You may like the LFD Mistral integrated amps. For SS, they fit your description very well. Not bit of grain or harshness or brightness, real easy, good color, and the unit is compact and attractive. I don't think there is a remote availible, if that is important. There is a 50 watter for $1100, and 75 watt, LE version for $1500.
ProAc speakers are also worth considering; nice and open sounding.
How about a used tube receiver such as an old McIntosh or Fisher? These is easy to deal with if in good condition. Very warm sound and easy on the eyes.
As for CD player, unless are you interested in being able to play DVD, there are tons of great used players here at Audiogon.
As for speakers, there are so many it's hard to know where to start. However, when I think of small and warm, The Vandersteen 1B comes to mind.
These with the Macintosh or Fisher would make bullet proof sound that would be difficult to find fault with, especially for long term listening.
I'm guessing here that since your friend recommended Rega he knows something about your tastes. I listened to some Rega speakers recently & although not a full blown audition, I liked what I heard. Definitely worth a listen.
Here's there product line if you haven't looked yet. http://www.rega.co.uk/index2.htm
I would go with McIntosh SS or tube. There are many used models available on ebay since the company has been around for a long time, and for a range of prices. They made a slim-line setup that is compact. I own two of these SS pieces currently for my living room: C712 pre and MC7100 amp (>100Wpc) - quite a killer combination for the price (about $1300 for both only 5 years old). They push Paradigm Reference 100s which are great for a living room because they don't require huge amounts of space around them to sound good. I have them close to the back wall and they sound as good as when I had them closer to the middle of the room. I love my setup and listen to it all the time - super warm, sweet, detailed, musical, and envelopping.
The Linn Classik offers compact quality, is very good sounding AND has a high WAF as it is one box that does all while not cluttering up the room. Used with tuner model can be found for around $1100. Axiom M3Ti (audioshop.on.ca)in black are quite good with this unit or even the Spendor SP3 for $895 new. By the time you add speaker stands you could be just over 2K and this system will be quite musical.
Ah, the living room problem. Three issues predominate:
1) There isn't room for racks and racks of equipment.
2) Speakers generally have to go closer to the wall than is good for them.
3) Room treatment meets interior decorating, and guess who wins.
For #1, keep it simple--an integrated amp and a one-box CD player (or DVD player, if there's a TV around). Stay away from Class A amps unless you want to use it as a warming tray. Tubes might not be the best choice either, but if you like them go for them.
As for #2, you must take positioning into consideration when you shop for speakers. I'd avoid rear-firing ports unless you can put them at least a few feet from the wall. Some speakers are designed to be more forgiving than others in this regard. I'd give a listen to the PSB line in particular, since they seem to understand better than most the real-world environments in which their products operate.
Room treatments are tricky but not impossible. Something absorptive behind the speakers (drapes, tapestry, etc.), diffusion behind the listeners and at the main reflection points along the sides. Open book cases make fine diffusors. Glass sucks.
Finally, I'd buy speakers before amp, to make sure the latter had enough oomph.
Here's what I use in my living room: ARC CA-50 tube integrated (about 45-50 watts; $1600 used), ProAc Response 1SC monitors on Sound Anchor stands (very narrow profile, placement not a problem for me at least in my room; $1350 used plus $400 for new stands), and Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player ($2400 used). This produces fabulous, warm, rich, detailed sound, i enjoy listening to this system as much as I do my BIG rig downstairs in my listening room. The EMC-1 is one of the best CD players out there but if it is too expensive even used, I would pick one of many great lower-priced one-box players and stick w/the CA-50 integrated and the ProAc monitors.
If you find a Rega dealer try an all Rega system. You MIGHT be able to improve by researching for hours, shopping around, looking for use bargains, but will it really be worth it? You decide. Rega makes good stuff, and if you like what the dealer plays you then get it. You'll probably get a very enjoyable system for around $2500.
One caveat .. make sure the dealer places the speakers a similar distance from the back wall to how you will use them in your living room as this makes a huge difference to how a speaker sounds.
To be more general (so you don't think I'm pimping Rega stuff) I think your best approach is to find a local audio dealer with a good reputation (start a separate thread) and go to them and tell them :
1) your budget
2) the size of the room
3) your listening tastes ... take your CDs or LPs with you.
4) Where the speakers must be placed.
5) where you must sit.
And ask for their recommendation of CD, amp, speakers, cables to fit in your budget. Demo it, and if it sounds great get it .. if you're not sure ask for a different combination or try a different dealer until you hear something you could live with.
Mcintosh, Proac, Rega, Arc ..... there are a gazillion manufacturers making great audio equipment, but making suggestions to you on this thread is a crapshoot, since not all components will work well together and not all will suit your room and / or taste in music.
If you want to spend 5-10 years searching for the pinnacle of hifi reproduction within your budget then stay on audigon and buy used equipment. However if you just want a great sounding hifi for reasonable outlays of time and money find a good dealer(s), take their recommendations and be sure to demo the whole system. Good luck.
Look around and see if you can find a Totem dealer. Their Arro speaker may be just what you want-great sound and small footprint. They work in my bedroom just great and the sound (along with their WAF) is VERY high.
I recently put together a system for 500.00 used. After getting all the pieces here, I decided to set it up to see that everything was working and how it sounded. I was amazed at how good it sounded.
I myself am spoiled by a 40k plus system, so I was expecting to be really let down by what I heard. My opinion is that if you can't sit in the sweet spot (or if you would even) you aren't going to notice a termendous diffrence between a budget system and an expensive one. Granted the expensive system will sound better from the other room, but to most would hardly justify the price.
I have really enjoyed having a little system like this available to CDs on for casual listening. No warm up time, no tweeking, no worry of leaving your system on for fear of buring up expensive tubes.
The system I've put together is-
Creek 4330 integrated amp (250.00 used)
NAD 502 CD player (90.00 used)
Mission 731i speakers (100.00 used)
Homegrown Audio Super Silver interconnect kit (50.00 new)
MIT Terminator 2 speaker cable (70.00 used)
I substituted a set of Meadowlark Kestrel speakers and a Rega Planet CD player to the sytem and that improved things quite a bit, but would add about 1000.00 to the price. With speakers and the CD player upgraded the system becomes much more enjoyable for critical listening.
If you were only going to play music and aren't concerned with soundstage and imaging, you would probably be perfectly happy with the 500.00 system.
I believe that any living-room system needs a correction so I would recommend getting products from TACT audio if you can afford.
Ejlif has a good point ... "My opinion is that if you can't sit in the sweet spot (or if you would even) you aren't going to notice a termendous diffrence between a budget system and an expensive one." Couldn't agree more. Good post.
I think the first thing to narrow down is speakers, even though that might not be the first thing you purchase, because the speakers you choose will determine whether or not your criteria can ultimately be met. If I understand correctly, your requirements are:
1. Speakers must sound good with less than ideal placement in a normal living room.
2. Speakers must have warm, sweet tonal balance with natural timbre.
3. Speakers must be enjoyable from well off-axis.
4. Speakers must even be enjoyable from the next room.
5. Speakers must be affordable.
This is actually a very difficult set of requirements. Let me explain:
In order to meet requirements number 3 and 4, the speakers must have very uniform dispersion characteristics, so that listeners way outside the sweet spot (and even in the next room) hear the correct tonal balance. Very few speakers do this, and even fewer affordable ones do.
For example, there is no way your basic 6.5" two-way is going to meet these requirements. The radiation pattern will be omnidirectional in the bass, narrowing with increasing frequency so that the woofer is beaming pretty severely by the time we get to the crossover point. Then the radiation pattern blooms out again as the tweeter takes over, of course narrowing as tweeter beaming sets in. So there is no way this speaker's off-axis response is going to have the correct tonal balance, much less its next-room (reverberant field) response.
Basically, there are two approaches that fulfill the off-axis and next-room requirements: 1) to use a speaker that has more or less the same controlled radiation pattern at all frequencies, or 2) to use a speaker that approximates omnidirectional radiation. An example of the first approach is Magnepan, whose speakers maintain an approximate figure-8 radiation pattern up and down the spectrum. An example of the second approach is Oskar, whose speakers use a quasi-omnidirectional ribbon-type driver crossed over at a fairly low frequency to a conventional woofer; or Shahinian, whose speakers use arrays of drivers (principally tweeters) aimed in various directions to simulate spherical radiation. (I sell one of these three brands, and they all three sound warm and sweet, have natural timbre, and are relaxing to listen to long-term.)
Now, here comes the problem: Maggies, Oskars, and Shahinians like to be positioned well out in the room, with plenty of air around them. But this is counter to our first requirement - namely, that the speaker sound good with less-than-ideal placement (which probably means placement close to the wall).
So, a critical question at this juncture is:
Where will the speakers be located??
A related question is, if necessary, can we sneak in some acoustic treatment in disguise - such as a bushy plant or two?
The answer to these questions will lead us toward which of our uniformly-dispersing speakers will best integrate with the room.
And the answer to that question will in turn tell us what our amplifier requirements are.
The easy part is the CD player. That's primarily a budget question, as room acoustics play zero role in selecting the best-sounding model. But if you have a fixed budget, looking into speakers (and amps) first will tell you how much is left over for the CD player. And, of course if not enough is left over, we have to rethink the speakers and start over.
Steve, I really think the key to getting the sound you want is getting speakers that will meet your rather unusual requirements. For years I built speakers designed to similar requirements as a hobbyist, and now as a dealer I'm naturally drawn to such designs. In fact, of the five loudspeaker lines I carry, four of them excel at getting the off-axis (reverberant) response right. But I'm quite willing to recommend something I don't sell if it turns out that would best serve your needs.
Feel free to contact me, and we can talk on the phone about your room and system.
Best of luck to you in your quest!