Bill, the advice that I would offer is this: you will possibly not be happy with anything unless you include some rudimentary room acoustic treatment in your budget. The room is a part of your music reproduction chain, maybe the most important. A thousand dollars worth of acoustic treatment (or much less is you are a DIY type) can make improvements of a magnitude you wouldn't believe. I know bass traps, diffusers, and absorbtion panels aren't as exciting as a new component, but they will improve a "hard" room like nothing else. Good luck, Will.
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Bill - You have mentioned alot of good gear that you are considering in purchasing without auditioning. I believe that it would be best to have a listen to the gear you are buying first and would be even better to audition the gear in your home before purchasing.
There are enough audio stores in the bay area to keep you busy for awhile. Jim @ Silent Lucidity would even come out to your home with gear if you are having trouble with your set up. (no affiliation with SL) Anyway, hope you do take the time out to audition gear, it is time consuming but in the long run it will save you time and money.
I am not a tube person but have heard good things about Onix integared. Look at http://av123.com . The company was founded by Mark Schifter (don't know if he is still there) whose previous company Audio Alchemy's products had developed a reputation for great quality at affordable prices.
The following part of your post -- "needs to be musical but want to hear the details. Don’t want purely clinical. Sound stage is important. Want some warmth but not have all the edges rounded off." -- leads me to suggest that you add the Vandersteen 3A or 3A Signatures to your short list for audition. They certainly meet your criteria, and they are not particularly fussy about the kind of amplification (as long as it's good quality).
If possible, you'd be well advised to audition the speakers in your home -- as noted above, your listening room is a very important factor in the kind of sound production you'll get.
I have Helicon 800's and they do demand high quality upstream components as they are extremely revealing, but after you listen to them for a while other speakers sound like they have wool over them or are missing some of the music. The Helicon series really brings out the detail and beauty in a lot of recordings and surprisingly is not too bad on poorly recorded rock etc. because unlike some speakers that are very "detailed" there isn't a huge tilt up on the highs, and they have plenty of midbass and decent low bass and avoid sounding thin. They have amazing soundstage depth,image placement, and separation. I would think the Plinius would mate up fairly well as it is a little on the warm side from my understanding though I have not heard one. I had the Ayre previous and it is a great player, if you are looking for something a little more mellow that still gets all the detail right, look for a used electrocompaniet EMC-1UP which should go for around what the Ayre does.
Looking for audio synergy is a noble and rewarding journey. However, I simply dont have the patience to try out so many different types of compnonents/speakers in a multitude of combinations to find the most appealing combo. I would never end up buying anything!! Since you mentioned Dali, I will add that I bought the Heli 400s, and this is where I started building my system. Yes the Dali's have ribbon tweeter, which offer lotsa high end info, but can also be too bright with the wrong components (and here the challenge of synergy comes in). I listend to the Dali with an older Denon cdp, and some recordings were too bright. Then I bought a used Arcam cd73, and the highs were higher, softer, and nicely detaileed with no harshness. Next I bought a Simaudio Equinox SE cdp b/c I got a crackin' deal on it and I love the detail and neutrality of the Simaudio gear. So now I have the Dali and Simaudio combo (like you mentioned above) and am looking for an amp/separates that is not conducive to the potentially bright-sounding high end. A Simaudio amp is a choice, and I partially share your opinion that this synergy can be too revealing and bright. I do remembering auditioning the sim cdp with the Helicons @ Audio Vision SF ( you are in the Bay area, right?) with a prima luna integrated tube amp (prologue or dialogue) and almost fell out of my chair the mids/vocals/highs were so musical. However, as expected, the lows suffered. AVSF has a lot of great choices, I suggest u check em out if not already. Let us know what you ultimately decide!
Photon46 makes an excellent point regarding room interaction. Type "acoustic foam" into the searchbar on eBay for ideas. Vandersteens- YES, but: Don't pass on listening to a properly set up Magnepan system. You have plenty of room for planars, and Maggie 1.6's are one of the best buys out there(search for reviews). You can contact them and try a pair of MMGs in your home for 60 days- risk free(http://www.magnepan.com/). They probably won't provide enough bass. After you've been addicted to the midrange liquidity, you can send them back, and get a bigger fix, with the 1.6's(better everything). It's hard to beat planars/tubes(ala the PlimaLuna suggestion) for midrange timbre/coherency, imaging, and sound staging. One caveat: If you like live volume levels- you may appreciate the 8200's power. The 8200 in a very good SS piece, but- SS is generally lacking in the ability to recreate a deep/accurate sound stage. For CD I've been using a BAT VK-D5(with six NOS Siemens CCa's from the 60's). The piece simply gets out of the way of whatever is recorded on the CD. I wouldn't trade it for anything except maybe a Linn CD12, or perhaps: the right Lector. The newer "SE" version is supposed to be quite musical as well, and generally available for 2 to 3 grand used. Save part of your budget for decent interconnects/cables too. Given your tastes for accuracy: Kimber Silver Streaks or KCAGs(for interconnects), Wireworld Atlantis 5/Eclipse or Kimber Monocle XL(speaker cable) are usually available used, at fair prices on eBay or in AudiogoN's classifieds. All those are transparent, uncolored and reasonably priced(even new). I'm using Kimber Selects(KS-1130's, same transparency, even more openess) and the Eclipses. Whatever info was recorded is transferred wonderfully, and very cleanly. BTW: My references are the same as yours with regard to female vocals, and I listen to LOTS of live music. Find a Chesky Jazz Sampler/Audiophile Test CD, and the first Stereophile Test CD to help you check out your systems abilities. Happy shopping!!
Your best bet is to go listen to what the pro's , ie. dealers , have put together . If they are good at it...you will know . If they are not , well you will know ! Bring your own favorite and well known cd's for a test listen . Take your time , a lot of stuff sounds real good for 10 - 15 minutes then starts to get fatiguing .
Try to listen within and outside of your budget level . Many manufacturers have a house sound and the mid level stuff is very close to the upper end stuff .
Then copy it .
I would buy the speakers new at the dealer where you found the best sounding 'system' as they are the hardest to deal with when shipping comes into play . Then do the rest used . Cary makes some nice CDP's that will have two outputs , one SS and one tubed , switchable on the fly via the remote . They also have digital out so that you can try different DAC's later on . And stick with an integrated amp for cost savings . If you are married to the Sim int. , then find a Sim dealer in your area and see what he is using for speakers to demo his Sim pieces . The amp and speaker combination is the most important to get right .
Try to get a big area rug between you and the speakers as well as other things in the room that can absorb some sound at reflection points such as plants , books , tapestries , pictures etc . Just be aware that your room will probably never sound the same as the dealers showroom . But take note on how he has treated his room and set up the speaker and listening positions for a starting point .
And don't be afraid to take your Sim piece to other dealers to demo with their speakers . Finding a dealer that will work with you can be invaluable . And ones that won't are telling you something !
Good luck .