Best processor that is excellent for 2 Ch music

Or I should say, best surround preamp that has excellent 2 ch music capability. Basically I am 90% music / 10% HT, and I want to have a surround processor that is excellent for music listening (so as long as the processor has a 5.1 output I am fine, don't need too much features there).

What should I looked at if I want to spend <$1500? Would prefer a silver finish and gently used on A'gon is fine. What do you think? I heard about the Proceed AVP that should be great for 2 channel, another other recommendations?

I'm using a sunfire theater grand. I've always been very happy with it's performance in 2 channel. The original sounds the best for music IMHO. You can buy them CHEAP these days. I think my local dealer may have a few B stock left for about $500-$600. Only drawback for you is that they are not silver. If you are interested in one, drop me a line and i'll check on one.
take a look at the arcam avr300 -- does a lot well for a receiver, costs about 2k new, less than 1500 used. Has excellent video processing and more than holds its own in two channel.
Enlightened Audio Design (EAD) made some of the best sounding 5.1 processors. When used as a 2-channel audio preamp, the results were more than satisfactory. These units sound so good in both 5.1 and 2-channel; that many people who own these units find that CD playback sounds better when using their CD player’s digital out and use the internal DAC in their EAD processor for their 2-channel playback. Back in the day when I used a Cal Audio Alpha tubed DAC, I can confirm this.

The models that I’m referring to are the Encore, Ovation, Ovation Plus and Signature models. All were available in Silver or Black. Current prices range between $800 and $2000. I'm guessing that original list for these units were between $3.5K and $8K. Build quality was excellent. EAD offered an aftermarket upgrade to these units adding an analog pass through along with other improvements. From what I’ve hear from owner who had this done, most were not happy with the sonic results. I’d stay away from these units.

I personally own a TheaterMaster Classic which was EAD’s soul processor prior to the above mentioned product line. My dedicated 2-channel pre is a Jeff Rowland with separate power supply. When comparing the two units, the results are too close.
Anthem AVM-20 or 30 is excellent. I spent ages studying the issue of 2 channel and multi-channel from a single device and ended upselecting the AVM-20. It is one of THE most flexible DSP pre-amps out there and includes balanced outputs (critical for me). Be prepared to spend some time learning the features is so highly configurable can get lost in the menus.

The feature I really like is the base management capabilities can still run your sub when playing 2 channel music EVEN from an analog source by passing the signal through AVM-20 high quality DAC's. You can also control a separate fact you have so many options that it is probably best to read the manual at this link.

You can completely program/control the volume limits and input levels on all paths (no chance of the kids or wife blowing your precious speakers here as volume is set at what you desire on power up, and, you can even set your own limits to how far it can be cranked)

Finally. the front panel buttons are very intuitive and quick to use, so you can get exactly what you need at the push of a single button. there are no frustrating drill down menus or need to push a button several times to step through to what you want....just hit one button and go!

This one touch ease of use, however, is only after what is admittedly a very laborious setup, which uses extensive drill down menus to give you unbridled flexibility/control on signal paths and processing.
A bit more money but Chord 8000R is an awesome Pre'Pro. Very hard to find used because anyone who has it doesn't want to give it up. Good luck.
I own an Aragon Soundstage and find it to be excellent on 2 channel, as well as on movies. The preamp section is based on Aragon's highly regarded Aurum preamp - sadly, neither unit is still made. There are other excellent processors mentioned here - I just wanted to give you another option to look at.
I just finished my search for a good 2 Channel processor. I owned the following: Lexicon CP-2. CP-3. DC-1 and DC-2; Cary P-7; and the Proceed AVP and AVP-2 Plus 6. The Proceed AVP, which is in your budget range, would be my preferred pre-pro. Imaging, soundstaging, and detail are excellent (and even better with the AVP-2). It is the most neutral of the three brands. IMO, Lexicon is clearly the worst among the three. Although detail is quite good with Lexicon products, I felt they drew too much attention in 2 channel mode to the L-R speakers instead of placing the sound between the speakers when the recording requires it. They are also quite bright when compared to the Cary and Proceeds. The Cary, as is their reputation, is smooth and relaxed, leaning towards the "dark" (as opposed to bright) side of the listening spectrum.
While I agree with Absolute, with your 90% split for music, I think you should go with a stereo pre with HT pass-through, which most have now. I used to own an AVP2, which I thought was great for 2 channel, until I bought a Levinson pre as well. HUGE difference.
You might also check out a used Meridian 565 and 562. These components work together and I don't think you can find any fault with sound quality for either music or movies. Meridian has a reputation in both home theater and music that places them in the upper echelons.

These two pieces, when configured, act as one. The 562 takes all your sources, whether digital or analog, converts them to digital, sends it all with one SPDIF connection to the 565, which then handles all processing, etc.

There are versions 1,2 and 3 of the 562v. Version 3 has two component video inputs/one output. The lower versions are limited to S-Video. I have a version 1, and don't even use the video switching--I just let me tv do that part. The 562 provides something like 8 analog inputs, four SPDIF and two toslink, so you cal hook up a lot of gear.

In addition to what you'd expect for HT processing, the 565 has a "Direct" mode as well as some surprisingly nice processing modes for music, like Trifield and Super Stereo. Unlike the cheesy "echo and delay" soundfields that the mid-fi market seems to favor, these really sound great, especially with lower quality source material like early era CDs, XM or Sirius. If you do go this route, you want to get a 565 with software version 6.2 which includes DTS, etc. It has eight channels of analog output to support 7.1 systems.

However, the Meridian gear is black and a pain to set up. Nevertheless, once dialed in, it's excellent. Awesome flexibility.
I feel duty bound to mention just how good the Classe SSP-30 Mark I is.Either running my Tom Evans Micro Plus thru the 5.1 input which gives you an analog bypass with no signal tapering,or using the digital out on my Denon DVD player and letting the excellent internal Dacs of the Classe process the signal this unit is capable of some seriously great sound.They are also bargin priced(with regard to retail)when they show up used on Audiogon.
I like the Audio Refinement Pre-2DSP.
Minnimalistic processor.
Remote is terrible, but htat can be replaced easy enough.
I don't think anything in this price range will come close in 2 channel sound to a Linn AV 5103. These things retailed for over $8000 just three years ago when they were replaced by the Kristo (15k), but one can be had now for around $1500. It is an absurdly good deal. They were actually Linn’s reference preamp until the arrival of the Klimax Kontrol. One reason they are so cheep is that they do not do multichannel SACD processing. But this is not an issue if you are 2 channel only guy when it comes to music (like me).

If you buy one of these, make sure you get a later model (blue instead of green display) that has DTS. The only downside is that they are complicated beasts to set up. Ideally, get a Linn dealer to do it for you. It cost me only $30 to get this done. (I am sure you can figure it out if you like reading manuals and fooling around with things technical, it is just not my scene.) Also, some people have a very inflated idea of what these bring on the used market, but the reality is $1500 should buy one with DTS if you are even a little patient.
I'm supprised no one has mentioned Theta. I've used the Casablanca for 6-7 years and have just upgraded my original processor to the version III. I couldn't be happier. With the Extreme DACs the unit is really detailed but musical. You can find the original Casablancas for < $2000.00 and the version II's for < $3500.00. The Casablancas have a stereo pass through (although only for single ended inputs) and analog volume control.

Good Luck,

I'm in search of a similar unit. I need balanced outs, but what I'm wondering is if anyone has compared the analog bypass on any of the mentioned units. I have a nice DAC for 2 channel and would like to know which is best for use as a volume control.

I'm in search of a similar unit. I need balanced outs, but what I'm wondering is if anyone has compared the analog bypass on any of the mentioned units. I have a nice DAC for 2 channel and would like to know which is best for use as a volume control.

For the money, and best performance out of both for the money, I suggest the traditional audiophile approach. This is basically keeping a 2 channel setup/rig, while looping a good 5.1 processor into an auxilary or "pass through" input on your 2 channel preamp, as another "source input"!
What this will do is to allow you to have the purity of your 2 channel system intact, as usual. Then, you can simply switch to your input that has the 5.1 processor attached (where all your other channels/speakers are attached to your AV pre/pro), playing the left and right speakers out through your 2 channel setup at unitygain.
Again, you can have your 5.1 pre "off" while doing 2 channel sources, tuner, cd player (assuming quality CD source component,dac's, etc), turntable, etc). This is the best compromise for the money. You can get a superb sounding higher end 2 channel pre for $500-700 range used, often less, and a good Acurus Act 3 (superb for 5.1 movies,dd/DTS,etc) for around $400-500 range used. This is how I'd do a system for a budget, where 90% of your needs are 2 channel, yes!
Otherwise, you're looking at somewhat of a compromise most often in the 2 channel department, greatly leaning on the quality of the preamp section and DAC's in your AV processor! Often, you need to spend lots to try to get high fidelity 2 channel PCM from a pre/pro, as compared to a good 2 channel analog setup.
If you don't want to do this, you might look into used Anthem AVM20. Still, I bet you won't get the same 2 channel sound as what I recommend, with a good CD player/source.
Things are always a compromise one way or another...convenience vs perfomance
I'm using an Arcam AVR300 which is pretty darned nice with an after market power cord.

I also highly recommend Cary Audio HT separates - incredibly good sounding gear for music. It has the house sound of their high end 2 channel gear with the processing power for HT.

In fact, I like it as well or better than Lexicon, Meridian and other SOTA gear.

Cary turns up here used once in awhile, where is is usually snapped up by music lover types who want to integrate music & movies into one system.
I don't doubt the Cary is better sounding as a processor than the pieces Rackon mentioned, indeed. Still, none of these porcessors are going to be as good in the preamp department as a standalone quality higher end preamp! (especially tube pre's, used, for the money!). While the higher end AV pre/pro is going to have good dac's, and good overall processing, the other portions of the preamp stages, analog out's, buffering, etc, isn't going usually be the "ultimate" 2 channel pre, In my experiences.
Still, it's always all usually a compromise. Even high end rigs have lots of compromises, whether their owners think so or not. However, some of these better av pre's have gotten good enough that most would easily (including myself for the time being, as I'm concentrating on HT) satisfy both 2 channel (digitally dirrect mostly) and HT needs! There's some good pieces out there yes.
For your less than $1,500 target you can pick up a used Cal Audio 2500. Outstanding processor and very good pre-amp functionality. I liked it slightly better than the Classe SSP 75 which is another outstanding unit but not one which would fall into your price range. The downside to the Cal is that they are out of business so repair could be an issue, but the upside is that it will be tough to find better overall performance within the $1,500 budget.
Why has no one mentioned BRYSTON!! Though I don't use this, the sp1 and up uses basically the same pre as the two channel system.
Any thoughts on going with something like the Outlaw 1070 and a decent 2-channel integrated in the $800 range or so (eg Creek 5350se)?

Seems to me a way to get very nice setups for both worlds, but not something I've done before and still don't entirely understand how it gets setup.
Flrnlamb, have you actually heard the Cary multi-channel pre-pros? The newest one, at 6k, it's a serious pice of audio gear (yes, "audio". Several of their earlier pre-pros are available reasonably and are very good sounding.

No, I don't think they sound better than my stand-alone 2 channel tubed preamp (Herron VTSP1a-166, which is fed by a Cary 303/300 into Herron M150 mono amps thence into Alon Vs).

But I'd put the older Cary pre-pros up against any $500-$700 used 2 channel preamp.

For me, the AVR 300 is dandy in a separate system from the main 2 channel rig. But if I had to condense down into one set up I'd be using my next pre (upgrading to the Herron VTSP-2 soon) with HT by-pass.
I agree James. Though, it may be a tough squeeze to get a Bryston for under 1500. The Bryston has the best two channel performance of all the Pre/Pros I have used. Again you're right, it has a completely separate analog preamp two channel section. Designed from the onset to provide outstanding two channel performance.
Rekon, I think you just anwered your own question! I simply think it's a much much better deal to go with quality digital pre, and quality 2 channel preamp, looped together. Whould I spend $6k on a tube multi-channel pre? The reality is that the Cary pre/pro (is it really a processor built into the unit,or just a multi-channel preamp?), isn't going to be any significantly better sounding, probably less, than a good quality used tube pre, in regards to 2 channel. With better tube compliments, the sound is going to be as good as one could expect in some of these used, sub $1k, tube pre's, from Audio Research(ok, a little tubby in the bass), Copeland, old used Cary even, and many others, for less money! Again, for $450 used, you can get a great sounding Acurus Act 3 digital pre/pro, and some used tube preamp (2 channel dubties), with the right tubes, all for a much better deal, maximizing both 2 channel and 5.1 channel. That's my choice anyway.
No, I've not heard the Cary piece in mention. But I've heard enough gear over the years to know what's what.
We always seem to disagree...;-)

For those who have the $$ and want to cut down on boxes the Cary is a very good sonic solution. (The pre section is not tubed BTW, although Cary is famous for their tubed pres and amps.)

As I mentioned, I'm listening to my 2 channel through 4K of tubed preamp so I'm pretty picky about 2 channel. I trust my ears.

It's just another way for someone to consider - your suggestion is valid and good adice, but not the only option.


Reckon. Yes, you're right. You can save "1 box" in your setup, by paying another $5k for the Cary piece! I don't doubt that. However, why would you? Why spend 6x's more money for a pre-pro that's VERY LIKELY got sonic compromises on one portion or the other? Even if it didn't, and was the equal of both a proven out-board solid state pre/pro, plus a proven properly tubed 2 channel pre, again, why spend 5-6x more long green, just to save one box on your self space?? Ok, maybe if you like spending as much as possible, and like impressing your friends with price tags. Then, yes, maybe I can concure.
This IS HOWEVER a used audio trading site! How can you rightly recommend to anyone here to go out and spend retail at a chain store on a very expensive piece, who's results can be had much cheaper here?
When in Rome? as the Romans do. That's my 2 cents
what about top of the line Pioneer Elite, 70lb monster with very nice power supply, thx ultra 2
Another vote for an Arcam AVR300. I'm loving mine. It sounds great for two channel listening and I'm actually becoming sort of a HT buff now as well because it sounds great for my 5.1 also. Here's a good review on it:

In regards to what Sgower mentioned, you can forget that!
Processing from the digital out into an outboard processor is always much better for dd/dts! It's never processing in the DVD player.
Yeah but for 2 channel, Sgower's option has potential. IMO better potential than a lot of Pre/Pro's offer.

At the same time, I do agree with Flrnlamb that most decoding done inside the player will be compromised to some degree. Of course to what degree depends on the player.
Actually, I'm really refering MAINLY to DD/DTS decoded 5.1 material. As for pcm material output from the analog out's of a good dvd player, that's another story entirely! a point.
Yes, often using a good dvd player into a 2 channel preamp and such is going to yeild better results for that application. Infact, my old Panasonic DVDA310 has superb 2 channel pcm and 24/96 resolution output from it's analog out's! However, going from my 5.1 channel out's into just about any pre/pro or preamp setup I know of, for processing DVD movies (DD/DTS material), has NEVER YIELDED anything but flat dynamics and lackluster overall 2 dimmensional sound! I have found this to be the case with every dvd player setup! Probably has to do with a number of factors. Basically, my setup's are digital-in from the DVD player for DD/DTS and PCM some times, and analog in for 2 channel pcm, depending.
I say depending because many of my setup's require bass managment and or "EQ'ing" for best sound, which means running full range from analog inputs (without something like an Outlaw ICBM) often leaves me with compromises in bass management and/or (sometimes, depending) equalization!
There's always compromises one way or another.
About the EAD gear used for 2 channel.I totally agree.
The Theatre Vision DVD player when used as a cdp is ok when you use the analog outs.It is really transformed into a different player when you run from its digital out(I use Harmonic Tech Magic one 1.5 m)into the Ead 5.1 processor.
I always marvelled at how good the sound was at the end of rented DVDs.I tried the dvd player. the processor and the EAD 500 amp with my CLS speakers and couldn't be happier with my 2 channel sound.Oh I bought a cheap Yami for the HT.Smooth, yet detailed sound,very musical.
Another vote for the used Sunfire Theater grand ....would be excellent in your price range. RCA and xlr connections, phono preamp and a nice tuner....if you've got good electronics to go with it, you'll be quite pleased.
I also have to say Arcam. I did a ton of research when I wanted to buy seperates. I thought I was sold on a pair of Anthem seperates (6K for the pair)... then I heard the AVR300. What was shocking was the analogue bypass. As soon as I engaged it, (or disengaged it hahaaa), I was shocked by the sound. I am not the one to say, this is better than that, or this will blow away that... but it DEFINIATELY competed with the MUCH more expensive Anthem seperates, and actually perfered it in everyway. Even the store owner said he would show me a pair of 13K seperates, and also thought that it might be a "bit" better... but nothing to go running at over the AVR300.