So I've got the Maggies and Parasound A23 in the mix, wondering what my next step should be. Here's my current setup as it's being used:
I've got both an Airport Express and an Oppo 83 running into a Pioneer SC-25 which then feeds the Parasound Halo A23 driving my Magnepan 1.6QR. I'm using the optical out of the Airport feeding the AVR DACs and have both analog and digital out of my Oppo so that I can toggle between the DACs in the AVR and the Oppo. I have decent cables all around, and am getting a couple really good Wireworld cables (Electra for the amp and HDMI for Oppo to AVR). My interconnects and speaker cables could be better, but they're not horrible either.
So the question is, which piece(s) to upgrade next. I"m looking most seriously at a preamp or a DAC to be the next upgrade. I"m leaning towards the preamp, depending on the feedback I get here.
I absolutely must have HT Bypass, remote control, and tone controls (sorry to the purists out there but in my room the Maggies need a little bump on the low end). Right now I'm looking at the Parasound New Classic 2100. The Halo matching P3 doesn't have HT Bypass and the P7 is above budget. The 2100 has all the features I need and is within my budget.
The problem I'm having is I've never really compared the SC directly against a 2 channel preamp, so I have no baseline for how good the preamp section in the Pioneer may or may not be, and therefore have no way of knowing if and how much an improvement the 2100 may give me in that area. I don't like all the Auto-EQ crap for music, so I have all that turned off for music on the Pioneer and am using Pure Direct mode with a 3db bump in the lowest frequency. So theoretically the SC shouldn't be doing too much to that signal, but again I don't know for sure.
The 2100 doesn't have any DACs obviously, so if I go that route I'll have to get one to put in line between the Airport and the preamp. I likely won't do anything really special there, just something inexpensive to hold me over until I can go all in on a very nice DAC.
I'll go ahead and get the obligatory "Let your ears be the judge" comment to myself out of the way now. Obviously I know that applies, but figured I'd see if anyone here has any experience directly comparing the gear I've mentioned (not likely I know) or has any experience with either piece to give me a frame of reference.
If there's a preamp that meets my criteria below $800 or so let me know, I'm not married to the 2100 or anything.