Just killing time until the Salk order is ready and thought I would put down some thoughts on my first ever separates. I ordered an AVA Double Insight 240/3, a Double 440, an Insight DAC and the Insight Preamp with all the options based on the recommendations of several people here for AVA gear. I also had a Parasound 2100 laying around I bought used in the spring that I hadn't used before I deployed. Eventually, the DAC, AVA pre and 440 will be mated to HT2-TL's for a dedicated 2 channel setup, and the 240/3, and PS2100 will run my Songtower home theater (2 pairs ST and a SongCenter). I got all these electronics in probly about a month ago, and after returning stateside, I spent some time figuring out how to hook it up into my current setup (Rocket home theater) and integrating the Squeezebox Duet I ordered. I was limited at first because it took a week for me to get in the Blue Jeans cable order (which arrived today).
For the past week, I tried a couple simple things in my current home theater (Outlaw 1070 receiver with Rocket 760's, 250MKII's and a Bigfoot). The first thing I did was substitute in the 240 to drive the front three channels, using the 1070's preouts to feed it. Just this simple upgrade did much to clean up the sound IMO on just regular tv (things like ESPN HD etc). Not a night and day difference, but to me, a noticeable change in punch, intelligibility, and less distortion/hiss. After that, I setup the PS2100 in a passthrough configuration, to try out some 2 channel goodness with the new Squeezebox.
This was done using the stock analog outs on the SB, and paired with the 240 and Rockets, made for a quite nice sound. Having done a Rocket/SongTower comparison at Dennis', I knew what not to expect from my Rocket system, having a veiled midrange, but the sound was the nicest I had heard out of my Rockets to date. One thing that was noticeable was the tonal accuracy was off, some instruments didn't quite sound like they should, and the bass was more a poof than an actual musical sound. I also felt the stereo image wasn't quite so good, I was getting good sound out of each side, but the middle was lacking. But, knowing that the analog outs on the SB suck, I figured this was the reason. Today, getting the new coax cable and the rest of the goodies to hook up my Insight Pre and Insight DAC, I was looking for a much improved sound.
So I spent some time today doing just that. SB via coax to the Insight DAC, into the Pre. MAN, what a change. A *wall* of sound emerged, and the center that was missing before arrived. Vocals and instruments were placed really well in the soundstage, and details I was missing before emerged. I love separates, and I am really glad I kicked in the DAC at the end (wasn't originally going to get one). I absolutely can't wait to get the Salks in home, because as good as this sound is, I know the extra 10% is still out there. There's a lot of listening for me to do when this all gets set up, but, it's going to be a long cold winter!
Just one other note. I ran the SB through the DAC and used both the AVA pre and the PS2100. I prefer the sound on the AVA pre, it really puts out a great soundstage. But, for home theater convenience, the PS2100 is a great pre with a number of really nice features. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either.