Asking suggestion for $15,000 audio system for classical music


Hello,
I am a new here. I am going to spend $15,000-20,000 to build an audio system for classical music only. Could anyone give me a list which you think is the best for this budget (including turntable, CD player, amplifier, speakers,  sub-woofer and cables)?
Thanks.
classicalguy
Okay so first thing you do, make a list of everything you need. You already are ahead of the crowd in knowing you need a sub and cables. But at this budget level you will be able to get tremendously more performance by budgeting for a lot of other things as well. Especially the things you think right now aren’t all that important. They are. Way more than you think.

Speakers- 2 main
Speakers- 4 subs
Integrated amp
Turntable- including arm and cartridge
Phono stage
Wire- interconnects, power cords, speaker cables
Tweaks- Synergistic Research Orange fuses, HFT, ECT, PHT, Perfect Path Solutions Total Contact, Omega Mats, etc, Cable Elevators, Zero Stat, record cleaning machine and/or solutions.

I don’t include CD as that is optional but if you insist go ahead just make sure its a CD player not a transport/DAC that will eat up money without adding anything to performance, kind of like separates vs integrated amp.

Now you have your 7 essentials here’s where it gets fun. Divide your $20k into 7. Make it a nice even $3k per item. And there you go. That’s how its done. No wasted time listening to people blab about $5k or more speakers, you don’t have the budget for it. No time wasted on people saying spend it all on 3 things, you need those tweaks, they make all the difference. Those people are inexperienced and safely ignored.

That’s the purpose of a budget. Not to tell you what to buy. To focus your limited time and energy where it can be put to the most use.

What kind of system might this be? Check it out:
Tekton Double Impacts, with Swarm subwoofer system
Used 50 wpc tube integrated amp
Rega or VPI table
Herron VTPH2A phono stage
Used SR CTS speaker cable, interconnect, and Master Coupler power cord.
Full HFT speaker and room treatment, full system Total Contact treatment, and as many Omega Mats and Cable Elevators as you have budget left for.

If you actually do all this and it doesn’t blow away every $100k system you hear for at least the next ten years I will eat my hat. And its a nice hat!


Fritz speakers using the 7" Scanspeak mid-woofers, without a sub.
Luxman integrated

Combined DAC/streamer
Thank you so much Miller and Erik. I need time to understand what you said.
Spending the same amount of money, can I get a better solid state amplifier than tube amplifier because, on average, the tube amp is more expensive? Also, I do need to buy a CD player because I have a few thousands CD collection as well. Which CD player you recommend?
Thank you.
@classicalguy Are you kidding, everyone needs time to understand what Erik and Miller say. Just kidding!!!

Both have conveniently left out power from their calculations. Ignore at your own peril. : )
A 20x silver belly would be a snack

at this price point go see a reputable dealer with one well recorded warhorse, a chorale, organ and something baroque... take the CD and the LP

dont just flip back and forth, your brain like loud and in your face - this WILL fatigue you over a long song cycle or tone poem...

your good and trusted dealer knows this where are you located ? How big is your room ? Are you expecting orchestral peak SPL? How important are those Tympani ? 
Fun, enjoy the journey, enjoy the music more
Op you have way more thinking to do.

1: How big is your room?
2: How loud do you normally play?
3: Do you have issues with the size of the loudspeakers?
4: What kinds of music do you enjoy? Classical could mean giant bombastic full symphonic or small scale ensembles?
5: Do you have any issues in terms of the finish of the loudspeakers?

Here are a few pointers from a dealer with over 30 years of experience with system design and setup.

One you do need to go to a dealer and purchase from one, the issue is that there are a zillion possible products and each amp and digital combo sounds different.

So one start with selecting the loudspeakers first, the reason is very simple, the speakers will dictate how much power and the sound quality and type required, ie tube or solid state. The efficiency of the loudspeakers, the size of the room, the distance you are from the loudspeakers and how loud you generally play will be some of the determining factors to how much power you need.

Step two: Choose the electronics see above

Step Three: Choose the best possible source

Step Four: Find matching cables price to performance.

Some other pointers: Choose an integrated amp as you will get the best sound quality for less money, you will save space and you will save money over having to purchase additional interconnects, and power cords.

Choose a streaming dac for the main reason you can automatically play music without needing to purchase a server.

For your budget choose either the streamer or the turntable as you need to invest in the best possible source and by paying for both at the same time you will dilute your funds.

 Be cognizant that if your room is big you will need a floor standing loudspeaker. Floor standing loudspeakers will play louder and if you need more bass a good sub woofer will be much easier to integrate than a monitor with a sub. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ


Hi @classicalguy, I think @millercarbon makes a fair point: it would likely be a missed opportunity to budget for more expensive gear alone instead of scaling back in terms of the cost of the components themselves and using the remainder of your budget to allow yourself to factor in the right kinds of power treatments from the start, such as the Perfect Path Technologies mats and so forth he mentions. I really feel it is better than spending the same money on better gear, IMO.

As others have mentioned, knowing your room size would be helpful along with what characteristics are most important to you in the performance of a stereo system?
Hi @classicalguy, I think @millercarbon makes a fair point: it would likely be a missed opportunity to budget for more expensive gear alone instead of scaling back in terms of the cost of the components themselves and using the remainder of your budget to allow yourself to factor in the right kinds of power treatments from the start, such as the Perfect Path Technologies mats and so forth he mentions. I really feel it is better than spending the same money on better gear, IMO.

Right. Its just not even close. The only way to know this however is to actually get the stuff, try it out, and see. Which I have done, so many times I've lost count. That is how I know absolutely no way will you have a better system by taking the $3k of tweaks and spending it on a better amp, or speakers. No way. Cannot be done.

Look at it this way. Right now in Seattle is a system at Definitive Audio on Roosevelt with nothing but the best Wilson, Audio Technica, and what's his name the former Krell guy. Oh yeah, D'Agostino. Whatever! Point is, its $1.3M, that's MILLION, yes three hundred thousand more than one million, and it does not present as captivatingly palpably you are there feeling as my well under $100k system. Its loud and its hifi and its not even close, and if you want to fly out here and see for yourself and disagree the fare is on me. How can this be? Because Definitive totally neglected room treatment other than the old outdated panels, their power conditioning is expensive but not as good as Perfect Path, they have zero vibration control like BDR Cones, and of course no Synergistic Research or anything at all even like PHT, ECT and HFT. Not to mention the fuses. 

Honestly, just one killer tweak- Total Contact- would be enough to elevate this system to the stratosphere where it belongs. But no. They wasted $1.3M by not spending $300 on TC to get the most out of the components. Well, the same applies at $21k. At least as much, if not more so.
Thank you so much Miller and Erik. I need time to understand what you said.
Spending the same amount of money, can I get a better solid state amplifier than tube amplifier because, on average, the tube amp is more expensive? Also, I do need to buy a CD player because I have a few thousands CD collection as well. Which CD player you recommend?
Thank you.


Once you have the budget outline, and well before getting much into details of particular components, its a good idea to try and plan the big picture, at least to the extent that's possible.

For example, you notice I only mention certain items like the Herron or HFT or TC while others are just integrated amp or turntable. That's because the ones I mention are so dominant, they're performance and contribution to your system at your budget level are so outstanding, its almost impossible to do better. The Herron, the Swarm subs for sure, these are right at or just a little over budget but worth it as they are so close to SOTA its not even funny. 

For CD your best bet is an extensively modded Opportunity or other player, preferably used, as this will get you the equivalent of a really good $5k or more CDP for closer to $1k.

My advice though would be to prioritize the phono. Because until you have heard what a really good stage like the Herron can do with the signal from a nice table, cartridge and arm, you have no idea how much you will even care about CD, no matter if you have a million of em. That's what happened to me. Really nice heavily modded Oppo, and it does sound awfully nice, but the table leaves it in the dust. Its just one sounds really good, while the other stops time. My wife yacks and fiddles nonstop, but when I sit her down in the sweet spot her ice cream just sits there melting as she is frozen. 

Also long term planning would be after you get a feel for the market, then planning things like are you sure you'll be leaving this alone, or are you the kind to want to upgrade over time? So then say you find a killer deal on a turntable but its $3k before cartridge. So you get either a starter cartridge or cheaper something else like interconnect. Point is you do not just inflate your budget. Because if you do I can just about guarantee what happens- you hit $22k, before cables and tweaks, cheap out on cables and skip tweaks altogether. Seen it a million times. So sad.

Everybody complains tweaks cost money. TC is $300 for 1.5ml. But for $300 your $20k sounds like $120k. Tweaks don't cost money. Tweaks save money.

Same with the CD mods. Look into it. You will see. Very cost-effective.

Solid state vs tube is personal preference. Blanket statements like "in general" do not apply.... in general! Lol!

What city are you in?  You need to visit some good dealers.  How about joining some user groups to hear other people's systems.  Save you money for a few months yet.
I am not going to give you any equipment suggestions since I don't think you have provided enough information to properly do so.  Instead I offer a few words of caution -- be very wary of anybody who makes outrageous claims.

Tell us a little bit more about your listening environment and how involved you want to be with your system.  Some people love playing with elements of their system and are constantly changing, adjusting or otherwise "updating".  Other people buy a system and then just listen to music for the next twenty years.  Which end of the spectrum do you lean?


I agree with those who recommend starting with visiting audio dealers and listening to systems they have assembled.  It will give you a good starting point.  I also agree with those who say you should start with loudspeakers.
+1 to @onhwy61 's advice. As well for those that are asking more about you, your room, etc. etc.
Spending the same amount of money, can I get a better solid state amplifier than tube amplifier because, on average, the tube amp is more expensive?

Wiser and much more beneficial to ask a very different question...

Counter to miller's and ivan's  convictions on tweaks...

is the position that they should come after you have established your system and are familiar with it.

Build your system first (i.e. components and cabling). It will let you know what it needs. Then address those needs, should you feel and believe they are worth pursuing.
I listen exclusively to Classical.  The OP should allow for SACD capability, as Classical has kept the SACD medium alive and there are thousands of Classical titles in that medium I would therefore get a Universal Disc Player, such as the latest by Sony, Pioneer, or perhaps Yamaha 
 Thanks everyone here for giving me so much suggestion and information. You are so friendly.

I live in Houston area and I am going to choose one of my rooms as listening room. The living room is 20'x18', the height is 10' (flat ceiling). However, it has 4 exists and a window. The other room is 13.5'x13.5', height is 12' (triangle ceiling). 
I like almost all kinds of classical music, like symphonic, chamber, opera, vocal and instruments. But most of time, I listen piano, chamber and symphony. I don't put the volume very high. 
I am not the equipment fun. Just want to have a good audio system and use it for the next 20 years.
Does someone know the good dealers in Houston area and the user groups? Do the good dealer come to my home and help me manage the equipment location?
I hope I have answered the basic information and background. Again, thank you so much!
Save about 2-3K for room acoustic treatments. Contact GIK acoustics and talk to them about your rooms and options.
Great info ! Now we can begin

love all the posts recommendations for quarter mile cars when an enduro might be needed .... anyway

from a theoretical point your square room is probably the lesser sounding of the two but the odd shaped ceiling will most likely help a bit. The other larger room with high ceiling and openings will most likely sound better. Will they be furnished with living furniture, etc or the audiophile sterile dedicated room aesthetic?

i will check my Texas network for ideas on reputable dealers.

do you have much vinyl? What service do you use to stream ? Do you have any CD or SACD ?

have fun
You should also buy Jim Smiths most excellent book on getting better sound
Also @audiotroy  makes excellent points on the tried and true system approach to the problem. The larger room will probably require a bit more power all other things equal. 
And since you have a fantastic starting budget, put one of Charlie Miller’s tweaks in the budget, evaluation of the sonic differences by you in your room, your system, your tastes will tell you IF you want to go down that “ perfect path “

Let's inject a dose of bottom-line reality in this.  The biggest single impact on the sound you get will be your choice of loudspeaker.  Then if you go with a lower-powered tube amplifier vs. a high-watt solid state.  Room acoustics also figure in there significantly, though a lot depends on your actual space.

For long-term non-fatiguing listened to classical music, there are plenty of recommendable brands of speakers: a lot of the British ones--Harbeth, Spendor, ProAc, PMC, Graham, Stirling--as well as US, like Joseph Audio, Salk, Vandersteen, Fritz (+subwoofer[s]).  I wonder if there's a Vienna Acoustics dealer in your area--that would be a great starting point.

I prefer to put the equipment in the (larger) living room. It is the normal living room with furniture.
I don't use streaming service (at least right now), only play vinyl and CD.
I don't collect SACD, have 5-6k vinyls
Right on pick speakers first!
the big room needs floor standers
how important is finish ? Wood veneer ok or want need a more modern automotive paint ?
and very important are you a seated sweet spot listener or a wanderer ?
what table / arm/cart do you have now ? That’s an impressive vinyl collection and investment 
3ma Audio .... I would start there !!!!! 
I'm a classical-oriented guy who plays, among other instruments, violin & acoustic piano.  I go to my share of classical concerts.  Tone quality and imaging are what I crave.  Slam isn't my top priority and I really don't care that my system wusses out beneath about 30hz.  I only hit 90 decibels on the stereo once every blue moon. What drives me nuts and what I try to minimize are edgy vocals, strident strings and boomy bass.

Anyway, I'm truly loving my current system...all btw carefully positioned in a fairly modest-sized room.  The components are...mentioned in reverse order to properly denigrate my addiction to audiophilia...  Nola Boxer speakers.  PrimaLuna Prologue One 30 watt tube integrated amp.  A Mytek Brooklyn Bridge that is usually streaming Qobuz & Primephonic.  An older Sony CD/SACD player (I use the Mytek to stream the CDs).  An older SOTA turntable with Alphason arm and Lyra Delos cartridge piped through an elderly but still game Moon LP3 phono stage.  A variety of interconnects from companies that include Cardas and Straighwire. Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables.  An old Paradigm subwoofer.
My equipment is not that impressive. I bought them many years ago. Table is Denon DP300F, cartridge is shure, speaker is B&W 600, amplifier is Marantz (old model), CD player is Marantz
audiotroy, onhwy61, and the rest who suggest going to the dealer make the best point. Go, listen, take it home. Ignore any specific name/brand recommendations here

"TC is $300 for 1.5ml."
Uranium is $45 per pound. Actually, even less in the beginning of this year.
Hello! If you want to get the best out of your 20,000 I suggest you consider used equipment. That's why there's Audiogon and A____ Mart. That's how I built mine. 
I am being redundant, as the OP has stated that he has a lot of vinyl and no SACD or BluRay.  However, he is looking for a disc spinner, and given the sheer amount of Classical available in SACD and BluRay I would strongly (re)advise getting a Universal Player.  I can’t emphasize enough how good some of these discs sound, particularly in Multichannel.  He may, just for giggles like to experiment with vinyl vs CD vs SACD/Blu Ray of favorite recordings.  For example, I just obtained the DG Karajan/Berlin cycle on BluRay.  Even in 2 channel the sonic benefits are obvious—much more hall acoustic and reverberation.  Last night I was playing a Pentatone reissue of a 1970s Quad recording from DG (Christopher Eschenbach in Beethoven PCs 3/5 with Ozawa and Hans Werner Henze leading the Boston SO, and even on a midfi HT system the soundstage and detail are utterly believable (the SACD cost $3.99 from BRO).
  Universal Players run from $400 (Sony) to a grand (Pioneer and Yamaha), or he can spend in the stratosphere if he wishes with the usual suspects (Esoteric, etc).  If he prefers to use them as a transport into an external DAC they have digital outs.
Yes, get a universal disc player, so as to access SACD and DVD-Audio titles.
And I was also going to say check out 3M Audio there in Houston.  Setting up a $15K system is not to be trifled with, and a dealer like that has set up tons of them.
@edcyn I bet your system sings :-)
In short, it's not all about the gear.

The better your room or better put the bettering of your room the better your system will sound. 

Over the years the best sounding systems (not necessarily expensive ones) have always been in great rooms. Beyond a point the gear doesn't matter so much as the environment it's in and how it's set up. For 15-20K you can get it done but please consider thinking of your room (and power in it) as a big part of your system.