There has been a war fought in the audio trenches for years. The battles have been bloody and the losses have been high, yet the war drags on. Of course, I'm speaking of the war between "receivers" and "separates". On one side, the "separatists" claim sonic purity, improved dynamics, and greater flexibility. The "Receiverites" claim equal or better sound on a dollar-for-dollar basis and more advanced features for less money. This war has reached a level of stalemate due to the fact that both sides are (mostly) right. Is it then possible to ever reconcile the do-or-die hardcore in each camp? Well, maybe.... In the true spirit of diplomacy, I think I have found a comfortable middle ground where one can have the best of both recievers and separates. Add a dedicated power amp to a receiver. Now, I'm not going to try to tell you I invented this solution, and certainly this will not be a panacea to cure all ills. I have seen others heralding the benefits of adding a separate power amp to a receiver for quite a while, usually getting their voice lost in the din of the "receivers vs. separates" battle royal. And, no matter how good an amp, it won't make a cheap (read; shitty) receiver into anything it isn't. On the other hand, if one starts with a good receiver, adding a separate amp to a speaker system that is not capable of resolving the nuances of sound between the external amp and the receiver is a waste of money. So, with that very large caveat that all the components in the system will affect the outcome, I'm here to tell you it is definitely possible to get the best of both separates and receivers if one is willing to concede the inherent advantages of a dedicated power amp for driving quality speakers AND that there are receivers out there that are at least equal to, and in some cases better than, pre/pros costing much more. Case in point. I have a Pioneeer Elite VSX-49TX receiver. The latest and greatest from the Land of the Rising Sun with full THX Ultra 2 certification and processing, automatic room equalization, very high quality component video switching as well as video format conversion. In short, this shiny black jam box has stuff even $10K pre/pros don't. And it does what it does very well. Don't any of you hardcore separatists try to tell me a receiver can't sound as good as a equivalently priced pre/pro because I'm going to tell you to prove it and you won't be able to. However, I will concede that the one major shortcoming of even this state-of-the-art receiver is the amplifers built in. While I am absolutely certain that a well-designed receiver can bring a level of performance to a modest system that could only be exceeded by spending considerably more money on a full-blown separates system, not to mention the convenience and ease of use for the non-technophiles out there, I also now know with certainty that once the price/performance of one's speakers exceeds the price of the electronics in the system, no receiver's amps will do them justice. Continuing my case in point... I have had a hardon for B&W speakers since the first time I heard the venerable 801 many years ago. You remember that funny looking one that looked like stacked boxes with the little tweeter cube on top. Obviously, everyone's tastes in speakers will vary, but to my taste, the B&W Nautilus line is simply the cat's meow. I have reached a point in my life that I can justify the kind of fundage that it takes to put these beauties in my living room. Just barely, and I still can only wish for a pair of N802s, but I am the proud owner of a pair of N804s and, just recently, the baddest center channel speaker on the block, the N-HTM1. I have now had two top-of-the-line receivers hooked into the B&Ws. It took me just under a year to figure out that even the very highly rated B&K AVR307 nor the 49TX were doing these speakers justice. I finally started paying attention to those smart guys that figured this out before me. Time to get out the checkbook/credit card/whatever and get some real ampage for my speakers. The first step was a tentative one. I bought a used 2-channel audiophile quality amp, a Sumo Andromeda, from a friend. My thought was it would take the obvious strain off the receiver allowing the other channels to be driven more efficiently and it would provide me with true "separates" sound for music, which I listen to in 2-channel stereo exclusively. That was when I had the smaller HTM2 center speaker. After trading the HTM2 for the big brother HTM1 last week, I couldn't stand the thought of powering a two thousand dollar speaker with a receiver. The solution was a solid 3-channel amp of sufficient quality to bring out the potential of the B&Ws. I selected the now-discontinued Acurus A200X3. Acurus amps are (were) the "budget" line of Mondial, if you can call a $1500 amp a "budget" amp, whose flagship Aragon amps have a well-deserved reputation for stunning audio performance. The Acurus line share a common design philosophy with the Aragons, and hence a similar sound, though without the esoteric level of build quality and esoteric price tag. I found a close-out deal on a new A200X3 for under a grand ($999 actually) so I leapt upon it. Hats off to Bob at Avalon Audio (avalonav.com) for terrific service and a special thanks to UPS for screwing up and delivering the box a day early. Overnight service for the price of 2-day. Cool. I actually went to work late (with permission) so I could set up the system and do some listening right away. Once the amp was wired in, I sat down to recalibrate and was greeted with my first surprise. Not only did I have to reduce the levels of the front three channels (expected), I had to rather dramatically reduce the level of the side and back surrounds which are still powered by the 49TX. It seems the power supply of the receiver performs considerably better when it is not under any sort of strain. Duh. After lining up everything, I was treated to the next surprise, and I have yet to wipe this silly grin off my face. This receiver controlling this amp driving these speakers is something I was not prepared for. Frankly, I did not expect much real improvement in sound quality beyond having more power for demanding soundtracks. What I have gotten is a top-to-bottom overhaul of my entire front soundstage that has thrilled and amazed me. Now my B&Ws sound like what I paid for them. Well, actually they sound like more than what I paid for them. The forward soundstage has taken on a clarity, depth, and breadth that I would not have thought possible. And that for stereo. With 5.1 soudtrack material, the improvements are at least as apparent. The sheer effortlessness with which even the most ddemanding soundtracks are reproduced, even at reference level, is stunning. Dynamics I never knew were there have me in a position to have to become acccustomed to a completely different kind of sound. Along with the incredible clarity and detail is a smoothness of sound that allows for very comfortable listening at much higher levels than before. I suppose this is what happens when one feeds this kind of clean power to a good speaker. There is no trace of harshness or gritiness in any register. Just smooth, clean sound with great delicacy and subtlty on the one end and serious slam on the other. I am truly amazed. Now, before you separatists tell me I should just buy a pre/pro and an amp with a few more channels, I will direct you to the Pioneer website (VSX-49TX). Find me a pre/pro that does all that for $2400 because that's what I paid for the receiver. And for you guys with receivers that are thinking you don't need a dedicated amp, well, maybe you don't need one. Or maybe you do. I didn't need the Acurus amp for my front channels, but then, I'll never go back to "just" a receiver ever again.