Auditioning had a huge affect on my potential budget

Yesterday I went to my local hifi shop to audition some gear as I'm looking to upgrade my home theater from my an inexpensive theater in a box. I had gone in thinking I would spent about $1500 total and have a pretty nice system. The employee working there was super nice and let me audition a ton of speakers and receiver combos... Even some equipment that's well beyond any budget I could hope to put together to help create a full context of gear.

The system I am looking to build is a 2.1 or 3.1... Surround just isn't my cup tea. I also wanted a receiver capable of switching between multi-channel and stereo for video vs music listening. I was shocked by how much the receiver really affected the sound. We started with a Marantz 7.2, then she showed me a Yamaha stereo model, an Anthem 520, and then a tube amp I didn't get the model of as it was five figures. I was blown away by the difference in sound stage between the Marantz, Yamaha, and Anthem... The Anthem was the clear winner the depth it created in Pink Floyd was like nothing I had experienced.

2 channels stereo amp will be always better than HT receiver .I had before 7.1 HT system but got rid of it and moved to hi end stereo system everything sounds much better now .
You said surround isn't your cup of tea BUT your looking at Multi Channel Surround Receivers?Do you listen to a lot of FM Radio?If not you want to look at a 2 channel Integrated  Amplifier...How big is your listening room?BIG speakers in a small room no good & vice versa..How are the acoustics?Lots of hard reflective surfaces will cause a brittle sound,heavy carpet with drapes & overstuffed furniture will sound like the music is in mud...
Dude, you've barely scratched the surface and you clearly have the open mind to appreciate the differences. PLEASE go to a few high end shops and listen to their 2 channel audio systems before you buy. I mean the stores that sell mostly brands that the general public never heard of. Most of them have more modestly priced gear like the the Anthem you enjoyed, that will open your eyes and ears. 
Long ago I learned that I wasted about $30k on a big home theater rig that would give me barely any more enjoyment than a bluetooth box speaker since I'm watching football, comedy, news, etc. Invest the bucks in the 2 channel audio for your music, that's where nirvana lies for many....Just my take, Cheers,