Help in putting together my system with used equipment on Audiogon and eBay.
I’m looking for the best bang for the buck. What equipment can I find that would make the best system for my budget ($8000)? I'm starting out with:
Pass Labs X1 Preamp, my rock to start with. I got it for $2500 This is where you can help me the most. Let me know your best match for this pre-amp, or the ones you have found to be the best you have heard!
Bryston 4B SST amp for about $1700. It’s been my experience that more power wakes up a speaker and pins it’s ears back. At 300wpc and the reviews on this amp I picked it, but just to start. I really need some experienced people to give me recommendations for the amp, or if the Bryston is a winner. I can sell this for a better amp.
Do I need a DAC?
Phono. I’ve realized that might be a big reason why people go to separates isn’t it? I’d like to hear some comments on this. If you have separates and no phono, what do you use? Stream music? CD’s?
CD player? I do have a lot of CD’s. With separates, it’s either phono, cd, or streaming correct?
I’m not really a phono guy, but I know which albums I would buy so it is an option. I wouldn’t know a good phono if you hit me with it. Please recommend a few.
I’m leaning toward B&W speakers just because of their reputation. I may spend up to 5k on a good pair of speakers, but I want them to be used and costing much more when bought new. I know how to spot a good deal and not buy speakers on their death bed (from reputable sellers), but I need your recommendations too. You all have heard more speakers than I ever have and will.
**I’m going to check this post often and answer any questions and write down your recommendations. I WANT TO THANK YOU ALL IN ADVANCE FOR THIS, IT IS A BIG DEAL FOR ME!
Sell what you have and buy an integrated amp. Separates will never match the performance of an integrated, not for the same money anyway, because separates add a power cord and interconnect into the equation. It simply cannot be done. Not without spending a whole lot more money anyway.
Yes you want a turntable, and separate phono stage. Preferably one with an arm with leads wired in as that also eliminates the need for another good interconnect. Then you need 2 speakers.
At this point you need to make a decision. Do you want the very best bass possible? Because it costs about $3k. Which is a lot of your budget. But yields SOTA bass. Or you could get really good bass from something like Tekton Double Impacts planning to maybe add a Swarm later.
Now if you're serious, which I doubt but for the sake of argument pretending you are, then the difference between any old hifi and truly captivating regardless of budget isn't the speakers or the amp or the phono, its the tweaks. So whatever you do budget a couple grand right off the top for Perfect Path Solutions Total Contact and Omega Mats, Synergistic Research HFT, ECT and PHT, and Orange Fuse, Cable Elevators, and BDR Cones. Budget about $2k for those, another $2k for wire (speaker cables, interconnect, power cords) and divide the remaining $4k between speakers, amp and table.
There you go. You can't spend $5k on speakers. Sorry. Not for your $8k budget. Not that it matters, this being pure fantasy and all. But even pretending you can still at least pretend you're serious and want to do it right.
A nicely-restored Scott tube integrated amp (233 or 299 - $600) plus a pair of Altec Valencia's ($2K) will get you 98% of the way to Audio Nirvana! Add a Pioneer PLX1000 TT (new - $700) and a Grado Sonata MI cartridge ($500 new) plus a Schiit Mani phono stage ($129 - new) and you'll be all set for hours of LP enjoyment!
For CD and streaming I will recommend new gear: Cambridge CXC transport ($500) and a Topping D50 DAC with linear power supply ($350). Add a BlueNode 2 streamer ($550) for 'net music access and you're good to go!
Lordy... You need to regroup and think about what you need. Do you really want to start getting into analog and all it requires when you seem to have no vinyl? Please do not get into tweaking at this time. You'll lose your mind. Looks like you like it loud and have enough room for big speakers. What sort of music? Do you understand subscription streaming and DACs? How about restating your case after you've thought about it?
You can never go wrong with Pass , it's to bad your budget doesn't permit a Pass amp but Bryston is very we'll made and respected check the Bryston forum on Audio Circle. You are correct about wanting good power from an amp. I see nothing wrong with these two pieces as starting points. I agree with going the used route you will get much more for your money. I think you will be happier spending a bit more than the Schiit on a phono pre, there are lots of great ideas on this and other audio forums. There are many different opinions on cable, fuses, power cords, interconnects and speaker elevators study them carefully before investing. As for speakers there are also multiple options available you just need to research then get out there and listen and find the sound that turns you on.
Do not waste money on tweaks as the additional benefit would be low to nil. Focus on your core system and spend at least 50% of your budget on speakers. I recommend you go digital to eliminate the hassle of turntable setup and the expense and headaches that go along with them.
A Lumin D2 will fit within your budget and give you a very nice streamer DAC.
+1 @sfseay if you want to go a little less money to get your feet wet in streaming try a Node2i and get a subscription to Tidal or other service you'll have millions of songs at your fingertips. If it does what you want you can look at a better streamer down the road , if not you're not out much as you can sell the Node.
So everything I have read about separates being much better for audiophile quality music is false?
I would rather stream than buy lots of vinyl if the quality is close enough. I have zero vinyl to start with. I can continue on to the streaming aspect unless someone convinces me vinyl is the only way to go. Please recommend a streamer (or phono if you say turntable can't be beat).
Assuming everyone thinks the Pass and Bryston are worthy (for now) I am considering the Pass Labs X250 for upgrade later. The amp is so important I would consider everyone’s suggestions for an amp to match the Pass X1. This is the part I need your experience in. I have read mixing and matching preamp and amp are just as important in musical definition quality. I just want to use XLR cables for balanced input.
I do want my speakers to be worthy of this system and will overspend on my budget to get the right speakers. B&W, Martin Logan, etc. if you see a pair worthy on Audiogon or eBay worth looking at please give me the name. As long as it doesn’t cost as much as a second mortgage. Regardless of the cost of everything else I will pay up to 5k for a pair of speakers that hopefully cost much more brand new (if they are still being made!).
Separates and integrateds have their pluses and minuses. I recently went back to separates from an integrated and have no regrets.
Take all opinions you read here with a grain of 🧂. Many of the people that post here just make noise and challenge everyone else’s assumptions. You can learn a lot on this forum, but there are better forums where you get more wheat and less chaf.
Where do you live? You need to get out and listen to some loudspeakers for yourself. Find a pair you like a lot using your own music, and work your way back to the front end. Recommendations and suggestions here will get you only so far.
Your pre and amp should work well together, I’ve had B&W 804’s and found them a bit fatiguing with all solid state gear but not bad either. I know a lot of people will say I’m crazy and you can take for what it’s worth a grain of salt as sfseay says but you might want to look into the Paradigm Prestige series the 85f is a pretty good speaker in your price range, also you might look at Ohm speakers that you could get new, but try to listen to as many as you can. I know it’s hard now with so many things by internet.
It used to be that you could go to your local audio store and audition a lot of gear and find what you like. Now there just aren’t many audio stores around, maybe because of eBay/Amazon? It makes putting a system together much harder.
As far as speakers are concerned, I'm going off your recommendations and online reviews. I do want a full range speaker since it's a stereo system.
Wow, this forum is nuts... but whatever. At some point you've got to dive in. Get solid basics, whether separates or integrated. These days, a good integrated can be as good, if not better, than some separates combos. Either way, start there and make sure your preamp has all the inputs you might want to grow into. If you aren't into vinyl yet, don't spend the money. That's an easy add later when the desire and budget allows. Regarding tweaks? Those can wait as well. Gotta start with a solid foundation and build. Tweaks can be, and are, a slippery slope. YMMV. Picking speakers is tough too, and as mentioned, if you have access to a good shop see if you can demo some in your price range. Speakers can be very personal. One's fatigue is another's nirvana. Have some fun with it, that's the key.
The Pass is a great starting point. But you need to settle on speakers before (or at minimum at the same time as) you choose a power amp. You might be able to do low watts, you might not. B&W IMHO is overrated, and will need a lot of watts. There are lots of better choices out there. But you really need to work toward a decision on speakers, because they are the large tail that's wagging the rest of the dog.
I am wanting a full range speaker. B&W 802 is my reference point, I might be able to get a pair at some point under 3k. I need suggestions though, I like to hear the bass in my music. It doesn't need to pound, just good tight bass.
I’m in Jacksonville Fl. I listen to a wide range of music, and good speakers would have me listening to a lot of jazz and easy listening, although the speakers need to be able to keep up with rock music as well. I'm retired military and getting up there in age so I don't have the years available to do a lot of auditioning equipment which is why I'm leaning on your experience!
Thanks ovinewar. I searched CL and nothing came up but I'll keep looking. The Thiel's are highly rated. I'm hoping to get a pair of speakers that will be keepers right off the bat. What do you all think about Martin Logan Ascent I or B&W Nautilus 802?
I like the Pass/Bryston combo. Stay away from vinyl right now. I also like the Cambridge CXC recommendation. A decent streamer would get you the variety you want. Morrow Audio can provide decent cabling at affordable prices. There is a pair of Von Schweikert VR-4's on the home page here for under $3K. I have not heard this speaker but I know people rave about it. Check some of the forums and read a lot. Good luck!
You need a dac and some good speakers . Period . Spend as much as you can on both of those and use generic cables for now . A bluesound node2i will work in that department. Stick it into the pass labs , stick the pass labs into your amp , and get a $ 7500 set of speakers. Likely which used to be 15,000 . Done , buy the little stuff depending on how much ocd you deny having. Forget the phono . Thats a side track you dont want to get into at this point being you have no albums
I would steer you away from Thiel or B&W. Try to consider speakers with soft dome tweeters that are not harsh in any fashion. Especially true if you stay with all but the most expensive sold state. Keep your preamp at least to try before going direct into your amp. If you buy decent cables I say that it is almost impossible for an integrated amp to match good separates. True you save space with an integrated and usually some coin, but connection between components is much less a problem than packing too much stuff into a single chassis. In fact, I rarely would consider a component without a separate power supply. I strongly prefer Pass amps to those made by Bryston. But there are a number of amps I prefer to Pass both S.S. and tube. Good luck and have fun!
So many choices, so many recommendations. My opinion will be different than others. The Pass and Bryston should make a great combination. The Brystons have been reviewed as analytical or bright, I don't know.... most have been beyond my price point. Your hearing, at 65 and ex military, you may or may not be able to hear much above 12-15K. The Martin Logans will be on the bright side, I have a pair of Clarities. I'm 70 so the MLs compensate for my hearing loss in the highest registers. I also use Magnepans, they are, an all day speaker if you will, never fatiguing to my ears. You should be able to hear any of the recommended speakers somewhere near you. When trying out speakers take your own CD's, music you are familiar with, preferable music you have heard live from the artist. The great speaker demos are records and CD's that show off the best of a speaker, and can show off the worst, just don't let the dealer use only their recordings.
I went through a similar process you are going through. I originally had a budget of about 5,000. I ended up spending four times my original budget. If I was embarking on that process again with your budget (assuming you stick to it), this is what I would do: Sorry, but I’ll reiterate another poster’s suggestion- Sell the preamp and get an integrated amp. My suggestions on purchases are on new equipment. If you can get used, even better. Primaluna Integrated amp - $4,000Focal Aria 936 Floor Standing speakers - $2,800 (on sale at a vendor in California, regularly 3,999). If you don’t like em’ you have 60 days to return them.
My thought is this: This integrated amp and speakers could act as the core of your system that hopefully, you could be happy with for years. That will leave you $1,200 to put together a digital system. You could then grow your system from this point. Disclaimer: I bought the Primaluna and the Focals about 8 months ago and am so very very pleased with those two items. I listen to vinyl 90% of the time for my digital system can’t hold a candle to my turntable setup. The difference for me is night and day! In addition, buying albums, taking them home, cleaning them and the anticipation of "what’s it going to sound like" and the associated anticipation, makes me happy! Sometimes I get goosebumps when listening to a moving piece of music on a kick-a-- pressing! Cheers and good luck with your decisions.
ovinwar thanks for the link I'll look into those. jsautter I will most likely buy a Pass x125 when I can afford the additional $ after selling my Bryston (unless I love the Bryston). david_ten I have a flex budget but the amps ARE included so the difference goes to speakers. 4diagrams I will look into the Goldenear Triton speakers! dwmaggie I ruled out Magnapan's because I want to hear bass, and also the space requirements for them. I'll take your suggestions, I have a Best Buy near me but I don't know how much audiophile equipment they have on the floor, if any! malatu I laughed at your post! I feel like my budget, although seemingly on target, will be surpassed by selling and buying amps/speakers if I am not satisfied! I think I will be ok if I can find the right speakers! I'm going to give separates a shot first because I already have them being shipped to me. It's speaker selection that is kicking my a** right now. Thanks everyone, please keep the suggestions especially for music streaming gear and speakers coming!
Totally untrue about an integrated will better any separates. If you limit yourself to $1000, possibly, but after that, going separates Will get you a better system.
To make recommendations, you really need to make some decisions. You seem you are up int the air on phono, if you are, don’t get a turntable. I just sold my $14k analog setup and more than happy with my digital setup, which outperformed my analog setup. If you go strictly digital, for $8k, all you need is a network dac like the ps audio DS sr or even the jr, and the best amp you can find for the remaining $$$ of your budget. I go directly from my DS sr dac into my ps audio amp without needing a preamp (flexibility of owning separates). You can use any computer with a decent processor and 16G of ram to run Roon, and you will run Roon on your phone or iPad. Not all dacs can do this, they are either noisy or don’t have the ability to drive an amp, then you need to use a preamp. when I sold my tt, I also eliminated using my McIntosh c47 preamp. Keep it simple.
I’ve had experience with B&W speakers. Lovely top-end, no bass. Great for sound engineers and the like, boring for regular folk who want to feel the music. May I suggest keeping the equipment you have for now and buy BIG full-range speakers. Maybe Klipsch Cornwall IVs. Great sound immediately. Upgrade when you feel it’s time.
The only thing this audio hobby have teach me is that what we already owns is able to reach a potential sound quality unbeknownst to us, sometimes a very high level...Nevermind the price.... The only thing the audio market advise us generally is to buy to upgrade the audio system we already owns without thinking about the conditions of his right implementation and embedding which could make it able to reach this true sound quality, his original potential, unknown to us to this day...Nevermind the price...
Think about that discovery: most of us to begins with, dont even know the fine audio possibilities of our audio system that are veiled behind, vibrations, high noise level, bad acoustic room, and the least effort to "tweak" what we have, when we contemplate the easy solution : to buy.... Nevermind the price.... The greatest miracle in audio: The transformation of a system we dont like enough in one that is at the top of his potential and which we begins to truly love...Nevermind the price...
Thanks rbstehno, I've heard that about separates more often than not. And I am going to go digital. I'll look into the ps audio DS sr. And keeping it simple is great advice! jdesj thank you for that. I've been wondering about the B&W and I do want to hear the bass. I have a pair of Heresey III's right now, and Cornwalls would be a great choice if I can find a pair! mahgister, that is a wise statement. I am definitely going to try to get the very best out of my system since I don't have the time or $ to fool around too much. Thanks everyone! I still want to hear speaker choices and digital gear recommendations please!
I agree with the recommendations for an integrated amp. It's what I have, and I'm very happy with it. Also cuts back on the power cords and interconnects required, rather than with a pre/power amp.
Most of my system I bought used, which enabled much better equipment with my money. If you sold your Pass Labs X1 and Bryston 4B, you then could have $10,000-$12,000 possibly. Buying used you could easily end up with a $25,000-$30,000 system.
I cannot suggest much, as I have no access to most of the US brands available on EBay, here, or US Audio Mart.
I would suggest at some stage you trial a PPT Omega+ Emat on your breaker panel. Sceptics will soon disagree. But you get to trial, and hopefully notice an increase in base (as I did), an increase in depth (as I did), an increase in detail (as I did), and better instrument separation.
jgreen, Tekton Moab 900wpc !!! I bet they put out some bass. tomic601 that is a good suggestion, but driving to ATL is a bit much! Of course, that maybe the closest audio store to me. I don't think Best Buy counts. I sure wish audio stores were still a thing. Nowadays people use youtube as there listening place go to! I need suggestions on how to stream digital, my laptop doesn't have 16mb memory so that is not an option. Streaming gear??? And realistic speaker recommendations please! I'll do what I can to get out and listen to potential buys!
I have a question. I was told the Pass Labs X1 is a stereo preamp. I thought it was the amplifier that determined the number of channels. I don't mind, but if I wanted to have a 5 channel amp later I would have to sell my amp AND preamp?
It’s both. You can have a 2 channel preamp running into a 5 channel amp. But you still only have 2 channels of sound. That is assuming analog out and in. If you have digital out, and your preamp has a surround processor, then that would work, depending on the amp. If you were to buy a 5 channel amp, your Pass preamp would only put out a stereo signal in 2 channels of the 5. Generally, for full compatibility both have 5 separate channels. If you want to go the surround route, seriously consider integrated. That’s a whole lot of cabling to deal with, and you could spend half of your budget on cables alone (don’t have to, but could... easily) Something to consider in your process, the Parasound A21 amp is a serious bang for the buck, and would play nice with your Pass pre. Saves $$$ for speakers. Best Buy has the Magnolia wing, which is their “hi-end” side of things. They should have some good selections to try. They have a very liberal return policy as well if you find something you like in the store. Keep in mind, your room/house will be completely different so take that into account. Ultimately pick what you like, you are the one that will be listening.
My recommendation would be to go and listen to a high end system using vinyl as a source and then using a cd transport or player as a source. Then figure out what sound you like better and put your money into getting the best sound from that source, rather than hedging your bets and getting a lot of mid-level CD and analog stuff. I ended up going with vinyl for "serious listening" because it just just sounds better and more pleasing to me. But, it took some time and it took some money...
I started with a Pass Labs XP15 and a Rega RP6 with the Exact2 Moving Magnet cartridge. All through really nice CJ tube linestage and amps-- along with Egglestonworks Viginti speakers. When I put an high quality album on my system I absolutely hated the sound-- classic rock or classic Mozart-- it sucked. But, it wasn't the electronics or the speakers-- it was the turntable and moving magnet cartridge.
I went to see my friends at Goodwin's High End in Waltham-- just outside of Boston, and they gave me news that I did not want to hear, but was absolutely accurate. My guy told me "if you want good sound on vinyl, you are going to have to spend a lot more money." And, he was right. I dumped the RP6 with the Exact 2 and bought a Rega RP10 with the Apheta 2 MC cartridge, along with a Clear Audio Smart Matrix Pro record cleaning machine. That made all the difference in the world, but it will eat most of your budget.
There are some Rega RP10 lovers and some RP10 haters on this forum, but I like mine. Great soundstage, dynamics and plays all kinds of music. And, it matches well with the Pass Labs XP15, which I got from Mark at Reno Hifi in Nevada. Mark is a very likable, knowledgeable and friendly hi fi pro.
I would talk to Mark at Reno HiFi and get a used Pass Labs XP15, which is now around $2,000 and I would get the best turntable you can afford; the Rega RP8 or RP10, especially the 10 is a very nice table, as is the Apheta 2 cartridge. Others will have their own view, but the RP6 or the P6 does not sound ANYWHERE near as good as the 8 or 10 with the Apheta 2.
When you have that set up, and have spent most of your money, I would look at speakers. Everybody has their own view, but I like Egglestonworks speakers-- especially the Viginti's. But, those are a "destination" or reference speaker, meaning those are the last speakers (for my "A" system) that I foresee buying. The Nico's are smaller, 2 way speakers that are also exceptional, in my view.
@imabucfan Do yourself a favor, register for the Florida audio expo, in less than a month, it is free, you just have to drive to Tampa, I went last year and going this one as well, from Miami I go and comeback the same day, last year was their first, this year seems it will twice as big as last, it is a small audio show considering others but you will have the chance to try all sorts of equipment and listen to it. It will give you a great exposure to what's out there, you just have to wait 25 days or so. I guarantee you it will be worth your wait, then if you want to purchase new or used that's entirely up to you but you will have the reference of what you like.
By the way, after every audio show, even the small ones, the used gear sites will AGon, usaudiomart etc get flooded with used equipment from owners who just purchased new gear so it will be the perfect opportunity for you to grab something of the used market.
Just my 2c, that's what I did when I setup my gear, but I had to flight to Denver at that time.
Have you checked out Kef, ADS or PSB loudspeakers? I know they are old school but they sound good. New KEF is not cheap but they have amazing towers that are full range. I own ADS and if you get the flagship tower model it will give you all the bass and sweet highs you would ever want. Unfortunately some of these brands are getting old and hard to find in good shape. Good luck!
I will be 65 this year and after many years of rock concerts my ears are in great shape, but I am very careful with listening volume these days. I also for many, many years had integrated amps, both solid state and tube. Several years ago I went to separates and am so glad I did. I know there are integrateds that rival separates, but you can’t customize your sound as easily, and you have flexibility to try combinations of tube and ss components. Personally if your main source is digital I would put tubes somewhere in the system. They add a richness, fullness and naturalness to music and vocals. I also have a pair of used EgglestonWorks Fontaine Signature speakers from a fellow Agoner on a great deal. I would look into Spendors also. Have fun putting your system together. It is a great hobby!! Just my thoughts if I were starting from your point.