Which "stand alone" processor ???

I recently disconnected the pre / processor / tuner ( Denon AVP-8000) that i was running in my HT system due to "upgraditis" or "audio fever". As such, i temporarily replaced it with one of my two channel preamps ( Marsh P2000 ). I chose the Marsh out of my collection as it offers good versatility with quite a few inputs along with a full function remote. After all, who wants to get up to adjust the volume when watching a movie : )

The synergy that this created with the Sunfire Signature (mains) and Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature (center, surrounds, subs)is quite excellent. It's given me the "fullness" and "musicality" that i was always lacking up to this point in time. On top of this, my "big box" towers have now seemed to disappear. While they have always imaged quite well, you could always tell where the speakers were. The music is now filling the room instead of coming from specific points along the front wall. With such unexpected results, i've decided to leave this combo in place and seek out a seperate processor.

For the record, i've had pre / tuner / processors from Denon ( AVP 8000 ), Parasound ( I think it was the 1800 ??? ), Marantz (AV-9000), etc.. I went this route as a matter of convenience and space saving. Prior to this, i had a seperate tuner (Yamaha TX-950), preamp (AGI 511A) and processor ( Technics AC-300 ) in this system that worked okay, but was just too much in terms of rack space and was tonally lean overall. Since the current Marsh / Sunfire combo is by far the best sound that i've ever gotten out of this system, i'm willing to "eat up space" again in order to maintain the level of sonics that i've now achieved.

Maybe it's the fact that i'm listening in two channel rather than surround that seems "more natural". The funny thing is that i'm now using the stock DAC in the DVD player ( Sony DVP-650C) with far better than expected results. I was using the DAC's in the various processors in all of the other installations. I did this because the Sony had what seemed like way too much "digital glare" when trying to use it by itself in the past. Either way, i now have the most seamless sound with a bigger, deeper soundstage than this system has ever given me. I'm really wondering how much "bigger" it can get with all of the speakers running.

Given the above info and situation, has anybody else "been there, done that" ??? If so, were you able to incorporate a stand alone processor that did not compromise the sonics of the system as a whole ??? If so, what processor worked the best for you ? Quite honestly, one of my main concerns is that the processor either be reasonably priced or easily upgraded for future formats. I don't want to sink a lot of money into a processor that is out of date in six months. As such, the processor that i was considering before dropping the Marsh into the system ( Sunfire Theater Grand Mk II ) will be replaced later this year from what i'm told. Like many others, they will be coming out with a 7.1 channel system and that's what has me leary about buying something that is CURRENTLY "state of the art". Any thoughts or comments welcome.... Sean
Dont know how much money you have to spend as the sky is the limit in high perf. pre/pros. To recommend pre/pros that will "not compromise sonics" I think is easy. Most of the good ones will better the sonics of the average good system, if not drop your jaw. I looked at a bunch, it came down to two.

I went with the Proceed AVP after countless hours of research and getting a smoking deal on one. Since my priorities were much like yours: music first, then theater, under $3000 used, and upgradeable, to me it best fit. It has very nice quality DACS for two channel playback, and HT is close to good as it gets. The thing is good to go for 7.1 and is upgraded via software. Upgrades in hardware look to be major surgery, if at all. And it has an anolog pass through feature in case you get a CD player or DAC that has better 2 ch. sound than the AVP DACs (lots of the other contenders lack this feature). I am still coming to terms with it but so far it has performed well beyond my expectations. Its up there with the best for 2ch. most things and great but can be bettered for HT. I should have it for some time to come. Well worth the investment. VERY user friendly. Madrigal has real good support (though I would like to see that 24/96 upgrade before I die). It replaced and bettered a pretty nice 2 ch. setup.

The Theta CasaNova is another model that made my short list. Has most of the features of the AVP, no analog pass through, both hardware (cards like a pc) and software upgradable, many think by barely not quite as good as the AVP in 2ch, though some actually prefer, it is on par for HT.

Others that got ruled out early: Classe (not upgradable to my knowledge, and dont like it generally). Aragon (same). Lexicon DC and MC (top notch HT, 2ch. ??? could be missing out, but think not) Meridian (top notch HT, 2ch. like the Lex.--think not, price) Theta CasaBlanca (I wish, price) Integra (not on the used market when I was looking). I am sure there are plenty of others, but this was my list of runners that got ruled out for reasons I cannot even remember now.

All above should do really well for you in any case. Go check out the websites of Proceed and Theta, both these companies are very helpful in listing a bunch of reviews in their favor that do a pretty thorough job on details, pros, cons etc.. I think each discussed will easily meet your criteria.

Hope that helped.
I forgot B&K pre/pros. These, actually should get a hard look. They are reaasonably priced, software upgradable, abundant in the aftermarket, just under the AVP/CNnova in Ht and 2ch., but really nice. Also see the Cal Audio (there is a review floating around somewhere on the net) new pre/pro and EAD has one. . .man, the playing field is big. BTW I saw a Theta Casa Nova at audioweb the other day for $2000, and forgot to mention these have a really nice bass management system that you can fully customize.

I think you are better off runing a processor through a two channel preamp with a by-pass feature. No stand alone processor will sound as good as a ARC LS25, Sonic Frontiers line 2 or 3 ect. You can use a HT receiver with pre-outs and you won't need a three channel amp.
I must agree with Chris. Not too long ago I was in a similar state of confusion as you Sean. And while I do agree with Chris, I also purchased the Proceed AVP, what sounds good in my system at my house may sound terrible in yours. Actually, I don't believe the AVP can sound terrible, maybe just not as good. Being a "hobbyist", not a true audiophile yet, I am quite pleased with my set-up. While moderately priced, more often than not I prefer my HT system over the many different 2ch. systems I've heard in a lot of the Los Angeles area Audio Shops. Granted, I'm not comparing it to the way hi-end systems, just what the shops demo speakers with. So for your info, this is my set-up, hope it helps:
Proceed AVP
Musical Fidelity E-624 CD
Rotel RMB-1095 amp(200wpcx5)
Def. Tech. BP3000tl mains
Analysis Plus Oval9 bi-wire to mains
Tara Labs Master GenII interconnects(CD-AVP)
Analysis Plus silver Balanced ICs(AVP-amp)
BMI Whale pc for CD player
Black Mamba pc for AVP
MIT Z-cord 2 pc for amp
This is my 2 channel set-up, and I use the analog pass-thru feature available on the AVP. So far, so good. BTW, I disagree with Chris on one point. I don't know if there can be a better processor for HT, everyone who has watched a movie at my house has been stunned by the sound, not only that, but the AVP has "broadcast-quality" video switching. Happy Hunting, Jeff
Jeff, I was just trying to be objective and politically correct to account for those pre/pros. that I have no first hand experience with, but certainly MUST sound better for HT playback based on their double or even triple the retail price of the AVP! But like you, I couldn't be happier with the performance in either arena. If there is something better out there at this price point right now, I don't even want to know about it. Ignorance is bliss! :)
The only surround processor that can match a two channel only pre-amp is the California Audio Labs SSP-2500. Check Widescreen Review for information. I have often noticed what you discribed with surround processors lacking the sound quality of an analog only pre-amp. The Cal 2500 cost 5400.00 only has about 5 surround modes, no video switching or built in tuner, and only 5.1 channels. Why then does it cost so much? Because Cal chose to invest more in the hardware for better sound instead of having more features and worse sound quality.
I had a 5 channel setup but it got in the way of upgrading my 2 channel.I ended up buying the Magnum Dynalab processor which takes a 5 channel signal and blends it into 2 channels with a subwoofer out. My room is small so I didn't miss the total surround setup.It is very satisfying and my full 2 channel is available for audio without changing any wires. The MD cost only about $650.
Let me clarify what i'm looking for. I want to KEEP the Marsh in the system and am looking for an "outboard" processor, not a "stand alone" unit. I worded my post incorrectly as i was thinking that it was "stand alone" since it would not have a preamp nor a tuner section built in. Any suggestions for this one ??? Otherwise, i might be "forced" to check into some of the other "combo" units out there. Sean
EAD has not been mentioned--I would recommend auditioning it. I auditioned quite a few processors. It came down to 2 processors the AVP and the Ovation. There are a few things to note about the EAD. The video switching is not broadcast quality (I don't use it at all) and there is no component video switching. Volume control is strictly in the digital domain and there is no bi-pass--so I run this into a pre-amp with a bi-pass for HT use. If you listen to analog and do not have a separate pre-amp the EAD is probably not for you. On the plus--it is upgradeable--in fact they are now offering 8.1 channel upgrades for my unit (I'm going to wait and see if there's going to be software available to make it worth while). Sound quality is excellent. I found it to be smoother, better developed (in terms of enveloping the listener) and much better low level (micro) dynamics, than the AVP. The AVP was more dynamic on loud passages, but I could always pick out the speakers on the AVP.