How do you determine how much to spend on speakers

Hello all,

I am just starting out in this HI-FI stuff and have a pretty modest budget (prospectively about 5K) for all. Any suggestions as to how funds should be distributed. At this stage, I have no interest in any analog components. Most notably, whether or not it is favorable to splurge on speakers and settle for less expensive components and upgrade later, or set a target price range and stick to it.

I would put the bulk of the money in your speakers as they have more to do with sound quality then your electronics, i.e. $3000 speaker will sound better with 2k of electronics than vice versa. Also, make sure that you audition all your perspective gear with well recorded cds you are very familiar with.
Garbage in, garbage out. You cannot fix poor signals downstream. As a rule of thumb, add up what you'd spend on a CD player, tuner, turntable, and tape deck. Whatever that amount is, should be about what you'd spend on the speakers. A balanced system sounds far more musical and enjoyable than having too much invested in source, speakers, or amplification. 30% on source components, 30% on amplifier and preamplifier, 30% on speakers, 10% on wire (interconnect, power cords, speaker wire).
If you have a total of $5k and don't care for analog then you'd spend roughly $1500 on a CD player and tuner, $1500 on amp/preamp (maybe an integrated?), $1500 on speakers (including stands if they're not floorstanders) and $500 on all the wires you need.
$(speakers)>=$(power amp(s)); $(source+preamp)=$(power amp) than adjust it to your taste and listening needs...
Budget more on the front end and then find the best speaker, instead of the opposite way around. Speakers rely on what is fed to them. But best suggestion of all, you should listen to see what you like.
I initially spent 70% of my budget on speakers, and spent the balance on a receiver and cd player. I basically threw my money away on the electronics. And because my amplification and source weren't up to par, I never realized the full potential of my speakers. Now I'm up to my third rig, and finally upgrading the speakers.

My rec. is to spend as much on speakers as you "have too", but not at the expense of the other electronics. Even though "it's [$$ on speakers] an investment" it's silly not to let them [speakers] shine with good electronics. I sure wouldn't spend more than 50% on my loudspeakers. you can find $2-$3k speakers that will shine with $5 worth of electronics, if you're careful in selection. Look at the Vandersteen setups in a lot of hi-end shops. I think a saw a pair of Vandersteen 1C's (<$1k) driven by $5k in electronics. And it was a "good" setup.

And look what setup is suggested to people wit $1k budgets. 33% one source, 33% integrated amp, 33% bookshelf speakers. Listen for a while, then upgrade DAC or TT-stuff, or get better wires, then maybe add a musical subwoofer down the road.

So spend what you "have to" at this point. You'd upgrade later anyway, unless you are good at modifying/tweaking speakers.
I agree with Jeffloistarca and some others here. His breakdown is well balanced. Better speakers are also more revealing, so if you get great speakers and have cheap electronics, the great speakers will sound like crap, because they do a great job of reproducing the less than great sound of your electronics.

I am always reading speaker reviews in Audioreview where the consumer reviewer will say some speakers like B&W Nautilus sound like crap. Then they say they are not worth the money because you will have to spend alot on electronics to make them sound good. What they do not realize is, the crap they hear is the rest of their system, not the speakers.

This seems like a tough feat since most stores only carry a limited selection of merchandise. For example, a local store here in Southern California sells B&W, Sonus Faber and some other brands, but only sells Rotel and Classe components. How have you guys in the past gone about finding that perfect match efficiently without hassling or burdening your local dealer? Is it even possible? What about second hand components? Do many of the people here on this forum use audiogon as their main source of information and purchase?

I think both sml and jeff make good points. My opinion is at this price level you get a much bigger bang for your buck with speakers than with other components--IN GENERAL. For example, you're going to hear a much bigger difference going from a $1000 pair of speakers to a $2000 pair of speakers than doing the same with an amp, preamp, or CD player within the scope of this system--again, in my opinion and in general. Yes you will hear important improvements with more expensive electronics at this level, but the relative level of improvement you'll hear for each dollar spent will be higher with speakers(as long as you don't buy absolute crap electronics--there is a limit). Therefore, at this price level my bias would be to spend more on speakers and maybe even look to a used amp, preamp, or integrated amp(but not a used CD player--too many moving parts for me to buy one of these used).

Here's the strategy I'd use. Set a budget of 2 to $3k for speakers and go listen to everything you can in that price range. Most audio enthusiasts find that some speakers just won't work for them, some they will like a lot, and then there will be one or two that just set themselves apart for you personally(remember, in addition to dealer demo discs make sure you bring your favorite music as well, and trust your own ears--they're the only ones that matter in the end). These speakers will do something for you on an emotional level that the others don't, and that should be your starting point for building your system. Also, once you have the right speakers picked out it will be easier to put the other pieces in place as those speakers will tend to work better with certain types of electronics and you'll know what your minimum power requirements will be.

Here's the bottom line: If you start with speakers you really love, even feeding them with marginal(but decent) electronics you'll likely still love the majority of what you hear. If you start with speakers you like but don't necessarily love, it is likely that no electronics(within your budget) are going to make you love them as you would if you started with the right speakers in the first place. You just can't replace the emotional tug of the right speakers, so make sure you get this part right.

Lastly, at this level I'd put cables low on the list of priorities. Yes they are absolutely important but I wouldn't spend more than $200 to $300 on them as you'll get more bang for your buck putting that money into the other components--again, at this level and in my opinion. These are good items to upgrade later if/when you feel the need.

There are lots of ways to skin this cat(I'm sure you'll hear lots of other well-founded opinions here), but this is absolutely the way I'd approach it and hope it helps. Best of luck, and don't forget to use your own ears, try stuff at home if you can, AND DON'T FORGET TO HAVE FUN.

If you spent approx $1k on source, 2k on electronics (either an integrated, or separates) and 2k on speakers, you could have a pretty great sounding system. You could probably get a better integrated in your price range than separates (unless you buy used), but your upgrade path becomes more limited; i.e., you could get a separate, better power amp, but then you are using the preamp of your integrated to run it, or vice versa.

If you don't think you would want to (or could afford to)upgrade for awhile, then the better integrated might make more sense. There are some great ones out there.

But don't cheat the rest of your gear just for the sake of more expensive speakers. There are some very fine new speakers up to 2k that you could definitely run with electronics even 3 times as costly. If you enjoy the sound of the speakers, you'll only enjoy them more as you improve what comes before them.
My suggestion :

$2k speakers (inc stands if bookshelf/monitor is your choice)
$1500 amp (integrated may be best at this price)
$1000 CD (probably you can get away with less than this)
$500 cables (much less if you make your own)

I definitely wouldn't splurge on speakers ... they'll only highlight your savings elsewhere.

Also in my opinion $5k is all you need to spend for a CD only rig UNLESS you're primarily into classical/jazz music and are prepared to search out audiophile recordings OR are driving a big room to high SPLs. Most rock/pop CDs are not engineered to a quality to justify a more expensive setup. So I wouldn't be too quick to upgrade in the future.
for my system, the biggest sonic improvements came from the speakers, followed closely by the amplifier, then the preamp, then digital source, and finally cables, tweaks, etc. i don't understand why people tout the CDP as a critical link. imho, there are few audible differences among CDPs below $2k (and more in some cases). you're much better off buying a cheap CDP and throwing that extra $$ into the speakers or amplifier.
I'd lean more toward the speakers. My own view is that the quality differential on electronics has shrunk substantially in the last two decades. By choosing carefully, you can cut your budget in half on source and amps and not lose much. You can't say the same about speakers. (Or analog gear, if that's your game.) Also, you shouldn't choose an amp until you've chosen your speakers, because you want to be sure you're buying enough power. And wires are something to play with after you've assembled your system, not while.

Spend the most money on the speakers, only if you are serious about upgrading the electronics later. Speakers make the biggest difference in your system. The differences between dynamic cone driver, dynamic cone driver with ribbon tweeter, planer and electrostatic speakers are bigger than anything electronic. Of course, you have to buy the speakers that match your room and taste.

The GIGO argument is weak because a $500 or less (used) cd player does not put out garbage and is in fact closer than you think to the megabuck cd players. The GIGO argument was valid when it came to turntables and cartridges back in the '80s and computers. Not today with cd players.

Furthermore, Speakers are the not that easy to upgrade because they can be difficult to ship. Most people I know rarely buy used "big" speakers on Audiogon. Electronics are generally easier to ship, so experimenting is more convenient.
again i put my 2 cents in. i still think electronics are more important.mostly amp. but if you are going to upgrade later go ahead and build around your speakers. you can buy the older jm lab electra speakers at half off even from dealers. 2500 for a pair of 920s. dont spend alot on cd players as next month the next 296 499 format will be out. it is like buying the best computer.
The most important thing about building a system is component matching. You can go out a spend all you dough on "class A" components and end up with system that sounds very very bad. This happens more often than not. That is why there so much equipment for sale on Audiogon. Most people don't know what they are doing and have to upgrade all the time because they are never satisfied with the sound.

Make sure you know what you want before you buy anything. I think the most overlooked thing about choosing speakers is their sensitivity and impedance. This will determine what kind of amp you will need to buy.

For instance, if you like electrostatics or planar speakers, you will have to buy big solid state gear since these speakers are difficult to drive and have low sensitivity.

If you like the sound of tube gear, then you should buy effecient speakers (>93db/w/m).

Things like sonic characteristics is also important because if you buy foward speakers and match it a foward amp then you may get an unbearable stereo system.

Everyone will tell you their system is the best sounding system in the world and every review will tell you that some component sounds better than anything twice its price. Its all bunk.

Make sure you know what everything will sound like together before you buy anything.

I always recommend easy to drive speakers because it will give you more options when choosing your other gear.
If you have a very revealing speaker (or video display in a HT), you will hear (see) deficiencies in your upstream components. I would recommend settling on a neutral, musical speaker that does not emphasize detail or soundstaging, but which has the correct overall tonal balance for your ears and type of music. Then get the best electronics you can afford. In other words, high end speakers driven by average electronics will NOT sound as good as good electronics driving average speakers. I am also a fan of Vandersteen speakers; my Model 2cis have continued to show more and more of what they can do as I upgraded my source and electronics. My current system has $(speakers)< $(preamp)= $amp = $CD. Or maybe better stated as 16% speakers, and 28% each in the amp, preamp, and CDP, for a total system list (new) of about $7.5K. Not part of an overall plan, just how it worked out. And this does not count cables and stands. Of course, with the exception of the speakers, I bought it all used for less than 1/2 of list.
It depends.
I used to use the rule of thumb of 50% of the total budget on speakers. That worked well (40%+) until I found a great speaker that could be made arguably the "best speaker on the planet" by actively bi-amping them. Now the actually speaker price is a mere 25% of the total price.
I think that with the high quality of some of the speakers today, the percentage of the total system cost has dropped.
Source Source Source.
1.5k Source
2.0K Amp/PRE
1.7K speakers
300.00 Wire from all the cable you will ever need.
Suggestion Rega Jupiter 2000
Rouge 66/88 Combo
Speakers what ever you can Audition in your own home with the said Electronics or electronics of your choice..Buy the speakers last.Buy the speakers last.
Trust me its the best way to do it.
Dont make the # 1 mistake in audio of buying speakers first.
If you can get the stuff Used even better.
Email me if you have any questions.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a little group I bounce ideas back and forth with brought up the topic of best sound for the money. FWIW, Dr. RE Greene (of The Absolute Sound) suggested spending almost everything on your speakers. He has heard and reviewed a lot of components over many years. He went so far as to suggest, based on his observations, that he would spend $6k on a pair of Harbeth Monitor 40s [his present reference speaker] and drive them with a NAD amp, if he had to. This would make him the most satisfied. (This is an oversimplification of our discussion, but the point is clear.)

My recommendation would be [a bit more conservative] to spend about $2.5k or so and get a pair of Harbeth C7s or Spendor SP 1/2. These are very accurate BBC heritage monitors that would last you a lifetime. You can research them easily. The rest could be spent on a used Bel Canto DAC1 ($650) with a new Pioneer DVD player ($275)as a transport, and the new Creek 5350SE integrated amp ($1500 new.) Also consider a good subwoofer. The rest you can do foolish things with wires, cables, etc... (Or you could buy some music!)

Good luck to you.

I would much rather listen to $4000 well spent on electronics through $1000 speakers than high doller speakers with weak source and amplification. You will only be frustrated knowing how good it could sound. The thing is it can be surprising how good modestly priced speakers can sound with great gear. Find some good moniters and make your next upgrade a sub (or two).
I forgot to give you my breakdown in my previous post. Here goes in approximate values:

$3,500 Speakers (Maggie 3.6r- if you have the room, Coincident, Silverline)

$1,000 Amp (Antique Sound Lab, Counterpoint, Rotel)

$450 Cd or DVD player (Something with variable outputs to avoid using a preamp; Marantz CD63, Sony XAes series)

$50 Cables (preferably solid core; Tara, Nordost)
Bel canto and a DVD player is not the way to go.
For one thing this guy has 5K to spend on a Music suystem.Why pollute it with a DVD player in the first place.
Put 1500 in a single box Cd player and your well on your way.
Put it into a DAC and DVD player and your on your way to a bad source.
The TAS writer is a lunatic period.
The only reason this site exists is because its a place to dump all the crap incompetent reviewers recommend.
I think your taste in music and sound should dictate how much you spend on speakers. Plus, be mindful of a future upgrade path. If you can live with limited frequency response and limited listening volumes then buy small monitors. You can find some great ones in the $1k range used. Spend the balance on a decent front end ($2k) and a decent integrated amp ($2k). Spend a nominal amount on cables. A first upgrade could be a sub woofer or maybe a power amp to run through the integrated amps' pre-amp section, or a cable upgrade.

If you can't live without full range sound, then you will end up spending a good deal on the speakers. Decent reproduction of the lower frequencies is typically expensive. So then spend $2.5k - $3k on speakers and the rest on a decent front end ($1.5k)and an okay integrated amp ($1k). Spend a nominal amount on cables. Your first upgrade in this system will be on the electronics and cables.

Remember to trust your ears. Only you know what sounds best to you.

Happy listening, enjoy the journey and good luck.
Here's a basic breakdown:

$400 for a Tuner. You NEED a tuner whether you think so or not. You WILL use it a lot more than you think you would. Look for a Magnum Dynalabs 101. These can be found for $3-400 if you look around. These are both sensitive and sound pretty good. Some cheaper yet worthy alternatives are the Musical Fidelity E-50, Sony 730 ES, Yamaha TX-950, etc... These can be found for $150 - $250 and will free up money for other things that you may consider more important. The MF is not as sensitive as the others but sounds warmer.

$500 for a DAC. I would suggest an EVS Millenium 1A if you can find one. These typically run about $4-500 used. These are 24/96 capable and sound far more musical than most SS pieces and is more accurate than the majority of tube units on the market. The best of both worlds for pennies on the dollar.

$5-600 for a Transport. You be the judge. If you want to play / watch DVD's also, then factor this into the equation. Personally, i would NOT use a DVD player as a transport except if you REALLY want "double duty" and are willing to sacrifice musicality. This statement includes units modified by "professional tweakers". I would suggest something along the lines of either a Parasound CBD-2000, CEC 5100, Theta Pearl, Theta Data Basic II, Rega Jupiter, etc... You could also resort to using a cd player as the transport only i.e. a Parasound CDP-2000, Pioneer Elite PD-65, Rega Planet, etc...

If you want to stick to a one box player, combine the prices of the DAC and Transport plus the additional amount that a digital cable would've cost you. A possible alternative is to pick up a Sony SACD player from Oade Brothers and have Ric from EVS modify it for you. This would put you in the same price range, reduce jitter and take up one rack space instead of two. It would also offer the benefit of being SACD capable should that format ever really take off.

$1250 for "backbone" components i.e. a preamp and amp or integrated amp. TONS of good used stuff on the market. Keep in mind that you can also consider a passive line section since you will be using only line level sources. While i prefer the versatility of seperates, you might prefer the "less clutter is better" approach and opt for an integrated. Another factor is SS vs Tube. A lot of personal choices to be made here.

$1250 for speakers. Since the tonal balance of the system will be dictated by your speaker & amplification choices, you would be wise to consider these two factors hand in hand. You also want to make sure that you have more than enough REAL power to meet your listening demands for the specific speakers that you choose. You also need to factor in the types of music that you primarily listen to, the volume levels required and the size of the room. Obviously, large speakers work better in larger rooms and smaller speakers in smaller rooms. Don't fool yourself either way.

$1000 for "incidentals". This includes a rack ($225), speaker cables ($225), interconnects ($225) and a PLC ($200 ). This leaves you with some money to put towards supplies to build some very simple yet highly effective DIY room treatments. For that info, see
While you're there, i would look at some of his cable designs also. A couple of hundred dollars on DIY cables will go WAY, WAY further than spending the same amount retail.

You'll have ended up spending about the same amount of money for your major components ( CD, preamp/amp, speakers ). This approach takes into consideration that the system is only as strong as its' weakest link so try to use a bunch of links that are "equal". On top of that, you'll also have something that looks decent ( neat and orderly on a real audio rack ) without overlooking the importance that "accessories" like good quality cables and room treatment play in achieving good sound. Of course, you can fudge an amount in one category for another to suit your specific goals and desires. Hope this helps and gives you a basic idea of how to construct a balanced system. Sean
Natalie, your dismissal of my advice, and the poo pooing of one of the top reviewers, could be considered premature, at best. Maybe do some checking first? Have fun and happy listening. Charlie
Hello Krazeeyk

I don't know what I can add to this list that hasn't already been said, however I have been into this hi-fi game since 1957 and I have made my share of mistakes, from which to learn, so here goes:

Firstly, use your ears and carefully pick the speakers, that you can happily live with. If you are not happy with your speakers, nothing else is going to give you 100% satisfaction.

Secondly, pick good electronics that interact well with your speakers (SS or tube) the choice is yours, as long as they match-up well together.

Thirdly, pick a good CD unit. I agree with several of the above comments, that at this time there are some very decent CD units available, for not a lot of money. This may change down the road (SACD and DVD-A) but it is easier to make this change than to change speakers.

Finally, as mentioned above, use your ears and pick a system that you like and above all enjoy the music.

Well it only goes to show that there is more than one way to skin a cat. This line makes the Tower of Babel look moderately coherant. I'd throw my 2cents worth in but I am not sure I have that much to say. I'll give you 1cents worth.

What are your plans for the future? You say your budget at 5K is "modest" and that you are just "starting out". To me that suggests you may upgrade in the future. If you want to upgrade I suggest that you leave a place in your system to do so. Nothing worse than trying to upgrade a perfectly balanced system. You spend a lot of $$$ that way. If you're not certain listen to as many 5K systems as you can before you buy and ask yourself if you can live happily ever after with it.

I will suggest a system that is very nice and also upgradable. I fall on the buy the best speakers you can get side of the argument. I don't care if you buy them first or last (Natalie's argument), just buy them. The garbage in garbage out argument is true, but why do you ever need to put garbage in? And, speakers color sound more than any other component in my experience. (If you think cables make a difference just play with the caps to your tweeters, but that is another story.) I think the price for nice stuff on the source side is reasonable. In another recent post audiogonhead Chelillingworth raved about how well a NAD 370 (Integrated Amp @$550 that has won all sorts of acclaim across the big water) did when paired with his Physic Virgo 3's ($5,500). He was used to listening to them with Rogue Audio prior to the switch so he has ears. I have heard an Odyssey Stratos (used $900-1000) do the same thing.

A system a friend recently bought went something like this: North Creek Rhythm Revelator Signature Speakers ($2,800). You buy it as a kit but it is not rocket science and is a great education about what a speaker is about. (Worth it just for the experience.) The crossover is completely built you just pop it in. It includes 8 guage coils, Crescendo Caps and top of the line Scan Speak drivers hand matched to within .5db.(Have any idea what you need to spend on retail speakers to see that?). Power it with a NAD 370 integrated Amp (120W) ($600). Buy the best used cd you can find ($1000). Spend the rest on accessories.

This will sound fantastic and, at the same time you can rotate the NAD out when the time comes for next to no loss. If you put a nice tube source in there in a year or two, look out.

I'm absolutely certain that there is nobody here who will agree with the above but that is what makes this so interesting, and there are lots of great 5k systems out there.

Sincerely, I remain
Balance in all things. I think good technical stands can be taken as to which component has the most impact on a system and where the greatest amount of money should go. This just isn't my experience.

I feel balance and system compatability always show up in the overall sonic merit.

Most "things" that it a performer, and artist, a parent...person,..or a thing, a good auto, camera...etc..they always seem to excel because of balance.

So I would not put an excess of an audio budget into any one component..but begin with the end in mind.

Consider your room size, the type of music you listen to, the levels you listen too...and, how much you want to play the upgrade game over the next two to five... Then look at your system as a whole and make your choices.
Whatjd, thanks for summing things up in a smooth and flowing manner. You said what i wanted to say... Sean
Krazeeyk; Charlie (Danvetc), Tedmitz and Clueless above give good advice. Clueless is only wrong in thinking nobody will agree with him.

Speakers are the least accurate hifi component (leaving phono cartridges out of the discussion since you say you are not interested in analog). The character of a hifi system is influenced more by speakers, since they have more character than the other components in the system. At the same time, there are a lot of budget priced amps and cd players out there that do a very good job, e.g., the NAD amp mentioned by Clueless.

You should listen to as many speakers as your patience allows, and pick the one, for up to say 60-70% of your budget, that sounds as close to real life as you can get. That said, there are some good choices for 30-50% of your budget.

Charlie and I have Harbeth Compact 7's. (His is cosmetically a little different and called the 7ES.) Without being able to hear them, but having experience with other Harbeth speakers, I bought mine on the basis of information and advice I received from one of my favorite writer/reviewers, Professor Greene ("REG" in The Absolute Sound) who Charlie mentions. (You can ignore Natalie's silliness above as it seems to confuse Charlie's recommendaton of dvd player and dac with REG's recommendation that you should put most of your money in speakers.) This does not mean I think you should order Harbeth speakers. They may not be right for you. I think you should go out and listen to a lot of speakers.

There was an Absolute Sound issue a few years ago (actually 1993), in which the reviewers recommended systems. At the $5,000 level, one recommended the Vandersteen 2CE mentioned by someone above, at about 30% of the total system price. One recommended the Spica Angelus at about the same price. And Professor Greene recommended spending 50% of the budget on a pair of Spendor 1/2 speakers (that's one, version 2, not one-half). That was before the Harbeth Compact 7 came out and before Professor Greene heard them, so today, he might say listen to both and buy either one. The point is his advice was the same as Charlie, Ted and Clueless above.

You can hear the Vandersteens and Spendors someplace in the LA area. The Harbeths are not carried by anyone yet and I don't think anyone even has a demo pair.

Spend as much as you need to to get speakers you can live with for a long time. Get inexpensive electronics to drive them with, but get advice before you buy any inexpensive electronics. Generally, the LA area hifi dealers can help you choose.

The balanced approach recommended above is sure to reward the dealers with whom you do business, because every component will be improved with an upgrade. Better to have speakers that will reward you for every upgrade you make.

If you want some more specific help about where to start you search in SoCal, feel free to email me.
Another thought. All the posts above are about different points of view. Do you remember the song that went, "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife . . . So from my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you." The audiophile equivalent of an ugly girl is a minisystem from the Good Guys. Go buy a Denon M30 or the Yamaha Pianocraft, and forget about all this nonsense.
Sean and Whatjd: I agree completely with your comments. It is perfect general advice. But a question remains. What exactly is a "balanced" and "compatable" system? I mean what exactly do you buy? How do you divide the pie. Not trying to push a point, just very interested in your opinion.

By the way Whatjd, Your advise is very Greek - moderation and balance in all things. I love the ancient greeks and I think part of the reason they continually sought moderation is that they lived in such excess. Sounds like the way most of us approach audio.

Sincerely, I remain
Great question and wonderful answers. I'd like to reinforce the earlier post suggesting you consider this system within your future plans. Getting everything balanced now means you have to replace everything later to achieve a new balance (I'm overstating a bit, but ...). So you may want to "overspend" on something now -- if so, I would argue that the speakers are a good thing to do this with. I base this on the need to audition speakers in your room if at all possible -- more on this later.

A lot depends on the deals you can get. I would strongly suggest that you research prior threads and buy as much used as possible (If you have already been working with a dealer, by all means purchase from him or her). Look for those things which can be auditioned -- this is harder to do with speakers, so I would again suggest you get something good here right away (good depends on your room and your taste so please audition speakers heavily -- probably from a local dealer unless you've already heard something you love).

Bottom line:
1) You really should try to audition speakers like crazy at home (which means you may have to buy from a dealer at or near cost, so do it right since you will be selling at a loss later).
2) Find the best supporting equipment you can on a used basis (selling these later will not cost you as much). Research equipment that matches well with your speaker and buy it used.
3) So $speakers =$rest of heavily discounted system. This changes if you can audition speakers that are being sold at a discount. I believe all the threads above covered the situation where the equipment is all at full price (or at an equal discount).

I hope this isn't too confusing. Lot's of strategies -- but please consider your auditioning needs, your ability to get discounts and your future plans. Happy hunting!
Ultrakaz is right on in his percentages. Look at it this way: how close can you get to the state of the art with non-SOTA priced components?

In cables, even most generic wires will get you indistiguishably close to 100% of ideal (when considering the sound only). Not everyone agrees ;-)

In a digital front end, a half-kilobuck CD player should get you 90%+++ of anything else on the market. GARBAGE out??? No way!

For amplification, a good integrated (assuming enough power)gets you another 90%+ of SOTA without spending more than $1500 or so.

Speakers - there's the hard part, and hence where most of the budget should go. It's all personal taste, and listening.

Specifcially for my $5K, I'd go with something like:
Dunlavy SM-1 (now called the SC-IIa, BTW) ~$2500 w/stands
REL Q-150e subwoofer $1100
Rotel 961 CD player $500
Marantz PM-17sa $900 (being closed out)
Wires ~$200 or less

Which would make for a heck of a near-full-range system. Of course, discounting and/or used brings the prices down and many very good alternatives exist. Say:

Sub: ACI Titan II; REL Q201e or Strata III (~$1500)
CD: Rotel 971, Arcam CD-72, many $300 DVD players (you can add a $300 MSB LinkDAC)
Amp: used Bryston B-60, Musical Fidelity A3, Simaudio 5080, Creek 5350se, Rotel 1070, Arcam A85, Parasound pre/power, etc., etc., etc. No reason not to buy used, and you could always just go with a power amp like the Bryston 3BST if you don't need to switch sources.

Good luck!
I can echo the rec from Ozfly. Unless you can hear speakers from a friend's house, you almost have to buy the suckers at MSRP from a hi-end store. Personally, I would take my "sweet 'ole" time and audition everything he has, then ask him to get some models he deals from, but doesn't have in stock. (e.g., higher end model of a lower end model on display (that you like), or vice-versa.) A since you spent so much of the dealer's valuable ($$$) time, you should extend the courtesy of buying those speakers at or near full MSRP (retail).

Shipping or buying used speakers is a major PITA. I'd just assume heavily audition and buy a speaker I love at MSRP, then hunt and peck repeated buying and selling used speakers I have not heard. Considering depriciation and shipping costs, you might actually end up ahead by going thru a dealer. YMMV.

And electronics, by all means buy used. DACs, preamps, amps, wires, etc al. are all prefectly good used (more so than used speakers) and you can usualy sell something used for near the same price you bought it used - on most things. In that case, you can think of the shipping cost as the "audition fee." :-) And it works out nicely since you are WAY more likely to frequently swap out electronics, that speakers. The whole matching and "synergy" thing. ;-)
I've tried a lot of speakers over the years and enjoyed them all from fairly inexpensive to very expensive and my conclusion has always been that the electronics if they are good enough will make just about any speaker sound great.Recently I went from PSB Goldi's(about 3grand new) to Axiom Millenia 3TI's(about 300 new)and found I liked the Axioms better on some material,go figure.The Axioms don't go as low or as loud but add a sub like the PSB Stratus 7 for about $800 or less and now you're talking.Good luck and welcome to high end audio where you will probably never be satisfied completely whatever the hell you buy.
As Clueless says,..."what exactly is a balanced and compatable system"..

I would, basically, say the same thing as above. It starts with the person(s) using the system and their needs, wants, musical tastes, room and $ limits.

The reason this is important is pointed out in one of the posts above. For many, likely a great deal many more than the hi-end, the answer is one of those big grey boom boxes. It is in "balance" and is "compatable" with the users needs and expectations. However, I don't think this thread is about boom-boxes and mini executive systems.

This has been a good thread, but all too often responses to thread questions are posts that are saying little more than "buy what I own, it's the best". Which has about as much merit as saying.."I own vanilla ice cream, it's the best and you should like it too".

Balance is not always moderation, an extremely expensive system can work well together and sound great(ie: balanced and compatable) or sound poor. So, with this in mind....

If I were putting a system together, for myself not Krazeeyk, for around 5k..these would be my considerations.

Speakers: Magnepan 1.6, Alon II Mk.II, Martin Logan Aerius,
and the Innersound Isis.

Amplification: Classe CAP-100/150, Audio Research CA-50,
Audio Research LS-9 w/Classe CA-100, Plinius
8200 and SimAudio I-5

Source: Audio Research CD-2, Classe CDP-1 or Classe DAC-1
with a decent transport.

Wire/Cables: Innersound

I believe most of the above would come in (used) at 5k or less.

All of this(with the possible exception of wire) would be purchased used on A-goN...and I would be open to changes in the listed items above..based on what I would learn along the way.

BUT....and this is a big however, this is for my room: (13 x 25 x 9 with two large openings), with my musical likes: mainly Jazz and female vocals at moderate levels. And, another big but/however....I am a fan of dipole speakers (this could be seen as a particular "taste" even prejudice)...which is important..since the above system would not be the choices for a system based around boxes on stands or floor standing dynamics.

I hope this thread has helped Krazeeyk. It will still serve Krazeeyk best to learn what he/she can from this site, friends, audio dealers...and then trust him/her self in the final choices.
A well balanced system is one that never strays too far from neutral, all the components work together as a team, the overall presentation is pleasant and there are minimal conflicts or weak spots that draw attention to themselves.

All of this is done without an individual stand out player, as it would no longer be well balanced or a team effort if that were the case. If one piece were to stand out, the system would no longer be well balanced. It would have a noticeable high point with the equivalent low or lower points.

To use a comparison, system building and body building are not that different. Sinking all of your money / effort into one specific "star player" would be equivalent to exercising one's legs with minimal attention paid to the rest of the body or system. While the legs could easily support the weight of the entire body and do a lot of work, the rest of the body would not be up to performing at the same level when called upon to do so. The end result is that the body would run out of "air" and "energy" while quickly becoming "fatigued". Nor would the highly specialized "star player" legs be able to complete all of the tasks that a well rounded performer would be capable of.

With "star quality" speakers and the associated price tag, your audio system would do the same thing. The speakers would reveal the shortcomings of the signal source and amplification devices feeding them. Kind of like having someone that is far superior in every aspect pointing out all of your weak spots everytime that they see you. Again and again, over and over. While the flaws might be pointed out very fairly and honestly, this would not be much fun nor would it be enjoyable.

From the other point of view, each improvement that you did make might be duly noted, but you would have to make a LOT of improvements EVERYWHERE in order to achieve a level playing surface.

Logic dictates that it would be more intelligent to work every aspect of the body / system equally, making for a well rounded approach. This would provide performance that wasn't seriously lacking in any specific department nor leave you feeling "underwhelmed". While it may not have any specific "stellar" attributes, you could call upon any part of the body / system and feel confident that it would not let you down nor stand out so much that it became irritating.

Keep in mind that when you get TOO much of a good thing, you loose a sense of "balance" and it becomes less palatable with each exposure. The longer you stress the other areas of the system that weren't properly exercised or paid attention to, the more revealing the problem would become.

The bottom line is that my thoughts are: why "x-ray" cheaper / inferior components with high grade speakers when you can achieve something that is much more balanced / well rounded for the same price ? While some would say that this leads to a system of mediocrity, we all have to settle for that at various levels. That is, unless you have taken the "all out assault / never ending funds" approach to system building.

Just my $.02, if it's worth that. Obviously, some will and have disagreed. That's what makes the audio world go round. Sean

First off, I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to put in their 2 cents. Though it will take me a while to read and fully benefit from all of these post, nevertheless they are greatly appreciated. After reading quite a few of these responese, I came across a post which mentioned something about the law of diminishing returns. So a better question to ask know is, from anyones experience typically what price range does one target to get the most for their money? Meaning, is a $1000 cd player twice as good as a $500 cd player? Or is it only %10 better? Can this idea be applied to speakers, amps and so forth. In addition to this question, does anyone out there have any experience with trying to "match" components that "sonically" or "electronically" complement each other quite well. Aside from trial and error, is there any other way of doing this? Is it possible for one come up with a conclusion stating figuratively for example that, Classe components work quite well with Rotel components. Again, any advice or two cents worth is always appreciated.

The road to perdition. See my second post above. Your questions touch on the subjects of many many threads here. There are no answers, only opinions. But I will tell you this: it's a bad idea to try to make up for one component's deficiencies by matching it with another's.

Many a story has been told here of someone having a system, preamp 1, amp 1, cdp 1, speakers 1, and then "upgrading" it to preamp 2, amp 2, cdp 2, speakers 2, and then again and again, only to find that in reconnecting amp 1 (which he had stored in a closet) to preamp 5, cdp 5 and speakers 5, the sound was much better.

Go find speakers that you like and can live with. Ask the local hifi dealers for help in selecting inexpensive electronics to drive them and a competent cd player.

Or, go to the Good Guys and buy one of those little minisystems.

Krazeeyk: The law of diminishing returns kicks in VERY early: A $200 CD player is not twice as good as a $100 CD player, and it gets even worse from that point up. That doesn't mean that a $2000 CD player isn't "worth it." Worth is an individual judgment, and if it floats your boat, that's all that matters.

Speakers are an obvious exception. Amps are too, to the extent that more $ buys more power (real power, not spec power). Ditto analog, but you don't care about that.

I suggested above that you pick your speakers first, but here's an alternative approach: Get yourself a basic set of electronics: a 100-200 watt integrated amp, and a respectable CD player (a Rotel 971 or the Arcam equivalent would be the bottom end), then take a long time on speakers, and don't actually commit to anything until you've heard them at home. Once you have the speakers, go back and reconsider your electronics. You'll lose a few hundred bucks on the deal if you decide to trade your electronics for something better, but you'll wind up with a great system--for you. (And note that I haven't mentioned cables.)
I'll add a few more things to be filled in by some of the other regular folks here who have more cards in their deck than I do.( mylife: Sometimes I feel like I'm playing solitare with a deck with all the aces missing)

Avoid Retail Prices: A couple have said you need to buy retail if you listen/audition in a retail store. I would buy used equipment I haven't heard based on sound advise before I paid full retail price for anything (I'm not only clueless but cheap too!). I admire the ethics here but you will take a huge hit if you pay retail prices. I don't think it's possible to put together a really nice music system for 5k paying retail. In fact, I just saw a system advertised for 11.9k retail in the local paper that is a complete dog - multi channel dog. .

Home Theater or Music: Not mentioned above at all. You note that you are into "HI-FI". Music or home theater? Just my opinion but the industry is really pushing HT. At your price point (I think at almost any price point) Stereo two channel is the way to go. If you spread your $$ out to six speakers and then ask the amp to handle all of that you are giving up A LOT of quality when it comes to listening to music. Buy a two channel system.

Law of diminishing returns (general rules are made to be broken): Not going to break down component by component but I think (without going into vinyl) you are approaching the point where return on the dollar starts to diminish very quickly. You get a really nice bang for the buck system in the 5-7k range if you buy smart. Also, with regard to components remember: general rules are made to be broken. If someone says that generally returns start to fall off at 1500 for solid state amps and you have a great deal infront of you for 700, well take it. Sometimes the industry puts out a winner (the little NAD 370 -there are others too!) at a lower price. Take advantage of it. General rules about what you have to pay for good stuff are broken everyday by folks here at audiogon and elsewhere.

The old " It's Your ears argument": Out of respect (lots of kind folks here) lots of folks will tell you to listen, listen, listen. The pitfall is that if you are new to high end, your ears might not be all that good at first and may change in time. I know mine have improved (or at least changed) with listening. I really remember (some years ago) running from venue to venue trying to distinguish the speaker I heard at store X, run with ABC equipment in a 14x 31 room, to what I heard at Store C, run on EFG equipment, in a 14 x 14 room. Not really productive. That's why some have said bring the speakers home. This is also hard to do logistically and it is very hard to make close calls when you listen to speakers hours and days and usually weeks apart. For most of us it involves some listening, an educated guess, and then a leap of faith.

Speakers: Buy the best you can get!!! Speakers have a huge job to do: Electrical energy is transformed to magnetic energy which is transformed to mechanical energy which is transformed to acoustic energy. There isn't this much going on anywhere else in the system. Some folks have suggested spending as little as $1,500 on speakers and IMHO that is sonic suicide. Unles you get some really exceptional deal/value out of proportion to what you spend.

I like Northcreek. Go to and look at Rhythm kits just for the fun of it. Reading the site will give you a little education about issues in speakers anyway. A last pitch. They have externally mounted crossovers (along with the handmatching of the drivers to within .5db something almost nobody else does and certainly nobody at this price). This means you can fine tune the speaker, especially the tweeter w/o having to tear the speaker apart - just open the crossover compartment on the back of the speaker and add a resistor to the tweeter's signal path. You can add in .5db steps. What a Country! It is also very easy to add a sub later if you are a bass freek.

Avoid stupid Mistakes. You can probably do this simply by following the conversation here at Audiogon on different points and paying attention to what brands get good reviews over a few weeks. No state secrets here.

Matching Components: Books are written about technical aspects of each component and I am not smart enough to write one and you probably do not want to spend the time to become an electrical engineer before you buy. A couple obvious and common mistakes to avoid. I'll let some other folks give others as this is already way to long.
1)Buy a speaker that presents a fairly constant load to the amp. This makes the amp's job lots easier. The speaker is an inductor and acts like a resistor in the circuit (big over simplification but hey). The nominal impedence that is listed on most speakers is very misleading. Impedence always varies with frequency (and other things)and sometimes the manufactureer gives rather dubious figures. Make sure the load is good through the entire frequency 20-20kHz. This makes Amp's job easier. Well designed speakers do this. 2) Try to buy a fairly effecient speaker. One recent post inquired about buying an amp for a Paradigm 100 which was rated by Paradigm as about 90db (trying to remember here). An astute poster noted that Paradigm's measurements were off and that it really performed in the low 80s according to independant testing. Big difference in what you want from an amp - need more power to make them sing! The N Creek speaker is a true 90.5 (over 90 is considered quite effecient) and presents about as constant a load as you find. You will not need a huge expensive muscle bound amp to make them get up and go.
3) Amp: Watts is not where it's at. If it were every K-Mart amplifier would be a winner. Again these can change with frequency (and other things). Look for "continuous" watts or RMS(Root Mean Square) when you inquire about the amps power and remember "power" is two separate things (at least). If you know anything about electricity you know the "Pie" rule. Amp's power is 2 sided (at least) Power=current(I) times Voltage(e). Make sure your speaker can deliver some current when the time arises.( See one above - Impedence (in Ohms) will fall at some frequencies (lower) and the amp has to be able step up to the job.)

If you get a speaker that is fairly effecient and presents a fairly constant load and an amp that can push a little current you will have a nice match generally, or at least you have avoided a couple common mistakes.

I'll let someone else tell you why you want class A operation because my insomnia is no longer keeping me awake.

Good luck and let us know what you buy will you !
I do not agree with above posts that say a system that works well as a whole(balanced/compatable..whatever) is bound for constant upgrades...180degrees the opposite.

Most of the "speakers first, last and always" posts above..then go on to speak that the other components can be upgraded to come more in line with those excellent speakers. So this is the path to get into endless upgrades and dissatifaction..because the system is starting with compromise.

If Krazeeyk wants this...great. However a system that is balanced and works well together from the less likely to leave the owner wanting than one that has placed too much value/effort/thought into one component.

My most personal experience of this was with my former bedroom and main room systems.

My bedroom system was Classe Cap-100, Cdp-1, Tuner-1 with Magnepan 1.6 with all Nordost Quattrofil/SPM.

Decided to try the 1.6 in the main system...just to see..since they sounded so good in my bedroom...

Both rooms are the same 13x 25 x 9,.. So, I placed the 1.6 into my main system...CJ-ART, Classe CA-400, ML39, Magnum 108 and the same Nordost cables.....with the 1.6 in this system rather than the MG-20. In the end result the bedroom system with the 1.6 was just as musically enjoyable..and the big-buck stuff in the main room was not as impactful on the 1.6 as one might think...

But I do respect the other thoughts on Speaker first...I did that with some Thiel 6 once...,with less money/balance into the electronics...etc......and it sounded like it.
Krazeeyk: You have been the recipient of a lot of good advice. However, I frimly believe the best advice is to trust your ears. Only you can know if something sounds good to you. What might sound good to you may not sound good to someone else. But who cares? The most important person to please here is you. You buy music because you like it not because someone else likes it. If a mini system from the Good Guys sounds better to you than a Classe / Magnepan system, then buy the mini system. This is the real practicality of the law of diminishing returns. Only you can answer the question: "Does that $500 CD player sound better than that $250 CD player"?

You will buy a system and you will get to know your system intimately over time. You will learn how your system pleases you and you will learn how your system displeases you. Probably, at some point you will be ready to make a change to correct for your systems' shortcomings. When you are ready to make a change, go listen for something else. Once again trust your ears. This cycle can happen many, many times. You are beginning on a journey here that may last a life time.

I would be willing to wager that the vast majority of Audiogon readers/members have changed and upgraded many times over the years. Each time trying to acheive that next higher level of whatever it is they like to hear.

So, go forth and listen, listen, listen. Buy what sounds good to you. Good luck.
Clueless, your comment "Some folks have suggested spending as little as $1,500 on speakers and IMHO that is sonic suicide" kicked me "square in the nuts" ( pardon my French ). This is especially true since i suggested appr $1250 on speakers !!!! I did not take offense to this, as we are all simply sharing opinions.

For the sake of clarity, i based all of my prices on used items. With the wealth of ultra high quality used items that are available at bargain basement prices, doing anything else almost seems senseless. This is especially true if you just starting out, as you will no doubt end up "upgrading" sometime down the road. It is better to get 80% - 100% of your investment in used equipment back than to get a 40% - 60% return on new gear when you decide to sell it. Even if the new gear comes with a "warranty", throwing money away every time you "upgrade" gets old REAL fast. However, i will agree that buying used speakers are the "if-iest" and most difficult proposition when it comes to purchasing used hi-fi.

For the record, i have less than $500 total in my favorite set of speakers. This includes repairs, upgrades and modifications. If it came down to it, i would sell all of my other speakers ( about a dozen pairs ) and keep these. These are older models and used to sell for about $5K when they stopped production. Needless to say, there are TONS of bargains out there if you know what to look for and where to look. Another option is to simply be patient and wait for a good deal to come along. Sometimes, this works out even better in the long run. Sean
Sean: meant no offense.

The last sentence in the paragraph where I commented on spending 1500 on speakers was "unless you get some really exceptional deal/value out of proportion to what you spend." Obviously, if you get a 5k pair of great speakers for $500 you did just that. I tried to point out this kind of buy in the paragraph where I talked about the law of diminishing returns too when I noted "general rules about what you have to pay for good stuff are broken everyday by folks here at Audiogon." This applies to any general rule I state too! You're a smart buyer and have been around and you found a great deal. Doesn't surprise me. By the way, I'm a big fan of old equipment too. Old speakers and Dynaco 70s that you can tweak a little. But if you start down that road all normal rules for what you have to pay go out the window. IMHO ,You can't expect someone new to start out modifying old equipment.

I also based all of my general comments on buying new only if its exceptional. I gave a whole paragraph on the simple point: general rule: do not buy retail. I think the Northcreek Kit is an exceptional value for reasons stated above and he can get the NAD under $500 at Audiogon now. I think that is a value too.

It really just comes down to a simple difference of opinion between how much of a 5k budget to spend on speakers. Probably we just disagree. Barring some great deal on one of the components that throws everything off, I would normally go with over 50%. Lots of folks do not agree. I said that folks wouldn't agree with me in the last sentence of my first post so I can't say I'm much surprised.

This does not make me a "Speaker first, last and always" guy. As Whatjd calls me. Nor do I want an unbalanced system for the sake of speakers. In my first post, first thing, I asked Krazeeyk if he intended to upgrade and specifically stated that my recomendations were based on the idea that he was. Why not build a system that is readily upgradable if that is what you are thinking? I have seen friends drop all sorts of cash in endless rotations of equipment that could have been avoided had they thought about their final goal at the beginning. No poster had discussed this and I thought it a valuable thing to mention and discuss. A friend dropped an Audiomat Arpege in that set up after a year and it is really quite a system. Only kicked in 1k to do it. She is happy as a clam now and the system sounded good in the beginning too. No big sacrifice to start out -no wasted bucks.

Didn't mean a blow to the kahunas. I've read some of your posts and respect your opinion on stuff. We just disagree here. It ain't so bad to disagree w/ someone named Clueless.

Stay Cool,
I remain
As of now, the only components that I have considered are

Bryston 4B-st (used)
Rotel 971 cd player (used if possible)
Sonus Faber Grand Pianos

Ive only listened to the grand pianos, I liked them much more than the B&W nautilus 803s and the highest cdmt model. Unfortunately, I was not able to swap components on the same system to gauge the sound difference. The sonus fabers were attached to a rotel integrated amp and a denon cd player. The 803's were set up in a system with classe components. In spite of the larger price tag ofthe classe components, I liked the sound of the pianos more. Cannot say if the room made any difference. The 4B-st and the 971 grabbed my attention because Ive read numerous articles about them being "best bang for the buck" value components.
I have not given pre amps much consideration yet.
Anyone have any experiences with these components. Thanks
Clueless, actually I was thinking of others when I wrote the "speakers" line....that's why I had said "posts".... Your balance seems to be fine, however mine is always in flux!
Best, Jim
Geez Krazeeyk, nice choices right out of the gate. Maybe you should give us advise.

Heard the speakers and like them especially the base and mids. Can't say much about the match. I have experience w/ Rotel and its good bang for buck. sdcampbell seems to be the local Bryston authority and you might ask him or e-mail him.

Those Italian speakers have such la classe.

I remain,
Kraz, now you're in the treacherous realm of matching components with sonic signatures. At their price points, the Bryston and the Rotel have been well reviewed and praised by people here. If you like the sound of the Bryston, however, there is a less expensive 3bST (I doubt seriously you'd miss the little bit of extra power- tho sonically they may be more different than I assume) and a more expensive Rotel cd payer, the 991. From what I have read, the 991 is worth the extra couple of hundred bucks over the 771. There are other good choices at the same general price point, e.g., the Musical Fidelity A3.

I would not skimp on the cd player. Less money in the amp and more in the cd player is usually safer.

W/re the speakers, I hope you can get a good deal. Retail's pretty high. (I like them better than the B&W's too, so imo you're on the right track - but others would disagree, I'm sure). If you have the time, try to listen to some of the other suggestions above, e.g., Spendors, Vandersteens. I do not have either of them, but I think you'll like them too.

In addition to accurate (or pleasing if you prefer) tonality, listen to how well the speakers do at imaging (three-dimensional solid performers in real space), soundstaging (depth and width and placement of the performers in an acoustic environment), and dynamics (responses to large and tiny changes in amplitude - realistic? clean?).

Here's a suggestion: start another thread or two. Ask people in one to recommend a $5,000 system. You'd get all sorts of real world examples. In the other, if you're set on those speakers, or choose different speakers, ask people who have them what they use for amplifiers and cd player.

Take your time and have fun.