Another amateur in need of advice

Hello all. I'm basically as green as they come, and am looking for some advice in putting together my first 2- channel audio system. Looking to keep it analog, with vinyl playback being the primary purpose of this whole escapade. If I feel compelled to stream something, i would just get a decent bluetooth receiver to appease the crowd of an informal get-together. 

I am looking to experience an "audiophile-grade" sound, but one that is also a giddy and involving listen. Some bass presence would be welcome (newb). In any case, I would prefer to keep the budget under $5k. First question - do I need an integrated amplifier? Can I just get an amplifier and connect the Lounge phono stage that I'm leaning towards? Or connect a CD player or radio tuner? Basically, does a power amp require a pre-amp, which it seems that an integrated provides? As far as integrated amps, I was first leaning towards the newer Rega Brio, but then I heard about the Rogue Sphinx V2. But then I read about all the noise issues with the Sphinx, which really turned me off from it. Noise issues would really steal the jam from my doughnut. The Heed Elixir seems to tick a lot of boxes, but it also seems that it really imparts it's own texture to the music. Maybe that's a good thing? A budgetary stretch - the Croft integrated looks pretty dang cool. If I only need an amplifier rather than an integrated for my purposes, any opinions on the Croft Series 7? 

As far as speakers, I'm as lost as the previous paragraph suggests. Right now leaning towards the Quad S-2, but was considering the KEF LS50 until I read that they sound best with a more powerful amp. Ditto for the Dynaudio Excite X14. And apparently the LS50s are rather bright sounding? Was not considering floor-standers until I found out that the Monitor Audio Silver 300s are pretty easy to drive. Every gosh-darn review I read only sends me deeper down the spiral of confusion and indecisiveness. 

My turntable choice is pretty set - the Mofi ultra deck with the better cartridge. Since it's $2200, it kind of eats up the budget considering the additional costs of cabling and, potentially, speaker stands. But it seems that it's the sort of component that I'll keep for life. 

I'd appreciate any words of guidance and wisdom! Have a good one! 
 My advice would be to spend a significant amount of the budget on the speakers and the turntable/cartridge. I would go very light budgetwise on the amplifier, and yes you need an integrated amplifier. The preamplifier stage is quite important and if nothing else allows you to control the volume!

I have a feeling that if you choose wisely with the turntable and the speakers, the integrated amplifier might prove to be the component you upgrade next. If that’s correct then you could skimp a tiny bit on the integrated amp. This doesn’t mean choose something that isn’t any good. It just means spend less money on it.

Something very affordable comes to mind. At one point in time I had an integrated amplifier in my office made by peachtree. It was not expensive, sounded very nice, and even had a DAC built in for a digital source.  The model I had was the deco. I believe you can find the nova by peach tree for very good prices either refurbished or used. There is a peach tree deco on audiogon now for $500, which is a great fit for your budget.

$2200 for your table, you already have a phonostage, $500 for the Peachtree, that leaves $2300 For speakers and cables.   Speakers are super personal, but I would put these brands on your radar: Elac, Totem, Magnepan. I would spend as much money as you can and speakers! Elac is making waves in the audio press for offering high end performance for a lower price point. $2k on an Elac speaker may be impressive.

As for speaker cables and interconnect cables, I would recommend going with  The entry level from a well respected manufacturer such as Kimber or Cardas.  You can get a pair of Interconnect worth it’s salt for $100, and short pair of decent speaker cables for $200-$300.  Check out Kimber PBJ and Kimber 8TC

Good luck!
Yeah, to have audiophile sound first of all you need audiophile speakers. Buying unheard is always a big challenge and in your case even more so. I would not go anywhere before choosing speakers. In addition to what is on your list, I suggest you audition Vienna and Spendor. For integrated amp and possibly separate phono stage I would probably go with used, the same with cables.

@cleanshirt At the most basic level, think of it as a series of boxes, some of which are packaged together, while others stand separate.

CD transport



Phono preamp [amplifies signal from cartridge]


Power amp

CD transport+DAC=conventional CD player.

Preamp+Power amp=basic Integrated amp.

Now, many Integrated will also include a Phono preamp, but not all. Be sure to check.  If you have a free-standing Phono preamp (MM and or MC), you don't need one built into your Integrated.  An increasing number of Integrateds also include a DAC, in which case you only need a transport (or another digital device) to do digital.  If you're not interested in digital, you don't need this.  Some Integrateds with built-in DAC will *also* have built-in Phono preamp, but not that many.

Making a firm choice re. one component usually reduces the options re. the other components, though the record deck/arm/cartridge choice really doesn't.  It just tells you whether you need an MM and/or MC Phono preamp (either free-standing or built-in).

Those are pretty nice speaker models, you might look at ELAC and Vandersteen too.  Different people will tell you different things about where to start--at the head of the chain (source) or the end (speakers).

As you're firm on the LP deck, my personal recommendation would be next to "audition" some speakers in your price range.  No amount of reviews can tell you what your own ears tell you, and once bought, you're living with the results on a day-to-day basis for some time to come.


marktomaras, inna, twoleftears, thanks for your replies! Super informative and provided lots of new stuff to explore. Can't say I can spring for a set of vandersteens just yet, though. 

Since I'm going to be using this system mostly for vinyl playback, possibly a cd player, and looking for as small of a noise-floor as possible, I've begun considering the NAD C 316BEE and 326BEE. Reviews seem pretty darn enthusiastic. And that would free up my speaker budget to more seriously consider something like the silver 300s. Kind of a weird combo, I guess. 

Very generally speaking and to somewhat simplify things, within this price range I would most likely go after British set-up. They know how to get a good sound without big expenses in smaller rooms. Definitely consider only Moving Magnet cartridge, I like Goldring 10xx series, they have been proven performers for decades. If you decide on Rega turntable then maybe Rega cartridge. Phono stage is important, $500-$750 should be enough for an acceptable separate unit new.
Having worked ~25 years in the audio industry, I definitely saw many mistakes made as people assembled their systems. One of the most common was spending the majority of their budget on speakers. The best speaker available can only sound mediocre when it's driven by a poor signal. This poor signal could be caused by anything else in the system. Keep in mind that the overall system is only as good as the weakest component. Another common mistake was a poor match with amp and speaker as this is very important.
I agree with Inna, perhaps you can do better than the MoFi table for $2200, freeing up more for speakers... a mid level rega used can be really nice, with a higher end MM cart
Dang, thanks all. Starting to sound like freedom from choice is what I may need. In a tizzy - i guess stepping out into reality and hearing some of these setups is the next step. Any thoughts on the two NAD amps I mentioned? Are they really that far down-market in terms of quality, or are they just stripped of superfluous b.s. and thereby cheaper? 
How big is your room and how loud do you like to listen?  

I own the LS50s.  They are superb.  I had them in a small media room--10' x 15'--powered by a Creek 100A and they were dynamite.  I have them in a large living room now (same integrated)--16 x 26--and they sound great but only near field.  They do like some juice. 

I like the advice you got above.  If I were you I would take that advice and when buying the integrated I would go used--Exposure, Creek, NAD, etc.  
Buying quality speakers up-front means they only sound better as your system improves. Sound advice.
Maybe  the wireless LS50’s? 
I think, we are all in essence in agreement.
Just don't rush with purchases - sound you will hear next might be even better for similar price, or less.
What may complicate auditioning, besides less than ideal match of components and cables, is that the speakers and equipment need time to fully break in, sometimes hundreds of hours. Ask the dealers questions about this. And don't let them push you, they usually can figure out an inexperienced person.
i guess stepping out into reality and hearing some of these setups is the next step.

At this point what you will ’hear out there’ is not going to translate into the ’reality you hear’ in your room. I advise against doing so. At this stage, it’s a fool’s errand and will not serve you. Build your own reference point first, get to know it well, then go listen.

My advice would be different if you had more experience and were further along in your journey in terms of exposure to gear, etc.

Since you haven’t yet spent the $2.2K, I advise holding off on your vinyl front end and understand the fundamentals of a system first and learn as much as you can before moving forward towards your goal of:

I am looking to experience an "audiophile-grade" sound, but one that is also a giddy and involving listen

Just saying to hold off on the vinyl front end, for now [emphasis: for now]

Rather than ’look down’ on a receiver, or similar kin, I encourage you to consider it as a real and viable option.

And don’t get caught up with:

it’s the sort of component that I’ll keep for life.

Make your life easy. Pick up some components, use a dart board if necessary, spend time with them. All in preparation for the next step. This stage is a major stepping stone. Step wisely. Component choice is not as critical at this point...learning from them and your system IS.

Let the fun and frustration commence.

All the best with your choices and journey.
@jbhiller The room is somewhat large - about 16' x 15'. I live in a city environment, so while I most certainly enjoy "turning it up" every now and again, I can't do so too regularly. At the same time, I would like to be able to hear the fully articulated sound of the system in that space. Are the LS50s particularly bright? NAD stuff is intriguing, but i dunno - the reviews for the Exposure integrateds are pretty darn good. The 75 wpc model is $1800 new, and there's a small hifi shop down the road from me who sells them. Pretty friggin steep, but to have local support would be quite valuable, i think. 

@chrshanl37 Some impulse in me is leaning towards wired. 

Most likely not going to be able to swing an integrated amp to drive speakers that need copious power reserves to come into their own. 

With your budget I would look at a Belles Aria if you are thinkin about an integrated.
@david_ten The dartboard idea is starting to seem like the only feasible way forward. I was about to trek out into the great unknown of hifi stores and inapplicable room acoustics when you stopped me before I had put on my hat. 

The Belles Aria Integrated would be an excellent choice.

Also the Vandersteen Ici's are $1350 new.  There are considerable savings to be had in the used speaker market.

@david_ten Also, I most certainly did not mean to suggest that I was "looking down" on a receiver - just that I want all this stuff to bring out the best of each component. 

@chrshanl37 Looking into the Aria. Seems pretty amazing, but definitely more than I had originally intended to spend on an amp. Skews my budget priorities for sure. 

Damn, that Aria is enticing. But, then the Mofi ultra deck... couple bucks left for speakers. 

@twoleftears I looked at those vandersteens - i think i'm looking for something a bit more conventional for my first setup. Thanks for the lead, though! 

"At this point what you will ’hear out there’ is not going to translate into the ’reality you hear’ in your room. I advise against doing so. At this stage, it’s a fool’s errand and will not serve you. Build your own reference point first, get to know it well, then go listen."


That’s somewhat of a "catch 22". I agree that your room will sound different, however the "dartboard idea" is wrong and can be very costly. You absolutely need to get out and listen to some equipment, anywhere you can. Just remember that you’re not in the market to buy as it’s for experience and only a learning exercise. Then as you read reviews, hopefully you can understand better what is being said since you have listened to the product. That experience will allow you to build a better starting point. If you were buying your first car, would you make that decision using the "dartboard idea"?

Tls49 speaks the truth. Take some time to listen while keeping your options open. 

$5000 can get you a nice setup or start you on a road to ‘if I just had this’. In my opinion, anyway.

For instance, buying used could extend your budget fifty percent or more on some items if you know what you want. But even then, you need to be careful to some extent.

You’ll learn from the guys on here if you take the time.

@cleanshirt Are there any dealers near you? I spent a lot of years buying used gear here flipping moving onto the next thing. After years of bringing stuff into my local dealer to repair and listening I came to realize had I gone there first taken their advice I would have gotten to where i am now more quickly and cheaply. That's even buying retail! Not sure that is an option but you said you live in a city, the more you can listen the better off you will be. Good luck!
Your room is going to have a lot to do with what you should buy. If you can go with planars Maggie's will blow the doors off many offerings that cost way more.  .7s are a great option. A quality source is the next most important piece.  If you stream do not listen to compressed tunes. Spotify, Amazon.. nope.  Tidal via Rune or direct from a server or mac set to the source (lossless) value, nothing more. I prefer direct from my server on a handbuilt usb. Get decent interconnects, speaker and power cables. Next spend some coin on a well reviewed 2 channel amp. The Kinki is an example of a real bargain. Makes sure it has enough power for the speakers you choose AND for the music you listen to at the volume you play it.
Take the time and set it up right. This is crucial and takes real time and experimentation or help from someone experienced. Last is a quality DAC. 

Good luck!

Oh and like others have said if you can buy used and save a TON!
There are many recommendations here. I can only respond to your interest in a NAD integrated. I auditioned that brand extensively and found a couple of interesting facts.....The C326 sounded very good with music. However, the next step up in the NAD line (C356) did not sound nearly as good with music although delivering more power. I went with the C375 (the next step up) and it sounded just as good as the C326 but with more power. Don't let the modest power rating of the C326 (50w/ch.) be a deciding factor. They are high current amps that can drive difficult speaker loads.Perhaps the most important factor is how the amp mates with the speakers. When I auditioned my C375 at the dealer it was connected to a pair of PSB speakers. Sounded very nice. I brought the amp home and connected it to a pair of Klipsch speakers (reference line) and the sound was horrible. Eventually I went back and bought a pair of PSB speakers and the sound was back to what I heard initially. I believe NAD and PSB were or are sister companies. Main point.....auditioning the amp with speakers to be used is of utmost importance.The C326 doesn't have a built in DAC and, since your main media is vinyl, it doesn't have a built in phono stage so you would need an outboard one. It does have sub out connections if you plan to use subs.Whether you go with a NAD unit or not, I just wanted to provide my experience with the brand. 
One more thought on amps.  Some of the early Adcom amps and preamps were designed by Nelson Pass.  They can be had for $350 - $550 for a power amp and $300-$400 for a preamp.  This combo may be a steal at $650!  Check out what models were designed by Pass, and also, look for examples on Audiogon and eBay.  I bought a couple of Adcom power amps to power my in-ceiling speakers.  Once I connected the power amp to my main fancy system as my power amp was in for service and I was quite surprised by the quality of the sound!
You have received a myriad of solid advise. I've been in this hobby 40 years now, here's what I have learned IMHO. The biggest difference in your sound will be the result of the speakers. That is not to say match Magnepans with the NAD 316BEE, won't work. Maggies LOVE current. I owned the 326BEE, nice sounding little amp driving some Wharfedale bookshelf speakers. So, matching is an important factor. I also have to agree that a mid-level Rega TT will be fine and open up some extra $$ to use elsewhere. Rega also makes some fine sounding integrated amplifiers and cd players. I never heard a bad one. I'm not a fan of receivers, if you don't listen to FM why bother? I am a bit old school I will admit. I don't really want a DAC in my amplifier. I'm 2 channel and I keep the video in it's own world. My modest system now (My all McIntosh went bye-bye in a divorce) is a Cambridge integrated and cd player with Klispch Heresy III speakers and I'm enjoying it. The newer legacy Klispck line sound very, very good to my ears. They have tamed that tweeter but again, very subjective. Enjoy your audio journey, it's a fun ride. BTW, I have a Rogue Sphinx V2 (on Audiogon now) and don't know what the noise issues are, I don't have them. The V2 does have lower floor noise that the first version and it's an awesome, simplistic 2 channel amp...
Cables. In a $5K system, I would spend as little as possible on cables - like less than $100 all in. IMO, you will get more bang for your buck anywhere else.
KEF LS50’’s or PS Audio Sprout 100 may be your best place to start for your first system. 
First time posting. After spending quite a few months this year searching for a system, I decided over the summer to keep it simple: KEF LS50 Wireless. I highly recommend you give it some consideration. For $2,200 you get something that’s far superior to an LS50 paired with any of the amps you’re considering here. The tweeters are driven by 30 watt class A/B amps, while the midrange gets 200 watts of class D. And the speakers come with room correction.

I don’t find them to be too bright. And because of the DSP, the speakers can also dive much deeper into lower octaves than the passive LS50s. If you end up wanting a full range sound, you could always add a sub.  

With your $2,200 TT, you’d have $600 left for speaker stands, phono pre and interconnects. No need for speaker cables (paired with an Ethernet cable). One thing to consider that, I think, only matters in principle: The LS50 Wireless converts all analog inputs to digital and then back to analog. Doesn’t mean you would lose any of the magic of your turntable, per se, but you technically wouldn’t have an analog system. 

Can’t recommend highly enough. I feel like I’m getting a sound I would had to spend thousands more dollars and a couple years to end up with him. Read some reviews and, if you can, demo a pair before making a decision. 
Old made in England Audiolab integrateds were excellent for the price, one model even had a phono stage. Probably not as good as newer British moderately priced integrateds but you might be able to find one on ebay for $150 or so. I got one in the closet as a back-up, not bad at all to begin with. But you would want to upgrade later.
Cleanshirst here is what we would tell you in 30 years of professional experience.

1: Get the foundation as good as you can which means better speakers and amplifier, which means spending less on the deck.

There are source first audiophiles and we totally agree that a better source makes a huge difference, however, you will have more difficulty hearing the improvements in the source on a lower level amplifier or less full range loudspeakers.

One of the best bits of advice we have given our clients in a similar situation is to purchase a Rega P3 the current table is $1100 with an Elyis cartridge and the sound is fantastic, one of the coolest things you can do is to easily upgrade from the Rega in the future by removing the tonearm, the Rega tonearms are universally praised and have been used for years by many companies on their tables so you can in the future take your arm and cart and install that in a zillion other tables that all accept a Rega mount.

Another way of getting better sound is by using dealer demos.

You should always go for a floor standing loudspeaker over a bookshelf as the floor standing loudspeakers will have a much bigger sound and take up the same amount of floor space as a monitor on a stand.
Your choice of the Quad speakers is a good one they are amazing for a budget speaker the floor standing S4 at $1,800.00 will be very hard to beat they have unbelievable treble clarity and throw a big sound stage.
As per amplifiers the Nuprime Ida 8 is very impressive at $1,000.00 and the Rega Brio has an excellent phono stage and is a terrific little amplifier.
So here would be our recommendations:
Rega Brio                $1,000Rega RP6 Elyis cart $1,100Quad S4   speakers $1,800
brand new                $3,900.00

if you went for your deck  Add $1100
and you are still at $5k and if you were to purchase a system like that many dealers would throw in the cables i know we would.

The only missing parts of the equation is what kind of music do you listen to and have you heard any of this gear?  The type of music you listen to will help guide your choice of speakers if you like bass heavy music many speakers may not do it for you.

You should go and visit some dealers and determine what kind of sound do you like.

Dave and TroyAudio Doctor NJ

Why not if the OP likes Quads ? Only I would get Rega P6 with Exact MM cartridge and next in line Rega integrated with phono. That would be about $1700 more, that's $5600 without cables and power cords.
I'll throw out my anecdotes FWTW.

  • Component allocation: I agree with some others that a large portion should go toward speakers. They contribute the greatest amount of distortion by far - that's a fact, therefore you'll want good ones. This isn't to say you want speakers with the most impressive specs on paper - such specs are often meaningless.

  • Turntables: I think you've picked a good one. ~$1500 is where turntables really begin to shine. The MoFi and Technics 1200GR are probably the best current offerings in that range.

  • Integrateds: I agree with others that it should possibly account for the smallest slice of your budget. There are many great budget integrateds out there right now. IME however, the Sphinx V2 is not one of them - not because of noise floor, but because it produces very weak bass at lower volumes. My local Rogue dealer agrees. The Yamaha A-S801 is better and fewer $$$. A used Exposure is also a good recommendation. I haven't heard it but the Outlaw RR2160 is an intriguing piece that measures well and seems to have many satisfied owners.

  • Phono preamps: don't underestimate the importance of a good phono preamp. I've owned the Lounge LCR, and while it's good for the price there is much better performance to be had. Since analog will be your primary medium (or you think it will), I would at least get the LCR Gold or the LCR with Robert's factory upgrades (probably just have to call him about those). I was very skeptical of the importance of the phono preamp until I leaped beyond entry-level units. That MoFi package should be very well deserving of a $700^ preamp.

  • KEF LS50s: They are not bright speakers - not anywhere near as bright as the typical B&W, Revel, or Focal speaker. I think those who claim they're bright are pairing them with subpar electronics and/or using excessive toe-in. KEF also recommends 24" stands which place them below ear height for most listeners. IME, when placed properly, they're actually about as warm as you're likely to find in modern speakers, aside from a very slight metallic overtone (as is the case with 95% of metal drivers). Most are probably using them with suboptimal placement. Until I got a pair of Tannoy XT6Fs, the LS50s were my favorite speakers under ~$3K. The $1500 Tannoys (with average dealer discount) now top my list of best budget speakers - which includes the likes of Vandy 1Cis, Magnepan 1.7s, and MA Silver 200s. This isn't to claim they're the best value out there, but the best value out of the many models I have experience with. They offer many of the LS50 strengths, but with greater bass depth and output, and none of the metallic overtone. The Tannoys also manage to produce good dynamics at moderate volumes, which is pretty rare among modern speakers in general. 


It depends on if your vinyl is new pressings of newer music or vintage or repressed older music.  During late 1980s the common media to the public shifted from 'records' to CDs.  During that crossover period, many sound engineers where thinking vinyl and it was pressed on CD and sounded horrible.  The frequency distribution and dynamic range of CD and vinyl even from the same mastered originals are quite different.  Also, once when you're over 40 your ability to hear cymbals and higher pitches declines preciptously.  I have auditioned CD and vinyl of the same consumer-available source material, as just purchased new pressings of each in blind hearing tests for audio people aged from 15 to 50.  EVERYONE knows the difference between a CD and vinyl, blindfolded, at reference volume.  However, vinyl people say vinyl feels warmer. CD is more 'accurate' and dynamic and 'cleaner', but maybe too bright.

For some bad news.  In your price target range, you simply won't get today's version of audiophile.  You can get decent 'home quality' if you follow all the advice above in the postings.  But you won't even get prosumer or enthusiast.  'Audiophile' is very expensive today because manufacturers have been raising their prices over time, and especially over the past ten years for some equipment that essentially is the same schematic, they've just added some digital capabilities.  Copper has gotten alot more expensive and they're the green people who want hi-fi as class D, instead of A, or A/AB.  I would suggest stay in the AB world.  'A' on its own isn't powerful enough except for boutique applications and D is really the same as the arguments about 'high current' amps, etc.  These are excuses to not use more expensive raw ingredients, but rather high R&D to simulate the former when there are extremely popular amp designs that enthusiasts love, but they don't make any longer as an industry.  Try to buy a 'quart' of ice cream made with 'milk' and 'cream' and 'sugar' at a grocery store if you need empirical evidence.

Back to the question....What was also not presented was that if you're using vinyl, most vinyl sounds best on its second or third play.  The first play gets some of the microscopic manufacturing debris out.  Enthusiasts and audiophiles when 'records' were the main source, would immediately re-record albums to tape or reel-to-reel and when only in the mood, listen to the vinyl.  It's in inherently destructive media.  You ruin the record every time you play it.  Despite balancing techniques on the tone-arm, gravity still exerts force in the groove.

Also, you need a very good quality album cleaner, like $500, wet cleaner.  Buy anti-static sleeves and store your vinyl upright.  Upgrade the stock cartridge of whatever record player you buy.  It would not spend more than $500 on that (turntable and upgraded cartridge/ $350 on the turn-table and $150 on the thing on the end of the tone-arm), but make sure its __direct drive__ and use a smartphone app or get one old-school-style that you can monitor the RPM speed via strobe.

Keep in mind, at louder volumes, you're going to hear the ssssh, ssssh, sssh of the media.  It's unavoidable.  Avoid 'pop's' using religious cleaning before playing each 'record' each time.  No one's mentioned wow or flutter and also if the vinyl isn't PERFECTLY flat....don't play it.  Put it in a frame, on the wall, but get another new or used copy from a new trusted source.

Speakers are a matter of taste, but physics is physics.  Speakers push air.  Speakers waste 90% of the electrical energy as heat.  Do not buy exotic manga, low ohm, electrostatic, whatevers if you're not used to them already.  Basically if you need to plug a speaker into an outlet, don't get it.  Based upon your room specs you should get floorstanding 2 or 3-way speakers that have some decent mass (like 40 lbs each) to get decent bass.  Also, __placement__ is a big deal as well.

Now I've spent around $1000 of your $5000 (record player, cleaner, accessories), less $2500 or so on hefty speakers of your choice, not gimmick satellites that you need to sit perfectly in front of to get the bass and treble respond they report.  Some will argue bass is non-directional as a knee jerk.  It is true for ambient noise, unwanted noise, sound reinforcement, etc.  As far as feeling the thump of bass drums and guitar, there is more than 'frequency' to that and its recreation than arguments about non-directional bass.  For live concerts, stand on the floor for part of the concert and then go in the stands.  Now tell me 'bass' as insomuch rather than test-tones is non-directional.  Your chest will feel it differently.  Speakers push air.  Bigger speakers push more air.

You've got $1500 left at this point.   Do not buy fancy wires or interconnects.  Use fairly short distances of a reasonable thick gauge wire and make sure they are attached well at the endpoints.  Do not fall prey to 'yes but its a high current amp'.  Electricity is electricity and you are using something that uses capacitive resistive elements.  Salespeople turn up high current amp gain levels to really high numbers and scream over the noise 'see, its just as loud as those other systems'.  You want power reserves and room to dial-in the volume level you want.  Get something that will sound decent at volume 3 or 4 (or 10).  If it needs setting 7,8, 9 or 10 to get musical, move on.  Get a vintage __receiver__ of 100 watts or more that has been recapped and/or refurbished by a professional or get a re-issue two-channel system from some of the bigger Japanese names.  You can always get a professional to re-hab a receiver for you for $500 or so.  Don't get anything made in the 1980's.  Either late 1960's, any 1970's or earlier than 1995 but not 1980 anything.  During the 'power wars' of the 1970's there were many brands that are not-so-great now, but they were very-great then power-houses.  You want a receiver that weighs 30 lbs or more because you want large capacitors, a solid chassis and a very heavy power supply....the more copper the better.

You, my friend also need something with a 'loudness' feature because you want to listen at loud and soft levels and get a decent experience either way.  That's the catch-term feature that will do it.  Modern receivers and pre-amps usually do NOT have these feature.  Also, do not try to over-engineer your system on specs and sound levels or noise levels.  Nothing has been invented since the invention of the transistor and its basic application as a sound amplifier that makes any amplifier of today so so so much better than what was sold 30, 40 or 50 years ago.  You just need to refresh old capacitors.  They dry out and die but are relatively cheap to replace.  Every year, you get marketing that everything is the newest and best its ever been.  That's simply not true.  For example, a well-maintained McIntosh system from the 1960's or even 1990's bought in 'todays' dollars will be on par with any new system if you adjust for hearing loss and dollar ego.  Also, every amp version and 'brand' has a different color according to the designer because a truly 'perfect' amp would sound horrible.

Good luck and spend the extra money I saved you on lots and lots of new and used 'records'.  Also, go find some real-life vinyl people by going to a vintage vinyl store and talk to the owner or clerks and ask them what vinyl sounds best on.  They probably have a pretty decent setup in the stores they can show you.  They just don't have the 'new' version of it sitting in boxes.  I know they will not blurt out go buy a newer design NAD amp, etc.  It's just part of the adventure.
Having dealt professionally with music for 30 years I will challenge one of the previous posts. The biggest mistake you can make is NOT Spending enough on speakers ! The final quality of what you hear depends more than 90% on those components that transform the  signal back and forth form electrical to mechanical / digital. Hence speakers first and cartridge and DAC second. Any competent amplifier / cable combo will do. Take this to the extreme, try it out. Build a system with a 400 $ amp and a 4.000 & speakers; then do the opposite, 400 & speakers and 4.000 dollars amp. Do you hear any difference ? Which one sounds better ? Any dealer will be able to help you with that test.
I want to add to my previous post. I truly believe the industry as a whole is forcing us, the users, to over weight the importance of electronics. How often do you change electronics and how often do you change speakers ? Electronics of far easier to deal with / sell / buy / exchange. Speakers are not, they are bulky. But sound quality depends 90% on them IMHO.
This is more complicated and far beyond the scope of this thread.
I would say that at this performance level it should be close to even for each of the three active components - source, amp, speakers, unless you plan to upgrade very soon. Speakers could be a little more than the other two.
$4k speakers will sound terrible with $400 amp, the other way around - it depends on many things.
For the many good floor standing Loudspeakers  a good bookshelf or monitor Loudspeaker , with a decent subwoofer can play lower Bass, and for sure 
image better  then the majority of Floorstanders dollar for dollar unless spending $$ .the less surface area the better regarding reflections .and better 
chance of thespeaker disappearing in the room . And Bass such as Syzgy 
are very fair priced and have Bass Room EQ as well as apps to control and Taylor the Bass from your 
tablet or phone . For in the $3k range with  subwoofer . Allways shop to see about where you can get the best deal with shipping included 15-20% is about the average ,never pay retail  prices on Anything . I have owned both  your room 
will dictate this . The Monitor platinum 300 ,or 500 both greatbuys as well as awards just for an example , Elac also . Maggie, Martin Logan especially Maggie 
need more room behind them as well as side walls. You have to take everything 
in to consideration and will your amp hav3 the power to drive these to the volume 
you expect .a less efficient speaker like 86db 4 ohms needs 2 x as much as a 90
db speaker roughly . Best of luck in  your selections.
Wow - I’m stunned by all your responses. Thanks for taking the time!

I’m going to start pecking at this knot as I can, seeing which direction to take as things reveal themselves. I live in NYC (Queens, 20 minute subway from manhattan), and I just found out there’s a small hifi shop down the road from me - only deals Rega and Exposure. Definitely going to check it out today. To be honest, I’m pretty intimidated by the manhattan stores - a lot of high-rollers in that part of town, auditioning wilsons and the like.

@jrpnde @beernut I really dig the NAD C326BEE’s seeming straightforwardness and aesthetic. But then the Exposure stuff and the Belles Aria seem to take that same approach and build on it. And from what I read, the Aria also has a fantastic phono stage.

Would it be ill-advised to pair a more sensitive speaker with a more powerful integrated amp like an Exposure or the Aria? Would it cause distortion, or something? Or is it more artful than that, like some of the responses have suggested? Thanks, and happy gosh-darn Friday!
In response to your last comments, I do believe that it is best to have "more than enough" current on tap than not enough. Hence my point about driving Maggies with a 50 w/ch amp. I've owned 3 pairs of Maggies over the years and each one sound incrementally better with more current. Anyway, I'm now into the very efficient Heresy III's which the 326BEE would likely drive just fine. In summary, in my years of this crazy(and fun) world of audio I still believe that your speaker choice will have the greatest net impact on the sound all things being equal. Yes, amps do sound different as do cd players (to a lesser degree IMHO). A well designed and made amp (pick any the big names) should deliver the goods. For example, I was driving my Magnepans with the same amp as the Heresy III's. Would another amp have made as large an impact on the sound as the speakers change did? I think not. However, all of the input you have received is well rooted and sound, he he...

You're much more likely to damage a speaker by driving it with something truly underpowered than with something supposedly--according to the specs--overpowered.

Call up Johnny Rutan at Audio Connection in NJ and talk to him about the Aria.

$4k speakers will sound terrible with $400 amp, the other way around - it depends on many things.

^I have to disagree. I’ve powered $4K Spendors with a $400 Yamaha A-S500 and the sound was more than good. In terms of bass extension and PRaT, it was better than some $2K^ integrateds I’ve had in my rig.

Would it be ill-advised to pair a more sensitive speaker with a more powerful integrated amp like an Exposure or the Aria?

I think that largely depends on the speakers, but IME, it’s best to match them based on efficiency (which BTW is a combination of avg impedance, phase angles and sensitivity), essentially matching moderate-power amps with moderate-efficiency speakers and so forth. I tried powering my high-efficiency Heresy IIIs with a 160 watt/Ch Parasound Integrated and it was not a good match. Somehow it excited their cabinet resonance and resulted in bloated bass. I’ve also powered them with an 85 watts/Ch amp - better, but not as good a pairing as my 45 watt/ch amp.

For some bad news. In your price target range, you simply won’t get today’s version of audiophile

I have to disagree with this as well. One can get very respectable gear and better -than-good sound for $5K. Yes, some manufacturers have sold-out with cheap class D garbage, but OTOH, there’s more options for good budget systems today than there ever was 40 years ago.

An awesome $5K system could look like this:

  • Technics 1200GR w/ Hanna EH cartidge:~$2K with typical dealer discounts.

  • Lounge LCR Gold preamp: $650

  • Odyssey Audio Cyclops integrated amp: $1095, Yamaha A-S801: $900 or used Cayin A50T: ~$1K

  • KEF LS50s, Tannoy XT6Fs or Klipsch Heresy IIIs: $1200, $1500, $1800 respectively with typical discount.

I’d pit such a system against many costing 2 or 3X as much and against countless vintage options, and that’s with brand new, warrantied gear, not to mention what could be put together with lightly used options. It’s actually a very good era in which to be an audiophile.

Taking it all in, thanks all! 

@helomech Thanks for leading me onto the Tannoys! Never heard of them prior, and they seem to be pretty stellar!

I'm leaning toward the Tannoy XT8. The room where this system would be placed is unfortunately somewhat big, so that sorta steers me toward floor standing speakers. Would the XT8 be a good match with the Belles Aria? 

Tannoy has been making speakers (in England) since the 30's. The English use "Tannoy" for speakers like we use "Kleenex" for tissue paper (or Band-aid for self-stick bandage).

Audio Doctor in NJ, should be on your short list of places in your area to visit. We have the products you are interested in and are easy to get to from NYC, via the Path, or by Bus, not to mention by purchasing from NJ we can save you NYC sales tax as well.

We carter to the begining audiophile as well as the advanced, and we are the NYC area displaying Quad dealer, we also have Rega, Nad, Nuprime, Kef, Dali, Paradigm, PSB, and a few others speakers and electronics lines that are really good and are in your price range.

You should not be intimated at visiting the NYC dealers as most of them will treat you fine even if you are not a high roller. The only issue with many NYC dealers is they will not have a good selection of affordable gear. Most of the NYC stores due to high rent sell mostly more expensive rigs however, most of them do have a few options at the lower price points. 

Right now we have demo speakers from KEF R series, for a very good price, as well as demo Gradient and Gershman loudspeakers as well, most demo models are being blown out for 50% off so you could snag yourself a $4,000.00 pair of speakers for $2k and have the pleasure of listening to them and knowing they will work for you.

We have other demo amplifiers to get you a fantastic system that will work for your budget, heck we even have a Rega Brio demo for $500 not the current one but the last one and we have a liberal trade up policy for display goods.

Helotech, you have some good suggestions, the new Technics turntable looks very good, the issue with your entire system recommendation is that this is a novice buyer who is basically shopping based upon research and not experience, he really doesn’t have a clue what he is going to like the sound of, and other than the KEF LS 50 he would be buying blind 100%.

The most prudent thing is for this begining and budding music lover/audiophile to actually listen to a system and then make his decisions on what actually sounds good to him, rather then guessing.

This is what a dealer can bring to the table, he is next to one of the world’s biggest cities with many dealers that he can visit and thus he can hear many different things that he may really like.

And other than room size we still don’t know what kind of music, does he play loud, are the speakers physical size important, are the speakers looks important, will he ever want to play movies on the system.

Go forth Cleanshirt and start to visit as many dealers as you can and then formulate what exactly calls to you. You will start to learn how and what does what and then you can start to educate yourself to making more intelligent choices based on having actual experience.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ


I haven't heard the XT8Fs, but I've had my XT6Fs in my 15×26×8' room and they produced plenty of bass for my taste. However, I typically don't listen louder than 85 to 90db peaks, and I sit about 9' from the speakers. I suppose you could plug their ports with hobby foam if they produce too much bass.