$40,000: What 2-channel system would you build?


If you had $40,000 (USD) to build a system from scratch, what would you assemble?
Used prices or new prices are welcome.
Solid state, tube, mixed ideas are welcome.
Speakers?
Pre?
Power?
Source?
TT?
Cables?
...let’s say for a medium- to med/lrg- sized room...
...no need to worry about sound treatments or power conditioners, let’s assume that’s taken care of...
Would love to hear what you would build and why you would build it. If it’s what you already have built, great. Share why you love it.
Thanks in advance for any of your builds :)
Ag insider logo xs@2xjo1mtb
Why not start off on what you would build, then we can chime in?
Sure!
I'd go w/ something like
Wilson Alexia 1s
ARC Ref 75SE
ARC Ref 5SE
Lumin streamer (S1 or A1). 

I could also see something like...
Sasha2 or Yvette
ARC Ref 75SE
ARC 40th pre
Lumin... really just saying Lumin, because that's all I've spent any real time with.  And, I don't know much about TTs yet.  

What do you think @stereo5 ?
Oh.. and Transparent Super or Ultra cables, of course. 
Based on the last show I went to in Long Beach the only system I heard in this price range I would buy would be Vandersteens with their own amps.

I don't remember the pre they used, but I really like CAT.

Sorry, the rooms were mostly crap, and there were some really nice budget systems, but at the top end of cost, this was the only system I liked in place.
Well first of all it would have to be based on a turntable. Ideally the best used Teres Audio or Origin Live or maybe Sota I could get for around $5k, with the best arm preferably Origin Live and as much Koetsu as I could get new or used for around another $5k. In this price range the Herron VTPH2A is an absolute necessity, $3.6k, a little less than $5k so I would take the $1400 left over and put it into the arm or cartridge for a front end total $15k.

This will be very similar to but a little cheaper than my front end. 

Also in this price range the best value is probably gonna be the Tekton Moab. Efficient, easy to drive, with superb imaging, midrange and palpable presence. Its a little less but call it $5k. So 20 down, 20 to go.

Prima Luna integrated, stick with round numbers, call it $5k. For power, Perfect Path Technology The Gate, $5k. 

That leaves $10k for speaker cables, interconnect, 3 power cords, and a few essential odds and ends. Which is a little tight. But used Synergistic Research CTS speaker cables can be had for $3k or less, CTS interconnect about another $3k, leaving about a grand each for the three Synergistic Research power cords. Which you can get plenty good for that money, which will leave well over a grand for a few Blue Quantum Fuses, a few PHT and a set or three of ECT, however many we can get and still have enough to put BDR Cones under everything and two or three Synergistic Blue outlets to plug everything into.

I'm being generous with the above prices. With even a little price shopping you could still have a good $10k left over. In which case, in spite of the fact you said assume room treatment I assume nothing and would put about $2-3k into Synergistic HFT for the room and speakers.

That should still leave me with a couple to several grand for a good stand for the turntable. Not to be the least but the last $3k goes to four subs and two Dayton amps, for a killer distributed bass array that together with everything else makes for one super hot awesome fully fledged and tweaked music system.








@millercarbon  I like your thinking.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially on the TT.  I know almost nothing about that, so thanks again.

I also really like you're more balanced spending approach.  I could be guilty of putting half in the speakers and then pinching a bit in other areas.    

I ascribe to the 'build-around-your-speakers'- thinking.  But many would agree that starting with the source is the best way. 

I definitely would like to get into a TT, but my vinyl collection is little and very old, and not sure how well it has aged.  (Navy storage while overseas and then when retired for another year)

Why the PrimaLuna?  If I'm honest, I'm leery.  I feel like Uncle Kevin is pushing that line so hard, it feels disingenuine.  What do you like about it, and how would you compare that to audio research reference?  Which, to me, can be had for a song on the used market.  I've had ARC, many pieces, and loved it. 

Thanks again. 

@erik_squires thanks for sharing. You've got one up on me; I've never even gone to an audio show yet.  Really need to.  How do you enjoy them?  Even if they are 'lower' end? 

Thanks all!
@erik_squires ,
+1
Though I have listened to only the Sabrina's-and found them to be quite good, Vandersteen easily beats Wilson not only in performance, but in price.
@OP, 
Likewise with Transparent cables. 
Though there is a case for 'synergy', I have to say that Transparent is way overpriced for what they offer.
Just my 2 cents...
BTW, is the $40K for new equipment, or used?
Bob
@gdnrbob  
Price can be either. I agree on the pricing of TA cables... but, I do like them. 
+ @erik_squires 
What do you both like about the Vanersteens? 

I've heard vandersteen, run by my Ref 75 (at the time). Treo or Quattro Carbon (CT)... I can't recall which, but it was about a year ago and current model.  I thought the sound was nice, a bit less fwd than I'm used to with Wilson and Focal.  I would say it was a nice sound one could listen to all day.  
I'm a little gun shy on the Vandersteen external cross-overs, dura-cell batteries, etc... Seems a little McGuyver to me.  But, can't argue w/ the sound and the price.  I liked the sound better than Sabrina, not as much as Sophia 3 or Sasha.  

Thanks!
@OP,
What you enjoy about a speaker is yours to enjoy.
Don't let me or anyone try to convince you otherwise.
What I will say is that dollar for dollar, in my estimation, Vandersteen exceeds whatever most manufacturers offer. And, though the external crossovers may not be the most elegant visually, they perform their functions in a most elegant way technically.
What do you both like about the Vanersteens?
I think your post answered your question...
 I would say it was a nice sound one could listen to all day.
I think that summarizes what I like about the Vandy's.
I tried a few set of Zu speakers, too. Thinking that a speaker without a crossover might offer a less compromised (electronically) sound (like you referred to 'McGuyver-ish'). They were very good, but lacking in a subtlety that is hard to put into words (think of Dr. Evil 😉).
When you pair Vandy's with either their amp, or Ayre or Atma Sphere, and use Audioquest cables, they really come into their own. (Zero feedback amps really seem to make them sing).
Bob
jo1mtb:
@millercarbon  I like your thinking.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially on the TT.  I know almost nothing about that, so thanks again.

I also really like you're more balanced spending approach.  I could be guilty of putting half in the speakers and then pinching a bit in other areas.    

I ascribe to the 'build-around-your-speakers'- thinking.  But many would agree that starting with the source is the best way.

I definitely would like to get into a TT, but my vinyl collection is little and very old, and not sure how well it has aged.  (Navy storage while overseas and then when retired for another year)

Why the PrimaLuna?  If I'm honest, I'm leery.
 

Number One thing to know about turntables, they are forever. Unlike digital which comes with a shelf life of like a week. (If that.) My current Miller Carbon turntable (very old version here) https://www.theanalogdept.com/c_miller.htm still satisfies (amazes, actually) more than 15 years later.

Related to this, turntables hold their value. My previous table, Basis 2000, sold after 10 years for about what I paid for it. My first table, Technics SL1700 (still with me) is worth more now than when new. The Graham arm I had before my Origin Live also sold after many years for something like 75-80% of purchase price. Compare that to digital at ten to thirty years. Not even good as a door stop.

Number Two the upgrade path is a lot better. With a good turntable you can individually upgrade the arm, or cartridge, and $5k for a great arm or cartridge is a lot easier than $15k for an all-in-one type deal.

As for your records, the truth is that while no two are created equal the good ones from back in the day sound better than the new "audiophile" reissues, almost always. Yes analog is a little more work. But not one single person who has heard them compared in my room has ever preferred the CD, including even back when it was the old Technics vs Cal Audio. By the time you get to a $5k rig you can just about throw a dart and whatever you hit will trounce any amount of digital gear. (When you hear otherwise, consider how much they spent on digital and how unlikely people are to admit they made a mistake. Been there. Done that. No more throwing good money after bad.)

"Build around the speakers" goes back to olden times when everything was crap but speakers were crappiest of all. Back then the wires were so crappy that no matter how good your source or speakers you couldn't get that signal from one to the other without it being smeared half to death by the crappy lamp cord and patch cords. So what you heard back then was for the most part the speakers, and it was worth putting half or maybe even more of your budget into just the speakers. Well what else were you gonna spend it on? Thicker lamp cord??

Nowadays even inexpensive speakers are so good you easily notice every change upstream, and the really good speakers are so transparent they pretty much disappear. Yes there are differences. But in all cases they are basically putting out what you feed them, and so it is much more important to feed them a really high quality signal. 

At the same time power cords and conditioners have improved immensely. Even something as seemingly small as a fuse can make as much difference as a major component upgrade. Every single element in the chain, and even things seemingly not in the direct signal path like power cords, impacts system sound quality. For all these reasons it just makes no sense to put too much emphasis on any one component.

Prima Luna, never have heard it myself. But I have read the reviews, and posts, and have a lot of experience with amps based on the same tubes. Tube amps, unlike SS, tend to be very simple affairs circuitry-wise. My previous two amps were Aronov and Melody, both about 60 wpc, both integrated, both 6550C or KT88. Prior to these I had a McCormack DNA-1, a very fine amp I can say nothing bad about. The tube gear is just a tiny little bit better. But here you get into details like integrateds are just plain better for the money than separates. Problem is, since wire matters, its not just the pre and power amp but the power cords and interconnect that all added together eat up your budget. 

Tastes vary but I have no doubt the system recommended above will more than satisfy an awful lot of people. For sure no one will beat it with anything that does not pay equally detailed attention to all aspects of the system- not only wire but right down to the fuses, HFT, and Cones. The Tekton Moabs I do not have but am strongly considering to replace my (much more expensive when new) Talon Khorus. What I have recommended above is way beyond a mere component list. It is a very high-value, no-apologies, and complete system.


@millercarbon   Wow!  Thanks for the thoughtful reply.  You may be swaying me on the balanced (which I already fully agree with) and TT source.  
Hmmm. 
Giving me some hope about the vinyl.  Plus, I think it may be fun trying to find old vinyl at garage sales and small shops... I also like the idea of being able to make partial and incremental upgrades to the TT.
Hmmm.  When I rebuild I might just start with the TT.  But, I do think i'll still anchor around the speakers :)   
Yeah. I like tubes myself.  
I'm sitting here listening to Simaudio Moon 700i integrated.  I just got it in yesterday.  It has been playing 22 hours straight.... still doesn't sound very good.  I'm guessing/hoping it needs another couple days of (re-) burn-in.  It certainly is not as good as my Ref 75 (KT150s) and Ref 3 (w Sain Reference PC).  Always surprised; that the SS amps don't really make up in the bass for what they give up in the mids/highs.  
...but then again, as you mention, it's about half the total price once you figure the cost of pre/amp and +1 PC and +1 IC.  
Thanks again. 
Honestly I don't remember. What I remember is that most of the rooms were awful, I heard $100K+ stacks of Esoteric and other gear and that the Vandersteen room was till way too expensive for me, but at least it didn't grate my ears.



i could go any number of ways, but, I would always start with high or reasonably high efficiency speakers because I tend to only like lower powered amps; even if I had an unlimited budget, it would be a low powered amp (pushpull or singled-ended tube, perhaps a First Watt solid state amp). To save a lot of money on amplification, I would build an Elekit 300B kit amp which would hardly dent the $40k budget (I think one with decent transformers costs around $3k).  

Among the decent sounding high efficiency commercial speakers, I would consider an Audio Note AN-E at whatever quality level I could get while spending up to $20k or so.  My other choice is the Charney Audio backloaded horn speaker with the AER driver ($17k); I would seriously consider this speaker even if my budget were $150k.

The rest would be spent on sources (music server/DAC, primarily, not enough budget to also get a worthy vinyl setup), cabling and power line conditioner (something from Isotek).
@OP,
I don't think you listed your current speakers. At least, I haven't seen them on a quick read.
Bob
@larryi I'm more apt to go this route.  But... I can't do ultra low power. 

@gdnrbob  Bob, I've currently got Wilson Audio Sophia 3.  I'll be selling them, and rebuilding a system in about 6 mos.  Likley, I'll go back to Wilson and ARC.  But, we'll see.  This post has made some convincing aregumetns to consider others like Audio Note and more.  
I am a total Lumin fan owning the A-1 and now the X-1.  That is a great start.  I can't say enough positives about Lumin.  I had mine paired to Sonus Faber Amati Tradition Homage Speakers.  Prior to purchasing the SF's, I direct compared to the Wilson Alexia 1's.  There was no comparison as the SF's beet the Alexia's in overall music and sound by a large percentage.  You can get used SF's for $17-22k.  I had a Raven integrated MK2 Reflection Tube Amp.  It was also great.  IMO you can save money by buying an integrated whether it is a tube or a Luxman or Gryphon.  I also have a brand new pair of Mola Mola Kaluga and Makua Amps that have never been used that I am going to sell shortly.  I decided to go a different route and going into horn speakers.  The Mola Mola Amp and Pre amp retail for $28k and I will be listing them shortly for $14k.  They can drive any speaker you could possibly buy.  I am buying a whole new system because I just sold my house and all of the audio equipment.  
Digital only at full retail.

Quadraspire Reference X 3 shelf                                        $ 5,400
Naim Uniti Core music server                                                2,800
Nordost Valhalla 1 digital cable                                             1,000
Wire World Silver Eclipse 8 ICs  6.5'                                     1,200

Manley Neo Classic 300B preamp                                        6,100
various tube upgrades                                                              500
ATC SCM 40A speakers                                                      14,000

Isoacoustics Gaia ll footers                                                      600
Isoacoustics carpet spikes                                                       120
Oyaide R1 outlet                                                                       200
Patrick Cullen Crossover ll power cords (5)                           1,800

Mojo Audio Mystique 3 DAC                                                 5,500
Decware ZLC power conditioner                                           1,000
                                                                                            ________
                                                                                          $ 40,220

Missing is an HDD and $2,000 will get you upgraded Takatsuki 300B tubes which are astounding.


Forgot Decware silver reference with XHadow ICs milled connectors at $210/1m pr.
I’ve been in this hobby for 4+ decades, even owned my own shop. I’ve learned to seek out products that fly under the radar, preferring products without dealer markup (sold direct)

Cables WireWorld Series 8, which step below the most expensive is up to you
Everything should be Differentially balanced. After decades of either laziness, or flat out stupidity, both component designers and reviewers are beginning to see the light regarding Dif Balanced


Amp EVS 1200 provides 600 wpc (dual mono). It is based on the latest IcePower class D modules. Mine now has about 100 hours on it. I’ve had all tube systems, hybrid systems, and ss systems. This amp is the real deal, Also GaN amps are amazing, but most are absurdly priced (in a response above $28K GaN amps slashed to $14k. Sounds great, BUT... If you wait ~ 30 days, one is about to be introduced to the market that will shake up the unnecessarily $$$$$ GaN market, including the $14K deep discounted pair.


Preamp: I would go with the Tortuga XLR (~$3K). I don’t own it YET, but, it’s on the list, But for you strongly consider the new Elac Dac/Pre/Streamer a total bargain @ #2499, will save you a ton on cables, power cords, shelving... I am still quite happy with the previous generation DDP-1 + PS 5, which actually retailed for the same $


Power Conditioning:


2 @ 20 amp dedicated lines + Core Tech 1800 + Deep Core

In order, in the last 6 months, I’ve upgraded preamp interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, and digital cables. And most recently the amp. The KCIIs immediately revealed each improvement. After breaking in the EVS 1200, I no longer find the need for my 2 SVS powered subs. Due to their crappy internal XO and volume control they were FAR from seamless. Now, the KCIIs are only good to 42Hz (but the full sound from the EVS 1200 amp is amazing), but I have a large room, and plenty of large scale music where bigger speakers are needed. And so, I am in high anticipation of delivery of Emerald Physics 2.8s, which should arrive by the end of this month . Both have won prestigious awards in their class

Speakers: Again I’ve owned many, both monkey coffins and open baffle. I have owned the Emerald Physic KC IIs (open baffle) for about 2.5 years. They remind me of Magnepans (a good thing)


In your favor, if you act fast, EP has radically reduced their prices

Digital/Steaming/TT there are too many choices, but Jay’s Audio stands out for digital.


As to TTs, that’s a deep dark hole, stick with something basic like a Rega 3-6 and call it a day
hth


Wow! $40 grand for a home system, blows my 70 year old mind. Having a flash back to 1980, $3200 bought me a C-6 Yamaha preamp, Yamaha M-4 power amp, B&O 4004 turntable with their best cartridge, and a pair of Klipsch Heresy speakers. All the equipment except for the TT is still working great 39 years later. I looked at the Consumer Price Index for the past 39 years and $1 of 1980 money would require $3.50 of today's money for equivalent purchasing power. Seems today's audio manufacturers are cashing in on the rebirth of analog, but it's too bad the big brands like Yamaha or others abandoned providing the market with high quality products at a price everyone could afford. Just saying.
I was looking at speakers first but then pivoted to focusing on electronics after I heard the Luxman m900u amp. Every speaker I heard with it and the Luxman c900u preamp sounded great to me. Speakers from $5K to $20K were all extremely enjoyable with the Luxman pair. I would have been happy with any of those speakers.

I am going to try the cheaper Benchmark LA4 preamp first on the 30 day home trial with the m900u amp. The LA4 is $2.5 - $3K. I have a feeling it will get me very close to the c900u sound (maybe even better). So that is $18K MSRP for amp and preamp. More than enough left over for a great speaker that won’t break the bank.

Another thing that intrigues me on the LA4 preamp is that some pretty smart audio guys on A’Gon indicated to me that I do not need to speed a lot of money on the XLR interconnect between the amp and preamp if I used a preamp that supports the AES48 standard. I plan on running a long XLR between the amp and pre so that I can move the system away from in between the speakers.

Since I do digital streaming I will also get a Sonare Signiture Rendu with the SystemOptique configuration. That is $5K but in the short term I can get by with my Sonare microRendu $800 which is still an excellent Ethernet-2-USB interface.


@fthngrg In today's dollars, your system is equivalent to $11,200. With that much cash you could get a fantastic sounding system. The new SS gear sounds so much better to me than the SS stuff I owned 20 years ago.

With a $11,200 price tag I would consider something like a NAD amp/preamp, Hegel integrated, or my current Peachtree Nova 150/300/500. Maybe some used KEF Reference 1 speakers. That would be a much better system than what I owned in past. My older systems were actually more expensive than this $11, 200 price tag. Things like DACs are so much better now and the speakers also sound way better today than in the past. I am sure there are outliers from the past that were better but for the most part I find new gear better.

Today, I see a large segment of manufacturers that charge a lot just to show the perception of quality. There is also a lot manufacturers with affordable prices that are also of very high quality. 
yyZ...
The new Nova would be a vg choice, but the new Elac amp and dac/pre, plus Emerald Physics KC II Pros (open baffle) would be an excellent backbone
You can do a lot of mods and upgrades with those Klipsch Heresy speakers, and add a pair of nice powered " audio " sub woofers, as opposed to home theater boom boxes. Of course, I am a large proponent of horns, and the Klipsch Heritage, specifically. I am making a bold statement here, but if I were to upgrade from my updated and modified Klipsch Lascalas, I would need to get myself the Volti Vittori 5 piece system, which includes the ELF ( extended low frequency module ). Nothing mentioned above would interest me. Just stating my likes, like everyone else. 30 K for the speakers, and 10 K for everything else, with the idea of always upgrading, a piece at a time. At 65, I do not see this happening for me, although, I could go into some accounts of mine and do it, if I wanted to. Truth is, I am a happy camper, when it comes to music listening.....Sorry if I offended anyone. Enjoy ! MrD.
tweak1, what 28K GaN amps, slashed to 14 K, are you referring to ?  Unless you are referring to willgolfs new, Mola Mola mono amps, AND matching preamp. Those Putzey Mola Mola amps are not GaN amps.
MrD
My bad, but that only makes the absurd price even more absurd
What's the old saying? "A fool and his money are soon parted
Fool is probably a bit to harsh, but certainly an uneducated consumer (with money) is an easy mark, but then again, they got glowing reviews, and likely sounded significantly better than whatever high priced amp/s people were/are using. I doubt seriously that someone without an existing hi-end system would jump on board

Class D is probably the fastest moving target in all of audio
The EVS 1200 starts with the latest IcePower 600w modules to which RIc sprinkles his magical pixie dust, puts them in authentic Italian chassis, and strips the whole thing down to barest essentials, eschewing modern conveniences that create noise, all that for a reasonable (for this hobby) $2200
tweak1, that 28K includes the matching preamp. And, there are absolute reasons in using mono blocks. Did Ric say he could add a 2nd power cable to the EVS 1200, to truly utilize the superiority of mono blocking ?, or was that someone else. Having owned so many mono blocks in my life, I would spend the difference for his mono blocks. I agree about Class D. However, with audio, cars, bikes, and several other " hobbies ", it has always been, spend double, and maybe, get a 2 % increase in performance. As far as Ric, I admire his tweaks, as I have been involved with tweaks as well, for so very long. But, I do say, if you can afford it, why not...The economy needs it...You are a 4 hour drive, each way. The same invite back at ya ( bring the amp ). Enjoy ! MrD.
I agree, and so does Ric. He uses 2 independent 600 watt modules and includes 2 IECs, but only connects one. Further, RCA is NOT standard

I am not a paid employee, just a very happy customer, so if you want to hear it, then you're coming here


Do a search. I think you’ll be very impressed
+1Millercarbon, I have no idea what you just said but that sounds about right to me 👍
I'd get a couple of systems for $40K because I think that you can find really great used gear that sounds 90-95% as gear costing thousands more.  

CAT SL1 preamp approx $3500,
Korneff 45 SET  $1500
Omega's, Zu's or Klipsch $2000
Tandberg 3014 cassette:  $2000
Tandberg 3001 tuner:  $500
Rega 25 TT, Thorens TD125 mkII - $1500
Naim CDX cd player $1500
Silver IC's and speaker wire $500-750
TOTAL $13K

Motif MC7 $1200
Berning EA230:  $1200
Threshold S/200:  $1000
ProAc Response 2's:  $1500
Classe DR3:  $1500-2000
Music Reference RM9:  $1500
Proceed PCD2:  $600
Manley Stingray $2500
Cary 300B int $2500
ProAc Super Tablettes $750
Meitner MTR 101 monoblocks & PA6i pre:  $2000
Revox B215 Cassette Deck $800
Mac MR71 $500
Sonic Frontiers Tube DAC $1400
Linn Sondek LP12:  $2500
cj Premier 2 preamp:  $2500
cj MV50 amp:  $1000
TOTAL $23K

$4000 remaining - get server stuff, since I don't know anything about servers

Now, I've got a ton of gear to play around with that I could buy, sell and trade others and I'd be totally content with any of this stuff

Post removed 
Working on it will get back to you asap.
I’m still thinking about the question.