Originally Posted by DerekR
Yes, point taken re the Integra's analog line stage.
Following the 'many ways to skin a cat' approach, ways of getting around the Integra's analog stage had crossed my mind while reading the thread and one solution that occurred was to use an external DAC with a built-in preamp (the flavour of the times seems to be the Benchmark or Bel Canto, both with analog volume control) and run the DAC's balanced outputs to the power amp. You could then run the Integra's unbalanced Front outputs to the unbalanced inputs of the power amp and thereby not have to swap cables when you wanted 'pure stereo' - in effect, switch off the Integra. Should work so long as you're not playing the DAC and Integra simultaneously. You could even run the unbalanced DAC outputs to the Integra to allow Audyssey and bass-management processing of the DAC. With a little care you could swap between the two for comparison.
At this point I must confess that I am an 'old' (sub-50) high-ender who has been moved to upgrade from an old Casablanca. And so I'm looking to have a modern, solid DAC for my stereo collection while being able to watch musical concerts in multichannel. And, by the way, the multichannel source is a PS3. I confess I even spend the odd hour or so in the driver's seat of Grand Turismo 5 Prologue - a far cry from the real thing but my 16-year old son is amused.... and much, much quicker!
I think you may be overblowing the deficiencies of the Integra with 2-channel digital in. I did not feel a need to keep my Theta Gen Va for CD's. The Integra is perhaps not quite as good, but I am satisfied with it. Besides, neither the Benchmark nor the Bel Canto have analog inputs, as far as I know. So, under your plan, you would have to reconnect to the amps depending on which source you are playing. The only way to avoid this smoothly is via an analog line-stage with Home Theater pass-through controlled via a remote. I do not see the Integra's minor deficiencies being worth all this expense. If you are a heavy vinyl junkie who demands the ultimate, then you probably already have a preamp/line stage that can be used. Home Theater pass-through is just the ultimate solution, because it gets the line stage's analog volume control out of the signal path for home theater. Any analog line stage can work, as long as the volume is reset to the same level for home theater.
You could also seek a better pre/pro, but I have not much personal experience. The Denon has all the Integra's features plus a few more, including many IMHO useless ones that merely drive up the price. So, we are talking a whole lot more money. If it sounds better at all, which I do not know, I doubt it is by enough to justify the price tag.
The Marantz, Anthem or the Classe might be alternatives, but lack of features and price might be the killers here. That, and how much better are they actually going to sound?
Of course, if you are anything like me, once you get hi-rez multichannel going through an Integra, you will get hooked on it and lose interest in 2-channel. I just cannot see spending a lot of money on stereo-only items anymore.