Buy used, get more for your money
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Spend most of the money on the speakers.
Use audiogon (or ebay) and buy an older integrated or even a receiver. People are dumping $2000 receivers on here for $500 because they are upgrading to HDMI. "Highend" receivers will have built in DACs that can be good, he could add a Mac Mini as a server and just run the toshlink out and be done. They also have bass management. Arcam's receivers are one of my favorite for music. Most receivers seem to lack a little soundstage when compared to good separates but it will make a good starter system. If he buys used you can always sell it in a year or two with no loss...
Anyway my point is to spend as little on the integrated as possible and buy good speakers. If he gets into it, he can sell the older cheap integrated or receiver and upgrade the front end later. Below are some cheap receivers I would use but there are lots of good integrated amps on this forum for sale. I have also added some links to some speakers.
Arcam AVR300 Receiver ($600, retail $2000)
Arcam A90 integrated ($700, retail $1900)
Rotel RSX-1055 ($350, retail $1300)
Below are a few speakers that would be good.
Usher CP-6381 ($1450, $3400 retail)
Dynaudio Contour S1.4 Speakers ($1400, $2800 retail)
Dynaudio contour 1.8 mk ii ($1400, $3800 retail)
B&W CM7 ($1250, $2000 retail)
There's no way that the Nuforce Icon2 is going to be able to drive the 87db rated Gallo Reference Strada's. I have a pair of Strada's in my small office and they need a minimum of 25W RMS. The Icon2 is rated at 18W at 1khz with 1% distortion which makes it like a 4-5w RMS amp. BTW, the Strada's are a very nice speaker. I find myself almost listening to them more than my Martin Logan Summits.
Pre owned Rogue Cronus Tube integrated with Remote, phono able as well as Headphone out and a pair of Vandersteen 1Cs.
well supported and all made in USA....
James63 i am sure you were well intended
Having an AVR with an internal Micro processor causes hash
= harshness in a high quality 2 ch music system.
That is why most folks are not biting on them and are available so cheap.
Yes I am aware of it (I have own both receivers and good separates) but I think we lose prospective here. His friend is clearly new to all of this and what we consider bad will most likely be the best system he as ever had at home. Many of the receivers processors can be bypassed, Arcam being one of them. But your point is justified and true. But really an integrated that is better than the receivers I listed will be as much as most of his budget (even used). Also I am assuming he needs the DAC that the NuForce icon 2 has.
If my budget was $2000 I would spend all most all of it on used speakers. Electronics are cheap until you get in the highend but they are all wasted if the speakers are the weakest link. Lets be honest at these price levels the speakers have far more problems than the electronics.
I can't think if a single pair of speakers that sell for under $1000 used that I would want to own. But $1500 on the used market opens up a lot of other options for speakers.
But that is what these forums are for, if we all agreed we would not need the forums.
Thank you for all the input guys!
Yes, he is looking for book shelf speakers, prefers to stick with the 2.0 set up.
DAC is optional. And based on Prpixel's input, I shall give up the nuforce :) I have never tried nurforce before, and was hoping there can be some miracle with it.
How about some Class T amps by Virtue Audio? looks like they are kinda popular:
according to 6moon's review, the Virtue amps can drive the 85db M&Ds without problem.
I use a Wadia 151PowerDac mini to drive my Stradas in a 9x10 room. It plays more than loud enough for me, but the hard core rockers might not be satisfied. The Wadia punches above its 25W RMS power rating.
I can't comment on the Virtue Audio amps, but if all you need is one analog input, the little guys might work. If not, they have the Sensation amps.
Virtue amps would be an excellent choice. They are well made and particularly good sounding for the buck. As an added bonus, you can customize the color scheme on them and swap in/out different types of power supplies. Good shtuff.
Combine that with say, a set of Nola Boxers or Sonus Faber Toys, and your friend should be pretty happy.
For about $2k used, I bought a Bryston B60 and Audio Physic Yara Evolution Bookshelves here on the 'Gon. Couldn't be happier.
Of course, it must be said that he's going to need a good source to make it sound good. If he's using an Apex DVD player or the analog outs from his TV, don't waste his money.