A home theater pre-processor - or pre-pro - is a premium product that is the electronic heart of a reference class home theater. Pre-pros include functionality for input switching, volume control and digital signal processing (in particular bass management and room correction).
Relative to AVRs, pre-pros offer enhanced audio quality due to the removal of power amplifier circuitry. Enhanced power supplies and analog circuitry are often included. Top-end pre-pros distinguish themselves by offering comprehensive DSP that optimizes higher channel count home theaters.
At least three 18Gpbs inputs with reliable HDMI switching that support High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Room correction that improves sound quality (many don't) and allows flexibility in top correction frequency and target curve. Trinnov's Optimizer and Dirac Live are our favored options. Capability to manage delay and level adjustment for multiple subwoofers whilst allowing overall correction of the sub channel is a bonus.
A minimum of 9.1.6 channel audio processing with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS.X. We've done theaters up to 11.1.8 with six subwoofers and two way active LCRs, so more channels are sometimes needed.
XLR pre-outs for all channels. Single cable connections that carry multiple channels are even better.
Trinnov's Altitude 16 is a lower cost distillation of their pioneering Altitude 32 pre-pro. It offers up to 16 processed channels with Dolby Atmos, DTS.X and Auro as standard. Bass management and room correction flexibility is unsurpassed.
Relative to the Altitude 32, cosmetics are simplified, but functionally it only gives up channel count upgradeability and digital outputs. Sound quality is, as expected, reference class.
At $17,000, it's not inexpensive, but if you want a 9.1.6 home theater, it's one of the only options on the market.
JBL's SDP-75 is a Synthesis focused version of Trinnov's Altitude 32. Coming in versions from 16 to 32 channels, it foregoes the Altitude's re-mapping feature for the inclusion of AnechoicEQ filters based on anechoic chamber measurements of JBL & Revel speakers. These AnechoicEQ profiles enhance sound quality and provide capability to run active crossovers for speakers like the M2 and 708i inside the unit.
For a reference class JBL Synthesis home theater, this is the right choice of pre-processor. Prices start at $23,500.
AudioControl, JBL and Trinnov are our main home theater pre-pro brands. As required, and to meet project needs, we can provide pre-pros from nearly every manufacturer including Arcam, Datasat, Integra, Lexicon, Marantz, NAD, Theta and Yamaha. At a lower price point than our pre-pro recommendations shown above, AudioControl's $5900 M5 is a good 7.1.4 pre-pro with Dirac Live. If you're looking for a pre-pro that's as good as a high-end audio DAC and pre-amp for a mixed use music / movie system, then choose Theta's Casablanca IV, starting at $20,000.
Nyal Mellor, Founder, Acoustic Frontiers