Sonic Frontiers Line series are excellent....you might one of them new in your price range.
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I've quite impressed with the vtl 2.5. I think they sell new for 1500. The vtl it-85 integrated 85 watt is very good as well. I have heard great things about the Audio Research 2's, and 5's. The 2 can be found used for around 1000. If you don't need a tube preamp, take a listen to the adcom 750. It is amazingly transparent in passive mode. I run it in front of tube monoblocks.