At your budget (and quite a bit beyond that, IMO), you really can't do better
than an Onkyo A-9555 integrated, which you can get new w/warranty, free
shipping, and 30-day eval period for under $500. It puts out 100/200 wpc
into 8/4 ohms. It's comfortable running into 4 ohms, and can handle the
occasional dip into 2 ohms without freaking. It's grip and control are
excellent, but it excels at low level details reminiscent of a tube amp, while
having the wide bandwidth, speed, clarity, and control associated with good
solid state. It has a very nice remote control, plus 7 inputs including MM
I have a long history of getting used/vintage amps and preamps to extract
high end sound on a budget. But since I got the Onkyo a couple weeks ago, I
have undergone a complete paradigm shift regarding price vs. performance
and new vs. used. My Onkyo has displaced Amber, VSP Labs, Hafler, and
Outlaw preamps, and Amber and VSP Labs power amps in my 2-channel
system where I do almost all of my music listening. The Onkyo completely
outclasses them all in every conceivable performance parameter.
You must give the Onkyo 100 hours of break-in, lest you send it back
prematurely, miss out on its goodness, and think I'm the worst of all
crackpots. Once it breaks in it is absolutely astounding at its price. I honestly
can't name a similarly functioning electronics chain south of $3000 that I
would clearly prefer. In fact, I specifically prefer the Onkyo to anything under
$3K from Cambridge Audio, Rega, Music Hall, or Musical Fidelity.
With a good aftermarket power cord (I use a PS Audio), the noise floor is
really low, helping open up the low level detail.