The Ayre with Vandersteen 2CE Signature speakers is one of the very best sub $5000 combinations I've ever heard. I'm not a huge fan of Vandersteens but the Ayre makes them sing.
Audiomat amps and JM Reynaud speakers are a very good combination.
47 Labs would also be a nice match with Reynaud speakers or Cain and Cain, Konus, Carolina Audio single driver speakers.
Of the amps you list my favorite would be the VAC, but I don't have any speakers recs of the top of my head to go with it.
My standard Avatar worked great w/ Reference 3a de Capos, and believe it or not, also worked well w/ the Spendor S3/5s. I've heard the Harbeths, but with SS; didn't get a chance to audition w/ my VAC. Above about 70hz, the 3/5s are perhaps the best speaker Spendor makes (and IMO one of the best small speakers period), but it doesn't have enough bass response for me. If I had kept the 3/5s, I would have bought a sub, but I don't know how they would mate.
Also, at the price of the S3/5 and Spendor sub, you could almost get a pair of 1/2s (perhaps demos). My former dealer used to match the 1/2s and the Avatar, and I've heard it numerous times. Great combo if you like the Spendor sound: Some do, some don't, you just have to listen and decide yourself. Spendors have a fuller (richer?)sound than most speakers, and tend to give more body and depth to instruments and singers than most. As a result, Spendors may seem to lack some of the airy quality of some of their competitors -- Proac, for example. Midrange is really special, bettered only by something like Quad ESLs, but bass may not be as deep or punchy as some like, especially in a larger room. Resolution is excellent. HF extension is fine to me, but those who want speakers that sound like brass players are 6 or 7 feet away in the room would be disappointed with the Spendors. Personally, I prefer a speaker that does a good job of conveying the sound of the orchestra or band as a whole rather than focusing in on small details. That to me is resolution (as opposed to detail), and I feel the Spendor is better than most in this regard. The slightly smaller, 2-way Spendor 2/3 is another option. When I owned the 2/3s years ago, I still went to hear the ASO (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) sometimes; when I came home after a concert and turned on the stereo, I felt that the 2/3s did a better job of conveying the sound of the ASO from mid-hall than any other speaker I'd heard at that point, although obviously not able to convey its full weight.
Having said all that, I'm now on a Quad ESL kick (tried 57s and about to move on to 63s, I hope). The mids and naturalness of the Quad ESL with a good recording is scary real. I put on a John Lee Hooker live CD recorded in 1962 a few weeks ago when I still had the 57s. I was sitting in the sweet spot, but had turned my head to look at my dogs. When the intro was over and he finally started singing, I was actually startled because it sounded like someone else was in the room with me. Way beyond "goosebumps." Of course, they 57s definitely have limitations also, but that's another story.
My current setup has worked out fantastically. It's the Monitor Audio GR-60's, powered by an Electrocompaniet ECI-3. If you have the funds available, you can even go one better and try the GR-60's with the Electrocompaniet ECI-4 (ECI-3's big brother). I found them to complement each other fantastically. The MA's have an astounding midrange and tight, accurate bass. The highs can be a bit bright when paired with the wrong anxilliary equipment, but the warmth of the Electrocompaniet's work a treat.
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I should have said something about my personal preferences. I listen almost exclusively to "classical" music. A lot of piano and guitar music. And a lot of opera. Once in a while some jazz, but increasingly less often. I don't care at all about hi-fi fireworks. I value accurate timbre reproduction above all else. And at this point, I don't want a system that's overly tweaky.
That is why I focused on a reliable integrated valve amp and a pair of good mini-monitors. Quicksilver has a reputation of making valve gear that will last forever. Is the same true for BAT and VAC (and others). Which of the many small monitors out there is really the best Quad substitute? The deCapo MM? Spendor? Harbeth?
Some of you have given me some nice insight into htis. Thank you again.
I have much the same preferences as you. VAC is a good choice in electronics if those are your goals, and there are certainly other great tube amps out there, but like VAC, most are pricey. There are some SS amps I like as well. Spendor, Harbeth, Ref. 3A are all good choices in box speakers for the type of sound you describe, and my personal favorites of the ones I've heard, but none of them are going to give you quite the same realistic mids, resolution and naturalness as Quads. I've also owned Living Voice Auditoriums, which had virtues as well but not for the sound you describe. There well may be other box speakers that are better for this sound, but I haven't heard them. A dilemma for me as well. I have a small listening room, and the Quad 57s I had were wonderful but just too large (actually too wide). I don't think any box speaker is going to give you the naturalness and resolution of a good ESL for vocals, piano, etc. if you can fit them in your room, although you will sacrifice some LF extension, and poorly recorded music will display their limited dynamics/unnaturalness. Also, reliability/repair is a big issue with older Quads. Good luck, and let us know what you do.
How about this:
*Eastern Electric MiniMax Preamp = $1195 retail
*Son of Ampzilla(the new version)Power amp $3250 retail
*VMPS RM30 Floorstanding speakers w/cap upgrade $4050 retail
While this isn't an "integrated amp" it is small, powerful,(over 120wpc)and it can easily be had for well under $8000.
As well, it is a "world class" system performance wise.
I have the same set up but with the 626Rs (with upgrades) in my personal system, and it is too good to describe.
Coda Continuum Unison Ultra integrated powering Tyler Acoustics Linbrook monitors with Ty's custom stands.
If space and budget later permit, you can trade the stands for Ty's Linbrook bass units for true full range (to 30 Hz).
The Unison Ultra at 150W/channel (35W class A) has more than enough reserve for the full Linbrook system.
You can even get the amp configured for 60W/ch ALL class A for use with the Linbrook monitors at the start. The amp's design allows Coda to later reconfigure it to the 150w/ch version, which they offer to do for their customers.
Great sound with flexible, cost-effective upgrade paths for both components. Who could ask for more...
I own the Spendor s3/5s and the Harbeth C7s (as well as my old Spica TC-50.)
As others have said, the Spendor is small so it has bass limitiaons but never a thin sound. I use a smaller Quad 99 and it's mainly used for tv watching in the bedroom, but it never fails to amaze my wife and me.
I have the much bigger Harbeth c7 with Quad 909 amp/99pre. I use a sub (not really needed) ,and listen near field. (Totat cost for this package new, excluding sub, is around 5,000. I've heard Quad 988 and 57 recently and while they of course have thier magical qualities, the Harbeths satsify with a truth of timber and midrage which makes them quite special.
I have a BAT VK 300XSE and love it. Used it with maggies and recently switched to a pair of Wilson Benesch ARC speakers and continue to utilize my REL Storm III subwoofer. They are tiny speakers, bottom ported and carbon fibre enclosures that eliminate boxiness. I bought them because I like the sound much better than my Maggies (i always seemed to have to end a listening session with female vocals) . They are lightening quick, very accurate and dynamic with the best soundstaging I have heard in my listening room, with the exception of that 1 square millimeter of sweet spot perfection with maggies.
In a past system I had the Rowland Concentra (original) with a pair of Tyler Acoustics Linnbrook monitors. I think you would have a very hard time beating this system - especially at the price of about 5k (Used) or 6k (new speakers, used amp). BTW, "past system" doesn't mean I traded in, just upgraded the speakers and amp power (but with McIntosh). The Rowland was pure magic though.