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I had been buying the 2nd from top model Marantz HT receivers for about 20 years, repeatedly upgrading to the then-current model. Earlier this year, I bought a Marantz AV-7704 pre-processor (again, 2nd from the top model), and found a used Rotel RMB-1565 5-channel amp.
My wife had often "remarked" that dialog was difficult to understand with the all-in-one receivers. Now, she says how real things sound. I, too, noticed a big improvement in sound quality with the new configuration of a pre-processor and separate multi-channel power amplifier.
This was probably the most significant upgrade to the home theater system since I replaced the old DLP TV with a Samsung 4k model.
Edits: 12/02/18Follow Ups:
Ditch the center channel and rear speakers and spend only half as much on an integred amplifier from Exposure, Leema, Naim, Audiolab, Sugden or Ayre.
You stop listening for surround effects and begin loving the sound of faithful Sonics on a higher level.
I can turn the volume up, but it still doesn't sound natural.
It's a bit awkward upgrading the family entertainment center,
but I intend to give it a go one of these days.
May years ago I owned the flagship Pioneer Elite receiver and ran very VERY easy to drive Wharfedale Vanguard horn loudspeakers 95dB sensitive and sat mostly 10 ohm.
The receiver was 125 watts per channel and one of those silly 0.00025%THD specs sort of things.
Like you - muffled voices and not the best sound at all - I was ready to sell my speakers in fact. My dealer at that time said the speakers should be pretty good and he lent me a Bryston 3B power amp to take home. Even though I could not afford it back then.
So I brought it home and connected it up and WOW. Like a completely different loudspeaker - tight controlled bass - pin drop speed.
In fact that amplifier was what got me interested in high end audio.
Like the other poster noted though - the preamp processor can make even more difference and my dealer noted the same - BUT the power amp - even on HE speakers in spite of having worse specs than my Pioneer Elite still won the day.
I didn't sell the speakers - I sold the Pioneer Elite for a two channel Arcam (as that is all I could afford).
I have yet to really go after Home theater properly. I have spent most of my time doing two channel which has involved SET amplifiers etc. But when I do go home theater I will probably start with something like the Anthem AVM60.
I replaced/upgraded my home theater speakers 3 times with no real improvement in speech intelligibility. It wasn't until I went to separate pre-pro and multi-channel power amplifier that this improved.
I, too, looked at the Anthem AVM60. One nice feature is the large volume setting readout. The Marantz's is too small to see from across the room. I reduce volume at almost every commercial, and during the non-singing parts of The Voice, etc. So increasing the volume back to the original setting is important. The Marantz iPhone app is flaky, frequently losing contact with the pre-pro.
I would also agree. Once I replaced my top-of-line Pioneer Elite HT receiver with separates, I never looked back. Separates is the only way to go in HT for clear speech, a powerful presentation with detail.
Me? I don't do multi-channel, or much video use, but? I've found much larger differences in preamp/linestage sounds than in amplifiers - so long as the amp could handle the given load.
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