Help in setting up my first sound system

Hi, I'm looking to set up my first audio system and the more research I do the more confused I become. I basically want a pair of floorstanding speakers. I know I need an amp but WTH are pre amps, should I have tube or solid state, then there's cables, placement, the drivers in the speakers, kevler, cone etc, etc. Please help or point me in the direction of a site where I gather this info in one hit, (audiophile systems for dummys would be good)
I think your best bet is to get a good book on the subject. UHF Magazine has two, and then there's Robert Harley's guide.

UHF books

Robt. Harley's Guide
Start with your room size and dimensions and how you plan to use your stereo.

How much room do you have to play with in the listening room? Some speakers sound fine at about 18 inches from the wall behind them. Some need 3 feet or more. Some need 5 feet to the sides. Some don't.

What kinds of music do you favor? How loud? The solution that favors small group jazz and acoustic folk would be different than the one for heavy metal or the one for bombastic orchestral music. If you want one system that handles all equally well, be prepared to spend more money.

How do you plan to use the system? Will you primarily sit and listen in a sweet spot? Will others be listening with you? Will you have the stereo on while you wash dishes and kids and dogs run in and out of the listening room?

Do you want speakers with a wide, space-filling dispersion, or something that presents a tightly focused image if you sit *right there*?

What's most important in music reproduction--speed and clarity, frequency extension, warmth and an organic sensation, transparency, evenness of tone?

Will you be using the system with TV or home theater? Surround sound? Audio only/stereo only?

Answers to these will help narrow down your search.
The answers given above are good advice indeed. But, be honest with the type of listening you will be doing. I spent a huge amount of money on a dedicated room, high dollar system, room treatments, and was rewarded with a great listening experience. I now listen to that system about 10% of the time. In my pool (table) room I have a less expensive system that is in use the vast majority of the time. I have friends over, we eat, drink and party rather than sit in the sweet spot. If you are honestly going to be doing a great deal of critical listening, then by all means do your homework. If you will be wandering around your home with music playing in the background, just buy a kick-ass system that will rock. In any case it will be a journey you will enjoy. Have fun.
Hi Worf.
1. Set your budget!
2. Read Harley's book.
Good advise Johnnyb and Mags.
There you have it, Worf.
Now get Harleys book. You might find it on audiogon, eBay or Amazon.
Keep us posted.
Reading upon hifi will certainly give you good background info on making an informed decisions that will lead to a more satisfying listening experience at home !

Let me give you some introductory comments right away, that might answer some of your questions. Keep in mind I am not a real expert as the writers of the books being recommeded - so I would read them if you have the time.

If not, I will give you a quicker alternative - which is not as good, but better than just buying un-informed at a non-specialty shop like BestBuy, or Circuit City.

1) Pre-amp and Power-amp work together to give you electric power. Signal goes from a source (CD or LP player, etc.) to a Pre-amp first, and then to a power-amp, and then to the speakers.

2) Integrated amp is those two amps combined in one unit.
3) Receiver is an integrated amp + tuner (radio source).
So, you need one of these - either no. 1 or 2 or 3.
4) Tube and solid state amps are available (pre and power). They sound different, so you might want to hear them at your local hifi shop, and see which one you prefer.

Solid state is more convenient since it doesn't need to be biased and re-tubed now and then - you can just use a solid state amp until it breaks down, but some people really prefer tubes...

5) You don't have to concern your-self with the type of woofers in speakers, unless you are interested in how speakers are made - important thing is the sound they make, and choosing the one that y o u like - you will be listening to them, so you can get all the advices you want, but in the end, let your ears be the final judge, and choose one that makes you happy.

6) Spend about 10% of the cost of the complete system on cables - they do make a difference in sound.

7) If you really want to get good sounds at home, you may want to get a dedicated electric outlet - have an electrician run a saperate line from the fuse box. It will cost around $200.

8) Also acoustic room treatment will reward as well.

9) You might want to wait for the no.7 and 8, for now, until you assemble a good mid-fi system. See if you can live with that, and when you do get the urge to upgrade to hifi, no.8 and 9 will reward.

10) You can read reviews of gears, and narrow down your search - but you want to listen to them if at all possible before buying.

11) Keep asking questions on this sight if you have more questions before buying - go slow and inform yourself - and you will end up with a better sounding system for sure.

12) These other sights might be of interest to you as well:

You can chat alive and ask questions here :

(download java if you don't have it already)

13) You can read reviews of gears here, as well as on the audiogon :

14) Some of the companies making good mid-fi gears are:

NAD, Arcam, Parasound, Music Hall, Rega, etc.

There are better sounding units within these companies, so you may want to google search for reviews, and have a listen if at all possible before buying.

I hope this helps to clearify rather than confuse you further.

Welcome to this exciting hobby - just don't get carried away with upgrade bug, and dig deep into your bank account like many of audiophiles, but keep in mind that it's love of music that got you into this hobby, and not the love of gears - although some are quite attractive I have to admit.

Lastly, if you buy them gently used here on the audiogon, you can resell them here without loosing much money - when you do get the urge to upgrade.

Good luck and I hope you find good sounds at home you are looking for without breaking your bank account - it's possible if you stick with good mid-fi system. There is quite a bit of enjoyment tobe had from it ...

02-03-09: Mags5000
The answers given above are good advice indeed. But, be honest with the type of listening you will be doing. I spent a huge amount of money on a dedicated room, high dollar system, room treatments, and was rewarded with a great listening experience. I now listen to that system about 10% of the time. In my pool (table) room I have a less expensive system that is in use the vast majority of the time. I have friends over, we eat, drink and party rather than sit in the sweet spot.
That's why you need to honestly examine how you *will* use the system, rather than how you might use it under ideal conditions. In my case, with an open architecture living area and various kids and dogs moving throughout the area, I chose Mirage omnidirectional speakers. They're compact, sensitive, and turn your entire living space into a general sweet spot. They exhibit very even timbre, tonality, and stable stereo image whether you're sitting, standing, walking about, or off to one side. Yet if you sit in the sweet spot, you do get more detail and soundstage.

Many speakers only sound right if your ears are at the tweeters' height and you're no more than 15 deg. off axis. That type of speaker is fine for nearfield monitoring, but for a more sociable setup, omnidirectional--or at least very wide dispersion--speakers rule.
After you've followed all the good advice on this thread and after you've purchased your initial system, visit this forum at least once a week and read through the threads. In 12 months, you'll begin to tweak what you've purchased, 6 months after that, one by one, you'll begin to slowly replace the items that you originally purchased.

In adopting a hi-fi hobby, you're about to start a never ending journey. advice is, while on your journey, never be afraid to trust your ears.

.....enjoy the ride
Thank you all so much for your advice. I feel a little more confident now. My budget is around $US1500.

For my system I'm thinking of an integrated amp and a pair of floorstanding speakers. I live in Hong Kong so there's not too much equipment to choose from and not really many places where I can test equipment. (I'm hoping to get second hand gear)

The room where the system will be is rectangular, concrete walls and has a tiled floor.(around 4 metres by 10 metres It's the main living area so I wont have much room to play with. (I guess a more social set up would be realistic, although I do enjoy listening to my music and take it seiously)

Speakers I've been looking into are B&W and KEF but am open to any brand. Not even began to look at integrated amps yet.

Musical tastes are indi, rock, jazz

Most of my music is on an MP3 player (I try to use a higher bit rate 192 - 320) Would this make a significant difference in sound quality compared to CD's?

So with all this in mind, what type/style of speakers (should i biwire) and amp should I be looking out for and what would you recommend?

Thanks again.
B&W and Kef are good speakers.
These reviews might be of interest to you :!9/

For integrated amp, you want to get one that matches the speaker well - some combinations are better than others. After choosing the speaker, I would ask here for the right synergy integrated amp.

You can start here though :!8/Price_Desc/

Hongkong is a good place for hifi - please read this :

There are some good sounding chinese hifi gears - you might want to explore that too, like Cayin amps, melody, music hall, etc.

Wu ei hifi...
I have 4 pieces of Chinese gear: two Audio Space monoblock amplifiers, an Audio Space integrated amp and a JAS Audio CD player. In my humble opinion these offer extraordinary value for money; I don't know where you would find equivalent sound and build quality at a lower price unless you got very lucky on the second-hand market.

I believe Audio Space and JAS Audio are actually based in Hong Kong.