$800 to spend on speakers, $1500 on whole system


I am new to community and am seeking advice on my first good sound system. I am looking to spend $500-800 on a used set of two speakers for my living room, which is not very large. I cannot decide between bookshelf speakers or a floor speaker. I will be listening mostly to digital music, and I could use recommendations on a DAC and receiver. I would like the receiver to be bluetooth if high quality receivers come with this feature, but that's not a deal breaker for me.

My Ideal system would have two speakers at $500-800 and with receiver, DAC, cables, and anything else I would need totaling around $1200, but $1500 maximum. I figured I would start with speakers and go from there.

I like to listen to most music, except rap. Heavy metal, funk, jazz. Any advice is much appreciated. Thanks

pawadalla
I recently bought an integrated amp that I'm really impressed with for the money, and at a pretty good discount.  For you I'd suggest the Nad C356DAC, normally it goes for about 900, but is on sale at this time of year as they clear out the factory refreshed stuff.  

You should be able to get it for about $650 at spearitsound(click on the "used, demos and specials" link on the home page), if you are decided on getting a DAC, which is a module installed in this Nad.  Speakers, for 800 or less, you might be better off with a bookshelf as towers at this price range are pretty entry level.  

A great option for bookshelf speakers is an internet direct dealer like Ascend Acoustics.  The Sierra-1 outperforms anything at the same price range of $750 because they don't have the usual mark up of  the wholesale/retail brands.  

A couple of really good options to chew on!
213 running makes some good suggestions.  I would add that you look at some of the other gear in the NAD line up, and also check out Cambridge Audio's options.  Marantz also makes a two-channel integrated with an onboard DAC that you can probably source at a discount.  For speakers, I think you're gonna want floor standers to get the bass reinforcement you're looking for at that price range (full range monitors are very spendy).    There are a couple pair of Vienna Acoustic Bach's for sale on Agon right now (one on the east coast and the other on the west).  I'd take a good look at the Vandersteen 1s or 2s as well.
I own the NAD 326BEE and think it to be an excellent option given your budget ($550 new retail). I believe there is a used C325BEE for sale here on AG. Buy a used DAC that will accommodate your digital sources (what are they?). Buy used interconnect cables off Ebay or here on AG. Check out Markertek or Blue Jean Cable for speaker cables.  I am hesitant to recommend speakers as what is best is subjective, however would suggest buying a used pair of bookshelves at ~$500 Those with 87dB or better sensitivity and 8ohm impedance. 

Agree on the Vienna Bach, but at your price I would wait for a Bach Grand
Thanks for the responses. I certainly appreciate them. 

My digital sources will be mostly live recordings of bands such as Umphreys Mcgee - they play everything from jazz to metal. It will be an iPhone or a computer. I know many of these are poor quality, which will be accentuated with good speakers.  

Mainly, I want to mention that I do not plan to build a large vinyl collection. Maybe I will want to down the road, perhaps I will be ready to buy a new system by then. 

But for this system, I'd like recommendations based on no vinyl. After some thought, floor standing speakers will probably be best for me as I would prefer not to havea separate  Sub. I would be willing to spend my limit, $800, on those.

thanks again for the recommendations, and please keep them coming. I would love as much info as possible to research. 

--Patrick




You need to consider your listening space as a big part of your decision. So, size, shape, layout, and construction, if you are planning to stay put for some time. For example, reach out to the community, dealers, and even manufacturers, about recommending a speaker in your budget based on your room. Different speakers do not all work in the same space. And, supporting equipment must best match the speakers.

Don't rush in, and research instead. And, because you don't have a lot to spend right now, consider the types of music that you enjoy the most. If you have the chance to listen to any of the gear you're considering, bring that music along. There may also be an Audio Show that you can go to and listen.

Kenny

As an update to my last post: The 325BEE remains for sale. The seller is asking $300 plus shipping. You might offer the $300 to include shipping.  

Underwoodwally is offering the Micro Mega MyDAC for $249. I think this to be a very good DAC that would not be bettered at that price. He also sell the LSA Model 1 speaker at $599. Both on Audiogon, his number is listed. I am not affiliated however have talked to him and he is helpful.

You might consider purchasing a integrated amplifier and DAC with the intention of keeping them for the long haul and getting a modest used pair of speakers for the short term to provide yourself with music while exploring the speaker market in search of a pair that truly 'floats your boat’.  Purchasing new (to you) speakers is the single best way to upgrade a system and open a new window to one’s music library.  

A couple retail outlets to contact are Audio Advisor and Music Direct. I have dealt with both to satisfaction.

I believe a very satisfying system can be had with your budget. Might take some time and effort. It is about the journey.  For example, I put together a 2nd system for just around your $1200 budget and at ~50% of retail. It consists of the NAD 326BEE integrated, B&W 685 speakers with 4 column steel stands, MHDT Paradisea+ DAC, M2tech USB/SPDIF converter, Audioquest sidewinder interconnects and Type 4 speaker cables. It took time but was worth it. Enjoy your journey!


A used pair of Vandersteen 2C's would fit your budget!
Check out the PC Sprout integrated. 50 wpc, includes DAC, phono preamp, headphone amp, usb, and bluetooth.  About $500 at most sites.  Not a receiver, but you could probably pick up a used tuner fairly cheap, and still have $700-800 for speakers. 

Hello @pawadalla, and welcome to the community.

Since you're new to the game, I thought it might be helpful to lay out a list of brands to look out for. You've entered a new level, with new players. Say goodbye to your old friends Sony and Kenwood, and say hello to your new friends:

Here are the brands I would suggest looking in regards to bookshelves in your price range (used):
Totem
B&W
Sonus Faber (the Concerto can be had for around $750)
Vienna Acoustics
NHT
ELAC (Uni-Fi UB5 is getting STELLAR reviews, comes out soon)
Wharfedale
Paradigm
Proac

B&W, NHT, and Paradigm have products spanning the spectrum from basic consumer to high-end, but in your price range each of their offerings should be high quality. 

Now in the amp/preamp department, same drill. These are quality brands with offerings in your used price range:
NAD
Adcom
Musical Fidelity 
Emotiva
B&K
Outlaw
Rotel

Starting out, you may be better served with an integrated amp. That means your amplifier has multiple inputs for each of your components, and also controls the volume. In the future, you may want to get separate components for these duties.
I traded for some Silverline Minuets a while back. Smallest speaker I've owned. I'm shocked at how satisfying they are. My audio buddy is shopping for some now. Used I'm guessing they run $300-350, as they have been around a few years. Latest version is 699? I think. Reviews online are plentiful. 

Of course, your ears and your money... best to listen to something in your room before buying if you can.

Best,
gary



lots of great equipment to explore. remember, each piece needs to work well with the others, and your room, and your musical and sonic preferences...
There is a used pair of Spendor SP2/2 on eBay right now for $500. Lovely speaker and in great condition.
Research the Gallo CL-2 speakers (being closed out here on A'Gon for <$400/pair) and the PS Audio Sprout integrated amplifier (sold direct for $500).

You would need 20"-24" speaker stands for the Gallo's, but they should be fine without a sub.

The Sprout has both Bluetooth function and a DAC.

There are a couple of overachieving floorstanding speakers that have hit the market recently, which could leave you more money for the amp, DAC (or amp/DAC) and cabling. 

The two speakers are the new Elac Debut F5, available for $560/pair (also available at Amazon) and the Infinity Primus P363, currently available for $300/pair

The Elac Debut F5 review here.
Infinity Primus P363 review here.

You'd have $940 to $1200 left over for electronics and cabling. This would translate into better D/A conversion, more musical electronics, dynamic range, and more complete signal transfer.

There are several integrated amps these days with a built-in DAC. I nominate the Peachtree Nova 65SE. Peachtree has been making DAC-based integrated amps longer than just about anybody. I have heard their products and they are clean, fast, and musical. The Nova puts out 65 wpc into 8 ohms and 95 watts into 4 ohms. The unit weighs over 20 lbs., indicating a heftier power supply which generally translates into a fuller, more robust sound. List price is $999, but Amazon currently has it for $799.

The integrated DAC/amp also saves you cabling money. You can get a Belkin Gold USB cable, which is a value leader at a very low price, and then treat yourself to some nicer speaker cables, making sure more of that upstream goodness makes its way to the speakers.
The peachtree gear sounds pretty good I had the original Nova and liked it better than some other entry level integrateds. Having the on board dac is a nice feature as well. If I were going to build a system in that price range I would look into a used Nova pre and pair it with some active monitors from Adam.

Great suggestions. Thank you. 
Those are some good suggestions too. Personally I favor new DACs because USB DAC technology continues to develop rapidly along with decoding of higher sampling rates available at lower prices.
How do the dacs in the nova pre and the nova 65 se differ in their ability to handle higher sample rates? They are both asynchronous usb dacs.  

I agree with the peach tree recommendations. I had a decco in my office driving a pair of very modest PSB bookshelf speakers, and the combo was great. I had my computer plugged into the peachtree unit via USB.  The Nova is even better.  

There is a refurbished nova 65se on eBay for $699.  I would jump on that.

http://www.ebay.com/ulk/itm/321936858478

Get a $95 transparent performance USB cable, and you have $700 for speakers & cable.  A short run of audioquest type 4 is a nice budget cable, far better than basic cable, and that should run $100.

for $600 speakers, I would look at these Totems:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/monitors-totem-acoustics-model-1-2016-02-06-speakers-33434-boca-ra...

Good Luck!
just realized those Totems may be in need of repair for that price.  Worth looking into though, seems like a very good price, and the seller is not sure if there is a problem or not.
While most of us can put together a really satisfying system with a budget price to performance ratio, a beginner seldom does this on his first try. For that reason, an integrated USB-capable DAC/integrated amp is a good start. It eliminates cables between the DAC and line stage, and between the line stage and the power stage. There is also less clutter and more integrated operation. And this is at no sacrifice (and possible gain) in sound considering the budget.

The OP seems to lean toward small floorstanders, and I think that’s a good idea. Floorstanders don’t need stands, which add substantially to the cost at this budget. Floorstanders are also more efficient, fill a space more easily, have more dynamic range, and bass extension

This is the OP’s first stab at a quality audio system. I think getting new equipment with a warranty and return period is preferable to a distance purchase of used equipment of unknown age and condition. Sure, many of us know how to put together a used or pawnshop system for a low price, but most of us learned by doing. My first stereo was a new store-bought Altec-Lansing compact, with a receiver and turntable in a single enclosure and a pair of matching speakers.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of that system, but within 3-4 years I’d moved up to a Tandberg reel-to-reel with excellent phono stage, SAE line stage and amp, direct drive turntable with top-line Grado cartridge, and time-aligned floorstanding speakers. I got 11 years of good times out of that second system.
The best quality for the $ is to avoid buying retail.

Right now I'm listening to $400 full range RCA MI-12480 Alnico (read about this, they don't use such powerful magnets anywhere near this price point if you buy retail anymore) drivers in a DIY wood open baffle. They sound far better than my $3,000 Monitor Audio GS 20s.

I would pair this to a vintage tube amp that you can buy for about $400. Something like a Fisher EL84. 

Then buy a pre-owned but recent model DAC.

Save a few hundred for room acoustic treatment panels from Stillpoints or GIK. These will make a TREMENDOUS difference to the sound. I would start with these first. GIK will tell you what you need. You can use 5D Planner to create a free rendering of your room. 

So so your budget could be something like this:
$200 panels
$400 speakers 
$400 amp
$500 DAC
All replies so far have recommended using passive speakers. Passive speakers connect a single external amp (which you supply) to a passive high-current crossover which is connected to the drivers.

I suggest an alternate approach. You should consider spending as much of your $1500 as possible on a pair of active speakers and the remainder on a DAC with volume control. Active speakers have a line-level crossover and a dedicated built-in amp connected to each driver. Although it is possible to build a good system using passive speakers, the technical advantages of active speakers are well documented, and recording engineers use active speakers almost exclusively. There are many options for active speakers at this price point.

Most active speakers take a balanced input (ubiquitous in pro equipment), so you'll want to look at DACs with balanced outputs. It is possible to find balanced DACs with volume control for $300 or less brand new from pro companies. Most of those will also include a headphone amp.

I suspect you'll get the most value from your money if you go down this road.
Pawadalla,
Johnnyb53, gives great advice. My alternative would be:

Musical Paradise integrated tube amp: about $380
Used Tekton M-Lore Speakers 95db/38hz/8ohm: $450
Used Sony S9000ES SACD/DVD/CD player as Transport: $295
Schiit DAC: $350 or
Belden 8402 interconnect: $80
Western Electric WE14 gauge speaker cable: $60

Best of luck, Rob



ccolby I agree which is why I suggested the adams. I thought the Nova Pre had balanced out my mistake. 

I put together a system for a friend using Spica TC50 speakers (with good, but generic 28" stands) and an Audio Refinement integrated. These have been out of production for a while and are both great sound and good value especially is a moderate sized room. Altogether they should cost no more than approx 8-900usd leaving a lot leftover for sources, cables, furniture, etc. 
@chrshanl37 My apologies; I didn't see that you had recommended active speakers, also. ADAMs are great. I have four pairs and one single in my house, believe it or not.
No need for applogies all good! 

I highly recommend the B&W 685 S2's - at $700, they are hard to beat, and I auditioned several more expensive pairs.

Without question,the Jones Designed new Elac.towers for $600 and respectable.
Schiit Bifrost dac, wired for sound jntegrated. From a computer or lap top 
DB power amp for ripping cds to computer, Jrivers music for your music library 
Operate WiFi through your iPhone ipad, or droid  ,Kimber PBJ interconnects 
And 8 speaker cables . Or buy a few things used. You can always go up in quality
Later.
Use your iPhone for personal mobile only.  Use your 'puter as a source for steamcasters who play your preferences.  Unless you're in a large city, your options 'on the air' are going to be limited even then. (I don't, and local FM bites...NPR is the only 'local' worth paying any attention to...).

Your 'puter will give you massive storage, that's obvious.  But also EQ, recording, and other potential 'opportunities' for whatever might suit your desires, needs, 'boat floaters', etc.

The options and opinions above more or less seem 'sound' to moi'.  Keep as much as possible of your budget available for speakers, 'cause that's where the 'rubber hits the road' ultimately.  And keep in mind that your 'starter system' is a 'moving target', subject to change, at will, subject to budget.  'Audiophiles' have this marked tendency to change equipment perhaps not as often as socks, but on a random time frame subject to...well, the 'closeness breeds contempt' factor seems to fit in there sometimes....

You WILL engage in the above.  It's part of the DNA of the hobby.  Enjoy yourself.  And don't forget to Play Loud.  But don't break you lease...unless that seems necessary. ;)
Thanks a lot. I think I am leaning toward the Peachtree amp with integrated DAC, and a pair of monitors/bookshelves. My reasoning is that is that for the price, I can afford higher quality components, at the expense of some bass. However bookshelves may be enough bass once I try them out. I can also save money and purchase a sub of similar quality down the road. 
I think the triangle speakers for sale on here would sound great with Peachtree gear. Two pair for sale on here in your budget. I just heard some floorstanders at a friends house and they are killer for the money. Very easy to drive which is a huge plus. 

+1 on the Peachtree Nova recommendation.  For speakers, you should also strongly consider the Peachtree D5 bookshelf speakers.  Really decent bass, very good looking, and very underrated IMO.  They are $799, but are an additional $100 off if you buy a Peachtree integrated amp at the same time.
if you choose the D5, Peachtree used to make a matching subwoofer.  I have the D4 and the 8 inch sub - quite good. They also made a 10 inch sub

Bookshelves can always be put on stands if that'll work for you.  A sub can always be added later...
I got a Polk sub at the local Habitat for Humanity for peanuts.  A little 'cosmetics' (clean/sandpaper/semi-gloss black spraypaint)...up, up, and Away!   Well, down, down, and Away...*L*
A pair of perfect Infinity towers (smaller versions, don't remember the model) passed through there not long ago.  Tempted, wasn't in the market, and spouse would've handed me my heads (both of them)....  Used, not abused, and 1/2 of what they were worth.  Worth a troll if you've got the time to be a 'regular' there...
Just a thought...*S*
Peachtree is a very good choice. If you are now leaning toward bookshelf speakers, the Gallo CL-2's previously mentioned are an amazing speaker. The list price is $1200 and Underwood is having a close-out sale here on Audiogon.

Google reviews of these speakers. I bought some floorstanders.
Speakers = Paradigm Active 20 (rarely come up for sale) - ~$700
DAC = Arcam irDAC - $600
Preamp = Schiit Sys passive - $60 (no remote)
Bluetooth = Satechi Bluetooth Audio Receiver - $40
I agree with you on your thoughts regarding monitors (bookshelves). I also have a smaller room and though my budget is now greater than yours, it wasn’t always so. I still use monitors and am considering implementing subs. Quality bass costs!  As an aside, there is a Cambridge Audio 640a for sale on AG for $230 to include shipping. Seems like a great deal. I think it would serve well given your budget and allow for the dollars you wish to spend on speakers. You would need a separate DAC however. To me that is no big deal, within a $1500 budget there are many, new and used, that would fit. 

Regarding speakers, I remain in belief that my suggestion that you might purchase an amplifier, DAC and other source components that are fitting to a $1500 system and a modest pair of speakers allowing you to enjoy your system while exploring the speaker market. You could take your amplifier when auditioning speakers. 

My recommendations in no way are intended to degrade the other fine opinions offered. Just many ways to an end. Enjoy the journey.

I just purchased the Peachtree Nova65SE direct from Peachtree. The consensus on this thread made it an easy choice. It was $799 and the peachtree bluetooth receiver for $99.

I have done a lot of research, and created a short list of  bookshelf/monitor speakers:
-Ascend Acoustic Sierra 1
-Totem Rainmaker
-Sonus Faber Concertino
-B&W CM1

I will have to try and listen to some to make my decision. I will mention that I prefer brighter speakers to more 'neutral' speakers.
So you've got 600 or less for speakers, after spending 900 for the integrated amp.  Perhaps those encouraging this purchase could advise.  I expect they'll advise you to up your budget.  
I have accepted I will increase the budget a bit. 
Congrats on your Peachtree! If you can’t home demo speakers you might take the Peach to dealers for speaker audition.
Congrats on a nice little integrated.  As you are probably aware this will limit your speaker choices somewhat given the amps' power output into 8 and 4 Ohms.  I agree you should take your amp with you to the dealer (or even better, have the dealer loan them to you for a few days), especially if you're looking at speakers like Totem and B&W that may not completely open up with only 65W on tap.  I'd highly recommend listening to Silverline Minuet Supreme Plus as the designer engineered it to work well with lower powered and tubed amps.  They're very nicely detailed without being bright and image like deamons.  If you up your budget a little bit there's a pair of Preludes for sale here that will get you into the floor standing realm with similar sonic characteristics and more lower end extension and impact.  Used Reference 3a DeCapos would also be a great speaker to try given your amp and preferences.  Best of luck.
There are a couple of excellent stand-mount speakers that are a stretch on your budget ($798/pair for one model, $998 for the other), which sound like (I've heard 'em) small floorstanders. During demonstrations listeners start looking around for a subwoofer. They're the GoldenEar Aon 2 and Aon 3. They use a folded ribbon tweeter for very smooth and extended treble, excellent quality mid/woofers (with cast baskets and phase plugs for more even distribution throughout the room), passive radiators that extend the bass and dynamics, and non-parallel sides to reduce cabinet resonances.

They are very easy to listen to on a wide variety of music, would mate well with your PeachTree, and fill your listening space without straining.

Best of all, they're well-distributed. If you can get to a Best Buy/Magnolia, you can probably audition them live. I'm not sure who all their authorized dealers are, but here's their Dealer Locator. Comprehensive Stereophile review of the Aon 2 here.

Let's not forget, however, that the Andrew Jones-designed Elac Debut F5 Floorstanders are available within your original budget. OTOH, either Aon will give you 4-5 dB more loudness for the same power input according to both mfrs' stated specs.
I agree with @soix that you should get a local audio dealer to let you audition the speakers in your home rather than take your amp to their spaces. The thought being that YOUR SPACE will determine the sound you get out of your speaker/amp combo much more accurately than their space.

You mentioned you're in a smaller room. I think that will help quite a bit with the concerns mentioned in this thread about under-powering your speakers. A smaller room is easier to load and will provide some natural gain (https://trueaudio.com/st_spcs1.htm) as well as placing you closer to the speakers when listening.

Naturally you'll want to up your amp game at some point, as the additional power will afford you more headroom, manifesting as more dynamic sound and added transparency, but you have plenty of time. The audiophile pursuit is an ongoing journey, and you've got decades of tweaking ahead of you. 
The chances that a dealer is going to let someone demo speakers at home is pretty slim these days, let's try to be realistic here.  
The GoldenEar speakers do interest me. I know of a local dealer where I can test them at the least, and I plan to. 

I also see a couple pairs of Vienna Acoustics Haydn speakers here on audiogon for sale. Does anyone have experience with those? 
I loved the bach Grand but was disappointed in the Haydn Grand, they were bland to me. A great deal is a pair of Quad 21L that was just posted. The Haydn Grand seems to sell for very little less than the Bach Grand