Bookshelf sonus faber concertinos
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people are going to start thinking i work for acoustat i rave about these so much. if i had 500 flitchens to spend i'd find a used pair of acoustats - either model IIs or model IIIs (i haven't heard the 1100s or the 4s or the rest so cant comment). they're electrostats with a lush midrange to die for. you can find these in the $400-600 range. i've swapped every single piece of gear out at least 3x and the only thing to last has been my acoustats.
The Maggie SMGa's are decent when buying on a budget. Get them set up correctly and they get most everything right. Errors are those of omission -- a good thing at this level. These can be had *very* inexpensively if you are patient and shop around. I see them for $250-$300 from time to time.
Now for a shameless plug (my first ever, really). Depending on your amp, I have a pair of Apogee Centaurs that are just sitting. (Since I went to the very large CLS/SW800 set up my concession to my wife is that I won't set these speakers up in the bedroom again -- OK, I can live with that.) Anyway, these have the same ribblons as the Stages (my old main rig speakers) and an eight inch long throw woofer.
These are quite good and I will let them go for a song -- especially if you are in SoCal. And especially today when I found out that the Kinergetics subs that I bought for spare drivers have different ones than my SW800's. Now have two more large boxes to explain when my wife gets back from Tokyo. And, I have the new (used) Oracle turntable to explain. I guess she should never leave town.
Again, you need an amp that will drive them. I'd suggest clean power at 75 watts or more. The detail that the ribbons provide will be far and away better than any other "budget" speaker that comes to mind. If you can swing the power requirements I promise you a screaming deal.
Good luck in any event.
They say you can be a project manager by mastering two phrases - "It depends" and "We can't tell with the information presently available". Depends on what you have to drive them - any recommended pair, not just Jim's Apogees. Are you willing to buy used? And do you want stand-mount (then you've got to budget for decent stands) or floorstanding? And, of course, the usual questions on your room (size, finishes, etc) and listening preferences (genres, volume, etc). Did you really think this was going to be that easy? ;-)
The stage and Maggies are great speakers. I will now beat the drum for the B&W CDM-1 ... used can be found in your range ... yes they need stands, and won't really sing to full potential without a good bit of amp driving them. When I bought mine, I has a 60W Sumo doing the deed, when I switched to an Adcom 555 I was blown away by the additional control. Buying used at this price point allows you many choices. Good luck.
OK, more blind reponses/suggestions which could be available used in your range should include (generally in my order of preference): Vandersteen 2's in some variant, ProAc Tablette in some variant, NHT 2.5i, PSB Stratus Bronze, NHT S1/S2, etc. I have heard all of these set up well and sounding great - but in very different conditions and with very different gear ahead of them. YMWV (Your Mileage WILL Vary) :-)
If your looking to buy used, you've already been given some good suggestions. However, if your looking new, and as a new audiophile, you want to be able to listen to the speakers you are buying, not always easy when buying used. My recommendation would be the Paradigm Monitor 5v.2. Retail at $525 but you should be able to get a pair well under $500. This speaker does everything "well" with no glaring weak spots. Great soundstaging, fairly deep bass, very, very clean midrange, superb build quality and will not be real picky about what you hook it up to. It will sing with budget electronics, and sound better as your system improves. Just my opinion. I use a pair in my bedroom system. I've got some spendy stuff in the basement which sounds better, but the difference is small. The Paradigm is a steal at this price.