Amplifier recommendations for LSA-1 Signature

I used to be a purely HT guy - had definitive technology 7006 speakers and Onkyo mid-level receiver driving a 5.1 setup. One thing I did not like about DefTechs was how the music sounded, I just couldn't stand to listen for more than 15 minutes. Then I read about listener fatigue and the so-called 'musical' speakers, and started looking for a new set of speakers that were more musical than the deftechs. This led me to LSA-1 Signatures. Now, I don't consider myself an audiophile even by a long shot but I can tell you that these speakers are something special. I can listen to jazz, classical and semi-jazz like norah jones or melody gardot for hours at a stretch and never get tired of listening. For some reason the same speakers sound pretty mediocre when listening to rock or even soft rock.
However, I listened to another setup at a friend's house (he was using B&Ws paired with B&K) and the same music was suddenly even better than in my setup. I won't pretend to claim that I understand what people mean when they use terms like imaging or dynamic or transparent, but it sure sounded wonderful!
Now, I cannot afford B&Ws - at least the nice ones. I auditioned the ones they sell at Best Buy Magnolia but just didn't like them much. So I'm thinking I can probably stay with LSA's and use a separate amplifier in conjunction with my Onkyo (110 wpc).
So my first question: Is it even worth adding a new amplifier? I am not necessarily after more power as I listen at low to moderate volumes, but that magical sound that I heard at my friend's house - clean, tight base and even better separation than what I can get with my current setup - but at the same volume.
Secondly, I cannot afford to buy expensive gear at this time. So I'm looking for used equipment around $1200. I generally like the laid back, smooth sound of the LSAs but sometimes I do wish that they had a bit more sizzle and oomph but not too much like the Paradigms (sorry don't mean to start a flame here but that's how I felt when I listened to the Paradigm bookshelf - Studio 20).
Any recommendations?

Current setup:
Onkyo HT-RC180 (110 wpc)
LSA-1 Signature (Front LR)
Definitive Technology (Center; soon to be replaced by LSA center)
Definitive Technology SuperCube 1 (sub)
Definitive Technology (surrounds)

Short term goal:
Add a new amplifier to improve 'musicality' - even if its at the expense of HT sound

Long term goals:
Replace Onkyo with a better PrePro
Replace sub with REL
Looks like not too many people own LSAs :(
By all accounts, the LSA-1 sigs are pretty nice monitors. I have not
heard the speakers personally, but there have been enough threads
regarding this speaker that I don't think the lack of response to your
question means no one owns them. I think its because of the other
equipment, and where you are trying to go in a combined HT/2Channel
system for $1200. Also, you say nothing about what your source
component player is. Are you using a universal player?

The Onkyo is probably suspect with respect to the power amp and the
preamp section. If you weren't using this for HT, I might suggest you
go looking for a nice 2 channel integrated amp. You will probably
improve things somewhat by using the preamp out to a better power
amp, for instance a McCormack DNA 125, which you should be able to
pick up in that price range or less.
However, not knowing anything about your source, you might want to
pick up an Oppo 105 universal player. That might give you the biggest
improvement unless you already have a very good player. Then, you
will have 2 quality components, your source and your speakers, and
perhaps later down the road you can free up some more money to
address a better HT processor/power amp.
Your speakers go down to about 45Hz, which is pretty good for
monitors. I don't know anything about the dynamics of your speakers.
With a ribbon tweeter, you should be getting enough
"sizzle." Anything more is going to get you back into the
listener fatigue thing.
Brownsfan is making good suggestions. Unfortunately, in my opinion, a home theatre receiver won't bring out the best in these speakers like a very good quality 2-channel setup will give you. Your Onyko receiver will have enough power to bring these speakers to life, but in most cases, the home theatre receivers fall short with very poor preamp sections. So, connecting a good aftermarket power amp to the receiver will give you gains, but not as much as you would maybe expect because of the poor preamp section of the receiver.

If music quality is very important to you and you still want home theatre as well, get yourself a good quality 2-channel integrated amp that has home theatre bypass. Then, when listening to music, you're just using the higher quality 2-channel piece and when watching movies, the integrated amp becomes your power amp for your front two channels.

As suggested by Brownsfan, the quality of your source is critical as well.
Sorry for not being clear on the source component. Currently, that setup is not optimal - apple lossless files in iTunes --> Apple TV --> Onkyo. I understand that this setup is lacking in many ways, but I love the convenience of creating playlists on the fly and listening them on the main system.
Oppo, as suggested by Brownsfan looks promising but not sure if it can do wifi like the AppleTV. Or one possibility is: Apple TV (wifi) --> Oppo --> Onkyo --> integrated amp. What other options are there to support streaming lossless music?
Arafiq, the Oppo has built in wireless and ethernet connectivity. Also, the Oppo 105 has pretty nice digital in capability (asynchronous USB an coaxial S/PDIF) and a very good DAC by all accounts. You should have no problem running your lossless files. However, if you intend to stick primarily with digital in from a computer rather than CDs, that may not be the best use of your money. Maybe a stand alone DAC would be worth a thought.

I think Everest shares my concern about the Onyko and using it preamp out into a better power amp. You will get some improvement, but the preamp section is still likely to be a limitation. The used integrated with HT bypass is worth thinking about.
Brownsfan and Everest, thanks for all the advice.

From the beginning I had an inkling that eventually I'd have to update the pre-pro and amplifier. I thought that adding an external amp will give the best bang for the buck so that's where I should be starting.

However, based on the feedback, it looks that addressing the source and preamp issues should supersede the external amp upgrade path. Oh well, you live and learn :)

I'm sure you've already guessed my next decision point: do I first get the integrated amp or standalone DAC? Or are there any solutions that combine the two in a single unit? Any suggestions are welcome.

brownfan, btw the signatures don't have a ribbon tweeter, that would be the Statements - I wish they did though :)
Arrafiq, Your situation is a tough one, which is why I think you didn't get any responses initially.

I would make a couple of comments here about how I generally approach situations like yours. We have all started someplace, and dealt with budgetary limitations. You got a taste of what good equipment can do for you with your LSAs, and I would add that I think you made a wise purchase there. Those are speakers that you are going to be able to hold on to for a while, and as you put better equipment in the chain, they will continue to deliver for you. That is the correct model going forward. Sometimes, that means you delay purchase until you have enough available to get that next component that will push you to the next level. That can be frustrating, but it will avoid a lot of wasted money spent on making marginal improvements. Thinking about your situation, something like a ModWright integrated with built in DAC would be perfect, but it is way out of your price range, even used. I took a look for a used integrated for sale that would work for you and didn't see anything for sale right now.
The modwright stuff is superb in my opinion. Every once in a while one of the Modwright integrateds come up used, but I haven't seen any used ones with the built in DAC hit the market yet. This would be an option that would without question be worth waiting a while to procure.

I take it you are using the apple TV as your video source, so that you currently have no playback capability for DVDs or CDs, and it is your desire to continue with that set up going forward. Sorry if I am being dense, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that. :)
Thinking about this more thoroughly, if I have all this right, I still thing the oppo 105 may be your best move if you are locked into $1200 at this time. You can still use your apple tv for video if you want, but you can use the much better DAC in the oppo to real advantage with music, it has wifi capability, and it also brings physical media capability into your system.
A DAC with USB capability may still make sense, but you have to provide for connection to your digital files, which may or may not be practical. It seems to me that the Oppo circumvents all of that and you get a good dac along with all the rest it gives you.
Brownsfan, once again your advice and insight is greatly appreciated.

For clarification, I am using the Apple TV to stream music from iTunes via wifi, and other stuff like Netflix or Youtube etc. For DVDs and Blu-Rays, I use a fairly inexpensive Samsung Blu-ray player that I bought for around $150 a couple of years ago.

Upon your advice, I googled the Oppo 105 and I must say that this appears to be a great option. It has a very good DAC and wifi + asyn USB. So I can either stream the music or load it on a zip drive and plug it into the USB. I also have the option to play SA/CDs and Bluray movies. It also seems that I can potentially connect the Apple TV to Oppo via HDMI and get better pic/sound quality. Sounds like a really sweet deal! Thanks for the suggestion.

In one of the forums, it seems like at least one person is using the Oppo for a 2-channel stereo setup as well. I think he is connecting the Oppo directly to the LR channels on his amp. Not sure if I understood it correctly though, but regardless the plethora of options you get with this device are mind blowing. Thank you for taking the time to explain the options.
Arafiq, I really think you are going to get a nice improvement in sound with the Oppo. I use my older Oppo 93 in my HT and the audio is much better than with other players I have used. Its one of those nice pieces that you will be able to hand on to for a while as you continue to build your system.
I had a similar situation. I was using a Marantz Reciever to push my main speakers, and it started to have some issues. I replaced it with a 2 channel integrated, and the sound improvement was astonishing. Now I use the 2 channel to power the main speakers, and run into the HT bypass when using the Reciever for bluray. Very happy.

I use an Apple TV to stream music via toslink to the integrated, and it is wonderful. I use the Harman Kardon HK990, which can be found for $1,500. If that is too high, I would take a look at the site below, as they modify HK integrateds. I would think the modified HK 3490 might fit your needs well.

Hope this helps,
Manoterror, thanks for the suggestion. So from what I understand, you are feeding the HK directly from your Apple TV, letting the HK take care of DAC functionality. Right?

So now, thanks to you, I'm facing another dilemma (just kidding). Is the HK's DAC comparable to Oppo's? Should I first get the integrated and connect the ATV directly to it? If I go down this route, will the music sound equally good if I were feeding it via Oppo 105 (which I am planning to purchase next month)?

What other integrated amps can you (or anyone else) recommend that would be comparable to HK990?
Correct. I go toslink to the HK DAC. I was using the Cambridge Soundworks DACMagic prior, along with a Grant Fidelity tube buffer, with King Cobra cables, and this is superior IMO. The room correction software in the HK made a huge difference as well. My speakers have dual 8" woofers, and prodigious bass. The HK990 cleaned out the bass bloom and I couldn't be happier. The subwoofer integration is flawless. Instruments sound more real than I've ever heard from my system.

This allows me to use the apple platform to stream through the Apple TV. I would never give up that functionality. A good friend has the Oppo BlueRay, and he now uses it only for movies. He has also gone with Mac through toslink into his Emotiva DAC.

If you can swing the higher price (i got it for $1500 new), I think the HK990 would solve all your issues. Wonderful amp, fantastic DAC, room correction software, and subwoofer management. Those LSA speakers are wonderful BTW.

Do some research, there are extremely detailed professional reviews out there. I can't guarantee that it is the perfect solution for your system, however, I will tell you that it has put a complete halt to my desire for upgrades. I actually have a Marantz PM-11S3 sitting unopened. That's how good this amp is.

I hope this helps man. Sorry if it confuses things. :-)
Arafiq, I read the stereophile review on the HK990 suggested above. I have no familiarity with this piece, but it got a very nice review and was used with some pretty nice equipment. My guess is this is a pretty good recommendation.
I also have no familiarity with your Onyoko. My guess is the apple tv is the weakest link. If it were me, I think I would still go with the OPPO upgrade first, but its really just a guess. I have about a 50% chance of being right.
I remember reading in another forum that ATV has terrible jitter issues. Is either the HK or Oppo capable of addressing this problem when connected to Apple TV? Based on Manoterror's account though it seems that its really a non-issue with his setup. But, generally I agree with him that once you get used to the convenience of ATV (especially when coupled with the iPad/iPhone Remote app that lets you control iTunes on your computer), its hard to kick that habit :)

My gut feeling is I will eventually end up getting both the Oppo and an integrated amp. Unfortunately, my budget for this year only allows me to buy one or the other at this time.

If I go with the Oppo first, I get a very nice universal player giving me a plethora of options - streaming (via ATV), physical media, USB, BluRay, SACDs, excellent DAC, etc.

But going with a nice integrated, like HK990 might give me the results (as was the case with Manoterror) where I won't even have to get an Oppo after all, at least for audio only purposes.

Decisions, decision, decisions ... :(
Arafiq, I think eventually getting both of the pieces would be a good idea. Which ever one you do first, I would try to get the apple tv out of the music and use it for video only. An ethernet or WiFi transfer of your music files (hopefully wav, flac, or apple lossless) to the DAC, whether that be the oppo or the HK, seems better to me. The apple tv is great for what it does, but, it's a $99 piece. You can only expect so much. However, if this set up is working well for Manoterror, maybe you should go with the HK first and see if it gets you where you want to be. If it works, it will make the wait for the oppo a little easier.

We have all been infected by the same disease here. But patience is always our friend on this stuff. Hard as it may be.
If you are streaming CD quality music, the Apple TV should have no jitter over toslink. There is a really thorough analysis of the Airport Express on that concludes this, and I'm assuming it would be the same for the ATV. Note: that is an assumption. :-)

If you go higher quality files than CD, or are using the built in DAC, then jitter is terrible. I was using an Airport Express to transport the digital music to the HK prior to the ATV, and haven't heard any difference personally.

Check out the review on CA and see if that helps. In my setup the weak link was the Marantz SR7001 I was using. I was streaming into the receiver DAC, and using the DacMagic for the Mac Mini only. Replacing it with a far superior amp and its DAC made all the difference. If you use the DAC in the Oppo, I'm sure it will be wonderful. If you are going to stream digital to a built in DAC, I'm not sure that jitter will be a big issue. But I'm not an expert.

Let the fun begin! :-D
Here is the link to that analysis.

After thinking this through I feel my situation is more similar to manoterror. I am also streaming music from my ATV to a mid-level AVR. Since almost all my music is CD quality (apple lossless), hopefully jitter won't be an issue if I keep ATV in the picture, at least this year.

I read a few HK990 reviews by both experts and users, and most of them are very positive. Unfortunately, I can't find a place in Dallas where I can listen to it. The prices on the internet vary between 1200 ('used', via Amazon) to 2399. Nothing used available at audiogon or local craigslist either.

Another integrated that is being compared to the 990 is Anthem 225. I have heard good things about Anthem but don't know how it really compares to HK990 SQ-wise.