I live on Long Island, so there's no lack of dealers in my area. The problem I run into is that most of the dealers on the island (at least those that carry mid to high end brands) are custom installers who are doing theaters for the wealthy and can't be bothered with small sales, or they're making their living selling Plasma TVs to people who are buying them solely because they're the cool thing to have. The other issue is that the few dealers who are even tolerable to work with refuse to give a reasonable discount off MSRP. I don't mind paying a premium to buy locally, but in some cases I'm talking about spending 50% more, plus NY's absurd sales tax.
I'm sure I could trek into Manhattan and have more luck finding a decent dealer, but I just don't have the kind of time I'd need to do this right. So while I realize I'm not making a purchasing decision in the ideal manner, I'm doing it as best as I can under the circumstances. Believe me I envy the relationship some of you have with your local dealers.
I did look into most of the units you mentioned. The Rotels and the Sunfire don't have THX Ultra2 and that for me is a must have feature. While I had the Marantz I got a chance to compare Ultra2 processing of 5.1 material to forced EX decoding and found the Ultra2 results to be better. It wasn't a dramatic difference but enough of one that it's a feature I want.
The C2, RDC-7 and Stage One all seem like excellent units that would meet my needs but they come at a bit higher price than the Anthem. I don't know much about the Bryston and can't seem to find a website for them. The DTC-9.4 I'm not that familiar with although it certainly seems feature-filled.
I did very seriously consider a used Lex MC-1, but the lack of 5.1 analog inputs was a deal-breaker. If the MC-8 was just a little less expensive I'd probably be trying to convince myself to spend the extra money for that, as it's what I really want, but I can't justify the extra expense.
Michael, no need to apologize about a long list. I really appreciate your comments, and again I understand wanting to audition something like this before buying. It's just not to be, and given that I'm trying to make the most informed decision I can. Besides, I've bought virtually my entire HT setup sight-unseen so I figure I may as well be consistent. :P