A little help with my first system

I am in the process of putting together a home theater setup in my basement as well as an audio system for the rest of my house (2-3 other rooms). So far I have mainly been looking at the NAD 775 and Rotel 1560 as the best bang for my buck while still achieving the highest sound quality possible. I wish I could afford separates but not going to happen by the time I budget in speakers and the components that I will need. I would love to get some feedback on my future system as I have been operating in a vacuum so far with the exception of some help from local dealers (that aren't so local when you live in providence, RI). Below is what I am thinking along with some questions that I have....

First a little background, I am trying to run home theater in my basement which is now wired and ready to go for a 5.1 system. The basement is carpeted with 8' ceilings and is roughly 12x12. This room will be meant for mostly TV watching (90% of use, 10% stereo). The next room is my living room where I am aiming for the best sound quality and plan to use the best speaker/amp set up. The living room is where I will spend my time listening to stereo only! The room is 13x15 feet with wood floors, area rug, and couple of chairs/couch. The last room is the kitchen/dining room that is 12x23. I am setting up this room for background music while we cook or throw parties. And eventually I may add speakers to our bedroom upstairs.

In terms of music, I listen to a pretty wide variety with my favorite being acoustic/folk- anyone from Colorado should know what I mean when I say Studio C! There will also be some pop and classic rock as well. My main source for the music rooms will be an apple TV with a separate HD filled with lots of lossless files as well as pandora played through the Apple TV. I may also play music from my CD collection or radio on occasion.

First- the receiver. I think both of these units will allow me to run up to 4 rooms with the help of separate amplifiers. Anyone have experience with which (rotel vs. NAD) will give me the best sound for my dollar as I have not been able to hear them side by side with the same speakers? My hope is that the sound quality will actually be a little bit better for the living room by bypassing all of the processing and using a separate amps. Both seem to give me the same flexibility in terms of running amplifiers for the additional zones and control features. My recent concern with the rotel unit is that it only plays from the analog inputs in the additional zones. I am wondering if this is good thing or a bad thing? If I have good components with quality DACs or separate DAC, will I get better sound than relying on the NAD's built in DAC's that will allow me to play from all of the digital inputs in all of the zones? I know that the NAD has an additional room set up feature, but I don't get the impression that going without it is a big deal. Are there any other options that I should be considering or reasons for picking one unit versus the other? I considered getting a separate stereo set up for the kitchen and living room zones, but I don't have the bankroll to buy that much gear. I need to start somewhere so these two seemed like a good start.

Living room- I am planning on trying out a bunch of speakers this weekend. So far I have been listening to several from B&W, paradigm, PSB, and totem. I am anxious to try them out in my place but so far I have been most impressed by the totem columns (staff and hawk) and the B&W (listened to the 600 series and CM series in the store). I figured that I would pair the speakers up with a rotel or parasound amp. My goal was to keep the budget below $2k for the speakers and find a good deal on a used amp through audiogon. So far the B&W CM series as well as the totem's are leading candidates after my initial store auditions.

kitchen/Dining room- my wife isn't going to let me put floorstanders in this room so I will be using bookshelfs. I have been looking at the same brands as above (B&W, Totem, PSB and paradigm) wanted to spend just a couple hundred bucks on a new or used pair and may use the extra 2 channels of amplification from the 7.1 receiver until I can afford to add a second amplifier down the road.

There will be lots of other costs as I am pretty much starting from scratch here. I will need a universal remote, lots of cables and wire, as well as a little help with the programming/fine tuning setup.

I apologize for the long message, but I wanted to try to answer a lot of the questions up front so that I could get some good feedback on mine! I am new to the whole audiophile arena so whatever I end up with will be a huge upgrade in sound quality. I would certainly appreciate your feedback and suggestions on gear and how to best set up a home system with a home theater room.
it appears that you're looking in the right direction--you seem well informed and are certainly considering high-quality components. among your candidates, i personally prefer rotel to nad, principally because of reliability issues; the step up from there would be the pricier b&k or arcam. as for speakers, you positively can't go wrong with psb synchrony/imagine, paradigm studio/signature or totem; perhaps you can do a different brand in the second zone for variety's sake. happy hunting.
You are on the right track. Very well informed and knowing exactly what you need. I either owned or listened to most of the brand names that you are mentioning above. In my own experiences, Definitive Tech and would be my first choice for movie soundtrack - very crispy, detail and powerful bass. I am not interest in B&W unless they are Nautilus series or higher. Same thing with Paradigm, I prefer signature series or as least the Studio 100. Both lower series model from these company sound a little dark to me and need to crank up loud to get the best out of them. Totem is a good contender for music listening - very warm and seductive but lacking dynamic slam that I want and also required a great amount of space behind them to sound best( I almost bought the Totem Wind but end up with a different speaker). I heard the old PSB Gold tratus more than 10 years ago and was impressed by their imaginary and soundstage. I don't have a change to audiotion or listen to their late model so no comment here. On the AV, I don't have any experience with any av receiver. but most of my 'phile buddies like Onkyo and Denon. They say the futures of the av receivers from these 2 companies are up to date and most of them sound ok. But all and all, It is easier to build your system around your components, not the other way around. Hope you have fun on your quest.
Thanks for the feedback, I am a bit OCD when it comes to doing the research. I was thinking about it a little more today and wondered if there were any good audiophile tuners in the $500-$1000 range that would run multiple rooms? I could always do a cheap HT receiver and then run some of the inputs into a more music minded system? I really hadn't done much research on the pre-amp only option for multiple rooms....
Just a qualifier, are you trying to run everything off one receiver? I might recommend starting there if you must, but multichannel receivers are never going to do for you what even a modest dedicated two-channel system can. With that said, here are my two cents on 5.1 plus 2 plus 2.

I think for the money, in multichannel recievers you get more from Onkyo/Denon/Yamaha/Sony ES than Rotel or NAD. NAD has a different and slightly warmer house sound than any of these others that may appeal. I do suggest that you listen to the biggest Onkyo you could afford with decent cables hooked directly to a good pair of speakers and not through the showroom switching boxes, and I guarantee you will be pleasently surprised. Whatever you get, look for the feature of being able to shut off DACs, lights and other noise makers when you don't need them to provide the cleanest possible sound when using your receiver as a simple amplifier for music listening.

Some people like Emotiva electronics which provide separates at a very reasonable price point, although their new surround processor has had some reported firmware snags out of the gate. Their amps are certainly very reasonably priced for the level of reported performance. You could combine one/some of their big amps with one of the big Japanese AV receivers for more kick, or get a used McCormack, Odyssey, or other higher quality amp if you can find one.

As for speakers, I really like the Totem columns and the B&W CM series - good choices. For surround system, Paradigm Special Edition 5.1 system is hard to beat and their Monitor series speakers are also very good if you can live with the vinyl wrap. PSB Imagine series are very nice, and of course the Synchrony series are excellent, but also very expensive. One curve ball - have you listened to Vandersteen Model 1c or 2ce Signature II's. Not the prettiest speakers, but a completely different and some feel more engaging presentation than the typical wooden boxes.

In the $200 range, both PSB and Paradigm make excellent budget bookshelf speakers that could serve your Kitchen/Dining room application. PSB Alpha B1 and Paradigm Atom Monitors both have got it going on for very little money. The Monitor Audio Bronze BR1 is also very nice sounding, as is their Radius R90HD "lifestyle" speaker which is small and has huge WAF.

Good luck, I am in a similar situation and am thinking about setting up several systems for a new house.
I have actually just started thinking about doing a more dedicated set up for the upstairs. Are there any good options for a pre-amp that would run two rooms (the living room and kitchen area) and allow me to turn them on/off separately? I know it is a bit of a stupid question because I am sure there are tons of good options but any in the $400-1000 range new or used?

I ended up purchasing the totem forest the other day after falling for their sound after multiple listening sessions. I know I will likely need an amp with a fair amount of power to run them so a dedicated pre-amp is probably the way to go.
First, let me say that the Forest's are wonderful speakers - give them enough room away from walls to breath and enjoy. Second, I love Totem speakers with old Musical Fidelity and Naim integrated amplifiers. Not sure if any of these are in your price range can handle two sets of speakers - but are a good match sonically. The requirement for driving two sets of speakers will be a limiting factor, and many of the better choices available used will not meet that bar.

Here are some options that can work surprisingly well with the Forests for under $1,000 new and will drive your four speakers. As you can see, I am a fan of Cambridge and NAD two channel amps. I suggest you read the reviews on these pieces and go listen or try at home with your new speakers if possible. I also recommend staying above 50W per side if possible to get the most out of the Forests.

New Receivers:

-Cambridge Topaz SR10 - new product
-Outlaw 2150 - very nice receiver for little money, art deco styling

New Integrated Amplifiers:

-Marantz PM-8003 - good amp
-Cambridge Audio Azur 650C - very capable and sophisticated sounding new amp
-NAD C-355BEE - a little more laid back, strong bass

Just over $1,000:

-Cambridge Audio Azur 740C (look for this to be replaced soon and be available at steep discount)

Worth breaking the bank over:

-NAD C-375BEE - punches way over $1300 price tag

If you cannot swing a new C-375BEE, look for a used NAD C-372 integrated as a possible alternative. Not as good as the C-375 or as resolving as the Cambridge amps, but a powerful and gutsy amp nevertheless.

Good luck
Excellent, thanks for your feedback and help. I thought the forest speakers were exceptional in terms of their sound and that passed the wife test for placement in our living room (quite an accomplishment). This project of mine has evolved quite a bit from a whole house Niles system with in ceiling speakers to a much more audiophile oriented project as I have done more research and listening. When purchasing the forest, I realized that this is a speaker I could grow into in terms of electronics. I will be in demo mode this weekend and will see if I can latch onto a few of the units you mentioned. I have heard different NAD units drive several of the Totem line and so far I have liked the sound.

If I were to push the budget a little more towards $2K, does that open any other enticing integrated options (still with the two room idea in mind)? I was wondering if there might be a way to get tricky and buy a pre-amp then run it through two amplifiers two power the two rooms. Even if it was running from the pre-out from one amplifier to the next one to power the background music for the kitchen? I am guessing I might lose some flexibility in terms of the volume control in the last example.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, all the new integrateds I suggested above can meet your requirements to handle two sets of speakers. I am not sure that a separate pre and two separate amps is the most elegant or highest performing solution for a budget up to $2K. Here are some other ideas that I think would work very well, and a couple that follow your suggestion. This level of electronics is more suited to your application and will be rewarded by the Forests. I could not figure out how to make a Naim amp work in this configuration and price range, but if a dealer can figure it out, I strongly recommend you check out the Nait 5i integrated.

Some new Integrated Amps between $1300 and $2000 that can handle two sets of speakers and would pair well with the Forests:

-Creek Evolution 5350 Integrated - nice amp, good resolution without being sharp

-Vincent Audio - SV-236 MKII - Hybrid Stereo Integrated Amp - excellent and powerful amp with a touch of tubes

-Exposure 3010s Integrated Amplifier - another good amp

-NAD C-375BEE - still punches way over $1300 price tag

-Cambridge Audio 840AV2 Integrated Amplifier - good amp, like with 740C I expect this model to be replaced and soon be available at steep discount.

Integrated amp with one set of speaker terminals, pre-out connection and an additional outboard amp:

-Simaudio MOON i-1 Integrated Amplifier plus Parasound Zamp v.3 Two Channel Zone Amplifier

Your 3-box solution - I actually think these might work well:

-Parasound - Halo P3 Balanced Preamplifier, Odyssey Khartgo amp (request balanced inputs) to drive the Totems and run RCA connectors from preamp to Parasound Zamp v.3 Two Channel Zone Amplifier for the kitchen speakers


-Parasound - Halo P3 Balanced Preamplifier, Parasound - Halo A23 Balanced Amplifier (run all balanced) for Totems, and run RCA connectors from preamp to Parasound Zamp v.3 Two Channel Zone Amplifier for the kitchen speakers (this combination a little over your budget if bought new).

Remember, if you go these more complicated routes, you have to buy one or two extra sets of interconnects and if you want to get into upgrading power cables eventually, up to three new power cords. If you buy one of the integrateds that can handle two sets of speakers, you save a bundle on wires.

Some ideas anyway. Again, good luck.