Help a confused newbie build his first setup...

Hello everyone,

After saving my pennies for the last few years, I have finally saved up the money to buy some speakers but to be honest I am confused with two thing and would love everyones opinion. First off, what would be a better bang for the buck, floor standers or monitors?. I am a musician by trade with good ears that listens to everything and love to hear things as truthfully as possible. To me accuracy, neutrality, musicality, and soundstage are very important. For instance, I am not concern about bloated, unrealistic bass, since I know exactly how a bass should sound like. I need a speaker that can handle different situation effectively. Additionally, my living room is connected to a dinning room and kitchen. The living room itself is 20 X 12 with 10 foot high ceiling.

My other concern is how much do I need to spend. Right now all I have is a dac going going to airport express. I was thinking of buying a good speaker first then buying a fairly cheap amp and upgrade later. Is that the right way to go about it? I do know I want to use SS amp for this setup since it is overall easier for me. All this being said, I have collected $1000 so far but am not sure if this would be enough to get a good setup. I do not mind saving up if I have to.

What would be your ideal setup for the following price points (amp included if possible).




Thank you in advance and let me know if you would like more information.
What is going to be your source? Since you mention a DAC are you going computer based or do you have a DVD/CD player to hook to the DAC?
Mostly a Dac into an airport extreme or my friend just gave me a squeezebox so might go that route with flacless audio files. Eventually do want to buy a dvd/cd player but that is way in the future.
OK here is a suggestion: Find used on audiogon a pair of Quad 11Ls and a Blue Circle integrated amp. Speakers are book shelves around 350 used a the Blue circle CS goes for 750 give or take a bit..
Going in just remember this, "Everything Matters" ... especially if you want to be a card carrying audio nut or if you are, but don't know it yet.

How much does eeach area (amps, speakers, sources, cables, conditioning, isolation, acoustical treatments)matter?

Well now... that's the $64 question, or the $1K, $2K, $3K or $30K or $$$$$$, question.

IMHO.... If you take the ‘front to back ’ approach of system building, wherein you begin with the source and move towards the speakers, rather than the “speaker first” path, you’ll save money initially.

That’s the way I’ve nearly always began building a stereo outfit.

Great speakers normally require great front ends, (sources, preamps, amps, cabling, conditioning too maybe) to sound their best.

Great sources, preamps and amps, along with good cables and possibly some power line conditioning, if needs be, can do very very well with far less than superior speakers.

AS for monitors vs floorstanders… there are numerous pages right here in the disscussion forum archives that may add to the pros and and cons for each…. Normally, both types take up roughly the same foot print or floor space.

Searching the “Virtual systems” that contain PCs and/or Airport Express units also could be helpful.

You’ve got a pretty decent sized space to fill out given the openings to another room… so depending on how important bass is to you, and of course it do seem you’ll need to continue to address that particular part of the audio rig now and then, you can pretty much determine the minimum power/speaker ratings up front. Do know this however… more power is better than not enough power if ever in doubt.

A good DAC IMHO should be your first concern. Not top of the line now but as good as you can afford now… IMO a good to pretty good DAC = $500 to $1,000. IF PC audio is your sole source, and none other is desired, picking a DAC which can remotely adjust the volume eliminates the need for a preamp, now or entirely. A pretty good SS amp can be had for $1K or less… preowned. Again, IMHO. Leaving you with only the need for loudspeakers. Monitors at first look seem the proper path to save funds and gain better bang for buck. Add in the notion that good stands for those monitors will definitely reflect in how well they’ll perform, and they are NEEDED, and the monitor price rises. Add in too another couple or three feet are needed to connect cables to tall stand mounted monitors , and the price again goes up.

The poster above that mentioned the Quadds is a good idea I suppose. They do get a lot of positive press . So do many others. Totems for instance also get some great following, and many other names come to mind. Silverline two ways are very nice. All that said, I bought a pr of older towers locally from another member for under $700 that don’t look great, but play super with about any amplification and setting. Phase TechnologiesPC 10.5. In a 16 x 12 x 8.5 room with 100 wpc @ 8 ohms, they work very well indeed. Larger room? There they will need more juice as they are 87db & 4 ohm or less speakers.. In my 21 x 14 x 8.5 room, 200 wpc @ 8 ohms ought be adequate for starters….. again… more is better. In there I used a BAT vk500 w/BAT pk amp to drive them, 250wpc @ 8 ohms.

My Bel Canto e one DAC3, + Odyssey Stratos Plus amp + PT PC 10.5, + Synergistic Research speaker cables and Audio Art Interconnects or Kimber Hero’s, Nordost Blue Heavens, or even some Micro Pearl ICs, should make a nice sounding outfit that has a very good degree of honesty and neutrality. I do prefer tubes, but that ain’t a bad setup. Your wallet might agree with it/them, but it always comes down to the ears and sometimes the eyes.

As for how much money is needed to first get going? That’s all up to you. Matching the power ratings of amps to the needs of the speakers is a very, very key thing. The initial outlay likely will come down to how much paitience you have on tap, and how picky you are overall or how compromising you can be.

Integrated amps are a sound choice too initially. Keep to popular trens right off and you can do the Audiogon shuffle, buy try, and sell later if not a good fit for you, or it’s time to move on…

The more eclectic your choices the tuffer it’ll be to move them out later on…. Just a heads up. Heed or ignore at will.

A Blue Circle, Bel Canto, Peach tree, Nuforce, Wyred 4 Sound and lots of other, LSA, ETC. ARE SOLID integrated amp CHOICES….

Get out and listen to as much as you can now…. And see what’s going for what.. price to sound-wise. Then… have fun. It ain’t a heart transplant or anything nearly as critical… it’s a hobby.. a past time, and should be fun. Always.

Good luck
Aldres, buying lower level gear will cost you more since eventually you'll replace it - unless you have, like many of us, "gardener's syndrome" and need to trim and re-pot anyway. I would buy at least one main component of high quality that you can live with. The biggest change for me (eye opening) was the speaker Hyperion HPS-938. It is imitation (but according to reviews even better sounding) of very expensive Wilson Puppy. Read reviews here:
It also got whole bunch of awards (including "speaker of the decade"). What surprised me the most was quality of the bass. I knew about breathtaking midrange but bass was complete surprise. It is not the fact that bass is tight and very dynamic but rather that it sounds very natural/musical at the same time. Attack and decay of the bass string, for instance, sounds very realistic and pleasant. This speaker cost more than $5k but I bought 6 month old dealer demo (dealer in Pennsylvania) for $3k with full warranty and like new condition. Perhaps dealer is willing to negotiate even better deal now (slow sales). Used are sometimes sold at Audiogon at approx. $2k. It is very warm sounding speaker that is easy to drive (6ohm, 3.8ohm min, 90dB/W) that works great with my 100/200W Icepower amp.

Your question suggest $3k as your absolute max. I would try to get Hyperions and fit it with $100 receiver + cheapest cables for now. When you can save more get better amp and CDP or DAC - one by one. My setup is very simple - DAC with volume control + power amp (Rowland 102) using cheap DVD player or Airport Express as a source, but sound quality is first grade. There is something about these speakers that make them 10x better sounding than 3x less expensive Paradigm Studio/60 I had before. By better I don't mean more impressive, just the opposite - less hi-fiish and more natural (better integrated) with lifelike imaging.
Put most of your budget into the speakers. I suggest looking at used ProAc, either the 1SC's or 140's. As a musician I think you would like the sound of the tube Cayin 100T, often available used for about $1800. I've paired the latter with both of the ProAc speakers and really enjoy the sound, it is warm and female vocals are stellar.
IMHO. . . a pair of used Vandersteen 2ce's would do well for your speaker needs, and see if you can mate it with a nice integrated tube amp, or for your ss preference, consider a used YBA integra, NAD, or Creek integrated. There are many others to choose from. My first setup was a Dynaco/Rectilinear speakers, and AR TT. I remember my excitement when I first got this rig, and how well it serviced me over the years. Happy Listening
Get out to some decent stores and listen to some systems to get an idea of the type of sound you like. See if you can find a club in your area that will provide you with some in-home listening sessions (and exposure to people in the hobby). Don't buy anything you haven't heard in own your home. Look for good deals on used gear that you can sell for close to the same price when you want to change. Take your time.
You wanted opinions, you got it. And that's why you're confused. As a musician also, I know where you are coming from. Take your time. Read. Listen. Question everything. If you don't use your head, you'll use your wallet. You need facts, not opinions.
I would watch for some Paradigm Active 20's. They are active speakers that don't need an amp and sound amazing. Great place to start a system. If you source has volume control you can go right from that to the speaker.

They can usually be had for about $700 used on A'gon.
Have to take issue w jdmobrow's
Get out to some decent stores and listen to some systems to get an idea of the type of sound you like....Look for good deals on used gear.
If you buy used at 'net prices you can invest your time to read reviews and literature (intellectual equity if you will), make a decision, try it out and resell at little/no loss if you don't like it. Or you can go to a dealer, pay his mark-up and benefit from his expertise and overhead. Many will let you try things at home overnight w a credit card swipe. But remember that he has made an investment in time, equipment, rent, etc which deserves to be re-paid. If you don't like the stuff, then fine, move on. But if you don't have a realistic intention of buying from a dealer it is dishonest and basically theft of intellectual property to learn from/audition at a dealer and then buy used from the 'net. Just an audio consumer here, not a dealer or industry person, but please, be honest. And not to quibble w Ojgalli, but as a musician, you must realize that aside from obvious equipment mismatches, there are precious few facts in appreciation of music. Lots of opinions, but I'm sure you all know what opinions are like...;~)
As you can see from the varied responses you have received, opinions on the subject are as varied as the number of enthusiasts out there. So I'm not going to suggest any specific speakers to you, or suggest that you buy new or used, or urge you to start with some piece of equipment other than the speakers. But as one who still remembers being a newbie myself, some practical advice:

1. Loudspeakers are a good place to start when upgrading, because then if you later upgrade electronics you'll be able to hear and appreciate the difference. And loudspeakers are the one kind of audio gear where it is still largely true that you get what you pay for -- generally, with reputable brands a higher price point will get you better bass extension and better imaging, at the very least.

2. At any given price point, monitors are probably going to have an edge with imaging, but floor standers will likely have better bass extension. And remember with monitors you will usually need stands, so you have to factor them into the total price.

3. When setting your budget, don't buy anything you can't afford to replace - accidents happen, and as I am sure you know, warranties don't cover accidental damage. So, if your upper limit is $3000.00, for example, and it took you years to save that much, you may want to limit your purchase price to about 60% of that amount -- otherwise, you could end up staring at expensive paperweights.

4. Since you are a musician, in particular, and new to the hobby, I would urge you to not purchase speakers you haven't heard. Do some research in your price range, and then seek out dealers that sell brands that interest you, and listen, listen, listen. Be sure to take your own music with you -- pieces you know well. Dealers tend to have carefully chosen "demo tracks" intended to make almost any speaker sound good -- you want to play and listen to the kind of music you like. I once discovered that a pair of"demo" speakers a dealer was urging me to consider had a damaged woofer only because I had brought along music I knew well that included organ pedal notes (the dealer replaced the woofer, and I ended up buying the speakers).

5. ¥ou can get into some really impressive arguments over the question of speaker cables -- I would say to avoid fancy speaker cables, at this point, and concentrate your money and effort on the speakers -- if high-end cables do make a difference (and boy, can you start an argument by introducing that topic among audiophiles and electrical engineers), it is incremental.

6. Keep your listening space in mind when looking at speakers -- if the space is relatively small, in particular, consider how the speaker is going to fit in the room and how much flexibility you have in placement. Smaller rooms and fewer placement options often make a monitor, rather than a floor stander, a better choice because they tend to be more forgiving and less boundary-dependent.

7. Most of all, take a little time and have fun looking at the options. As with many things the journey is at least half the fun.
The spk. will determine what type of amp you'll need. Generally, bookshelf spks are less effeciant and req. a good stand. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. As someone has already said, great pieces of equipment need other great pieces in order to sound their best. You could end up on the merry-go-round. But buying used is the way to go in case you don't like what you hear. A properly put together lower-priced system can sound fantastic. Start w/the speakers first, but don't get something which will need a very expensive other piece of equipment to sound good, unless you have the funds. Good hunting and hope things work out well.
You must go out and listen to speakers and amp combos. There are a few ways to do this. Bear in mind that what you like is correct for you and there is no one right sound. The options are going to a real 2 channel audio retailer with a good selection. Joining an audio group and listening to the members systems and finally getting to one of the big shows. If you don't hear it for yourself then all the audiobabble in the world written here and elsewhere will mean nothing. Sorry that is not giving you much direction but one guy likes Vandersteen 2CEs I don't so what. Another guy loves Hyperions so do I so what. Another likes Spendors etc. None of this means nothing if you don't know what those speakers sound like. It is the only way to go. Sorry.
Hi - as a fellow musician, I can tell you first, that you will not be satisfied with anything smaller than floorstanders, and you will probably want fairly large sized ones at that. Second, I agree with those suggesting that you must not buy speakers without hearing them first. If you don't like your speakers, you won't like anything you are hearing. So I would urge you to not only research, but also listen to everything you can. I took about a year and a half researching and listening to all sorts of equipment before I bought what I did.
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Here let me help ..

You can use the xtra money you saved for a subwoofer if necessary, i would suggest you put it towards a good amplifier, you can find a Thresholds S200 or S300 for the balanced left over for eg.

Stay away from cheap small box speakers the sound will drive you nuts overtime. Ohh ! in case you lost some appendages and need WAF speakers ..

2nd tier choice : * *

Of course no affiliation, Yaddy , Yadda... Better to start with the panel speakers, the maggies will have more bass than the acoustats, Both will eventually need subwoofers IMO , but closer to sounding like real music at anything near this price point.

Happy hunting .....
Ojgalli, way to really put it out there. Your an audiophile talkin' my kinda talk!
Aldres - You need to check out Magnepan MMGs. New at $600 and can usually be found here at $400 in good condition. An amazing speaker and widely thought to present unbelievable value at this price.

It requires a good set of upstream components so if you go that route, you can put together a really good system for about $2000, including separate pre and power amps and some upgraded cables. The MMG will be difficult to preview in person but do some research. I am an ex-musician and ordered MMGs based on web reviews and as a result was unprepared for just how good they are.
Wow thanks for the replies. Actually, considering I do leave in NYC space is an issue to some extent. I was generally looking for something that was small but produced big sound. I know for a fact, the magnepan, although wonderful, would not go well with the wife.

Another factor I just thought about was having a speaker that could produce good sound throughout the house instead of getting good sound from a small sweet spot.

Did all that make sense?
Only a planar type speaker will do that .....
"good sound throughout the house" - planar speakers have narrow sweet spot AFAIK.
Hello ,

Planar speakers and line sources in general will fill a house easy due to their dispersion characteristics, nothing to do with the "sweet spot " .

Point source speakers lose 6 db per doubling of distance, only 3 db for linesource/planer type speakers.

Once we get far enough away from the speakers that the reverberant field dominates over the direct sound, it really doesn't matter whether the sound originated from a point source or a line source. And by the time we're outside the main listening room, the 3 dB per distance doubling falloff advantage of line source propagation is disrupted anyway.

Imho more important than line source vs point source propagation is the off-axis response smoothness, which will establish the tonal balance at greater-than-normal listening distances, whether on-axis or off or in the next room.


How big is the house?

I've heard from one dealer at least that one of his customers brought back in a loudspeaker that broke. Blew out. During discovery of how the buyer used the stereo system he bought from the dealer it was determined the customer had maxed out the volume so he could hear it while he worked outside of the house. Leaving it uop like that he eventaully blew the loudspeaker. It's a popular one seen around here often... but not up to the task of a PA system.

Looking at my own setups, my best ssytem produces the best sound. Period. In that room or outside of it. Within reason of course. Albeit, I don't use it as a Public Announcing system. If that was what I wanted... sheer volume... I'd go to Sam Ash or some likewise joint and get a P.A. outfit.

Sound quality is a product of ALL of the system components. The room. The speakers. The source device. The amplification. the system's setup itself. ALL OF IT is responsible for the quality of sound the system generates.

Down stream components can not recover what is not shown initially.

IOW the best speakers in the world can not reach back upstream and make up for inadequacies of the rig's front end... a less than source... modest preamp... poor amp... etc. They can only give you back that which you fed them.

Consequently, and often this note gets obscured by the "speaker first camp" devotees..... Signal integrity is the Holy Grail in audio.

Generate a quality signal first.... nothing downstream of your source item is going to make up for any loss or degredation, lack of fidelity or lack thereafter.

the thing the "speaker first group" leaves out almost everytime is this caveat.... it's encumbant upon the system builder to upgrade the upstream components as soon as possible so they are all on par with the investment you made initially by pitching the greatest part of your stereo budget into loudspakers, instead of elsewhere.

They also don't add in that for the more modest or budget minded audio buff, this might take a few years or even more than that to ultimately accomplish.

If it takes say 4 or even five years to wind up with a really nice front end... by then those great XYZ speakers are now five years old and have likely been superceded by some other itteration, revised, revamped, remade, improved, altered or changed somehow.

In the meantime the quality of the sound slowly improved as the source, power, etc. all improved.... marginally and slowly.

But then of course, if one loves to look at great speakers, that won't sound their best until the rest of the rig is up to snuff... well... then it's speakers that should garner the greatest portion of the budget immediately... I suppose.

...and that's my issue with that philosophy. "First". I've no issues with speakers eating up a big piece of the audio budget pie when all is said and done... just not right off the bat.

Naturally the same argument could be reversed as everything changes, gets altered & hopefully bettered. then too, there are those "keeper" pieces that aren't bettered and from them only different can be expected.

There's no question speakers make the biggest impact on your stereo. Nothing else will make qauite as big a difference. And you're forced to most often, look at 'em all the time.

....and what then if you decide to go flea power & high eff speakers? Or tube power? Or someone wants to remodel paint and redecorate in the next couple months?

Loud squeakers are important... but they ain't everything. to get started I'd split it up into thirds. A third on source, another third on power, and the last third on speakers. right after a system is in house, I'd begin addressing all the pheripherals and accessories. Room treatments, cab ling, isolation, power line artifacts... etc.

It'll sound good throughout the appropriate listening distance.

BTW... all my speakers, are cones or domes. I've no panel speakers. My House is under 2K sq ft too... and no amp I own has more than 200wpc @ 8ohms. I can hear my 93db speakers anywhere in the home if I choose and they are run by a 150wpc multi ch amp most of the time...otherwise power comes from a pr of 120 wpc mono blocks.. it sounds great to me.
Blindjim, I suspect that progress in speaker technology is much slower than progress in electronics especially in signal processing. Starting with the speaker makes more sense to me. As for the split, I would place 45% in electronics and equal amount in speakers. Cables should account for about 10%.
Aldres , any system you put together will be "background" listening when in another part of the house, unless you were to run some smaller speakers from an amp/speaker switcher or use a wireless system like the Rocketfish ( the other rooms. I would first concentrate on your initial purpose, a system for the main listening room, if in fact this is the goal you originally spoke of, IMHO.
"I have collected $1000 so far but am not sure if this would be enough to get a good setup. I do not mind saving up if I have to."

I hope this doesn't come off as too presumptuous. Typically in audio, the newbie's ear grows in its sophistication just as his system does. You're not the typical newbie, and even if you hadn't disclosed that you are a musician, it should be obvious from your posts, that you already have a discriminating ear. I would be surprised if $1000 would be enough for you. You're on the steep part of the return on investment curve. IMHO

I know what you mean. I wish I had all the money in the world to be able to afford whatever sounds best to my ear. My attempt of setting a budget is more of a challenge for myself than anything else. I know the world of audiophile is the quest to get the best sound but I want to try to avoid spending a bunch of money just to gain a 2% increase in sound.

Anyone know some of the places to visit in NYC? Any also know of any clubs I might join to start listening and zeroing in to the sound I am looking?

I would try Sound by Singer, ask for Andy, let him know you have 1K you wanna spend... :)

Isn't Sound by Singer no longer (at least as a B&M retailer?)
A question, what do you love about music? If you can figure out how to quantify this, that will go a long way to helping you choose a path.

I don't know what kind of music you play, but it likely has an influence in this. I'm a drummer myself and if equipment can't be articulate in the bottom end and provide correct tone on acoustic drums, I'm not interested (no horns for me). Maybe you are a bass player and you want something that "swings", so SET might interest you. Whatever the case, knowing what moves you will help.

Bottom line, don't think about a piece of equipment, think about what you want the total package to deliver. Listen to as many systems as possible and seek something that makes you sit up and take notice. Then figure out how to get your first piece of it. For me, I started looking for an amp and ended up with a pair of speakers (ProAc Response 1SC) that have lasted multiple amp and other equipment changes. That vivid sound grabbed me and i new that was what I wanted - even if the total package I heard was 10x what I could spend at the time, I knew the path I wanted to peruse and got the biggest piece first.

Lastly, I know you said you wanted room filling sound, but if you were to consider a nice pair of headphones and a head amp, you could spend $1,000 and get quality that will cost you $10,000 to match in a full setup. Worth considering.

Good luck.

First off you have a pretty good sized room, and I agree with those who recommend a floor standing speaker. I don't think monitors will give you enough "fill". Plus you want the sound to extend inro the additional rooms. Secondly don't buy without listening. Period. Plenty of people I know LOVE B&W speakers. If I had taken their advice and bought them without listening first I would have been an unhappy man. They're not my cup of tea. Only you can judge what you will or won't like. That feeling of realizing that you don't like the sound of the piece of equipment that you just bought because of positive reviews or recommendations, without auditioning first, is really a drag. I'll never do it again. If I haven't heard it, I'm not buying it.
The question of buying speakers or upstream equipment first continues to be debated. The true question is which is more important. Good speakers make mediocre equipment sound pretty good, and the opposite is also true. Mediocre speakers make good equipment sound mediocre. Your stereo cannot sound better than your speakers. Spend a little more on your speakers.
Now here's my recommendation. Take your $1000 and go out and buy a pair of used Vandersteen 2Ci speakers, usually in the $450 range. Take the rest and see if you can't find a good used Rotel or NAD Monitor series preamp/amp combination. Or even a nice Luxman integeated unit. These should be in the $350 range. That will leave you with a little left over money to buy some good speaker cable. Any of those upstream combos will sound pretty good, and the Vandersteens are, IMO, far and away the best used speaker you can buy for the money. They have great bass extension, they don't enhance the music, and they will carry well into the next room. Plus they are just so wonderful to listen to. But whatever you do, don't buy without listening first, and give yourself some perspective by listening to a lot of stuff before you buy.
Good Luck, Martin.