Help me spend $8,000 this is really long, sorry

I can't say my current situation is a problem, but it's definitely a dilemma. I understand if you don't make it through the long mess below (and don't want to repsond) but if you do then I'm extremely grateful because I'm totally confused and need some guidance.

I had a little financial windfall recently and, as anyone with the misfortune of reading my previous posts knows, am looking to upgrade my amplification section. I was running Parasound Halo gear with my Sony SCD-1, Music Hall MMF-7 and Totem Forests (more details on system page) and the sound was decent, but the Halos were definitely the weak link. I listen to everything, but a good amount of jazz, folk, indie-rock, and guitar-based music (flamenco, blue-grass, et al).

I have been looking at integrated amps (I have about 6-8,000 to burn) because size is somewhat of a consideration (small NY apt.). Having spent a good deal of time researching different units, it appears that the Plinius 9200, Accustic Arts Power 1, BAT VK-300xSE, JRDG Concerto, and Sim i-7 are the final contendors. Of all these, however, only the Plinius, BAT, and JRDG have (optional) phono cards. I've heard good things about the Plinius phono stage, mediocre things about the BAT, and NOTHING about the JRDG (still no responses to my post, but it's a new product), however, the Plinius isn't my top choice anyway. I like the BAT, but hate the looks (yes, I'm a small child and looks are pretty important to me..ooh..ahh..look at the blue lights).

If I go with an integrated then it looks like I'll end up getting an outboard phono stage, which means I'll be making a seperate post for phono stage recommendations (unless you want to give me some here..hint hint), but I realize that another solution may be to go with seperates if I can find a preamp that has a very good phono stage and isn't so costly it means eating into the budget for my power amp.

What I was wondering is if any of you knowledgeable folks could recommend me a good pre-amp w/phono and a power amp that together wouldn't be over about 7,000 (since an outboard phono and integrated would cost me about this much give or take).

Also, I'm curious to hear people's opinions about the two differing setups, as I've read a lot of posts about types of integrateds, but not that many about integrateds vs. seperates. Okay, I know the benefits of not having to purchase another IC/PC, but in regards to my dilemma, would I be sacrificing overall sound (since I listen to digital as well) in getting an integrated (either with an outboard Phono or a card) vs. getting seperates? This is going to sound crazy, and I know I'm going to get sh*t for it, but it's a little intimidating knowing I've got around $8,000 to blow considering how many different setups and brands I can audition in NYC.

Help me focus! Gimme some eRitlin.

Thanks a million!

What kind of cartridge would you be using? MM, hi output MC or low output MC?
I have not heard the VAC Avatar Super yet, but have had it recommened as a great match with VSA-4JRs. I have seen excellent feedback as far as both sound and build quality. I believe it has MM phono standard with an option for a MC. I think it looks great, nice finish with gold plated knobs and the nice bias adjustment meter. See if you can demo one of these. Good luck and have fun in your search.
Please Please take your time and don't just leap into something that you might regret later. There are so many amps I'm sure there are 1,000 opinions here. For a NYC apt. I would consider a passive pre and separate really high quality phono section. Also Klyne I think has a really good on board phono. I happen to like my Eagle 4 amp, but apparently not popular pick here on the 'gon.
Just because the unit is "only" three grand don't snub Blue Circle's NSCS integrated unit.
A Blue Circle authorized dealer in the NYC area would be Sonic Spirits (Phil).
And yes this is a biased recommendation. I own one.
Klyne, yes. The Klyne preamps are extraordinary and their phono will accommodate any cartridge you ever want to try. If you can find a used SK-5A ( like mine ), which has a great phono stage built in, that would leave you with lots left over to spend on a power amp.

Failing a Klyne find, the first outboard phono stage I would want to listen to ( apart from the other good ones that are often recommended here ) would be an Audiomat.

I have heard the Forests with Bryston, Classé, SimAudio and CJ amplification and my all round favourite was SimAudio, the 190wpc Moon W-5. ( Your small apt. might manage with the 120wpc W-3. ) I haven't heard the i-7. I like the i-5 a lot, though, so if the i-7 looks cool enough for you, I would probably approve of its sound in your home ;o)

Don't forget to budget for upgraded interconnects.
Buy your amp, and get the new Minimax phono stage.
Personal oppinion is to get rid of the Analysis Plus. Listened to the whole line and only heard bad things.

And for the good of the species spend your newfound 8K as if it were 5K that could be stretched given an especialy nice-sounding piece.

More $$$ does not = more-better system. A well matched 3K system can sound much better than a mis-matched 20K system. Hell, I have set-up 1K systems that were apporopriate for the room/listener that kicked the pants out of much more expensive systems.

Take $100 of your budget and dedicate it to blankets for the homeless, soup for the indigent, or vacinations for the little sick children. Cheaper than a new power cord and much more gratifying.
Thanks to everyone who responded:

Nsgarch: I'll likely stick with a high output MC

Maineiac: I've heard VAC has reliability issues. Anyone care to chime in on this?

Xiekitchen: I def. plan to take my time. It'll be at least 6 months until I have a place to set my system up, and I plan to use the time to audition a bunch. It's always tempting to get the first thing you like, but I know patience pays off.

Hbarrel: Heh, you've prevailed...I'll be listening to Blue Circle @ Sonic Spirits. Have reservations about it's power reserves, but I will give it a go!

Tobias: I can't seem to find Klyne in my area, and I'm keen on listening to anything I buy...any ideas where I might find a dealer? I've heard the Sim w-5s with the p-5 and loved the combo, especially with Totems, but then I run into the same problem of the p-5 having no phono stage. Could it be the people at sim aren't gangbusters on vinyl? I like the looks of the i-7, so excited to hear it.

Bignerd100: Funny, I've heard people prefer some things over the analysis plus, but never anyone outright not liking them. I've liked them in my system so far, and the only thing I preferred were synergistic research designer ref cables that a friend loaned me, and which were too expensive at the time. Anyone else care to chime in? As for my budget, don't worry...I've noticed that it's very different having money and spending money. This system is my greatest luxury in life, so while I may have the dough, I don't feel I need to spend it all. I agree, more money doesn't equal a better system, and I've auditioned a ton of stuff so far in price ranges form 1-8,000, and I"m really just concentrating on sound quality (for instance, I could afford the pathos inpol2, but don't think it's worth it at all for my system). As far as charity goes, I don't mix my audio and charity budget at all, so no one's going to get anything less this year because I'm getting a better amp.

Thanks for those who responded with pre-amp suggestions with phono stages, but I could use a couple more! Anyone have any input on the phono stages of the integrated amps I listed?


Matt--from :

Voice: 360.273.8477
FAX: 360.273.6991

Do get in touch with them to enquire about dealers. Also, if you're interested, try Googling for SK-5A's available. ( They are rare as dealers. ) You might drop Nrchy a line about his Klyne preamp.

I don't know much, but although I know of a couple of integrateds that compete with separates at the same price ( the i-5 is one, the Vecteurs too, and Audiomat ), I haven't heard of one with a good onboard phono stage. ( Which is why I mentioned the Audiomat. ) You seem to have noticed the same thing.

Even preamps with great onboard phono appear to be scarce as well. However there are many makers of interconnects !
I second a VAC Super I have great piece of equipment.I don't
know where you heard about reliability issue I've had none
in the 2 yrs I've owned in fact I think there one of the most reliable products around 8,000 hours excepted tube lfe
plus it comes with a phono stage for mm or high out mc if you use a low output mc they have a step up transformer called the divinyl
Many here feel that the Supratek Syrah preamp is an excellent buy and comes with one of the best phono stages. The Cary SLP-98L which I have is also available in a model that includes a pretty decent phono stage as well (SLP-98P). It seems you prefer a solid state amp. If that is the case I am hearing wonderful things about the TRL SST-225 integrated. There is a review posted here by Jes45. I can vouch for TRLs work in the digital realm. I believe the SST-225 is offered with a money back guarantee and is supposed to be one of the quietest integrated amps available at $5500.

I prefer seprates versus the integrated approach. I think with the right components you won't be sacrificing anything one way or the other. I also use a separate phono stage and while I have heard good things about the Eastern Electric Minimax, I opted to try the Decware SP-1.5, Hagerman Trumpet and Whest PS .20 in my system. These range from $1500 - $2500 new. I'm not sure which one I'll end up with but they are all very good options to consider if you go this route.

Good luck with the listening.
Depending on needs I'd suggest auditioning the Audio Note Meishu or Meishu Silver. Both models offer an optional built-in phono stage. A classy 300B integrated solution.

Cheers -- Bish