!!" -NO KIDDING!!! ..it's what it is!
Lol. Just saying...they got compromises to make all that digital and critical analog parts in the same chasis!
Still, it is amazing what they've done for so cheap over the years...price wise....bang-fer-the-buck-wise
Avgoround's passive box is why I suggest if OP's source is an Oppo BDP-105 he skip the processor and preamp and connect the Oppo directly to the amp. What's a preamp going to do for the analog stereo output of the Oppo? At most it could color it in some way that might be pleasing to the listener. If there are other analog stereo sources, that suggests a preamp for switching among them.
Of course, there are no free lunches...and, in a perfect world, there would be no need for preamps, all together, perhaps!???
I know this is thread about "which pre/pro...", so pardon the blip in the thread. ..But I find the problem with the only passive route ,for 2 ch, (believe me, I've tried it MANY a time, either direct out of a dvd or cd analog-out source with integrated internal volume and passive pre both) is you often lose on the dynamics and presence side of things! In this case, you're relying strictly on the ananlog output devices and buffer stages, etc, to give you your "gain" - which an active preamp most always does better, in my experience. And, while the passive route is sometimes a great choice, depending, perhaps, on system matching - or even the types of source material one finds themselves using - there are simply too many attractively priced used quality preamps out there on the market (tube or solid state0, that offer the slam and dynamics that a good active pre can offer, while still offering that very clear, detailed, large soundstaging neutral kinda sound which audiophiles crave! In fact, the very very best are about at transparent sounding as any passive setup!
Again..sorry about the diversion here on the thread..although we are considering the 2 ch side of things for your music duties, yes??? Otherwise..My bad!. hehehe..
I sold Marantz for a long time. And tested many as well. It is still a 2 dimensional brand. Bel Canto and Oppo both can give depth. You would be a fool to buy a 2 dimensional pre amp. The Onkyo 5509 and Integra 80.3 both can give a wide and deep stage. But they also both give a much better individual physical image compared to Marantz.
When I sold Monitor Audio speakers, it is quite easy to outperform a Marantz amp. The Onkyo/Integra will win wiht a much more 3 dimensional image.
Comparing makes audio a lot more easy to understand!!
They both are prepared for Audyssey pro. They both can give an even higher endresult.
Thanks for your ideas and recommendations. Based in part on them, I'm considering buying either
a used Anthem D2V or a refurbished Arcam AV888 or,
a used AVR; an Arcam 600 or Anthem 510/710 and using it as my pre/pro
Avgoround, nice way to hijack a thread! Just kidding. I'd love to pursue your suggestion to buy a 2-ch dedicated preamp and pair it with a used high-end pre/pro. But, current demands of work, travel and family, don't allow me the time for the experimentation and research required for good system matching with 2 new components, possibly made by 2 new, and/or different manufacturers. Which probably means that I don't have the time to work with and learn the Audyssey feature of the Anthem pieces mentioned in my first paragraph.
As I've thought about this while considering all of your comments, I'm led to consider another piece of newer Arcam gear; my old AV8 has played well with my Bel Canto amp and my Ohms. Is it wrong to assume that a newer Arcam piece will have the same characteristics/sonic signature and, will play as well as my soon-to-be-retired Arcam AV8 with the rest of my system?
I have sold Arcam over 8 years of time. They still have one of the best musical sound in their price range.
But.....there are 2 limitations; Without roomcorrection Multi channel is never that balanced as with systems as with Audyssey Pro.
2nd limitation is that the stage has no depth. In all tests you Always get the same outcome in depth. When you use speakers who can give a deep and wide stage they will limit the endresults. This is a property that others can do a lot better.
In tests they should tell people how a stage is being build. But unfortunately this is not been tested.
..on that suggestion, DO try the Oppo direct to the amp, n see what you get. Then, DO try substituting a class A or B Stereophile rated Preamp into your system, n compare. ...n then you'll know ..n then you can tell the rest of us what you came up with!? (Disclaimer: REGARDLESS of what all the Naysayers who believe that cables n wires make no difference, DO use recommended quality wires between your components! -this way, leaving variable of bad sound down to actual components being the cause..not the wires!)
Yes DpPhd guy, a used high quality preamp is clearly TOO expensive to try (could also EEEAAASILY resell it if not.doh!)
for someone in market fer $3000 prepro!
Clearly,the man's obviously a penny pitcher with zero flexibility in his purchasing decisions, so why try something at all??!
what was I thinking? ..