Help a new guy get started

Hey everyone.
This is my first post so I apologize in advance if I botch it.
I am putting together a music only system for my bedroom (14x14x9) and I have a budget of about $1000-1200. I've spent lots of time reading the posts and checking out manufacturers websites and I think that has confused me more than help. At this point the NHT Classic lines look appealing as do the Image series from PSB for speakers. I'm also looking at Integrated amps and stereo receivers from Marantz, NAD and (don't curse) the new Yamaha stereo receivers released recently. For now my source will be my Macbook Pro and a small DAC like the HRT or the Nuforce. Eventually, I'd like to add something like the Olive 3, but that is down the line.

Any advice?
your question comes up alot--i've recommended starting with something like a peachtree decco/nova or music hall mambo, which are integrateds with inboard dacs and will give you a lot of flexibility going forward.
I second the Peachtree recommendation. I've heard the Nova and was very impressed. The inboard dac in the Nova is particularly good and would allow you to connect your Macbook via USB. If you can stretch your budget a bit to $1400-1500, you could look for a used Nova for around $900, a used pair of monitors for around $500, and speaker cables for around $100. Although the Nova is rated at 80 wpc, it won't drive inefficient speakers very well. I'd look for speakers with a sensitivity of 88 db into 8 ohms or higher.

The usual rule of thumbs here are these…

Good INTs usually have better 2 ch sound than do likewise priced receivers. The receivers have greater flexibility. For a second or third system, or a very very, first, I normally opt for a receiver. Especially if it’s a budget system. It accepts far more input types, digital and analog, and enables you to grow pretty easily…. Into a separate two ch or into a multi ch HT system.

The other matching aspect is that the spakers themselves, dictate the power needs. Under 1500 cu ft. is a small – ish room. Lots of speakers will do really well in there, providing from decent to great bass reproduction…. Depending on the spaker choice. .

I feel a minimum and often adequate starting point for a system is 100 wpc. Unless it’s a SET oriented lower powered amp + high eff speakers setup. Again, smaller rooms can get away with some less power, say 50-100… I just feel better with 100wpc or better on tap for any beginning rig… room size and setup notwithstanding.

Monitor speakers take up as much space as do floor standing speakers. However floorstanders usually output better low end response, though not always.

If right now you are unsure of the actual direction you want to go I’d say get a receiver. If you are sure, make your best pick paying attention to the eff and impedance of the spakers you want to get and adding the proper amp to them. The room plays a part in the outcome of every rig, so that too might enter into your choices as well… small room …. Small speakers… mid sized room… mid sized speakers… etc. it’s a debateable topic on the power levels though… usually the idea that one can’t have too much power carries the day… while too less power is indeed a problem waiting to happen.

if 2 ch only is your pick... go with an Integrated amp. period... the issue is the budget here then. A grand for speakers and amp limits you a bit.... so I'd put the greatest portion into the INT and get just adequate speakers... figuring to upgrade the speakers asap.

I’ve a 14 x 11 x 8 BR. I run a Sony ES receiver w/110wpc and a pr of 85db 8 ohm two ways up front and a pr of 87db 8 ohm 2 way speakers for rears. … and a subwoofer. My office is smaller still and I use a pr of 3 way 87db, 4 ohm tower speakers driven by a 150wpc @ 8 ohm, amps, in a 9.5 x 11 x 8 and no sub is needed at all! Naturally the amps output more into 4 ohm than into 8 ohms, almost doubling up their total power output.
While it futile to argue what should be the top priority as far as speakers, amplification, or sources from a sonic standpoint, I think in the begining your most solid investment is the amplification. The most imporant thing in a stereo is balance and synergy between the gear (actually it's the room and recording quality, but we're talking about components right now).

I say the amplification should be the first thing at your stage for several reasons. Sources and formats come and go. Today's latest and greatest DAC chip is superceeded with next month's flavor of the month. Rooms pretty much dictate speakers. If you move in 2 years, or decide you want the stereo in the living room, your speakers may not work out well. Amplification does get better with new technology, but it's no where near the pace of everything else. If you're looking for a solid foundation to a system, I say start at the amplification.

I don't think there's a magic number to amplicication. Some say 100 watts. I've heard and owned amps with less than half that that had no problems in average sized rooms. My Bryston B60 is 'only' 60 watts, yet can get far louder than I care to listen to while still staying clean and in control. The Naim Nait 5i is only 50 watts per channel and pulls off the same thing. Both are solid state, not tube.

There's a ton of great sounding integrated amps out there easily within your budget. The best best advice I can give is to determine what traits you're after and start narrowing down the options. 'Clean and articulate highs and good bass' doesn't tell anyone anything. Some systems forgo some of the hifi stuff like precise imaging and hyper detail in an attempt to get better rythym, some trade warmth and smoothness to get more detail, and so on.

The ultimate reference isn't a stereo, it's live music. Don't have the preconceived notion of what a stereo is supposed to sound like. Think about what live music sounds like. Think about where you're favorite place to sit at a concert is so that the music sounds best - is it up front a few rows away, or is it in the back of the hall?

Try visiting a few hifi shops and see what they have. If you like what you hear after hearing a few different set ups, buy that. If not, we're not going anywhere.
Also, the NHT Classic line is a bit demanding from a power standpoint in my experience. They'll sound acceptable with average power, but really need some good current to open up and play to their potential. They need amplification that a good bit more expensive than they are to make them worth while IMO. I'd look into a speaker that is more forgiving to start out with. PSB is a solid choice in that regard. I like PSBs, and they were the first two pairs of 'real' speakers I bought, but that doesn't mean anyone else feels that way.

PSB pairs up very well with NAD, as both are owned by the same parent company and are most likely used together in development of each other's products.

Not that I'm telling you to buy PSB and NAD.
My personal rule of thumb is different depending on what my intentions are.

If I am spending my money to have music now, but would like to have a better system when I can afford it, I put more of the budget into the source.

If am spending for the last time I distribute the funds about equally.

This is because in my own personal experience, it is more fun to listen to a great source than an ordinary one, no matter what the other gear is. Really great electronics and speakers can reveal faults in the source but they can't fix them.

The MacBook Pro-plus-DAC source is IMVHO a great choice. You will be able to upgrade downstream in future and find out how good it really is. I would use the best DAC I could afford. If the interface is USB, use a quality USB cable. Audiogoner Acreyes sells a cryo-treated silver cable on auction, which means a steal may be possible.

The Peachtree and Music Hall options suggested above are pointing you in the right direction IMHO. The Music Hall is made by Shanling and represents excellent sonic value. I have preferred Shanling gear to equivalent NAD units in the past. However the NAD BEE series is also a good place to start if funds are limited.

If you can live with tubes in the bedroom ( I do ), the Audio Space Mini Galaxy is worth considering. PSBs, more sensitive than NHTs, would probably be a better choice with this amp.

The NHT speakers I own are less sensitive and sound punchier and less laid back than the PSBs. If possible, it would be a good idea to get a listen and choose your favourite.

Alternatives might be B&W 302 or 303 ( 88 dB ) or Triangle Titus ( 90 dB ). Also consider one of the LS3/5A clones from Gini or JAS Audio, for more money. LS3/5A types are not very sensitive, though, so, like the NHTs, better with transistor amps.

Have fun and trust your ears!
Thanks for your responses, they are helping me be real about this.
A little bit of backstory applies, I believe. I'm an English teaching trumpet player (thus the low budget) that has heard lots of music from the stage and the audience, but once we decided to start a family I have backed off on the playing so listening matters much more now. Sadly, trumpet players are very similar to audiophiles in that they like to tweak their equipment, and I can feel that starting with me. I have a Yamaha receiver Klipsch quintet combination for movies and it isn't cutting it any more. I bought a pair of Grado 60 headphones that I really like, so, in a way, I am trying to replicate that sound without walking around the house with a pair of headphones.
As always my friend Toby has some great insights. I just went through this myself, re-building a bedroom system. My system was a Linn Classik that can be bought here for under $700

and a pair of B&W DM303 speakers. I changed up the speakers recently, stumbled across a mint pair of Spica TC 50's. So.. for call it $700 for the Linn all-in-one and another $200 for a pair of B&W DM303 speakers you'll have a very nice system for well under your budget, leaves you some coin for speaker cables and perhaps an upgraded power cord. Feel free to get in touch if I can help. Best Regards, Jeff
In the spirit of generating more possibilities to consider, a few speakers I've heard and liked in the $400-700 range used are:

1. Von Schweikert VR-1 (monitor with neutral, balanced character. Full sound and surprisingly good bass)
2. JM Reynaud Twin/Twin Signature (monitor with more lush/romantic sound. Very musical.)
3. Totem Arro (Small floor stander with excellent bass and big soundstage. Project sound like crazy)

All three of these speakers are efficient enough to be driven with a lower power amp (i.e. 50-70 wpc). The first two are now discontinued but come up relatively regularly on Audiogon. The third is still being manufactured and should be available to audition if you have a Totem dealer nearby. Have fun and good luck!
I, for one of several, will stand by the Peachteee Nova/Decco. I heard the Nova on a pair of Monitor Audio RS6 floorstanders a pair of AAD 2001 monitors, and a pair of Monitor Audio GS10s which I currently own. That little integrated never failed to impress. I'll get one eventually for a second system to be paired with the AADs. Welcome to the hobby! Hope you find it rewarding. Good luck with your search.
Hey Jeff! Thanks for the kind word (which could apply even better to you).

A_cross, note re Jeff's and my posts that the Linn Classik includes a CD player and the Audio Space Mini Galaxy includes a DAC.
Post removed 
Thanks again for your responses. I have looked at the Peachtree offerings and have seen a few show up here. I've read in the posts and some reviews that the amp is the weak link in the unit. I understand that the DAC and the other parts of the Decco are really good, but the amp wasn't that great. Does that mean the amp sounds bad, or that it is fair, but the other portions of the unit are stellar and overshadow the amp's qualities?

By the way, I appreciate your candor and kindness thus far. I read a thread about getting into vinyl and it almost kept me from posting.
Too bad about that other thread. Audio folks do grump some.

Allen, for my money the absolute winner combination in the suggestions so far would be that little Audio Space tube amp and a used pair of Reynaud Twins--if you can get to them Twins before a few hundred other people.

The Audio Space amp is low-powered but oh, so sweet with its 6BQ5 tubes. The Reynauds are sensitive enough to run quite loud even on low power, and they are a beautiful design which has won many hearts. The amp has a DAC already, and later on you can bypass it and get a better one if you like.

Bet you dimes to dollars it makes trumpets sound celestial.

The Peachtree's amp sections are the weak link in the chain. They're not bad at all, but they're not as good as the preamp and DAC sections. If someone were to upgrade the performance of the unit, an external amp would be most beneficial.

A lot of people love the Peachtree stuff. I understand why, but I'm not the biggest fan. A bit slow sounding for me. Then again, I'm more of a Bryston/Naim/Rega/Linn guy, so I feel that way about a lot of stuff.
I'm almost ready to jump out there and do some listening, but I thought I'd pose one last question before I go. I think I am going the Peachtree Decco 2 route, but would there be much of a difference if I were to pair a separate DAC( DacMagic) with an integrated (used NAD, marantz...)? It seems like you'd gain speaker options if you went with a sep. amp. I realize that others are accepting the deficiencies in the decco's amp and sending the signal to a better amplifier, but I don't think I could do that for a while.

Thoughts? Experience?

Thanks again,
lots of great ideas. i use the decco with a 500 watt power amp with magnepans and velodyne subs and for a budget system it is really nice. lots of flexibility and well thought out options. i did use the decco alone with mb quarts for a year and the amp is ok. not great or esoteric like some of the other suggestions. peachtree is a good company i think. you can always upgrade the power cord and get good ics and spk wires. i would get another one.with no reservations. good luck
Allen, the only thing you will lose out on if you were to go with say, that DacMagic and an integrated of some kind, is the dac in the Decco. Those dacs that are inside that amp are supposedly worth the price of the entire amp alone, at retail. Not to mention the sound of the dac is outstanding and you'll save on interconnects.

I would just say get the Decco and then when you are comfortable enough with its sound characteristics and you know that amp inside and out and what kind of options you have with it, then you can easily go out and start picking up other amps and try customizing the sound. You may find you like the Decco as it is.

But since you really are starting out, I'd certainly keep it simple. And it'll give you a nice starting reference point with which to grow. Either way, in due time you'll start expanding on it and you might not appreciate spending $4-7K on a starting stereo when you could have had the sound you wanted for $2K.

Just to add another possible direction, at the risk of angering the townspeople, what about sinking your budget into the best active monitors your money will buy? Since you're going out and auditioning, tuck your source under your arm and plug it into a few monitor systems. What have you got to lose? If you want a discrete system later, the monitors will easily come in handy in another room.
Thanks for the idea Poprhetor,
I spent some time really looking at the Swans active monitors because, as is stated earlier in the posts, I plan to use my laptop for lots of the content. I decided against it because I didn't want to have to have my laptop tethered to them. I'd also have to get DAC as well. If I worked in an office I'd really pursue that idea.

Any advice on speakers to go with them? I'll have about $500 tops after purchasing the Decco 2.
hi, your room isn,t too big so possibly a used pr of bookshelf speakers by a good manufacturer would get you into something that would really sound great. the decco origonally had a 5db boost button to roll the bass up at low listening levels. if you like loud music i would look at effecient speakers. my decco has nasty clipping when over driven. but with 4 ohm mb quart towers it plays plenty loud.
I was looking at the PSB B6s (6 ohm) or Polk Rti6s (8 ohm) to match with the Decco 2. I was shying away from the PSBs because of the 6 ohm rating. Are you saying that even though the amp isn't very powerful, it is stable enough to 4 ohm quarts?

i have the mb quart towers that were made in germany and sold before the reorganization in the us. pretty good speakers with titanium tweeters and ported woofers at the bottom. they play very loud with the decco. so i am of the opinion that it is very stable into 4 ohms. peachtree has a site and fbook page. maybe ask there if anyone has tried these speakers. if clipped and i just tested it with magnepans and dcm speakers it makes a bad noise but this is the characteristic of this class of amp and the decco isn,t designed for these speakers because they are innefficient. i listen to pink floyd, led zepplin type rock but not at earth shattering levels. but i do get loud.
If you like the NHT sound (as I do), I'd recommend the HRT Streamer II+ DAC btwn your PC and a pair of NHT M00 monitors. As $ permit, add the S00 sub and you've got a pretty damn good system. I have mine hooked up to my music server and its really quite impressive. NHT M00s are $500/pair new, PVC volume control $100, HRT II+ $350. Total cost <$1K and sounds very, very good.
After a lot of reading and research I bought a Peachtree Decco2 and a pair of Polk Audio RTi A3s. They came in last night and I let them start loosening up on Steely Dan, Shirley Horn, Wynton Marsalis, John Mellancamp and The Messiah.
So far I really like the Decco 2. I can see why people purchase an amp to go with their Peachtree. The Polks are relatively efficient, but the volume was at 12 o'clock before the sound was enveloping, and at 2-3 o'clock the sound got stuffy with the tube. I didn't really get that stuffiness with the headphones.

Still like it though and will go grade a handful of essays while l
listen some more.
Thanks for all of your help with guiding my purchase everyone.
Very nice. Congratulations! Consider biamping those speakers down the road, since you have the capability. Borrow an extra amp sometime and set up a simple passive biamp situation (Decco2 powering the tweeters and a two-channel powering the subs). You may like it enough to drop some extra change on a reasonable craiglist find.

I remember grading papers in grad school. What do you teach, if you don't my asking?
A_ cross,

If you're already yearning to be enveloped by your music, you better start saving your spare pennies. ;-). Sounds like you've got a good ear. As long as you keep it perspective (lol), you've got a lot of years of listening pleasure ahead of you....hi-rez is the new golden age and it's a great time to be entering the hobby.
Poprhetor, I teach AP Language and Composition to high schoolers as well as film. However, since I am in public education, I've taught quite a bit from beginning trumpet (yes, I knew what I was doing) to all levels of English. I'll keep the suggestion in mind about the biamping.

Vhiner, I don't know if you'd call it a good ear, but it has to fit what I think is good where I am in this journey. I know what a trumpet should sound like and I know that Terrence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis and Charlie Schleuter all have different sounds even though they all play really expensive Monette trumpets. I can tell more subtle differences now that I couldn't with my original set up that serves as a HT.

I've been listening to high end audio for nearly 20 years and am not a dealer nor do I have any friends who sell equipment. That said, the very best and most cost-effective improvement I ever made was the jump to Shunyata power cords and conditioning. I say this because of your comments about wanting accurate representation of instruments. Down the road, consider buying a used Hydra conditioner and power cord. Because this improves everything you plug into it, the bang for the buck is staggering. Of the half dozen friends I've convinced to try it, none have ever looked back. Consider this: when you turn your stereo on, you are actually listening to electricity. All audio equipment manipulates electricity. Serious improvement of source electricity results in a serious improvement in the sounds you perceive. Until you replace the stock power cords in your system, you won't really know what it's capable of. The most recent issue of The Absolute Sound has an interview with Shunyata's founder if you're interested learning more.